Some of the following have been incorporated in the 2014 update of the 2009 second edition of English Like It Is.
In truth we need Pope Francis and his ilk now more than ever. (IMoS 29/12/13 p. 3)
“Ilk” is related to “like”, meaning “same sort”, and originally referred to the head of a Scottish clan: “MacLeod of that ilk”, that is, of the clan of that name. Unfortunately, its misuse has caused it to be debased in all but a strictly Scottish context, and it is now a slap at undesirable people. It is doubly unfortunate that not all writers understand that the word bears a derogatory connotation. “Ilk” should never be used when the context is positive. Perhaps the rest of us should avoid it entirely as a gesture of respect to the Scots.
a first step towards a requirement that VAT on ebooks is reduced. (The Author, Winter 2013 p. 123)
“Be reduced.” This is subjunctive, which is often signified by “require”, “demand”, “insist”.
… one reason he did so was because he thought … (LRB 5/12/13 p. 39)
“Because” introduces an adverbial clause, telling why. “Was” needs to be followed by a subject complement (predicate nominative) – a noun or a noun clause – in this case “was that he thought”.
The victorious Soviet regime … razed most of the surviving buildings to the ground … (LRB 5/12/13 p. 28)
The term “raze to the ground” comes near the top of many lists of redundancies, though it has its champions, and it is often treated as correct. The case against: “The ground is the only place to which a structure can be razed” (Bill Bryson, Troublesome Words.) The case in favour: to avoid confusion, the distinction needs to be made between the homonyms “raise” and “raze”.
But all that’s left of the house are a couple of gate piers and … (LRB 5/12/13 p. 15)
In this construction, the singular “that’s” must be followed by a singular “is”. Alternatively, though contentiously, “all that are left … are”.
He would practice accents on the drive-through intercom. (STim 15/12/13 Magazine p. 20)
“Practise” is British spelling for the verb.
The actor John Hannah, 51, whose has starred … (STim 15/12/13 Magazine p. 70)
Did they run out of coffee at The Sunday Times?
An introductory trial period of 3 months will comprise of … [promotional mailing for TLS, the trendy name under which The Times Literary Supplement is currently trading]
“Comprise of” is never correct.
Linton is doing well according to their new trainer Troy Corstens who is pleased with their condition … Linton faces a mighty task if they are to score an upset … (Australian racing website 4/12/13
Does the writer not know that Linton is a male horse? Why does she use “they/their”? His trainer is quoted as saying, “He’s back on his tucker now … He looks great in the coat.” The horse finished 13th of 14 runners.
Applications must be received by February 1, 2013. [Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin ad] (LRB 7/11/13 p. 40)
This was in the November 7, 2013, issue. Does no one at the U of T or LRB proofread?
“Mikulak’s multifaceted theoretical approach eschews the either/or in favour of the “both,” giving us …” [McGill-Queen’s University Press ad] (LRB 7/11/13 p.37)
A quote within a quote requires punctuation distinct from the enclosing quote. In this case, single quote marks should surround “both”.
By common consensus … (LRB 7/11/13 p. 35)
“Consensus” means common or general agreement, so “common” is redundant.
“It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? 11 years of age, singing in front of the queen.” [Jack Topping’s mother about her son’s success] (STel 1/12/13 p. 1.19)
It is a strong rule that a sentence should never begin with a numeral, even an elliptical one.
“—- that.” [quoting Freddie Mercury] (STel 1/12/13 p. 1.8)
This will be an addition to the “Taboo Words” section, showing how the newspapers handle these terms. The Sunday Telegraph is the most gentile of the lot.
And so these two washed-up mid-lifers apply for an internship at Google. Like you do. (IMoS 17/11/13 p. 8)
The use of “like” as a conjunction was for long regarded as an error, but it is now considered correct to use it as a preposition or a conjunction. However, the two instances of “as” in this and the previous sentence are preferred to “like”, and the “like” in the “Like you do” citation above should be “as”, because that is the usual form of the cliché.
There are two boys, of whom Rupert is the eldest … (STim 3/11/13 Magazine p. 57)
“Elder” of two.
[Chrissy Iley, interviewing Rupert Grint at a café’s outdoor table, is annoyed that so many people approach asking for Grint’s autograph and interrupt the interview.] A family of four with cameras suddenly hones into view. (STim 3/11/13 Magazine p. 58)
“Hones” is a bizarre version of “hoves”, the normally incorrect version of “heaves”. “Hone”, often incorrectly used for “home” as in “home in on a target”, means to sharpen, eg, a knife or a talent. “Hoves” and “hoved” are not real words. In response to my question about their increasing use, Robert Burchfield, author/editor of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage (1996), said: “I don’t think hove can legitimately be used yet as an infinitive, with a 3rd person pres. indic. hoves, even when the verb is followed by ‘into view’. But it is heading in that direction, presumably to keep clear of the dominant sense of heave and heaves, namely ‘lift, haul; retch’.”
… it’s as good (and a good deal safer) than meeting the pugnacious man himself … (STim 3/11/13 Culture p. 3)
This would be more graceful as: “it’s as good as meeting the pugnacious man himself, and a good deal safer.” The construction “as good” needs “as” to complete it.
… and whom he once suggested was paranoid … all players whom Ferguson felt had betrayed him … (STim 3/11/13 Culture p. 41)
Enclosing the parenthetical clauses in parentheses reveals the structure of the sentence and demonstrates why “whom” should be “who”: “and who (he once suggested) was paranoid … all players who (Ferguson felt) had betrayed him.”
[Physicians] meshed moralism with medicine to self-fashion an image of themselves as knowledgeable health experts … [ad for Rodopi] (LRB 24/10/13 p. 34)
The almost-clever triple alliteration of “m” has blinded the writer to the fact that “self-fashion” is a ridiculous non-word and is redundant with “themselves”.
So a way has to be found simultaneously to lower prices and restrict numbers. (LRB 24/10/13 p. 8)
The position of “simultaneously” next to “found” suggests that the adverb modifies that verb: found simultaneously with some action mentioned in the previous sentence. But “simultaneously” is probably meant to go with “lower” and “restrict”. The confusion caused by this squinting modifier is due to the unfounded superstition that it is wrong to split an infinitive. “To simultaneously lower prices and restrict numbers” is the natural way to say what the writer presumably means.
Williams initially made Dorsey chief executive of Twitter, only effectively to oust him in 2008. (STim 3/11/13 p. 1.8)
“To effectively oust him” is clearer.
