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Accounting for the narrative

There can surely be few greater loves in the life of a journalist (2-4-1 on all drinks every Friday night aside) than that of the English language: a lover that keeps on changing its form by the day to the extent that  ‘Chav’ is now officially a word. It is that fickleness that makes English so alluring, the way a word forms out of nowhere and becomes street speak, and then official prose, often in such a short space of time. Perhaps there is nothing that cannot be expressed with a language so responsive, fluid and inclusive.

Which is as much of a passion as a headache for said profession. I greeted my inbox this morning to a message through my LinkedIn account from one of our readers, who had a question about the use of said language in our November issue. P34 carries the title ‘hardly brassic’. Our reader thought that we’d horridly abused the language by misspelling the word ‘boracic’ – which, as boracic lint, has long been a slang word for the situation most journalists find themselves in about 48 hours after payday: ‘brassic’, meaning skint (boracic lint – skint, as rhyming slang goes).

We were going for tongue in cheek in our choice of word and spelling, as brassic is the rhyming slang spelling of the word springing from the word boracic. But our reader was quite right to point out to me what he saw as a mistake. In fact, brassic is widely used (and spelled in that way) to mean skint but it has not yet graduated to the dictionary. So lovers of the language and all its forms such as our editorial team took a gamble on its recognition thereof, knowing we had no officialdom to fall back on – only our love of English and a nudge and a wink with our readers on the topic of the restored super pay packet in these austere times. Some rules are there to be broken (and where no rule exists, you can have a bit of fun).

A pop quiz with our sub editors after the email came in revealed that we could use the guidance of an official source on the word. There is no one right or wrong answer among our sub editing team to the question of ‘is it brassic or boracic’ – two had never heard of either word, another knew it well and thought nothing of it, and another thought brassic was wrong but did not know about rhyming slang. It’s of those judgment calls us editors are called on to make, swiftly and with readiness to take the bullet if it all goes wrong.

In this case I think we were right. Our aim is to facilitate a discussion inclusive of all our readers and in a way that allows us to have a bit of fun too. And we think our title does that. But we love hearing from an engaged audience on a topic close to our hearts (and as accounting narrative and choice of words becomes more important, to theirs). Some journalists may think themselves masters of the language. But who could wrestle into submission such a constantly evolving, shape-shifting thing? We continue to be slaves to the English language as a living, breathing thing, and to its follies, because sometimes the books are just too far behind reality – and not half as interesting.

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