A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

literature
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CONTEXTUALLY YOURS (article first published : 2001-08-24)

Examples of fractured English pop up daily. In the Durban morning newspaper today is this passage about the projected cloning of humans: “The bottom line is practise makes perfect. But is it ethical to practice on humans? I think it isn’t.” So do I, but what is interesting about this piece of prose is that the word is spelt “practice” when it’s a noun, and “practise” when it’s a verb. The writer has deftly got it wrong in both places. Perhaps the distinction is unimportant and should be done away with, but for now it exists, and a professional writer should know about it. In fact the two spellings show that he does know something about it, but he’s forgotten what it is.

Yesterday’s issue of the same newspaper contained a thoughtful article about someone facing a South African dilemma: should I stay or should I emigrate while I still can? One sentence reads: “In Maslowian terms he swung me across the hierarchy of his needs from the bread and butter to the spiritual.” (Who or what was Maslow? Can you be swung across a hierarchy, or only up and down one?)

Getting to grips with the problem, our writer says: “Where does one start? It is in fact a classic double avoidance conflict where the decision to stay or go is fraught with positive and negative valences.” I suppose I should know what a double avoidance conflict is, but valences? My dictionary defines valence as “a chemical bond.” In its more usual form, valency, it means “the combining power of an atom…” Neither, as far as I know, can be either positive or negative. I think the writer might have been thinking of “values”, “validity” or some such word, but she would have been better off with “aspects” or perhaps “factors”.

That word “valences” raises the issue of using scientific terms that you don’t really understand. One favourite is “quantum leap”, usually employed to mean (as my dictionary admits) “a sudden spectacular advance”. A quantum leap actually occurs when an electron, by absorbing or radiating energy, can skip up or down between orbits, or energy levels, surrounding the nucleus of an atom. It gains or loses one quantum of energy as it does so. What is significant is that the leap can be downward as well as upward, and that the leap, though quite important on the scale of the electron, is an unimaginably small movement by the standards of the everyday world. That isn’t the impression that we want to convey when we use the term. What we convey instead is ignorance.

Then there is the Internet’s e-mail service to take up the slack when the newspapers leave off. Among the gut-wrenching, feel-better-damn-you stories that reached us lately, one had a beginning so awful that it is a minor classic of its kind:

“A cold March wind danced around the dead of night as the Doctor walked into the small hospital room of Diana Blessing. Still groggy from surgery, her husband David held her hand as they braced themselves for the latest news.”

The trouble here is that an adjectival phrase like “Still groggy from surgery” attaches itself firmly to the nearest noun. In this case, that happens to be “her husband David”. As the surgery in question was a Caesarean section, it seems a bit rough on poor old David. If it was Diana’s room, one must suppose that it was her operation; did he have one too, in sympathy? Now that’s loyalty for you.

To calm your fears, the news was terrible, but the ultimate outcome was wonderful and proves the existence of God. Now do you feel better? If so, please forward this to all your friends. Failure to do so will reveal what a truly rotten person you are.

May the cold September wind not dance around your dead of night. Or anywhere else, for that matter.

Contextually yours, Ulysses Online




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart