Plain Language Commission . Clear English Standard


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News & views


[8 Dec 2011] When the usually reliable England goalkicker Jonny Wilkinson missed several penalties in the rugby world cup, many epithets sprang to mind, not all of them kind, but ‘surreal’ wasn’t one of them.

Yet that’s what the England defence coach Mike Ford called Wilkinson’s performance: ‘I’ve talked to Jonny. He struck the ball pretty well. He had an off-day but it’s really unusual for him to have one of those. I suppose “surreal” is the right word.’

But is it?

And when Guardian columnist Decca Aikenhead writes, ‘The prospect of actually meeting Dell’Olio feels quite surreal’, I wonder how can a prospect feel surreal, especially when the famous Italian siren (should that be ‘foghorn’?) is all too clearly flesh and blood?

Is ‘surreal’ now the word of choice for people who think ‘odd’, ‘bizarre’ or ‘unfortunate’ aren’t quite posh enough for their exalted minds? Miss a few kicks or your life takes an unusual turn, and suddenly fried eggs are turning into clocks and you’re floating on the ceiling.

Now if Salvador Dali drop-kicked England to a cup-final victory after coming on as a last-minute sub for René Magritte, that really would get close to surrealism. [MC]

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