Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Indignance, the passive and euphemism

with 19 comments

Jeremy Kyle mouth
Image by talkingimo via Flickr

Marina Hyde, blogging for the Guardian online, writes of TV presenter Jeremy Kyle:

No matter that a judge famously described his programme as “human bear-baiting”, or that ITV has had to issue a litany of excruciating denials about how guests are treated before going on air, my favourite being their response to accusations that they fired up some of them with booze. With exquisite indignance, the network chuntered: “Two of the guests were given alcohol to counteract withdrawal symptoms.” Ah, I see. Do forgive the error.

Three things:

‘Indignance’ is not a word I’ve come across before and it doesn’t appear in the Oxford Dictionary of English or on the Oxford Dictionaries site.  It seems pretty obvious that it means ‘indignation’, but is it a ‘proper’ word? Well,  Webster’s Online Dictionary lists it. Nonetheless, I think I prefer ‘indignation’ for the very good grammatical reason that I prefer it.

Secondly and thirdly, note in ITV’s quoted statement a craven example of the responsibility-free passive (Two of the guests were given alcohol) and transparent euphemism (‘to counteract withdrawal symptoms’). Excellent double whammy there.

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Commonly confused and just plain wrong

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Written by Wordwatch

10/10/2010 at 6:16 pm

19 Responses

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  1. I’m still stuck on ‘chuntered’..I’ve never heard it before and trundled off to look it up. Taking into account the quote above, I expected it to be synonymous with something like ‘to counter with.’ However, the definition I found says that it’s idiomatic to British English and means to ‘mutter, murmur, grumble or grouse – or make a low rumbling noise.’ Somehow, in the above context that seems a little odd; Would the network mutter or murmur indignantly?
    P.S. I imagine that Jeremy Kyle is England’s version of Jerry Springer? Yucko.

    Jo

    10/10/2010 at 7:46 pm

    • Hi, Jo — How interesting! I’m so used to using/seeing that word that I didn’t even notice it was there! I didn’t even realise it was a British expression, but the ODE confirms that it is. As well as referring to a person ‘chuntering’ it can also be used to describe something moving slowly and noisily, for example, ‘the car chuntered along the track’.

      ‘The network chuntered’ does not sound odd to me – it’s just a more pejorative way of saying, ‘the network said’. But I can see how it might sound strange to anyone who is not familiar with chuntering in the first place. If you get my drift. Thanks, Jo.

      Deborah

      10/10/2010 at 8:30 pm

  2. Thanks for that perspective, Deborah. I can see that it wouldn’t look strange to someone used to seeing it. When I first saw it, I read ‘chundered’, instead of ‘chuntered,’ which err…startled me! 🙂

    Jo

    10/10/2010 at 9:10 pm

    • The British can’t claim ‘chunder’ — that’s more Australian, I think. Given the nature of the statement, though, it could work just as well in this example!

      Deborah

      11/10/2010 at 7:30 am

  3. Here, up in’t north, tha knows, in speech, at least, it’s universally rendered as “chunnered / chunnering” and only ever in the context of someone muttering inaudibly or pointlessly – “Speak up will yer; stop chunnerin’!” Though it’s many years since I’ve actually heard it.

    And have you noticed how southern hacks always render terms like “up in’t north” as the utterly wrong and unpronounceable (except by a Kalahari Bushman), “up in t’north”? Just a thought . . .

    Ron

    11/10/2010 at 9:04 am

    • Hi, Ron — that’s interesting. I lived in the north for a number of years and heard many expressions that were unfamiliar to me, but never ‘chunnered/chunnering’. Or perhaps I was just ‘hearing’ the more familiar, to me, ‘chuntering’ version. Also — no, I hadn’t noticed the ‘t’north’ thing. I’ve never tried writing northern dialect, but I think I might have been guilty of the same sin if I had (being an aforementioned southern hack)…

      Deborah

      11/10/2010 at 9:19 am

      • “t’north” or, “‘t’mill” – in the context of trouble at – seem to occur rather a lot in the Guardian for some reason which, given its antecedents, grates rather.

