The Hans Christian Andersen effect.

The simple stories of Hans Christian Andersen  are brilliantly apposite to many aspects of modern society but for me, the best is the Emperors Suit of Clothes. it really fits to modern politics, but even more so to the use of English. If you find that strange, consider this. Very many people have a pretty good standard of spoken English. Written English is a different matter. In an attempt to appear competent, many people trip themselves up by using too many words, and confusing the meanings. Unfortunately, many recipients of those sentences are not exactly 100% certain of the meaning. However, (and this is where HCA comes in), just like the courtiers in his story they are afraid to speak up and ask in case they are shown to be less than competent themselves. “It must be correct, he is my teacher/boss/ etc”

It is not only none native speakers who frequently get it wrong. Look at this from the BBC website:-

“Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they also show distinct genetic patterns to their neighbours in France and Spain”.

What does it mean? At face value it means that they reveal to their neighbours their distinct genetic patterns.

But of course that is not correct. What the writer means is:-

Nestled in a mountainous corner of Atlantic Europe, they have genetic patterns distinct from their neighbours.

In case you were wondering, the article is about the Basques of North East Spain.

If English really does have a role as an international language it needs to be written accurately otherwise we might have to adopt Ido for precision, though with only 200 speakers worldwide, it might take a long time.


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