Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Ain't It Odd How Talk Changes; Isn't It Weird How Language Develops; It is Not Unpeculiar How Human Speech Forms Evolve

I'm sure you've heard all kinds of reports, been told in your studies, noticed yourself, that language changes. Language is not a static thing, as any college sophomore struggling through Chaucer in Middle English soon learns.

One of the weirdest changes afflicting British English at the moment is the complete misuse of the word "prevaricate". Even the most precise writers like Faye Weldon and John le Carre (if I remember right) have joined the parade.

How on earth could you misuse the word "prevaricate", which means "lie" as in tell one, or usually several, untruths?

By confusing it with the word "procrastinate", meaning to put off, delay, not do something you could, and maybe should, be doing.

Now I grant you, often when we are procrastinating we wind up prevaricating -- "Yes, I've started on it but it's quite difficult, you know", "I was just going to", "I rang but you weren't in", that sort of thing.

But common British parlance now uses the word prevaricate for the delaying, for the putting off itself.

Makes me feel like someone who writes letters to the newspaper signed "Disgusted, Tunbridge Wells".

Partly because I hold procrastination so dear myself, I suppose. I was delighted to know that procrastination has even been the subject of scientific study (what we don't do for those grants!) And it seems there is even a formula, discovered by Piers Steel of the University of Calgary after much study (did he ever put a day of it off, I wonder). The formula is:

To learn how strong your desire is to complete a task (U), you factor in your Expectation of Success (E), multiply this by the Value of Completion (V), divide by the Immediacy of the Task (I) multiplied by the Personal Sensitivity of Delay (D).

U = ExV/IxD in other words.

I've had a lot of fun looking back over my ministry putting various situations through the formula. Quite accurate, it would seem, for me anyway.

Personally, I'm more kinesthetic and visual than mathematical, though. So I just think of some of my procrastination like the ostriches above, but luckily most of it looks more like the smiling picture below that. And one great thing about being retired is, you no longer have to prevaricate if you procrastinate!

Though no one will read your blog if you procrastinate so long you don't write it!

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