Atlas F1

Rory's Ramblings

An Occasional Column from the Antipodes by Rory Gordon, Australia

Queen's English.

I was brought up to speak the "Queen's English".

Unlike many other things that were thrust upon me, and I have since forsaken (like religion, Latin, corporal punishment and cold showers to name a few), at the various British boarding schools I attended, I have retained a love and fascination for the English language, and its use and abuse.

So much so that my fellow members of the Atlas Team are bored to death with my regular missives about the spelling and grammar in their articles. Yes, I try to be the Spelling and Grammar Police of Atlas.

But English is a funny, strange language because it has so many whims and foibles. I could refer to "the one to whom your current interlocutor is in the habit of identifying by means of the perpendicular pronoun" (to quote the "Yes, Minister" TV show), or I could just say "I".

Special groups of people have their own special sub-sets of English. Twenty years ago, who would have thought that words such as, byte, computer, monitor, backup (by the way, have you done a backup recently?) and so on would have become commonplace?

Two of the standard "bibles" of the English language were written by Fowler and Partridge (full references available to anyone interested). But, even reading the words of those worthy gentlemen, it soon becomes clear that in English there are no real rules ... and if there is a rule, then it has already been broken probably.

For example, the apostrophe usually denotes "possession" - Hill's car, the gentleman's books, Queen's English. But then there's the use of the apostrophe to denote an contraction of two words into one - there's, isn't, we've.

But what about "it's"? Well, "it's" should be used as a contraction of "it is"; in this particular case, the possessive form of "it" is "its". Similarly, and heavily mis-used and mis-understood, are "your" (the possessive) and "you're" (the contraction of "you are"). And here's another rule-breaker, the possessive of "they" isn't "they's", but is actually "their".

And then there are the regional dialects. Probably the most well-known of these is the Cockney of London, with its rhyming slang. Australian English too has its own, perhaps not-so-well-known, phrases.

Soon after arriving in Australia, I was working at a club. One of the waitresses turned up one evening and was slamming things around in the kitchen, getting ready for work. Eventually, I plucked up enough courage to ask her if there was anything wrong, and she told me that she'd "got the shits" (if those of you who object to such language will forgive me).

As a delicate, well brought-up young man, I thought that she meant that she had contracted diarrhoea, and asked if there was anything I could get for her, or if perhaps she should go home ... just in case. With a roar of laughter, it was explained to me that she didn't have a medical condition, but that she was actually just in a bad mood. (Had a "shitty" liver, I think would be the derivation.)

Sports people and commentators must be among the best (or worst, depending on how you look at it) manglers of the language. In my idle moments, one of my great pleasures is to look through a random selection of F1 team press releases, trying to pick out the phrases that, really, are total nonsense.

One of my all-time favourites was "...the breaks broke." Of course it was a mis-type (I think), and we all know what they meant. But, turning the thought processes sideways, what else would you expect to happen to the breaks?!

Here's a typical one: "Fred Bloggs lapped two seconds faster than every other car." Two things come to my mind. First, what drugs was Fred using? To get round, on his own two legs, faster than a car, he must have been on something, surely? Second, lapped what? My cat laps at the water in her dish. So what was Fred doing drinking out of a dish?

What all this shows is that English is constantly changing and evolving, "moving with the times" if you like. English adapts and adopts, bringing in things that might work, adopting them if they do, and throwing them out if they don't.

Many people say that this is weakening English, and that such a pedigree language shouldn't have to suffer this sort of indignity, and that it makes English a mongrel language.

As any dog breeder will tell you (and we all know how the English are .supposed to love their dogs), pedigree dogs tend to have many problems, while mongrel dogs, keeping the good bits from their ancestors and throwing away the bad bits, may not look pretty all the time but they do have a big, in-built survival instinct.

And so does the English language.

And so does F1, if you look at it.

F1 has chopped and changed over the years, bringing in ideas and throwing them away or keeping them. Sometimes it takes a long time until it is realised that a particular idea has not quite turned out the way it was meant to. Other times, this is seen quite quickly.

Some of these changes are brought in from other motor racing series, and some changes can come from someone's fertile imagination or from a completely different area, such as the aerospace industry.

Some of these changes may be quite small and some may be large. In the scale of things, the move of a small sponsor from one team to another may seem small, while the introduction of grooved "slicks" for 1998 may seem like a large change.

While all this change is going on, we all like to think of F1 as the top-flight, the pedigree, of motor racing, as the pedigree of motor racing. But I would like to suggest to you that F1 is, in fact, the mongrel of motor racing.

But that's just me.

Rory Gordon
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