Let’s assume that an applicant is hesitating between making University A or University B her first choice (the majority of UK applicants are female). … So if she gets to University A … her family … Any applicant … their choice … (LRB 24/10/13 pp. 9-10)
It might seem fair to use the feminine pronoun and adjective when the person referred to is likely to be female, but for some 20 years the formerly strict rule that the masculine pronoun and adjective should be used for a person of undetermined sex has been replaced by acceptance of the usage most people employed anyway. “They” and “their” are now correct, as the writer quoted seems to have accidentally acknowledged once. “He” and “his” are archaic if not sexist – though some older people could be forgiven for using them out of habit – and “she” and “her” are pretentiously PC and sexist.
… a soldier who has suffered childhood trauma is far more vulnerable to stress as a result of their service. (STim 3/11/13 Culture p. 42)
This is the newly approved use of “their”.
1906 marked the turning point. (Obs 20/10/13 The New Review p. 37)
It is a strong rule that a numeral should not be the first word in a sentence, but if Robert McCrum does it perhaps the rule is not so strong after all. Also, allowance can be made for the need to save space in narrow newspaper columns.
[Tocqueville in Arabia] is an enticing and courageous reading of contemporary life among the younger generation in the Middle East, and a sober account of the challenges to modernity that lay ahead. [ad for University of Chicago Press] (LRB 10/10/13 p. 2)
“That lie ahead,” presumably, referring to the challenges that will follow contemporary life, not that preceded it.
surrounded on all sides (LRB 10/10/13 p.5)
“Surrounded” means “placed all around”, so “on all sides” is redundant.
“Light is declared to be not Similar or Homogeneal.” (LRB 10/10/13 p. 16)
This is taken from a 1672 paper by Isaac Newton, published in the Royal Society’s Transactions. The modern form of the word is “homogeneous”, which is often incorrectly written and pronounced “homogenous”.
“But although Harvard’s elegant, coffee-table edition [of Little Women] is to hefty to take up a tree, the pictures are so gorgeous and the copious notes so interesting, that I dodn’t once resent being torn away from the story.” [ad for Harvard University Press quoting a review in the Times Literary Supplement] (LRB 26/9/13 p. 29)
The comma after “elegant” is unnecessary, “to hefty” should be “too hefty”, and even the wildly unreliable Microsoft spell checker flagged up “dodn’t”. It is barely conceivable that the reviewer was responsible for these errors, and TLS would hardly have let them through if she was. So if LRB prints ads as they are submitted, as the following two entries suggest, someone at Harvard is in serious need of a remedial editing/proofing course.
Instead of Moore’s Utopian no place, describe the future in our locality of London [ad for Call for Submissions for Volume III of Cifiscape] (LRB 26/9/13 p. 44)
It was Saint/Sir Thomas More who wrote Utopia (1516). Thomas Moore (1779-1852) was an Irish poet. A Belfast editor changed two instances of “Thomas Moore” in an article of mine to “Sir Thomas More”. “No place” presumably refers to Samuel Butler’s 1872 Erewhon.
All books at half or less their current price. [ad for Books for Amnesty] (LRB 26/9/13 p. 46)
“All books at half their retail price or less.”
hoved into view (STim 13/10/13 Culture p. 51)
This anomaly must be firmly resisted. “Hoved” does not exist. Whether the verb refers to a ship or a person or any other tangible or intangible item, “heave” is the present and “hove” is the past and past participle.
… we can expect drought and disease-resistant crops … (STim 13/10/13 Culture p. 40)
This says that we can expect drought, and we can expect disease-resistant crops. Context suggests that the writer means drought-resistant and disease-resistant crops. Not all authorities approve of the dangling or suspensive hyphen, but the most efficient way to express this is “drought- and disease-resistant crops”.
But Venter, more than most, has earned the right to prophecy. (STim 13/10/13 Culture p. 40)
Venter has correctly predicted innovations in the past. The noun “prophecy” might be correct here, but the verb “prophesy” would seem to be better in the context.
… funnier than most things on television you would fain call comedy. (STim 13/10/13 Culture p. 10)
“Fain” is ancient and rare but not yet archaic and is a charming alternative for “like to”.
It was a shame that [Joanna] Trollope’s reworking [of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility] has a basic grammatical error: “You’re the only person in my life who I trust.” (STim 13/10/13 p. 1.16 “Letters”)
For about the past 20 years, “whom” is correct only when it immediately follows the verb or preposition.
There’s brilliant cameos … (Obs 6/10/13 Seven p. 47)
“There are brilliant cameos.” We use the singular contraction “there’s” when referring to plural things or people in speaking because “there’re” sounds awkward, but in writing it is better to spell out “there are”.
Just as the body count piles up, so do Mason’s metaphors, which come hurtling towards you, often two per sentence, like – well, like a writer straining for effect: “It seemed that the internal conflict should have screamed in his head like a sold-out theatre on fire, but in practice it felt stupidly bovine, like shovelling in more dull food when you were already full.” (Obs 6/10/13 Seven p. 30)
These are similes – you can tell because they start with “like” – not metaphors.
… and we are unlikely to ever know the full truth. (Obs 6/10/13 Seven p. 28)
This is a rare example of the flouting of the false rule against split infinitives.
Because they are older does not mean that they are invariably more authoritative … (LRB 12/9/13 p. 29)
“Because they are older” is an adverbial clause – it tells why – and cannot serve as the subject of “does not mean”. This form is used frequently in speaking but should never be seen in print. Replace “because they are older” with the noun clause “the fact that they are older” or the gerund (verbal noun) “being older”.
… it was Mia Farrow who first tread that path. (ITim 5/10/13 p. 1.2)
The past tense of “tread” is “trod”.
as [70-year-old Irish artist Robert Ballagh] enters his seventh decade (STim 22/9/13 Culture p. 33)
His eighth decade.
If you’ll excuse my sentence-ending preposition … (ITim 20/9/13 p. 1.17)
No reputable authority has ever said that it is wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. In Modern English Usage (1926), for example, Henry Fowler said: “It is a cherished superstition that prepositions must … be kept true to their name & placed before the word they govern. … The fact is that the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in putting its prepositions late & omitting its relatives is an important element in the flexibility of the language.”
these stress-related phenomenon (ITim 20/9/13 p. 1.4)
“Phenomena” is the plural.
[Jack Reacher, in the film of that title based on the book One Shot by Lee Child] is brought out of whatever hole he’s hiding in to exonerate a lone gunman who methodically killed random people … (ITim 24/8/13 Magazine p. 40)
How do you exonerate someone who committed a crime? After reading the Wikipedia article about the film, I can clear up the garbled review: the “lone gunman” didn’t do it. So the review should have read: “a man accused of killing people at random” – the people weren’t random, the killing was, or at least seemed to be, but I won’t spoil the plot in case you haven’t seen the film.
fans of Childs’ acclaimed, best-selling franchise. (ITim 24/8/13 Magazine p. 40)
[a panda] being gawped at by millions of we idiot punters (Obs 15/9/13 p. 1.9)
“Of us idiot punters.” “Us” is the object of the preposition “of”, and “idiot punters” is in apposition.
