Aussie Life

Language

4 June 2022

9:00 AM

4 June 2022

9:00 AM

‘Bike shedding’ was coined by British historian and author C. Northcote Parkinson, famous for his book Parkinson’s Law (1957), but has recently burst into the language more vigorously than before. ‘Bike shedding’ names the tendency of bureaucrats to do the easy, unimportant stuff while not quite getting around to what really matters. (Did I hear someone say that’s how all governments function? You may very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment!) The Macquarie explains, ‘The word comes from a fictional example of the phenomenon given by British historian Cyril Parkinson, in which a committee tasked with designing a nuclear power plant spends most of its time discussing how the employee bike shed is to be constructed.’ Have we ever heard of that kind of thing? Sadly, far too often. (Building an Education Revolution?)

Since the 1960s there has been a persistent outcry from those offended by the way ‘hopefully’ is now used. Take the sentence: ‘Hopefully the rain will stop by Saturday.’ ‘No! No!,’ say the protesters, ‘“Hopefully” is an adjunct word and by attaching it to rain means it’s the rain that is hoping.’ That protest may have once held water, but not anymore. English is a living language (a river not a lake) and it has flowed on to where ‘hopefully’ is now treated as a disjunct, not an adjunct. That is, it is no longer attached to the word(s) it precedes, but to the speaker. Starting in the 1960s and rapidly gathering strength in the decades that followed ‘hopefully’ joined a long list of similar words: ‘frankly’, “thankfully”, luckily’ and many others. Why the outcry? Possibly because the shift happened fairly quickly; possibly because it came out of America (and we are very ready to be dubious about American usage). Perhaps the outrage will now start to slowly simmer down (and we can move on to worrying about real language problems).

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Contact Kel at ozwords.com.au

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