On-going updates – English Like It Is

This is a new post beginning 24 January 2017. If you have been directed here recently by a link from another site, you might find the item you’re looking for on the “2014 Updates” page.

The 2017 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 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.

Circulation figures for 2016. UK: Mail on Sunday, 1,388,059; Sunday Times, 770,370; Sunday Telegraph, 355,044; Observer, 183,210; Independent on Sunday (print edition now defunct; last circulation figure 101,284). Ireland: Irish Times (the only quality Irish paper) 72,011 first half 2016; Irish Mail on Sunday, 83,414.

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

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

Juicy clues were flooding the detective precincts, but none of them panned out. (Narratively website < http://narrative.ly/they-called-her-mrs-sherlock-holmes&gt; 11/1/17 accessed 25/1/17)
“Panned out” is frequently used incorrectly. It is correct here.

Asked about the accuracy of the president’s assessment, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, chose to answer a question no one had asked. (New York Times online 24/1/17)
This is how politicians use ignoratio elenchi.

Ignoratio (plu: ignorationes) elenchi, “ignorance of the elenchus” (elenchus = a logical refutation), is a type of “fallacy of relevance”. It describes the rebutting of an argument not put forward: in plain English, ignorantly missing the point or – especially when used by politicians – deliberately dodging an awkward question.

… the premises was “dirty throughout” … Food business owners are urged to unsure their premises is compliant with FSAI [Food Safety Authority of Ireland] legislation. Any owners unsure of what is required of them by law can contact the FSAI advice line … (Dublin Live online 25/1/17)
“Premises” is an accidentally plural form that has a singular meaning with plural connotations. Its origin is in the Latin term praemissus – “the aforementioned” – in property deeds, whence the archaic “praemises”. “Premises” can mean a residential building but usually refers to a single business property consisting of land, a main building and its appurtenances, and it requires a plural verb, so “premises were/are”.
The first “unsure” should be ensure.

Reagan slayed the “Evil Empire” … (Lancet online Volume 389, No. 10068, p489, 4 February 2017)

an radio personality (ITim 28/1/17 Weekend Review p. 11)
This is the sort of careless mistyping error that is not featured in this book.

jinns and dybbuks (ITim 28/1/17 Weekend Review p. 11)
Jinn is the plural of “jinni”.

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” (Neil Postman, author of 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, quoted by his son, Andrew; Guardian online 2/2/17)
This is a Cleft Sentence. “What” in this construction is usually construed as singular, but when it is followed by a plural predicate compliment (“those”) it can be plural, so “were” is correct in the first sentence. In the second sentence, the predicate compliment following “what” is a noun clause, which is considered to be singular, so “was” is correct. This writer obviously understands the rule, but many don’t.

But what sings out are passages of such fluidity and intensity that they take your breath away. (LRB 5/1/17 p. 10)
“What sings out is” or “what sing out are”.

Kate Moss sets trends rather than following them. (IMoS 22/1/17 Magazine p. 15)
Some authorities recommend that the same format be used before and after “rather than” and would prefer “follows”.

Martin was penniless and lying low after his latest misadventure. (ITim 28/1/17 Weekend Review p. 9)
He said the gang lay low in Paris for a few days after the robbery and then some of its members travelled to Antwerp … (STel 29/1/17 p. 1.15)
To lie low is to hide so enemies or authorities can’t find one. The verb is lie/lay/lain. These two examples are correct, but the term is often confused with lay/laid/laid.

The president’s use of an unsecured personal device raises concerns that his desire to use his old smartphone could be exposing him and the nation to security threats. (AFR Weekend online 27/1/17)
“Unsecure” and “insecure” are sometimes used incorrectly in this context.

Although [“A self-proclaimed astronomer from Russia, Dr. Dyomin Damir Zakharovich”] is alleging NASA knows about this doomsday asteroid, NASA has refuted his hypothesis and is sticking by its prediction that the object will pass our planet, leaving it unscathed. According to NASA, “The trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood, and the object is not a threat to Earth for the foreseeable future.” (Elite Daily online 26/1/17 <http://elitedaily.com/news/nasa-finds-doomsday-asteroid-astronomer-says-will-hit-earth-next-month/1767608&gt;
“Refute”, to prove with evidence, is often used incorrectly for “rebut”, which means to argue against. “Refute” is correct here, because evidence – “the trajectory of 2016 WF9 is well understood” – is supplied.