… you should never text the boss unless they have texted you first. (Obs 15/9/13 p. 1.3)
Hidebound purists will grind their teeth at the use of “they” with a singular antecedent, but this has been the norm for over ten years.
Along with a slew of other surveys … (Obs 15/9/13 p. 1.3)
“Slew” means a large quantity – a slew of people, for example – and is a mainly US term. It’s from the Irish sluagh, meaning a company of soldiers or the like.
… believed social skills were just as important, or even more important, than academic skills … (Obs 15/9/13 p. 1.3)
“As important as, or even more important than, academic skills”. A more economical way to say this is “skills were at least as important as academic skills (optional: if not more so)”. A broken parallel can make a reader backtrack to reconstruct the fractured thread of the thought. Anything that interrupts the reader’s concentration is a mistake.
sparing Goodwin from being stuck in traffic jams with hoi polloi. (STim 1/9/13 News Review p. 2 [excerpt from Making It Happen by Iain Martin])
“Hoi polloi” is Greek for “the common people” — “hoi” meaning “the” — and so “the hoi polloi” might seem to be technically redundant. However, “hoi polloi” has been imported into English as a fixed unit with the meaning of “common people” and as such takes “the” like any other English word. The use of “hoi polloi” without “the” is pedantic and pretentious and simply wrong.
On the other hand, who wouldn’t prefer the reality of rewatching a Roeg classic than working their way through this mess of a book? (Obs 25/8/13 The New Review p. 36 [review of film-maker Nicolas Roeg’s autobiography, The World Is Ever Changing])
“Prefer … to working” or “prefer … rather than working”.
[A female barrister advertised her wig for sale, saying she was giving up the profession because of low pay and other factors.] Despite such Cassandras, thousands of young idealists are still attracted to the criminal bar, with applications at their highest for five years. (STel 18/8/13 Seven p. 13)
The reference to Cassandra here is puzzling. In Greek mythology, Apollo gave Cassandra the gift of prophecy. When she offended him, he arranged that her prophecies, though accurate, would be disbelieved. Who is the writer confusing her with?
Even so the SEC [State Examinations Commission] takes each incidence [of cheating on exams] very seriously. (ITim online, “Fifty Leaving Cert scripts held back over cheating” 16/8/13)
“Incident” or “instance” or “occurrence”. “Incidence” is like a mass or collective noun. The article reports that the incidence – frequency of occurrences – of cheating on exams has not changed over the past few years.
The following three errors were on the same page in the same article.
skeptical (STim 11/8/13 Culture p. 35)
That’s the US spelling. “Sceptical” is British/Irish.
Whither the villain? And why the witch hunt? (STim 11/8/13 Culture p. 35)
“Whither” means “to where”. Context shows that “where” should have been used. Since the book reviewed was about John Hunt, “witch hunt” is infelicitous.
His final act of generosity was to bequest his personal collection to the state. (STim 11/8/13 Culture p. 35)
“Bequest” is a noun. “Bequeath” is the verb.
Monday … temperatures will be around the mid to late teens … Wednesday … temperatures will rise to the early twenties. … further outlook … temperatures in the late teens to early twenties”. (Met Éireann website [met.ie] forecast late evening 10/8/13)
Someone more adept at discerning the differences between history, people and weather updated the forecast about midnight to “Monday … in the low teens … Wednesday … temperatures will rise to the low twenties … further outlook … high teens and occasionally low twenties”.
A Minnesotan-born journalist (STel 4/8/13 Seven p. 21)
“Minnesota-born.” “Minnesotan” is the person. Also, “Minnesotan journalist” would be wrong. The state name serves as the adjective: songs “California Girls”, “Tennessee Stud” and “Texas Tears”, and Kentucky Fried Chicken, to give just a few examples.
Bogard and his ilk (STel 4/8/13 Seven p. 21)
The writer has called author Paul Bogard “the kind of guy I’d want to go star-gazing with”, so she obviously likes him. “Ilk” in its disputed modern usage has negative connotations.
Frederick the Wise, whom he may have met through Celtis (LRB 18/7/13 p. 23)
Cardoso isn’t the only politico-religious refugee from Europe’s fundamentalist theocracies whom Nasi looks to for help. (LRB 18/7/13 p. 22)
“Who he may have met.” “To whom Nasi looks” or “who Nasi looks to”. “Whom” is used only when it immediately follows the verb or preposition.
There is a general consensus in the publishing industry … (ITim 20/7/13 Weekend Review p. 13)
A consensus is a general agreement, so “general consensus” is redundant.
colloquial Americanisms – “gotten” instead of “got” and “like” instead of “as if” (STim 21/7/13 Culture p. 37)
“Gotten” is the formerly correct Britishism, as is “forgot” as the past participle. “My Lord, I had forgot the fart,” said Elizabeth I to Edward de Vere, on his return from a self-imposed 7-year exile after farting in her presence. “Like” for “as if” is becoming widely acceptable in Irish and UK usage.
the opposition – whomever they may be. (Obs 14/7/13 The New Review p. 28)
“Whoever” is the predicate nominative of “may be”.
Is it the view of Connell, whom he is with? (LRB 20/6/13 p. 6)
“Who” he is with. “Whom” is used only when it directly follows the preposition or verb. This rule has been in effect for over 20 years.
“What makes the book so glorious are the illustrations.” [Times review by Kate Mosse, quoted in Harvard University Press ad for Little Women: An Annotated Edition] (LRB 20/6/13 p. 13)
“What” in this format is singular, so “what makes … is …” “What” is plural if the format is reversed: “the illustrations are what make the book so glorious.”
But Alexander, still very much alive, reconquered Thebes and razed it to the ground. (LRB 20/6/13 p. 24)
“Raze” means “level”. The ground is the only thing a building or city can be levelled to, so “raze to the ground” is redundant. “Raze” alone is sufficient.
[The reviewer of The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters delivered himself of this rant:] Talking of limitations, one gets punch-drunk with the misprints of modern publishers, but this book is more shocking than most. “Argent” for “ardent”, “faulty” for “aculty”, and (deliciously) “scared” for “sacred”, to name but a few. Memo to the OUP [Oxford University Press]: spellcheck is not a substitute for copy-editing. (STel 7/7/13 Seven p. 20)
From the start, Kober approached the decipherment differently than other investigators. (STel 7/7/13 Seven p. 5)
“Differently than”, where “than” is used as a conjunction, is correct in the US, though generally frowned on in UK/Irish usage. But it is gaining acceptance.
