On-going updates 2022 – English Like It Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s entirely possible that Reilly felt compelled to write immediately this entertaining and feelgood follow-up … (IMoS 29/5/22 p. 48)
No reputable usage authority has ever said that splitting an infinitive is wrong. “We will split infinitives sooner than be ambiguous or artificial …” (Fowler, MEU and FMEU). The split infinitive has been a standard construction since at least the late 15th century: “to perfitly knowe alle manere of Naturels thinges” (Secreta Secretorum). The unnatural “to write immediately” demonstrates the awkwardness of slavishly following a false rule imparted by a revered but misguided teacher or an editor who is ignorant of reliable usage guides.

Time and again we sit beside My Lady [a judge] as she tots up the mitigating and aggravating circumstances of a particular offence. (STim 29/5/22 Culture p. 31)
“Mitigate (against)” for “militate” and “aggravate” for “annoy” are frequent errors. It’s gratifying to see these two words used correctly in a way that clearly demonstrates their meanings.

For the past six months, and significantly in advance of the war in Ukraine the public has been concerned by the rising cost of living. (Independent.ie online 5/6/22)
If this means that the public’s concern came a significantly long time ahead of the Ukraine war, the sentence is correct. However, it seems likely that the writer felt that it is significant that the concern happened even before the projected economic effects of the war. In that case, “significantly” needs to be separated from “and” and “in”: “and, significantly, in advance” or for emphasis “and – significantly – in advance”. Also, a comma following “Ukraine” is required for clarity.

“Would there be a clammer from the European domestic population?” (Daily Express online 2/6/22, quoting The New Statesman’s US editor Emily Tankin speaking on The New Statesman’s World Review podcast)
A clammer is a person who digs for clams. The transcriber of the talk seems to have been unaware of the homonym clamor (UK/Ireland clamour): the sound, literal or figurative, of people making loud or boisterous complaints – creditors clamouring for their money. “Clamber” (with the “b” sounded) means climb with difficulty, perhaps with the aid of hands.

Those staying in Ireland have the alternative option of staying at a cheaper hostel … (Extra.ie online 30/5/22)
Redundant. Either “alternative” or “option” will suffice.

A coffee bar in Florence was fined €1,000 (£846) after an angry customer called the police to complain that the restaurant charged double the average rate for the beverage. … The owner of coffee bar Ditta Artigianale, located at the centre of the Tuscan city, said his establishment was fined because the price of the coffee was not displayed on the menu behind the counter. (The Independent online 19/5/22)
Two separate issues. The fine for not displaying the price was correct. The €2 charge at the Ditta Artigianale is double the cheapest price I’ve come across in Italy. I paid €1 for an expresso that I drank standing inside a bar on Saint Mark’s Square in notoriously expensive Venice, while a restaurant directly across the Square charged €6 for a coffee consumed on the terrace in the presence of live music – which could be heard throughout the Square.

[A Ukrainian MP aspires to rebuild the country] with modern architecture with the modern technical solutions, smart cities, everything. We can be the polygon for the world now. (STel 22/5/22 p. 1.23)
Paragon. When quoting a person with less than perfect English, the writer is expected to save them embarrassment by correcting obvious errors. However, in this case it’s likely that the writer didn’t know the difference between the two words, either.

The force is also using drone technology to route out the perpetrators. (Daily Express online 18/5/22)
Root. British pronunciation of “route” is “root”, whence the spelling error; US is “rawt”.

Electoral outcomes since the war began do not bode well for the West’s collective staying power, either. (The Atlantic online 18/5/22)
“Bode well” with a negative is not incorrect, but “bode ill” is normally used for a negative prediction, and “augur well” for positive, so “do not augur well” would be preferred here. Note: there can be confusion with “auger”, which is a drilling tool.

Among those who hold that opinion are British defence secretary Ben Wallace … (Metro online 8/5/22)
Recast the inversion to see why “are” should be is: British defence secretary Ben Wallace is among those who hold that opinion.