        “The North” though, embraces fair number of regional dialects, and a word-form which occurs on one may not occur in another. I was thinking specifically of Lancashire/Merseyside- Derbyshire- Cumbria, though it crops up the the Yorkshires, too. Chunnering, though, along with mithering (pestering), seems to have fizzled out over the last 40-50 years, though the latter gets a mention in the ODE.

        Ron

        11/10/2010 at 9:52 am

        • I heard ‘mithering’ a lot — most often said by parents about their children. It’s a word that’s very suggestive of its meaning, I think. Thanks, Ron.

          Shameless promotion of previous post on accents and dialects.

          Deborah

          11/10/2010 at 10:12 am

          • The electronic ODE on my Kindle works pretty well, by the way (you asked me to let you know) – you input either the whole word or – quicker – keep an eye on the list it throws up as you input each letter – the right word is often displayed before you finish. Select and click. Done.

            It gives definitions and basic etymology – how does that compare with the print version?

            Ron

            11/10/2010 at 1:06 pm

            • Sounds good, Ron. My version does keep me fit though — I keep it carefully filed on the floor next to me and so weightlifting skills are required every time I want to check something. I really should do something about the office ergonomics around here.

              Deborah

              11/10/2010 at 1:12 pm

              • I’m certainly reading more since I got the Kindle, both print and ebooks, so it was a worthwhile investment and – no matter how many books I cram into it, it gets no heavier and takes up no more room!

                Ron

                11/10/2010 at 1:29 pm

  4. I have no idea who Jeremy Kyle is, but the bear-baiting nature of his show must be apparent to the idiots who watch it or appear on it. Those who appear on it must do so for some form of compensation: money, small fame, venting, warped therapy, etc. So I don’t see the problem if the guests and viewers get exactly what they came for — Marina Hyde’s highbrow opinions notwithstanding.

    Michael Farrell

    11/10/2010 at 2:58 pm

    • Hi, Michael — yes, I think many people would agree with that viewpoint. I’m not familiar with this show at all, but perhaps the imbalance of power between the TV company/the producers/Kyle and the guests is potentially discomfiting.

      Deborah

      11/10/2010 at 3:06 pm

      • That would be like complaining about the imbalance of power when you step in front of a freight train.

        Michael Farrell

        11/10/2010 at 3:10 pm

        • Perhaps, as Hercule Poirot is wont to say.

          Deborah

          11/10/2010 at 3:41 pm

  5. I had a hard time following all of her writing. It was like she was writing in a code that only a select few could decipher, but maybe it’s just because I’m not familiar with the subject.

    Lisa

    12/10/2010 at 3:13 am

    • Hi, Lisa — you mean Agatha Christie? I’m not keen on the actual books, either. But here in Blighty some excellent TV adaptations have been made of Marple and Poirot. Good for a bit of escapism!

      Deborah

      12/10/2010 at 7:26 am

  6. Hi Deborah,

    Regarding Jeremy Kyle, I’ve never willingly watched his show, but it was invariably on in a pub I used to frequent (and is the main reason why I go there no longer). (For those who don’t know me, I’m not a drunk, being in the pub at that hour – whatever social life I have has to happen during the day – evenings are a wipeout.)

    Describing it as “bear-baiting” though is probably unfair to bears – it’s not that sophisticated.

    If anyone has any doubts that British society is going to hell in a handbasket, watching Kyle will dispel them. It’s Cyril Kornbluth’s “The Marching Morons” writ large.

    Marina Hyde, on the other hand, is one of the best writers currently languishing at the Grauniad.

    Ron

    12/10/2010 at 9:17 am

    • Sorry, Ron — I just slightly edited your comment. The butler was worried a Kyle-style punch-up might ensue, and his bouncer days are long over. He’s sending round a consolation cake as I speak. I’m not into science fiction and had to look up Kornbluth. I was interested to read that the protagonist from the past who came up with the ‘final solution’ was also despatched in the same way. He who lives by the sword…or something.

      Deborah

      12/10/2010 at 4:32 pm


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