On-going updates 2021- English Like It Is

This is a new post beginning 18 January 2021. If you have been directed here recently by a link from another site, you might find the item you’re looking for on a previous Updates page.

The 2021 revision of the 2009 second edition of English Like It Is is now available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.

This blog gathers citations that will be considered for the next version of the book. It is about errors mainly in print but also on serious internet sites and even the odd street sign. Mistakes made by professional writers and editors will be copied by readers, and unchallenged persistent errors weaken the language.

“Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble.” George Orwell

“I’ve found that people who make fewer mistakes on a grammar test also make fewer mistakes when they are doing something completely unrelated to writing.” [a chief executive writing in the Harvard Business Review] (ITim 28/3/15 News Review p. 5)

SurveyMonkey poll released Sunday, 84% of respondents said they would be less likely to trust the government if its communications contained spelling or grammatical mistakes. Additionally, 74% of respondents said they would be less likely to trust that a politician is doing a good job leading the country if their social media posts contain such errors. (SFGate 19/5/17 online)

“Whom are you?” he asked, for he had attended business college. (from “The Steel Box” in the Chicago Record, 16 March 1898)

“The deterioration of copy editing and proof-reading, incidentally, is a token of the cultural entropy that has overtaken us in the post-war years.” John Simon (1925 -), American critic of stage, film, books and the misuse of language

Soft targets like tabloids, local papers and hobby magazines are not the focus of this book, but The Irish Mail on Sunday is an exception. Not only are its serious articles at least as well written as those in the “quality” sheets, the UK edition outsells all others except The Sun on Sunday, so it is fair game.

American and Australian publications are generally not included; their grasp of the language is not nearly as secure as their British and Irish counterparts.

Circulation figures for January 2018. UK: Mail on Sunday, 1,106,067; Irish Mail on Sunday, 68,609; Sunday Times, 739,845; Sunday Telegraph, 298,720; Observer, 176,795; Independent on Sunday (print edition now defunct; last circulation figure 101,284). Ireland: Irish Times (the only quality Irish paper) 79,255 print, 18,903 digital (Jan-June 2018).

A guide to abbreviations is at the end of the citations.

Readers’ comments are welcome. Nit-pickers are especially encouraged.

… task force comprised of mutant sharks, killer clowns and the criminally insane. (Obs 1/8/21 p. 31)
Comprising or composed of. “Comprise(d) of” is never correct.

What has been a source of endless conjecture is the lengths Russia was prepared to go to to help Trump win. (Guardian online 15/7/21)
Who at the Guarniad thought the travesty “to go to to” was acceptable? Rewrite: “… the lengths to which Russia was prepared to go in order to help Trump win.”

a critical qualifying criteria (IMoS 11/7/21 p. 37)
Criterion. “Criteria” is plural.

the girls’ adopted parents (IMoS 11/7/21 p. 49)

Temperatures are expected to fall no longer than 13 to 17 degrees generally. … Temperatures will right 25 to 29 degrees generally. (the journal.ie online 19/7/21)
“Longer” can refer to size or time. “Right” suggests that the temperatures were tilted at an angle. Both words are wildly inappropriate for the context. Editorial nonfeasance.

As a longtime supporter of proper written and spoken English, the misuse of the language on radio and television has been causing me an amount of irritation lately. (IMoS 11/7/21 Letter to Editor p. 26)
Structurally, the introductory phrase modifies the subject, “misuse”. Rewrite: I am a longtime supporter of proper written and spoken English, and the misuse …

Poirier has claimed he initially weakened McGregor’s ankle with a check a few moments before, that led to the full break. (Extra.ie online 11/7/21)
Which led.

[The Eagles] exhorted their fans to “take it easy”, but their heyday was marked by excessive levels of drug-taking and brawling and they broke up in 1980. A reformed version led by founding member Don Henley continues to tour. (STim 4/7/21 Culture p. 53)
They may have reformed by ceasing to throw tv sets out hotel windows, but context suggests that Henley has reconstituted – re-formed – the group.

