January 22, 2014 Leave a comment
The 2014 update of the 2009 second edition of English Like It Is is 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)
Soft targets like tabloids, local papers and hobby magazines are not the focus of this book, but The Irish Mail on Sunday (circulation as of March 2015 – 93,315) 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.
UK circulation figures for January 2014: Mail on Sunday, 1,586,979; Sunday Times, 817,642; Sunday Telegraph, 429,285; Observer, 225,474; Independent on Sunday (now defunct; last circulation figure 101,284). Irish Times (the only quality Irish paper) 72,011 first half 2016.
A guide to abbreviations is at the end of the citations.
Readers’ comments are welcome. Nit-pickers are especially encouraged.
these kind of fantasies (Obs 25/9/16 The New Review p. 38)
unchartered territory (The Lancet online 8/7/16)
Uncharted, ie, unmapped, unknown.
For children, the psychological impact of being overweight is equally as menacing. … weight problems plague twice as many children and four times as many adolescents than just a generation ago. (Huff Post Parents Canada 14/9/16 online)
Equally menacing. The “as” is unnecessary and incorrect. Also: “as many … as.”
… property, which has an oil mine right underneath it. (STel 11/9/16 Living p. 15)
It is probably an oil deposit, but simply replacing “an oil mine” with “oil” would be safe.
“Gaposis: a noticeable gap or series of gaps, as between the fastened buttons or snaps on an overly tight garment. … Gaposis is a humorous coinage from the 1950s.” (http://www.dictionary.com/wordoftheday/2016/09/02/gaposis)
If the word was coined in the 1950s, why is there a citation of its use in a 1941 issue of Life Magazine?
… the real problem are the drugs and regulatory systems … (Obs 4/9/16 The New Review p. 34)
Is. Writers constantly make this sort of silly mistake while writing, but they usually spot it when they re-read the article. If that fails, the responsibility falls on the editor.
School playground. Gates locked between 10.50am to 1.50pm. (Sign, St. Mary’s Boys National School, Maynooth, Ireland)
“Between 10.50am and 1.50pm” or “From 10.50am to 1.50pm”. No wonder adults get it wrong, when this error is part of their education.
The 33-year-old made the grizzly discovery … (Daily Mail online 6/9/16)
Grisly, ie, horrible, ghastly. A grizzly is a bear. This error is turning up frequently. A sub-head has “A 33-year-old made the harrowing discovery …”
So it’s not exactly King Lear 2016, but the dark clouds swirling around Fox News … (Obs 4/9/16 p. 1.42)
So even veteran journalist and editor Peter Preston has succumbed to the illogical introductory “so”.
Guests of the Nation” is the title story of the 1931 Frank O’Connor short story collection of the same name. (Wikipedia “Guests of the Nation” page)
Redundant. “Title story” is repeated in “collection of the same name”. Compare: Guests of the Nation (1931), including the famous title story. (Wikipedia “Frank O’Connor” page)
[In 1954] she bought a wheel-to-wheel tape recorder … (ITim 26/8/16 p. 1.7)
Reel-to-reel. The article carries a photo of the woman holding a tape reel.
[Referring to a character in the film Crocodile Dundee] Playing the part of Sue’s scumbag editor come lover … (online 11/8/16 http://www.timetobreak.com/6873711/the-cast-of-crocodile-dundee-where-are-they-now)
Cum. It’s a Latin word meaning literally “with”: in this context, “who is also her”.
[David] Gulipilil has made headlines for the wrong reasons since his [Crocodile] Dundee days. In an argument in 2006 he produced a machete, while in 2010 he was sentenced to a year in prison after breaking his wife’s arm with a broom. However, despite these discretions Gulpilil still acts … (online 11/8/16 http://www.timetobreak.com/6873711/the-cast-of-crocodile-dundee-where-are-they-now)
Indiscretions. Correct spelling Gulpilil. He played the Aboriginal boy in Walkabout at the age of sixteen.
The best dressed lady who slayed the trolls [head] (IMoS 7/8/16 p. 20)
Slay, slew, slain.”Slayed” is the past tense when a performer strongly and positively impresses the audience and/or critics. The woman who won the Best-Dressed (hyphen required) Lady award at the Galway Races hit back convincingly at social media bullies who criticised her makeup, dress style, hat, body shape, facial expression. The last straw was “droopy boob syndrome”. The 45-year-old used four-letter words in her sharp counter-attack, drawing huge support from other victims of online abuse and an offer from a top model agency.
Having slayed racism, the Obamas could tackle ageism [head] (IMoS 11/9/16 p. 25)
Slain. The Irish Mail on Sunday’s sub-editor needs a wake-up call.
yoghurt … yoghurt … yoghurt … yogurt (STim 7/8/16 Magazine pp. 36, 37)
Both spellings – as well as “yoghourt” – are correct, but a consistent form in the same article is desirable.
Crows taking part in the research were vigorously seen bending their twig tools. (Irish Examiner online 10/8/16)
This says that the people watching were vigorous, but it’s obvious that it’s the crows that were seen vigorously bending their tools. This sort of error is probably a result of the mistaken belief that it is wrong to split an infinitive.
added bonus (Obs 31/7/16 New Review p. 26)
Redundant. All bonuses are extra or added.
For decades, our nation’s chippies have been substituting vinegar for a mixture of water, ethanoic acid, colourings and flavourings that comes in a concentrated form and is then watered down and served to customers. (Guardian 1/8/16 online)
The article shows that it’s the other way round. The shops are using that mixture instead of real vinegar, ie, substituting the mixture for vinegar. The writer also uses the plural “phenomena” to refer to this singular substitution.
Schmerz is a New York university screenwriting professor who, when not languishing in his boxy apartment, fruitlessly attempts to hawk his screenplay to disinterested agents. (Guardian 30/7/16 online)
Uninterested. Agents by definition are not disinterested – uninvolved – in scripts.
[Nadiya Savchenko is the Ukrainian fighter pilot captured and imprisoned in Russia; she is now entering politics in Ukraine.] “The enemy [Russia] must leave our land. Ukraine must be free and independent, including Crimea and Donbass.” [The interviewer comments: “Russia is unlikely to give up Crimea now.”] “Look, Putin isn’t eternal, is he?” she retorts. “I’m still trying to work out how we can return what’s ours, but I won’t rest until that happens. My stance is uncompromising on this. Hitler grabbed much more land than Putin, but in the end it was returned, so nothing is impossible.” (STim 17/7/16 Magazine p. 8)
The reader has to re-read “how we can return what’s ours” in order to guess that what she meant is probably “how he can be made to return what’s ours” or “how we can regain what’s ours.”
the laying-in hospital in Limerick (LRB 14/7/16 p. 31)
Lying-in. The male writer isn’t clear on the difference between women giving birth and birds laying eggs.
this mighty bridge over the Bosphorus Straight (IMoS 17/7/16 p. 10)
“… ferry ride on the Bosphorus Straight.” (TripAdvisor May 2016)
“You can visit Bosphorus Straight …” (TripAdvisor May 2016)
“The straight is must see …” (TripAdvisor December 2014)
Bosphorus (or Bosporus) Strait. One TripAdvisor reviewer described Istanbul as “a melting point of East and West”. Melting pot or meeting point. “Melting point” is the temperature – point – at which a substance melts.
“And six months later I was, like: ‘Hi, Tom!’” … “And then someone says something mean, and you’re like: ‘Fuck you!’” [Simon Pegg speaking in an interview] (Obs 3/7/16 Magazine pp. 15 and 18).
But we were like: “No, no, no”. (LRB 30/6/16 p. 22)
Complaining about the abomination of “like” for “said” is a lost cause, but it shouldn’t go unnoticed in a book about usage. I recently overheard a young woman in a Dublin Tesco chatting on her mobile in Irish – refreshing of course to know that the first official language is alive and well and in everyday use by the young – but pausing nearby to savour the experience I noticed that “like” turned up frequently: “Tá me like, ‘Cad atá tú like a dhéanamh?’” (“I’m like, ‘What are you like doing?’”)
So Blakey, Bev and I are among the lucky ticket-holders to a big Silicon Valley campaign fundraiser for HRC [Hillary Clinton]. (LRB 31/3/16 p. 40)
This is the first sentence in an article by Terry Castle, a prominent American feminist/lesbian literary figure born in 1953, about a PR handshaking event with “the Hilldebeest! The Many-Horned Hillaria! (Bernie who?) Hellza-poppin’ H-Rod! (Not the Donald?) The Grinch Who Lost Her Emails! The Ethical Wreck! Our Straight-Talking-Thick-Ankled Lady of the Half-Explained! (Will Huma be there?) OMGoddess!”. The language and imagery are similarly bizarre throughout.
The reason I flagged that sentence is to point out the use of “so” to introduce a topic. This is an increasingly annoying verbal tic. It is literally a non sequitur: there is no previous statement requiring that connecting conjunction to introduce what logically comes next to complete a thought. Castle’s birth date is relevant to show that it is not only young people who employ this unnecessary temporising sound.
Other researchers have found that hedonic wellbeing (ie, a viewpoint that defines wellbeing through experiences of pleasure vs displeasure and that can be roughly summarised as happiness) is not a good predictor of mortality in women, when baseline levels of health and health behaviours had been taken into account. (The Lancet online Volume 387, No. 10021, p822–823, 27 February 2016)
The misuse of “beg the question” is dealt with in the book, but you can read that entry on the relevant page on this blog.
[Review of novel The Allegations by Mark Lawson] … charged with “historic” sexual assault of a girlfriend, 38 years earlier. (The lead characters are pedants – as, one suspects, is Lawson, as am I, so I can only applaud the fact that the text always frames “historic” in this context with inverted commas. Unless said abuse is unprecedented in scale, transgressions of the distant past are historical.) (Obs 3/7/16 The New Review p. 34)
This frequent confusion is well explained here.
my quest to stop smoking (Obs 3/7/16 p. 1.40)
A quest is a search. The word is often used carelessly in place of the more accurate endeavour or struggle or attempt.
… talk of [Vazirabad] stepping up in trip for Ascot’s Gold Cup was quickly dowsed by trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre … (Racing Post online 3/7/16)
To dowse is to search for water or some other element by means of hazel rods or some other implement. The writer was probably thinking of “douse” – to thoroughly wet something – but dampened or quenched – to extinguish a fire with water or another liquid – may best express what he meant.
The state gaveth, and the state tooketh away. (LRB 16/6/16 p. 5)
Gave and took are the past of “give” and “take”. “Gaveth” and “tooketh” have never been the past forms. The words have never existed, except in the minds of writers whose attempted cleverness exceeds their grasp of the language. A working knowledge of early English grammar is a prerequisite for those who wish to use archaic forms. Also, variations of “giveth … taketh” are tired old clichés and deserve to be pensioned off.
… there were £1,000 in his jacket pocket. (Guardian online 22/6/16)
Was. It’s a singular sum, not 1000 individual £1 notes.
Not long after, the main road into town sunk eight feet in height … (LRB 2/6/16 p. 39)
Afterwards is the adverb; “after” is a preposition. Sank is the preferred past, though “sunk” is not incorrect. What height was the road before it sank? “In height” is redundant and just weird.
Watch as Creator ekes out the narrowest of wins in the Test of Champions [sub-head] It was Creator by a nose in one of the closet [sic] finishes in Belmont Stakes history. (SB Nation online 11/6/16)
Squeezes out. Also, the photo shows it was a short head, not a nose, so not “the narrowest of wins”.
Scotland’s General Teaching Council hears how Gillian Scott’s ‘lack of enthusiasm’ resulted in pupils becoming disinterested [sub-head in email] Scotland’s General Teaching Council hears how Gillian Scott’s ‘lack of enthusiasm’ resulted in pupils becoming uninterested [sub-head in Guardian online article 2/6/16]
Uninterested, meaning not interested, is correct. “Disinterested” means not involved. The pupils are not disinterested: it’s their education that’s at stake.
a sum totalling £1250 [in 1882], equivalent to about €157,000 today (ITim 20/5/16 p. 1.15)
£3500 a year, which in the early 1940s was roughly ten times the average wage (LRB 2/6/16 p. 35)
Many writers neglect to provide this sort of context.
One shorter man of my acquaintance edges away from me whenever I hove into view … (Guardian online 15/5/16)
Heave, if you wish to keep the maritime flavour, or come. “Hove” is past tense. The Guardian’s Sunday sister, The Observer (22/5/16 p. 1.38), supplied this self-correction in the For the Record column, since the error apparently also appeared in the Observer’s 15 May issue: “Usage corner: ‘… whenever I hove into view …’ (Comment, last week, page 34). Our style guide says: ‘hove – past tense and past participle of heave used in a nautical context, literally or metaphorically (they hove into view, hove up the anchor and hove alongside); so do not write, for example, ‘Woods and Mickelson had only to hove into view’ (should be heave) or ‘Sweeney Todd now hoves into view’ (should be heaves).”
One of his great strengths are his vast, coolly descriptive set pieces … (STim 8/5/16 Magazine p. 39)
“One” is the subject of is.
