The correct and incorrect application of words, whether spoken or written, can sometimes get us into difficult or hilarious situations.
WARREN G. Harding in the 1920 American Presidential Election used “Return to normalcy” to indicate a return to the way of life before World War I.
He mistakenly used “normalcy” instead of “normality”. Despite being wrongly used, the word caught on. It now refers to business or economic environment or situation prior to turbulence.
Though many believed that the word, rather than the more accepted “normality”, was coined by Harding who eventually became the 29th American President, there was evidence that “normalcy” had been listed in dictionaries as far back as 1857.
If that was so, it was hardly heard of until Harding used it. Most learned English linguists oppose its usage, preferring “normality” or just plain “normal”.
To them “normalcy” is absolutely American and started from an error. If normalcy is used, would the opposite be “abnormalcy?”
Wrong usage of words, terms and definitions are common but are seldom noticed.
Sloppy use of a word is more insidious than just a figure of speech. It means one simply can’t be bothered to apply it correctly. If not corrected, a wrong word becomes a norm and carries over into conversation, writing and report.
A word should not be accepted just because it has been used incorrectly for generations.
English is the most universal language on the planet. So why settle for a simplistic version? It’s merely a sign that people are indifferent and don’t care to actually educate themselves on the proper usage of words.
An example is the use of “dateline” instead of “deadline” to indicate the final date set.
The Americans may have a simple approach to using proper English. It is their style of writing and expressing.
Their use of words may seem to be absurd, such as “back to back” to mean “in succession”. They sometimes use “gotten” instead of “got”.
At times, the Americans simplicity does make sense. In football (or soccer as they call it) they use “yellow carded” for a player being cautioned and “red carded” for a player being sent off.
These words are simple and appropriate for football commentators and correspondents. But more often than not, American simplicity invites confusion especially to students.
They include “program” instead of “programme” and the noun and verb for “advice” are the same, instead of the latter being “advise”.
Americans also tend to complicate certain words with elaborate spelling. They use “transportation” instead of plain “transport” and “differential” instead of just the simple word “difference”.
Perhaps we should leave the Americans to use or modify words as they please as long as they suit them and are used within their shores. But can we really ignore them since they have a strong control and influence over media and writings?
If wrong words are used repeatedly and no effort is made to correct them, such words will be applied without question. These are not limited to only the Americans. Our local media tends to follow the American style without referring to its suitability to local culture, custom and environment.
In Malaysia, a “bungalow” refers to a detached house. Strictly speaking in the British context, a bungalow is a single storey house with a porch. Its origin can be traced to Bangalore (a city in India) during the reign of the British Raj.
Of winners and champions
In sport, we always declare winners as champions. “Champions” are only for tournament victors of certain categories or groups.
In England, for example, only the winners of the Premier League are called “champions”.
“Winners” of the FA Cup and the League Cup are simply called “winners” and not “champions”.
I can’t think of another country that has an FA Cup other than England. The English Football Association is simply known as The Football Association (FA).
The reason being the English were the first to set up a football association. As such they just use “FA” instead of “FA of England”.
Other institutions pioneered by them are used without referring to the country or nationality.
The British call their air force as the Royal Air Force (not Royal British Air force); and their navy as The Royal Navy (not Royal British Navy). Guess why? They were the first to use those terms.
In England, the FA cup is a competition open to all affiliations of the FA. For FAM to use the FA Cup is like using the word “Oscar” for the local movie awards.
Oscar has been patented as a trademark for an award presented by the (American) Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for excellence in the creation and production of movies.
The English FA has never patented the FA Cup. Perhaps officials at FAM may rethink and rename Malaysia’s version of FA Cup.
And perhaps reserve champions for winners of the Super League, and winners of other competitions be recognised as winners and not champions. The wrong usage in the media is not confined to English dailies.
I once came across this headline in a Malay daily: Malaysia ingin menjadi syurga pelabur asing. What the Malay daily meant was “haven” and not “heaven”.
These two words are different. Haven refers to a secured place such as port, harbour, or any sheltered place of safety or sanctuary while heaven refers to the hereafter place for the blessed after the mortal life. Perhaps the writer concerned thought haven was the American style of spelling heaven!
The transition of the same language from one country to another and one culture to another is often bumpy.
The manner in which words are applied are at times done carelessly, and with no reference to the context of a particular society, culture and custom.
The confusion of words used in a language should be studied so that they can be applied correctly.
Perhaps the Education Ministry should come out with a policy of using standardised words and spelling.
Dr Arzmi Yaacob The STAR Home News Education August 2, 2015