Updates 2017 – 2020

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 2021 revision of the 2009 second edition of English Like It Is will be available soon on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.

This page contains citations that were considered for the 2021 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.

What is almost entirely comprised of antlers and pine-cones, and costs £1,800? (STel 22/11/20 Sunday p. 26. Answer: a Christmas wreath by the florists Pullbrook & Gould.)
Composed of. “Comprise of” is never correct.

A much later note elsewhere in the manuscript names Máel Muire as the person who “wrote and compiled this book from divers[e] books”. (Wikipedia: “Lebor na hUidre”)
The “correction” seems to be due to a lack of understanding of the “diverse”, which means “different” and has the stress on the second syllable, and “divers”, which means “various” and has the stress on the first syllable. One of the reasons “divers” is rarely used nowadays is exemplified by this anecdote: a browser in a bookshop discovered a book with the title Divers Arts shelved in the sports section.

a protest-slash-street celebration … centered around the message … the the belabored process (Daily Beast online 7/11/20)
Some authorities despise the oblique/slash mark, calling it ugly, but it surely would look better here than “protest-slash-street”. “Centre/center around” is illogical; “centre/center on” is much preferred. Duplication of “the” and “of” are two of the most frequent typos. A spell-check should catch them.

[Educators] wrote: “Children’s enthusiasm for series books have not been shared by literary critics.” (JSTOR Daily 11/5/20)
“Enthusiasm” is the subject of has.

Rarely commented on and often esoteric, [scientific papers] are being poured over by government advisors. (Telegraph online 13/10/20)
Sounds like a coffee spill. Pored over.

Should Trump refuse to leave office, America could be plunged into a constitutional crisis and find itself in unchartered territory. (Guardian online 27/9/20)
Uncharted, that is, unmapped, unknown. “Unchartered” could refer to a boat for hire that is not currently in use, or a conurbation that lacks a charter to be officially designated a city.

a skateboard-carrying woman hoved into view (IMoS 20/9/20 p. 24)
Hove is the past of “heave” in the nautical sense, as it is used here. “Hoved” does not exist.

the Padre and his adoptive daughter (Obs 13/9/20 New Review p. 36)
The child is adopted; the parent is adoptive.

“The court finds that the countervailing interests identified fail to rebut the presumption of public access.” (Guardian online 31/7/20)
Refute – to disprove a statement. To rebut is to argue against a statement, using evidence.

… left much of the industry up the proverbial creak … (Obs 26/7/20 Magazine p. 9)
Creek. Is this a spelling error or a lack of understanding of a metaphor: up a creek without a paddle?

Boris Johnson slams breaks on reopening [head]
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ‘squeezed the brake pedal’ on easing lockdown restrictions in the COVID-19 cases in the UK have ‘creeped up’. (Guardian online 1/8/20)
Slams brakes. Crept up. As the COVID-19 cases.

Fall in number of “emergency break” incidents (RTE online 23/7/20)
Is an “emergency break” when you have to leave your desk abruptly for an unexpected call of nature? No. The article text clarifies: “Although there has been a big decrease in ‘emergency brake’ incidents so far this year …”

Some footwear brands pedalled foldable flats, which you could slip out of round the corner from the office or pop into your tote bag when you got to work … (Guardian online 23/7/20)
Peddled, that is, sold.

Anthony Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, has pushed back at a concerted campaign by Donald Trump and his allies to discredit his response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Guardian online 15/7/20)
This is an unusual correct use of “concerted”.

Tokyo will lift its alert level for coronavirus infections to the highest of four levels on Wednesday, the Asahi newspaper reported, after a recent spike in cases to record levels in the Japanese capital. (Reuters online 15/7/20)
“Lift” should be raise. To lift an alert means to rescind it, which is not the case here.

Davis and Lee later said they provided this receipt to their attorney, whom they said lost it. (Guardian online 1/7/20)

… Americans sipping their morning cappuccini. (former president of PEN America, Guardian online 26/6/20)
Cappuccinos. The name of the coffee has been naturalised into English, and so the English plural is correct in an English language context, as is “paninis”. Flaunting one’s knowledge of Italian in this way is pretentious. Would this writer order two “pizze” in English?

Vote Leave is currently being wound up by its directors Mr Halsall, Jon Moynihan … “The board of Vote Leave is firmly of the belief that the Electoral Commission should be abolished, and its functions returned to the various institutions that have traditionally occupied those roles.” Mr Moynihan has suggested that its powers are split between existing bodies … (STel 28/6/20 p. 1.15)
“That its powers be split.” This is subjunctive, “denoting what is imagined, wished, demanded, proposed, exhorted, etc.” (BDMEU) Its powers are not now split.

[Putin] grew up in a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood in the former imperial capital that grew shabby and destitute by then. (STel 28/6/20 p. 1.16)
Had become shabby,” to correct the tense and avoid a repeated “grew”.

Let’s not forget who Cerberus was, in Greek mythology. Perpetually angry and snarling, Cerberus acted as the guardian of the underworld. His ferocious multiple dog heads were forever twisting, showing their teeth, and barking at the newly damned approaching the gates of hell. (Guardian online 15/6/20, penned by “the former president of PEN America”.)
Cerberus’ duty is to keep the inmates of Hell inside – he eats those who try to leave, according to the Greek poet Hesiod – not, as sometimes supposed, to keep the living out. Seneca and Ovid commented that when Heracles dragged Cerberus from the cave, he was dazzled by the unaccustomed daylight, which suggests that he was watching over the occupants, not looking out for intruders.

“But I would rather than instead of looking to the past, jump to the future and say that the question of lifting the lockdown is as important as going to the lockdown.” (Guardian online 15/6/20)
“Rather than jump” or “instead of looking”, but not both. This seems to be a spoken quote, so leeway is allowed.

The coronavirus crisis won’t give Boris Johnson an alibi for a calamitous Brexit (head, Obs 7/6/20 p. 1.39)
Excuse. “Alibi” means “in another place”.

There are few things of which I am prouder. No dangling prepositions here, just the facts. (Obs 7/6/20 p. 1.31)
One of those things he seems to be prouder of is his belief in the superstition that ending a sentence with a preposition is incorrect.

“Black Lives” mural painted on street leading to White House (New York Times online 6/6/20)
Delete “mural”. It’s not a mural – from Latin murus=wall – if it’s not painted on a wall.

As cities burned night after night and images of violence dominated television coverage, Trump’s advisers discussed the prospect of an Oval Office address in an attempt to ease tensions. But the notion was quickly scrapped for lack of policy proposals and the president’s own seeming disinterest in delivering a message of unity. (The Journal online 1/6/20)
Lack of interest. He was uninterested, not disinterested. Compare: “Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a civil rights advocacy group, said: ‘When a leader can hear the demand and the concerns and work to solve the problem, that’s the power of democracy. President Trump is not interested in either. He’s not interested in leading or solving problems.’” (Guardian online 1/6/20)

Embrace for rat “plague” as rodents turn to cannibalism (Guardian online 27/5/20)
The headline on the article itself says: “Sydney braces for rat ‘plague’ after Covid-19 forces hungry rodents to turn to cannibalism.” “Embrace” and “brace” are not the same.

The big clean also included a chemical scrubbing of the statue they thought represented Holy Mary, but as the years of grime were washed away, a Revelation dawned on the neighbours – it wasn’t the Blessed Virgin, but her immaculately conceived son Jesus. … neighbours had a great laugh over what they’ve now coined the “Immaculate Deception”. (DublinLive online 24/5/20)
It’s understandable that non-Catholics don’t get it, but it has been a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church since 1854 that the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, was unique among humans in that she was conceived in the womb of her mother, Ann, without the stain of Original Sin on her soul. An Irish publication should know better.
In her aspect as the Immaculate Conception, Mary is the patroness of several Catholic countries as well as the United States. The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is in Washington DC.
The Immaculate Conception is frequently confused with the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, which holds that Mary was a virgin before and after the birth of Jesus.

“Our only criteria is quality of work; we look for the best.” (In the entry for Pisgah Review, published by Brevard College, US, in Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2020.)
Criterion. “Criteria” is plural. If you send your work to this publication, you should be prepared for a fight with the editor over your “usage errors”. For examples of editorial non-feasance and mis-feasance, see the Editors page on this blog.

This tale involves close-mouthed people, but what we do learn is interesting … (Obs 17/5/20 New Review p. 27)
A rare gem. “Close(d)-mouthed” means refusing to speak or speaking discreetly, ie, not revealing all one knows, and that is the meaning here. Nearly all writers use “tight-lipped”, which is not the same thing. Look at the face of a person who is angry or frustrated and trying to suppress the emotion: the lips are tightly compressed but do not prevent speaking.

“More than forty-five years have passed away since that night in the library …” (quote from Rodham, a novel about Hillary Clinton by Curtis Sittenfeld in Stim 10/5/20 Culture p. 5)
“Passed away” is a euphemism for “died”. Why not simply “passed”?

If there was (were?) ever a gamut of issues to be run, he has been running it. (Guardian online 12/5/20)
Was is correct. Why the question mark?

Last month, for example, the EPA decided not to tighten rules for soot pollution, refuting rebutting guidance from experts that more stringent standards would save lives. (Guardian online 11/5/20)
If you don’t know the difference between “refuting” and “rebutting”, using both is not the solution. Look them up in a dictionary. Rebut – argue against a statement, using evidence. Refute – disprove a statement.

Nonetheless, having delivered its political ordinance in support of Trump and Pompeo, the Murdoch story carefully and cleverly seeks to cover its traces by stating repeatedly that nothing is yet proven about the laboratory leak. (Guardian online 8/5/20)
Ordnance, ie, military weapons. An ordinance is a law.

This irregularity goes against what we’re accustomed of seeing on social media. (Guardian online 8/5/20)
“Accustomed to seeing.”

