The joy of using a language ‘in the wild’

Panorama of Munich from the top of St Peter's Church
Munich’s Frauenkirche and Rathaus

Shamefully, I recently visited Munich for the first time. I use the adverb advisedly because I spent six months living in Bavaria, as part of my language degree back in the 90s. Yet, unaccountably, I failed to spend any time in Germany’s third-largest city (aside from using the airport at the start and end of my stay).

Quite aside from being an enriching travel experience – the first overseas trip I’d taken since before the pandemic – it reminded me of how important it is to refresh my language skills in the flesh.

I’ve talked before about my love of language, particularly foreign ones, and German remains one of my favourites. I started learning it 40 years ago and it still enchants me – its logic (both in terms of word construction and syntax), alongside an often-overlooked lyrical quality, make it a delight to learn and speak. Continue reading “The joy of using a language ‘in the wild’”

The cowardice of the passive voice

Ex-Prime Minister, Boris JohnsonRegular readers will know that I’m a big fan of the use of language and how small changes can drastically alter the meaning or the tone of what’s being said.

In advance of Boris Johnson appearing before the Select Committee who will determine whether he misled parliament, I was struck by one particular phrase that the ex-Prime Minister used in the dossier of evidence that he presented.

In point 4 of the introduction, it says:

…I accept that the House of Commons was misled by my statements…

What’s notable about that sentence is that he uses the passive voice. Basically, Boris Johnson is admitting he told a fib/lie/untruth (whatever you want to call it), but the way he phrases it, means that he doesn’t explicitly take responsibility. Continue reading “The cowardice of the passive voice”

How ‘sweary’ do swearwords need to be?


When I was a kid in the 70s and 80s, I was brought up not to swear. If my mum had heard me uttering the ‘f’ word, I’d have been lamped and send to the naughty step.

I once remember using the word ‘prat’ and being roundly chastised, not knowing that it wasn’t just a word for an idiot, but also someone’s arse. Wash my mouth out with soap.

But as society has evolved, the ability of swearwords to cause offence has become far more difficult. My 77-year-old mum went to an adult pantomime this week – I can’t imagine for a second imagine it wasn’t full of cussing.

There is, however, one area of the UK establishment where swearing is still frowned upon. That’s the BBC. Yes, the last bastion of prudishness, where apologies are issued for any expletive within seconds. Continue reading “How ‘sweary’ do swearwords need to be?”