“I want children to read literature that is conducive to their age …” [quoting from the blog of Graeme Whiting, “head of top Acorn School in the UK”] (Irish Independent 11/5/16 p. 37; and elsewhere; the blog went viral)
This is part of a rant against “un-sensitive books for young children!” (That exclamation mark is one of eight in the blog.) “Un-sensitive” is not a word. Whiting probably means “inappropriate”. “Conducive” is “making a certain situation or outcome likely or possible” (NODE). He probably means “appropriate”. On the school’s website, Whiting explains why he founded the Acorn School: “My aim was to create an ‘education for the future’, where children can be educated in an environment that encourages a love of learning and high standards, whilst instilling a strong moral foundation in each and every child.” But who is going to teach them to write correctly? Not the headmaster.
devastation wrought by ongoing wildfire (Guardian online 10/5/16 head)
Wreaked. Beloved by sub-editors, “wrought” is nearly always used incorrectly.
[About Ivan Pavlov of the salivating dogs] … the Pavlovs scraped together enough to feed their friends, colleagues and dogs (in case years of research were lost). (LRB 21/4/16 p. 31)
Lest – so that … not – expresses the presumed meaning better than “in case”.
… if [Labour] slinked into office again by the back door. (IMoS 24/4/16 p. 22)
I think you misunderestimate how catalytic the vaulting ambition of Shakespeare was in his getting the job … (Guardian Comments column online 17/4/16)
Has this infamous Bushism escaped into the wild? “They misunderestimated me.” Bentonville, Arkansas, November 6, 2000; “I’ve been misunderestimated most of my life.” North Charleston, South Carolina, February 15, 2016.
“Nearly a decade after George W. Bush said ‘misunderestimated’ in a speech, Philip Hensher called the term one of his ‘most memorable additions to the language, and an incidentally expressive one: it may be that we rather needed a word for ‘to underestimate by mistake’.” (Wikipedia)
[At the Met Breuer in New York] On the third and fourth floors appears Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, curated by Andrea Bayer, Kelly Baum and Wagstaff, an exhibition of artwork left undone. … failing to finish might feel like punishment for overreaching, at the extreme a flailing or even a flaying. One possible compensation is that, posthumously, an unfinished work can also seem both current and untimely. (LRB 31/3/16 p. 28)
“Untimely” means “at an unsuitable time” or “too soon” (NODE). Timeless would seem to be more appropriate in the context.
… climactic changes … whether the stellar explosions caused the climate to shift. (Washington Post online 7/4/16)
Climatic. “Climactic” is the adjective for “climax”.
It is lazy and inaccurate to brandish the current generation of students as inferior to previous generations … (ITim 3/1/16 p. 1.9)
Unless you are waving these students around in a threatening manner, brand is the correct verb.
Expert analysis into the attacks indicate that … (ITim 26/3/16 p. 1.9)
The subject of indicates is “analysis”.
WNMedia Ltd is a distinguished publishing house in EC1 looking to grow it’s business development team with intelligent individuals capable of communicating professionally with senior executives. [ad] (LRB 3/3/16 p. 42)
Its is required for professional communicators.
Last night’s results lay bare the scale and depth of the realignment that has been taking place within the country for almost a generation … (Guardian online 2/2/16)
I lay my reindeer hide on the ground and looked up to survey my work. … The temperature was a mild minus 1C as I lay back and drifted off, dreaming of snow and ice. (STel 31/1/16 Living p. 41)
The first “lay” should be laid.
… Trump seems to have sown up the Republican nomination … (STel 31/1/16 p. 1.17)
Sew, sewed, sewn.
… I realise that The Outrun is was what I was writing myself towards. … a flame broke through the fire, the stones fit, and the building grew. [same article] (Obs 17/1/16 The New Review pp. 9, 11)
“Is was” is probably the writer’s mistake, but an editor should have caught it. Fitted is the British form.
… an old cohort, Iggy Pop … flushed with funds … (Obs 17/1/16 The New Review pp. 12, 14)
A cohort is a group, not one person. “Flushed” suggests disappearing down the toilet. Flush is the correct word.
Pluto is surrounded by a blue right of light. … surrounded by a blue halo … (Obs 17/1/16 The New Review p. 24)
Asleep at the keyboard. An alert editor would have corrected “right” to “ring”.
Robotic humanoid butlers still have a way to go before you’ll be able to let them have free reign of the house … (Guardian online 19/1/16)
“Free reign” is an error for free rein, but probably because “reign” makes sense in the context, it is nearly acceptable. The Grammarist website wryly comments: “Instances of free reign are easily found, especially where editors are absent … (http://grammarist.com/spelling/free-rein-free-reign/)
… plans to deport tens of thousands of Japanese American citizens at the end of the second world war. (Guardian online 20/12/15)
Exile. Foreigners are deported from a country; natives are exiled from their own country.
What saves it, in the end, are the illustrations. (STim 20/12/15 Culture p. 43)
… what makes this more than a coffee-table book in miniature … are the short essays … (STim 20/12/15 Culture p. 49)
In the first example, “what saves it,” a noun clause, is the subject of “are”. In this format, “what” is generally considered singular, and “saves” is correct, but “what saves it” should also be considered singular, and so “are” should be is. The same rule applies to the second example: “is the short essays”. When the noun that the “what” refers to is plural – “illustrations” and “essays” – some authorities would somewhat reluctantly permit the plural “save” and “make” with the following plural “are”. When in doubt, treat “what”and its noun clause as singular: “what saves … is” and “what makes … is”.
… it’s Trump’s [slogan “Make America Great Again”] that sticks in the mind, begging the question as to at what time exactly the country was great before – and to what might it be about to return. (IMoS 13/12/15 p. 65)
“At what time” would more gracefully be expressed by “when”, but the rare correct use of “begging the question” is to be applauded.
“Get rid of the rich,” [the anonymous author of On Riches] wrote, “and you will not find the poor.” … Against the rallying cry of the anonymous author of On Riches (most likely a Pelagian ultra) – “Get rid of the rich and you will find no poor” … (LRB 3/12/15 pp. 33-34)
Why the two different translations? The second makes more sense.
As William Fitzgerald showed in Slavery and the Roman Literary Imagination, the story of Lucius’ adventures while transformed into an ass [in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses] are an allegory of the life of a slave, burdened, beaten and abased. (LRB 3/12/15 p. 32)
“Story”, not “adventures”, is the subject of “is an allegory”.
advance warning (Obs 6/12/15 p. 1.37)
Redundant: all warnings are in advance. “Advance notice” or simply “warning”.
… just because you dream of a scary old man in the neighbourhood doesn’t mean there are no scary old men in the neighbourhood. (LRB 19/11/15 p. 27)
“Just because” introduces an adverb clause, which cannot serve as the subject of a sentence. Substitute “the fact that”, which introduces a noun clause.
[The late Sir Peter O’Sullevan was the BBC’s voice of British racing from 1947 to 1997. Former jockey Brough Scott refers to the Hennessey Gold Cup 2015.] How Peter would have loved to have called home Smad Place yesterday. (STim 29/11/15 Sport p. 14)
The Double Present Perfect is an economical way of expressing an idea that would be cumbersome in another format, but it is incorrectly used more often than not. Scott’s sentence is a perfect example of using the right tool for the job.
Use not the word “hopefully” to mean “I hope”, for it meaneth only “with hope” so that if thou sayeth “Hopefully it will rain today”, thou implieth that it will certainly rain today and that it is the rain-filled sky that is hopeful, not thee. … it was thee who was driving … (ITim 28/11/15 p. 1.15)
Frank McNally’s contributions to the column “An Irishman’s Diary” are always engaging and usually correctly written. However, he has gone seriously adrift in this clever satirical piece. Below is the paragraph correctly spelled and punctuated. Note the comma after “Hopefully”, which signals that it is used correctly as a sentence adverb here. “Sayest” and “impliest” are second person singular; “sayeth” and “implieth” are third person. “Thou” is second person singular nominative, used for the predicate nominative following “it is … not” and “it was.” “Thee” is accusative, used for the object of a verb or preposition. When a complete sentence is quoted – “I hope” and “Hopefully, it will rain today” – the following comma goes inside the end quote mark. Separate clauses with a comma, eg, following “with hope”. Archaic English should be used with care or not at all.
Use not the word “hopefully” to mean “I hope,” for it meaneth only “with hope”, so that if thou sayest, “Hopefully, it will rain today,” thou impliest that it will certainly rain today, and that it is the rain-filled sky that is hopeful, not thou. … it was thou …
Letting this happen, to coin a phrase, is “like watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre”. That phrase was Enoch Powell’s … (STel p. 1.30)
If the phrase was Enoch Powell’s, the writer didn’t coin – invent – it.
new and novel fertility enhancing drugs (BBC News online 20/11/15)
Redundant. “Novel” means “new”. Also, “fertility-enhancing” should be hyphenated.
“A highly unusual story filled with literary and biblical illusions and new words.” [review blurb in an ad for a novel published by Garn Press] (LRB 22/10/15 p. 13)
mice who were injected with a particular antibody (STel 8/11/15 p. 1.9)
That. “Who” is used only for named animals.
[Sir Kenneth Branagh] has weighed anchor in the West End for a year. (STel 8/11/15 p. 1. 11)
“Dropped anchor.” To weigh or raise anchor is to leave.
As our interview winded down, I asked her how she best wanted to be remembered? (IMoS 1/11/15 p. 65)
Wound. Also, an indirect question does not require a question mark.
… the seven climatic years of the Irish Party leader’s political career. (IMoS 1/11/15 p. 76)
Climactic, that is, related to “climax”, not “climate”.
[quoting a barman] on the wreckless attitude to drinking and driving of some customers (IMoS 1/11/15 p. 95)
Reckless. Is this tasteless humour or just plain ignorance?
a taskforce comprised of a number of departments and agencies (ITim 30/10/15 p. 1.7)
“Comprise of” is never correct.
a female actress (IMoS 25/10/15 TV Week p. 6)
As opposed to a male actress? Women who act, especially the younger ones, prefer to be called actors. When differentiating from male actors regarding sexist issues, “female actors” is appropriate.
… people who take up three seats in a crowded departure lounge with their jacket, shopping bags and assorted carrion. (“18 most annoying things people do in airports”, CNN online 7/10/14, retrieved 27/10/15)
“Carrion” is dead, rotten meat. Surely the content provider meant carry-on. This error has apparently lain uncorrected on CNN’s website for over a year.
the hall besides St Michael’s church (Obs 25/10/15 Magazine p. 17)
Beside is a preposition in this adverbial phrase. “Besides” is an adverb.
… £700 a year in London in the 1750s, ten times what a middle-class family needed to live on. (LRB 8/10/15 p. 14)
This sort of currency conversion is essential to the modern reader’s understanding.
A longboat full of Vikings, promoting the new British Museum exhibition, was seen sailing past the Palace of Westminster yesterday. Famously uncivilised, destructive and rapacious, with an almost insatiable appetite for rough sex and heavy drinking, the MPs nonetheless looked up for a bit to admire the vessel. (The Times, quoted in IMoS 18/10/15 p. 15)
This is an unusually entertaining example of a Dangling Subject Modifier. Obviously meant to describe the Vikings, the adjective phrase is positioned in the sentence in such a way that it accidentally modifies the MPs.
“Why isn’t there a caveat that makes all the refugees coming into the country work in hospitality?” asks Ross Shonhan, the 37-year-old founder of Japanese noodle bar Bone Daddies. “I’d give them a job.” (STel 18/10/15 Business p. 8)
“Caveat” is Latin for “let him be warned”, as in “caveat emptor”: “let the buyer beware.” What does “caveat” mean in this sentence? Is it a threat to make refugees work in what is often a demeaning job? Was Shonhan groping for “diktat”: a harsh penalty, an order that must be obeyed?
It turned out the reason little is known about the real Wayne Rooney is because there is precious little to know. (STim 11/10/15 Culture p. 16)
“Reason … is that there is …”
It’s hard to come up with a good analogy for climate change but that doesn’t stop people from trying. … Just because we did all those things doesn’t mean we can do this one. (LRB 24/9/15 p. 34)
These are the first and last sentences in the first paragraph of a review article. “Just because” is an adverb telling why. It cannot act as a noun clause to be the subject of “mean”. The first sentence shows that the writer knows how to write without this error, though he should have placed a comma after “change” in the first independent clause.
Neoliberalism and its capitalist ideology has lead to a state of permanement fatique. (Stanford University Press ad in LRB 24/9/15 p. 19)
Have led, permanent, fatigue. “A composite subject may be thought of as a single theme and then is followed by a singular verb.” (NFMEU) But “neoliberalism” and “capitalist ideology” are too distinct to pass as a composite subject, and so the verb needs to be plural: “have led”.
University presses are the most likely to make this sort of mistake in their ads in the LRB. Even the vanity press ads don’t have this many.
More important, however, is just how much fun Scott seems to be having with The Martian. (Obs 4/10/15 New Review p. 27)
This is correct. Most writers say “more importantly”; “importantly” means “pompously”.
Marvel’s Frank Castle rises from the dead to punish the men who slayed his family and tried to kill him. (IMoS 20/9/15 TV Week p. 26)
Slay, slew, slain.
