Interesting times

"May you live in interesting times!" Almost everyone these days seems to think that we live in interesting times, but the phrase above is almost always prefixed with something like "In the words of the old Chinese curse..." Why is this? I concede that there are people who don't know that it is said to be an old Chinese curse, but I'm sure that by now they are few in number.

Update - April 2003 - apparently this isn't really an old Chinese curse at all. I never meant to suggest that it was, just that people claim that it is. See here for more on this. Thanks to Liam for pointing this out.

It used to be that people writing about the internet used to prefix their article with something like "the internet is a large collection of computers which have been joined together to form an international network which can be used for stuff". I remember the triumph I felt when I read an article about Y2K which did not contain the line about "caused by programmers who wanted to save space by storing years as two characters". I will leave aside the discussion as to whether we should blame the programmers or those who wrote the specifications. Why do journalists persist in writing the same sentences over and over again? I can't believe that they are always writing to audiences who haven't heard it before.

In the same way, you will find people who carry links on their web pages to Yahoo! or Microsoft. Don't do it! Anyone with half a brain will already know how to find these enormously famous sites. However, I suppose it is reasonable to carry links to less mainstream organisations like EFF or even KPMG in order to show your solidarity (or otherwise). But once again I digress from the first point of this month's page - which is to question those who write redundant fillers.

My second point is on the subject of repetition. If you say something for a second time, you have repeated it. Alternatively, you have said it again. If you say it a third time, you have repeated it again. If you claim to have repeated it again, you must have said it at least three times.

Don Brash, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand has committed both these transgressions in one speech. I want to be clear that I have no particular axe to grind here. Simply, Dr Brash has recently exceeded the number of grammatical iniquities I tolerate. I have no comment to make (here) about his policies.

And from that conversation grew the idea of this meeting. We had meetings of this kind for the first time in 1995. We repeated the idea again in 1998. And now we are doing it for the third time this year.

This would suggest that six meetings have taken place: 1995, 1998, 1998, 2001, 2001, 2001. Unfortunately, I suspect that in fact there has been one meeting in each of the three years. Further, I'm not sure that three meetings of this type in seven or eight years is much to shout about.

Later on in the same speech, of course, Don Brash goes on to say

You will recall the ancient Chinese curse "May you live in interesting times". Sadly, these are "interesting times" and we all know why. Just one week after the terrible events of 11 September, the Reserve Bank made an unscheduled and largely unexpected interest rate cut, from 5.75 per cent to 5.25 per cent.

I am, however, encouraged that he does not see fit to mention what it was that happened on 11 September. There are too many journalists who feel the need to tell us that was the date on which four airliners were hijacked and flown into... Instead, he says "we all know why", which is very encouraging.

While we have Don Brash on the ropes, as a result of his actually rather worthwhile speech in Whangarei, Monetary Policy in Interesting Times, it's probably appropriate to mention another detail in some RBNZ publications.

Some commentators have said that monetary policy has put the New Zealand economy in a straight jacket.

This isn't what he means at all. He is in good company, however, as rather too many people talk about a straight jacket, as distinct from a curved one, I suppose, when what is actually meant is a straitjacket - strait being narrow and restrictive. For example, consider Cook Strait, which certainly meets those criteria. If you don't know where Cook Strait is, try Bass Strait if you are Australian or the Straits of Dover if you are English. The citation for this one is The impact of monetary policy on growth.

However, Don Brash is not the first to make these errors in New Zealand. On the contrary, in December 1998, Winston Peters made two of these errors in one speech in Hamilton.

That's all for this year. A very happy Christmas to you, your family and your friends. I will repeat that. A very happy Christmas to you, your family and your friends. Only now can I repeat it again. However, I choose not to do so.

But wait, there's more

Just as I was about to put this onto the site, a new gaffe reared its ugly head. It's ugly enough to hear people trot out the old cliché "without further ado" but I just stumbled across a list of award winners introduced with "without further adieu", which presumably means that the writer isn't saying goodbye.

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