Friday, 29 June 2007

This blog will take you a short two minutes to read

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Since television news got its own back on Chris Morris by becoming a parody of his parodies, I don’t expect much from it. Indeed, I watch ITV news as it is the best comedy on ‘the box’ in this age of the insanely unfunny ‘Catherine Tate Show’ and all its flagitious cousins, or rather bastard offspring.

Here comes the naïve part: what I do expect at least from the BBC, however, is some basic adherence to grammatical rules and conventions. Spoken, for instance, in Wednesday’s Ten O’clock News were the words “just a short ten-minute drive”. What is a long ten-minute drive like, then? “A short drive” or “a ten-minute drive”, perhaps. Such defiance towards mathematical reality brings to mind the abhorrent practice of “110%” (as in “I’m going to give…”), formerly an argot exclusive among footballers but now in excruciatingly common use.

This was topped last night, when in their coverage of some kind of floods that have apparently been happening somewhere I’m not and so don’t care about, the BBC sent correspondents to afflicted areas. Aside from the hilariously overblown coverage (if they had cable, and TV’s for that matter, there would have been blokes in Mozambique going “You can’t get to the fridge for milk? YOU CAN’T GET TO THE FRIDGE FOR MILK? Well that’s awful isn’t it? Puts me losing my wife, kids and house into perspective that does, mate”), there was too some truly cretinous language on offer.

My favourite part came when the reporter in some-village-or-other-where-Tories- live used the words “and, of course, farmers not being able to produce crops means less stuff on the shelves”. STUFF? Brilliant. I love stuff. I love eating it, watching it, wearing it, talking it. The lot. All that stuff.

In fact, I’d like to stuff the reporter’s shiny wellies up his arse.

Getting on my goat

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Miss Q from McScotchville writes:

'Dear GrammarBloggers,

In purchasing cheese derived from the milk of a goat, I want to make sure I buy the most ideologically sound brand. I have seen "goats cheese", "goat's cheese" and "goats' cheese" in my local middle-class deli.

Is it the case that there should be no apostrophe because it doesn't actually belong to the goat/s, it just comes from the goat/s?

For which should I plump?'.

All suggestions are as welcome as cheese to a Barnsley-supporting man from Wakefield (are in-jokes strictly a good way to provoke interest in a Blog?)

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Lack of grammatical knowledge is a sackable offence.

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An email that passed through my inbox yesterday (all names and incriminating nouns have been changed):

Afternoon All,

Customer Service - thank-you all for attending the Microsoft Training, everyone has now completed and I have thanked Chris for providing the tours on your behalf.

Hopefully you all learned a few things that will benefit the customer's & your own knowledge.


The errors in this pile of donkey-do stack up more quickly than Dane Bowers' plate at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. Let's have a quick run-through, although obviously I don't have time to pick through every stylistic and technical error.
Afternoon All,
What's this? It's pathetic. Notice how, by capitalising the 'All', the author attempts to half-heartedly formalise the ineloquent, faux-informal 'Afternoon'. What sort of afternoon? The tone, usage and context of this are totally wrong.
Customer Service - thank-you all for attending the Microsoft Training
Why construct the sentence with the addressee at the beginning? And since when has 'thank you' (or the acceptable 'thankyou') been hyphenated? If the author had a decent grasp of written English, she could have rescued this sentence's oddball structure - possibly even making its unusualness appealing. But she couldn't.
everyone has now completed
What? Completed what? This sounds like some sort of pseudo science-fiction terminology; in fact, it wouldn't seem out of place at a Scientology conference.
benefit the customer's &
The coup de grâce. The incorrect apostrophe is good, but the incongruous ampersand is even better.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Stephen Fry can't let a grammar error go uncorrected

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Stephen Fry corrects Alan Davies and explains why, as far as grammar is concerned, "one" is the same as "none".

We all know why Stephen picks on Alan so much; it's because of actual and genuine love.

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Grammar Abuse in Signage - part 3

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From Flickr. Click here to view full size.

Harrogate: bastion of the middle classes; jewel in Yorkshire's crown; sometime purveyor of apostrophe abuse.

I see quite a few examples of place names missing the required possessive apostrophe. Sometimes this has a historical or traditional reason (e.g., someone got it wrong hundreds of years ago and it was never corrected) and sometimes a local authority makes the unforgivable decision to ignore grammar in the name of "branding" (see also NewcastleGateshead - which inspired the naming of GrammarBlog).

However it would seem that Harrogate County Council simply can't make up their minds.

Obviously they're too busy drinking overpriced tea and trying to hide their Yorkshire accents to proof read sign copy.

Ah'll see thee.

