Many of yesterday’s British papers (e.g. here, here, here, here and here) reported on Warwickshire Police’s handbook “Policing Our Communities”, with headlines that were critical of the Political Correctness inferred from statements such as “Don’t assume those words for the time of day, such as afternoon and evening, have the same meaning [in other languages as they do in English]”. They go on from there to assume that this prevents any Warwickshire police officer from saying “Evenin’ all” in the way that the character George Dixon did in the long-running BBC TV series “Dixon of Dock Green” (the articles all had a picture of Jack Warner, the actor who played George Dixon).
All linguists know that the day is divided up differently by different languages – I have been wished “Bon soir” in French at 1 p.m., and Spanish has no separate word to distinguish “afternoon” from “evening”, using tarde for both. Even within English, I doubt if everybody agrees on when the afternoon turns into the evening – certainly from summer to winter the time will vary. I’m writing this at 5 p.m. and the sky has a slight blueness in the west, but otherwise it is now night. I think I would call this “evening”. But in summer, I might well consider this to be “late afternoon”, with “evening” starting considerably later. By 8 p.m. today, it will definitely be “night”, but again, in summer, that will be just as definitely “evening”.
I think the instruction in the Warwickshire handbook is to remind officers that they need to be precise about times when taking evidence or asking questions, and not to rely on subjective judgments. Other items in the handbook may be ridiculously over the top, but this one may have some sense in it.
I couldn’t find articles from the Times, Guardian or Independent – probably the three most serious of our national dailies. Does this mean they quite sensibly didn’t cover it, or have I just missed them?