As frequent as clockwork or should that be regular?

My dear old mother used to say that some things just got her goat, not that she had such an animal – it was just a colloquialism (which she kept in the backyard, with the cat, among the pigeons). It meant that some things really got her back up. Oops, there goes another one!

The present day epidemic of sloppy speech, sloppy use of language and generally sloppy attention to detail, frequently takes me to the brink and beyond. Discerning readers will note that such brinkmanship occurs frequently but not regularly. However, most public messages seem to be aimed at the lowest common denominator, and this seems to be working well as a communication strategy!

Our rich ragout of a language has been allowed to develop to its present complexity by adopting all kinds of influences, from aardvark to zeitgeist, and now is not the time to tip it all away in a fit of laziness.

In these dark and dismal days, we need distractions, new ways of appreciating and growing our sense of individual worth.

As a young student, I was fortunate to be in a form where the teacher had a sense of fun and an understanding of how to motivate young people. He encouraged us to listen critically to all addresses made by members of staff from the stage at school assemblies and gave us time to discuss these as a group. I am afraid that it was too successful, in that the staff, and in particular the senior staff, were hopeless at expressing themselves accurately or succinctly and we picked-up howler after howler.

I think my personal favourite was a Deputy Head Teacher admonishing the assembled ranks by pointing out that “The school was not wearing its cap”. Rather than the normal rather dismissive silent response to this sort of nonsense, it was greeted by smirks, giggles and the sight of people taking notes. It subsequently transpired that the said Dep. Head, or dickhead as he was unaffectionately known, investigated what was going on and closed the experiment down.

From those days on I have used the public words emanating from those who should know better to amuse me – and to abuse them.

Try it, its quite good fun. It can be educational too.

One of my current sources of distraction is provided by the UK Government and sponsored by McDonald’s. Both seem determined to give the impression that the words regularly and frequently have the same meaning. This may not seem much of a thing to get riled-up about, but we are in the midst of a lockdown and I’ve given up trying to learn to crochet.

See the source image

Wash your hands regularly! cries our poor, belaboured,  ever-striving, government in its publicity and at the risk of appearing partisan, I am going to labour the point.

I am fairly sure that they want us to wash our hands more frequently than we do, rather than more regularly. Clearly, washing our hands every week, say on Tuesdays at 13.00 hours, would fit the regularity criterion but would not be an effective defence against “this evil virus”, unless they know something that they are not telling us.

I am also absolutely certain that there are many things that they are not telling us, but I suspect the idea that the virus is only active (regularly once a week) on Tuesday mornings, is not one of them!

So, the message should plainly be about washing hands frequently not bloody regularly!

More than this, hand washing needs to be event-driven. Granted, a general increase in the level of ablution would not go amiss, but there are occasions when it is more likely to be efficacious than others.

These don’t seem like complicated messages to me.

Clearly if you have been outside, have been close to other people, have been touching objects or surfaces that may have been handled by others, and so on, you should wash your hands as soon as you can. Been to the loo? Wash your hands. About to prepare food? Wash your hands. About to eat food? Wash your hands….and so on. As a child I used to be nagged about such things and it is good to be reminded.

Also, don’t be afraid of randomly having a bit of a wash from time to time anyway, it’s probably a good idea.

This really is not too tricky!

We can all be a bit dim from time to time, but part of the job of the state is to educate, not to simply play “down among the kids”. Let’s try for a slightly more nuanced message please, and maybe one that is actually accurate.

So where does Ronald McBloodyDonald fit in?

McDonald’s current advertising campaign is trying very hard to focus on safety and hygiene. They imagine that messages reassuring their customers that they operate a safe environment are enhanced when they claim that they are washing their hands more regularly.

Not more frequently, you’ll be saddened to hear, but just more regularly. Clearly some staff were not adhering to whatever time-driven regime they previous had in place, so they have stepped-up their attention to the clock. Now they are much more regular than they were.

No more irregularity here! The whole place runs like clockwork. Maybe every two hours all staff have to heed a call to “Down Burgers and wash your hands” whilst singing some gruesome Ronald McDonald interpretation of Happy Birthday. Who knows? They probably have a sheet to fill in while they do it.

It is so good to see McDonald’s, a bastion of private enterprise, following the UK Government lead.

Oh and two more things…

I know that frequent is not an irregular verb, because when it is used as a verb, it becomes frequented in the past tense.


Here’s a parting thought for pedants everywhere:

There are fewer letters in less than there are in fewer, however, there are NOT less letters in fewer than there are in less – because that would be downright wrong!

Don’t be too cavalier with words

We must maintain some standards.

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