1. Exquisite Tweets from @nick_kapur

    PreoccupationsCollected by Preoccupations

    Today we speak of "BBC English" as a standard form of the language, but this form had to be invented by a small team in the 1920s & 30s. 1/

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    Nick Kapur

    It turned out even within the upper-class London accent that became the basis for BBC English, many words had competing pronunciations. 2/

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    Nick Kapur

    Thus in 1926, the BBC's first managing director John Reith established an "Advisory Committee on Spoken English" to sort things out. 3/

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    Nick Kapur

    The committee was chaired by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and also included American essayist Logan Pearsall Smith, 4/

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    novelist Rose Macaulay, lexicographer (and 4th OED editor) C.T. Onions, art critic Kenneth Clark, journalist Alistair Cooke, 5/

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    ghost story writer Lady Cynthia Asquith, and evolutionary biologist and eugenicist Julian Huxley. 6/

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    The 20-person committee held fierce debates, and pronunciations now considered standard were often decided by just a few votes. 7/

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    Nick Kapur

    Examples included deciding "garage" would rhyme with "carriage" rather than "barrage" and "canine" (the tooth) sounding like cay-nine. 8/

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    Nick Kapur

    In 1935, there was a crisis over what word BBC radio should use for "users of a television apparatus" (whom we now call "viewers"). 9/

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    Nick Kapur

    To solve this conundrum, a 10-member "Sub-Committee on Words" was set up, chaired by the American, Logan Pearsall Smith. 10/

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    The Sub-Committee came up with the following list of possible new words for the users of the television apparatus: 11/

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    The Sub-Committee ultimately chose none of these, settling on "televiewer," which was shortened by the main committee to just "viewer." 12/

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    Emboldened by this early "success," the Sub-Committee on Words began to run amuck, inventing new words willy-nilly out of whole cloth. 13/

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    Nick Kapur

    In particular, Sub-Committee chair Logan Pearsall Smith wanted to beautify English and "purify" it of foreign influences. 14/

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    Nick Kapur

    He also disliked words with too many syllables and preferred English plurals to foreign plurals (eg. hippopotamuses over hippopotami). 15/

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    Some of the new coinages were reasonable and have survived. For example, "airplane" replaced "aeroplane" and "roundabout" was invented 16/

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    Nick Kapur

    to replace the then-common "gyratory circus." Similarly the word "servicemen" was invented to describe members of the armed forces, and 17/

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    Nick Kapur

    BBC radio was instructed to stop saying "kunstforscher" and instead say "art researcher," which has since become "art historian." 18/

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    Nick Kapur

    Other ideas were...less successful. E.g. Smith proposed the BBC call televisions "view-boxes," call traffic lights "stop-and-goes," and 19/

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    Nick Kapur

    call brainwaves "mindfalls." Other members of the Sub-Committee also came up with bizarre new words. 20/

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    Nick Kapur

    Edward Marsh devised "inflex" to replace "inferiority complex," and Rose Macaulay wanted "yulery" to replace "Christmas festivities." 21/

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    Nick Kapur

    By June of 1936, things were getting out of hand, and the BBC's Director of Program Planning Lindsay Wellington urged: 22/

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    Nick Kapur

    Finally in January 1937, Chairman of the Governors R.C. Norman shut down the Sub-Committee on Words for good, arguing that: 23/

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    Nick Kapur