Every year many parents of children with disabilities in the UK have to play an absurd game with their local education authority. In principle, it is a process to define the special educational needs for their child that puts in a legally binding statement the steps which the authority will take to make provision for those needs.
Providing those services, such as speech and language therapy, is sometimes expensive and the authority will try to avoid providing it, by, for example, not making mention that it is, in theory available. What should be an exercise in providing exactly what the child needs becomes a battle of wits, with parents having to find legal precedents for provision of a particular service and authorities using evasive language to shirk their responsibility to provide for the specific needs of the child. The stress this creates for both parents and children is appalling.
Parents have paid for these services through their council tax. Imagine the uproar if your council used your money to provide some sort of service such as an after school club, say, but then tried to prevent you finding out about it. And not only that, but once you have found out, the council put forward spurious arguments (sometimes involving surreal bureaucratic jargon) to prevent you using it. You then resort to legal advice or expert opinion (for which you have to pay) to establish that the council has to give you access to it, which they ultimately concede. They know that they have to provide the service but hope that you won’t have the tenacity, wits, money (sometimes) and letter-writing skills to go all the way. You are obliged fight an expensive, stressful and needless battle with council officials whose salaries are paid for by your taxes to get something you are entitled to anyway.
The result is that disabled kids whose parents don’t have the means, financial or otherwise – whom the present government euphemistically refers to as “hard working families”- are deprived of the opportunities that society supposedly affords them as a right.
This is a scandal that needs exposing and which makes a mockery of the present government’s aspirations to build a more caring and inclusive society.
So this report is very welcome.
“We call our islands by no less than six different names, England, Britain, Great Britain, the British Isles, the United Kingdom and, in very exalted moments, Albion. How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?”
George Orwell, The Lion and the Unicorn
This BBC News article, combined with a recent visit to the USA reminded me of the misunderstanding that exists in the minds of not just Americans and others but – embarrassingly – English people about when to use the word words England and English. I should stress that I don’t believe it’s malicious; more a bad habit whose avoidance can prevent giving offence to those born in the constituent countries of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland outside England. I also stress that I’m no constitutional expert: my own qualifications are merely having been born in England and living in Wales.
In short England is used wrongly to refer to the sovereign state whose formal name is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This misuse went on in political circles until relatively recently, with Winston Churchill speaking during World War Two of ‘England’ when he was referring to the aformentioned sovereign state. Or was he? There’s an essay for a first year PPE student.
Recent devolution of some government powers away from the United Kingdom government and parliament in Westminster to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have served to make this issue more important to handle sensitively.
My guide for the uncertain:
- Only use England when referring to the constituent country called England. Don’t use England if you mean the United Kingdom. If you are talking about someone or something from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland and the constituent country is relevant, don’t say ‘English’. Say Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish. If you’re not sure, see below.
- Use ‘Britain’ or ‘The United Kingdom’, or ‘The UK’ when referring to the United Kingdom or if you’re not sure – or it’s not relevant – to which constituent country you are referring. The same goes for the adjective British.
Over the last ten years or so, I’ve been noticing changes in the words that speakers of British English use. Some of those changes are due to the adoption of American English words, others are simply through misunderstanding. Here is an utterly subjective and unscientific survey of some of the changes that I have noticed. Before I am accused of being a curmudgeon, I accept that language is always evolving, so to complain about all of them is pointless. One or two of the changes, however, do seem to me excessively PC or depressingly indicative of lowered educational standards.
Will all these words still be in common British English usage ten years from now?
- problem “Problem” has a problem. It is just too negative for our upbeat, spin-obsessed age. It suggests that something is actually, er, wrong. Oh dear. Instead we have the blander issue. Consider a parent tutting about one of her children’s more badly-behaved friends: would she say “Kevin’s got problems” or would she be more tempted to say “Kevin’s got issues“? In the workplace, problems have been almost entirely banished. Great news! Now we are left with only issues and challenges which are not so bad at all, are they?