Msgr. Guy Massie speaking to an empty congregation, while streaming his service online, at a church in Brooklyn on Easter Sunday. (New York Times online 7/5/20)
“Empty church.”

“Persuading more tourists to visit outside seasonal peaks and to visit areas outside of the main attractions will mitigate against regional and seasonal congestion and deliver a better experience for all.” (Fáilte Ireland [Irish tourist board] statement in The Journal online 4/5/20)
Mitigate regional …” “Against” goes with “militate”.

Old shibboleths about the need for budget balance and austerity have gone by the board. (Guardian online 30/3/20)
In this current usage, a shibboleth is an outmoded custom or belief, which obscures its original meaning. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines it: “A word or pronunciation that distinguishes people of one group or class from those of another.” The Collins English Dictionary notes: “from Hebrew, literally: ear of grain; the word is used in the Old Testament by the Gileadites as a test word for the Ephraimites, who could not pronounce the sound sh.” Judges 12:5-6 shows how the “shibboleth/sibboleth” password worked.

“And the Galaadites secured the fords of the Jordan, by which Ephraim was to return. And when anyone of the number of Ephraim came thither in the flight, and said: I beseech you to let me pass, the Galaadites said to him: Art thou not an Ephraimite? If he said: I am not; they asked him: Say then: Scibboleth, which is interpreted, An ear of corn. But he answered: Sibboleth, not being able to express an ear of corn by the same letter. Then presently they took him and killed him in the very passage of the Jordan.”

In Ireland, most Catholics pronounce the first letter of “hat” as “haitch”, Protestants as “aitch”. Not many years ago, a young Catholic was walking at night near the university in Belfast. He was accosted by a group of Protestants who demanded that he spell “hat”. He used the “haitch” pronunciation and was beaten up.

The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson. This slim, wise masterpiece tells the story of a tough and adventurous little girl and her equally tough and adventurous grandmother, who spend their summers together on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Gulf of Finland. (Guardian online 27/3/20)
Contrast: “… an imaginative and resourceful little girl who lives an idyllic life on an uninhabited tropical island with her marine biologist father … (IMoS 4/5/08 p. 69)

Buy 2 Get 2rd 30% OFF (Roselinlin ad online c. 14/4/20)
“2rd” was quickly changed to “3rd”. Apparently no one wanted to buy even a discounted 2rd.

“This opened up new questions such as: in antiquity, was there some prestige value in an egg that was laid in a different climactic zone?” (Guardian online 9/4/20)
Climatic, ie, referring to climate. “Climactic” is the adjective for “climax”.

to reign in costs … to rein in travel costs [same article] (STel 19/4/20 p. 9)
Second time lucky. “Rein” is correct.

During the Golden Age of Ancient Greece, mead “hydromeli” proceeded wine … fermented honey (mead) preceded wine as an entheogen … (Heritagedaily online, accessed 31/3/20; an entheogen is a psychoactive substance.)
Second time lucky. “Preceded” is correct.

Proofreader’s curseOn a door leading from the physiotherapy room at Cappagh National Orthopaedic Hospital in Dublin a highly visible sign reads: “X-rays. No not enter.” On a bulletin board over the therapists’ desk is a reminder to communicate with patients clearly. I brought the two therapists’ attention to that poster and asked them if they thought the “No not enter” sign was an example of clear communication. Neither had noticed the error. I neglected to ask how long they had been working in the room, but I know it was more than a few days.

“Whatever dost happen, big or small …” (Obs 15/3/20 p. 1.27)
Doth, Third Person Singular. “Dost” is Second Person Singular. Strong rule: don’t try to appear clever by using archaic forms if you don’t understand them.

Jockey Jamie Moore was left in despair after Goshen dismounted him at the last Goshen unseated Jamie Moore [article text] (RTE online 13/3/20)
Unseated him. The horse was not riding the jockey so could not have dismounted him.

At a press briefing in London on Tuesday, infectious disease experts, many of whom advise the government, were similarly close-lipped. (Obs 1/3/20 p. 1.49)
Close(d) mouthed. There seems to be a confusion with “tight-lipped”.

The garda said that the tractor was driving over continuous white lines and driving through yield signs and flaunting road traffic laws. (The Journal online 26/2/20)

At a time when stories about Māori honed in on social inequity … (Guardian online 23/2/20)
Homed in.

… we have to half our emissions by 2030. … But equally as important is … (Obs 16/2/20 New Review p. 22)
Halve. Equally important.

True-crime fans have another documentary they can binge watch on TV and it’s a grizzly tale. (Birmingham Mail [UK] online 16/2/20)
Grisly: gruesome, disgusting, horrific. “Grizzly” is a bear.

Most students who wander into my office to discuss their dissertations want to specialise in this area. Which begs the question: don’t we already know all there is to know about populism? (STim 9/2/20 Culture p. 28)
Which raises the question. “Beg the question” is a specific term in debate that means the speaker assumes that the listener accepts the premise of the argument without determining if they do. All authorities are clear on this: “to assume without proof” (OED2); “to use as a basis of proof something that itself needs proving” (DTW); “requesting an opponent to grant what the opponent seeks a proof of” (OCP).

In the Quick Crossword, the clue is “justification”; answer: “alibi”. (STel 2/2/20, p. 1.45)
“Alibi”, from the Latin “in another place”, should be reserved for that specific legal meaning, not as a pseudo-sophisticated synonym for “excuse”, the usual error, and certainly not for “justification”.

The judge said, “Son, what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else, then you won’t have to die.”
“Long Black Veil”, Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, 1959

There were warnings of arrest from the county sheriff; near-total disinterest from the city’s local newspaper; public frustration from regional politicians; and at least one death threat. (Guardian online 1/2/20)
A near-total lack of interest.” “Disinterest” means a lack of involvement. It is the responsibility of a local newspaper to take an interest in this sort of local scandal.

While industrial chimney wastes, burning of biomass and fuelwood, thermal power stations, burning of crop residue, and vehicular emissions are major contributors of the deteriorating air quality, the ignorance of the government to bring in stringent laws that regulate the rampant rise in pollution and strict measures for its enforcement, coupled with the indifference of the citizens on their failure to use resources judiciously and keep their environment clean, has caused the problem to ameliorate to such an extent that air pollution in India has today become a major public health issue. (Lancet online 1/2/20)
“Ameliorate” means to make something better, and it’s transitive: it needs an object. Perhaps the writer was reaching for “deteriorate”, but a problem doesn’t deteriorate, a situation does. Suggestion: “has exacerbated/compounded the problem to such an extent”. Also: “the ignorance of the government to bring in stringent laws”. The reluctance/neglect/refusal of the government, more likely.

… Joshua … the Old Testament hero of Jericho, bringing down walls with his trumpet solo. (Obs 26/1/20 New Review p. 45)
Not a trumpet solo. Following the instructions of the Lord, Josue ordered the fighting men of Israel to march around the city for six days. “And on the seventh day the priests shall take the seven trumpets, which are used in the jubilee, and shall go before the ark of the covenant: and you shall go about the city seven times, and the priests shall sound the trumpets. And when the voice of the trumpets shall give a longer and broken tune, and shall sound in your ears, all the people shall shout together with a very great shout, and the walls of the city shall fall to the ground …” Josue 6: 4-5.

In his constitutional argument against impeachment, Alan Dershowitz is arguing that nothing short of a “serious crime” is ground for impeachment. The House’s articles of impeachment against DonaldTrump [sic] — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,— are “outside the scope of impeachment”, he said. It’s only, for example, “if a President committed extortion”, Dershowitz said, he could be impeached for it. It’s with nothing here that Congress’ abuse of power article lays out what could be described as an extortion scheme. (Guardian online 28/1/20)
In the last sentence, “It’s with nothing” makes no sense. “It’s worth noting” is probably what the writer was striving to say. The comma after “Congress” is unnecessary.

As for Trump and name-calling, nothing has changed. As a candidate, he mocked John McCain, a gold star family, a Latino judge and a disabled reporter. Life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has not alloyed that spirit. (Guardian online 19/1/20)
This should be on the puzzle page. Does this word mean “alloyed”: “reduce[d[ in value by an admixture of a less costly metal” (Dictionary.com) or “allayed”: lessened/mitigated? Probably the latter, but the reader should not be forced to pause and ponder what the writer is trying to convey.

One week on, that maxim still holds in a region still grappling with it’s impact. [the impact of Suleimani’s assassination]
Having lost its most formidable general, then its collective face in a muted counterstrike partly choreographed with Washington, Iran’s vaunted military had lost its nerve.
… admitting it’s mistake …
Turkey too has a freer reign in northern Syria …
In Iraq, which had buckled under the weight of Suleimani’s tutelage perhaps more than anywhere … (Guardian online 12/1/20)
Its impact.” “Its mistake.” The writer obviously has the ability to use “its” correctly sometimes, so why not always?
“Freer rein.”
“More than anywhere else.”

[Little Women author Louisa May Alcott] understands the plait-yanking jealousy one can have for she who is nearest to you in genes and gender … (STel 22/12/19 p. 22)
“For her.” “Her” is the object of the preposition “for” and must be in the objective case.

He concluded: “A lot have my friends have left us in their 50s and 60s …” (IMoS Magazine 8/12/19 p. 70)
A second glance shows that the first “have” should be “of”, but the reader should not be forced to retrack to decipher the meaning.

Hatice Cengiz, fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi speaks to medias … (Guardian online 13/12/19)
Media is the plural of “medium”. A comma is needed after Khashoggi, and fiancée requires the accent mark. Three errors in a nine-word sentence fragment is a poor score.

