THE American Dialect Society each January chooses a word of the previous year. For 2006 the selection was plutoed (to be demoted), but buried among the nominations was surge, listed as one of the "most euphemistic" word and defined as "an increase in troop strength." Surge is going to be a much more formidable contender when the word for 2007 is chosen. It's hard to avoid it: When I heard CNN's Dr. Sanja Gupta speaking of a "severe obesity surge," I knew the previously seldom-used word was in for a workout, and The New York Times April 15 headline "Rallies Surge on a Day to Think About the Environment" just reinforced that belief. Watch for it.
Once again we're reminded of what language means. It can imprison you in your social class and reinforce other people's snobbery. Prince William, to the intense interest of the English public, recently broke up with his longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton. The media were full of theories as to why this happened, but, according to ABC, one London tabloid laid the blame on the girl's family. Their sin: They used middle-class language. Indeed, her mother supposedly told the queen that she was "pleased to meet" her, and another member of the family asked about the toilet instead of the lavatory.
If you are interested in hearing a BBC Radio discussion of the development of upper-class English, try the following Web site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/routes ofenglish/storysofar/posh.shtml.
It makes clear that you not only have to use the proper words but need to pronounce them correctly. In a special edition of "Routes of English," the BBC tells us: "Melvyn Bragg turns his attention to the mysterious speech patterns of Britain's aristocrats for whom Cadogan Square will forever be 'squaur.'" He tells us also that his grandparents, for example, would never use the word weekend because "it was considered 'rather off.'" He was told to say Saturday to Monday.
If you have social ambitions, be careful!
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