The other week, when I was reading the news online — I do occasionally use the internet, in case you were wondering — I came across an advert from a major UK bank. It may be one of the largest in the world, but it certainly is not the most educated. The HSBC advert (for it was they!) said, roughly:
The criteria for our offer is X…
Not an exact quote, but the subject of the sentence was the word “criteria” and the verb was definitely “is”. And I decided, on the spot, that I could never, ever bank with HSBC.
Even the authors in the Libertà hive know better.
I mentioned it to dear Sophie on the telephone and I could hear her teeth grinding.
Quite right, too.
Incoherent English? Yes, another bee in the Pedantique-Ryter bonnet.
Radio 4 Today programme in the dock for incoherent speech
In a short interval between my summer educational tours, I happened to be listening to what the pundits maintain is the UK’s “must-listen” political programme — BBC Radio 4’s Today. I heard an interviewer ask a question that was incoherent.
To save that interviewer’s blushes, I shall not repeat the actual words used. The question was roughly along these lines:
“As a supporter of the Rational Incoherence Party, I’m sure our listeners will want to know whether you would support policy X.”
Question: who is the supporter of the RIP? [Note: As far as I know, no political party admits to that name. Perhaps one of them should?] Continue reading →
Mnemonics, as a word, is no advert for English spelling. And English spelling most certainly needs help. What’s the point of that silent M at the start? (Blame the Greeks. Their spelling isn’t easy either.)
English spelling (and pronunciation) may well be the world’s worst. How many students, trying to learn English as a foreign language, have been flummoxed by:
through, thorough, cough, enough, hiccough, sough, dough?
I often have problems with words where changing the spelling changes the meaning: practise/practice and the like. The spellchecker is no help to me with that, of course.
My regular bugbear is affect/effect. I have to stop to work out which is correct when I’m writing.
The Oxford Dictionary tells me that affectand effectare quite different in meaning, though frequently confused. (A statement of the bleedin’ obvious?) Continue reading →
English usage is full of constantly changing meanings. How often do you yell at the radio or TV because some idiot presenter doesn’t know his (or her) English usage? How is it that educated people so often get fairly common words wrong?
English is a vibrant, living language and evolving all the time.
Not always changing for the better, in my pedantic view. But I know I am probably fighting a losing battle against sloppy English.
Changing meanings as words enter more common usage
Some words used to have very specific and precise meanings but have been misused so much that the original meaning has no traction any more.
So, if I say, “We underestimate the enormity of the decimation,” what do I mean? Continue reading →
The images above (in case you were wondering) show various plants from my drought-ridden garden, specifically: rose, ivy, catmint, bay (laurel). Anything strike you about them?
Yes, three of them also provide female names. At least, they do in English.
I don’t think it’s usual to call a baby girl “Catmint”. Unless you know someone called that?
But Rose, Ivy, and Laura (Laurel) used to be fairly common.
Along with Pansy,
the occasional Delphine (Delphinium),
and loads more… Continue reading →
Ravi Naik, a human rights lawyer with Irvine Thanvi Natas, the British solicitor who is leading the case, said the decision “totally vindicates David’s long battle to try and reclaim his data”. He added: “The company put him through such a torturous process over what should have been a very simple subject access request … “
A torturous process? Is it really being suggested that Cambridge Analytica tortured David Carroll?Or was it a process full of twists and turns, excessively lengthy and complex?
In fact, a tortuous process?
Lots of writers confuse the two words, possibly because, in speech, it can be difficult to tell them apart. If the Guardian‘s quote was taken over the phone, it could be a mis-transcription. Or maybe it’s not wrong? Maybe the speaker did in fact mean that it was a process involving or causing torture?
Or perhaps — subversive thought — some of the increasingly common misuse of torturous arises because writers don’t know that two different words exist? Continue reading →
According to Fowler’s Modern English Usage, “between you and I” is to be condemned. Anyone who writes that abomination is living in “a grammarless cavern”.
What we should write,of course, is “between you and me”.
How to tell?
Without going into the grammar technicalities†, ask yourself whether you’d write or say “between I and you”. You wouldn’t. You’d say “between me and you”. Normally, we put ourselves second but that doesn’t change the rule on whether to use “I” or not.
It’s “between me and you”, so it’s also “between you and me”. Continue reading →
Less? Or fewer? This Pedantique-Ryter post is dedicated to that Disgusted of Chelsea (no names, no pack drill) who had this exchange on Twitter recently, after shopping in Marks & Spencer:
Disgusted of Chelsea:
My faith in @marksandspencer is shattered, I tell you, shattered. Their ad at checkout:
“Less worries. More sandcastles.” AAAARGGH. M&S
Is there anything we can do to help? DoC
Very kind but am in shock. Civilisation tottering.
Ideally change wording to “fewer worries” or “less worry”?
Probably not cost effective? M&S We’re sorry you don’t feel we’ve got our ad right.
We’ll share your comments with the team. Thanks DoC It’s like a needle under a nail to me.
Team could try Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage?
Civilisation tottering? Well, maybe DoC’s irony went a bit far there, but Pedantique-Ryter admits to feeling the needle under the nail, too. Fewer? Less? Are they interchangeable? If not, how and when should they be used?
Read on to find out the Pedantique-Ryter answer. Continue reading →
Language is a writer’s basic toolkit. Writers — novelists, playwrights, poets, lyricists, and all the rest — use words to trigger emotional responses or to paint pictures in the minds of their readers and listeners.
How can we fail to see layers of meaning in creations like these?
the wine-dark sea (Homer, Ancient Greece)
sleep that knits up the ravelled sleave of care (Shakespeare: Macbeth, 1606)
nursing her wrath to keep it warm (Robert Burns: Tam O’Shanter, 1790)
moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black (Dylan Thomas: Under Milk Wood, 1954)