Principal's assembly 3rd February 2020


I love the the English language and am jealous of those who studied linguistics at university. Etymology, accents, dialects, rhetorical flourishes of the great writers and orators, and how means of communication evolve are all fascinating.

Although I like traditional grammar, I also like it that our language develops. Every year, for instance, new entries are made to the Oxford English Dictionary. Some are a bit obscure, others are adaptations of well-known existing words and, for me the most important, others emerge from common usage.

For example, “couscoussier” is a noun meaning “A steamer used to cook couscous, consisting of two interlocking pots, the upper one holding the couscous and having a lid and perforated bottom.” Not one you’ll need every day.

An example of an adaptation of a commonly used word is “awesomesauce” meaning extremely good.

As far as recognition of common words or phrases goes, “henpecking” has found its way into the OED this year: “characterized by a tendency to criticize or nag her husband or male partner continually, or order him about.” Not sure why it appeared this year. Probably wise to say no more on that one.

I wonder how many of these you recognise:

  • E-waste (“Worthless or inferior electronic text or content.”)
  • Awedde (“Overcome with anger, madness, or distress.”)
  • Chicken-headed and chuckheaded (a bit daft.)

One for the Science Department here:

  • Bombogenesis (“A phenomenon or process characterized by a rapid and sustained fall of barometric pressure in the centre of an extratropical cyclonic weather system…”)

Here’s one for Business Studies students:

  • Onboarding (“Business. The action or process of integrating a new employee into an organization.”)

Finally, one for our Food and Nutrition Department:

  • chicken noodle soup (“A soup made with chicken and noodles.”)

Our language has, of course, developed in part due to electronic communication. I’ve not quite caught on with this. I once sent an email to a colleague and her response ended with lol. I was very surprised that she was sending me lots of love.

Even my Mum uses text abbreviations, replacing letters with numbers to shorten the message. Twitter is a real education. EOT, FWIW, IMHO, DGMW and my personal favourite PEBKAC. I spend more time looking up the letters than thinking about the tweet

In other ways, I remain unashamedly old-fashioned. When I receive an email from you that doesn’t start with “Dear Mr Taylor” and end with “Many thanks” or something similar, I do write back purposefully in that style. Once we’re in a dialogue, I do get that you can drop the “Dear …” bit.

Similarly, when we pass each other and I say “Good morning”, I expect you to respond. It’s also polite when someone asks how you are to respond and then ask the other person how they are.

When you’re playing sport, it’s right and necessary to talk to each other and encourage each other. It’s absolutely wrong to appeal every decision or get into discussions with the umpire or referee. We don’t behave like the players you watch on the tele.

I, like, also, like, have, like, a, like, phobia, like. I am completely at ease with you using the word “like” in a simile or as a verb. Otherwise, you are literally wasting your breath.

Some of you might be wondering whether any of that matters, whether it is just a teacher living in a different age. Actually, for at least two reasons, it does matter.

Firstly, it is just the right way to behave in our environment. They are our standards. They might not be the standards everywhere, but they are here.

Secondly, what I have described is just normal, accepted behaviour in the kinds of workplaces that you will inhabit. It is inconceivable that I would appoint someone to this organisation who even needs to think about that.

In fact, from the moment you enter a building for an interview, your inter-personal skills are being watched closely. Psychologists say that an impression is made in the first 7 seconds of meeting someone. The smile, the eye contact, the handshake and being positive about your day so far will tell the interviewer that you are the kind of person that would fit in the organisation.

All the opposites and littering sentences with “like” will not put you across in a good light. If anything, you risk coming across as a bit chicken-headed!

Ultimately, as much as we exist to help you build knowledge and develop skills, our core purpose to ensure that you are ready for what happens after school transcends that.


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