2012 Updates

The following have been incorporated into the 2012 update of the 2009 second edition of my ebook  English Like It Is: Right, Wrong and Changing Usage.

“Everything within twelve feet of my cubicle are my territorial waters.” – Dilbert comic strip 9/1/12. “Everything … is.” “Everything” is singular.

Koreans meet after 50 years [head] … reunited with relatives they had not seen in more than half a decade. [body of article] (STim 27/9/09 p. 1.21). Pure writer and editor carelessness. Half a century (presumably; otherwise, it isn’t newsworthy). A decade is ten years. A century is 100 years.

“… the child’s personality traits and those of his adopted parents.” (p. 140) Freakonomics, Levitt/Dubner, 2006. “Adoptive.” Generally in the book, the authors opt for the convention, popular briefly in the 1990s, of using feminine pronouns and adjectives following an antecedent of indeterminate sex: “A baby should always be put to sleep on her back …” (p. 133); ” … just about every parent seems to believe that her child will thrive if only he can attend the right school …” (p. 143). However, since the late 1980s reputable authorities have bowed to expediency and sanctioned “they/them/their” as the “indeterminate human referent”. This also applies to “anyone/someone/no one … they/them/their”. Beware: “someone who thinks of themself” (Observer 2000) is not accepted and, hopefully, never will be.

“We need one more player. Who’s [sic] turn is it to divide themself into a separate organism?” [one amoeba to eight others choosing up sides to play basketball] (In the Bleachers comic 5/7/12). If an amoeba would feel slighted by being referred to as “itself”, even “themselves” would be better than “themself”. The notoriously unreliable Microsoft spell check is correct for a change in agreeing with me.

These stable isotopes can tell us a number of things about what a person’s diet has been for most of their life. “Bone Analysis Suggests Neolithic People Preferred Meat”, Mike Richards, British Archaeology, No. 12, March 1996. “A person … their” is the currently acceptable way to use the indeterminate human referent.

Many times [Sr Stanislaus Kennedy] has wondered what it would have been like to have reared a family … (STim 5/2/12 p. 1.11). A good example of the double present perfect.

Heretofore, social welfare recipients could claim a hardship payment … The allowance has been halved … (STim 5/2/12 p. 1.14). “Heretofore”, like “thence”, “hence”, thereafter” and many other words regarded as archaic, is alive and well and contributing to clarity in the language.

… today is expected to be similarly warm, albeit with more cloud and a couple of showers. (ITim website 16/8/10). The useful “albeit” has been unjustly consigned to the dustbin of archaism by some short-sighted commentators.

Nor is it surprising, given the rich source from whence the Gigginstown equine talent tends to spring. (STim 19/2/12 Sport p. 15). “Whence” means “from which”, so “from” is redundant.

… Urban Sea – the mother of Sea the Stars … Urban Sea subsequently sired Sea the Stars … Urban Sea had another colt, now one year old, from Invincible Spirit. (Irish Daily Mail 10/10/09 p. 54). It is the male horse, the sire, that sires a colt.

Angelina [Jolie] is pictured bearing her teeth slightly. (ITim 4/2/12 p. 1.14). “Baring.”

Synopsis (for original scripts only – no adaptations) comprising of story synopsis, cast list and whether parts can be allocated to boys, girls or both. [ad for play submissions, Pearson] (The Author: Journal of the Society of Authors, Winter 2011, p. 123). “Comprising” or “consisting of”. “Comprise/comprised/comprising of” is never correct.

The company’s [LinkedIn’s] management team is comprised of seasoned executives from companies like Yahoo!, Google, Microsoft, TiVo, PayPal and Electronic Arts. (LinkedIn Press Centre website page 10/7/12). “Comprises” or “is composed of”. Also, “companies such as”. “Such as” introduces examples; “like” makes comparisons.

Organisers of the march, which compromised up to 400 adults and children … (ITim 11/12/10 p. 1.6). “Comprised.” Context does not suggest that the marchers were brought “into disrepute by indiscreet, foolish or reckless behaviour” (NODE).

[The FBI file on Steve Jobs characterized him as] not adverse to “twisting reality”. (Obs 12/2/12 p. 1. 15). “Averse to”, which means “turning away from”, as in “averse to publicity”. “Adverse” means “harmful” (literally, “turning against”), as in “adverse reaction to a drug”.

Data used to shut Roscommon hospital unit is challenged (ITim 1/1/12 front page). New data seem to disagree. (STim 27/11/11 News Review p. 8). “Data” is plural (singular “datum”) except when used in the context of computers.

To commemorate the life and work of Dennis Sharp (1933-2010), Sharp Words collates together a variety of essays … (LRB 24/5/12 p. 16) ad for Architectural Association Publications. From the Latin “cum” = “with” and “latum”, the perfect participle of the verb meaning “bring”, “collate” means “bring together”, so “together” in that sentence is redundant.

[Some of Ray Bradbury’s short stories] were gathered together as The Martian Chronicles (known in Britain as The Silver Locusts. (ITim 9/6/12 p. 1.14). “Gather” means “bring together”, so “together” is redundant in that sentence.

