Midi-rant 14: Professorial gobbledygook

“What on earth …?”

“Sorry, sorry, my periwinkle!”

“Don’t you periwinkle me – look what you’ve gone and done now!”

“Sorry, darling, it will wash off; I will …”

“It will NOT wash off, look, it’s gone everywhere!”

“I know, I know, darling, but I couldn’t help it: it’s this Daily Telegraph, you see: they’ve …”

“You are not telling me that The Daily Telegraph incites people to spray coffee all over the kitchen, are you?”

“No, no, they don’t; it was this professor.”

What professor?”

“Of Music. From The Royal Holloway, University of London.”

“What’s he done?”

“He was talking about the Queen’s visit to his university. It’s how he said it, you see.”

“How?”

“Here, look.”

I handed my lawfully wedded the exhibit, at which point he promptly started choking on his Coco-Pops, for the offending quote went like this.

“For most people to walk into an academic department and ask people about their work, most people would glaze over, but I didn’t see any of that,” he said.

Clearly, nobody in possession of intact faculties believes that there is no difference between speech and writing – apart, perhaps, from those ‘experts’ who reckon that native speakers don’t need to be taught writing conventions because they will acquire them by osmosis (ha!) – but there is a limit beyond which a quality newspaper should not allow itself to be pushed. By all means, give quotes, but when the speaker – such as this hapless professor – makes a complete hash of his or her words, what is called for is a decisive editorial intervention. A polished version of this gobbledygook might look like this.

The eyes of most people walking into an academic department and asking academics about their work would glaze over …

 In a nod to greater spontaneity, which characterises speech (unless it’s scripted), we could also write something like this.

Most people, if they walked into an academic department and asked academics about their work, would find their eyes glaze over …

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