It was Boss who suggested that I ring-fence my experiment. … She also suggested that I did away with the concept of breakfast, lunch and dinner. (STel 7/7/13 Stella p. 35)
“Ring-fence” is correct, so the writer knows that the subjunctive, whether past or present, takes the infinitive form. (“I suggest that you go.” – He suggested that I go.) But she forgot this in the second sentence. “Did” should be “do”.
They are ethnically heterogeneous and culturally homogenous … (LRB 4/7/13 p. 30)
the nauseous swell of tension (STel 23/6/13 Seven p. 18)
This is a rare revival of “nauseous” with the sense of “causing a feeling of nausea”. “Nauseous” is normally used nowadays for “nauseated”, which has nearly disappeared in the past 20 years.
[Nik Wallenda] will step out on a 2in-thick metal wire … The wire he normally walks is actually much narrower, only 2cm thick … (STel 23/6/13 Seven p. 12)
Not all of us are ambi-metric. You can say “2in (5cm)” if you are writing for a diverse age group, but in this article all measurements are in inches, feet and mph except the one “2cm”. Perhaps the writer didn’t want to say “.7874 in”.
… Patrick Kennedy emigrated from Wexford to begat the Irish-American dynasty. (IMoS 23/6/13 p. 20)
“Beget.” “Begat” is the past form. Don’t use archaic terms if you don’t know what they mean.
In [Samuel Foote’s] heyday in the 1760s, a summer season at the Haymarket theatre earned his company up to £5000, which may be multiplied a hundredfold for its value today. (LRB 23/5/13 p. 8)
This is a good way to communicate historical monetary values.
… he cut two coin-sized holes in the skull … (LRB 23/5/13 p. 15)
This does not communicate well. What coin did the writer have in mind: a euro cent (16mm) or a sterling 2p (26mm) or an American dime (18mm) or 50-cent piece (30mm)?
The joint commission faltered and then foundered. (LRB 23/5/13 p.33)
“Foundered”, meaning “failed”, is correct here. It is often confused with “floundered”, which means “faltered”.
Part of the problem are his views … (STim 9/6/13 News Review p. 5)
“Is.” In this construction “part” is the subject of “is”. If the sentence is inverted, “his views are part of the problem” would be correct.
“There are security arrangements in place at the site. We will now investigate how these failed to prevent this break in and damage and how they can be improved to mitigate this happening again,” she said. (ITim website 5/6/13)
The speaker might have been confusing “mitigate” with “militate against”, but the meaning is clearly “prevent”.
… a self-contained essay, a bright light shone onto a specific area of cultural engagement. (STel 7/6/13 Seven p. 20)
“Shined” is the past and past participle of “shine” when it is used transitively.
Were you at Spike Island, the mythical Stone Roses gig that took place on the Mersey Estuary on a balmy bank holiday Sunday 23 years ago? (STel 7/6/13 Seven p. 14)
[The film Spike Island is] a bright and boisterous coming-of-age tale set around the band’s nigh-mythical concert in Cheshire in 1990. (IMoS 23/6/13 p. 8)
“Mythic.” “Mythical” describes something unreal, non-historical.
[A Bangkok scotch egg is] a fine scotch egg with a soft yolk, but without the fire or punch that the Thai reference infers. (Obs 25/8/13 Magazine p. 39)
A recent campaign on the London Underground reported that 99 per cent of young Londoners do not commit serious crime. Marvellous, until you realise that this infers that one per cent, or roughly 10,000, of young Londoners do commit serious crimes … (STel 7/6/13 Seven p. 7)
The listener or reader infers. The statistic quoted doesn’t even imply, it means that one per cent, etc. “Serious crimes” and “serious crime” are both correct, but they should be consistently singular or plural when used in the same context.
“… I prefer to take the train than drive,” he says. (STel 7/6/13 Seven p. 7)
“Rather than drive.” This sort of error is forgiven in speaking, but it should not appear in print. A responsible journalist will correct it in the article to spare the speaker’s blushes.
Most of us have a beloved novelist who we feel has never received the attention she or he deserves. The author may (or may not) be perfectly happy with their lack of fame, but we feel outrage on their behalf. (ITim 1/6/13 Weekend Review p. 12)
“The attention they deserve” is now preferred. “She or he” has been unnecessary for the past ten years or so. The two “theirs” in the second sentence are perfectly correct. There is no reason to flip-flop from one form to the other, not even so a female writer can pointedly invert the familiar “he or she” format.
naval gazing (Obs 26/5/13 Magazine p. 5)
In the main, Diltz’s photographs are mainly a testimony to earlier time of reflective innocence … (Obs 26/5/13 Magazine p. 30)
There is no excuse for the repetition of “main” and “mainly” and the sloppiness of “to earlier time” appearing in print. It is the editor’s responsibility to catch these authorial lapses.
His adopted father (Obs 26/5/13 Magazine p. 35)
in 1783 … an appointment worth £6000 per annum … perhaps fifty times the income of a typical lawyer. (LRB 9/5/13 p. 33)
Here is a fine example of how to translate historical amounts of money into accessible present-day equivalents. Many writers neglect to do this.
The Primary School Curriculum was developed by the NCCA [(Irish) National Council for Curriculum and Assessment] and launched in 1999. It is presented in six areas which comprise of 11 subjects. (NCCA website www.ncca.ie accessed 29/5/13)
“Consist of.” “Comprise of” is never correct. What chance do the students have when the teachers of teachers can’t get it right?
the studio Chapman shares with his brother, Jake, and a cohort of assistants (Obs 26/5/13 The New Review p. 3)
This is a welcome correct use of “cohort” for one group of people working together for a common purpose. Most writers use it in the plural for one group or in the singular for one associate.
She got so used to the sound of gunshot fire being exchanged between LRA rebels and government troops … (Obs 26/5/13 The New Review p. 10)
“The sound of gunshots” or “the sound of gunfire”. It seems to be only female journalists who say “gunshot fire”.
[This cryptic and incoherent sentence appears under the heading of “Insulting people on Twitter” in the apparently satirical column “The Rules: an etiquette guide to modern life”.]
Since allegations of a specific nature, even when inferred cryptically, can be libellous, the safest and by far the most popular method for expressing an opinion about someone on Twitter is incoherent abuse. (Obs 26/5/13 p. 1.36)
Perhaps if you substitute “implied” for “inferred” it makes sense.
[Speaking about the reappearance of The Commitments character Jimmy Rabbitte in Roddy Doyle’s forthcoming novel, The Guts] Doyle is feign to see the put-upon Dubliner as somehow emblematic of tough times. (Metro Herald 21/5/13 p. 18)
“Feign” is a puzzle here. It is a verb meaning to pretend or simulate, as in “the footballer feigned injury”, not an adjective. The verb “fain” means to be pleased, and if it is familiar at all to modern readers it is associated with the 13th-century English ballad “Lord Randall”: “For I’m wearied wi’ hunting and fain wad lie doon – (I would like to lie down).” (He is dying after being poisoned by his sweetheart.) The writer clearly means to say that Doyle is reluctant or disinclined, so why doesn’t he use one of those words instead of what appears to be the archaic opposite?