The general consensus was that he ought to do so. (ITim 7/4/12 p. 1.11). “Consensus” means “general agreement”, so “general” is redundant.

What I liked most about this menu were the number of dishes to share. (STim 22/4/12 Style p. 55). “What”, in this construction, is generally taken as singular. “The number” is always singular (“a number” is plural), and so “were” should be “was”.

What drives the evolution of Mediterranean history in his reading are the routes and nodes of trade. (LRB 22/3/12 p. 32). “Drives” shows that the writer means “what” to be singular, so “are” should be “is”.

One of Goldberg’s prime targets are “knee-jerk” defenders of modern Israel. (STel 25/3/12 Seven p. 28). “One … is.” Fowler called this common error “attraction”: even though the noun nearest the verb is not the subject, the fact that it is plural leads the inattentive writer to make the verb plural. It is the editor’s job to catch this sort of careless mistake.

“Amy, Lily or Cheryl – who [sic] would you choose?” [quoting an Ebury job ad] (The Author, Spring 2012 p. 29). Whom does he turn to to care for his lovely apartment … (IoS 15/4/12 p. 1.68). In current practice, “whom” is only used when it follows a verb or preposition, so it is the “[sic]” in the first cite that is wrong. In the second, “to whom does he turn” would align the construction with current practice and resolve the awkward repetition of “to”.

[Regarding a rumour that eating a certain genetically modified potato can cause pregnancy] Guidance from the Vatican on the theological status of immaculate conceptions that occur outside chip shops is now awaited. (STim 1/7/12 Culture p. 34) Typically wrapped in a smarmy snigger that emphasises the ignorance of the writer, this seemingly wilful misunderstanding of a central Roman Catholic dogma is common. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was conceived in her mother’s womb without Original Sin, that is, immaculately, as a special favour from God. The dogma of the Virgin Birth is that she was a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus. I blame not only writers who make this frequent error and editors who fail to correct it, but also schools that neglect to teach the difference between these basic functions of human reproduction.

His teacher does, however, ring the grammatical error of using “But” at the start of two of [Paul] McCartney’s sentences. (STim 27/9/09 p. 1.20). This is a typical teacher error, in which the Sunday Times writer and editor are willing accomplices. “But”, to introduce an independent clause in a compound sentence, indicates a change of direction. “But” at the beginning of a sentence shows a stronger change, though not as strong as “however”. Context shows how the 10-year-old future Beatle used “but” correctly in his prize-winning essay.

            “On the Coronation Day of William the Conqueror, senseless Saxon folk gathered round Westminster Abbey to cheer their Norman king as he walked down the aisle. The Normans thinking this was an insult turned upon the Saxons killing nearly all of them. But on the Coronation Day of our lovely young queen, Queen Elizabeth II, no rioting, nor killing will take place because present day royalty rules with affection rather than force.”

… airports are certainly to be endured rather then celebrated. (STel 8/7/12 Seven p. 10). The use of “then” for “than” is so common it can’t always be due to mistyping.

Theft is on the up and up … (ITim 16/10/09 p. 1.13). This is an example of different usage east and west of the Atlantic. “On the up and up” means “honest” in the US and “on the increase” or “becoming successful” in Britain and Ireland.

[Patti Smith’s] Just Kids, her 2010 memoir of the formative years of she and her lover Robert Mapplethorpe … (STel 3/6/12 Seven p. 16). “Of her.” “She” is nominative.

Horses transformed the practice of warfare and of hunting, and enabled men to travel further and faster than ever before. (STel 3/6/12 Seven p. 21). It is convention and preferable – not a strong rule – that “further” is used for abstract distance and “farther” for physical.

Blessington Street, Dublin

Panino, (plural panini) is the Italian word for the sandwich. Imported into English, the plural panini is used out of carelessness or ignorance for the singular; as an adopted word its English plural is paninis. The Spanish have done a similar thing with “spaghetti”, which is the Italian diminutive plural of spago = “string”: espaguetis, adding a Spanish plural to the Italian plural. Also, “omelettes”.

Nonfeasance and Misfeasance of Editors and Unlearned Correctors

“Some Editors are scrubs, mere drudges, newspaper puffs: others are bullies or quacks: others are nothing at all – they have the name, and receive a salary for it!” – 19th-century freelance essayist, critic and journalist William Hazlitt.

The printer’s error “Thou shalt commit adultery” in the 1631 edition of the King James Bible  (known as the Wicked Bible) prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to comment: “I knew the tyme when great care was had about printing, but now the paper is nought, the composers boyes, and the correctors unlearned.” “Blessed are the place-makers” (1562 Geneva Bible), and “the unrighteous shall inherit the Kingdom of God” (1653 King James Bible) suggest mischief or political comment rather than carelessness, but an editor should have been alert enough to catch them before publication.


ITim – Irish Times

STim – Sunday Times

Obs – Observer

IoS – Independent on Sunday

STel – Sunday Telegraph

LRB – London Review of Books

NODE – The New Oxford Dictionary of English (1998)

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