… cash reversal attacks on ATMs (whereby the amount of money sought by an ATM user isn’t dispersed and suspects use an implement to retrieve the cash … (An Garda Síochána [Irish national police] website and copied by The Journal online 5/11/19)

Something positive for a change. This compact description by Miranda Sawyer perfectly articulates how some of us feel: “Not for her the BBC cliches of going on a journey, of unnecessary how-I-made-this-podcast detail, of awkward this-is-me-feeling-stuff chat, of foreshadowing and over-explanation.” (Obs 20/10/19 New review p. 41) “Awkward this-is-me-feeling-stuff chat” frequently turns up as hollow padding in many online articles. It reminds me of a quote from a forgotten source many years ago: “… what one critic recently described as ‘the anaemic, fine-tuned, miniature pissing-about’ of the English novel.”

“We are working with Thurrock council to mitigate against any impact our investigation scene will have locally.” (Guardian online 23/10/19)
Mitigate any impact.” “Mitigate” means to soften or reduce the impact, and “against” does not belong in its company. It is often confused with “militate against”.

Rescue workers have asked for silence at the site while encouraging possible survivors to shout out in order to hone in on them better. (BBC online 16/10/19)
Home. “Hone” means to sharpen.

Lots of celebrities find these kind of absurd and untrue magazine covers deeply offensive … So I guess it would be a bit tricky for Harry to hold him to the same standards he holds we ghastly press people. (IMoS 13/10/19 p. 71)
This kind or these kinds. “He holds us ghastly press people.”

Mulvaney said at a press briefing earlier today that there was indeed a quid pro quo involved in the delay of dispersing military aid to Ukraine … (Guardian online 17/10/19)
Disbursing. “Disperse” means scatter. “Disburse” means pay out money, as from a purse.

Zelensky has said there was “no blackmail” in the phone call [with Trump]. (BBC online 12/10/19)
Probably true, but there was a hint of extortion. Confusion about the meanings of blackmail and extortion is common. Extortion: demanding payment with the threat of violence; the protection racket is an example. Blackmail: demanding payment for not revealing embarrassing information.

… suspected contamination of the food premises … mouse droppings throughout the premises  … mouse droppings found throughout the premise … (The Journal online 9/10/19)
These are in the same article reporting closure orders on restaurants. A premise is a basis for a statement. Premises is an accidentally plural form – and requires a plural verb – 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 house but usually refers to a single business property consisting of land, a main building and its appurtenances.

… [US Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo, when asked what he knew about that phone call [between Trump and the Ukrainian president], replied that he had not seen a copy of the whistleblower document that flagged it: “I haven’t seen the complaint,” he told ABC News. In fact, Pompeo reportedly took part in the call, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing a senior state department official. (Guardian online 30/9/19)
This is a typical example of ignoratio elenchi, literally “(pretended) ignorance of the matter”, that is, dodging a question by deliberately missing the point or introducing a red herring by changing the subject. He evaded the question asked – what he knew about the call – by answering a question that had not been asked: had he seen the complaint. On 2 October he admitted that he was listening in on the call.

Lenny [Henry] was born in August 1958, an apparent immaculate conception, before Winston [his mother’s husband] arrived [from Jamaica]. (STim 29/9/19 Culture p. 43)
This weak attempt at humour refers to the virgin birth of Jesus. According to Catholic dogma, his mother, Mary, was a virgin before and after the birth, having been miraculously impregnated by the Holy Spirit. The Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that Mary, unique among humans, was conceived without original sin. Ignorance of this distinction is common among non-Catholics, but many Catholics are also unaware of the difference.

How – or, more important, why? – would anyone adapt Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch for the screen? (STim 29/9/19 Culture p. 12)
It’s a pleasant change to see “important” used correctly. Many writers say “importantly”, which means “pompously”.

[headline] Impeach Trump? The United States is now in uncharted waters [text] As a country, we now enter what the seven freshmen called “unchartered waters,” … (Guardian online 25/9/19)
The headline is correct. “Uncharted” means unmapped, unknown. “Unchartered” means lacking a charter, which would be some sort of document necessary for the legal status or establishment of, in this case, waters.

Red skies at night are a sailor’s warning … (IMoS 8/9/19 p. 27)
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning.

Your proposal should be comprised of: … (an Irish book publisher)
Your proposal should comprise: “Comprise of” is never correct. Would you entrust your manuscript to these people?

The eldest of two sisters … (STim 8/9/19 Culture p. 30)
Elder for two.

And it would have been lovely to have had more pictures. [in a biography of playwright Shelagh Delaney] (Obs 25/8/19 New Review p. 47)
The Double Present Perfect is contentious. Burchfield, in his third edition (NFMEU, 1996) of Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, preferred “to have more pictures”. But Fowler would have approved: “[The] implication is that the thing hoped &c. did not in fact come to pass, & the economy of conveying this without a separate sentence compensates for lack of logical precision.” Butterfield’s fourth edition (BDMEU, 2015) approves, paraphrasing Fowler’s defence. To illustrate:

“I would like (now) to have taken a PhD (when I was 24).” I have this regret now for a past non-action.

“I would have liked (when I was 24) to take a PhD (when I was 24).” I had that aspiration when I was 24 and regretted then that I was not able to do it then.

“I would have liked ten years ago, when I was 45, to have taken a PhD when I was 24.” I had that regret when I was 45 and said to myself, “I would like to have taken a PhD when I was 24.”

Now decades later and helped by shows like Peaky Blinders and Sherlock, [Hanna Hats] handcrafted hats are donning heads around the globe. (IMoS 11/8/19 p. 31)
“Don” is a contraction of “do on”, meaning to put on, like “doff” for “do off”, meaning to take off, as applied to clothing. The writer has apparently seen “don” in association with “hat” and “head” and leapt to the conclusion that “don” means “decorate”. A week of solitary confinement with only a good dictionary for company is recommended.

THE HIGH COURT has ruled that nobody can be granted Irish citizenship if they have spent a single day outside the country in the past year. … Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, foreign nationals wishing to naturalise as Irish have to be legally resident in the State for at least five years out of the last nine (or three out of the last five if married to an Irish citizen). This includes one year of “continuous residence” in the 12 months up to the date of application. (The Journal online 17/7/19)
Several Commenters have pointed out the absurdity of this ruling, but none so concise as Michael Everson: “Surely there is a difference between ‘continuous residence’ and ‘continuous presence’.”

… honing in on Helen … (STim 7/7/19 Culture p. 36)
Homing. This review also has the illogical “centres around”. Perhaps the misuse of “honing” is influenced by the similar-sounding “the series zones in on” as seen on p. 42.)

… Nico was already extraordinary by the time she leant her vocals to songs … (Guardian online 5/7/19)
Lent or loaned. “Leant” and “leaned” are the past and past participle of “lean”.

That gas comprises into large molecular clouds … (Great Lakes Ledger online 23/6/19)
Compresses, possibly. The rest of the article is likewise befuddling.

“There’s this misnomer that people of colour come out of the womb knowing how to talk about race in a more sophisticated way than anyone else.” (quoting Elaine Welteroth, the “new Queen of Woke” and former editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, STim 9/6/19 Magazine p. 8)
Misconception or misunderstanding. “Misnomer” means “wrongly named”, ie, wrong word.

The bishop, deep in thought, grasps a mitre. (Guardian online 15/6/19)
In a photo of four of the priceless medieval Lewis Chessmen, the bishop stares straight ahead with his right hand in a gesture of blessing while holding a crosier in his left. The mitre is on his head, where it belongs. Another figure fares little better. “The queen, right hand to her cheek, has the look of saucer-eyed ennui familiar to any woman who has ever been sent an unsolicited photo of an intimate nature.” More likely toothache or boredom. Writers’ attempts to appear clever often betray their ignorance.

Note the expression “documents that you’ve described”. Note the use of the present tense. (Guardian online 2/6/19)
It’s Present Perfect, which is used to connect the past with the present.

… temperatures in Atlanta are gonna continue to eke up over the next few days … (BBC online 22/5/19, apparently an American weather forecast)

[The Press Council of Ireland] is comprised of 13 people … (ad written by the Press Council, STim 19/5/19 p. 3)
Comprises 13 people.” “Comprise(d) of” is never correct.

… there was nothing he could do to reign Daenerys in … (RTÉ online 20/5/19)
Rein Daenerys in”. Control with reins, like a horse.

[The sculpture Rabbit] is one of Jeff Koons’ most well-known pieces. (BBC online 16/5/19)
“Koons’ best-known pieces”.

On top of that, there are stellar flares, galactic flashes, and comets or asteroids hoving into view … (“Gravitational waves hunt now in overdrive”, BBC online 3/5/19)
Heaving. “Hove” is the past tense of “heave”. “Hoving” is not a real word. Even the unreliable MS Spellcheck caught this, but it unhelpfully suggests “having, hiving, hoping, holing, honing”.

A scheme for a disused airfield to serve as an emergency lorry park for freight are part of no-deal plans that kick in tomorrow. (Obs 24/3/19 p. 1.10)
“Scheme … is.”

… if the worst comes to the worst … (STel 17/3/19 Sunday p. 4)
If worse comes to worst is the normal form of this expression. Logically, if a situation is already worst, it can’t become worst. There is increasing evidence that writers parrot what they have heard without understanding the meaning of the words.

We don’t know from whence these roaming monsters came … (STim 10/3/19 Culture p. 45)
Whence without “from”.

What is new in Brown’s book are the assertions … (STim 10/3/19 Culture p. 39)
“What is new … is” or “what are new … are”. What, as a subject, can be regarded as singular or plural, depending on the number of the ‘object’. E.g. ‘What he wants is help’ and ‘What he wants are helpers’ are both correct …” (DEU). [The correct term for “object” here is “subject complement”.]

Rather than launch an investigation into Smith, Steel said he allowed him to continue in office and waived through a recommendation for a knighthood. (Guardian online 14/3/19)
Waved. “Waive” means to refrain from doing something or rejecting it. “Wave through” means to not raise any objection. Steel waived his right to obstruct the recommendation.