Strong rule: don’t use archaic terms. You probably won’t use them correctly, and even if you do, most readers won’t understand them. Tellingly, Microsoft Spell Check can’t come up with a synonym for “fain”.
Update: I emailed the writer asking him what he meant by “feign”. He replied: “Feeling suitably chastened – you have me, Ill admit. Point noted.” But he didn’t answer my question, so it remains a mystery.
… a privately invested fund designed, by tax law, to be eked out till death … (LRB 9/5/13 p. 11)
A rare correct use of “eke out”.
The mythological Ordinary Person might be unscathed by the raid on these deposits, but in the real world … (LRB 9/5/13 p. 11)
“Mythical.” “Mythological” refers to the study of mythology. The distinction is rarely observed.
If war games and conflict narratives are good for boys, that begs the question, should they also be good for girls? (STim 19/5/13 Magazine p. 29)
Even the best columnists persist in this error. See Beg the Question page on this blog.
Next, know that hitting “publish” on a blog post or web page infers copyright on that material by the creator. http://erikanapoletano.com/blog/on-stealing-shit/ (accessed 20/5/13)
Even “implies” is not correct here. Publication confers copyright on the material published. Blogs are generally too soft a target for my purpose, but the author of this one promotes herself as a professional writer who advises companies on their advertising copy. Also, her in-your-face insistence on using gutter language betrays a worrying lack of vocabulary in such a person.
What happens are stirrings of a cultural identity that could quite easily take the shine off his principles. (LRB 25/4/13 p. 10)
“What” in this format can be either singular or plural, though singular is much preferred. This writer signals that it is singular by using the singular “happens”, and then switches number with “are”. This is probably due to the nefarious Attraction, the term used by Fowler to describe “the influence exerted by one word on another which causes it to change to an incorrect form.”
The state apparatus is now comprised of hardline clerics … (LRB 25/4/13 p. 8)
“Comprise of” is never correct.
And whom will they be able to fire for that? (STim 19/5/13 p. 1.14)
Ivan, whom we meet as a monk … (LRB 25/4/13 p. 12)
“Who.” “Whom” is only used when it immediately follows the verb or preposition.
the Michigan State University … Michigan University (STim 19/5/13 p. 1.15)
Delete “the”. “Michigan State University” is the name. You wouldn’t say “the Oxford/Cambridge University” would you? There is no “Michigan University”, so the second misnomer in the same article most likely refers to the University of Michigan, though Central Michigan or Eastern Michigan or Western Michigan or Northern Michigan University are possible candidates.
> Is it ever acceptable to have a comma followed by “and” in a sentence. > For example, “I went out to dinner with so-and-so, and he’s not a bad bloke once you get talking.” (LinkEds & writers group 5/2/13)
This is from an email list of editors and writers. It is not only acceptable, it is obligatory to separate independent clauses with a comma, though most Irish and British writers neglect to do so. A question mark is also necessary at the end of a question.
The turning into the Six Senses resort is unassuming and the tiny entrance and low-key reception desk that await you betray what you’ll find beyond them. (IMoS 3/3/13 p. 78)
“Belie”, which means “give a wrong impression of”. A comma after “unassuming” is required.
When veteran member Elliot Gould suffers a heart attack after being duped by Al Pacino’s casino owner [in Ocean’s Thirteen], the gang ekes out revenge. (STim 28/4/13 Culture p. 42)
Like “belie/betray”, “inter/intern” and “imply/infer”, this bizarre misuse of the frequently abused “eke” seems to be the result of confusion with “wreak” by a writer who doesn’t understand the meaning of either word.
a strong cast comprised of a who’s who of British thesps. (STim 28/4/13 Culture p. 42)
“Comprising.” Comprise(d) of” is always wrong but frequently used. This is from the often clever and usually correct “Films of the Week” feature. Example: “Brazenly not giving a XXXX that it has ripped off James Bond …” in a review of the film XXX.
the comic combover hair-do (STim 28/4/13 Culture p. 13)
Compound nouns begin life separated by a hyphen, eventually, once we all are used to them, merging as one word. “Hair-do” is still a bit wet behind the ears, so the hyphen is correctly used. “Comb-over” needs its component parts to be clearly distinguished for at least another few years.
… it begs the question, when does autobiography become autobiographical fiction?
… it does prompt the question: is there a kind of literary photoshopping going on here? (Obs 21/4/13 The New Review p. 38)
These appeared on the same page in different articles. The first is a typical example of the incorrect use of “beg the question”; the second is one way the idea behind the incorrect use of “beg the question” should be expressed.
Mr Cameron and his cohort George Osborne continued with their … (STel 24/3/13 Money p. 4)
A cohort is a group, not one person. “Colleague” might suit here.
[In 1939, PG Wodehouse] was interred in Silesia … (Daily Telegraph 23/3/13 p. R10)
“Interned.” He was interred – buried – when he died in 1975.
… rides at funfairs gained glamorous cache from rumours that someone in a neighbouring town had died on them. (ITim 20/4/13 p. 10)
One in ten teachers working in free schools are not formally qualified … (Obs 10/3/13 p. 1.26)
In the form one in ten, “one” is the subject, and it takes a singular verb. 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.
The controversy has shone a light on the conduct of men inside the House of Commons … (ITim 1/3/13 p. 1.10)
“Shined.” When “shine” is transitive, that is, when it takes an object, the past tense is “shined”.
Her father and Prue Shaw, his wife of 40 years, have two daughters. He described his eldest as … (Obs 10/2/13 News p. 11)
“Elder” of two, “eldest” of more than two.
Bare-knuckle boxing and the videos that families make to antagonise each other – now a staple of tabloid newspapers – are weaved into the narrative. (STim 27/1/13 Culture p. 38)
“Woven.” “Weaved” is the past and past participle of “weave” when it means to move erratically, as in “weaved through traffic” or “the drunk weaved down the street.”
… the fact that the upwardly mobile young [Marshal Georgy] Zhukov selected two gimnazistki (Aleksandra and Margarita’s mother) as his partners in the 1920s is a biographical datum of some interest. (LRB 24/1/13 p. 38)
The construction “Aleksandra and Margarita’s mother” seems to refer to one person who is the mother of the two women named, but this is not the case. Zhukov was married to Aleksandra, but he was not married to the mother of Margarita.
“Biographical datum” is a rare, but correct, use of the singular “datum”.
