Dot Wordsworth

Mind your language | 27 February 2010

There are still the men’s curling finals to look forward to, but I have hardly got over a strange use of language in a commentary on the men’s ski-jumping.

There are still the men’s curling finals to look forward to, but I have hardly got over a strange use of language in a commentary on the men’s ski-jumping.

There are still the men’s curling finals to look forward to, but I have hardly got over a strange use of language in a commentary on the men’s ski-jumping. ‘That’s a very prolific jump,’ said the excited commentator, more than once. I’m not such a stick in the mud, or snow, as to insist that the word prolific should only be used to mean ‘capable of producing offspring’. We have had childless but prolific authors since the middle of the 18th century. I do not even mind it being used to mean ‘abundant’. But it stretches it too far to use it as a synonym for ‘long’.

The new gymnastic sciences do seem to use words in a most surprising way. Last weekend I passed a gym advertising kinesis. By kinesis, the biologists mean ‘an undirected movement of an organism that occurs in response to a particular kind of stimulus’ — light, say, or chemicals. I doubt that is what was going on in the gym, though I did not dare enter and find out. If it was not merely a smart word for ‘moving about’, I suspect it was connected with a trade-marked term for gymnastic equipment.

In any case the word had quite different connotations from those of a related term popular among our forces in Afghanistan. ‘Military sources,’ reported Marie Colvin from Camp Bastion, ‘said special forces had been infiltrating the town on “kinetic” missions — jargon for armed attacks.’

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