[head] “Right here in the banks there’s literally hordes of stuff.” (ITim online 6/3/19)
Hoards” for lots of things, “hordes” for lots of people.

[sub-head] a kamize-style [sic] drone… Kalashnikov has just announced a kamikaze-style drone. … something that should be actively negated than drooled over. (Obs 3/3/19 p. 46, “May I Have a Word?” column)
For “kamize” the sub-editor was asleep at the keyboard. “Negate” usually applies to an opinion, legal or political stance, or rule or law. The more concrete “oppose, combat, resist” would be more suitable. “Rather than.”

Australian scientists are celebrating the discovery of a method that allows them to turn CO2 into coal, but this doesn’t mean it will be used for fuel… In the meantime, all we can hope is that our distant ancestors don’t decide to use this coal as fuel. (Silicon Republic online 27/2/19)
Descendants. Foreign learners of English frequently make this mistake, but native speakers should know the difference.

After 530 days, they are reportedly said to still be working. (PCTech online 27/2/19)
Redundant. “Reportedly” and “said to be” have the same meaning. “They are reportedly still working” or “they are said to still be working.”

These pronouncements are from Lost for Words: The Mangling and Manipulating of the English Language, John Humphrys, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2004.
“As one of our cardholders, I should like to …” This is known as a dangling clause. (p. 78)
Phrase. A clause is a group of words with a subject and verb. “As one of our cardholders” lacks a verb.
Both “and” and “but” are useful words with which to begin a sentence – or even end one with. (p. 89)
The author may have been illustrating his comment that he often ends a sentence with a preposition, but the second “with” is redundant. Also (apart from this one), when is it useful to end a sentence with “but”? Perhaps the author was thinking of an example like, “I’ve been patient with you so far, but …” In that case, the ellipsis indicates one or more missing words, so the sentence does not end with “but”.
[Pedants] will avoid a split infinitive however convoluted the resulting sentence may sound. (p. 20) … I loathe split infinitives. (p. 241)
“You were called at 5.32 p.m. today. The caller withheld their number.” Aargh! You don’t have to be a strict grammarian to scream at the notion of using a plural pronoun to refer to a singular subject. (p. 288)
“Their” is an adjective, not a pronoun. “Traditional grammarians aside,” wrote Robert Burchfield in his 1996 The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, “such constructions are hardly noticed any more or are not widely felt to lie in a prohibited zone.”

… was abruptly shut off yesterday after her party caved into a command from the king … (Obs 10/2/19 p. 1.15)
Caved in to.

There is a sweetness here – trace it back to Charles Schulz – that both mitigates against the story’s existential sadness and deepens it, somehow. [review of Off Season by James Sturm] (Obs 3/2/19 New Review p. 53)
Militates [fights] against” or “mitigates” [softens]. “Mitigates”, from Latin mitis – “mild”, means that it lessens the effect; “against” belongs with “militate” but not “mitigate”.

Since 1988, the Californian Building Industry Association has put up stickers in new homes containing MDF …
(Guardian 21/9/97, accessed online 9/2/19)
California. “Californian” is a noun. The name of the state is used as the adjective, for example in songs such as “California Girls”, “Arkansas Traveler”, “Texas Tears” (“Damn you, you lyin’ Texas woman”), etc. The California Building Industry Association spells its name thus.

Acosta has had a number of public clashes with Trump in the last two years of his presidency. (Guardian online 1/2/19)
“The past two years.” The last two years – if he lasts that long – have just started.

[Commentary cartoon: huge box arrives from Amazon, recipient takes book out of excessive packing material with the title] “Saving the Environment Forward by David Attenborough” (IMoS 6/1/19 p. 20)
Foreword, ie, the words at the front (fore) of the book.

However, recent measurements indicate that the Large Magellanic Cloud has nearly twice as much dark matter than previously thought. (PhysOrg online 4/1/19)
“Twice as much dark matter as.”

[About slime molds] In fact, the ability to move with this kind of purpose and efficacy is a common defining feature of living creatures, maybe the essential building blocks of consciousness, and are the point at which physics meets biology. (Evolving Science online 28/12/18)
Efficiency. “Efficacy” is normally used for medical treatments.

the chance of finding more survivors alive was slim. (Guardian online 25/12/19)
Redundant. If they’re survivors they’re alive.

“In many ways, the concern that investigators like I have is, that we’re sort of in the midst of a natural kind of uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.” (RTE online 10/12/18)
Almost excusable in an oral quote, but the writer should have corrected it to “like me” to save the speaker’s blushes.

The party-pooping Grinch: Defines themself by their faux-superiority and vocal disapproval. They bah-humbug … (STel 9/12/18 p. 1.25)
Never “themself”. If you don’t want to say “himself or herself” or “themselves”, rewrite: “The party-pooping Grinches: Define themselves …”

A more powerful blast came in 1908, when an asteroid exploded over a scarcely populated Siberian region on the Tunguska River, wiping away 2,000 square kilometres. (Sputnik International online 23/11/18)

his translator Jane Billinghurst’s compulsive splitting of infinitives [in a review of Peter Wohlleben’s The Secret Network of Nature] (Obs 11/11/18 The New Review p. 50)
No reputable usage authority has ever said that it is wrong to deliberately split an infinitive.

This article was amended on 12 November 2018. An earlier version used the word “alibi” outside of its strict meaning of being elsewhere; this was changed to “excuse”. (Guardian online 12/11/18)
Probably after a nudge from a sharp-eyed reader.

… Vote Common Good is honing in on places that voted in Republican representatives in 2016. (Guardian online 26/10/18)

they levied all manner of criticism at their brother (Guardian online 23/10/18)
Levelled = “aimed”. “Levy” comes from the Latin levāre “to raise”: to levy taxes or an army.

Modern humans may have been wiped out by flu if they had not mated with Neanderthals, a new study suggests. (Independent.ie online 5/10/18)
Might have. “May have” means that it is possible that modern humans were wiped out, but we don’t know for sure yet.

Biographies of ships are very much of the moment – volumes on Endeavour and the Japanese battleship Yamoto have appeared recently – and now Michael Palin heaves into view with another one. (Obs 30/9/18 The New Review p. 50)
At last, an example of the correct use of the nautical term “heave” to counter my swollen collection of “hoves/hoved/hoving”. “Heave” with the meaning of throw or vomit is regular: heave, heaved, heaved. “Heave to” in the nautical sense of slow or stop temporarily is irregular: heave, hove, hove. “Hoves/hoved” is incorrect but common among landlubbers.

Through much of the 20th century, Piaget seized the reigns of child development, insisting that children had to reach a developmental stage before learning could occur. (Aeon online 13/9/18)

Winds of up to 145kph swirling 565km wide … 40in of rain … 18 trillion gallons of rainfall … (IMoS 16/9/18)
Many older people have only a vague notion of metric measurements, and few young people are familiar with imperial amounts. Until the non-metric generations have passed on, it’s best to use both systems rather than switch from one to the other in the same article: “145kph (90mph), 565km (351 miles), one metre (40in) of rain, 68 trillion litres (18 trillion gallons) of rainfall.”

Woodward prefers to talk about Trump’s trade war than potential nuclear war, and that prospect is disturbing enough. (Guardian online 14/9/18)
Rather than.

“These striking results also illustrate the importance of considering the wider impacts of climate policy to avoid negative health impacts, as occurred with diesel vehicles, and ensure positive co-benefits and win-win outcomes, so that actions to mitigate against climate change benefit air quality and vice versa.” (RTE online 14/9/18)
“Mitigate (reduce the effect of) climate change” without “against”, or “militate against climate change”. “Mitigate” and “against” do not go together.

However O’Brien remains skeptical … (The Journal.ie online 12/9/18)
Sceptical. “Skeptical” is the American/Canadian spelling.

Gillian Martin, from the RGA [Restricted Growth Association], said the event was a “Victorian spectacle” that harps back to “freak shows, carnivals, travelling troupes” for people to “poke fun” at those with disabilities. (BBC online 12/9/18)
Harks, that is, listens.

… Colorado’s Michael Bennet and Delaware’s Chris Coons, the latter of which then went on to … (Guardian online 10/9/18)
“Latter of whom.” “Which” is for things.

But this industry [of self-described psychic mediums] rife with scammers attracts plenty of true believers, like Siréne, whose motives seem entirely immaterial. (Guardian online 10/9/18)
Non-material. “Immaterial” means of no importance or relevance.

In a note on his website, Moore described his new film as a “siren call” to “a despairing, dispirited public who must – MUST – do its job and end the madness at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue”. (Guardian online 7/9/18)
“Siren” can mean a warning device or an aquatic salamander or a birdlike female who enticed sailors to destruction with irresistible music, whence the metaphor of a siren song that lures a person into making a wrong decision. Moore probably means “warning siren” or “wakeup call”. See “siren sound” below.

1760s … a £100 banknote – worth £22,000 (€25,000) in today’s money … (STim 17/6/18 p. 1.18)
Many writers fail to give modern equivalents.

That scratching sound you can hear are the rats snatching their bags … (Guardian online 6/9/18)
Is. “Sound” is singular.

Worse, he even admits it might be impossible to reign in the Moneylanders. (STim 2/9/18 Culture p. 35)

It was claimed that the primary point of the challenge was that the proposed development convened the policies and objectives of the council’s own development plan for the area. … the decision materially contravened the 2017-2023 Fingal County Council Development Plan. (The Journal.ie online 1/9/18)
Second guess lucky. “Contravened” is the correct one.

The judge directed that the application for permission to bring the challenge is made in the presence of the representatives for Fingal County Council … (The Journal.ie online 1/9/18)
Be made. This is subjunctive.

