Early in my PR career, I covered a fixed-term role at the BBC World Service where the wonderful senior press officer would summon one to his office to go through, in detail, draft press releases.
It was a rather intimidating experience but his wise words (many of which I still subscribe to) and kindness always left me feeling encouraged and, hopefully, a little more skilled at what I did and have done in the years since.
Similarly I recall a journalism tutor (a newspaper man of the old school) who detested the word “very” and said “that” could almost always be dispensed with. To this day, some 30 years later, I regularly remove “that” from draft copy.
There is now, though, a worrying trend in journalism to forsake age-old standards and best practice but with seemingly no good reason.
Take, for example, the use of numerals (instead of words) for numbers below 10. It’s now widespread and prevalent in media outlets we’ve always looked to for the upholding of journalistic standards (Daily Telegraph and Press Association to name the most disappointing of culprits). And then there is unnecessarily capitalised job titles.
Much of this is, I suspect, down to the demise (in many areas of journalism) of the sub-editor. You may be thinking so what?
The reason for these long-held forms of style is relatively intuitive. For example, writing out large numbers would not only waste space (less essential in a digital world admittedly) but is also likely to be a major distraction to readers.
It is, of course, part of a wider topic, assuming you care about language and how we use it. Sadly, we’ve been hijacked by the PC brigade and “snowflakes” who are so obsessed with not giving offence (to anyone or anything) that their arguments are usually as flawed as their ideas.
Being interviewed by Gavin Esler a couple of years back, Diana Rigg was asked what she felt of the trend to refer to all members of her profession as actors. regardless of gender. The grand lady looked at Mr Esler and replied: “I love the English language and everything about the English language and, therefore, I am an actress”. Bravo Dame Diana!
Similarly, following a debate on gender identity, Piers Morgan (bear with me!) welcomed Joan Collins by asking if she was “identifying as a woman” that morning. “I’m identifying as Dame,” she replied.
Of course none of this may matter to you one jot. But the next time you compromise our wonderful language – and the style in which it is used – have a think about that greeting card:
“It’s the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit!”