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Dislocated English

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I had the misfortune (or stupidity, your call) to dislocate my shoulder over the weekend. I took the opportunity to peruse the walls of Newcastle General Hospital's A&E Waiting Room. All patients in A&E are given a category numbered one to four; category one is for patients with life threatening conditions, while category four is the hammered moron who has yet to realise that A&E is not a toilet. To my disgust, there were glaring errors, both syntactically and semantically in categories 1 and 4. Allow me, if you will, to share the details:
Category 1
These patients are requiring immediate treatment as their life is, or has the potential to be life threatening. These patients are seen first.

Good to know that those patients whose life (not condition) is life threatening, are seen first. Essentially what you're telling me, then, Newcastle General Hospital A&E Waiting Room, is that psychopaths are seen first. Or at least the potential ones. I see no problem there. I felt distinctly Category 1 after reading the description.
Category 4
These patients are well enough or have minor injuries which will wait in turn to see the doctor until all the above mentioned categories have been dealt with.

Since when have injuries had to wait in turn to see the doctor? Surely it would be a good idea to deal with the patients in a given category rather than the categories themselves.

Clearly the descriptions of categories 1 and 4 were written by the mentally incapable.

Monday, 25 June 2007

Nice colon, Mr. Gill.

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This week in his Times column, A.A. Gill, a man for whom a place at the GrammarBlog table is always set, proved that a well used colon is a beautiful thing.
I started with a cup of coffee and a muffin. The coffee was made by someone I heard refer to herself as “coffee overseer of the greater New York area”. What she gave me was the universal coffee-flavoured effluvium that you get from Starbucks: thick and unfocused. The muffin was similarly malco, a sweaty bun that was sweet but stupid.
Even if you overlook the wonderfully eloquent scorn, you have to marvel at the way the colon perfectly tees up the second sentence for the pay off. effluvium that you get from Starbucks: (wait for it, wait for it...)
BLAM! Thick and unfocused.
Generally, I'm a big fan of the dash - it's a modern, versatile piece of kit and very useful when a comma just isn't pause enough. Its major advantage being that it's kind of a maverick punctuation mark — the D.I. Frost of punctuation. It doesn't follow any rules, but by God it gets results. These days its use tends to usurp that of both the semicolon and the colon for this very reason - if there are no rules, it's difficult to get wrong. The writer can therefore sprinkle dashes liberally about his prose without fear of reprise.

However, Mr Gill's mastery of the colon as given me renewed endeavour to use it more myself. Despite the fact that it is unpredictable, unyielding and difficult to get a handle on, the colon just seems to have more dramatic effect, more impact. To extend the analogy, if the dash is punctuation's Frost, the colon is its Jack Bauer.

Lynn Truss is another fan of the colon, as she writes in Eats, shoots and leaves.
Using the apostrophe correctly merely tells the world you aren't a thicko. Using the comma well announces that you have an ear for sense and rhythm, confidence in your style and a proper respect for your reader, but it doesn't mark you out as a master of your craft. But colons and semicolons — well, they are in a different league, my dear!

Before you ask, you would be right to assume one thing: I do think the sun shines out of A.A. Gill's colon.

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Automated grammar

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It really bugs me that Blogger unashamedly tells me that a post has "1 comments". It seems grammar is a problem for application programmers; I suspect this is for two main reasons.
  1. Grammar doesn't follow easily measurable logic.
  2. Application developers' primary language is usually either php or binary as opposed to English.
Nevertheless, surely someone at Google has the brains to sort this simple pluralisation problem.

Facebook tackled a much more complicated issue with their status updates and at least gave it a go before finally giving up.

Maybe we should petition Google to get it sorted, maybe we should start a revolution! Or maybe even a Facebook group!

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French Letters

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After opting to take the Sunday Herald yesterday, I was delighted to find a restaurant review chiding an upmarket eatery for foreign language spelling abuse (You Gimme Hope, Joanna).

This is a double-pronged sin. The restaurant, in their smattered employment of French, have been deliberately abstruse so as to seem better, nay classier, than they really are, and then managed to do that wrongly. This brings to mind broadsheet columnists and their incongruous deployment of Latin phrases.

Malmaison, with your 'Wow-factor suites' and ambiguous invite for us to ‘Eat, drink and sleep it’, welcome to The List.

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Saturday, 23 June 2007

Grammar abuse in signage - part 2

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Potatoe's? Are you fucking kidding me?

I say potato, you say potatoe's...

I found this photo on Flickr, which is the coolest website in the world - despite the awful name.

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When tortoise owners go bad

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I was recently given an anonymous tip off to this website. There I found the most abhorrent apostrophe abuse I have ever encountered. I'm serious, it made me dry heave. The worst example?
Remember you should alway's bring your tortoise indoors at night
That's a new one.
is now officially a mortal enemy of GrammarBlog.

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Thursday, 21 June 2007

Your welcome. Am I?