David Oyelowo’s directorial debut [“The Water Man”] is an artfully weaved tale … (IMoS 4/7/21 Magazine p. 29)
Weave, wove, woven. “Weaved” is the Past Tense and Past Participle when “weave” means to move erratically: “the drunk weaved down the street.”

Alan Turing’s nephew and fellow Sherborne School alumni, author Sir John Dermot Turing … (STel 27/6/21 p. 1.2)
Alumnus. “Alumni” is plural.

[The Pentagon report on UFOs] said there weren’t enough data to indicate … “But we will go wherever the data takes us.” (STel 27/6/21 p. 1.15)
The rarely used “datum” is singular. “Data” is normally considered plural except in the context of electronic media. Oral usage is often treated leniently.

[sub-head] We have been travelling through unchartered waters over the last few months
[text] We have been travelling through uncharted waters over the last few months
(Racing Post online 23/6/21)
“Uncharted”, meaning unmapped, is correct. “Unchartered”, meaning without a legal permit, is a frequent error.

If you were cynical, you might say it’s worthwhile for a killer to plead not guilty by reasons of insanity because if a jury agrees that you didn’t know what you were doing, didn’t know it was wrong and couldn’t stop yourself, you may well avoid a conviction for murder. That, however, begs the question that has troubled me since the O’Donnell case: do we know enough about the mind to say that anyone who kills another person, especially a child, in a violent manner could possibly be truly sane? (STim 30/5/21 p. 1.17)
Correct use of the much-abused “beg the question” formula, though not an ideal format. “Begs the question of whether we know enough,” without the question mark, would be preferred.

The film hones in on four idiosyncratic characters … (OBS 16/5/21 New review p. 24)

Did you know that the tallest building in the world comprises of 163 floors? (Microsoft Bing 9/5/21)
Delete “of”.

Just as [Pete Doherty] flaunted his heroin use on the outside, he was flouting our rules on the inside [Wormwood Scrubs]. (IMoS 18/4/21 p. 36)
Correct use of two words frequently confused.

From Whence I Came – The Kennedy Legacy, Ireland and America, by Robert Shrum, Irish Academic Press, 2021
“From Whence I Came” is shocking from a respected publisher, though not surprising on several other books and music discs. “Whence” means “from where”, so “from whence” is redundant.

“It’s like we’re paddling in a sewer of fraud and we need to deal with it. I’m very exorcised about it indeed.” (STel 28/3/21 p. 1.9)
Exercised. “Exorcise” means to drive a demon out of a person.

Gardaí have cornered off a section of a Dublin city area after a horrific late-night incident. (Dublin Live online 4/3/21)

Nobody at any level of the organisations were safe. (Journal.ie online 5/2/21)
“Nobody”, not “organisations”, is the subject of was.

To investigate this contentious territory [British social mobility], Todd tells the stories of seven cohorts, spanning 1880 to the present day, which she calls the pioneers, the precarious generation, the breakthrough generation, the golden generation, the magpie generation, Thatcher’s children and the millennials. (STim 14/2/21 Culture p. 22)
A rare correct use of “cohorts”: each group has a separate identity. In a series comprising this many items, the Harvard comma following the penultimate adds clarity and is preferred: “Thatcher’s children, and the millennials”.

According to Nancy, proning is the process of turning a patient with precise, safe motions from their back onto their abdomen (stomach) so the individual is lying face down. The expert notes that it is especially beneficial in comprised COVID-19 patients with or without ventilator needs … (Hackensack Meridian Health online)
Compromised. Correct example: “healthcare workers must safeguard against endotracheal tube dislodgement, hemodynamic compromise, disconnecting lines, eye injuries …” (Journals.sagepub.com online)

Michigan University (Obs 17/1/21 New Review p. 20)
Further in the article we learn that the academic referred to lives in Ann Arbor, so it must be the University of Michigan, not Michigan State or Central or Eastern or Western or Northern or Lake Superior State or Wayne State University or a host of others. This is the second time I’ve come across a bare “Michigan University”, and I wonder if it’s the same author who is too lazy to look up “Michigan universities” on the internet.

