‘So, wow, quite unique... this is why we should fight to keep up standards of English’

Is the standard of English spoken on our TVs falling?
Is the standard of English spoken on our TVs falling?

IS it just me, or would you expect someone who has been employed as a television presenter to have a professional command of the English language as a basic requirement?

The other evening I was watching a documentary and the presenter’s constant response to everything she was shown by the people featured in the programme was “Wow” and
“Oh, wow”. It was on Channel 4 so I was willing to make allowances, but then it happened again on the BBC with two presenters frequently resorting to “Wow”.

One of those same individuals was a Muslim but it clearly wasn’t a concern to him that he repeatedly took God’s name (not Allah, but God) in vain. I would have actually preferred it if he had simply reverted to “Wow” instead, as annoying as that would have been.

We continue to have people – interviewers and interviewees – using terms like “very unique”, “absolutely unique”, “quite unique”, “the most unique” and so on. I find myself constantly, but fruitlessly, lecturing my television set on the fact that there are no degrees to uniqueness – something is either unique or it isn’t.

There’s also the use of singular subjects with plural verbs or vice-versa. For example: “If any of us are ready” – any(one) is the subject of the verb, not us, and so “If any of us is ready”. It’s the same with “One in three people are…” The subject of the verb is the one, not the three, and therefore it should be “One in three people is…” “And neither do the government” – government is singular and so “And neither does the government”.

The current endemic disease for answering a question with the word “So” continues to spread. Question: “How long you have worked here?” Answer: “So, I started when I was 16.” Question: “What do you like about Yorkshire?” Answer: “So, I find the people very friendly.” Who teaches this stuff? Who decides everyone should start talking this way? So….

And don’t get me started on the rising inflection at the end of sentences. Don’t people listen to themselves?

Another very annoying trait amongst certain BBC interviewers on radio and television is persistently interrupting the people they are interviewing. It’s very discourteous and rude. I don’t know why interviewees don’t point out that they were invited onto the programme to answer questions and that unless the interviewer is prepared to
let them do that, then they
might as well leave. I would, but then the Beeb would never ask me.

Something else I have noticed and that I suppose must fall into the category of “political correctness” is the use, or not, of subtitles.

There was a documentary recently about the cotton industry in Paisley. Some of the people being interviewed had particularly strong local accents but it had obviously been considered politically incorrect to provide viewers with subtitles, the presumption being that everyone ought to be able to understand a Scottish accent.

And yet if a programme involves a foreign speaker – from Africa or Asia for example – there will almost certainly be subtitles, the automatic presumption in this case being that we won’t understand what is being said without them. Isn’t that slightly racist?

And while we are talking about subtitles, it’s not too much of a stretch to mention the on-screen information provided by end-of-programme credits and news straplines.

Have you ever been waiting to check the name of someone in a play or a film only to have the broadcaster squash the credits to one side of the screen so they can show some unrelated self-promotional programme information at the same time – so squashed, in fact, that the names are unreadable?

Or you are sitting watching the BBC news waiting for some headline to come around again on the rolling strapline at the bottom of the screen, and just as it’s about to they switch to the weather forecast and the strapline disappears. Why it can’t be left on-screen during the forecast I don’t know – it would only mask the north of France and some might say that’s a good thing.

It’s the same with Sky
Sports. You sit watching an interminable series of league tables on the right side of the split screen waiting for the
one that is of interest to you, and just as it’s about to appear they go to a full-screen commercial break. If the Sky Sports presenters and pundits can be reduced to a split screen throughout the programme, surely the adverts are no more important?

And before anyone asks, yes, I do have other things to do than sit in front of the television all day – this is just a smattering from the time that I do – so just think how much worse things may be. Pedants of the world unite!

Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.