However, the sheer number of narrative voices inevitably begs the question as to whether there is simply too much crammed in a relatively short novel. (ITim 26/9/15 Weekend Review p. 12)
“Raises the question.”
Which raises the question: in what world is “protein” more enticing than “chicken”? (Guardian online 5/10/15)
This is correct. Most writers say “begs the question”.
Each of their tales are told from their own perspective … (ITim 26/9/15 Weekend Review p. 12)
“Each … is told.”
trades unions (ITim 26/9/15 Weekend Review p. 11)
Current practice is “trade unions”.
… 11 people had been transported to a local hospital, two of which died at the hospital. (BBC News online 1/10/15)
“Two of whom.” “Which” is for things.
Cai et. al. found volunteers … (JSTOR online 1/10/15)
Et al. “Et” is a complete Latin word meaning “and”. “Al” is an abbreviation for the Latin “alii”, meaning “others”. “Et al” has been naturalised into English and does not require italics or a point after “al”.
Leahy relishes the Americans for their comic value (“They always ask why we don’t build more old cottages”) … STel 27/9/15 Living p. 2)
Irony is alive and well in America. Sometimes it’s just too subtle for Brits to get the joke.
Instead, the prime minister honed in on Japan’s own demographic challenges. (ITim 3/10/15 p. 1.10)
… as cameras honed in on Kvyat’s wreckage. (STel 27/9/15 Sport p. 18)
Homed. To hone is to sharpen, physically, as with a knife or axe, or metaphorically, as in “honing one’s talent”. This error is increasingly prevalent.
[On dangers of taking selfies]: Others who do not intentionally put themselves in danger can befall injury by simply not paying attention to their surroundings when focusing on getting the perfect shot. (Guardian online 22/9/15)
“Can risk injury” or “can be injured”. Injury can befall – ie, happen to – them.
… she lay down her brushes … (LRB 10/9/15 p. 18)
end of line terminus (Obs 13/9/15 p. 1.24)
Redundant. A terminus is the end of the line.
… so many could be disposed of without impunity. (Obs 13/9/15 The New Review p. 36)
“Impunity” means “non-punishment”, so this should be with impunity.
a beautiful jinn … a dark jinn (Obs 13/9/15 The New Review p. 34)
… jinns are not supposed to be fertile … power-crazed jinns … (ITim 12/9/15 Weekend Review p. 11)
The beautiful girl, who turns out to be a jinn … Do we really need to hear a jinn complain …? (STim 6/9/15 Culture p. 40)
A careful reading of Salman Rushdie’s book Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights would have informed the reviewers that “jinn” is plural, “jinni” singular, like the English “genie”. The correct forms are set out on the first page: “… the true nature of the jinn, the creatures made of smokeless fire … a jinni … the jinn live … the jinn are …”
… the security detail was extraordinarily loose-lipped … run the limousine off the road and finish off the inhabitants with sub-machinegun fire. (STim 6/9/15 News Review p. 2)
This is in an extract from Frederick Forsyth’s memoirs, The Outsider. “Loose-lipped” is obviously supposed to suggest the opposite of “tight-lipped”, which means “angry”, not “closed-mouthed”. Perhaps the WWII poster “Loose Lips Sink Ships” inspired this error. Loose-tongued is the correct term. “Inhabitants” implies that the occupants of the car were living in it. Does no one dare to edit Forsyth’s copy?
[reporter] visits the Finnish capital to see how the Scandinavians get it right [sub-head] (Irish Independent, 5/9/15)
Then he should go to Scandinavia – Denmark, Sweden and Norway. The Irish Independent is too dependable for this sort of error, which is why it does not appear regularly in this survey, though I’ll read it in a restaurant if it’s free and there’s nothing else except the place mat.
Everyone must know in every detail of how you slayed numbers … (McDonald’s place mat, Dublin, 5/9/15)
Children reading this will grow up believing that “slayed” is the correct past for slew, and so the error will be perpetuated. “Slayed”, for reasons that are not clear to me, is the correct past when it refers to successful performances: “The singer slayed the audience.”
[On War by Carl von Clausewitz is] “generally turgid and obscure… a torturous and tortuous though educationally rewarding reasoning process.” (Sun Tzu and Clausewitz: The Art of War and On War Compared, Michael I. Handel, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, 1991.
A nice juxtaposition of the often confused “torturous” and “tortuous”.
And more important, there’s nothing cheaply satirical about the play … (STel 30/8/15 Living p. 7)
This is a rare instance of the preferred “more important”. Most writers say “importantly”, which implies “pompously”.
In fact, what appear to be firm rules in practice leave a lot of wriggle-room. (LRB 17/8/15 p. 5)
The presence of what appear to be stones … (Guardian online 7/9/15)
“What”, in this construction, is usually taken to be singular, but occasionally, as here, it is obviously plural.
his failure to properly carry out his duties (ITim 28/8/15 p. 2)
Correct. One of the most common usage superstitions is that a split infinitive is wrong. In fact, the contortions required to place an adverb anywhere other than in the middle of an infinitive often result in an ungraceful and confusing sentence.
… adults whose lives were hallmarked by damage. (Obs 23/8/15 p. 1.26)
The abuse of the beleaguered “hallmark”, whose basic meaning is “a mark of high quality”, hits a new low.
Japan’s economy shrinks by 0.4% in a blow for ‘Abenomics’ growth plan [head] Japan’s economy shrunk 0.4% in the second quarter of the year, official data showed on Monday, underscoring how the prime minister’s “Abenomics” growth programme has yet to grain traction. [lead paragraph] (Guardian online 17/8/15)
“A blow to.” “A blow for” is a victory. Also, “gain traction”.
£20,000 [in the 17th century] (nearly £3m today) (STim 9/8/15 Culture p. 34)
Bless writers who give modern equivalents.
“strange varieties, both of beasts, fish, reptiles, insects and vegetables” (STim 9/8/15 Culture p. 34)
There are far too many items to be preceded by “both” in today’s English, but this usage in a 17th-century document was probably acceptable at the time.
The most well-known of the prosecutors … (STim 9/8/15 Culture p. 30)
As an actor Cruise instinctively runs whenever he needs to act; he replaces motion with emotion. (STim 9/8/15 Culture p. 15)
“He replaces emotion with motion” or “he substitutes motion for emotion.”
gather people together (The Author, Summer 2015 p. 54)
Strange Sounds gathers together programmes … (Obs 23/8/15 New Review p. 28)
“Gather” means “bring together”, so “together” is redundant.
Californian-based entrepreneurs (The Author, Summer 2015 p. 53)
California. “Californian” is the person.
How many one- or two-star reviews will it garner that, masochistically, I will hone in on far more frequently than those with four or even five stars? (The Author, Summer 2015 p. 49)
Home. The writer has had 13 novels published by a major publisher.
general consensus (LRB 30/7/15 p. 5)
A consensus is a general agreement, so “general” is redundant.
Despite nifty direction from Philip Franks, a staid air envelopes the first half [of the play] … (STel 9/8/15 Living p. 15)
Envelops is the verb; “envelopes” is the noun.
leave this sort of treacly insincerity [“pleased to meet you”] to the Americans (STel 9/8/15 p. 1.20)
The Yanks won the war against the Brits. It’s time the losers got over it.
honing in on the chief cause (STel 9/8/15 p. 1.20)
This slim paperback now collects together … (STel 9/8/15 Living p. 8)
Collects or brings together.
The publication of the pictures of the stone are important … (Guardian online 5/8/15)
“Publication” is the subject of is.
… collection of fifteen stories – all but one has appeared in a literary journal … (LRB 16/7/15 p. 27)
“All” is the subject of have appeared. This blurb for a self-published book does not instil confidence.
her adopted parents (LRB 16/7/15 p. 16)
… the quest-object becomes an alibi for the questing subject’s yearning for adventure. (LRB 16/7/15 p. 17)
Excuse. “Alibi” has the specific meaning of “in another place”.
The earliest tangible evidence of his presence in the household are some fragments of handwriting … (LRB 16/7/15 p. 22)
Is. “Evidence” is singular. Perhaps the “s” sound at the end of “evidence” and “presence” misled the writer. An eagle-eyed editor or proofreader should have caught this error.
David is not one of those military historians who is more interested in people in general than in particular. (IMoS 26/7/15 p. 76)
Are. “Historians” is the antecedent of “who”.
the stationary cupboard (IMoS 26/7/15 p. 77)
As opposed to the cupboard that moves? Stationery.
… the number of scenes in which we ogle at her transformation from ugly duckling to sexy swan belie that theory. (STim 26/7/15 Culture p. 43)
Belies. “The number” is singular. “A number”, which means “many”, is plural.
The wonderfully grounded Chatham Saxophone Quartet, for example, are comprised of … Comprising musicians who “never dress in black” … (STim 26/7/15 Culture pp. 20-21)
“Comprise of” is never correct. The writer obviously knows how to use the word.
Cybersecurity experts aren’t like you or I … (Guardian online 25/7/15)
Me is the object of the preposition “like”.
No one does mystery better than she … (31/5/15 STel Stella p. 21)
“Better than her” or “better than she does.”
[Film Dean Spanley] about a clergyman (Sam Neill) who, after he is imbibed with alcohol, will regale anyone who cares to listen with tales of his former life as a dog. (IMoS 19/7/15 p. 39)
“After he has imbibed alcohol” or “after he is plied with alcohol”.
… these kind of vulnerabilities seem to be becoming increasingly common … (Guardian online 22/7/15)
Inspectors have remained tight-lipped about the tip that led them to the inspection of Hamza’s house. (LRB 2/7/15 p. 38)
Closed-mouthed – they weren’t talking. “Tight-lipped” describes a person speaking with emotion, usually angrily. One doesn’t remain tight-lipped, but “remain” goes well with “closed-mouthed”.
… Peter, whom she was very fond of. (LRB 2/7/15 p. 15)
“Who she was very fond of.” Modern usage requires who when it does not directly follow the preposition. “Of whom she was very fond” might have been correct fifty years ago, but that is considered too formal nowadays.
[China’s] $10 trillion (£650 trillion) economy (STel 12/7/15 Business p. 4)
$US10 trillion is £6.5 trillion. Perhaps the writer meant to convert to billions, which would be £6,500.
more than a 100,000 years (STim 5/7/15 Style p. 30)
“100,000” is pronounced “a hundred thousand”, so the “a” in “a 100,000” is redundant.
There is masses of brilliant satire that kicks the underprivileged in the nuts. (STim 26/4/15 Culture p. 16)
There is masses of fur out there. (STim 5/7/15 Style p. 31)
One treads carefully when one criticises the excellent and nearly always correct AA Gill, but I humbly submit that “masses” is plural, so the relevant verbs should also be plural: “there are, that kick, there are”.
A leading member of the Ulster Defence Association has been murdered in south Belfast on Wednesday night. … They said the incident was due to a dispute that had been broken out after drinking in the area. (Guardian online 9/7/15)
“Was murdered.” The Past Simple is required when a specific time in the past is mentioned. “That had broken out.”
After a friend had read an early proof of my new novel she asked me whom various characters were based upon. (STim 5/7/15 News Review p. 4)
Who is required when it does not immediately follow the preposition. “Upon whom” is acceptable but is considered too formal in most contexts. This writer is editor of a major magazine, which explains a lot about the proliferation of usage errors in print and why editors don’t notice them: they don’t know the correct usage.
… about one in three Greeks are employed in tourism in the high season. (STim 5/7/15 p. 1.19)
Yet, a quarter of British adults don’t brush the recommended two times a day, and one in 10 regularly forget to brush altogether. (Guardian online 20/7/15)
“One in three Greeks is.” “One”, the subject, is singular, and “in three” does not make it plural. This was in an article by “a bestselling novelist”. “One in 10 forgets.”
Among those featured are 15-year-old Beth … (IMoS TV Week 28/6/15 p. 43)
Is. Only one person is mentioned.
Tim Burton casts Johnny Depp as a fairytale Frankenstein. (IMoS TV Week 28/6/15)
“Frankenstein (or Frankenstein’s) monster.” The “father” of Edward Scissorhands is the equivalent of Doctor Frankenstein, who created the monster.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone [headline] (ITim online 3/7/15)
Him. The dependent clause “who is without sin” is in apposition with “him”. “Let him cast the first stone” is the main clause. “Him” is the object of “let” and must be in the objective case.
[Michael] Douglas bares scant resemblance to the blonde American swimwear model. (IMoS 28/6/15 p. 68)
Bears. Or was this a “show me yours and I’ll show you mine” incident?
The insensitive handling of the deal has attracted a different press reaction than she may have been used to. (IMoS 21/6/15 p. 15)
“Than” as a conjunction was roundly condemned as a dreaded “Americanism” until quite recently. The argument was that “than” is a preposition, and the above sentence should have “a different press reaction than what she …” Rather suddenly, about 2010, “than” as a conjunction started to be used regularly this side of the Atlantic. (British nit-pickers would insist on “on this side”.)
final conclusion (IMoS 21/6/15 p. 76)
Redundant. All conclusions are final.