As Irish Rail increases Dart frequencies, fewer trains will stop at Portmarnock [head] Irish Rail is making changes to its train schedule from this month that will mean more frequent Darts, but will also result in less trains passing through Portmarnock. (The Journal.ie online 2/9/18)
“Fewer” is the correct one.

The division comprises of 15 imprints; Book Sales, Cool Springs Press, … (Quarto Publishing Group USA entry in the 2019 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, Bloomsbury, 2018)
Consists of.

In The Federalist Papers Number 10, written by James Madison in 1787, “faction” is defined as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a minority or majority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed [“adverse” in some versions] to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.”
Averse. The online Oxford Dictionary explains the difference clearly:
“The two words adverse and averse are related in origin but they do not have the same meaning. Adverse means ‘unfavourable or harmful’ and is normally used of conditions and effects rather than people, as in adverse weather conditions. Averse, on the other hand, is used of people, nearly always with to, and means ‘having a strong dislike or opposition to something’, as in:
I am not averse to helping out.
“A common error is to use adverse instead of averse, as in:
He is not adverse to making a profit.

[The film Se7en] puts Dante, Chaucer and Milton in the line-up of suspects, albeit as the classic authors upon which a serial killer draws upon for murders inspired by the seven deadly sins. (STim 6/5/18 Culture p. 43)
Either “upon whom a serial killer draws” or “who a serial killer draws upon”. Choose only one. “Who/whom” is for people, “which for things.
Also, the use of the elegant “albeit”, here as elsewhere, demonstrates that commentators who dismiss the word as archaic or obsolete don’t read enough.

… there are alternative options. (Irish Times online 15/8/18)
Purists insist that this is redundant: “there are options” or, somewhat contentiously, “there are alternatives.”

However, the roads around Newbridge and Kildare looked very different to what they do now. (The Journal online 15/8/18)
The American form, which is increasingly used in Ireland and the UK, would be “looked very different than they do now”. Current usage allows that “than” is a conjunction when it is used as one.

… FreeHacks, one of the largest hacking forums on the internet. It’s a Russian community which aims to collectively gather its resources in order to maximize efficiency and knowledge dispersement. (Guardian online 24/7/18)
Dispersal, ie, the spreading – literally “scattering” – eg, of information. The writer has confused it with “disbursement”, which refers only to the distribution of money – literally “sending out from the purse”, from the Latin bursa = “purse” from the Greek býrsa. “Dispersement” is not a recognised word, appearing usually as a misspelling of “disbursement” or an error for “dispersal”.

[Democrats] want to push for the release of Trump’s tax returns, lest they reveal compromising business ties to Russia. (Guardian online 22/7/18)
In case they reveal. “Lest” means “so that … not”. Trump might not want his tax returns released lest they reveal compromising business ties to Russia.

Team Sky strongly rebutted both claims while Wiggins said at the time: “I strongly refute the claim that any drug was used without medical need.” (Guardian online 21/7/18)
Rejected/reject or disputed/dispute. Rebut: argue against a statement, using evidence. Refute: disprove a statement. At the time of the publication of this article, Team Sky had not presented evidence against the parliamentary inquiry’s accusation, and Wiggins had not disproved it.

The jet stream north-west of the Isles will move eastward into Scotland that will bring unsettled weather. (Obs 22/7/18 p. 1.63)
… Scotland, which will bring unsettled weather.

ITV asked Susanna Reid and I to host a one-off edition of Good Evening Britain … “Oh!” whelped Susanna, her face contorting with horror. (IMoS 8/7/18 TV Week p. 3)
The style of this gossip column is casual and, of course, gossipy, so it may be a bit harsh to mention that it should be “Susanna Reid and me”. But it seems unlikely that Piers Morgan’s co-host really did give birth to a puppy on live TV, so I suggest that “yelped” would have allayed any misunderstanding.

It seemed that – somewhat akin to Stonehenge – the saywas [ancient stone pillars] had a simultaneous calendrical, ritual and political purpose. The uncannily precise solar phenomenon above the Inca stonework was designed to broadcast the “sacred power” of the Inca, even 1,000 miles away from Cuzco, Sanhueza suggested. Others marked borders between different climactic zones. (Guardian online 16/7/18)
Climatic, referring to climate. “Climactic” is the adjective for “climax”.

According to Defra’s noise map, this is the loudest part of the city – volumes reach the. (Guardian online 3/7/18)
Asleep at the keyboard.

“It was alarming to see one our players surrounded by about 20 people.” (Guardian online 3/7/18)
“One of our players.” Was it the speaker or the writer who dropped the “of”?

And it begins promisingly, honing in on “the company” … (STim 1/7/18 Culture p. 38)
They honed in on the police armoury and a search revealed the toy rifles. (BBC online 27/8/18)
Homing/homed. To hone is to sharpen physically or metaphorically, eg, a knife or ability. Compare: “That helped me and honed me in learning how to be self-sufficient from an early age …” (IMoS 1/7/18 p. 6)

The historian Terence Ranger suggests that the brevity of the [Spanish flu] pandemic, with most of the deaths concentrated over 4 weeks in the autumn of 1918, mitigated against a “conventional vertical historical narrative”. (Lancet online 22/6/18) Volume 391, No. 10139, p2492–2495, 23 June 2018
Militated. “Mitigated” means that it lessened the effect; “against” belongs with “militated” but not “mitigated”.

The pair have weaved together candid interviews, archive material and home video … (STim 17/6/18 Culture p. 15; 1/7/18 Culture p. 15)
Woven. “Weaved” is the past of “weave” when it means to move in a non-linear or erratic manner: the taxi weaved through traffic; the drunk weaved across the street.

It is also the first product of its kind [an antimicrobial spray coating] that can be factory applied on everyday hard surfaces using no toxic bi-products. (ITim 12/4/18 Business p. 7)
Factory-applied. By-products.

Snaps of her well-defined muscles – including an enviably taught derriere … (IMoS 3/6/18 Magazine p. 26)
The writer obviously meant “taut”, but that word means tight as a result of stretching, like a rope or nerves. “Tight”, “trim” or “firm” would be more appropriate. “Taught” can turn up in an Irish context for “thought” when “t” is confused with “th”: “tree” for “three”, for example. “Three trees” can be a struggle.

Leaders of the G7 group are gathering in Canada for what could be one its most acrimonious summits in years. (BBC News online 8/6/18)
“One of its most.” There is an increasing tendency to omit prepositions. Is this ever going to be considered correct?

Norman is enthusiastic and keen, and no one can expect he and Khan to transform London overnight. (Guardian online 30/5/18)

Child mortality is almost twice as high in England compared with Sweden. (Lancet Volume 391, No. 10134, p2008–2018, 19 May 2018 online)
“Compared with” is not incorrect, but it would be more graceful to make the construction parallel: “almost twice as high in England as in Sweden”.

Had the rightwing CP [Conservative Party] won the referendum, and eventually taken the reigns of government, it would have found itself having to pay serious attention to fundamentalists qualms from within the ranks of its own conspiracy theorists. (from The Leopard in the Luggage: Urban Legends from Southern Africa, by Arthur Goldstuck, Penguin, 1993)
Reins. Fundamentalists’. Even MS spell-grammar check flagged these. Goldstuck mentions in this chapter that he was an editor at “he [sic] Weekly Mail”.

North Korea has in the past suggested that Libya may have escaped Western military intervention had it kept its nuclear weapons programme. (BBC online 16/5/18)
Might have – past possibility. “May have” means that we don’t know what happened.

[Crossword puzzle clue] rebut; [puzzle “correct” answer] refute (Obs 13/5/18 p. 1.71)
“Rebut” means argue against a statement, using evidence. “Refute” means disprove a statement. The two words are not synonyms.

Trump considered Romney to be his first secretary of state. (Guardian online 14/5/18)
Considered Romney for. “Considered to be” suggests that Romney was effectively, if not officially, Trump’s first secretary of state.

The new Atlas is actually smaller and lighter than is [sic] forbearer … (Guardian online 11/5/18)
Credit for that goes to Muta’s forbearer the Great Kabuki …
Its forebear. “Forbear” is a verb meaning to refrain from doing something. “Forbearer” is not an appropriate description of a previous model of a robot or the precursor of a wrestler. “Forebear”, which technically means ancestor, can be used for the earlier model or prototype of a machine, and for the Great Kabuki (born 1948), precursor of Muta (born 1962).

David Fincher’s dark thriller puts Dante, Chaucer and Milton in the line-up of suspects, albeit as the classic authors upon which a serial killer draws upon for murders inspired by the seven deadly sins. (STim 6/5/18 Culture p. 43)
Upon whom. “Which” is for things. There is one “upon” too many: “authors upon whom a serial killer draws” or “authors who a serial killer draws upon”. (“Whom” is correct only when it directly follows the preposition.)

“We can no longer chock up a large alligator on a beach or coral reef as an aberrant sighting.” (Phys Org online 7/5/18)
Chalk up. Was this a mis-typing or a mis-hearing?

vocal chord problems [in the caption] vocal cords [in the text] (BBC online 8/5/18)
There is frequent confusion between the musical chord and the vocal cords used for singing.

Theresa May says that the chemical attack “cannot go unchallenged”, but that is a politician’s love of intransitive verbs. (Guardian online 12/4/18)
“Challenge” is a transitive verb. Does Simon Jenkins, editor of The Times Guide to English Style and Usage, mean “Passive Voice”, which is the trendy hate object of many editors?

Dean Lomax, a world leading expert on ichthyosaurs from the University of Manchester, compared the [ichthyosaur] bone with other specimens. “It was a giant piece of mandible from an ichthyosaur,” the palaeontologist told BBC News. (BBC online 10/4/18 http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43661647)
Compared … to. “Compare to” means to show the similarities; “compare with” points out differences. Compare (with): “The team used CT scanning to build a 3D model of the [Homo sapiens] bone, and compared it to other human and Neanderthal remains from this time period. It was found to most closely resemble Homo sapiens, as Neanderthal bones are shorter and squatter.” (BBC online 9/4/18 http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-43700703) This could be considered borderline, however, as they were looking for both similarities and differences.

