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English under threat again

by: Garry Pierrepont (10 November 2008)

The English language is under attack again.

This time local councils are banning Latin phrases, such as e.g. (exempli gratia = for example), i.e. (id est = that is), ad hoc (for a special purpose), bona fide (in good faith), N.B. (nota bene = note well), pro rata (in proportion), etc.

It’s quite depressing really. Once again the richness of the way the English language is used is under threat.

The argument goes that not everyone knows Latin, and for many readers English is not their first language, so Latin phrases can be confusing. Apparently, readers might mistake eg for egg. But surely, there’s the matter of context. There can’t be many occasions when for example and egg could be interchangeable.

These Latin words are all in an English dictionary. Are we supposed only to use a few words? Those that might be understood by readers for whom English is not the first language?

Salisbury and Fife councils are prominent with the word bans.

The sad and crazy thing about this is that English is a language that is a mixture of many languages: French, Latin, Germanic, Greek. Where will the language police target their efforts next?

Why stop at Latin?
There is a feeling of déjà vu about this as we have recently seen attacks on the way English words are spelt. Hopefully this attempt to deprive the language of useful Latin phrases will be driven in to a cul-de-sac.

Surely the way forward is to encourage people to learn English, and all its intricacies, hybrid forms and loans from other languages, rather than to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator.

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