Both me and one of my guests started with pea soup … either would have done the trick equally as well (IMoS 21/6/15 p. 85)
“One of my guests and I.” “Me” is in the objective case and cannot be used as a subject. Equally well. “Equally as” is universally condemned.
“The thing we all love most about the glorious old United States of A,
Is that everybody, irregardless of creed or color, is entitled to have their say.” Westbrook Pegler, extreme right-wing American journalist (1894-1969)
I don’t recall seeing this classic no-no in print elsewhere. “Regardless” is a negative, and the “ir” prefix negates, so “irregardless” is redundant.
[In Jonathan Freedland’s novel The 3rd Woman] a Chinese character reflects on the way the American people’s fetishisation of leisure time has led to the collapse of their country. (“It was even in their constitution: the pursuit of happiness … No wonder they had lost their position at the top.”) (STel 21/6/15 Living p. 9)
The opinion of the character is not necessarily the opinion of the author, but it is typical of the seemingly willful tendency of British writers to misinterpret the phrase “the pursuit of happiness”. Usually, though, they don’t also misplace it. It’s in the Declaration of Independence – independence from Britain in 1776. Get over it, lads – not the Constitution. Jonathan Freedland is executive editor of The Guardian and one of its columnists.
“Happiness” in the context of 18th-century political philosophy means personal fulfilment, not joy or hedonistic pleasure or the fetishisation of leisure time.
“Happiness consists in the attainment of the highest and most lasting good” (Isaac Watts, Logic, 1724).
“That Action is best which accomplishes the greatest Happiness for the greatest Numbers” (Francis Hutcheson, An Inquiry Into the Original of Our Ideas of Beauty & Virtue, 1729).
“What is the fruit of a good government? The virtue and happiness of the people” (a courtroom speech by Irish lawyer John Philpot Curran, 1794).
The English poet Robert Herrick (1591-1674) understood that: “It takes great wit and interest and energy to be happy. The pursuit of happiness is a great activity. One must be open and alive. It is the greatest feat man has to accomplish.”
At lunch with my brother and I … (STel 21/6/15 Living p. 17)
This adventurous, book is a marked improvement on its formula-bound predecessor. (STim 14/6/15 Culture p. 39)
Why the comma? There is no reason to make the reader pause here.
What is not shown are the reef’s military facilities … (Reuters via ITim 20/6/15 p. 1.9)
And what was wrong with everything was people and their need to do all those things that made the world go round. [Jenny Diski] (LRB 4/6/15 p. 15)
“What” in this construction is normally regarded as singular, and a singular following verb is required. As usual, Jenny Diski gets it right.
Bragadian … Bagradian … Bragadian … Bragadians … Bagradians … (LRB 4/6/15 p. 7)
The correct spelling of the name of the character in Franz Werfel’s novel The Forty Days of Musa Dagh is “Bagradian”. Two correct out of five is not a good score.
[Boy:] “No one has more intelligence than me.” [Mother:] “Than I.”(FoxTrot Classics comic strip online 12/6/15)
“Than me” is correct. “Than” is a preposition here; “me” is the object and is in the objective case.
[Junior doctors on hospital rounds with a consultant encounter a woman with psychosomatic blindness.] O’Sullivan and her fellow junior doctors, certain that she could see, found it hard not to suppress giggles as Yvonne described her condition. They were reprimanded by the consultant. (Obs 7/6/15 The New Review p. 35)
Two negatives – hard and not – make a positive, so the sentence says that they did suppress giggles. If so, why did the consultant reprimand them? Delete “not”.
[Saul Bellow was married five times.] Next to Norman Mailer, who did equally well on the spouse-mongering front, Bellow … (LRB 21/5/15 p. 13)
Spouse-collecting perhaps? “Monger” means to sell or distribute, as in fishmonger, ironmonger (hardware shop), gossip monger.
Appeared on Andrew Neil’s excellent This Week show tonight. His regular cohorts tonight were Michael Portillo and Diane Abbott. [Piers Morgan’s diary] (IMoS 24/5/15 TV Week p. 62)
A cohort is a like-minded organised group, not an individual, and is usually incorrect when used in the plural.
a first novel full of alternate endings (STel 31/5/15 Living p. 9)
“… we remain skeptical …” They will have be able to work … (ITim 30/5/15 Weekend Review p. 4)
Sceptical is the UK-Irish spelling. “Will be able” is meant. Both errors appear in an article about English-language schools in Ireland. The “skeptical” misspelling is in a direct quote from the director of an organisation of language schools.
Rambaud’s four-day trial last week shone a rare – and for some locals unwanted – light on the truffle market’s underground economy. (STel 31/5/15 p. 1.27)
[Christopher Booker makes six predictions for the result of the coming UK referendum about leaving the EU.] First … Secondly … Thirdly … Fourthly … Fifthly … Sixthly … (STel 31/5/15 p. 1.22)
There is no logical reason or grammatical defence for the “ly” suffix.
Ravic [a recurring hero in Remarque’s novels] contains elements of Remarque himself, or at least of a person he would have liked to have been. (LRB 7/5/15 p. 3)
The Double Past or Double Present Perfect should be used carefully. Here it is notionally correct. When he was writing the novel, if Remarque said to himself, “I would like to have been Ravic,” the above sentence is correct, though some would prefer “a person he would like to have been”. If he said, “I would like to be Ravic,” the sentence should be “a person he would have liked to be”.
[About the effects of economic inequality in education performance]:Thinking about such things is painful, and so people have instead become obsessed with performance data, using it as if to fight a proxy war. Performance data aren’t necessarily a bad thing … (LRB 7/5/15 p. 10)
“Data” is singular when used in an IT context but plural elsewhere. It’s unusual to see the word used as singular in one sentence and plural in the next.
Andries Botes’ The Timbavati Secrets takes you into the east of Southern Africa, to the majestic Drakensberg mountain range that dissects the country. [AuthorHouse ad] LRB 7/5/15 p. 13)
Another bullet wound to a pedal extremity by this publisher. “Dissect” means to cut apart into several pieces, as is done in a post mortem. Bisect is the word needed here: to divide into two parts.
the central median of O’Connell Street (STim 10/5/15 p. 1.8)
Dublin’s main drag does indeed have a median, and, not surprisingly, it is located in the centre of the street. However, this redundancy cannot be considered incorrect, because “central median” is the way Dubliners habitually refer to it.
Belief in the untrammelled sovereignty of Parliament is now decidedly vieux jeu and nekulturny. (LRB 23/4/15 p. 18)
“Old hat” and “uncultured” are the proper way to express these terms in an English-language article.
… every aspect of the singer’s art – from training the vocal chords to … (IMoS 26/4/15 p. 74)
What are alternative transport options for commuters? (Irish Independent 1/5/15 p. 8)
I won’t be seen buying this rag, but it was lying on a chair when I popped in to a café for an espresso, and I had a look. (It doesn’t take much time to read The Irish Independent.) The teeth-itchingly redundant “alternative options” is such a basic error that I’ve never come across it in other newspapers.
“It was not something that was done intentionally but it was a breach of confidentiality on our behalf and not something we take lightly,” he said. [regarding the presence of confidential student details in a rubbish bag left in the street] (ITim online 23/4/15)
This is a frequent error in speaking and writing. “On our behalf” means “for our benefit”. “On our part” is a correct way of saying what the speaker obviously meant.
The highlight were buñelos … (IMoS 19/4/15 p. 83)
While the recent rise in quality has not being reflected in the box office … (IMoS 19/4/15 p. 76)
Despite his laid-back demeanour, [Ardal] O’Hanlon has often being slung into the deep end. (STim 10/5/15 Culture p. 11)
Do these writers really not understand the difference between “being” and been?
But the more a doctor knows and learns, the more people they can help throughout her career … (Guardian online 20/4/15)
“Throughout their career” or “the more people she can help”. The fad to feminise the Indeterminate Human Referent needs to be handled more gracefully.
The Mass: How to explain what we do on Sunday to our children and friends [book title in full page ad] (LRB 9/4/15 p. 13)
Did it not occur to anyone at AuthorHouse to remove the ambiguity of the subtitle by rewording: “How to explain to our children and friends what we do on Sunday”?
The mere existence of the Magdalene homes show us how quickly … (IMoS 5/4/15 p. 21)
“Existence” is the subject of shows.
… they preferred him to face the gallows than see a proper investigation … (IMoS 5/4/15 p. 21)
“Rather than see.”
As scientists broadcasted the idea … (STim 5/4/15 Culture p. 36)
All meanings of “cast” have “cast” as the past participle, but NODE accepts “broadcasted” and “forecasted” as correct.
the anonymity in which users of the dark net depend (LRB 19/3/15 p. 34)
The helicopter lands and the first thing you see are vultures … (STim 1/3/15 News Review p. 3)
between 1998-2009 (Obs 29/3/15 New Review p. 16)
“Between 1998 and 2009, or delete “between”.
the second industrial revolution, between 1875 to 1900 (LRB 5/3/15 p. 6)
“Between 1875 and 1900.”
What has proved problematic are the gender politics … (Obs 29/3/15 New Review p. 23)
“What” in a split sentence is normally considered singular, and both verbs should be singular.
… Rubens hones in on what he conceives as his subject’s significance … (LRB 5/3/15 p. 26)
The Popular Party has been given a new alibi by the economic recession but the script is still familiar. (LRB 5/3/15 p. 33)
“Excuse.” “Alibi” means “in another place”.
He does, however, have a blind spot – for the dangler, that word or phrase that’s in the wrong place at the wrong time and so ends up describing the wrong thing: “Strolling towards the cliff, sycamore leaves were mottled with black blobs like liver spots on elderly people’s hands”; “Head to toe in camouflage ,,, Ron’s large pink fingers clutched a .243 rifle.” (STel 22/3/15 Living p. 9)
The dangling modifier is frequently heard in speech, but there is no excuse for it to be seen in writing.
Virtually the entire media – and this is where I establish my own credentials of imprecision, because I really don’t know whether that word is plural or singular – flagrantly back/backs the “yes” vote. (STim 15/3/15 p. 1.13)
“Media” is plural (the singular is “medium”) unless the members are acting as a unit.
… our genetic makeup bares out those clichés … (STel 22/3/15 p. 1.29)
A tight-lipped corporation [BBC] said on Tuesday it had suspended the controversial Top Gear presenter [Jeremy Clarkson] pending an investigation into his “fracas with a BBC producer” … Apart from the BBC’s two-paragraph statement on the matter, there was a resounding silence from the corporation and Clarkson, aside from his tweets. (The Guardian online 11/3/15)
“Two-paragraph statement” and “resounding silence” suggest that “tight-lipped” should be “closed-mouthed”.
“We published a kids’ book on English folklore last year, … Folk Tales of the British Isles.” (The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith, Sphere, 2014, p. 39)
A book on English folklore is not the same as a book, if it is correctly titled, called Folk Tales of the British Isles, and a book of that title should not include Irish folk tales.
At their best, Frost’s letters and poems are wonderfully untutored even while they refuse to give up on the attempt to eke out something knowable from the mist of their apprehensions. (LRB 19/2/15 p. 22)
“Eke” here seems to occupy a place more suitable for “dig” or “winkle”.
Archaeologists unearth hundreds of carefully lain skeletons underneath Monoprix supermarket where medieval hospital once stood [sub-head] (Guardian online 3/3/15)
[Martin Luther’s 95 theses protested against the extortion of money to] “release souls from heaven” (STim 1/3/15 p. 1.13)
Thesis 35 has “to buy souls out of purgatory”. See: http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/luther/web/ninetyfive.html
What follows is a funny and moving book comprised of interlinking, individually titled stories. (ITim 28/2/15 Weekend Review p. 12)
“Comprised of” is never correct.
Sir Stuart Rose … Sir Stuart … Sir Stuart … Sir Rose … Sir Stuart … (STel 22/2/15 Business Technology p. 8)
An American writer might be forgiven for this error, but Britons should know better.
“The moviemakers must have felt that they had found their Jimmy Breslin or their Hildy Johnson [the real and fictional archetypes of the crusty, hard-living journalist] when they found him.” [“Him” refers to the just-deceased David Carr.] (ITim 14/2/15 p. 1.13)
This is a rare correct use of “archetype”, which is frequently confused with “prototype” and “stereotype”.
Having sowed chaos in Iraq, Western and Arab governments then threw their support … we have reaped what we have sown. [same article] (STim 8/2/15 Culture pp. 32-33)
“Sowed” and “sown” are both correct as part participles, but the use of both forms in the same article is inconsistent.
The film’s interpretation of that crucial moment [beatings of civil rights protestors in the film Selma], smoky and white and positively medieval in its ghoulishness, invokes the sheer horror and anger perfectly. (STim 8/2/15 Culture p. 12)
“Invokes” (“calls upon”) is just possibly correct, but context suggests that evokes (“calls out”) is what the writer meant.
At the police’s request, jeff_ebooks has been lain to rest … (The Guardian online 13/2/15)
Laid. And “at the police’s request” would be more graceful as “at the request of the police”.
10am in the morning (ITim online 6/2/15)
Asleep at the keyboard.
