Thursday, 31 January 2013

Been to the bin lately?

We have much to thank America for: McDonalds, Budweiser beer, Elvis Presley and bourbon whiskey, to name some random examples. I do not, however, feel moved to thank it for the corruption of our language.
When we were teaching English in China we were shocked to find that the course books which we were expected to use (but did not) were American. Hang on, we thought, we are here to teach English: surely that means British English not American English. We were wrong and that’s China’s choice of course.
Personally, I have no problem with Americans speaking their own form of the language – in fact I quiet like it, sometimes. I don’t even mind Americans saying ‘bin’ when they mean ‘been’. It’s just their way, I suppose.
In fact when I grew up in the Gloucestershire we said ‘bin’ when we meant ‘been’. But that was just our way, I suppose. We also said ‘sin’ when we meant ‘seen’ and ‘snot’ when we meant ‘it is not’. We spoke a sort of slangy dialect and I had to unlearn it as I grew older, particularly when I ‘nidded to spik’ to foreign folk or attend a job interview.
Funny you know, no one says ‘baked bins’ when they mean ‘baked beans’ or ‘grin’ when they mean ‘green’. Yet it has recently become very popular in Britain to say ‘bin’ instead of ‘bean’.
OK, I know what you are thinking: grumpy old man and all that; picky old sod, or peaky old cod; a latter day canny newt trying to hold back the tide of change.
But why, oh why do British people pick up these things from the USA? In particular, why, oh why, are people here saying ‘bin’ when they mean ‘been’ even at the BBC? Also why are they all saying ‘guy’ when they could say: man, chap, fellow, bloke, etc? Is it because they are deliberately emulating Americans, admiring Americans, being trendy, going with the flow, or just showing a liberality of spirit? Or do they genuinely enjoy confusing foreigners? I would really like to know.
I am not trying to hold back the tide of change: English is an ever-evolving language and that is one of the reasons that it is the second language of the world. But ‘bin’ when you mean ‘been’ is not an evolution, it’s a confusion. We do need new words to express new concepts. I don’t tweet much but I see the need for the word – any twit can see that. I couldn’t blog until the Internet, etc had matured sufficiently to allow me to so, and then we really needed a word for it. And so on.
Well there we are. Glad I’ve got this off my chest. It’s bin bothering me a lot lately.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Bookends: Hedy Lamarr revisited and goodbye to Harry Potter.

I’m bereft. I’ve just finished two books that I enjoyed very much and in very different ways. Do you know that feeling? You get caught up in a story so much that you devote more and more time to reading it, then it’s finished and there is a sense of loss - a little like losing a pet dog or something.
More of that in a moment. I have news. After reading my book on Hedy Lamarr and her contribution to the invention of spread spectrum, a friend commented that it was now out-of-date. My initial thoughts were: too bad, I’m busy writing my science fiction novel, what’s done is done. But he had pricked my conscience. I looked at the book and was shocked to find that eight years had passed since I first published it. More than that it is my best seller as an eBook and it is a publishing adage that books sold sell yet more books (like everyone else I list all of my eBook titles in each book).
Most of Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the mobile phone is historical. Hedy died right at the start of the 21st century and that would seem to draw a line beneath the story. However, my book was not simply a biography of Hedy and her friends; there are plenty of those around anyway. No, it was in fact an attempt to trace the history and development of this spread spectrum thing in an approachable way. Spread spectrum is the technology that, amongst many other uses, carries most of the wireless Internet traffic worldwide. Ain’t that something?
Spread spectrum is the basis of the third generation of cellular which was just entering the mainstream when I first wrote the book. Now the fourth generation is just entering the mainstream promising ever-faster Internet access and that makes my book look really dated - at least in the penultimate chapters. I’ve launched the new version on the Kindle store for a knock down price 99 pence or cents. If any of you bought the first version on Kindle and want the update then email with the address of you Kindle and I will send it to you free.
Back to reading rather than writing. Yes, I have completed the final volume of the Harry Potter saga: all volumes read in Spanish over a period of four years or so. And my opinion of them at the end of it all? Damn good. Of course, it’s a flawed opinion because my Spanish is pretty crappy – though hopefully a little better for the experience. Actually, the first book was an easy read even for me, but by the time I got to the last one Harry had become an eighteen-year-old and the vocabulary used had grown with him. I found it very hard going yet still mostly resisted grabbing the dictionary (a sure way to lose the thread). The plot is masterly and its appeal to children undeniable. There’s a good balance between slow and fast movement together with all the ingredients of a good tale: love and hate, sin and goodness, friendship and jealousy, exhilaration and depression, birth and death, loyalty and treachery – topped off with a happy ending. If you had asked me four years ago whether I would one day be expressing such praise for J K Rowling’s creation I would have laughed in disbelief, but there we are. And it’s all great background for my Oxford tours – the fans think that I really know my stuff about Harry!
The other book I have just finished is Absolute Power by David Baldacci. This starts with a bizarre scene involving the president of the US beating up his best friend’s young wife whilst watched unbeknown by a burglar trapped in a closet behind a two-way mirror: the unfaithful wife then attacks the president and two secret service spooks shoot her dead. Believable? Not at all, but I was drawn in and thoroughly enjoyed a narrative that became increasingly complex in which the baddies do get what is coming for them. And it’s mostly well written and fast moving.
By the way, I haven’t read a real book since I got my Kindle. I may even invest in a Paperwhite so that I can read in bed without disturbing my long-suffering wife. She will then have my old one. Kindle sharing doesn’t really work and she doesn’t read in bed.