A recent article begins: “Those less intimate with Hungarian political culture should be aware of the significance of March 15th and October 23rd.” Now, although I think we all realise what the author means, she is in fact saying the opposite. This is a kind of rhetorical ellipsis, I suppose, for “should be made aware” or “should make themselves aware”. In speaking, one can get away with infelicities like this, but when you see it written down it jumps out at you. Unless you’re the author or editor, of course.
Last week the BBC published an article by one Megan Lane entitled “Disgust: How did the word change so completely?” which described how the word has changed very little at all.
The article begins:
Originally “disgust” was used to express distaste for rotten food or filth. Today it’s deployed against looters, phone hackers and others whose actions many find morally murky. So how did the meaning change so much?
The author, who appears to have been to university, doesn’t seem to know the meaning of “meaning”. Not a good start. She continues, self-contradictorily:
[Disgust] was not a word at [Shakespeare’s] disposal – it only entered the English language towards the end of his life.
Hmm. Not going well. Not wanting to be outdone in this festival of bollocks, up steps Gerry Breslin, who works for a dictionary:
Nowadays people and attitudes can disgust us rather than tastes and smells. The verb has lost its currency, but we do use the adjective disgusting to cover all of these usages.
At which point, with impeccable comic timing, Ms Lane asks “But what disgusts us most?”
It turns out that this isn’t a proper article about language at all, it’s just an advert for a survey the BBC is conducting about morality.
p.s. Notice that Ms Lane’s attempt to be scientific by resorting to the Google n-gram viewer is doomed to failure. As Michael Grant writes in a comment:
Actually the word’s spike in popularity started in 1750. Your graph is faulty, due to Google Books’ inability to parse a long S, ſ, as “s”. The spike at 1800 you show is actually when ſ drops out of use. Search for both “disgust” and “difguft” and you’ll see the real result: http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=difguft%2Cdisgust&year_start=1600&year_end=2000&corpus=0&smoothing=3
In The Independent, David McKittrick writes:
“All but a handful of Catholic families now remain in the village of Ahoghill, …”
Of course he means “Only…now remain” or “All but…have now left”, but “all but” is one of those phrases that can get your verbal knickers in a twist.