Three economists … have raised questions about the efficacy of the government’s soft drinks industry levy … (Obs 8/4/18 p. 1.21)
“Efficacy” and “effectiveness” both mean “the ability to produce a desired or intended result” (NODE). “Efficacy” is more formal and is normally found in a medical context. Its use here is probably a nod to the desired positive health effect of limiting the intake of sugar.
Compare: “Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is both efficacious and cost-effective for patients with treatment-resistant depression …” (Medscape online 15/5/18)

She is survived by her son Chris, her daughter-in-law, Jenny, … Her husband, Max, died in 2000 and her son, Hugh, died in 2017. (ITim 3/3/18 p. 1.12)
She had two sons, Chris and Hugh. “She is survived by her son Chris” is correct. If she had only one daughter-in-law, “her daughter-in-law, Jenny,” is correct. But “her son, Hugh,” with “Hugh” set off by Non-restrictive Commas, suggests that she had only one son, which we already know is not the case. Compare in a separate article on the same page: “Barry’s daughter Easkey has become one of Ireland’s best surfers.” If the punctuation can be trusted, we know that Barry has more than one daughter.

Restrictive and Non-restrictive Phrases and Clauses are most easily explained with examples. I have four sons, the oldest of whom is Michael, who lives in Texas. When I say, “My son Michael lives in Texas,” I restrict the information to that son, and the implication is that I have other sons, who live elsewhere. When I say, “My oldest son, Michael, lives in Texas,” with “Michael” set off by Non-restrictive Commas, I give sufficient information for you to know that my oldest son lives in Texas. “Michael” is in apposition with “son” and gives supplementary, but not essential, information. In “My son who lives in Texas skyped me today,” “who lives in Texas” is a Restrictive Relative Clause that gives essential information restricted to and identifying that son.

Snap quiz: my brother, Bob, lives in Colorado; how many brothers do I have?

[The European Parliament has voted to abolish the twice-yearly time change.] the biannual clock change (STim 1/4/18 p. 1.23)
“Biannual” (also “semi-annual”) is correct for twice-yearly, but it can be confusing since “bimonthly”, “biweekly” and “biyearly” mean both twice a month/week/year and every two months/weeks/years. Avoid ambiguity by using “twice-yearly/monthly/weekly” and “every two years/months/weeks”. Or like P. G. Wodehouse in Much Obliged, Jeeves: “bi-weekly sheet … coming out every Wednesday and Saturday”. But everyone probably agrees that “semi-“, prefixed to “weekly/monthly/annually”, means twice in those periods of time.

It opens with a dead body but is arguably a more literary tale than her previous novels, being more concerned with from where this unhinged woman came. (STim 1/4/18 Culture p. 9)
With where this unhinged woman came from. This awkward phrasing is due to the superstition that a preposition cannot be used to end a sentence.

a woman clambering a tree (STim 1/4/18 Culture p. 39)
“Clambering up or down a tree.” “Clamber” is intransitive: “no obj. with adverbial of direction”, as NODE puts it.

They have conducted a reign of terror among priests they suspect of being gay by threatening to “out” them lest they recant and repent. (Guardian online 24/3/18)
Unless. “Lest they recant and repent” means “so that they do not recant and repent.” But why does the writer use “recant”, which means to withdraw or repudiate a belief or statement?

It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. (Obs 18/3/18 New Review p. 25)
“Up the ante” or “raise the stakes” would be better. “Up stakes” means to leave, usually permanently, and the phrase could make a reader pause unnecessarily to work out exactly what the writer means.

with good legroom for we lanky music-lovers (Obs 18/3/18 New Review p. 33)
“For us.” The object of the preposition “for” must be in the objective/accusative case. Also, “music lovers” does not require a hyphen.

None of these messages has anything whatsoever to do with actual health risks to the smoker, but largely focus on the effects on others. (STim 11/3/18 Magazine p. 31)
“None” can be either singular or plural depending on context. The writer has signalled that it is singular here by using the singular “has”, but then switches to the plural “focus”, possibly misled by the plural “risks” a few words earlier. This error in verb number is often due to what NODE calls “Attraction: the influence exerted by one word on another which causes it to change to an incorrect form.”

For one fleeting second, a look of stricken panic crossed the taoiseach’s face. (The Times 16/3/18 p. 5)
A panic-stricken look. The panic wasn’t struck. “Stricken”, the archaic past participle of “strike”, is now normally used only as an adjective, or, as here, in a fossilised or set phrase. “Taoiseach” (pronounced roughly “tee-shock”) is the title of the Irish prime minister.

Throughout the 19th century conservative thinkers invoked Frankenstein to prophecy the dangers to Britain of a radicalized Irish nationalist movement … (Public Books online 9/3/18)
Prophesy is the verb, with the “y” pronounced as a long “i”; prophecy is the noun, with the “y” pronounced as a long “e”.

[This is a bit of a tangent. It’s not a matter of grammar or usage but journalistic style in an article titled “Fresh suspicion over death of whistleblower” in STim 11/3/18 p. 1.12].
“Elmira Medynska, a blonde Ukrainian who stayed in a Paris hotel with the Russian businessman days before his death …”
“… Dr Paul Rice, chief medical officer at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory …”
“… Chris Phillips, former head of the UK’s National Counter Terrorism Security Office.”
Why are we denied a description of Paul’s and Chris’s hair colour? If it’s important to tell us that Elmira is a blonde, surely we should know about the men.

Viewers had trouble seeing tennis balls as they hurled across the court in televised matches … (The Atlantic 15/2/18 online)

It was also reported last week that the president had asked Mr McCabe during an Oval Office meeting whom he voted for. … Mr Trump had reportedly asked Mr McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 US presidential election, according to current and former officials in the report. (same article) (BBC online 29/1/18)
“Who he voted for” is correct. “Whom” is correct only when it directly follows the verb or preposition. Also, ending a sentence with a preposition has never been considered incorrect by reputable usage commentators.

… whose “glass half full” approach to life is as equally impressive as her longevity. (Lancet, Volume 391, No. 10118, p300, 27 January 2018 “Successful ageing”, online 26/1/18)
Redundant. “Is as impressive as” or “approach to life and her longevity are equally impressive.” The article is based on a 2017 book, Enlightened Aging: Building Resilience for a Long, Active Life, published in the United States, where the correct spelling is “aging”.

… in the Third Reich’s desperate last days, as the Red Army circled Berlin … (Obs 21/1/18 New Review p. 50)
Encircled. They didn’t walk around the perimeter, they surrounded the city. “Before the main battle in Berlin commenced, the Red Army encircled the city …” (Wikipedia)

… the British Museum leant the Cyrus Cylinder to Iran … (Obs 21/1/18 p. 1.41)
Lent is the past of “lend”. “Leant” is the British past and past participle of “lean”.

… the quality of the decisions we make are closely linked with their timing. (Obs 7/1/18 New Review p. 33)
“The quality … is closely linked.”

[Storm] Eleanor’s siren sound: “We will run out of luck eventually.” [head] (ITim online 5/1/18)
“Siren” can mean a warning device or an aquatic salamander or a birdlike female who enticed sailors to destruction with irresistible music, whence the metaphor of a siren song that lures a person into making a wrong decision. “Siren sound” points to both warning and invitation and makes the reader pause to work out which is meant. “The sound of Eleanor’s siren” might be clearer, if it’s meant to be a warning.

Joan’s adoptive daughter Christina (IMoS 17/12/17 p. 69)
Adopted. Joan is Christina’s adoptive mother.

Once a character is named a peculiar chemistry begins its work and the character can start to grow until he or she has developed a life and will of her own. (The Author, Spring 2015 p. 13)
Use “they/their” or parallel “he or she” with “his or her”, but be consistent. Commas after “named” and “work” would be helpful.

Clearly, though, it prefers to harvest information than give it. (Obs 17/12/17 p. 1.46)
Rather than give it.

Language app to save “dying” Cornish dialect [head] (STel 10/12/17 p. 1.12)
In the short article, “language” is used twice and “dialect” is used three times. A cynical comment that is more clever than intelligent goes: “A language is a dialect with an army.” Cornwall lacks an army, but Cornish is considered a Celtic language, or, more hair-splittingly correct, the language of a Celtic people.

Ovid’s exile from Rome revoked, 2,000 years later (ITim online 16/12/17)
A privilege is revoked; a punishment is rescinded.

… Trump’s most unique feature – his open deployment of white supremacism … (STim 19/11/17 Culture p. 43)
“Most outstanding” or some other similar adjective. “Unique” is unique and cannot be qualified. There are many supporters of white supremacism, and none of them are unique. Use “most distinctive” as a correct alternative when tempted to say “most unique”.

[About the Mount Agung volcano] The very latest images out of Bali point to a new development, which are volcanic mud flows – or lahars. (BBC online 27/11/17)
“Which is.” “Development”, not “flows”, is the antecedent of “which”, making it singular.

The problem has been Western reticence to allow Beijing to do so [invest in an American oil company]. Trump is simply giving China what it has long wanted. (Independent UK online 9.11.17)
Reluctance. “Reticence” is being shy, reserved, reluctant to speak.

