There is an article here about the Spanish Royal Academy and what it does for the language. It should make interesting reading for those who think that the sole purpose of an Academy is to ossify a language and prevent any change. As I have argued here, an Academy can have a progressive role in the development of a language. The article is rather spoilt by the crass author not understanding what dictionaries are for. But he’s American, so he expects a dictionary to tell him what to do.
Even in these days, when ships are less prominent in the British psyche than they used to be and flagship projects, bars and housing groups are the top of the Google list, there are still some of us who know what words mean and can recognise tautology when we see it. When the BBC talks of Cunard’s ‘flagship vessel’, we wonder when we will read of intruders being apprehended by the ‘watchdog Alsatians’.
We would hope that the Liverpool Daily Post could, even now, get its maritime terminology right, and I am pleased to say that it does.
The question of how to refer to the officer in command of a merchant vessel is a thorny one. My uncle, himself a master mariner with Cunard, used to get seriously cross when he heard people talk about the captain of a ship (he did admit that the Royal Navy could do what they damn well liked, but that was not expressed in a spirit of generosity and tolerance to his fellow seafarers). Yet, Wikipedia tells us that the Titanic left Southampton ‘with Captain Edward J. Smith in command’ and is right to do so. What is going on?
The clue is in the term ‘master mariner’. A merchant ship can only be commanded by an officer who has his master’s ticket, i.e. who has qualified as a master mariner (and in fact, for safety reasons, the first officer must also hold this qualification). Thus the officer in charge must be a master mariner and is the master of the vessel. Quite apart from that, the Merchant Navy has its hierarchical rank structure, which includes the rank of captain. So, Edward Smith, the master of the Titanic, had attained the rank of captain. We see this photo on Wikipedia, correctly captioned:
Unfortunately, the link from the picture leads us to this page, where Smith is described as the captain of the Titanic.
So what about the Liverpool Daily Post? Yesterday the Queen Mary 2 sailed into Liverpool, and the Post reports correctly (my emphasis):
QM2’s gross tonnage is 148,528 and her master, Commodore Bernard Warner, said: “You could fit Cunard’s very first ship, RMS Britannia, into our Britannia Restaurant onboard.”
So, a very big ship is commanded by an officer with a rank higher than captain. But he is still the master of the vessel.
Gross tonnage (often abbreviated as GT, G.T. or gt) is a unitless index related to a ship's overall internal volume. Gross Tonnage is different from Gross Register Tonnage. Neither Gross Tonnage nor Gross Register Tonnage are measures of the ship's displacement (mass) and should not be confused with terms such as deadweight tonnage, net tonnage, or displacement.
is anybody’s guess. QM2’s mass (displacement) is 76,000 tonnes (Wikipedia). Now please excuse me while I go and weigh the anchor.
According to Commodore Warner in the Post (my emphasis):
“Although a new ship, QM2 is a traditional liner, not a cruise ship. A liner is a ship on a regular service across the ocean from point A to B.This ship is built for transatlantic service and we’ve done 25 return crossings this year. The other difference is this ship is designed to go faster. She has a very streamlined hull to slip gracefully and elegantly through the water, like her predecessor QE2 which was a ship in a million. Queen Mary 2 has 40% more steel in her hull than an equivalent-sized cruise liner, which means she is strengthened to cut through the Atlantic waves at speed, in all weathers all year. When you are crossing the oceans, you want to be on a proper liner. The ride and stability of this ship is amazing, even in a large ocean swell.”
What does the BBC have to say in its headline?
Huge cruise liner visiting city.
I noticed this too:
Post: WITH repeated long blasts on her throaty whistle echoing off the Cunard Building, she boomed out notice of her Mersey debut.
BBC: One of the biggest passenger ships ever built - the Queen Mary 2 - has made its maiden visit to Liverpool.
Sometimes I have to translate a list of countries that is in alphabetical order. Unless there is a good reason not to do so, I usually change the order from Spanish to English. This screenshot (click to enlarge) is a list of countries from Windows Live calendar. Although the names are in Spanish, they follow English alphabetical order. For example, Alemania (Germany) comes between Francia and Grecia (France and Greece) and España is near the bottom between South Africa and Sweden.
Bélica appears to be a typo or spell-check error for Bélgica (Belgium), for which it offers pages in Dutch and French. Bélica is a Spanish adjective meaning military or warlike.
A press conference in Germany, relating to a German election, held by a German politician; what language did anyone think it was going to be held in?
The BBC’s answer is ‘English’. The BBC reporter sent to a press conference with Guido Westerwelle following the German election could not speak German and asked a question in English. It had to be translated. It makes me wonder just how effective the BBC’s coverage of that election can be but it does give a new meaning to BBC English.
But this is not surprising. There is the arrogance of supposing that a press conference held by a German politician in Germany would accept questions in English, which was put down properly by Westerwelle with the words:
"So wie es in Großbritannien üblich ist, daβ man dort selbstverständlich Englisch spricht, so ist es in Deutschland üblich, daβ man hier Deutsch spricht." (Just as it is usual in Great Britain that people obviously speak English there, so it is usual in Germany that German is spoken here.)
This story also points up the desperate lack of people in Britain who speak other languages. According to Hensher:
One study, last year, showed that the numbers studying German at universities have fallen from 2,288 in 1998 to 610 last year. Those taking A-level showed similar collapses across the board, but with German taking the biggest hit.
This doesn’t surprise me. Language learning is declining in Britain for many reasons, nationalism among them. But the idea that everyone speaks English is not as true as many people like to believe: I will never forget the outraged British tourist I overheard in Barcelona saying ‘And would you believe it? I couldn’t find a policeman who spoke English!’