For a start Gatsby has been killed, so someone else would have to be equally as great; and nobody throws parties like Gatsby. (The Guardian “Go Set a Watchman, and five other sequels that should never happen” online 4/2/15)
Equally great. “Equally as” is never correct.
Ashton’s central thesis is that creativity is not reserved for genii but latent in us all. (STel 1/2/15 Living p. 13)
“Genii” is the plural of “genie”, “a spirit of Arabian folklore” (NODE) and “genius” in the sense of “a tutelary spirit” (NODE). The plural of “genius” in the sense of a person of outstanding intellectual or creative ability is geniuses.
Instapaper apologises for profanity-filled email (Guardian online 2/2/15)
It was filled with variations of the f-word. That’s obscenity, not profanity, which is abuse of the name of God.
Shortly after Mr Lewis returned to Hull, where he owns a property, and turned himself in to police, admitting he had been “robbing Peter to pay Paul”. (STel 1/2/15 p. 1.13)
“After”, as this sentence is formatted, is a conjunction introducing an adverbial clause. However, a careful rereading shows that the adverb afterwards should have been used: “Shortly afterwards, Mr Lewis …”
He was recruited in 1917 on a wage of £100 a week, equivalent to about £6000 today … (LRB 22/1/15 p. 24)
in 1872 … 300 francs (€750 today) (IMoS 22/2/15 p. 71)
Readers bless writers who translate historical amounts to modern equivalents.
armed gunman (IMoS 25/1/15 p. 72)
Redundant. A gunman is by definition armed.
“You know how studies always say one out of ten people have a particular problem?” (Dilbert comic strip 24/1/15)
All authorities agree that “one” in the form “one in ten” is singular and the form takes a singular verb.
one of the most unique documentarians working today (“Sundance 2015 review: The Nightmare – documentary shows truth more frightening than fiction” (Guardian online 28/1/15)
Unique means “the only one”. It can be modified by “nearly/almost” but not “most” or “very”. Instead of “unique”, try imaginative, intelligent, creative, unusual, unconventional.
Adam Thirlwell was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists in 2003, before he had even written a book. (Obs 25/1/15 The New Review p. 42)
Published a book. The statement in the intro to the interview seemed unlikely, and, sure enough, later in the piece the interviewer says: “You were selected for the Granta best of young British novelists list in 2003, before your first novel was even published …” Thirlwell explains that “the manuscript had only been accepted about a month earlier.”
The maintenance of [TS Eliot’s] reputation has been the self-motivated duty of the poet’s estate, represented by his second wife, Valerie, a heady cocktail of Ophelia and Mistress Quickly with a splash of White Witch, the archetype of the literary widow. (Obs 25/1/15 The New Review p. 41)
Stereotype or typical example would be better than “archetype”, which is not physical: “a hypothetical and irrepresentable model” (“Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious”, Carl Jung, 1934, 1954); “ first platform, which is in the attributes and acts of God, as far as they are revealed to man and may be observed with sobriety” (Of the Advancement of Learning, Francis Bacon, 1605).
What was my friend’s solution [to a request for a quote for a poetry book]? As I write this, she is still agonising. She has my sympathies. Once you say yes, you’re a gonner. (The Author, Winter 2014 p. 136)
“You’re a gonna” could be Southern US dialect for “you are going to,” but “gonner” seems to be a mistake or typo for goner, “a person or thing that is doomed or cannot be saved” (NODE), ie, irretrievably gone.
… none of his famous subjects are particularly phased by him, even at his most provocative. (The Author, Winter 2014 p. 156)
“Phased” is not an alternative spelling of fazed.
Some things, like getting published in a big newspaper, takes time and persistence. (The Author, Winter 2014 p. 142)
“Things” is the subject of take.
For the last five years the [East Coast Line] has virtually been nationalised … But just as in the last months of his government John Major made haste to privatise (disastrously) the railways … (LRB 8/1/15 p. 39)
The use of the present perfect – “has virtually been” – is a sign that “past five years” should be used. The present perfect connects the past with the present. “Last” means there won’t be any more, and it needs the past simple, as in “John Major made.”
Still in those days billeted in St John’s Wood the King’s Troop regularly exercised in Regent’s Park which would occasionally bring them along Oval Road and down the crescent. (LRB 8/1/15 p. 39)
Make the sentence more readable by setting off the adjective phrase with a comma after “Wood”, and separating the “which” clause from the main clause with a comma after “Park”.
But what ultimately matter are the underlying intentions and mindsets of those involved. (LRB 8/1/15 p. 20)
What is normally taken to be singular in this construction, called a Cleft Sentence, which is a type of inversion. Re-invert, and what seems possibly to be plural: “The underlying intentions and mindsets of those involved are what ultimately matter.” But is “intentions and mindsets” a compound subject taking a plural verb, or a composite subject taking a singular verb? I think it’s composite, because intentions and mindsets are a single theme, like whiskey and soda, ham and eggs, rest and recreation, wear and tear. If I were the editor, I would ask the writer to seriously consider the safer option of making what singular, but I would leave the decision to him.
It’s one of the contradictions of the dark web, that its love of throwing off constraints doesn’t always sit well with it’s live-and-let-live philosophy. (LRB 8/1/15 p. 9)
It’s one of Microsoft spell check’s rare triumphs that it flagged the second “it’s” as incorrect. Why didn’t the writer’s spell check, or an editor, catch this basic error?
[Film American Sniper] has been nominated for six Oscars and compared with Hollywood’s other big Iraq war nail-biter – Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, which chronicled the life of bomb-disposal experts in Baghdad. But that is where the similarities end. (STel 18/1/15 Living p. 3)
The second sentence makes it clear that in the first sentence the writer is pointing up the similarities between the two films. “Compared to” is the correct format for that. “Compared with” indicates differences.
… he worked as a rancher and professional bronco rodeo rider … (STel 18/1/15 Living p. 3)
“Rodeo bronc rider” is the term used by the professionals.
And no one in Israel save him and his director, Leo Hurwitz, knew how to do it. (STel 18/1/15 Living p. 8)
“Save” is a preposition in this sentence meaning “but” or “except”. The object of the preposition must be in the objective or accusative case, as it is correctly here. However, many authorities insist that “he” can correctly follow the preposition “but”. I have not been able to understand why.
general consensus (STel 18/1/15 p. 1.34)
A consensus is a general agreement, so “general consensus” is redundant.
Among those who drowned were the band’s drummer Peter Robinson. (ITim 3/1/15 p. 1.7)
The writer seems to think that “those who drowned” is the subject, but the sentence is inverted: the verb precedes the subject. (The introductory phrase beginning with “among” is the clue.) Using the normal subject-verb format shows the correct number agreement: “The band’s drummer, Peter Robinson, was among those who drowned.” “Peter Robinson” needs to be set off with non-restrictive commas if he was the only drummer in the band. If there had been two or more drummers, “the band’s drummer Peter Robinson” would be correct, to show which drummer the reference is restricted to.
Each is shown to be a mix of good and bad, just like we who watch them. (Obs 4/1/15 The New Review p. 27)
Like is a preposition here and takes the accusative or objective case, so “just like us”.
And, lest the organic imagery is in danger of becoming too sentimental … (Obs 4/1/15 The New Review p. 6)
Lest indicates a subjunctive, so “lest … be”.
… just one in 20 of Vila Aliança’s 12,000 residents are involved in the drugs trade … (Obs 4/1/15 p. 21)
“One in 20 … is.” “One” is singular. It is the subject of “one in 20”, and it takes a singular verb. A specious argument goes that there are as many “ones” as there are “20s”, and so “one” in this construction is really plural, but none of the authorities accept this.
It’s possible to think of [Marlen Haushofer’s] three most interesting novels, if not as self-portraits (creating a likeness), then as experiments in ways of modelling the self in the present, past and optative – Haushofer’s constructions of herself as an adult (The Loft), as a child (Nowhere Ending Sky) and as the person she perhaps would have liked to have been (The Wall). (LRB 18/12/14 p. 12)
“Would have liked to have been” – often called Perfect Infinitive with Present Perfect, Double Past, or Double Present Perfect – is a sort of past optative: a retroactive wish.
a plethora of small publishing houses (LRB 18/12/14 p. 5)
[Cartoon] At Webster’s Dictionary’s Word Assignment Briefing. “Nichols, I’m trusting you to define ‘plethora’ for next year’s edition.” “Thanks, Mr. Lipney. It means a lot.” (Argyle Sweater online 26/12/14)
Plethora means “too much/many, a glut, an over-abundance”, not “a lot”. It’s impossible to have too many small publishing houses: they are the lifeblood of literature. “Plenitude”, “panoply”, “abundance” and “cornucopia” (especially for edibles) are positive terms for “generous supply”.
… as the Irish politician John Philpot Curran said in 1790, “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” (This is generally paraphrased as “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.) (ITim 20/12/14 News Review p. 5)
“Paraphrased” is not the appropriate word. In an 1808 speech, renowned orator, lawyer and MP Curran (1750-1817) himself said “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”, which has been considered an American proverb since US politician Wendell Phillips used it in a speech in Boston in 1852. It is often attributed to Phillips or, with no evidence, Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry. When questioned, Phillips said he couldn’t recall his source, but it was likely a collection of Curran’s speeches; the first of many editions, often titled Curran’s Speeches, was published shortly after his death.
The context of the 1790 quote is rarely supplied: “It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.”
Phillips clearly understood that Curran meant that vigilance to be directed against a domestic threat. Phillips continued: “The hand entrusted with power becomes … the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot: only by unintermitted Agitation can a people be kept sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”
Among Rice-Davies’s conquests were the property racketeer Peter Rachman. (ITim 27/12/14 p. 1.16)
“Peter Rachman” is the subject of was. “Carelessness or inexperience” is how Fowler described the error of assuming that a verb that follows a word ending in “s” must be plural.
Thomas Cromwell’s income in 1537 was about £12,000, the equivalent of more than £4.5 million today. (IMoS 21/12/14 p. 72)
Historical amounts are often not given modern equivalents.
More data is being crunched by the Shokalskiy team. Some draws on measurements from rocks … (Guardian online 25/12/14 “Rescued scientists bring back a warning from the Antarctic”)
“More data are … Some draw.” Except in an IT context, “data” is plural.
The new Audi A6 ultra: less stops, more journeys. (billboard, Dublin, December 2014)
… to day … round about … she discovered … the window shutters open were some one had broke in. … a number of linen sheet were taking …
I am not criticising this amateur historian writing for a community website, merely pointing out that two of the errors are frequently found in the pages of otherwise reputable newspapers: “were” for “where” and “taking” for “taken”.
… that awful Americanism “kil-ometer”; they should say “kilo-meter”. (STim 7/12/14 Culture p. 76)
What about that awful Britishism of pronouncing “father” and “farther” as “fahtheh”? How are we to know whether you’re referring to Daddy or a greater distance?
What really trouble surgeon Atul Gawande are ageing, decline and death. (STim 7/12/14 Culture p. 48)
What in this construction is normally taken to be singular, but that is a soft rule or flexible guideline.
the ye olde Englande (STim 7/12/14 Culture p. 29)
Archaisms are more likely than not to be used incorrectly. “The ye” is redundant. The word written as “ye” is really “ðe”, which means “the” and is pronounced “thee”.
Hilary Mantel’s two Tudor novels have so far sold almost 2m copies and totted up sales worth £11m (€14m) in the UK alone. North American sales are not far behind, at 650,000. (STim 7/12/14 Culture p. 11)
Is that 650,000 copies or dollars or pounds or euros? In any case, North American sales aren’t really all that close behind.
The reason might be that Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are both about 500 pages. (STim 7/12/14 Culture p. 8)
“Each about 500 pages” would be clearer.
Beukels said he shone a bright light down from his Fouga jet into the cabin of the DC6 … (Obs 14/12/14 p. 1.11)
Shined when the verb is transitive, is, takes an object.
… the requested amount was dispensed in full and compromised three €50 notes and a €20 note. (ITim online 12/12/14)
Comprised. The money was not brought “into disrepute by indiscreet, foolish or reckless behaviour” (NODE). The Irish Times is the only publication where I’ve seen this error.
[Prolific award-winning author Will Self criticises the novel Girl Online by Zoella (Zoe Sugg):]
“I really don’t regard … Zoella as a ‘writer’ in the sense that I’d regard Marcel Proust or Franz Kafka to be one.” (STim p. 1.17)
“I’d consider Marcel Proust or Franz Kafka (to be) one.” “Regard” goes with “as”, and “consider” goes with or without “to be”, but not with “as”.
[Sean Hepburn Ferrer speaking about his mother, Audrey Hepburn, dying before his daughter was born:] “She would have loved to have been a grandmother.” (IMoS 30/11/14 TV Week p. 11)
The Double Present Perfect is often used inappropriately, but it is correct here.
But he’s not just a pretty face and has also being pursuing a political career. (IMoS 30/11/14 p. 1.28)
“Been pursuing.” This confusing of two not-quite homonyms has increased over the past year.
