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04 March 2012

The developing tragedy of British tea-drinking habits

I get so many tips about articles I might like to discuss from the Voice of Russia website that it is a pleasure to have a change and find a mistake on the BBC. When I was young, one of the many sources of laughs used to be Japanese user manuals for things like transistor radios or gramophones (that was a sound reproduction device involving plastic discs, an “arm” and a needle). The electronic gadgets were so well made that we bought them even though it was hard to understand the instructions. This was not because they were written in Japanese (though they sometimes might have been), but because we were doubled up with laughter at the ludicrous misuse of the English language.
     Now that the Japanese editing industry has caught up with the country’s electronics manufacturers, we are left with the Voice of Russia website if we want a good laugh in that way. The problem is that there is no independent need to consult it. We used to read the Japanese radio manuals because we really wanted to know how to install the batteries, or find Radio Luxemburg on long wave. The radio you had would be the only object in the house which could do that. With news, which is the product that Voice of Russia offers, it is quite different. Today we have so many literate news websites that there is simply no need to consult one that is written in a language that is half-way between Mandarin Eskimo and a 10-year old Zulu’s attempt to write a science fiction version of the memoirs of Leonid Brezhnev in Xhosa.
      It is Sunday morning and I am quite hungry, but I will not get my breakfast until well into next week if I start analysing the mistakes in the article “Japan and China may face serious conflict in the East China Sea”, for example. That is why it is a relief to turn to the BBC website, where there is only one mistake in the article under discussion. This is a notice for an item on Weekend Women’s Hour which deals with a question at least as important as that of war and peace in the East China Sea: namely, should we go back to loose tea or stick with the tea-bag?
Tea first: the early morning Earl Grey, while anchored just off
the Talisker distillery on Skye
     I have strong views on the making of tea (I am a loose leaf Earl Grey man, preferring the gutsy Ahmad variety to the insipid Twinings). But I have even stronger views on the subject of the BBC’s misuse of English. As “BBC English” is thought all over the world to be some sort of gold standard, it comes as shock to read this in the trailer advertising the programme about the British tea ceremony:
In the past five years sales of that icon of British social life, the teapot, have fallen by nearly forty percent. Now a leading British store has started a campaign to bring back the civilised art of tea drinking. But can we stop the tradition of making a pot of tea from going down the spout?
     “Going down the spout”? What on earth does that mean? “Going down the tubes”, or “pan” maybe, if you are American or want to sound as if you are. But surely everyone knows that the expression is “up the spout”. It means that something has been pawned, or put in hock, due to a severe cash shortage. It can also mean to make someone pregnant, which one might have thought was a reasonably Women's Hour-ish sort of subject. Even at a purely physical level, the spout on the average teapot is so small at the outer end that it would be very hard to get anything down it, without using a funnel or a syringe. Which only goes to show that not even people at the BBC drink leaf tea—a situation which possibly ought not to surprise me. It is the kind of person who is too busy to care about how they make tea that is too busy to care about how they write English.
     The BBC should consider outsourcing its website editing services—preferably to the Japanese, since their English is improving, unlike that at the BBC which is going the other way. And they also have a decent respect for the tea ceremony, just as the British did when BBC English still ruled the airwaves.

1 comment:

  1. "A Chinese ship came close to a Japanese research vessel in a disputable zone and demanded to stop studying the sea bottom in the Chinese territorial waters" -- where do you begin...