The presentation, writing and jaunty intellect of he and fellow writers … (Obs 17/1/21 New Review p. 25)

However, it was disappointing to then read pages of articles by writers, not one of whom were black. (The Author Autumn 2020 p. 36)
Not one of whom was or none of whom were. “None” can be singular or plural, depending on context, but ”not one” is obviously singular. Two articles by black writers appeared in this issue.

Agnes is eking out a living as a silhouette artist. (IMoS 10/1/21 p. 50)
Brooklyn Nets eke out overtime win against the Atlanta Hawks (The Journal.ie online via Press Association 28/1/21)
Don’t use “eke” if you don’t know what it means. This is one way to convey the meaning in the first citation: scraping a living as a freelance writer  (STim 24/1/21 p. 1.9) “Eke” in the second could be “squeeze”.

Historical records about castrated prisoners suggest that they were less prone to male-pattern baldness so, you know, swings and roundabouts. (IMoS 10/1/21 p. 50)
This is an example of resurrecting an out-of-date expression instead of beating a tired cliché to death.

He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
Hamlet, I, 2, l. 188
Example of “like” in the entry for “Ilk”.

Excellence is our sole criteria for selection … (Notre Dame Review listing in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020)
Our only criteria is quality of work … (Pisgah Review listing in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020)

 Middle Grace Fiction … unless we are interesting in publishing it … short synopses of your story (Canadian publisher Simply Read Books listing in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020)
Grade. Interested. Synopsis.

Children of all ages have poured over the artwork of … (US publisher Star Bright Book – “dedicated to producing the highest quality books for children” – listing in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020)
Unless you mean pored, keep those clumsy brats with their fizzy drinks away from my drawings.

the son of east European migrants in New York (Stim 24/1/21 p. 1.9)

King was an inveterate better on horses. (Stim 24/1/21 p. 1.9)
Better” is an alternative spelling, but bettor is preferred to avoid confusion.

Alternative options being explored for Leaving Cert [head] “further possible options” … alternative options … a choice between … a number of options … other options … Ministers had ruled out alternatives to the traditional Leaving Cert [text] (ITim 23/1/21 p. 6)
The Department of Education seems to be blameless here. The only instances of “alternative options” appear to be the sub-editor’s and the writers’ paraphrasing. [2 bylines]

Regretfully, we are no longer accepting unsolicited manuscripts. (US Publisher Seven Stories Press listing in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020)

The shebeen [Irish síbín = speak-easy, unlicenced pub] uncovered in Swords is the latest in a plethora of similar illicit operations raided by Gardai since stringent Level 5 public health restrictions came back into effect shortly after Christmas. (Extra.ie online 25/1/21)
Good use of “plethora”, which frequently usurps a place meant for “a large number”. “Plethora” refers to a glut or over-supply.

“What was put out to the general populous was basically that there was five troublemakers being let go.” (a soccer player quoted in The Journal.ie online 25/1/21)
Populace. “Was” gets a free pass because it’s in a quote, but “populous” is the writer’s error.

ITim – Irish Times

STim – Sunday Times

STel – Sunday Telegraph

Obs – Observer

IMoS – Irish Mail on Sunday

LRB – London Review of Books

MEU – Modern English Usage, H. W. Fowler, 1926.

FMEU – Fowler’s Modern English Usage (second edition), Sir Ernest Gowers, Oxford, 1965.

NFMEU – The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, Robert Burchfield, Oxford, 1996. This third edition of Fowler’s Modern English Usage is a virtual rewrite.

FDMEUFowlers Dictionary of Modern English Usage (fourth edition), Jeremy Butterfield, Oxford, 2015.

DTW – The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson, Penguin, 1984, 1987.

TW – Troublesome Words, Bill Bryson, Penguin, UK, 2002. This is the third edition of The Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words (DTW), 1984.

DEU – Dictionary of English Usage, John O. E. Clark, Harrap, London, 1990