Grauniad of the english language

Grauniad of the English languageI imagine most of us have a favourite daily newspaper and for many years mine was the Guardian. It is not everyone’s ideal – at my local supermarket the height of the Guardian’s pile each morning is less than half that of the Daily Mail – but it worked for me. Not only was it good for news but the views it expressed so often coincided with mine, which was somehow reassuring.

Three years ago my allegiance changed. For the sake of expediency I switched to reading Le Monde. My hope was that the move would help improve my French and let me better understand French culture. To this end I have read Le Monde almost every day since, whether in England or in France. What’s more, without it each morning, I have felt bereft.

As part of my recent Christmas holiday, and almost by happenstance, I gave French a complete rest and reading the Guardian was once again back on the agenda. The return has been a treat. Not because of my sympathy for the paper’s overt party politics but because of its attitude towards much of British custom. It seems that it is challenging outdated practice, or at least the practice of other more conventional parts of the media. A move that is worthwhile, as the media generally is such a very influential agent for change.

In an article just before Christmas the Guardian referred to the ‘second world war’, without any capitals. Referring to the same story, both the Daily Telegraph and the BBC website used capitals, as is customary. As someone who is running a personal campaign to reduce the use of capital letters, the Guardian’s approach was refreshing. But I would go further. As I see it, it is not logical to use capitals for ‘Easter’ and ‘Christmas’ holidays and not for holidays in spring and summer? And, why, unlike the French, do we still use upper case for the days of the week and the months of the year? Notwithstanding my criticism, I note that the Guardian did begin to reduce reliance on capitals some time ago, but being ‘away’ I missed the announcement.


Now to the François Hollande affair, on which subject the Guardian again has reassured me by its sensible restraint. At the newsagent I noticed that the front pages of the Times and the Telegraph showed photos of the actor Julie Gayet, Hollande’s purported mistress, while the Guardian concentrated on other more serious news for page one. How very proper! As I see it, the obsession of much of the British press for hounding out and exposing issues that are private and which should remain so, is most distasteful. Moreover, the media makes a virtue of its perverse behaviour.

Moving on further to the sports pages, just last week Alan Pardew the manager of the Newcastle United football team was heard on the TV verbally abusing Manuel Pellegrini, his opposite number at Manchester City. We know that he did not hold back because next day the details were published in full in the Guardian and other dailies. It is reported that Pardew referred to his counterpart as “a fucking old cunt”. Faced with this reality, the BBC website reported the statement with key letters replaced by the customary asterisks. On BBC radio, one journalist referred to Pardew as using “builders’ language”, and another, without being precise, described Pardew as using “two of the worst swear words in the English language”. Predictably, in response to the report, a studio guest said that the one word that he felt as the most unacceptable, was “old”. “How dare he describe Pellegrini like that?” Joking apart, when the words used are heard on any building site and on many a street corner, why should they not be spelled out? Whose sensibilities are they protecting? The Guardian‘s capacity to challenge unnecessary British puritanism is a welcome relief. And, as we know, Pardew apologised next day.

But Christmas is now over and it is now back to reading Le Monde. It has a way of making the French language a pleasure, so even if the news itself is dull, the writing makes reading on worthwhile. It has one infuriating failing however – occasionally it uses English words simply for effect so up pops ‘social dumping’ or ‘binge drinking’ – but sadly that is part of French culture at the moment. Importantly, reading it for those few years made my temporary return to the Guardian that much more pleasurable.

Not a bad Christmas present!

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