[Putin’s] words will be poured over in Moscow, Kyiv, London and Washington …  (Metro online 8/5/22)

“Me and Lesley were so close. People always said we were like chalk and cheese …” (Hull Live online 2/5/22)
“Like chalk and cheese” means diametrically opposite.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach [Irish Prime Minister] Micheál Martin told the Dáil [legislature] the Russians had been ordered to leave the country because their activities “have not been in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour”, which is accepted shorthand for spying. (independent.ie online 2/4/22)
“Code” is more appropriate for that diplomatic string of words, which is too long to be called “shorthand”.

“You should have appraised yourself of the situation in relation to this undertaking,” [the defence barrister] suggested. (independent.ie online 30/3/22)
Appraise: to set a value on something; evaluate. Apprise: inform.

“Let he who tied the bell on the tiger’s neck take it off.” [quoting Chinese president Xi Jinping regarding the Ukraine conflict] (Stel p. 1.21 20/3/22)
Let him.

In a video that was reportedly posted by Ms Ovsyannikova before her protest, she condemned the war again, saying that the blame lied solely with Russian President Vladimir Putin. … [quoting Ms Ovsyannikova]: “The responsibility for this aggression lies with one man — Vladimir Putin.” (extra.ie online 15/3/22)
The blame lay.

This was the first time a British artist [Irish-born Francis Bacon] had been accorded the honour of an exhibition in the USSR since 1917. (Obs New Review p. 32, 23/1/22)
The Brits often claim prominent Irish artists as their own, eg, Sir Bob Geldof.

[Bridget Fonda’s father was] … legendary actor Peter Fonda – who died at age 77 in 1982. (Irish Sun online 29/1/22)
Her grandfather, Henry Fonda, died in 1982. Her father, Peter Fonda, died in 2019. A click of the mouse can find this basic information on the internet.

These are voters who leant their votes to the Conservatives … (Obs 23/1/22 p. 1. 54, “For the Record”)
The Readers’ Editor notes a homophone confusion in the 16 January issue. The chiefly British pronunciation of the past tense of “lean” – “leant” – is the same as the past for “lend”. Using the alternative “leaned” would make clear which verb is meant.

… in one form or another for most of the last two years. … The Amárach Public Opinion Tracker has shown consistently over the past two years … (thejournal.ie online 21/1/22, same article)
“Past” is correct. “Last” means the end: there won’t be any more. Examples: the last two years of the 20th century; the last two years of his life. “The past two years of his life” refers to the two most recent years; he is still alive.

“We have the laboratory data that suggests …” (Stel 16/1/22 p. 1.12 quoting a medical director at Merck, Sharp & Dohme)
Suggest. Apart from computer usage, “data” is normally plural.

“… dangerous offenders line their pockets with claims against those charged with public safety. [Reforms to the Human Rights Act will limit] compensation to those who threaten public safety.” (Stel 16/1/22 p. 1.7 quoting UK Justice Secretary Dominic Raab)
“Compensation for.” “To” means that only those who threaten public safety will be compensated.

pretending to tow the line. (STel 16/1/22 p. 1.2)

[Barbara Walter, author of How Civil Wars Start, was a member of a task force.] “We talked a lot about Africa, Syria [but not the United States] … but I couldn’t believe how closely the US was honing to the same model.” (STim 2/1/21 p. 1.9)
“Honing to” doesn’t make sense here. It should probably be holding to, ie, meeting, being true to.

 A bigger problem, however, are the continuing inroads into Sami territory. (STim 2/1/21 p. 1.10)
“Problem … is.” Or “inroads … are a bigger problem.”

The gym is a place for suffering in silence, not socialising, especially if your preferred topics of conversation or painfully inane. (Extra.ie online 29/12/21)
Are and “or” sound very similar in Ireland, but does the writer really not know that there is a difference in spelling?

