Not Even the Silly Season

February 26, 2007

Oh my, this (below) made me laugh. It’s from Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words, a website worth visiting and a newsletter worth subscribing to. It’s weekly, so sometimes hard to keep up with, but almost always full of gems. He looks at new words coming into use in English (both British and American (and other variations too)), the odd history of words, and funny misuses of words.

The following is from his most recent newsletter from the section called “Recently Noted,” about words coming to prominence.

E FOR EVERYTHING So many words in the public prints now come with the “e-” (for “electronic”) prefix that I’ve long since given up mentioning them here, or in most cases even reporting them to the Oxford English Dictionary. But a big row in the UK last week led to the terms “e-petition” and “e-petitioner” becoming widely known. It all started with some bright young person in the Prime Minister’s office—some papers have fingered the in-house Web guru, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, surely an escapee from a Wodehouse novel. He had the idea that the Number 10 Web site should allow electronic petitions to be submitted. Some spectacularly silly ones have been organised, one of them demanding that mice be allowed to travel free on public transport and another one—which has gained a surprising level of informal support—arguing that Spandau Ballet’s “Gold” should become the new national anthem. The row, however, was over very tentative proposals to introduce road-pricing—charging road users by the distance they travel. At the last count, 1.8 million signatures had been added to an e-petition demanding the scheme be scrapped, even though trials are several years away and full run-out could not happen for a decade. Douglas Alexander, the Transport Secretary, was understandably displeased with the whole idea of electronic petitions. “Whoever came up with this idea must be a prat,” he said. (Prat: an incompetent or stupid person, from an old term for a person’s buttocks that also appears in “pratfall”.)

Don’t miss Gold on YouTube—priceless.


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