By the 1830s, however, the fears that Davy had damped down were rising up once more. (LRB 20/11/14 p. 25)
“Rising up” is redundant. In what other direction can a thing rise?
mid or late career (LRB 20/11/14 p. 15)
Mid- requires a hyphen.
the emergence of a self-seeking political elite (LRB 20/11/14 p. 10)
Did the writer mean “self-serving”?
homogenous (LRB 20/11/14 p. 10)
[Edward O Wilson’s book Consilience] was an attempt to define a way that the wisdom of science, religion and the humanities could be united, a logically difficult project as each of these follow fundamentally different paths to the truth. (STim 23/11/14 Culture p. 40)
“Each of these follows.” “Each” is singular and takes a singular verb, but it historically carries an implied plural meaning: “both of these follow” in this case. To borrow a phrase Coleridge used in a similar sense though a more metaphysical context, there is a “latency of all in each” (Biographia Literaria II, p. 253, Everyman 1975).
The government and the political process have become objects of popular approbation, ridiculed and mistrusted by the people they serve. (STim 23/11/14 p. 1.13)
Approbation was far from the attitude of the Irish people toward their government at the time of the publication of this article. Opprobrium (from Latin opprobrare “to reproach”), “very strong disapproval or criticism of a person or thing especially by a large number of people” (Merriam Webster), is probably the word sought by the writer, a former editor of The Irish Times and The Sunday Tribune. Appropriately, since the article is about the controversial water charges, Merriam Webster gives as an example: “They’re going ahead with the plan despite public opprobrium.”
Mistrusted is well chosen. The active “mistrust” means “suspicion”; “distrust” is a more neutral lack of trust.
[Fortuitously, Pope Francis has provided a perfect example of the use of “mistrust”:]
He described [the EU] as looking “elderly and haggard” in “a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion”. He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as “downright harmful”. (STel 30/11/14 p. 1.30)
Some kinds of philosopher … (LRB 6/11/14 p. 36)
Kinds/types/sorts is normally followed by a plural noun, but this one is logical.
But roughly 80 per cent of people were eligible … 63 per cent of the population was eligible. (LRB 6/11/14 p. 15)
Correct. There is a fine distinction. The soft rule or guideline is that “per cent of” takes a plural verb with a plural noun, and a singular verb with a collective noun. However, Burchfield (NFMEU) said, “But the choice of concord is often governed by which element of the construction is felt by the writer or speaker to be dominant.” So “63 per cent of the population were eligible” could be acceptable.
Tombs confutes his fellow historians who insist that England should in the 21st century be denied a distinctive history of its own, but instead be subsumed into “British history”. … It is politically suppressive and historical cheating to devalue the study of distinctive English history, Tombs argues. (Obs 16/11/14 The New Review p. 35)
Confute and its synonyms “refute” and “disprove” mean to prove wrong. Rebut correctly describes what Tombs is doing. Or, “Tombs disputes his fellow historians’ insistence that England …”
It wasn’t so long ago that seeing a film was a very different experience from what it is now. [Lynn Truss] (STel 2/11/14 Seven p. 54)
It wasn’t so long ago that British/Irish usage much preferred different to what it is now, with a grudging acceptance of the “Americanism” different from what it is now. In American usage, “different to” is considered illogical and incorrect. The economical and often US-preferred “different than (it is) now”, roundly derided on this side of the Atlantic because of the archaic notion that “than” can only be a preposition and never a conjunction, might eventually find favour here once the hide-bound leave the premises.
… he started enthusing about the food. He then enthused about … (Obs 9/11/14 The New Review p. 33)
Some critics consider the active enthuse to be incorrect and recommend its passive use only: “he was enthused about …”
All of which invites the question: … (Obs 9/11/14 The New Review p. 33)
This is correct. “Begs the question” is often used incorrectly in this context.
My own memoir of early parenthood, lest it still be possible to buy it somewhere … (IMoS 2/11/14 TV Week p. 3)
In case. “Lest” means “so that … not”: the official taster samples the food lest the king be poisoned; the servant hovers near the king in case he wants something.
[in the 17th century:] a pension of £500 a year … an income equivalent to £40,000 in today’s money (LRB 23/10/14 p. 29)
Many writers fail to convert historical sums into modern equivalents.
… vast experience and, more important, good contact lists. (LRB 23/10/14 p. 18)
More important is correct. Most writers would say “more importantly”.
[Most of the writers in this survey are good writers, but even good writers make mistakes. An article about the recently deceased founder of the London Review of Books, Karl Miller, has this to say.]
… but the thing that mattered most was good writing. … the reason the paper is flourishing … is because it occupies the same territory … (LRB 23/10/14 p. 11)
Reason … is that. “Because” begins an adverbial clause, and an adverb cannot modify a noun. NODE notes that “reason … is that” outnumbers “reason … is because” by four to one, adding that both constructions are “generally accepted in standard English”.
(either she or her editor has carefully given the supermarket commonly known as “Tescos” an apostrophe) [in a negative review (“cliché-cluttered”) of Kate Tempest’s poetry collection Hold Your Own] (STim 26/10/14 Culture p. 53)
It’s gratifying to see someone at least provisionally blaming the editor for an error, and the much-abused apostrophe needs all the defenders it can get, but the name of the company is Tesco, whatever it may commonly be called.
a series of upper-, middle- and lower-class-themed tapestries (STim 26/10/14 Culture p. 25)
TGESU discourages – “never use” – dangling or suspensive hyphens (“upper-”) because it can be difficult to follow the breaks in a narrow newspaper column, but word economy justifies even this extreme use.
Now think about Fifa sending a World Cup to the climactic equivalent of a frying pan in the desert because the price is right. (STim 12/10/14 Culture p. 45)
The World Cup is indeed a climactic (from “climax”) event, but in the context of weather the word sought is surely climatic, from “climate”.
At the beginning of his history of medieval Irish sport … [in a review of Sport in Ireland 1600-1840 by James Kelly] (STim 12/10/14 Culture p. 45)
“Medieval” refers to the period AD 500 to the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Compare: “A conventional view of history has the dark ages beginning with the decline of Rome in the 400s and the lights not coming back on until the Renaissance a millennium later.” (Obs 9/11/14 The New Review p. 33)
… depicts the Irish media as homogenous and instinctively conservative. (STim 12/10/14 Culture p. 45)
The Weekly News Quiz
Here’s the latest questions to whet your whistle. (ITim online 14/10/14)
From Old English “hwettan = sharpen”, whet means to sharpen a blade or to stimulate, eg, your appetite. Your whistle, in the metaphorical sense of throat or mouth, is wetted with a drink, not with questions.
“Here’s the latest questions” is tolerable in speaking – to avoid the awkward “here’re” – but is out of place in print.
“There have been incidences where hackers are saying, we have got your data …” (STel October 2014, Business Technology p. 3)
“There are a number of incidents where people have fallen down in this scenario …” (STel October 2014, Business Technology p. 5)
Incidence is a mass or uncountable noun and does not have a plural. Incidences is mistakenly used for instances in the first citation. Incidents is correct in the second.
“I suppose the resulting sales spike is just an added bonus.” (Obs 28/9/14 Sex Uncovered p. 22)
Not acceptable even in speaking. A bonus is something added or extra, so “added bonus”, like “extra bonus”, is redundant.
which would make the majority of we who aim for a neutral accent wince (STel 5/10/14 p. 1.27)
Us. The noun clause “who aim for a neutral accent” is in apposition with “us”. “Us” must be in the accusative (objective) case as the object of the preposition “of”. Remove the noun clause to clarify the grammar: “which would make the majority of us wince.”
their illustrious forebearers (ITim 4/10/14 Weekend Review p. 16)
Many of the errors in this collection are tediously repetitive, so it is always a pleasure to find a unique anomaly. Forebearers is not a word, as even MS spellcheck noticed. Your forebears are those in your profession – Irish playwrights in this case – who have gone before you and have carried – borne – the tradition. To forbear (forbore, forborne) is to restrain an impulse or to endure without complaint. “Bear (up) against” is the root sense. Forbearance, meaning self-restraint, is the noun for that verb.
the idiomatic American word “ain’t” [in a review-article about Steven Pinker’s pompous and misleading The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century] (ITim 4/10/14 Weekend Review p. 5)
Yet another “terrible” Americanism? No, it’s a Britishism, spawned by the upper class Brit pronunciation of “aren’t”, trendy in the 18th century, adopted by British lower classes and brought with them to the United States. Inappropriate for formal usage, it is correct in folk expressions such as “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and “Ain’t no such thing as strong coffee, just weak people”, and, of course, pop and country songs, where the single syllable “ain’t” is often necessary for both scansion and cultural context.
“I would like to have been more a writer of books than I have succeeded in being.” [quoting London Review of Books co-founder Karl Miller] (ITim 4/10/14 p. 1.14)
This is a good example of the correct use of the present perfect. The Double Present Perfect – “I would have liked to have been” – has its uses but is rarely correct.
“It should be ‘none of the products is authorised for use on animals in Ireland,’ not ‘none of the products are authorised.’” (comment on Racing Post online article 3/10/14)
None can be singular or plural, writer’s choice. In the original sentence, “none … are” clearly means “all are not”. If emphasis is desired, and “not one is” is the message, then “none … is” would be correct, but there seems to be no necessity for emphasis here.
[These are from a full-page ad for nine “Great Books for Every Reader” published by imprints of vanity press Author House.]
This book carries solution that will save mankind and world from approaching disaster, because, it was concocted from real happenings leading to unsustainable living conditions.
The Gold Plated Dog [same lack of hyphen on cover image]
… 17th Century Painter Johannes Vermeer’s ideas …
13 km2 (LRB 25/9/14 p. 15)
[A full-page ad for ten books produced number disagreements in four of the descriptions and one (probably) unintended insult.]
When Arguments Against the Christian God Fails [it’s also that way on the cover image]
… a bitter struggle as a brave few struggles to stymie the hardliners …
Unique rhyming style, soft free verses, vivid imagery entices the reader to the land of Muses.
Being away from his family and friends produce an indescribable pain …
… My Poems, a laborious enterprise of ten-year-old author Rina Gobin. (LRB 11/9/14 p. 9)
Authors desperate to see their works in print should use the internet to find reports of the sad experiences of those who have dealt with this publisher.
… acts of extreme violence … performed under the alibi of obedience to divine authority. (Obs 28/9/14 The New Review p. 33)
Alibi has a specific and narrow meaning: “in another place”, from the Latin. Excuse or defence should be used here.
Given the pressure of these sort of contests … (Obs 28/9/14 The New Review p. 5)
“This sort of contest” or “these sorts of contest(s)”. There is rarely a good reason to violate the basic rule of number agreement.
“It’s actually unsolicitous timing to be expanding. When you’re in this kind of trouble you want to lay low.” [quoting Professor Robert Thompson of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University] (Obs 28/9/14 p. 1.33)
Unpropitious, ie, unfavourable. “Unsolicitous” means uncaring, unconcerned.
Lay low is grammatically incorrect for “lie low”, but the form is ingrained in colloquial speech and accepted as an idiomatic expression in informal use.
More choice, less calories. … [Coca-Cola Life contains] a third less sugar and a third fewer calories than regular cola. [ad] (Obs 28/9/14 p. 1.19)
“Fewer calories” is correct.
… one theory … is that the drugs may have been transferred to a coopering vessel to be brought ashore in north Wales.
Drug-smuggling operation may have taken gang a year to plan [head on separate article on the same story, same writer, same page] … the gang … may have been planning the operation for up to a year or more. [body of second article] (ITim 26/9/14 p. 1.6)
May have expresses present speculation – “one theory” – about a possible past event. It is used incorrectly in the first quote. None of the cargo of the seized yacht had been transferred to another boat. The sentence should read “one theory … is that the drugs were going to be transferred …” May have is used correctly in the head and body of the second article.
(ITim online 24/9/14 describes a “coopering vessel” as a “collecting vessel” and explains: “International drug smuggling gangs use local boats to cooper or rendezvous with the transatlantic vessel as being local boats, they do not arouse the same suspicions that a new and unfamiliar boat might arouse in small ports along the south coasts of Ireland or the UK.”)
What I didn’t expect to find were so many people who believed in all of it … (LRB 11/9/14 p. 21)
What the producers wanted were orders. (LRB 11/9/14 p. 36)
What in this construction is normally considered singular, but this plural use can be justified..
She looked like she was from France. (LRB 11/9/14 p. 22)
Like for as if is increasingly acceptable.
… is likely greatly to increase the rent … (LRB 11/9/14 p. 30)
To greatly increase is less awkward. No established usage authority has ever said that a split infinitive is wrong. Henry Fowler declared: “A real s.i., though not desirable in itself, is preferable to either of two things, to real ambiguity, & to patent artificiality. … We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial …” (MEU). “Gowers’s Fowler’s”, Sir Ernest Gowers’s second edition (1965) of Fowler’s Modern English Usage, retained that position. (Fowler’s “&” should be “or” to close the construction introduced by “either”.)
This was an effective piece of no-frills television that shone a much-needed light on the extraordinary people … (STel 14/9/14 Seven p. 35)
Shined when the verb takes an object.
