Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

The Wiki Man | 31 May 2008

Rory Sutherland's fortnightly column on technology and the web

‘Linda works miracles in the kitchen while Trevor is ubiquitous with the cup that cheers.’ This sentence has haunted me for 15 years. It’s from a parody of the typical reader’s review in The Good Food Guide, probably by Craig Brown. I still quote it gnomically when asked whether some restaurant or other is any good.

These reviews were usually written by the kind of people who preferred to purchase from an emporium than to buy from a shop. The word ‘peruse’ was always a clue. ‘Reluctant to entrust navigation to my lady wife, I chose to peruse the atlas myself, necessitating the removal of my driving gloves.’ Later, ‘ensconced in a nearby hostelry’, the writer would relax by ‘partaking of ales in the company of mine host’.
Back then, professional writers had little to fear from amateurs. Not only because space in print was necessarily limited, but also because non-professional writing was often dire. No longer. Never mind what you hear about declining standards; digital media has been wonderful for the written word. 

Towards the end of the last century, many people wrote infrequently; when they did, their writing took on a kind of awkward ceremony — prose which no more reflected everyday speech than an Ascot hat resembles everyday dress. Now, thanks to email, blogs and other social media, real people write more often and so more naturally. (You’ll see this at www.b3ta.com/questions; misspelled, ill-punctuated, regularly obscene — but always readable.)

Unlike the purists, I’m less worried by English becoming too casual than by the opposite problem — when it evolves within closed groups. You find this in business, academia and politics, where people unthinkingly adopt the style and vocabulary of their tribe.

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