This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Nuts and Bolts: register.

The young man in the cardigan had just told us that, hi, he was Chris, when his telephone rang. Chris picked up the receiver, listened briefly, and then told the person at the other end he was cool.

That was a surprise, because the hospital seemed decidedly stuffy to me.

The second surprise was that Chris turned out not to be one of the cleaners, but was actually a senior doctor, or registrar. Chris was polite, concerned, thorough, and knowledgeable as far as I could tell. A lovely man.

On the way out I mentioned the registrar's surprising linguistic register to my companion, who was Chris's patient.

'But he was speaking like that because he was talking to a young person,' she explained.

She might have been right, but having had plenty of chance that morning to inspect the other patients in his waiting room I'm now left wondering if he greets most of them Good morrow, gentle mistress...

Anyway, register. No one's quite agreed on what register is, but it's certainly noticeable when something unusual occurs in the register line.

Martin Joos splits language into five styles (style in this context is more of less the same thing as register) and according to him Chris was using a casual [amongst friends] style when a consultative [teacher/student, doctor/patient] style would (obviously) have been usual.

Does it matter?

Not to me.

Does it matter to him? Well, he's got the job, so perhaps not.

Will using a casual register put Chris at a disadvantage when he's trying to persuade a patient to have some inconvenient or unpleasant treatment?

Well, now, that is something it would be very interesting indeed to find out.

Word To Use Today: register. In its linguistic context this word was first used in 1956 by the linguist Thomas Bertram Reid. The word register comes from the Latin regerere, to transcribe, from gerere, to bear.

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