… he was concerned he might have been given too much weight to the health situation … the distress which has being caused to her … which O’Brien had being charged with … (ITim online edition, morning 24/1/13)
Might have been giving … which has been caused … had been charged with. By noon, the third error, “had being charged” had been corrected. I emailed the editor suggesting the other two be fixed. By evening, “he might have been given” had been changed to “he might have given”, which is not incorrect, but when the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous are both correct, the continuous is preferred. “Which has being caused” remained unchanged. This confusion between “been” and “being” is increasingly frequent. In the following day’s print edition (25/1/13), perhaps under the eye of a more discerning editor, “the distress which has being caused to her” was changed to “the distress caused to her”.
a wheelchair-born friend (Obs 20/1/13 The New Review p. 24)
The friend was not born in a wheelchair, he was borne – carried – in it.
Pret [A Manger] will have been disappointed to discover that any of its staff were unhappy enough in their work to have want of a union. (LRB 3/1/13 p. 25)
Except in fossilised expressions such as “in want of”, “want” is archaic for “need”, and it is curious to see it here. “To feel the need for a union” is the normal way to say this.
My plan was to examine the history of manners, rather than complaining about their current deterioration or setting out a personal vision of what it means to be polite. (STel 13/1/13 p. 1. 20)
Birchfield (NFMEU) and others would hold that the verb following “rather than” should be the same form as the preceding one: “to examine … (to) complain … (to) set”. This convention is generally followed in UK English. See Rather Than on this blog.
Number of advertising complaints up [head] Amount of broadcasting complaints falls following changes to the public reporting system [sub-head] (ITim 4/1/13 online)
The apparent up and down discrepancy in the head and sub-head is more or less clarified in the article. The point here is that “amount” is used for uncountable (mass) nouns – cheese, milk, etc. – and “number” for countable. “Amount” is increasingly used for “number”, but that doesn’t make it correct.
The bad language and filth in Comedians was, [Mary Whitehouse] said, “an alibi for poor script-writing or character delineation”. (LRB 20/12/12 p. 35)
“Alibi” means “in another place” and is not a synonym for “excuse”.
[Kathryn Bigelow] was born in northern California to a librarian and paint factory manager who dreamed of becoming a cartoonist. (Obs 30/12/12 p. 1.26)
“A librarian and paint factory manager” sounds like one parent. Put “a” in front of “paint factory manager” to remove the ambiguity.
There was much more hard fighting still to come – not least in North Africa – but the final end, however long delayed, was no longer in doubt. (STel 16/12/12 Seven p. 31)
Logically, nothing comes after the end. “End/final result” is acceptable, because there can be intermediate results, but “final end” is redundant.
… Radio 4, the station most well-known for its audio drama … (The Author, Winter 2012, p. 134)
“The station best known.” When the adjective is attributive – “the well-known / best-known station” – the hyphen is used. When the adjective is predicative – “the station (which is) well/best known” – the hyphen is not used.
One of their [the BBC’s] most well-known presenters … (Obs 5/5/13 p. 1.33)
As above: “best-known”. The adjective is attributive here.
I’ve just stumbled across a box of yellowed clippings and can now put dates on two entries in the book in the Irish Bulls section.
“Sure you can easily live without a headstone” was the comment of a senior Fine Gael Senator when it was brought to his notice that the Coalition charges the luxury 35 per cent VAT on headstones for graves. (Sunday Press, Dublin, 17/4/83)
Ancestral (P. Eddery), nearest the camera, and Cremation (C. Roche) battle it out in the McCairns Trial Stakes over seven furlongs at the Phoenix Park yesterday. The race resulted in a deat-heat (sic). (Sunday Independent, Dublin, 17/4/83)
… Long John [Silver, the cook] took up his crutch and departed.
“All hands aboard by four this afternoon,” shouted the squire after him.
“Aye, aye, sir,” cried the cook, in the passage. (Treasure Island)
The comma following “cook” is correct. It shows that there was only one cook, Silver, and he replied while departing through the passage. Without the non-restrictive comma, the sentence would say that there was more than one cook, and it was the one in the passage who replied; ie, the reference would be restricted to the cook in the passage. However, the reviewer of a new edition of Treasure Island in LRB 25/10/12 felt obliged to psychoanalyse the punctuation:
“A proofreader might have been tempted to cut the comma before ‘in the passage’, but then readers would have been less likely to notice the oddity of the phrase, one that seems to keep Silver in our mind’s eye for a shade longer than is necessary. Perhaps we are being asked to imagine how he might look as he acknowledges the order, or even simply to think about why we are given this detail at all. (Is Silver somehow different in the passage? Should we pay closer attention to him when we can’t see him?)”
Lee brings contemporary folk music back to whence much of it came … (Obs 29/10/12 New Review p. 24)
“Whence”, meaning “from where”, has been prematurely consigned to the scrapheap by several commentators. This writer has used it to avoid the awkward “back to from where”.
“Snowflakes! Go back from whence you came!” [sign held by human winter-hater Nate] “It’s ‘go back whence you came,’ Nate. Not from whence.” [talking dog Raymond’s correction] (Overboard comic strip 10/11/12)
Each … Their
… each crazily preoccupied with some infernal business of their own … (Obs 28/10/12 New Review p. 6)
The old rule that “each” must be followed by a single adjective has been superseded since about the year 2000. We are now allowed to do what most of us had always been doing, at least in speaking.
Gonna and Wanna
The very clear enunciation by the presenter of this programme was marred by her saying “gunner” each time she meant “going to”. [letter to editor] (STim 21/10/12 Culture p. 73)
It is a curious failing of the Irish and British that they are deaf to the fact that they also say “gonna” and “wanna” for “going to” and “want to”. Their belief system consigns these spoken contractions to the despised category of “Americanisms”.
[Conrad Black] is always using long words that don’t quite fit. All his houses are “commodious”, which I keep reading as “full of commodes”. (STim 21/10/12 News Review p. 1)
Infamous interviewer Camilla Long scores another own goal.
This is America today: as deeply divided as it has been for the entire millennium. (STim 21/10/12 p. 1.13)
An entire millennium is 1000 years.
With such rich, detailed resources to draw from, plus Quinn’s own feel for the vernacular … (STel 14/10/12 Seven p. 30)
Any use of “plus” apart from mathematical calculation is universally condemned: “In serious writing, do not use plus to mean ‘and moreover’” (Longman Guide to English Usage). However, it is becoming widespread in some of the best publications.
Alexander McCall Smith: On How to Maketh Manners (STel 14/10/12 p. 1.25)
It is likely that a sub-editor attributed the sub-head to the author in this vain attempt at cleverness. “Maketh” is third person singular; the infinitive form “make” is needed here. Strong suggestion: don’t use archaic terms.
The general consensus … (STel 14/10/12 p. 1.25)
“Consensus” means general agreement, so “general” is redundant.
