Friday, January 29, 2010

Giving the old college try to the fight against “boast of” and “nestled in”

It’s one thing to be proud of one’s country and one’s posessions, but it’s another to be always boasting about them—it can mark one as an inveterate braggart and get in the nerves of the listener to a point of no longer wanting to listen. This is the problem when one’s vocabulary for declaring possession of gets fixated in the “boast of” cliché, as in “The Philippines boasts of its rich healing practices that are deeply rooted in the people’s long tradition of wellness.” Ugh! That phrase puts an unpleasant color and leaves a bad taste on even the most well-meaning statements.

Another awful cliché in the Philippine hard-sell vocabulary is “nestled [in],” in the sense of “settled snugly or comfortably.” Its use for describing just about anything found on earth has become so indiscriminate that “nestled [in]” no longer evokes quiet comfort but outright vexation. Why don’t journalists and advertising copywriters just settle for unpretentious and much more honest words like “lies,” “located” or “situated”?

One-and-a-half years ago, when I thought that the mass media’s overuse of both “boast of” and “nestled in” had terribly gone out of hand, I decided to write an essay against their usage in my English-usage column in The Manila Times. From the looks of it, I don’t think their overuse has abated enough, so I am posting that same essay here to give my campaign against those two cliches the old college try.

Let’s wish ourselves all the luck!

Too much boasting and nestling in

If I were to judge from my newspaper, magazine, and web readings in recent years, it would appear that we are not only a most boastful people but also one so predisposed to petty exaggeration in our language. This is strongly evident in our glib overuse of two English expressions, “boast of [something]” and “nestled [in],” particularly in newspaper and magazine journalism, in advertising, and in the tourist literature.

Let’s talk about “boast of [something]” first. Its dictionary definition is, of course, “to puff oneself up in speech,” “to speak of or assert with excessive pride,” or “to possess and call attention to a source of pride.” Of course, it can also simply mean “to have” or “to contain”—the unboastful denotation that’s actually what is meant in many “boast of” statements.

Now, from Google’s estimated 775,000 citations* of what are “boasted about” in the Philippines, the following representative high-level boasts are perhaps semantically justifiable and factually defensible: “the Philippines boasts of some of the best beaches and scuba diving waters in the world,” “the Philippines boasts of a 94 percent literacy rate,” “the Philippines boasts [of] good English-language skills,” and “the Philippines boasts [of] some of the finest IT workers in the world.” Even so, if I were the drumbeater for these things, I’d be more circumspect and use “has” or “lays claim to” instead of “boasts of.” After all, levelheaded language often works much better than rank exaggeration in promotional talk of this kind.

Indeed, many of our boastings captured by Google are woefully out of proportion to the semantic enthusiasm expended on them: “Mindanao boasts of two new vapor heat treatment plants,” “[The library] boasts of a wealthy collection of multi-media materials on governance, productivity, and management,” “[The city] boasts of the first community-based breast screening program in RP,” “Domestic air travel market in Philippines boasts of a growth rate of 47 per cent,” and “One of the oldest in the province, this church boasts of a huge mural painting on its ceiling…” I think “boasts of” is out of line in all of these statements; the verb “has” could have done a much better job.

Now let’s talk about the terribly overused expression “nestled [in],” which means “settled snugly or comfortably” or “lying in a sheltered manner.” Google lists 288,000 citations for this expression in the Philippines alone, and when I looked at a representative sampling, I got the dreadful feeling that the expression is not only overused but subjected to severe semantic abuse as well.

Of course, there’s no doubt that the use of “nestled [in]” is semantically justified in these statements: “Nestled deep in the Cordilleras is Banaue, about nine hours from Baguio by bus,” “The first and only pine estate south of Metro Manila, [it] is a quiet sanctuary nestled in the gently rolling hills of Tagaytay,” and “Nestled atop a beachside cliff, [the resort] offers breathtaking views of the ocean from the balcony of your own private villa.” The sense of curling up comfortably and of restfulness is evident in all of these three statements.

But I think the writers had gone overboard in using “nestled [in]” in these highly contrived statements: “The Philippines lies nestled in the bosom of the East Asian growth area,” “Nestled in the center of everything worth the while, [the hotel] is located along Manila’s Roxas Boulevard fronting the Manila Bay,” “…the sophistication and elegance of a hotel [that’s] nestled right at the heart of Cebu’s bustling business district,” and “Taal Volcano—the word’s smallest volcano [that] is nestled in the middle of a scenic lake.”

Obviously, we can’t force everything to nestle into just anything for the sake of lending drama to our language. Instead of settling for a semantic near-miss, therefore, why not use a no-nonsense word like “lies,” “located” or “situated” instead? It will be right on the mark all the time. (August 23, 2008)


*For some unknown reason, Google’s 775,000 citations for “boast of” in the Philippines on August 20, 2008 have dropped to 54,000 as of January 28, 2010.

** For some unknown reason, Google’s 288,000 citations for “nestled in” in the Philippines on August 20, 2008 have dropped to 70,400 as of January 28, 2010.

From the weekly column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, August 23, 2008, © 2008 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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