What is it about users of English? Haven’t we enough choices already when it comes to saying something is worrying, disturbing, disquieting, upsetting, troubling, irritating, disconcerting etc?
Apparently not, because poor old ‘concerning’ has had the word equivalent of gender reassignment. For years it’s happily chugged along as a preposition meaning ‘about’. Now, ‘common (mis)usage’ has deemed it an adjective as well. It’s been roped in to join the extensive list of fine words which has managed to convey unease for longer than anyone can remember.
So the next time the prime minister, or your boss, says ‘It’s deeply deeply concerning concerning the situation’ they don’t (necessarily) need to change their medication. They’re just showing what a limited vocabulary they have. Most of us are content to draw on 20,000 to 35,000 of the approximate 170,000 words available in English. But it seems that the more ‘modern’ we are the lazier we become.
We’ve just been to Indonesia. In Jakarta we conducted training for both native English and Indonesian speakers. In Bandung I went to a conference conducted in English, despite most of the 600 attendees being Indonesian vocational teachers. They need to speak and write in English, which will be the language of the ASEAN community when it comes into effect at the end of 2015.
As English becomes a lingua franca, it’s going to be worth taking the time in workplaces around the globe to consider how everyone uses the language. You might even want to check out this idea of conducting a tutorial on English as a lingua franca (yes, it’s got an acronym, ELF), developed a few years ago by a team attached to York St John University in England.
Diplomacy relies heavily on finding the right words. We advise our clients to be very careful with colloquialisms. You just can’t be sure your interlocutors will realise you want them to get to the point if you tell them ‘don’t come the raw prawn with me’. It looks like Pravda got the gist of what Tony Abbott meant by shirt-fronting the Russian President, referring to the PM’s former life as a pugilist. But what about Australians? Not being a football fan, I didn’t really know what the PM intended to do until I read this explanation of the variations in meaning between AFL and rugby. Thank goodness, Abbott’s code (rugby) is, in this instance, slightly more genteel. Overall, though, I hope he’s decided to eat his words.