£5000 to £10,000 … (That’s up to half a million in today’s money.) (LRB 27/9/12 p. 13)
$9000 (nearly $100,000 in today’s currency) (LRB 27/9/12 p. 18)
Many writers refer to sums of money without converting the amounts to modern equivalents, leaving the reader unable to understand their significance.
In taking the role of the great spy, [Daniel] Craig revealed, he is forced to behave elegantly at all times, lest he betrays the image of 007. (Obs 7/10/12 p. 1. 34)
“Betray.” This is subjunctive. The error in this case does not impede understanding, but writers should be aware that a small difference in form can make a big difference in meaning. For example, “he insisted that I went” is not the same as “he insisted that I go.”
Many of the stories gathered in the 19th century by the Brothers Grimm are set in woods and populated by forest dwellers, be they woodcutters, witches or wolves. (Obs 28/10/12 New Review p. 42)
“Be they” is subjunctive, which is alive and well in Modern English, despite what some believe.
The martyred saint [Miniato] is said to have picked up his decapitated head, trudged across the river and walked up to this spot. (Obs 30/9/12 Magazine p. 58)
“Severed head.” A head is severed; a body is decapitated.
Excess all areas in pursuit of happiness [head] (Obs 30/9/12 The New Review pp. 36-7)
Here is another sub-editor so pleased with his own cleverness he can’t see his ignorance. The article mentions “this wild pursuit of pleasure and abandonment” – “abandon” is the word groped for – but does not fall into the sub’s error. This wilful British misinterpretation of the “pursuit of happiness” phrase in the US Declaration of Independence sounds like sour grapes. See Happiness entry in the book.
Gathering together almost 20,000 quotations from over 5,000 women from 167 nations … (LinkEds & writers [editors and writers group] 1/10/12)
Holleran gathers together an impressive range of material … (LRB 3/1/13 p. 27)
“Gather” means bring together, so “together” is redundant.
Providing BAe with advance warning of protests … (LRB 3/1/13 p. 24)
Apart from those retroactive warnings people feel impelled to give when you’ve just tripped – “Careful there” – all warnings are in advance. The redundant “advance warning” is probably the result of confusion with “advance notice”.
Foreign Terms – Anathema
For Sider, it would be an anathema to suggest … It would be a yet greater anathema, for Sider, to combine … (LRB 30/8/12 p. 22)
“Anathema” can be regarded as an abstract noun meaning “evil”, but in the first sentence it is an extreme adjective meaning “completely unacceptable”. Either way, “an anathema” is incorrect. An extreme adjective cannot be modified – “more unique”, “very gorgeous” – and so “a yet greater anathema” is even more infelicitous. Suggestion: “it would be unacceptable to suggest” and “it would be even more unacceptable …”
What has to be celebrated, however – if celebration is intended – are not just heroic metrologists but much of … (LRB 30/8/12 p. 10)
“What has to be … is” or “what have to be … are.” Whether “what” is singular or plural in this construction is shown by the number of the adjacent verb, and that number must be maintained in the following clause.
Beg the Question
But, really, first mistake, calling something “Funny Fortnight” is simply begging the rejoinder: “Ahem, We’ll be the judge of that.” (Obs 26/8/12 The New Review p. 27)
This is a good use of “beg”, which is frequently used incorrectly. (See Beg the Question page on this blog.) Naming a programme “Funny Fortnight” could legitimately be called begging the question.
Reason Why and Reason Is Because
A big part of the reason why it works is because the story … (IMoS 9/9/12 p. 74)
“Reason why” is redundant and mildly objectionable, and “reason is because” is a common error. Using both in the same sentence invites severe criticism.
This was in a review of a Marian Keyes novel described by reviewer Sheena Sweeney as belonging to “the inadequately named ‘chick lit’ genre”. Curiously, on the same page appears a review by Sheena Davitt of four novels: “Never mind about the endless debate about its name, the genre-loosely-described-as-chick-lit is in rude health – and here are some of the latest additions to the family…” (All punctuation, including the ellipsis, sic.) A photo of Sheena Sweeney is supplied. It’s a pity Sheena Davitt is not pictured so we can see if their faces resemble each other as much as their names, prose styles and views on the “chick lit” label.
Eke (correct use)
… the pig’s head that is prepared each Christmas to bring the family together grows ever more repulsive as it is eked out over the following months … (Obs 9/9/12 The New Review p. 38)
… ekes out her miserable retirement … (LRB 27/9/12 p. 22)
Probably correct, assuming “retirement” means “pension”.
… the “Brigade of Free Syrians” comprised mainly of defectors from artillery and tank units. (ITim 1/9/12 p. 1.8)
“Mainly comprising” or “composed mainly of”.
The committee, comprised of student and academic staff representatives … (ITim 29/9/12 p. 1.3)
“Comprising” or “composed of”.
The novel is compiled of eight stories … (Obs 26/8/12 The New Review p. 37)
“Consists of” or “is composed of.” Surely the writer wasn’t thinking of “comprised of”. Strong rule: “comprise of” is never correct.
Fewer / Less
Already a sick man, Albert returned soaked to the skin, and died of fever fewer than three weeks later. (STim 2/9/12 Culture p. 30)
“Three weeks” is a singular period of time, so “less than three weeks” is needed here. The awkwardness of “fever fewer” should have alerted the writer or editor that something was amiss in this sentence.
The Bolton-born president of the International Paralympic Committee [Sir Philip Craven] has called for the word “disabled” to be dropped from coverage of the London Games. … “You know what the word ‘disabled’ means. It means something that doesn’t work, doesn’t function. How would you like to be called that?” (Obs 26/8/12 p. 1.9)
This one-sided ignoratio elenchi – rebutting of a point not asserted – does his argument no favours. Will we return to the currently non-PC “handicapped”? This is the World Health Organisation’s definition of “disability”: “any restriction or lack of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a human being”.
a swimming quest across straits linking the world’s continents. (STel 19/8/12 p. 1.29)
A quest is a search. This seems to be an attempt to swim across the straits separating the world’s continents.
The plane, heading from Paris to Lebanon’s capital, diverted amid tensions near the Beirut airport on Wednesday. (ITim online 17/8/12)
The Reuters style guide says the useful amid “is a sign of thoughtless writing; there is always a better way to express this”, but neglects to suggest a better way. Among won’t do. One is among others like oneself, like a spectator in a crowd of spectators. Amid is used when a thing or things are surrounded by – in the midst of – unlike things.
Tomorrow foreign ministers from UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, will meet for an emergency meeting amid Ecuador’s determination to raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council. (STel 19/8/12 p. 1.21)
Amid needs more than one thing to be in the middle of.
a brilliant soldier, albeit a maverick and egoist. (STim 12/8/12 Culture p. 33)
The author of Mind the Gaffe (MTG, 2001), Larry Trask, an American-born linguist living in Britain since 1970, puzzlingly calls albeit a “quaint and archaic word … pretentious and silly”.
