Archive for April, 2012

How to talk about climate change

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

We love language that resonates with the listener. So how do you talk about climate change in a way that makes people sit up? “It’s one thing to talk about C02 emissions going from 280 parts per million to 380 parts per million, that doesn’t really ring any bells, but people do understand food prices. They see them every week at the supermarket”

This was pre-written

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

Pre-ordering seems to be the latest thing. It’s all the rage. The term ‘pre-ordering’ seems to have become a useful way for online retailers to prompt us to buy something before it’s available. DVDs, downloads, pants – you can pre-order them all. But whether it’s likely to arrive tomorrow or in six months’ time, aren’t we just ‘ordering’?

Imagine I’m in Costa and I ask for a coffee with hot milk. The chances are that my coffee hasn’t yet been made. I may even pay for it before it’s been manufactured and placed in my grateful little mitt. I asked for a coffee. I didn’t pre-ask for it. I ordered it and there wasn’t anything particularly ‘pre’ about it. How is it any different for a book that isn’t yet ready to be sent to me or an album that isn’t yet ready to download? All that matters to me is when I’m going to get it.

There are other abuses of this poor little prefix that upset me even more than pre-ordered. ‘Pre-warn’ and ‘Pre-plan’, for example. How can you warn or plan unless it’s ‘before’? The only way I can pre-warn someone is to say: “I’d like to warn you that I will warn you that a rabbit is about to eat your sandwiches.” I can’t think of a scenario where ‘pre-plan’ would make any sense.

With ‘warn’ and ‘plan’, adding ‘pre’ is pointless. It’s a waste of three perfectly decent letters that could be busy doing something useful somewhere else. And ‘Pre-recorded’? How can you ‘pre-record’ anything? If something’s been recorded, it must have happened in the past. A radio programme that isn’t live wasn’t ‘pre-recorded’. It was just recorded. And then it was broadcast. Until Apple invents the iTimeTravel, we can’t record things from the future. Preposterous.