[In an article about collectors of Star Wars film props:]
Other crew members make quiet deals for snide goods. “There’s a grey market in things that shouldn’t have left the set …” (STel 14/9/14 Seven p. 19)
Snide means “derogatory, mocking, devious, underhand, counterfeit, inferior”, none of which fit the context, which refers to genuine props actually used in the films that have been stolen by crew members to sell on to collectors. “Smuggled goods” makes more sense.
“A coherent text is one in which the reader always knows which coherence relation holds between one sentence and the next.” (STel 14/9/14 Seven p. 23)
This incoherent quote is from a review of The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker.
Then [the builders] walk off into the house and start hauling out beds for all their worth. STel 14/9/14 Stella p. 74)
“For all their worth” has a certain logic, but the correct expression is “for all they’re worth”.
an integral strata within the make-up of British society. (IMoS 14/9/14 p. 77)
Stratum is the singular, strata the plural.
And Nike announced that it had removed Peterson jerseys from its stores in the Twin Cities. Those jerseys can be found online, and in other cities. So this is not quite Solomon tugging at the pillars of the sporting-goods temple. (ITim online 17/9/14)
Solomon built the temple said to have housed the Ark of the Covenant. Samson, who destroyed the temple of the Philistines, is the correct personage in this context.
Opodo, one of the largest online flights retailers in the world, handles more than 14 million customers a year but it’s when things go wrong that the true nature of a company is revealed. Maybe its size has made it complaisant. (Obs 7/9/14 p. 1.44)
Complaisant means “willing to please”, which is obviously not appropriate for this article headed “Complaints may be different, but it’s the same old Opodo response.” The word that fits the context is complacent, meaning “smug, self-satisfied”, and by extension, “uncaring”. NODE notes: “just under half of the citations for complaisant in the British National Corpus exhibit this confusion.” This suggests that readers will also be confused, so it may be better to say “willing to please” instead of complaisant.
Compliant is somewhat similar to complaisant: a company that complies with relevant rules and regulations is compliant; you are complaisant if you are eager to do what makes others happy.
Also, a comma between “year” and “but” to separate the independent clauses is strongly recommended. Whoever wrote the head got the punctuation right.
Young girl was been shown how to use an automatic Uzi when she pulled the trigger. (ITim online 27/8/14)
Yet another “been” for “being”. This is a relatively recent but increasingly common error.
“So” is a terrible Americanism to use at the start of a sentence … (STel 24/8/14 p. 1.23)
So what? “So” is short for “deriving from what was said or implied in the previous sentence”. Also, why do Brits feel impelled to modify “Americanism” with derogatory adjectives like “terrible”?
Katherine Whitehorn [CBE] on guests and lodgers:
With a lodger you’ve laid down the rules about what he or she can do … as the saying goes: “It’s a host’s job to make their guests feel at home and the guest’s job to remember that they aren’t.” (Obs 10/8/14 Magazine p. 8)
The always readable Ms Whitehorn, prominent in journalism since 1956, sits firmly on the fence here. She has used both the 1970s-1990s form of “he or she” and the post-2000 “their/they” for the Indeterminate Human Referent, bypassing the currently faddish feminist “she or he”. To her credit, she ignores the false rule about not splitting an infinitive with: “How keen would they be to always let you call the shots?”
… what’s on offer here are very dangerous drugs. (STim 17/8/14 News Review p. 4)
What’s … is.” “What”, in this construction, is normally taken to be singular, even with a plural predicate noun. Some would tolerate what are … are. In either case, the verbs should agree in number.
between each sheet of paper (LRB 31/7/14 p. 3)
“Between two sheets of paper.” Fowler (MEU) said: “[between] must not be followed by a single expression in which a distributive such as each and every is supposed to represent a plural.” However, Burchfield and others defend the similar “between each telegraph pole” with the argument that writers have been using the illogical construction for several centuries: “This evidence must be respected and the constructions tolerated.” (NFMEU)
a step above hoi polloi (LRB 31/7/14 p. 5)
Although “hoi” means “the” in the Greek expression “hoi polloi” (“the many”) and so “the hoi polloi” is technically redundant, “hoi polloi” has been naturalised into the English language as a “fixed unit” (and does not require italics) with the meaning of “common people”. This makes “the hoi polloi” correct for “the common people”. It is intellectually ostentatious and incorrect to omit “the”.
[Regarding massacres in British colonies]: That someone else was in charge has usually been the British Empire’s alibi. (LRB 31/7/14 p. 36)
“Alibi”, from the Latin, means “in another place”, and so if the “British Empire” was not officially on the scene – “the colonies were so often subcontracted out to commercial companies” – “alibi” might just be correct here, but “excuse” would be preferred.
In the bruised aftermath, Curry laid low and licked his wounds. (Obs 10/8/14 Magazine p. 30)
Lay low. Lay/laid/laid is transitive: it takes an object: “The flu laid him low for a week.” The verb meaning to stay out of sight is lie/lay/lain.
decapitated head (ITim online 11/8/14)
decapitated heads (STel 24/8/14 p. 1.4)
When a head is cut from the body, the body is decapitated; the head is severed.
Survivors describe days without food, of being forced to eke out a bottle of water over 48 hours. (Obs 10/8/14 p. 1.15)
… her 60-year-old mother, two sisters and one brother, eking out dwindling supplies of bread, rice and water … (IMoS 10/8/14 p. 6)
Many regular punters continue to bet in small amounts – eking out the fun for as long as they can. (LRB 21/8/14 p. 26)
Rare examples of eke out used correctly.
… a glimpse of what lie ahead for other villages in Spain when these migrants return. (Obs 10/8/14 p. 1.2)
The writer evidently foresees several possibilities and so uses the plural “lie”, but without those possibilities being named, the strong rule that what in this construction takes the singular must be followed.
… I saw behind the propped-up facades, and was really shocked (“What?”) to find that the area had been completely razed to the ground. (STel 3/8/14 Seven p. 46)
“Completely razed to the ground” is doubly redundant. “Razed” alone is sufficient when nothing is left after the demolition of buildings. However, if the facades were left standing, the buildings were not razed, ie, completely demolished.
… people aren’t what they seem and knowing whom to trust is not straightforward. (LRB 17/7/14 p. 36)
“Who to trust.” The trend began some ten years earlier, but since about 2005 the rule has been that “whom” is only used when it directly follows the verb – “trust” in this sentence – or preposition.
Also, a comma is strongly recommended after “seem” in order to separate the independent clauses.
Venice, probably the world’s most unique city (STel 3/8/14 Discover p. 11)
“Probably” is probably unnecessary, but “most” is definitely wrong. There is no gradation in uniqueness. A thing either is or isn’t unique, ie, the only one of its kind.
… such flagrant disregard for the [Mafia’s] traditional penchant for discretion could also be those involved’s undoing. (STel 3/8/14 p. 1.24)
“The undoing of those involved”.
payed just £7.20 (STel 3/8/14 p. 1.8)
shone a light (STel 3/8/14 p. 1.8)
… a saga that has shone a light on the risks facing foreign business people in China. (ITim 9/8/14 p. i.16)
Shined when it is transitive, ie, when it takes an object.
And in the firmament of all this, no star shined brighter, it seemed, than the French woman. (What French Women Know, Debra Ollivier, 2009)
Shone when it is intransitive, ie, when it doesn’t take an object.
[in a review of Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers] [James Branch Cabell] came up with the frankly disappointing “smirt”. … In his bid to immortalise it, he called his 1934 novel Smirt, but, alas, neither the novel nor the expletive has ever been heard of again. (IMoS p. 1.76)
Smirt has been reinvented or resurrected recently. As a result of the ban on smoking in pubs, smokers stand outside to indulge, leaving their non-smoking companions inside. Fellow smokers, united in their pariah status, meet and sometimes flirt: smoke + flirt = smirt.
Also, “wrought” is not the past or past participle of “work/make/invent”.
Among the characters we meet are Steve Kirby … (Obs 20/7/14 Seven p. 44)
“Is Steve Kirby.” This is an inverted sentence. The subject is “Steve Kirby”.
[about phone insurance] Only when the dam thing gets lost/broken does it seem like a good idea. (ITim 19/7/14 Magazine p. 5)
Shades of the Victorian circumlocution “d—-d”. Another one, before the current “anything goes” fad, was the soft-core curse “not worth a tinker’s dam,” which minced around that formerly rude four-letter word. A tinker’s dam was a temporary earthen wall built by a tinker to contain molten solder used to mend pots, and therefore lacking extrinsic value. That etymology is contentious, but it plays better than the alternatives.
By early afternoon about 60 unmarked black body bags lay on the roadside awaiting collection. No attempt appeared to have been made to identify where they lay. (STel 20/7/14 p. 1.5)
“Where they had lain.” This is the hierarchy of tense: present perfect “have been made” after past simple “bags lay” after past perfect “they had lain”.
… whether the emergency workers at the scene were even capable of carrying out a proper forensic investigation under the noses of the rebel fighters. (STel 20/7/14 p. 1.5)
In the same article, “emergency workers” are identified as “local members of the agency responsible for firefighting and other paramedical help”, who would not in any circumstances be capable of carrying out proper forensic investigations.
the long descent from to the arrivals area (ITim 12/7/14 Weekend Review p.16)
It must be something to do with cutting and pasting that makes words disappear. An alert editor would spot this sort of error. MS spell-check missed it.
… was believed to have been be Ireland’s oldest priest. (ITim 19/7/14 p. 1.12)
Disappeared words from some articles seem to crop up in others.
a fine toothcomb (ITim 12/7/14 Weekend Review p. 13)
That would be an excellent implement for combing teeth. A very detailed search makes metaphorical use of a fine-tooth comb.
Meanwhile, corruption is being sewn ever more deeply across west Africa … (STim 6/7/14 Magazine p. 22)
The verb for what you do with a needle and thread is sew/sewed/sewn; for planting seeds it’s sow/sowed/sown. The region is West Africa.
She describes a comic conversation with George V (whom she said looked absurdly little to occupy Windsor Castle). (STim 6/7/14 Culture p. 41)
This experienced journalist and author of many books has made a common mistake. “She said” is parenthetical. The engine of the clause is “who looked”.
Here’s the thing with eight-part series: you obviously have to eke out the story, like spreading Marmite … (STim 6/7/14 Culture p. 20)
Eke is frequently abused, but AA Gill, who rarely puts a word wrong, treats it with respect here.
“Professor John McWorter of Columbia University believes that [the comma] could be removed from many American texts without loss of meaning. He is quoted as saying, ‘You would probably suffer so little loss of clarity that there could even be a case for not using commas at all.’” (The Author, Summer 2014 p. 68)
Apart from inviting snide comments about the quality of American writing with or without commas, this suggestion rates a brief snort of ridicule and then silence. Maybe McWorter was being ironic? Illustrating the importance of the comma, a correspondent to The Times quoted a line by Geoffrey Hill: “To dispense, with justice; or to dispense with justice.”
a plethora of angry self-publishers … a plethora of imprints (The Author, Summer 2014 p. 55)
Plethora means a glut or over-abundance and carries a pejorative sense. Context shows that the first “plethora” should be “multitude” or a similar positive word. The second is correct.
Amongst the things that you should check before committing to a White Glove deal are that your agent will terminate the contract with Amazon at any time on your request. (The Author, Summer 2014 p. 45)
This is an inverted sentence. The subject is singular – the noun clause “that your agent will terminate” – and so “are” should be “is”. Also, “amongst” is a bit archaic.
a politician revolutionary holed out in a forest (STel 29/6/14 Seven p. 25)
“Hole out” in golf means “send the ball into a hole”; in cricket it means “hit the ball to a fielder and be caught” (NODE). “Hole up”, meaning to hide away, is the term wanted here. Also, “revolutionary politician” makes more sense.
Silverstein has shone a bright light on some of the industry’s darkest secrets … (LRB 19/6/14 p. 19)
Shined is the correct past and pp form when the verb is used transitively, ie, has an object.
cappuchinos (LRB 19/6/14 p. 11)
Cappuccino is the correct Italian and English spelling for the coffee. The religious order is spelt Capuchin.
… she initially suffers from the classic lost-girl triumvirate of people-pleasing, bad judgment and growlingly low self-esteem. … (Obs 22/6/14 The New Review p. 34)
“Triumvirate” jars. It means a group of three men. “Triad” or “affliction” or “syndrome” would suit.
The jury at the Venice festival loved it; they are made of sterner stuff than I. … (Obs 22/6/14 The New Review p. 25)
Of course, what really sold the stage show were the songs … (Obs 22/6/14 The New Review p. 24)
“What” in this construction is usually taken as singular, but it works here as a plural.
… Lewis tells his story and then lets the reader draw her own conclusions … (LRB 5/6/14 p. 9)
In the 1980s, “her” briefly replaced “his/her”, which had replaced “his”, as the Indeterminate Human Referent, but that was a short-lived fad. It is now acceptable and increasingly recommended to use “their” with a singular antecedent.
With fulsome backing from the West, soldiers loyal to the interim government in Kiev … (LRB 5/6/14 p. 37)
The original meaning of “fulsome” is “generous/abundant”. For some time now, it has been deemed a pejorative expression meaning “overly effusive” with the connotation of insincerity – “The correct meaning today is ‘excessively flattering’ …” (NODE 1998). It seems to be making a comeback as a positive adjective, but it should be used with caution.