An unsuspecting tern glides above the shimmering Indian Ocean. Suddenly in its humongous mouth and whips it back down into the sea. “The giant trevally,” Attenborough says, in the unflappable tone of a headmaster encountering the school rascal when a pale silvery apparition propels itself out of the water like a tomahawk. It grabs an unsuspecting tern in its humongous mouth, and whips it back into the shimmering Indian Ocean. [review of Blue Planet II¸ BBC] (ITim 4/11/17 Ticket)
Written in haste, edited by food blunder. “If a reader has to read it twice, the sentence has failed.” David Rice, editor of The Rathmines [School of Journalism] Stylebook (RS) “No paragraph should need to be read twice.” Simon Jenkins, editor of The Times 1990-92 and editor of The Times Guide to English Style and Usage (TGESU)

The “English” language has always been an evolutionary language, as it is comprised on many dialects, as well as other (Latin, Greek, German, French and Irish (Erse)) language roots. [comment on an article about changing usage] (Guardian online 2/11/17)
Composed of. This comment is presumably by a non-professional writer, but it shows a common confusion between “comprise” and “compose”. “Comprise of” is never correct, nor is “comprise on”, which I don’t recall seeing before.

Mose Quintero wears a Santa Muerte necklace and bares an unfinished tattoo of her on his chest. (BBC online 1/11/17)
Yes, a photo shows him lifting his shirt to reveal the tattoo on his bare chest, but the verb should be bears.

I love swearing (that sentence is missing an adverb, obviously, but I can’t bear those coy asterisks we have to use). … Thus, simply: “Fucking.” (STim 29/10/17 Style p. 33)
Obviously, you don’t need asterisks to be coy, but the writer is allowed that formally taboo word if she’s quoting her partner.

Government’s newfound commitment brings skeptisism (ITim online 25.10.17)
New-found with a hyphen. Scepticism. The “k” spelling is American. The second “s” is wrong; the word is based on “sceptic”. Perhaps the writer was thinking of “sepsis”, a potentially life-threatening complication of infection, but that’s probably being too charitable.

… the turning radius would be about 23.5km at 670mph. (Obs 22/10/17 The New Review p. 20)
Be consistent. Don’t make the reader dig out the slide-rule.

not sufficient enough (Lancet online 11/8/17)
Redundant. Either “sufficient” or “enough”.

All of which begs the question: does she feel accepted by the critics? (STim 8/10/17 Culture p. 18)
Raises. This incorrect and mindless use of “begs the question” seems to be the norm now.

“And I was, like, nope.” “And I was, like, no, I’m not gonna do that.” “And I was, like, wow.” “… wearing corduroy and elbow pads, with, like, glasses.” (STim 8/10/17 Culture p. 18)
This is a hugely popular 25-year-old Punjabi-Canadian poet talking about being a poet. (Her first collection has sold 1.5 million copies.) Sample poem line: “I long to be a lily pad.” Why not “like a lily pad”? “Like” would make more sense there than sprinkled at random. Man, like (as we used to say back in the 1950s), how did “I was/am like” come to be a substitute for “I said/thought”? It’s not just a youth thing. Many people who were young at some point over the past fifty years pepper their speech with the boring word. Even the ubiquitous “so” needlessly heading a sentence is not quite so annoying.

a dismembered human head (BBC online 26/9/17)
Severed. A head has no members and so cannot be dismembered.

The Return may be as boring to watch as it is engaging; yet the show’s tempo is also its most unique aspect. (Lancet online 16/6/17)
“Unique” is an extreme adjective, like “gorgeous”, and cannot be modified by an adverb such as “very” or “more/most”. However, while it might be argued that one woman can be described as more gorgeous than another – for example, if the speaker has unwisely complimented another woman in front of his wife – “unique” is unique in that it absolutely positively can be used to describe only one thing: “the one and only”.

the revelations have lended credence to the findings (Guardian online 21/9/17)
Lent. A three-year-old just beginning to come to terms with irregular verbs could be forgiven for this lapse, but not a professional journalist.

They also found that partial sleep deprivation (sleep for three to four hours followed by forced wakefulness for 20-21 hours) was equally as effective as total sleep deprivation (being deprived of sleep for 36 hours). (The Irish News online 21/9/17)
“Was equally effective as” or “was as effective as”. “Equally as” is never correct. Fowler (MEU, FMEU) called it “an illiterate tautology”.

soul survivor … a town were dancing is banned (IMoS 31/8/17 TV Week p. 31)
Sole. Where. Standards for the TV section aren’t high, but still …

When you listen to Joe Biden, though, you’ll remember that things we’re always like this … (bustle.com online 14/9/17)
Were. Add “we’re” to the confusion between “were” and “where”.

… Russian President Vladimir Putin was attempting to put his finger on the electoral scale in favour of the Republican. (BBC online 13/9/17)
Thumb. You finger or put your finger on a thing or a person to identify them, often as a culprit. A butcher puts his thumb on the scale to make the thing being weighed appear heavier.

Mrs Clinton compares Russian influence to the equivalent of a major outside political action committee contributing to a candidate. Of course, the Democrat had plenty of those kind of organisations at her disposal … (BBC online 13/9/17)
Those kinds or that kind.

… part of the reason why the nation didn’t know about the evidence implicating Russia in election meddling until after the election is because … (BBC online 13/9/17)
“Reason … is that.” The redundant “why” is considered incorrect by purists, but it’s barely a misdemeanour.

So it can be something of a relief when a familiar landmark hoves into sight … (BBC News online 10/9/17)
Heaves. “Hove” is past tense, and “hoves” is not a proper word. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly common. Please, writers, read a dictionary. It’s a vital tool of your profession.

[Hurricane Harvey] dumped as many as 50 inches of rain in some parts of Houston … [Hurricane Irma could bring] water levels up to three metres above normal levels, rainfall of up to 25 centimetres … (AFP agency via the journal.ie online 5/9/17)
“As much as 50 inches.” It’s an amount. You wouldn’t say the storm damage could be as many as $180 million dollars. Also, use either all inches or all metres, or both each time, like the BBC: “It may cause rainfall of up to 25cm (10in) in some northern areas and raise water levels by up to 3m (9ft) above normal levels. … moving at a speed of 20km/h (13mph).”
And by the way, why is it “mph” but not “kph”?

The government said the tunnel would be at least 1.8 miles long and would follow the existing route of the A303 but a further 50 metres from the site than was proposed earlier this year. (Guardian online 11/9/17)
Either metric or imperial consistently, or both, as in the BBC example above.

By no means all the expert input is negative, though. (STim 27/8/17 Culture p. 38)
Sentence inversion shows emphasis. “By no means” is one of several phrases that can introduce an inverted sentence: verb-subject instead of subject-verb. The correct form is: “By no means is all the expert input negative, though.”

best-practise guidance (STel 2/9/17 p. 1.6)
UK spelling is “practice” for the noun, “practise” for the verb. It’s a noun here, so practice. US spelling is “practice” for both noun and verb.

“The guard would have lost his arm if not for the first aid given to him by members at the scene. … Thankfully, he is now expected to make a full recovery, but this may not have been the case if not for the medical assistance given by a colleague.” (quoted on Buzz.ie online 31/8/17)
“This might not have been the case.” “May” means we don’t know the result. “Might” shows that it was the case, but that there was a possibility that the outcome could have been negative: “The guard would have lost his arm if not …”

A wooden café serving panini also sells postcards of the lava flow that flattened the previous café which stood on the very same spot. (Guardian online 27/8/17)
The report is from Sicily. “Panino” is the Italian for one of those sandwiches; “panini” is the Italian plural. However, the word “panini” has been naturalised into English as singular and is correct in English. “Paninis” is the correct English plural. Those who disagree don’t seem to have a problem with ordering “two pizzas”. The correct Italian plural is “pizze”.

[subhead] Donald Trump’s pardon of Joe Arpaio takes him into uncharted territory … [text] Martin Redish, a professor of constitutional law at Northwestern University, suggested that this takes Trump into unchartered territory … (Guardian online 27/8/17)
Uncharted is correct.

Setanta was a mythological youth who slayed Culainn’s guard dog with his hurl and sliotar, and then offered to take his place, earning the name Cúchulainn – Culainn’s hound. (STim 27/8/17 p. 1.6)
Slew is the past of “slay” when it means “kill”. “Slayed” is the past when it means to impress an audience. Culann is the dog owner’s name, so Culann’s should be used for the English genitive. “Chulainn” is the Irish genitive, making the boy’s new name Cú Chulainn, or “Cúchulainn” in the usual modern form. Alternative versions say eight-year-old Setanta strangled the dog with one hand or swung it by the hind legs and dashed its head against a stone. The strangling variant is depicted in the Setanta Wall mosaic mural – on the far left – in Dublin:

What makes the stonewort “starry” are white clusters of tiny bulbils … (ITim 19/8/17 Weekend Review p. 6)
“What makes the stonewort ‘starry’ is” or “what make the stonewort ‘starry’ are.” It’s the writer’s choice: “what” can be singular or plural in this structure, but not both at the same time.

The unusually large [radio telescope] dish in an isolated area of Guizhou province needs radio silence to hone in on potential signs of alien life and distant pulsars … (Gizmodo online 24/8/17)
Home in.

The cogs whirred, the shafts span … (BBC online 21/8/17)
“Why didn’t electricity immediately change manufacturing?”
Spin/spun/spun. “Span” is archaic for the past of “spin”.

When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?
(John Ball, 14th-century priest and social activist)

[Trump’s] ignorance of American history, his flaunting of political and constitutional traditions … (Guardian online 20/8/17)

“I’m not towing the line when I say BBC3 is an incredible channel – it has evolved and found itself,” she says. (Guardian online 13/8/17)
She more likely said “toeing”.

A number of famous voices also leant their support … (Obs 13/8/17 p. 1.27)
Lent is the past of “lend”. “Leant” is the British past and past participle of “lean”.

