This blog shares some of our thoughts about plain language, and the latest discussions about plain English and clear design in New Zealand, and around the world.

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20 September 2011

Kicking language into touch

I’m only a part-time rugby fan, but I’m enjoying the fun that journalists are having with language.

Country names, characteristics, and yes, stereotypes have given readers some great headlines. Last weekend, Rugby Heaven tempted us to read on with ‘Wobbly Wallabies in an Irish Stew’, ‘French a rabble but they can still fry us’, and even ‘French follies could be on the cards’. If you enjoy Hoagy Carmichael’s easy listening style, you’ll appreciate ‘Georgia on Moody’s mind’.

Metaphors abound. I enjoyed the ‘orchestrated performance of sustained passion and pressure from the pack’ in the Ireland v Australia game. Sadly, ‘Australia…never found a rhythm through the first stanza’, and ‘the All Blacks hit a speed bump on the road to playoffs’. Did you see the ‘Welshmen muscle up to the Island challenge in a crunch ‘Pool of Death’ clash’? And even a part-time rugby fan could see that ‘Ireland has laid an explosive charge under the whole tournament.’ Heavy duty language when you really need it.

Headlines can be sound bites as well. Duncan Johnstone had fun with ‘Cooper bites back over “boofhead” backstabbing’ in the Dominion Post on Friday, as Marc Hinton did on Monday with ‘Ka pai Kahui’.

Some reports are close to the bone. All players should be afraid of Sonny Bill Williams, our ‘potent weapon’. The Springboks will be disappointed to be ‘the old and the restless’, but ‘gallant’ is such a great word to describe Wales and Georgia.

We all knew that the game in New Plymouth on Thursday between USA and Russia would be a ‘Cold war clash’ and a ‘Clash of the Titans’—I felt their pain as the Eagles clawed the Bears in the Dominion Post on Friday. ‘Bringing the big guns’ (Radio NZ on Sunday) didn’t save the Russians. I grew up with the real fear of the real cold war, and could not have imagined back in the sixties, that we would one day use these words for sportive fun.

Enjoying language, and understanding how we play with it, is the subject of a New Zealand book just published, called Q & Eh, Questions and answers on language with a kiwi twist. The writers are linguists at Victoria University, Professors Laurie Bauer and Janet Holmes, Associate Professor Paul Warren and Dr Dianne Bardsley. They write a popular language column in the Dominion Post.

'Q & Eh' is a revised version of their Dominion Post columns. I’ve been dipping into it, but you could read it from cover to cover. It has several references to the language of sport—enjoy the two to three page answers to important questions, like ‘Is there always fighting talk in sports reports?’ and ‘Are you stumped when it comes to cricket?’ 'Q & Eh' uses cartoons and photographs to illustrate points, and has a helpful glossary of language terms, and an easy-to-use index. It's arranged by theme and is fun to read.

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