Category Archives: language

Modern English : Fowler’s version and more

Fowler’s Modern English Usage

well-thumbed old book, open

Image by Anja from Pixabay

When I was a child, one of my mother’s friends gave me a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage. It was a very special present and pretty battered. She bought it when she was working at the BBC during the War.

Clearly it had seen a lot of use. She worked with a bunch of engineers who were always asking her about grammar whenever they had to put anything in writing.

She gave it to me after she’d asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I had said, loftily, that I was already doing it. (I was eight or nine. Violet Elizabeth could have taken my correspondence course.) The answer, of course, was, “Tell stories.”

To her great credit, she didn’t hoot with laughter. Instead, she disappeared into her study and returned with the well-thumbed object under reference.

“You’ll be needing this,” she said. Continue reading

Gender-neutral pronouns : Pedantique-Ryter not ranting

Useful, or confusing, or old hat?

3 doors representing options

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Many people now make clear what pronouns they prefer, including gender-neutral ones. How often have you seen “she/her” or “he/him” or “they/them” after an email signature? (Perhaps some are even suggesting “it/it” though I have not noticed any of those.)

The reasons for choosing one option over another are purely for the person concerned and need not be disclosed to anyone else. Nor should anyone else have a say in the person’s choice.
Not even grammar pedants.

So, for once, this is not a rant. More of an exploration.

Regular use of gender-neutral pronouns feels recent. But is it? Continue reading

Divided by a common language? Britspeak vs USspeak

divided by a common language, half and half apple“Divided by a common language” was, I thought, something that Churchill (more from him below) said in relation to the UK and the USA. Checking, I found I was wrong. It was George Bernard Shaw, echoing Oscar Wilde. Never mind who said it. This week, I’ve been finding out how right it is.

It happened like this…

I had submitted a contemporary urban fantasy novel to a New York publisher. The editor came back asking for the full MS. (Cheering in Maitland Manor, natch.) But this publisher specifically asked that all submissions be in US spelling. That made me think.

question markWhat if the US editor doesn’t understand my Brit language? After all, my MS had pavements and lifts instead of sidewalks and elevators. I decided I’d go through the MS and change all the offending words and phrases from British English (BrE) to American (AmE). Wouldn’t take long, I thought.

Er, no. Continue reading

Political buzzwords at pace: a Pedantique-Ryter rant

management goals language projectsDo you speak politics? Can you string a whole series of political buzzwords together and mean, pretty much, nothing at all?

Politics-speak is the art of saying nothing, but with fancy words that sound impressive. At least, they sound impressive to some listeners. And it’s not only politicians who use them.

Often, it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes—often, there’s nothing there at all. word "clarity" with spectacles

For those who aren’t politics junkies, it may be useful to know that when a newspaper runs a story criticising an organisation (or a government), the organisation is usually given a right of reply. That reply often appears in full at the end of the critical article.

Those replies are great places to find political buzzwords.
Or bromides, if you prefer.
Gives you a chance to count them. Or to laugh at their absurdities?

Buzzwords in practice: at pace

Continue reading

Female language: English and French differ. Or do they?

woman against background of questionmarksRecently, I was stopped in my tracks over female language. Specifically French female language. And then I thought about English, and how different it is. Or is it?

What do I mean by “female language”? Well… I suppose I mean the words and phrases used to signify that we are referring to someone female rather than male. It’s an issue in French, because it’s a gendered language. In English, we’re increasingly moving away from gendered language. For example, we don’t talk about actors and actresses any more, just about actors. And in cricket, we have batters, not batsmen. In the fishing industry, we have fishers, not fishermen. Back before the war, the women who painted china were called paintresses. I can’t imagine anyone using that word now, can you? Or—pace Jane Austen—authoress.

The issue arose because, in the book I’m currently working on, there is a reference to a female examining magistrate in Paris. Now, the French for judge is “le juge” and an examining magistrate (the one who oversees the pre-trial enquiry) is “le juge d’instruction”. So far, so fairly OK. One would address such a magistrate as “monsieur le juge”. But what if he is a she? Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter rant: INTO and IN TO?

Did you know that INTO and IN TO are not interchangeable?

Recently, I read the paragraph below in Jonathan Bouquet’s weekly column in the Observer. Jonathan Bouquet (a subeditor on the paper) is almost always on the side of the language angels, but this time…?

goblinOxford University Press has announced its shortlist for word of the year. Its choices are #IStandWith, Metaverse and goblin mode. The first two I am familiar with, but the last… completely stumped. I’ve never seen it or heard it. Apparently, it is “a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives into and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations”. I think it used to be known as slobbishness. (Observer, 27 Nov 2022)

The source of the definition is not specified in the column. It appears to be dictionary.com but the Observer (or Jonathan Bouquet himself?) has misquoted it. See my added red emphasis.
The dictionary.com definition is actually:

Goblin mode is a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives in to and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations. (dictionary.com entry dated 7 Jun 2022)

Subeditors hanging head in shame?
Oh dear.

One would have thought that such an august organ—the Observer was first published in 1791—would know better by now. But in the same edition, I read the following in an opinion piece by no less a person than Isobel Hardman, the Assistant Editor of the Spectator:

…more planning reforms are on the brink of failing, with ministers and whips alike expecting Gove to cave into rebels led by Theresa Villiers who want to make top-down housing targets merely advisory.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter is reaching out to wring necks

a giant monster reaching outHas anyone been reaching out to you lately?
No, I don’t mean reaching out like the monster we see here, though there are monstrous doings afoot.

I’m talking about the nasty kind of reaching out newspeak (© G Orwell) that apparently means “contact” or “get in touch with”. You might have read it, for example, in those interminable emails about how important you, the customer, are to business X and how much X values your input. So they invite you to start “reaching out” to X’s “customer care” team to give X feedback on how wonderful they are (not).

[I may have to come back to “customer care” one of these days.]

Dross, Rubbish, Junk, Debris, Detritus? Take your pick…

Continue reading

Pedantique-Ryter rants on “It Cannot Continue”

lightning in stormy weatherThe front pages thunder:

This [insert rant-worthy issue of choice] is an utter disgrace. It cannot continue.

How many times have you read an opinion like that, whether on front pages or editorial columns?
And what is wrong with it?

Well, the obvious answer to the second sentence—It cannot continue—is a pantomime-style one.
Oh yes it can!
What’s more, it usually does. Even in the worst cases, like war crimes and invasions.

The meaning of “can”

Female climber clinging to the edge. She can.The most common meaning of the modal verb “can” is “to be able to”. Hence it is obvious that “cannot” means “be unable to”.

And saying a disgrace “cannot continue” implies that it is impossible for it to continue, that it will be somehow stopped.
(Possibly by magic?) Continue reading

Back ranting: Pedantique-Ryter leads the cavalry charge

recreation of cavalrymen 19th century

Cavalry re-enactors: Image by Nacho Frontela from Pixabay

Punk Woman pointing finger Or Else!

The Pedant Dame? Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

If you thought I was missing in action lately, you were partly right. It is nearly 18 months since I last posted here. Indeed, it is nearly 2 years since I was last in the UK. Duty calls, you understand, and sometimes overseas. But I am back now, you’ll be relieved to know.

And I can see that things have been going rapidly downhill while I’ve been trapped in southern climes. Britain is much in need of strong and clear leadership and communication.

I am raring to go.
It is right up my proverbial street, after all.

And now that I am back, I intend to See That Things Improve.

So what will change now I’m back?

Continue reading

Inventive Punctuation and the Popular Novelist

exclamation mark in fireLet me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.

Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?

For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.

That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading