Doctor Dominic Holland, no less…

dog

I begin with an exchange I had this morning walking my dog, to demonstrate the  importance of language and to frame the subject of this blog.

Tess (my dog) and I are in the park. It is baking hot and neither of us are very comfortable. A lady approaches me in a very flustered state and I am curious and happy to assist with whatever she needs.

‘Excuse me, but can I borrow a pooh bag?’ She asks.

The obvious solution here is to oblige and to ignore the incorrect use of the verb, borrow  and of course, this is what happened. I duly handed over a bag and with a smile. We’ve all been there, right?

But you see my point?

Because the verb, ‘to borrow’ means that something will be used and then returned.

People borrow things like pens. Lawn mowers on occasion or a leaf blower…

But never a pooh bag.

No one borrows a pooh bag. I handed over a pooh bag and I was not expecting it back. Indeed, if the lady had tried to return it to me, I would have refused.

Because I did not lend her the bag. I gave her the bag.

And so her question should have been…

Could I have a pooh bag, please?

But I guess borrowing feels a little kinder and is less of an ask. A little softer, which I guess for a pooh bag, is appropriate?

Many of my readers are American and as welcome as they are to my various sites, I qualify this welcome by stating that ‘Americanisms’ blight the beautiful thing that is the English language.  .

“Can I get…” is particularly egregious and grates on me because all of my boys use it.

Most typically, in a bar, or a restaurant…

‘Yeah, can I get a beer?’ ‘Can I get a tuna melt…’

No, you can’t.

You can have a beer. Or a sandwich.

But you can’t get it, yourself.

Because it is my job to get you your beer. Or your sandwich. This is not self-service establishment.  It is my job to serve you. So you can have a beer. But I will get it for you.

You see my point now?

I hope.

It’s all about rigour and using things correctly and this includes language.

This is down to culture of course; trends and fashions and trying to sound cool. But it is also down to education, which is a hot topic this week.

I write this on the day that A levels results are announced in the UK which is the barometer of education standards and attainment in our country. Always a difficult day for me because with grade inflation (or cleverer students?), it means that with every passing year, I become comparatively more stupid and less well qualified.

And even more controversial this year since no students have actually sat any exams due to lockdown – which might mean that our newspapers carry less photos of students looking gleeful and bound for university.

Looking gleeful very much depends on what course and at what university. Stem subjects, engineering, medicine, maths… but most of the arts degrees these days and certainly any degree with ‘studies’ in the title, is probably best avoided.

Getting to university used to be an achievement in itself. But not any longer.

None of my boys so far have gone to university and I am quietly hoping that Paddy swerves it too. I have two university degrees myself, both of which were uninspiring and never needed, until now perhaps, since my chosen profession is illegal for the time-being and no one is keen to predict when comedy clubs are allowed to fill up again.

Not that I am eschewing education; just that I believe that my most valuable educators have been my parents. And that whatever successes I have enjoyed in life is on them more than any exams I managed to pass.

Candidates for this years A levels (17 and 18 year olds) and GCSE’s (16 year olds) are being given grades on a number of criteria including in some instances how the students fared in their mock examinations.

Which brings me to an indelible memory of mine…

At school I was not academic but I worked hard and did my best. My best subject was not easy to discern but it was certainly not maths, or math for the Americans (which grates also, because surely in the US, students do more than one mathematical sum and so it should be plural – so maths and not math) nor any of the sciences.

At school, I was interested by science, but I had no affinity for it and especially not  Chemistry: a subject that combined science with algebra and completely confounded me.

For our mock O level Chemistry exam (now GCSE), our teacher, a priest called Father Lawrence somehow thought it was a good idea to give us all his exam paper in advance.

Hard working and diligent, I got to work preparing – and was duly awarded 96%.

That is 96 out of a 100 BTW.

First in class and bizarrely, Father Lawrence heralded my scientific brilliance. I was predicted a grade A in the forthcoming exam.

An exam paper that I did not see in advance – and the crucial difference it transpired – managing only a grade E – the same grade I managed for English at my first attempt.

But unlike English, I did not attempt Chemistry again deciding to move on and leave science to the kids who I admired but had little in common with.

But I wonder now if this was not a mistake on my part. Because what might have been.

Like the Covid students of the UK – being assessed and awarded on the outcome of their mocks…

Can you now see the opportunity that I gave up?

I have written to the Examinations Board of the UK – demanding  that my 1983 mock GCSE chemistry result should be formally recognised - and furthermore that my grade E is expunged.

And because my career as a comedian might never recover from Covid, I have decided to take my chemistry brilliance to retrain...

To become a doctor, no less.

And finally, I wonder if there are some dog owners reading this piece who are still wondering what a pooh bag is?

I hope not and I suspect not. My readers are far too classy and responsible to leave their dog mess for other people to stand in or clear up.

My readers are good people.

Dare I say it, but to borrow another Americanism…

My readers, rock.

Get it!

 

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33 Comments

  1. Sydnee Coleman August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Lovely blog Mr. H, I can see where you’re coming from, if that’s the way the pathway went for me, I’d probably be a welder somewhere or in the sciences. See, I did quite well in chemistry and math starting high school, but through the years, it just lost its self to me. I also blame my dad and an English teacher I had about my pathway in to the arts and literature. I wasn’t a very good reader growing up until about 16 years of age and then I devoured books like I couldn’t get enough of them. I read anything and everything. I love the idea of you becoming a doctor but who said it has to be in Sciences or math, as long as you have a doctorate it can be in anything; a doctorate in music, a doctorate in writing, a doctorate in making sandwiches lol, as long as you have a doctorate you are a doctor and if this is a pathway you were hoping to choose I can’t wait to meet Dr. Holland in the future

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      If I were to become a doctor, there is a good chance that people in my neighbourhood would change lifestyles to avoid ever getting sick.

    • El August 17, 2020
      Reply

      When my dog poops next to another dogs poop that is left behind, I groan because it seems ridiculous if I don’t pick both up but gross because it’s not the tiny poop I’ve been scooping for the last 14 years. This dilemma every time. What would you do?

      • Dom August 17, 2020
        Reply

        always a dilemma and a sad moment also – because how can people be so disgusting and removed from society to leave their shit for other people to stand in or deal with.

  2. Susie August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Well as an American who owns a dog I call them poo bags, which I seem to constantly have on me. Pooh brings to mind Winnie the Pooh in which case I would need a much larger poo bag!

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      that’s a good point – I wonder now if my H has been unnecessary

  3. Regina August 16, 2020
    Reply

    As an American, I was quite surprised to read your dislike of our use of the word “get.” It never crossed my mind. Do other people in the UK use it too or just your boys? And do they use it because of time spend in America? Do “Americanisms” influence the UK? Again, something I’ve never thought about. I’ve only traveled to countries that don’t speak English so I’ve never noticed a transference of slang. Plus, to be honest, I don’t actually know what is turns of phrase and words are specific to us (besides Math and trunk and parking lot and cell phone….and that all comes from watching Sherlock where they used other words to describe those things so I figured what we say is American).

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      the fact is that worldwide, most kids want to emulate America and Americana. America entertains the world and this has a powerful influence

  4. Rach Watson August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Great post – the whole uni thing is very odd. Both hubby and I went, both of us at that point the first offspring in our families to go. Neither of our girls are even remotely bothered, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest – considering it was touted as a must in our era, the systematic profitifying (if it wasn’t a word it is now) of unis has just killed the vibe, the excitement, the experience of just being at uni as it was for us. Really sad. Both of us worked in HE for years (he still does) and after a decade it was the most soul-destroying place to be – I’m sad that they won’t experience uni as we did, but not that they won’t have a degree that they bust a gut for and will never use.

    As for pooh bags – I think every pocket I own has one in it. Mortifying being caught out without one

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      I agree with you – if my boys had been very academic, then I might have encouraged University with a view to the professions – but I do think too many kids are deceived and that most of the jobs university creates are for the people working in universities.

  5. Márcia Malaquias August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Hi Dom, very funny , maybe next time she will give you a new bag But here in Brazil it is typical for people to take their adorable dogs for a walk and not to take schools for pickup. I have a university degree I did Fashion Business (But my great Passion is Plastic Art) although before going back to university some said that I would make a great lawyer (but I believe not, due to my shyness) so I express myself better in Art (works manuals)

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      plastic art sounds like fun – keep going

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      The idea of me giving a lesson in anything…

  6. Theresa August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Another great blog Dom. As the parent of a year 11 daughter I am feeling a little anxious at the prospect of results day on Thursday. She did really well throughout her secondary years and in her exams and she felt cheated being unable to sit the main event. She does want to go to uni (it was never uni in my day but university by the way!) to study media; wanting to go into production ultimately. She’s passionate about her future A Level topics, English, Art and Media and one hopes another pandemic doesn’t scupper those exams too! I didn’t go to university- I got a place at Cardiff and 2 weeks before I was due to go I changed my mind (much to my parents dismay) I therefore didn’t get a degree but did get a bloomin’ good job , met my future husband and had the daughter we are now so incredibly proud of !

    • Dom August 16, 2020
      Reply

      Good luck to your daughter – you sound fine and eminently sensible and measured and as such, I am sure she will do very well indeed.

  7. Lauren August 16, 2020
    Reply

    I love reading your blog every Sunday!
    I find it very interesting that these Americanisms have been an influence in the UK, or at least on your sons. Are there more of these terms or slang that have become normalized in your home? I would love to hear more about these differences or even more about what has been adopted by the UK from America and vice versa.

  8. Abigail C August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Excellent post! Marilyn McEntyre’s “Caring for Words in A Culture of Lies” also resonates these concerns for language. All and all, a great read and greatly inspired!

  9. Brandi August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Such a great read! I live in the States and not long after I graduated high school (ahem….1993), the school districts (different cities) changed the way that the students learned math. They called it the “new math” and quite frankly I would probably not have passed any of the maths no matter how many we offer lol. I can also remember not wanting to attend college. I just didn’t want to go because everyone else was going and even as a teen, I knew the financial struggle it was going to be on my parents and I didn’t want to do that. I don’t regret it at all. In fact, it allows me to appreciate what I do for an occupation (banking) that much more. Love the blog….fantastic writing!

    • Dom August 17, 2020
      Reply

      that’s kind, thank you

  10. Leigh Fine August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Interesting take on the topic. I get it. (Heh.)

    I am much more relaxed with regards to this, but I am an American and skill of code switching between dialects is an important aspect of our culture. It isn’t the use of academic language that indicates intelligence, but the ability to know when to use which language rules, which is quite complex, and even more confusingly, constantly changing.

    I was just discussing this topic last week with one of my GISH teammates, who is a doctor (he’s one of two neurologists on our team) and who also received his undergraduate degree in linguistics, with both of us agreeing that descriptivism is superior to prescriptivism with regards to language and grammar usage, but specifically with regards to the social necessities of code switching between dialects. Strictly academic language is only appropriate within one setting, and the use of dialects or colloquial language, words or constructions intended to sound “cool,” including slang, are all elements of subtextual language used to demonstrate group inclusion or exclusion, which is an important component of communication aside from denotative meaning, or judgments that one has not followed the grammar rules of Standard Written English. Dialects themselves have consistent prescriptive grammar rules of their own, as has been extensively studied with African American Vernacular English. Their use does not indicate a lack of education with regards to SWE, but rather a familiarity with the specific dialect.

    All of which is a terribly long-winded and didactic way of saying that knowing when not to use academic language and to use other cultural indicators via language involves higher language arts skills than someone who only speaks in a single dialect and who would sound like a professor at all times. It requires superior social skills to know when not to exclude oneself.