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Tom recently showed me a sentence from an e-mail he had received. It contained the phrase "Your welcome" in it. The phrase left me somewhat unfulfilled; Tom's welcome is... what, exactly? It seemed to me that the notion was at least worth finishing. Examples would include "Your welcome is warm and cuddly" (unlikely), "Your welcome is awe-inspiring" (weak) or "Your welcome causes me to wish I'd never met you". Anything really, not just "Your welcome".

It's about time people realise that language is a vehicle and, if you can't drive it, leave it to others who can. If you don't understand that the simple utterance "You are welcome" is lovingly abbreviated to "You're welcome", then I wish you'd shut up and never speak or write again.

Don't worry about thanking me for the correction, your welcome.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Lyricist Grammar

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Via Digg I found a good article on bad grammar in pop music by Gina Vivinetto. It contains some great examples of grammar abuse, here is a choice quote:
Enough time has passed that we can now nag Presley about the tunes Treat Me Nice, which should have been Treat Me Nicely, and All Shook Up, which should have been, technically, All Shaken Up, or, preferably, All Shaken.
Good stuff. I love digg for alerting me to a 2 year old article first published in a local paper halfway around the world.

Full article at:


Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Erroneous supermarket possessives and zany shortened forms

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I hate – hate – terms such as "Tesco's" and "Marks's". Where has this possessive (and often incongruously shortened) form come from? The company is called Tesco. It is a Tesco store. Tesco is a massive, rich, corporate behemoth with dubious principles, not a tiny local shop whose owner you're on first name terms with.

If that's bad, 'comedy' nicknames are even worse. "Maccy D's". 'Marks & Sparks'. Bah.

A slight exception to this rant is Sainsbury's. They used to trade as 'J Sainsbury', which, given it is named after one person, you can just about forgive people for referring to as "Sainsbury's". The reason I mention it is that they then rebranded themselves as simply "Sainsbury's", which possibly confused the tiny minds of those who use "Asda's" et al.


Introductory Thoughts From Dan

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Some people see a homeless man in the street and feel inclined to stoop over, offer comforting words and, having felt around in their pocket for a heptagonal silver rather than circular golden coin, throw money into the scabrous beenie hat at his feet. This is exactly how I feel about spelling and grammar misuse, except I don’t want to help its perpetrators, rather kick them repeatedly until they look like the-bloke-with-the- funny-face-in-that-film-with-Cher-and-loads-of-motorbikes.

I even hate that last sentence because of the hyphens, and I WROTE IT. In turn, the capital letters I used there are already making me think about having a glass of wine to calm down (and no doubt when I look on the label of the wine bottle there will be a recommendation that it should be imbibed with “red meat’s”).

Where you fail to see a “your joking”, I see a vile, bellicose infidel taunting me to “come and have a go”. Where you read a text message as “off 2 pb, c u thr?” I see the words “I hate you, I hate your face, and I’m going to kill your family. Twice”.

This has caused problems for me in the past, but if people decide I deserve shunning for telling them that the plural of stadium is stadia, then they are not the type of friends I need. Similarly, I do not want or need to eat in restaurants serving “Nacho’s” and “Fish ‘n’ Chips”.

I have obstacles to overcome in my professional life too. One of my tasks at work is to transcribe 19th century literary manuscripts into XML form. The transcriptions must appear exactly as the text does in the original, and as such I am obliged to replicate the errors of previous generations or face censure from my superiors. This is extremely hard for me, and I actually think I’d rather face the hazards that firemen or people who wipe the backsides of the elderly do than have to consistently put the ‘i’ before the ‘e’ in ‘received’ (David Livingstone), or fail altogether to use apostrophes or commas (Isabella Bird Bishop).

I am not neurotic, just correct.

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Sunday, 17 June 2007

Split Infinitives

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I've been thinking about why I sometimes use split infinitives, and how I automatically use them with certain words, and avoid them with others.

Now, as far as I'm concerned, there's no problem with split infinitives themselves. Those who rigidly apply grammatical rules without any regard for context, tone or audience can be just as irritating as those who have no grasp on the rules in the first place. They're usually academics.

Anyway, we all know the classic example of "to boldly go". As far as I'm concerned, "to boldly go" reads and sounds better than "to go boldly", regardless of it being 'bad grammatical style'.

To brilliantly run past the house
feels incorrect, both in writing and in speech. But
To bravely decide
sounds much better.

Personally, I think what this boils down to is that the tone, usage and emphasis of the adverb plays a major part in determining how I subconciously construct the clause itself. It's almost as if my brain decides on the chronological order of the activities described in the upcoming statement, and then acts accordingly. Eg, I make the foolish decision to shoot my family, and then I shoot them:
To foolishly shoot my family.

Apostrophes etc

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Excellent little article over at SPOGG.


Friday, 8 June 2007

Grammar abuse in signage - part 1

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Stockport Pizza is....?

Do you think the sign maker just chuckles and carries on when he receives erroneous copy from the shop owner?

I would.

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