And pride over quasi-mythic figures, from Arthur to Boudica, had to be reconciled with the reality that they would have bared more similarity to the Irish, Welsh, and Scots than to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century English. (JSTOR Daily 4/12/19 online)
Reconciled to, ie, had to accept. To reconcile with means to cease hostilities or to compare two sets of data for consistency. Bear, bore, borne more similarity.

In short, Meadows is honing into view, in the Washington Post’s phrase, as the “chief enabler to a president who was desperate to hold on to power”. … Sean Hannity added his own plaintiff appeal … (Guardian online 18/12/21)
Heaving into view. “Hone in on” is often used erroneously for “home in on”, though some dictionaries accept it, but the author seems to have had “hoving” in mind, a frequent mistake for heave, hove, hoven in the nautical sense. Plaintive (sad, mournful) appeal. A plaintiff is a person who brings a complaint to court.

Trump’s penchant for swearing is well-known [sic], to the extent that his four-year presidency prompted soul-searching among some US media outlets about which words could properly be printed. The Guardian [sic] has long had few such scruples. (Guardian online 6/12/21)

The national grid operator said Dublin Bay Power — operated by ESB — in the capital and Whitegate — operated by Bord Gáis — in Cork both ‘tripped’ late on Monday evening, causing the loss of 820 megawatts of electricity generation. (thejournal.ie online 24/11/21)
The m-dash is useful, but two sets in a sentence are confusing. Rewrite using the humble comma: The national grid operator said Dublin Bay Power, operated by ESB in the capital, and Whitegate, operated by Bord Gáis in Cork, both ‘tripped’ late on Monday evening, causing the loss of 820 megawatts of electricity generation.

[My note to thejournal.ie online 16/11/21 received no reply.]
In an article headed “Debunked: No, an Australian politician didn’t resign over bribes from vaccine makers” you say that a claim about bribes “centres around a few key facts”. You then supply one “fact”: “that the former Premier of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, resigned while under criminal investigation for accepting a $65 million (€49 million) bribe from AstraZeneca and Pfizer.” If it’s a fact, why are you debunking it? If it’s not a fact, don’t call it a fact. Call it a false allegation.

… said he would prefer to go to prison than wear a face covering. (independent.ie online 7/11/21)
“Would prefer to go to prison rather than wear” or “would rather go to prison than wear”.

The base was perfectly located quickly to get full and direct reports about developments in Indonesia. (Obs 17/10/21 p. 1.25)
This is a good example of when an infinitive should be split. Ideally, an adverb is located next to the verb, or inside, as in the split verb “was perfectly located”. Immediately following that verb, “quickly” at first glance seems to modify it, but a re-read shows that it belongs to “get”. To quickly get makes this clear. It is a false but widely believed rule that splitting an infinitive is always wrong.

You and X have 43 mutual connections in common. (LinkedIn)
Redundant. “Mutual” means “in common”.

In a popular shopping area around Melbourne’s Chapel Street, masonry debris tumbled from buildings and littered the roads. (thejournal.ie online 22/9/21)
It’s not debris until it has fallen. Delete “debris”.

News of Tiggy’s damages payout comes just days after Police announced that they had ‘not identified evidence of activity that constituted a criminal offence,’ on Martin Bashir’s behalf. (Evoke.ie online 19/9/21)
“Behalf” is squinting. It can mean “for the benefit of” or “representing” or “on the part of”, ie, “done by”. It usually means the first, but here it seems to mean the last.

Monday August 16 … the evening of Tuesday August 18 (Extra.ie online 21/8/21)
So what day was the 17th?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The film hones in on four idiosyncratic characters … (Obs 16/5/21 New Review p. 24)
Homes. Some dictionaries accept “hones in on” as correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITim – Irish Times

STim – Sunday Times

STel – Sunday Telegraph

Obs – Observer

IMoS – Irish Mail on Sunday

LRB – London Review of Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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