    Perhaps the funniest, snootiest, and extensively language explorative of this topic that I am aware of is DFW’s essay, which is disguised as a review of a dictionary. I enjoyed reading it, but I’m a big nerd who struggles with appropriate code switching to indicate adherence to in-group inclusion rules.
    https://genius.com/David-foster-wallace-tense-present-democracy-english-and-the-wars-over-usage-annotated

    I interpreted the meaning of “borrowed” with regards to consumables to indicate an intention to return a like item in the future, as in an IOU, rather than the specific item being “borrowed,” just as a person who borrows ten dollars won’t return the specific bills given, but an equal amount. Borrowing a cup of sugar is another example. A borrowed cup of sugar will be eaten, but the “borrowing” involves the intention to replace that cup with a different cup of sugar one day. “Replace” would be more precise, but would probably actually confuse someone if you were to say, “May I please have and then replace a poor bag one day in the undetermined future?” The very fact that to “borrow” it is understood indicates that the meaning is well-understood.

    Regardless, the image of someone giving you a poo bag back is pretty funny.

    • Dom August 17, 2020
      Reply

      Okay Leigh, I think i have a grasp of what your point here. But no matter, since you win the prize for most eloquent and powerful comment ever left on my blog. Congratulations. There is no prize BTW – just kudos.

  11. Ginevra August 16, 2020
    Reply

    This one really made me laugh ! Especially the beginning. It is indeed a great idea to fix some mistakes people can make while speaking English . ( which is done with humour in this blog !). Those blogs are so easy to read, because they’re so entertaining. And lastly, thanks for the « my readers are good people ». You and your family are good people too.

  12. sonali August 16, 2020
    Reply

    hey, i love you so much. i learnt English as the second language in high school n then the main language in jr college. not studied academically later.
    I personally think that when she said borrow, she meant to return an empty pooh bag which would be exactly identical, like stamps, or coins, though as i understand you, you consider both instances separate (as I think myself by myself that all instances are unique, even data may be the same. Because the memory address(es) which contain instance address(es) is(are) different though again they(es?) may contain same address.). And this is so perfect dad for me. though of course, being almost of same age, there is no chance that you could be my dad, at least biologically and now or with adoption. just clarifying! lots of love, sonali

  13. Morghan Mohan August 16, 2020
    Reply

    Hi Mr. Holland
    I love reading your blogs every Sunday.
    It’s funny I was reading your blog when I walked my dog this morning and someone came up and asked me that same question .
    Thanks for the lesson learned.
    I am going into my first year at University so I hope I do good.
    Thanks for the blogs

    • Dom August 17, 2020
      Reply

      Im sure you’ll do fabtastic

    • Dom August 17, 2020
      Reply

      hey sandie – I have always struggled with fewer/less

      • Louise August 18, 2020
        Reply

        The lady had fewer poo bags than you because fewer refers to the number of things, and if you have the smaller dog you would be dealing with less poo than her because less than refers to amount of the stuff. Less rain, fewer rain drops, etc. Hope that helps.
        Lovely blog. I find americanisms irritating too. On the other hand, being a native Burtonian and working mainly in north Derbyshire and Notts I have had to pick up the lingo so my patients understand what I’m on about! Swings and roundabouts. I dare say I’d go American if I worked there too. Gosh darn it.

  14. Victoria August 17, 2020
    Reply

    I never knew that us Americans used “get” instead of “have.” I just thought people around the world used “get,” but now I see that it is incorrect grammar. Thanks, Dom!

    I also don’t say “pooh bags.” I use toilet paper to pick it up and flush it, but I’ve heard people be straightforward and say “poop bags” which I find kinda gross when I hear it.

  15. tatiana August 31, 2020
    Reply

    I am from Colombia
    If it seems strange to you to borrow a bag in Colombia, you would go crazy.
    here everything is loaned or given away or you just ask them to pass it on to you.
    you come to a bar and you say: you give me a beer
    but in the context of the conversation it’s like a gift obviously you have to pay , Or say thank you and say “God pay you” but god doesn’t pay for you jajajjaja
    but it has a lot to do with our culture and our way of being
    that’s just one example of what you can hear here, without taking into account that a word can mean up to 5 different things (for something they say that Spanish is the most difficult language to learn)
    I had a lot of fun reading
    I am sorry for my bad english
    use translator… ups

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