Clive James has written a wonderful piece on the BBC news site where he complains rightly about the absurdity of companies finding new names for themselves. His legitimate targets include Royal Mail, The Tate art galleries and of course the UK train companies (or service companies as they ought now to be termed, because trains are never just ‘trains’ anymore, but ‘services’). Here he talks about FIRST and the company formerly known as Anglia (serving Cambridge and East Anglia) but now simply called ‘ONE‘. As a regular ‘customer’ (NB we’re not ‘passengers’ anymore) on this line, his thoughts hit the target:
Not long ago, at Paddington, I ran to catch a train that was called First. The long version of the name is First Great Western, which is already bad enough because it suggests the possible existence of a Second Great Western. But the First Great Western company insists on referring to itself and its trains as just First. My problem, as I ran with a heavy bag in each hand from the barrier end of the platform, was to find the first second class carriage in a train all of whose carriages were marked First. I cursed First in the worst language at my command, but my outburst at First was nothing beside the imprecations I rained on One.
Yes, what used to be simply called Anglia Railways is now even more briefly, but far less simply, called One. This leaves the way clear for the railway station announcer to inform potential passengers that one One train will leave from platform two and the other One train will leave from platform three.
If the first One train leaves at twenty to one it’s the twenty to one One train and if the other one leaves at ten to one it’s ten to one on that it’s the one One train one actually wanted but one couldn’t understand the announcement.
What happens when you have to change from a First train to a One train I leave to you, but you might face a situation where you should catch the first First train if you want to change to the one One train that will get you to the mental hospital before you crack up.
If you want to read the whole article click HERE – there’s a link on that page to the actual radio broadcast that he gave.
There is a serious point to all this though. I do worry about how quickly, easily and even dangerously powers that be subtly (or even unsubtly) alter the words we speak or even are permitted to speak. Of course language is a dyamic thing – the grand masters of the French Académie Française seem to me to be barking up the wrong tree in their quest to regulate and proscribe what is French and what is not. Languages develop independently and at one level, as long as they are communicating and being understood, they are fulfilling their purpose. It is when people deliberately REDEFINE words (eg for political or lobbying reasons) that there is cause for concern. The world of spin has spawned a brave new world. And i don’t think i like where it is going.