In 2014, legislators in Tasmania, Australia, proposed a more radical variation on a tobacco prohibition called the “tobacco free generation.” If enacted, the law would prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone born after the year 2000—forever. … The proposal polls at roughly 75 percent support in Tasmania, but the current center-right government is not likely to move it forward. “They are disinterested in the idea, and have close ties with the tobacco industry,” Barnsley says.
“What Will It Take for the Remaining 19 Percent of Smokers to Quit?” (Tonic online 9/8/17)
Uninterested. If they have close ties with the tobacco industry, they can hardly be called disinterested, that is, lacking a vested interest. Also: “tobacco-free generation”.

… Noa, studious and intellectual, and Mozasu, passionate but disinterested in education. (ITim 5/8/17 Weekend Review p. 11)

The Takeover Panel censored Kraft after it broke the promise it made during the five-month takeover battle to keep open Cadbury’s Somerdale factory in Somerset. (Obs 6/8/17 p. 1.38)
Censured. The Telegraph 26/5/10: “Takeover Panel blasts Kraft over Cadbury takeover” [head]: “The Takeover Panel has publicly criticised Kraft Foods … it rebuked Kraft …”

Playing a video game is not an excuse, just as being drunk or angry does not give anyone free reign to use racist insults. (Guardian online 11/9/17)

If the third world war was reigning down around them … (ITim 4/8/17 p. 10)
Raining. Even MS spell check picked up this one. Perhaps journalism students should be required to read a concise dictionary from cover to cover.

Another former trainee said that they had decided to leave after just over a year of working for Capita and had been asked to pay about £21,000. After protesting, the trainee ended up without her last month of pay, or about £1,200.
“I think they knew I was vulnerable as I started as a graduate,” the trainee said. The trainee sought a new job after finding they were being used to “fill HR gaps” rather than being given roles suitable to her training. (Guardian online 28/7/17)
Reputable usage authorities sanctioned the use of “they/their” with singular pronouns in the 1980s, though not everyone has caught up with the dispensation. But consistency is required. In the first paragraph, “trainee … they” in the first sentence and “trainee her” in the second require the reader to look back to confirm that “they” and “her” refer to the same woman – probably. The second paragraph is confusing: the first “they” obviously refers to the employer, and the second “they” probably refers to the female employee, though possibly to herself and fellow employees. At least “her” is clear.
When the sex of the person referred to is known, the specific personal pronoun and adjective should be used.

“This is Brendan my sister Leslie’s second child!! They were the one person selected to represent their school …” [quoting actress Jennifer Lopez] (Irish Examiner online 26/7/17)
Non-binary Brendan-self seems to prefer the gender-neutral language.

… high school cigarette smoking rates are more than twice as high in West Virginia than in California. (The Lancet online 6/7/17)
“Twice as high in West Virginia as.”

… I would have liked to have known more about Tom’s sea journeys, for example … I mean it as a compliment when I say that the novel could have been twice as long and equally as engaging. (ITim 8/7/17 Weekend Review p. 11)
The Double Present Perfect – “would have liked to have known” – is often used incorrectly, but here it expresses a thought in the most efficient way. “Equally as” is never correct. “Equally” alone is sufficient.

Republicans were reluctant to condemn Donald Trump Jr over the revelation that he met a Russian lawyer whom he was told was part of a Kremlin attempt to undermine Hillary Clinton. (Guardian online 12/7/17)
Who is the subject of “was part …”

“That’s something Mr Mueller and them will have to determine,” he said. (Guardian online 12/7/17, same article as above.)
“Them” is probably short for “the rest of them”, and, while the shortcut sounds too colloquial for a person in a prominent position, a lot of slack is allowed for an error in speaking that would not be acceptable in writing.

… I was able to provide templates for my wife and I … (Obs 9/7/17 New Review p. 5)
Me is the object of the preposition “for” and must be in the objective (accusative) case. Test: say with/from/to/for followed by “I”. Doesn’t “with I” etc. sound funny? Rule: if it sounds funny, it’s probably wrong. The problem may be due to over-correction in childhood of “Me and Jim are going out.”

The South Korean destroyer Yang Manchun was seeing firing an anti-ship missile. (BBC online 6/7/17)
Seen. This is an increasing error, like “been/being”. Do the writers really not know the difference?

Summer days in Ireland have hit the late twenties … (IMoS 2/7/17 p. 4)
High or upper twenties.” “Late twenties” describes the age of people.

A DPP official requested the high fees be paid to the prosecuting team so they were also paid to the defence team, as per parity regulations. (IMoS 2/7/17 p. 1)
This correct use of the subjunctive – “requested … be paid” – in the same sentence as the indicative – “were also paid” – perfectly illustrates the difference between the two moods. Few writers nowadays seem to understand the form. Burchfield (NFMEU, 1996) notes that the subjunctive is increasingly common in British and other forms of English. In NFMEU, he explains the use comprehensively but clearly and succinctly in less than two pages.

these sort of tweets (ITim 30/6/17 p. 1)
This sort of tweet” or “these sorts of tweets” are preferred to keep the format parallel.

Gardaí [Irish police] were called to diffuse the situation, but it was several hours before normal service resumed. (Irish Examiner online 17/6/17)
Defuse, to metaphorically remove the fuse from a device to prevent an explosion. More than a hundred teenagers were drinking on a railway platform, disrupting train service.

… AD60, when the town of Londinium was razed to the ground … (STim 18/6/17 p. 1.12)
Redundant. As Bill Bryson (DTW/TW) points out: “The ground is the only place to which a building can be razed.” One overly influential commentator used the doubly redundant “completely razed to the ground” to describe an area where facades of buildings were still standing, making it inaccurate as well. The root meaning of “raze” is “shave, scrape”, like a razor.

Davis and Johnson put May on the spot by asking if she were going to modify the uncompromising stance she had set out in January to leave the single market and the customs union. (STim 18/6/17 p. 1.11)
“If she was.” “If” does not always introduce a subjunctive. Burchfield noted (NFMEU, 1996) that the subjunctive is increasingly common in UK and US usage, so writers should study a reputable usage guide to familiarise themselves with the form.

Pages of a diary revealing a spell has been cast over some clues, and a new friendship with a group of runaways provides others. (ITim 10/6/17 Weekend Review p. 13)
A slip/asleep at the keyboard or editorial interference? Replace “over” with offer and it makes sense. The parallel construction is “pages … offer” and “friendship … provides”.

Burlington [Vermont] charges three times less than nearby Flint, Michigan … (IMoS 11/6/17 p. 93)
Nearby? The cities are 673 miles apart.

a Macedonian doctor-come-designer (Obs 11/6/16 Magazine p. 27)
The short way to describe a doctor who is also a designer is “doctor-cum-designer”. You don’t need to be a Latin scholar to know that “cum” means “with”.

If you said you were going round the Isle of Wight, most people would presume you were doing it in a boat. (Obs 11/6/16 Magazine p. 50)
They probably wouldn’t. Going round an island means travelling to various places on the island. Circumnavigating it in a boat is “going around”. Nicholas Bagnall, author of A Defence of Clichés and Newspaper Language, has commented: “I’m rather sorry that round and around have become confused … Now, if someone asks you ‘Would you like to go around the island?’ you can’t be sure whether to put on the brogues or the seaboots.”

It would also need to reign in Doha’s stable of media outlets, including the satellite news channel Al Jazeera. (Bloomberg Politics online 15/6/17)
You don’t need to be a horseman to know what “rein in” means.

That Basque request to move the painting [Guernica] has been rebuffed for technical reasons. (ITim 3/6/17 News Review p. 5)
[Crossword] Refute (5). [Answer] Rebut. (The Herald [Ireland] 9/6/17)
Rebuff, rebut, refute, rebuke, reject, deny, confute, dispute, and the newly coined refudiate are frequently confused with one another. “Rebuffed” above is correct.

The team could tell who was whom based on their microbiome … (The Atlantic online 6/6/17)
“Who was who.” The second “who” is a predicate nominative.

The Granard Motte, which over 150m above sea level, was build in 1199 by an Anglo-Norman Knight. … [quoting Gardaí (Irish police)]: “Gardaí in Granard are investigating an incident of criminal damage to a monument ‘Granard Motte’ which occurred at Church Quarter between 25/06/17 and 01/06/17.” (Irish Mirror online 6/6/17)
This is an example of why tabloids are not the focus of this blog and the book English Like It Is. “Which is over”, though elevation above sea level is meaningless for an inland location; the motte stands about 30 feet (9m) above the surrounding terrain. “Was built.” “Anglo-Norman knight. “Between 25/06/17 and 01/06/17”? Time moves at a leisurely pace in this hospitable midland town, but not backwards.

… the film becomes significantly less amusing every time he hoves into view. (IMoS 28/5/17 p. 72)

Were you to look solely at Hills’ grocery bills, you might think she were in dire financial straits; it would look like she spends all her money there, and they never give her any back. (NPR online 30/5/17) http://www.npr.org/2017/05/30/530747971/trump-is-worried-about-the-trade-deficit-with-germany-he-shouldnt-be
“You might think she was.” This is not a subjunctive.

The book is comprised of 13 linked short stories … (STel 21/5/17 p. 1.25)
Comprises” or “is composed of”. “Comprised of” is never correct.

The publication his dystopian trilogy 1Q84 (2009-10) was hailed as a “global event” by The Guardian. (STim 14/5/17 Culture p. 36)
“Publication of.”

Hope and history may struggle to scan convincingly, but, then, when have they ever? (STim 14/5/17 Culture p. 39)
 “When have they ever not?

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.

“If you pass beyond this point you are on a premises. The occupiers of these premises …” (sign on O’Connell Street, Dublin, 2017)
“‘Premises’ includes land, water and any fixed or moveable structures thereon and also includes vessels, vehicles, trains, aircraft and other means of transport.” (Occupiers Liability Act 1995, 1.1, Ireland) In this Act, “premises” is preceded either by no article or by “the”, never by a specifically singular or plural article. Perhaps the authors of the Act didn’t want to commit themselves.

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.

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, 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.

BDMEUFowler’s 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

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