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Hitchings on the wonders of English

Whenever you read, take notes, written on a notepad, or voice into a digital recorder. Do it. Store it. sue it. Empower the contents of your mind.

Do this for a few months and be rewarded … for a decade and be enriched. We don;t all have photographic recall.

There is meaning that prompts me to act thus; my mistake is not to note these prompts as it is here I am coming to understand where my deeper understanding lies.


This is what Hitchings asks over and over again. I’d do the same. I enjoy what he has to say as he appeals to my nagging curiosity. I want to know why.

Two kinds of loan. Hitchings (2008:12)

1. Words to denote phenomena that have never before been given expression.
2. Words to denote phenomena for which their already exists a quite adequate term.

We must find a way of expressing what it is that we think, feel or see. Words give ideas and things credence. It is the human experiment in which ideas in the form of words are tried out until they either survive repeated use or fail


‘Specialists worry about their language being cheapened by everyday use and the layperson worries about being swamped by jargon.’ Hitchings (2008:12)

A word that is unused is a word on its last leg if it ever had a leg to stand on.

‘It has always been accepted, and always will be, that words stamped with the mint – mark of the day be brought into currency.’ Horace, trans T.S. Dorsch 1986, 80-81 ‘On the Art of Poetry.’

‘It is usage which regulates the laws and conventions of speed.’ Horace.

‘More than this, usage is what makes words live. And usage will always prevail over theory.’ Hitchings (2008:12)

Are writers in e-learning guilty of this?

‘Loans tend to enjoy a certain mystical allure, and sometimes they are used to endow ordinary thoughts with extra ordinary lustre.’ Hitchings (2008:15)

‘At times I feel and behave like a fairground boxer hoping people will come into the ring for a round. My mistake is to give an impression that I am either a prize fighter or that I wish to win the argument – all I want to do is to engage with the material the better to understand it.’

Are writers in e-learning guilty of this?

‘Elites, or those who consider themselves elite, reach for exotic vocabulary to impress those they consider their inferiors or to signal their distance from them.’ Hitchings (2008:15)


‘It expresses in very compact form an idea that would otherwise call for several words – along the lines of ‘a nasty pleasure in other people’s misfortunes.’ Hitchings (2008:15)

This German word is more succinct than anything English can otherwise muster.

* concision
* spruce

The loan translation or ‘calque.’ Hitchings (2008:17)

i.e. some French phrases DO translate directly into English.

e.g. to hold one’s peace (tenir sa paix)

‘Words frequently do not slip into a language unnoticed; their arrival may be only gradual, but it is keenly felt.’ Hitchings (2008:19)

‘A loan-word’s level of acceptance is manifest in the way we articulate it.’ Hitchings (2008:19)

Afford is a term that academics in e-learning (education online) need t justify, and yet it is used liberally in other fields. It seems that the more these academics try to justify the use of a word in a certain new way, the more flawed it may turn out to be.

‘We will happily use a word or recognise as borrowed to afford in what we think is insight into the culture it originated.’ Hitchings (2008:19)

A kind of shorthand.!


Hitchings, H (2008) The Secret life of words. How English became English.q

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