Live by the sword…

Ranting about the lack of precision in language is one thing and quite a popular thing too, but being able to weed out all the imprecision in your own speech is another. I love “the skeptics guide to the universe” and James Randi, with his million dollar prize. I’m trying to listen to their entire back catalogue of podcasts (over 8 years worth) and enjoying it greatly.

The only thing that bothers me is that at times they can be quite prescriptive about language use. This doesn’t seem fitting for sceptics, -but at the same time, its hardly surprising for me to see scientists muscle in on linguists’ territory.

Anyway, episode 181 features a section with James Randi complaining about imprecision in language use; redundant’ phrases like “unfortunate tragedy”, “rich millionaires” and a “deadly fatality”. Fine, go ahead and complain about this stuff, but if you are going to complain Randi, then in the very next breath, don’t say something like this:


[interviewees] begin every single response with the phrase “well…”


Hold on, every single? As a oppose to what? Surely if you want to remove redundancy this should be “every response”. Randi has shown here that it’s a lot easier to pick at things you don’t like than to actually remove all of the supposed imperfections from your speech. If you’re going to criticize language use you’d better make sure yours is perfect. Five seconds before he makes this ‘blunder’ Randi says:

I understand that this is only an expression but it’s a careless one.

And here’s another expression “live by the sword, die by the sword.”