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.
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 →
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 →