Monday, 23 August 2010

A Pedant Writes

Peter Coates writes from Hove [to The Times]: “Is it not sheer affectation to use foreign words when there are perfectly good English words that may be used? In a recent leader there are two glaring examples. First it says ‘under an internationally brokered deal to end the civil war . . .’ Brokered is a typical Americanism, for it adds an unnecessary syllable to the English word, which is ‘broked’. Broking is a dealer’s trade. If it were brokering, he would surely be a brokerer. Second, the victims of Charles Taylor’s brutal regime in Liberia were said to have had their limbs lopped off with ‘machetes’. This is a Spanish word, which is often mispronounced by English speakers, but there is a perfectly good English word, ‘matchets’, from which, no doubt, the Spanish word is derived.

“May I suggest please that where English words exist, they are used to the exclusion of foreign translations or derivatives, thus avoiding the possible stigma of affectation.”

Hang on, Mr Coates. First, while there is a verb “to broke”, it is archaic; the modern English verb and noun is “broker”. Second, my dictionaries suggest that “matchet” derives from the Spanish “machete”, not vice versa; would it not be an affectation to use a rarely seen anglicised form of a perfectly good Spanish word? Third, is not “regime” a French word, and does not “stigma “derive from Greek? Virtually every word in everyday English use is a foreign translation or derivative acquired through centuries of invasion and assimilation, as we have discussed before in these columns; and our language is the richer for them. Case not proved, Sir.

Sally Baker Aug 21 10

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