Dot Wordsworth

Mind your language | 19 December 2009

A word nudging its way into the finals for the most pointless cliché of the year is granular.

A word nudging its way into the finals for the most pointless cliché of the year is granular.

A word nudging its way into the finals for the most pointless cliché of the year is granular. It appeals to those who adopt the languages of public policy and business management.

An article in the Daily Telegraph about the FSA (the Financial Services Authority, not the Food Standards Agency) said: ‘The regulator would like to see reporting that is sufficiently granular to allow exposures on high-risk instruments.’ As this example suggests, granular often means ‘detailed’. Sometimes it seems not to mean anything. An article in the Guardian about local news said: ‘Ofcom should look at trying it in a region like ours to see if it can work on a more granular basis.’ I suppose here ‘on a more granular basis’ means ‘in particular places’.

For most of my life the most common thing to be granulated has been sugar, although I’m told that melted pig iron used to be granulated by being scattered by a wheel into a cistern of water. It sounds fun.

Men of my husband’s generation can still be heard to come out with phrases like cum grano salis, though sometimes they get the termination of grano wrong, (just as James Naughtie the other morning in a moment of stress said ‘prima facia’, as if it were a shop-front or fascia). The big Oxford English Dictionary says that cum grano salis is sometimes reduced to cum grano, but I cannot remember having heard this. It sounds rather 19th-century. In the 16th century, the hard, Protestant reformer, Bishop Jewel provided an alternative English version: ‘We must understand this authoritie with a corne of salt.’

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