"You’re unemployable, Sullivan. You’re a dreamer. I can’t imagine you ever doing a real day’s work in your life."
They took me on and soon found that I could do none of those crucial tasks to the standard required by what was then very much like a government department but they noticed I liked talking, so I was given a job on the wireless.
It was words that really interested me. I was intrigued by the way people spoke and amazed at the energy the NZBC put in to making announcers sound more like BBC neophytes that normal people.
But, to my chagrin, I found that the ways of words were only part of the radio racket. Announcers were expected to have some interest in music as much of their time would be spent playing gramophone records ("spinning platters" if it was a pop music show).
But I battled on, even mouthing excruciating stuff like, "Hey, gang! Here it is! Number One and still climbing, The Beatles and "Ob-La-Di,Ob-La-Da." My lack of interest in pop music meant that the Beatles, the Stones and all that crowd passed me by like the idle wind, but they had to be played.
So too, did hundreds of other performers, as in those days pop music was confined to a certain number of spots in the airtime and the rest was filled with serials, features, shopping reporters, and musical interludes with unbelievably twee titles like Time to Tango or Soundtrack Sounds. It was during one of the latter programmes I realised that the entertainment world, despite the Beatles, was American, and I didn’t like it much.
Mainly because I discovered that American English was not the English which had brought me so much enjoyment up til then.
It first hit me when, on a drowsy Tuesday afternoon after The Archers (still one of radio’s finest achievements), the programme officer (such were the job titles of that time) had scheduled a quarter hour of Around the World with Frank Sinatra. This unmissable offering was a collection of songs with exotic place names in their title. Sinatra warbled on about Bombay, Peru, and Acapulco and I was bemused that songs had actually been written about those places.
What shook me, though, was the title song on the album. It was called Come Fly With Me and its writers were two of the greats, Jimmy Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn. There was nothing much wrong with the tune but what puzzled me was Van Heusen’s phrase "come fly". I presumed he meant "come and fly" but why didn’t he say so? I asked around and was told that American English is different and, almost inevitably, somewhat unattractive.
There the story might have ended, as I never again had to play or listen to any song by Sinatra apart from that funeral favourite, My Way, which seems to be in an acceptable version of English.
But in recent times the jarring "come fly" has returned to haunt me, usually in the equally awful "come visit". I’m comfortable with "come and visit" or "come to visit", but as New Zealand English sheepishly follows American usage, I find myself twitching badly as I read stuff put out by otherwise respectable people. Just today I saw an advertisement in which the National Army Museum (established to remind us of the values we fought and died for) was urging readers to "Come Visit Us!" This was followed by "Come discover and explore New Zealand’s military history".
But then my heart leapt up when I beheld an advertisement in the Oamaru Mail for Little Wonders, an early childhood centre, which ended, "We welcome new families to come and visit our learning environment." But euphoria was short-lived for on the next page Little Wonders, this time seeking staff, were inviting teachers to "Come Grow Your Career With Us!" So, for Little Wonders, it was a touch of 10 bob each way. On the next page relief was at hand when the Oamaru Kindergarten Association’s advertisement read, "Come And Visit Our Family Unit." I guess if I had a toddler about me due to be enrolled for higher education, I’d be having to toss a coin.
From now on, I imagine, you will start noticing the awful use of "come" with no "and" or "to" and you will say, "Who cares?"
Well, I care. Won’t you come join the crusade for a more pleasing use of the English language?
— Jim Sullivan is a Patearoa writer.