Tuesday, 21 November 2006

I shall enquire what time the inquiry begins

Americans have added many useful words to our (and their) language, but they have also lost a few. They use inquiry for all purposes and for them at least enquiry seem to be disappearing—Google offers 108 million pages containing the first and only 42 million with the second. (They sometimes pronounce either of them oddly to our ear: en-kwuh-ree, where we say en-kwahyuhr-ee.) In England we can, if we want and can be bothered, preserve a distinction: enquiry is used for asking a question, inquiry for making an investigation.

There is another distinction we can make which the Americans cannot. We can write programme when we mean a plan of activities, a radio or television performance, or a list of items, performers, etc in a theatrical or musical entertainment, or we can write program when we mean a sequence of instructions enabling a computer to solve a problem, while they can only write program, whichever they mean.

My programme for the rest of the afternoon is to launch an inquiry into the reasons why I have spent so much time on a matter of no importance to writers and of very little interest to anyone, including me.

11 comments:

Grumio said...

Being as how you know about these things, do you know why Americans feeled compelled to add redundant syllables, for exampe public transportation when transport would do?

Tony said...

For the same reason that they feel compelled to add superfluous prepositions (check up on, meet with)

Grumio said...

Ah I see. Thanks.

Grumio said...

Wait up! What's that reason again?

Tony said...

How do you mean?

Grumio said...

What's the reason they feel compelled to add redundant syllables or superfluous prepositions? Or indeed to remove perfectly unsuperfluous prepositions – I wrote you a letter Tuesday?

Tony said...

Well, there are two reasons for this.

Grumio said...

Oh.

I was expecting three. Are you sure?

Amanda said...

Irregardless of whether it be the Americans or the British who entrap themselves in the necessitation for supererogative syllables, it seems to me that excessive syllabic loquacity is just an ironical measure orientated to confuscate the euphemistically challenged.

Tony said...

Grumio: No, only two.

Amanda: I daresay you are right. Let us agree that logorrhea and similar afflictions are prevalent in equal measure on both sides of the Atlantic and are to be deplored wherever they are found.

Grumio said...

Yeah too much words.