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.
One of the casualties of the pandemic has been language. Clarity matters. What, I ask you, is social distancing?
Social distancing? Or is it really physical distancing?
In my (pedant’s) book, social distancing relates to the strata of society.
So… Regency aristocrat Lady Evadne Piddling-Coot is socially distanced from her washerwoman Hattie Gutbucket. If they were to meet — unlikely, one would think — Hattie would drop a curtsey and say nothing. Or, if they met in a confined space such as a staircase, Hattie would turn to face the wall and Lady E would continue on her regal progress as if Hattie were not there at all.
Some fellow pedants have pointed out (in vain, sadly) that social distancing actually means physical distancing. What else could it mean, when we are talking about 2 metres, or 1 metre, or 1 metre plus? Continue reading →
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 →
The fundamental superiority of paper never looked to be in doubt, though. With paper, you didn’t have to wait restlessly for half a minute for the dryer to finish its bloviation. You didn’t have to fear a malfunction. You could dab at spots on your tie, or dry a washed face, or wipe sweat from your brow.
The piece, by Samanth Subramaniam, was about the struggles between the producers of paper towels and hot-air hand dryers to win business in public toilets. I had a context; but the word remained incomprehensible.
I consider myself reasonably well educated and yet I was stumped.
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 →
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 →