An exponential existential threat to clarity


The World Today Published 2 April 2021 Updated 12 April 2022 1 minute READ

The existential threat to the English language is that of academic jargon infecting normal writing or speaking. Especially that of words such as ‘existential’, ‘exponential’, ‘exogenous’ or indeed any word beginning with ‘ex’ and containing a lot of syllables.

You do not have to read any commentary for long these days to come across an existential crisis. ‘Is this virus an existential threat to humanity?’ demanded The Daily Telegraph the other day. It was a rhetorical question in an argument against excessive restrictions, but other anti-lockdowners, such as Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail, claimed that the fight against ‘draconian restrictions on liberty, not even countenanced in wartime’, was ‘an existential struggle in which we were all enlisted’. Bad though some of the restrictions might be, they hardly result in the likes of Littlejohn ceasing to exist.

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