CHRIS COOPER'S BLOG - infrequent forays into fun, freedom, fysics and filosophy...

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Blogosophical Investigations
Sunday, May 18, 2003  

I've just listened to as much of the ineffably self-satisfied Broadcasting House as I could bear this morning. Among other subjects on which it cast darkness was the 'referendums'-versus-'referenda' split. Now, I don't do 'referendums'. Obviously, it's a perfectly legitimate usage: anybody who opposed it as 'incorrect' should be required henceforth to use 'agenda' as a plural. But I find 'referendums' an ugly and needless novelty. You have to be colour-blind to past English usage to like it – to want to regularize usage at the cost of idiom and diversity, to whitewash over the outward and visible signs of the word's history. It's the favoured usage of those who view and listen but don't read a printed page.

And why should people who are not so inclined have to do anything so old-fashioned as read a printed page? There's not an argument that would persuade them. But don't ask me to enjoy their linguistic company.

What bothers me most about 'referendums' is not the usage itself but the supernatural speed with which, having been adopted in government publications, it was taken up as the preference of newspapers, radio and TV. It's as if everyone thought usage were determined from the centre and no-one had the confidence to look to any other authority.

9:23 AM

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