Plain Language Commission . Clear English Standard


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News & views

What’s up north

[19 Dec 2011] We talk funny up north, sometimes. We know this because when our faulty tongue is quoted in the southern press, up pops that linguistic mark of Cain, ‘[sic]’, to point out a grammatical mistake that’s not of the newspaper’s own making.

Here it is in a quote from Rebecca Leighton, the Stockport nurse released by police after being wrongly suspected of murdering patients: ‘I’d like to think that I’m a stronger person and have learnt to appreciate life more than maybe what [sic] I did before.’

The author is pointing out that ‘what’ is bad English in this position, partly because it’s redundant. But people in the north often say things like ‘He’s got less talent than what I have’ and ‘The torch what I bought you for Christmas is broke’, and children are rarely corrected in schools if they follow these patterns.

The northern actor Chelsee Healey, runner-up in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ on Saturday, told the audience she hadn't managed to clock up the perfect 40 marks for her routines despite ‘giving it all what I’ve got to give’.

‘What’ is quite a worry word for northerners. When the comedian Ernie Wise used to speak of ‘The play what I wrote’, only half the population laughed. In large parts of the north, little Mr Wise’s little joke was just dialect, though regarded as uneducated by those who’d been schooled in standard English. [MC]

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