- invitation How often do you receive an invitation to a party these days? You’re more likely to receive an invite. This change of use of the word “invite” from a verb to a noun is, I believe, a result of the adoption of “invite” from American English. American software applications allow you to send your colleagues invites to meetings. In my workplace in the UK, I have not heard the word invitation used in conversation – in any context – for three years.
- take-away Take-out or takeout seems to replacing “take-away” as both noun and verb when referring to food that is bought to be consumed off the premises. In my local fish and chip shop, that most British of institutions, customers* can eat at tables instead of taking their battered cod and chips away. They are therefore asked “Is that to take out?” *Formerly known as patrons.
- insect This is now becoming only a scientific term, now replaced in everyday English by bug. I have to give bug its due: it is a short and child-friendly word.
- exploit The verb exploit is probably too resonant of those non-PC times when exploitation was the norm, by men of women, by adults of children, by the first world of the third, by the haves of the have-nots. So it appears to have been substituted by the noun leverage. Thus, where previously one would have exploited a resource, it is now leveraged. It’s probably largely used in business but it crops up elsewhere.
- sex Yes, sex will have disappeared in a few years time. But only in the sense of gender, which is now replacing it. Those with a schoolboy sense of humour will no longer have the innocent pleasure of writing “Yes, seven times a week” next to the parts of forms enquiring whether you are male or female.
- the No, we aren’t dropping the definite article entirely. Only in one particular context: in dates. These days “Friday thirteenth” is becoming more prevalent than the more old-fashioned “Friday the thirteenth”. Similarly “on”, as in “She went shopping on Wednesday” is beginning to be dropped too.
- shop No more shops. Only stores. One type of shop, the chemist’s has been replaced by the pharmacy.
- criterion The decline of the teaching of classics has resulted in a generation who don’t know that borrowed Greek words ending in “-on” take the ending “-a” in the plural. “a criteria” and “a phenomena” crop up everywhere.
- fussy If I didn’t eat my greens when I was little, mum might have told me not to be fussy. Today, in the same situation, a child is picky.
Autumn is here. I know this because I have started wearing my waxed jacket and turning on the heating in the car during the morning drive to work. Oh, and I suppose nature is sending the obvious signals too, like turning leaves a different colour. I expect the Wye Valley will be glorious in a week or two. I don’t resent the onset of Autumn with its leaden skies and winds as I used to: the landscape around here is still beautiful.
K and I have signed up for a thirty-week course of evening classes in Welsh, on Friday nights (yes, Fridays!). Not sure why my lovely wife is doing it: probably to humour me. I’m doing it a) to get me out of the house b) to stimulate the little grey cells and c) (this is the really pretentious one) because I’m trying to make a connection with the language that used to be spoken in these islands before the Saxons arrived. My colleagues and elder daughter think I’m mad, but I insist I’m not trying to be pretentious. A possible d) might be because, as an immigrant to Wales (by quarter of a mile or so) and as a sometime linguist, I think it’s only polite to try learn the language of the country one inhabits.
Oh, and I’ve started a course in barbershop/acapella singing with a local male chorus on Tuesday nights. I am singing “bom, bo-bum-bum bom bum” so much around the house that little A. thinks that particular phrase is one she should add to her vocabulary. The latter, incidentally, has now, at K’s reckoning, about a hundred words. Little A. will soon start putting them together in two’s! Most charming is the way Little A. says “goodbye” which varies with the person concerned. “Goodbye Daddy” is “Da-da-da-da-da-da Daddy”, while “Goodbye Granny” is “Na-na-na-na-na-na-nanny”. “Finished” is “finith” and “Here, take this” has become “fankoo”.
We are looking for a place to buy in Monmouth. Hard work as we don’t want to compromise and Monmouth is pricey. British houses are so small and overpriced! If you ever visit us and you come from another country, yes, small houses with low ceilings and tiny front lawns are the norm and no, we don’t like it either.