Friday, 6 April 2012

a bit of surly philology

Two misuses of our great language have recently come to my attention: the word (noun and verb)'hike' and 'magical'.

In last week's online Scottish Review the following error occurred in an article about a failing investment company:
'Mr Gilbert, his deputy chief exec and the financial director each took a hike of £100,000 a year.' It is true that the verb to 'hike' can mean to elevate, hoist, adjust as in 'she hiked up her skirts' (eg to climb a stile). But 'take a hike ' usually means 'get lost' in the sense of 'go away' ' make oneself scarce' either literally or metaphorically. It belongs to the same family of injunctions or imprecations as 'Get a life'.

The second utterance that gave me pause for thought was the description on the radio today of science being 'in the best sense, magical'. In my book, science and magic are quite literally opposites. One - science - belongs to a school of thought, or method, about how the material world works, and reliable ways of discovering and predicting repeatable phenomena within certain clearly defined limits. Science involves transparent observation, experimental design and statistical analysis of the results. Magic trades on mystery and mumbo-jumbo. So what did the speaker mean 'in the best sense'. I think the speaker is a lazy user of the language, and was trying to say that science is wonderful.

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