On-going updates – English Like It Is

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

The 2017 update of the 2009 second edition of English Like It Is is available on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

President Donald Trump has responded with a direct “no, no” to a question about whether he asked former FBI Director James Comey to shelf an investigation into his former national security adviser … (SFGate online 19/5/17)
Shelve is the verb.

There’s nothing more annoying then a dead phone battery, expect perhaps how long it takes to fully charge it again. … could be available as yearly as next year. … The batteries have shorter life spans than those currently on the market, but the firms reckons the incredibly charging speed more than makes up for this minor set back. (http://www.shemazing.net/smartphones-that-charge-in-five-minutes-could-hit-shelves-in-2018)
Than a dead phone battery.” “Except perhaps.” “As early as.” “Firm reckons.” “Setback or set-back.” “Set back” is the verb. Amazingly, MS spell-check caught three of those five errors: “then”, “yearly”, “set back”.

At an informal gathering afterwards, the conversation turned to the not-completely-unrelated topic of Donald Trump. (Bloomberg View online)
Not completely unrelated. An adverb ending in “ly” is not followed by a hyphen, and there is no good reason for a hyphen after “not”.

One of the striking thing about these pieces is how inward looking they are. (Obs 7/5/17 New Review p. 34)
Things. “One”, not “thing”, is the subject of “is”. Also, inward-looking.

Though some have moved on, Za’atari is still home to 80,000, of which half are children … (STim 30/4/17 Magazine p. 10)
Those 80,000 are people, not an aerial-view statistic, so “of whom” is much preferred.

The most beautiful thing he’d ever seen were the wild horses in Arizona. (STim 30/4/17 Culture p. 34)
“Thing” is the singular subject of was. This is from the £30,000 Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.

[head]: “Celebrities praise Prince Harry after grief denouncement” [subhead]: “‘Brave’ Prince Harry is praised for helping to change attitudes towards mental health by revealing he was close to a ‘complete breakdown’ after the death of mother.” (Daily Mail online 18/4/17)
“Denounce”: “publicly declare to be wrong or evil” (NODE), whence denouncement, the act of doing so. “Denouncement” makes no sense here. Why didn’t the sub-editor use “revelation” or some other suitable word?

Mazière told us that this exhibition offered the opportunity to move beyond mainstream sciart and engage with artists in more fluid ways. (The Lancet Volume 398, No. 10078, p1505-1506, 15 April 2017)
Few people not familiar with SciArt (science-art) will guess what this means.

President Trump has already warned he is prepared to go it alone if China – North Korea’s only ally – can’t reign in Kim Jong Un. (ABC News [Australia] online 14/4/17)

… where such [chemical] munitions might be located, who might be ahold of them …  [quoting “White House officials”] (Haaretz online 13/4/17)
“Get ahold” is the usual way of using this word. “Mainly used in phrases such as catch, lay, take or get ahold of, on or upon something.” (Wikipedia) A correspondent tells me she heard “be ahold of” when she was growing up in Middle Tennessee.

… threatened cuts to local services – for the unemployed and the elderly – will effect schemes that many of them rely on. (Guardian online 7/4/17)

[head] Why wouldn’t Clover the donkey cross the road? [sub-head] … because it was scared of puddles (and potholes, and manhole covers) [text] Most days, Clover is a pretty amenable sort of donkey. It does not mind … But it draws the line at crossing the road. (STel 2/4/17 p. 1.13)
By convention, human personal pronouns and adjectives are used for named animals. The manager of Clover’s home, Hackney City Farms, does this: “Our other donkey, Larry, is unfazed by anything. He’s doing several parades this year. … But Clover won’t have it. She won’t cross the road … She thinks …” With those examples of correct usage in front of them, why do the authors of this article insist on using “it”?

[Review of Beauty and the Beast] Instead, she finds herself constantly rebutting marriage proposals from love-struck, oafish musketeer Gaston (Evans). (IMoS 19/3/17 p. 72)
I haven’t seen the film, but I would think rebuffing or rejecting is needed here.

With Martin you always felt you knew where you where. (IMoS 26/3/17 p. 20)
“Where you were.”

… but many decided to stay – preferring to take the risk in their homes than live as refugees … (STel 12/3/17 p. 1.17)
Rather than live.

… the Washington state attorney general … Hawaii filed a lawsuit challenging the new ban on Wednesday; other states with Democratic attorney generals plan to sue next week. (Guardian online 11/3/17)
Attorney-general attorneys-general.

Mr Priebus asked, that if the FBI would not make a public statement, that investigators should at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. (The Independent online 24/2/17)
Refute. Also, the first comma is wrong, and the second “that” is unnecessary.

The FBI director, James Comey, has not commented on the matter publicly. In private, however, it was reported that Comey has urged the justice department to refute Trump’s wiretapping claims. (Guardian online 10/3/17)
This “refute” is correct.

[A graduate of Boylan Catholic High School in Rockford, Illinois, objected to a stringent dress code imposed on students for the prom:] “Not a proud day to be an alumni.” (BBC online 9/3/17)
Even the unreliable MS spell-check caught this. How can a person finish high school without knowing that “alumni” is the plural for male graduates?

[Caption:] Harold Evans says Mark Zuckerberg should bequest half his fortune to the media … (ITim 4/3/17 Weekend Review p. 5)
Bequeath. Evans is quoted in the article: “My suggestion is that Mr Zuckerberg should make a bequest of exactly half of his fortune …” “Bequest” is a noun; “bequeath” is the verb.

The men fled then fled but the women were arrested. (STel 26/2/17 p. 1.14)
They fled twice?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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