Croatia showed up clearly unwilling to play its’ appointed role as this opening ceremony’s sacrificial goat. (ITim 13/6/14 p. 1.1)
In the errant apostrophe arena, the usual “its/it’s” confusion has acquired a new twist.
half a millennia ago (STel 8/6/14 p. 1.31)
“Half a millennium.” “Millennia” is plural.
The latest highly-critical report on a specific part of the health system begs two questions: “Who is actually running the health service?” and “What is being done about unsafe conditions in our hospitals?” (ITim 7/6/14 p. 1.3)
“Raises two questions.” “Beg the question” means to assume agreement with one’s argument without one’s having proved that position. Also, “highly critical”. An adverb ending with “-ly” modifying an adjective should not be connected to the adjective with a hyphen. Example: “an ill-mannered child” and “a badly behaved child”.
… Blue Bonnies (the Texan national flower) (IMoS 1/6/14 p. 81)
The presence of three errors in a six-word phrase sets a record. The Texas state flower is the Blue Bonnet. Contrary to the impression given by the attitude of some of its residents, Texas is not a nation. The name of the state is used for the adjective, as in the songs “California Girls”, “Arkansas Rambler”, and “Texas Tears” (which includes the line “well, damn you, you lying Texas woman”).
The criteria by which we judge a book like this is whether … (STim 25/5/14 Culture p. 32)
“Criterion … is.” “Criteria” is plural.
“It was one of those Tuesday afternoons in summer when you wonder if the earth has stopped revolving.” “… there are some limits us Marlowes just won’t cross” [quoting from The Black-Eyed Blonde by Benjamin Black, popular fiction nom-de-plume of literary author John Banville] (LRB 3/4/14 p. 6)
The earth revolves around the sun and rotates on its own axis. “Rotating” is probably meant here. Lines are crossed; limits are ignored or broken.
The current generation of solidly established names comprises mostly of artists … (STim 20/4/14 Culture p. 10)
“Consists of”. “Comprises of” is never correct.
[Sheridan Le Fanu’s] ancestors will be marking the event … Several successful writers can be seen as descendants of the Irish gothics … (STim 20/4/14 Culture p. 17)
It’s puzzling why the writer calls the author’s descendants “ancestors”, when in the following sentence she uses “descendants” correctly.
Scullion’s paintings are comprised of notable architectural features that fade in and out of sight, merging with painterly motifs. (IMoS 6/4/14 TV Week p. 63)
“Comprised of” is never correct. Normally, “consisted of” would suit, but in this context “composed of” is better.
Thomas prefers to listen than participate. (ITim 5/4/14 p. 1.13)
“Rather than participate.”
Nuclear critics said the problem is deeply rooted and has been going on for years, becoming increasingly acute since the end of the Cold War as the nuclear mission has increasingly come to be seen as a dead-end career that’s relevance is in decline. (ITim online 28/3/14)
This is a bizarre and mindless workaround for the false rule that “whose” cannot be used with a non-human antecedent. “Whose relevance” is correct and preferred to the formal and ponderous “the relevance of which”.
He suggested I came with him to the police station at Beccles. (LRB 6/3/14 p. 7)
“He suggested I come.” This is subjunctive.
“Whom do you mean?” is “rare and unbearably pompous”, according to Geoffrey Pullum, blogger at Language Log (quoted in STel 16/3/14 Seven p. 17).
It was correct until some 25 years ago.
They were local people, of all and every kind, and of all and every age. … I may have hung up my fishnets, but traditional circus hasn’t thrown its top hat into the ring. (STel 16/3/14 p. 1.19)
The archaic “all and every” was correct in the 16th century: “all and everie our beares bulles and mastyve dogges” (part of the description of the duties of the Master of the King’s Game of Bears, 1573). Perhaps this retired circus performer picked it up among local dialects during her travels.
Also, when a boxer admits he is defeated, his second throws the towel into the ring. A person announces his participation in an activity, eg, an election, when he throws his hat into the ring.
“We lose ourselves in our own voluptuous world. I cannot get enough of him nor him of I.” [quoted from Negligent Behaviour, a novel by an Irish politician] (IMoS 9/3 14 p. 8)
“Nor he of me.” The correct form is clear if you fill in the elliptical parts with “he cannot get enough of me.”
“What I liked about him were his poems.” (STim 9/3/14 p. 1.7)
“Was his poems” is preferred.
My shuttle empowers my colleagues and I to reduce our carbon emissions by removing cars from the road. [one of Google’s suggestions for employees to say at a hearing about the shuttle buses in San Francisco] (LRB 20/2/14 p. 35)
“My colleagues and me.” MS spell-check agrees.
2013 may be the year San Francisco turned on Silicon Valley and may be the year the world did too. (LRB 20/2/14 p. 34)
It is a strong rule that a sentence should never begin with a numeral. The usual way around it is to convert the numeral into words: “twenty-nine” instead of “29”, for example. For a date, “the year” can precede the numeral. However, in this case, there are already two “the years” in the sentence, and replacing them with “when” would be awkward, so let “2013” stand.
What you get are a couple of pie charts … (Obs 9/2/14 Tech Monthly p. 20)
What I completely recognise are Taylor’s descriptions of the bin, her stays in Friern and her time at the Pine Street Day Centre and halfway houses. ([Jenny Diski] LRB 6/2/14 p. 5)
“What”, in this cleft sentence construction, is normally taken as singular, even when plural complements follow. However, one would want to be very sure of one’s position before arguing with Jenny Diski’s elegant style.
But what makes it a watchable curiosity are the guest stars. (Obs 2/3/14 New Review p. 28)
“What make it … are” might have a certain logic, since inverting the word order – “the guest stars are what make it” – would be correct. But the construction starting with “makes” must continue with “is”, not “are”. When in doubt, treat “what” in a cleft sentence as singular.
[In an article about the differences between US and UK English, the writer says:] “jam becomes jelly.” (STel 23/2/14 Seven p. 3)
This is typical of British ignorance of American culture. In both the US and the UK, jam is jam. In the US, a smooth jam-like spread without fruit is called jelly, and the dessert called jelly in the UK is known by the brand name jello with lower case.
The reader feels as if he or she were looking over Brook’s shoulder as he muses on the page about what he can know about the map, as well as what he cannot. (STel 23/2/14 Seven p. 27)
All authorities and good writers agree that since about ten years ago “they” should be used instead of “he or she”. Certainly in this sentence, where the reader has to look back to decide if the following two “he’s” refer to Brook or the reader, “they” is necessary for clarity.
She is dreadlocked with a green ribbon of fabric weaved into her hair … (STel 23/2/14 Seven p. 14)
His company took what became known as the ‘Saddle Ridge Hoard’ to an independent coin-grading service, which found that it was comprised of nearly 1,400 $20 gold pieces, 50 $10 gold pieces and four $5 gold pieces. (ITim 26/2/14 online)
“Comprised of” is never correct.
We’ve also made clarifications to better explain how our services will use your information. (from a Dropbox update email 26/2/14)
“To better explain” is a split infinitive. All authorities agree that, contrary to popular opinion, splitting an infinitive is not wrong.
a fairly homogenous population (LRB 20/2/14 p. 20)
Back at A&E, it took 45 minutes for a cardiologist to attend because no advance warning had been received. (STel 23/1/14 p. 1.16)
There was no advance warning … being surrounded by it on all sides. (LRB 6/2/14 p. 13)
“Advance warning” is redundant. All warnings are in advance. “Warning” or “advance notice” would be sufficient. “On all sides” is redundant.
Ceylon in 1899 and an individual’s destiny is determined by their status at birth … (STim 18/2/14 Culture p. 46)
“Their” is now almost universally accepted as correct, replacing the sexist “his” and the tiresome “his or her”.
Qui tacit consenti. Once the trap was set, playing his favorite role of the innocent bystander, DeValera, while saying he wanted peace, walked away without lifting a finger or speaking a word to avert such an attack … (The Assassination of Michael Collins: What Happened At Béal na mBláth? by SM Sigerson, 2013, p. 241)
Qui tacet consentit, literally “who remains silent consents”, often translated as “silence equals consent.” This error should attract the attention of even a mediocre student of Latin. The proverb is misquoted at least twice in the book, which contains many basic mistakes: “the Kennedies” and confusion between “than” and “then”, for example.
Judge Martin Nolan said that Adekele’s crime led to a “comical situation” in which he was caught while been wheeled away in a wheel barrow. (ITim online 3/2/14)
“Been” for “being” is a growing phenomenon.
… in a state where more than one in five people lives in poverty … (ITim 1/2/14 Weekend Review p. 1)
In the book I point out:
‘In the form one in ten, “one” is the subject, and it takes a singular verb (U&A, LGEU et al). A specious argument goes that there are as many “ones” as there are “tens”, and so “one” in this construction is really plural, but none of the authorities accept this.’
But “more than one in five” is clearly more than one, so “lives” should be “live”.
“Begs the question” means using an assumption as a fact. It’s sloppy to use it as a form of “Raises the question”. It also raises the question, what do we say when we want to say “Begs the question”? [letter to the editor] (ITim 31/1/14 p. 17)
So I’m not the only one perplexed by this frequent error.
Yes, [poet Basil Bunting] holds the [20th] century together, but almost more important he holds the two sides of the Atlantic together as well. (LRB 9/1/14 p. 6)
Correct. Many writers would say “more importantly”.
… assimilate the lively spirit of American poetry without losing his own sense of identity (a nice and true description). (LRB 9/1/14 p. 6)
A nice use of “nice” in its nearly forgotten meaning of “subtle/fine/exact”.
… Kenneth Brannagh, who directs as well as co-stars … (IMoS 26/1/14 More p. 7)
Correct, according to Fowler (MEU): “Grammatically, the point is that as well as is a conjunction & not a preposition …” But the form “as well as co-starring” is also accepted. Burchfield (NFMEU) said: “There is room for disagreement in sentences containing as well as followed by a gerund. Each case must be judged on its merits.”
“It wasn’t massively successful,” the actor recalls, laughing at [theatre group Fly By Night]’s now-mythical status … (STim 26/1/14 Culture p. 5)
“Now-mythic.” “Mythical” means imaginary.
Hopefully, the resulting public debate … will having a bearing on … (STim 26/1/14 Culture p. 19)
Slips like this are inevitable, but if they jump out at me, why doesn’t some editor or proofreader catch them?
Hynes has shone a light on the wonders of the past … (STim 26/1/14 Culture p. 25)
“Shined” for the past and past participle when “shine” is transitive.
Marlon Brando plays Stanley Kowalski, a T-shirted archetypally primitive male … (STim 26/1/14 Culture p. 50)
A rare and welcome correct use of “archetype”.
Thirsty after the steep climb, they offer me the local cider. (IMoS 19/1/14 More p. 23)
Dangling Object Modifier. “Thirsty” is aimed at the object, “me”, but the structure makes it appear to modify the subject, “they”. Rewrite: “Seeing/Knowing that I was thirsty …”
The white fish being sold as cod in Dublin takeaways is, according to a study published last week, just 58.3% proof. … 33% proof vodka … (STim 26/1/14 p. 1.11)
Applied to alcoholic beverages, “proof” is double the percentage of alcohol. Vodka, for example, is usually about 80 proof, which means that 40% of the liquid is alcohol. The relationship of “proof” to cod here is a mystery. Disentangling probable fact from fanciful metaphor, it seems that just over half of what is labeled as cod really is cod. Or maybe only 29.15%.
The man who first introduced Michael Fassbender to the world of acting … “When we first met he told me …” (IMoS 19/1/14 More p. 5)
“First” is redundant. This slip is excusable in speaking but should not be seen in print.
However he said the process was “just slow” and he did not think the religious were guilty of procrastination. (ITim online 25/1/14)
“Procrastinate”, to drag one’s feet, and “prevaricate”, a euphemism for lying, are often confused.
… the aim was not to completely restructure the primary school system … (ITim online 25/1/14)
Necessary split infinitive.
… everybody takes away with them their own personal experience. (IMoS 12/1/14 More p. 23)
Anyone who finds fault with “everybody … them their” needs to treat themselves to a new usage book. “They/them/their” for the Indeterminate Human Referent has been accepted for at least 15 years.
a new series of murders which bear all the hallmarks of Joe Carroll (Obs 19/1/14 New Review p. 41)
busting the glass ceiling (Obs 19/1/14 New Review p. 22)
… war hero, who was busted out of the Bastille in 1718 … (STim 26/1/14 Culture p. 38)
The Americanism “bust” is increasingly acceptable in British English.
Obs – Observer
IMoS – Irish Mail on Sunday
ITim – Irish Times
LRB – London Review of Books
STim – Sunday Times
MEU – Modern English Usage (1926) – Fowler
NFMEU – New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (3rd edition, 1996) – Burchfield. The latest printing/edition is confusingly titled Fowler’s Modern English Usage, the same title as Gowers’s 1965 2nd edition.
U&A – Usage and Abusage
LGEU – Longman Guide to English Usage
NODE – The New Oxford Dictionary of English, 1998