English on the Internet - English Magazine


January 2, 2000

Many Christmas greetings my Czech friends. This special between-Christmas-and- new-year article is written in reaction to the "hyperbole" being spread around in regard to the millennium celebration.

But, as you might have guessed by now, to appreciate this you must first become familiar with some English expressions and ways of speaking! English has many peculiar expressions. Perhaps the most famous of these is the "understatement" - We British are (or were) experts at using the understatement. Some examples:

 The reality:  What we might say:
 it is cold  it is fresh
 it is cold and wet  it is bracing (sea) air
 it is very cold  it is cool
 it is freezing  it is cold
 it is so cold, you'll die  it is challenging

The British are (were) also good at using the "double negative". In some languages, two negative words can be used in a sentence to reinforce each other and give a stronger meaning. Not so in English! In this case, English works like mathematics, and so a double negative become a positive! Some more examples:

 The reality:  What we might say:
 She was impressed  "She was not unimpressed" OR "She was not a little impressed"
 He was quick  He was not a little slow

Unfortunately, the low standard of English teaching in British schools and the American inspired dumbing-down of the language has reversed the use of these phrases. As an example, I'll use the forthcoming Millennium celebrations. The double negative is easily reversed by those who don't think about their language - the expression "Ain't nobody gonna be lonely on the night" means "everybody will be with friends", but taken literally it mean "somebody will be lonely on the night". This form of speech is an annoyance, but only a minor one. Watch out for those double negatives!

Now, the reversing of the understatement is far more dangerous. You may remember that a few months ago there was a solar eclipse across Europe. In Cornwall (a region of Britain) it was going to be a complete eclipse. Prior to the event, shopkeepers and businessmen in Cornwall, together with the government, tried to promote the event to attract tourists to the area to generate business. They used hyperbole (extreme exaggeration): "The best party of your life", "Millions will be there", "The most spectacular event that you will ever see". Unfortunately for them, the potential tourists decided that they didn't want to spend their time in traffic jams with the "millions" that were going to be there, and so they all decided to stay at home. The result was that very few people went to Cornwall and the businesses that had advertised to attract customers actually lost money.

The same thing can be observed in the run up to the millennium celebrations. Again, businesses and the government have been "hyping" the event beyond all belief, to the point that the event does not have a chance to live up to the expectations. Throughout the year, pubs and night-clubs have been trying to sell very expensive tickets for their millennium celebrations - the idea being that as the millennium happens only once, people will be willing to pay more to celebrate it. Not so! Almost all the people I have spoken to have decided that they will celebrate at home with their families to avoid paying these high prices! This is why I predict that the millennium will be a "flop" (a failure). Because of all the advertising and "talking up" of the event, people will stay at home and the businesses that spent money advertising will actually loose out again.

Are you familiar with the story of the boy who cried "Wolf!!"?

Anyway, don't let my predictions of doom and gloom depress you this New Year! Have fun and party!

Wishing you all a very happy New Year's.

by Duncan - Great Britain, enjoys writing to penpals from all over the world

If you'd like me to write a particular topic, then email me at dareid@btinternet.com 

© January 2000 English on the Internet www.aj.cz