April 11: sacrificing precision for tone

On the train they said ‘the train has been delayed because of trespassers on the rails, so we are ten minutes late. We apologise etc etc‘. They love apologising now. Then a few minutes later they say once again that the train has been delayed by ten minutes because of trespassers on the tracks’. The they say it again a few minutes later:’Once again the train has been delayed…’ What this does not mean is that the train has been delayed three times by three separate set of trespassers or the same trespassers managing by some remarkable feat to get to three different places on the line three times to delay the train. What they want it to mean is that we are telling you this once again. I wonder what they think the once again contains: world-weariness? Self-awareness? It makes for a cleverer train announcer. If he actually communicated efficiently it would have to be something like: I repeat trespassers have been on the tracks. More formal; more hectoring.

In France they also manage to get my goat with a train announcement when they say that the bar will be open for dix minutes supplementaires when they mean to say dix minutes de plus. Ten minutes more, not ten extra minutes. Here I suppose they want to translate a sense of festivity, as though for this special occasion we are letting you buy another bottle of kronenbourg before we pull into Lyon station. But that would be the shadow of a meaning carrying weight alongside the critical meaning, and both meanings being in more or less direct contradiction of each other.

In both cases it is a case of sacrificing precision for tone. I shouldn’t worry. I do a lot of that myself.


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