It was fun being in on the conspiracy, albeit that their plotting was no way secret. (ITim 31/8/12 p. 1.17)
The normal and useful albeit is not usually followed by a noun clause, but it works here: “although it be that …”
Plethoras of plodding factual detail (a five-page inventory of the contents of a farmhouse, lengthy itemisings of market wares) … (STim 12/8/12 Culture p. 35)
One “plethora” will suffice to characterise any number of superfluous listings.
Refute / Rebut
Tanzania has refuted allegations that it set fire to the Serengeti to delay the annual wildebeest migration and disrupt holiday bookings to Kenya’s Masai Mara. … Tanzania National Parks said the fires were from “early burning”, an established practice for controlling tsetse flies that had no impact on wildlife movements. (STim 29/7/12 Travel p. 2)
“Rebutted.” Rebut means argue against a statement, using evidence. Refute means disprove a statement. However, Tanzania’s evidence seems a bit thin, so perhaps “rejected” or “denied” would be more suitable.
Tight-lipped / Close(d)-mouthed
Gilmore may remain tight-lipped about the Budget but the rest of us need to have a national debate. (ITim website 6/8/12)
Tight-lipped means speaking with emotion, usually anger. Gilmore refused to talk about the Budget, so he was “close(d)-mouthed”.
“Like” as Conjunction
And young people are not lusting to own cars like they used to … (Obs 30/9/12 The New Review p. 19)
The former European colonisers do not dominate Africa like they used to … (LRB 27/9/12 p. 4)
These are examples of “like” used as a conjunction, which was considered an error until about the year 2000.
As if / Like
It’s like we are in the business of discovering … It’s as if nature possesses a kind of perfection … [same article] (Obs 5/8/12 The New Review p. 22)
Like for as if, in this construction, is not considered standard in UK or US usage, but it is becoming increasingly acceptable.
He reminds us that France and Germany, mutual enemies for a thousand years, now share a cultural institute in the West Bank. (Obs 5/8/12 The New Review p. 38)
“Mutual” is redundant in this context. If country X is an enemy of both France and Germany, then X is a mutual enemy of France and Germany.
The meerkats gathered around a burrow entrance and mutually groomed each other … (IMoS 12/8/12 p. 79)
“Each other” makes “mutually” redundant.
In fact, on this evidence, few of his peers over the Atlantic can hold a candle to him. (STim 23/9/12 Culture p. 49)
“Peer” means “equal”. If thriller writers west of the Atlantic can’t hold a candle to Irish author Declan Burke, they are not his equals. The anomaly could have been avoided by using “colleagues”.
I hadn’t forgotten mine and Howard’s discussion … (Obs 9/9/12 The New Review p. 38)
“My and Howard’s.”
As if an emergency layover in Syria’s capital was bad enough, passengers on Air France Flight 562 were asked to open their wallets to check if they had enough cash to pay for more fuel. (ITim online 17/8/12)
“Wasn’t bad enough.” The article was cleverly titled “Damascene diversion hits Air France.”
“I don’t know how one, to use a terrible modern word, ‘quantifies’ greatness, …” (Laurens van der Post, A Walk with a White Bushman, Penguin, 1988, p. 39)
There has long been resistance to making verbs from nouns – “incentivise” and “prioritise” are among the most recent to incur the wrath of the purists – but the storm passes quickly. The verbs “contact”, “funnel” and “process” were highly contentious in the 1950s but are normal usage now.
the type of creepy loser who pushes shit through letterboxes (Obs 5/8/12 p. 1.35)
Anonymous is a vast, new, poorly understood global force who specialise in “ultra co-ordinated motherfuckery”, as one of Coleman’s contacts puts it. (Obs 9/9/12 The New Review p. 8)
These will be added to the Taboo Words section, which shows how the papers deal with naughty words. Notice that The Observer doesn’t put quotation marks around “shit” but does with the “motherfuckery” attributed quote.
If Google Fiber (as they call it in the US) catches on, then a swath of powerful industries is in for a very rocky ride. (Obs 5/8/12 The New Review p. 19)
“Swath”, with a short “a”, is the US form of “swathe” (with a long “a”) and not normal in UK usage, though increasingly used.
… the motto on the Dublin city coat of arms: Obedienta Civium Urbis Felicitas. This translates as “An obedient populous is a happy city”. (STim 12/8/12 p. 1.5)
Rather a lot of mistakes in only two sentences. 1): obedientia. 2): populace. 3): “city.” (The full stop is placed within the quotation marks when the quote is a complete sentence.) 4): “The obedience of the citizens is the happiness of the city.” 5): The coordinator of the Public Face III project, which will use facial recognition technology to project Dubliners’ expressions at random on to a large electronic sculpture, said, “When we grumble, we’re hiding a smile underneath.” This suggests that he thinks the “felicitas/happiness” in the government’s propaganda motto means “joyfulness”. But it is used here in the political-philosophical sense of personal fulfilment: obey the law if you want to be successful in life. See “Happiness” entry in the book.
By no means the majority of the usages discussed in this book are dialectical, however. (Common Errors in English Usage, Paul Brians, William, James & Company, Sherwood, Oregon, 2009)
“By no means are the majority …” Even the MS Word spell-grammar checker raised an objection to this common error. In an inversion, the normal subject-verb word order is inverted so that the verb or part of the verb precedes the subject.
… but by no means all were Alawites. (LRB 27/9/12 p. 20)
“By no means were they all Alawites.” “By no means” signals that an inversion is to follow.
… it sounds like Godzilla in a cave banging on a timpani. (STim 12/8/12 Culture p. 10)
“Timpanum” is the singular, from the Latin for “kettledrum”.
… she enthuses … she trumpets … “We will conquer the tyranny of time,” she trumpets, “and the tyranny of the womb.” (STim 12/8/12 Culture p. 31)
Elsewhere in this negative review of Aarathi Prasad’s Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning the Rules of Sex, the writer, perhaps ironically, refers to the subtitle as “the hysterical headline”. At least the use of “enthuses” and “trumpets” obviates the need for exclamation marks. (See “Say” Synonyms and Punctuation.)
On the whole, though, one’s too busy being swept along, breathless, by Robb’s tales to register complaints. (STel 24/7/11 Seven p. 29)
Contractions like this can confuse the reader. “One’s” looks possessive. It’s better to use “one is”.
ITim – Irish Times
STim – Sunday Times
STel – Sunday Telegraph
Obs – Observer
IMoS – Irish Mail on Sunday
LRB – London Review of Books
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.