Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Racist grammar Vs new dialects

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While perusing SPOGG I found a very interesting post discussing whether or not received pronunciation and standardised grammar are racist.

Apparently "Ebonics", and the more PC term, "African American Vernacular English" (AAVE) are terms to describe the way some groups of black Americans speak the English language. It appears that the Oakland school board, in a desperate attempt to prove how right-on they are, drew up a resolution to officially recognize it as a language in December of 1996. This idea was quite rightly kiboshed by the powers that be.

Now it appears Ebonics (that term really grates with me, I'll use AAVE from here on in) is back on the agenda. Faye Gage, director of the Connecticut Writing Project, addressed the issue at a recent convention. Here she gives an example of AAVE and why she thinks we need to formally recognise it:
When students use non-standard subject-verb formations - "The books be on the table," for instance - they're not speaking bad or corrupted English. They're correctly applying the rules of grammar they've learned at home.

My initial thoughts on this were as follows - Balderdash, tish and indeed, fipsy.

I mean come on, what would happen if that warped logic was applied to other aspects of life? E.G. juvenile court.
I do apologise for the confusion, your honor, when little Trevor TWOCked that car, he wasn't actually breaking the law. No no, you see he's applying the law as he learnt it at home. His father is professional car thief, you see, so there really is no problem. We'll just be on our way.
Now, before everyone gets all in a tangle about race, I will state this: this argument should have nothing to do with race. In addition I am not opposed to spoken vernacular or dialects that don't conform to standard English. On the contrary I love them. Here in the UK we're spoilt for choice; Geordie, Cockney, Brummie, Scouse (actually I am against Scousers) Weedgie, Cornish, Manc and more- all with their own vocabulary, their own peculiar ways of forming sentences but all speaking English. That's the point really isn't it? AAVE isn't a language, it's a new dialect (new compared to say, Geordie, which exists because of the Vikings).

As soon as we fail to correct colloquialisms in written English and formal speech we can kiss goodbye to our language. We're also not doing the kids favours by failing to correct them, they need to know how to form decent prose, they need to know what's expected of them in the real world. None of this is new of course, the stuffy US establishment that Gage is attempting to reform probably spent their teen years saying "far out" and "groovy, man - don't be a square" and other such perversions of our sacred tongue.

The full article draws similar conclusions (I think).

If any of you are wondering why I embrace dialects, take a look at the below video of John Smeaton. If you understand more than 50% I'll be impressed, unless you're a Weedgie yersel ken?

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Fail to punctuate, win six grand

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Last week, a former project manager at Aberdeen City Council was awarded damages after a tribunal agreed that he had been unfairly dismissed.

David Moxey was employed to encourage participation in sport amongst youths in the Granite City, which presumably meant hanging around outside chip shops trying to get fat ginger kids called Hamish to go fishing.

However, things began to go awry when he was paired to work with a lady by the name of Maureen McMahon. McMahon, claimed Moxey, slandered him behind his back (the best way), communicated only by email despite the two sharing an office, and best of all, taking offence at Moxey’s lackadaisical approach to spelling and grammar, took a red pen to a report he had written. It was, said Moxey, “like having an essay corrected by an English teacher”.

After a protracted absence having been signed off with depression, Moxey resigned. The tribunal agreed that left with no other option but to leave, he had effectively been constructively dismissed.

Moxey was awarded £6,333 in damages, though that was a reduced amount as the tribunal found him 10% to blame for not initiating disciplinary action himself (incidentally, this idea of putting percentages on blame is particularly fantastic: I’d say I was about 23% culpable for the burning of last night’s tea given that our oven has been particularly erratic of late, while in their failure to run at him brandishing pitchforks, the British public are 76% guilty for the career of Chris Moyles).

Obviously, this raises many questions: Were the tribunal correct in their decision?; Why didn’t he seek help before the situation got out of hand and he ended up with the horror show that is depression?; Wasn’t Moxey that Scouse bloke out of 'Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’?

Most of all though, in her correction of his work, did McMahon go too far? In short, was her spelling and grammar militancy over the top?

Emphatically, no. McMahon was entirely justified here, and in any case, from my own experience as a pedant I know she was not entirely responsible for her actions. I find it impossible to leave anything uncorrected, to eschew the erroneous. I will mutter under my breath about unclosed brackets on a worksheet until I become so fixated I miss the entire content of a course I have been sent on.

This is not some righteous quest; we did not choose to be this way. We have no leader or God, no deep set moral compass, merely a constant and impulsive urge to scratch every itch (and not itch every scratch) we see.

Maureen McMahon, you are a courageous defender of the faith, and GrammarBlog salutes you.

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Monday, 30 July 2007

That is so random!

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Am I going mad? Has there been a global announcement that I have missed regarding a change in meaning of the word 'random'? Why do I seem to be the only one who minds when people describe events as "random" when they are, in fact, anything but random?

This morning on BBC Radio 1 a newsreader, a newsreader by the name of David Garrido, when introducing a clip from an interview with a player from the French rugby league team the Catalans Dragons, said the following:
He's French but spent a lot of time playing rugby in Australia, so stand by for possibly the most random accent ever.
The sportsman in question was then heard talking in an accent that can only be described as half French, half Australian. How random! I had a similar random experience this morning when I got in my car, put the key in the ignition, turned it and the engine randomly started!


It's not random, you idiot. It's unusual, it's peculiar, it's possibly even a little bit bizarre but in no way is it random. It would be random if a Frenchman living for an extended period of time in Australia started to speak with a Jamaican accent or a broad Scottish brogue.

I shouldn't really pick on David, he's far from alone. I just expect more from a BBC journalist - even a sports reporter.

You can listen to the broadcast in question here, the offending sentence occurs on the 40 minute mark so you might want to use the skip function.

It appears the link I used was to the most recent broadcast, so as of Tuesday that link was incorrect. I've fixed it now. That link will work until 10am (GMT+1) next Monday.

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Sunday, 29 July 2007

Typography Part 2

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We covered the basics a few posts ago, so let's move on to some more detail.

There are many common typographical crimes, but one that irks me more than most is the brutal warping, squashing and stretching of type on the likes of signage and promotional 'literature'.

Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter or friendly milk will countermand my trousers
Typefaces are (most of the time) lovingly designed, with careful thought going into how each and every character interacts. You must not resort to stretching and warping them. Not only does it make your copy hard to read and mark you out as being a philistine, you're also ignoring the fact that typography provides you with lots of options in order to make the best, most readable and most aesthetically pleasing use of the space available.

The three key concepts are leading, tracking and kerning.
Hold the newsreader's nose squarely, waiter or friendly milk will countermand my trousers
Leading (sometimes called 'line-spacing') refers to the vertical space between lines of text. Tracking (or 'letter-spacing') deals with the horizontal space between characters. Using the two with subtlety can make a huge difference to the legibility of the type you're working with. Kerning, however, is my personal favourite. This refers to how two individual characters appear next to one another. For example, a capital 'F' can sit physically closer to a capital 'A' than a capital 'L' , because the space between the edges of the letters is wider due to the 'A's tapered top.

Professionally-designed typefaces have kerning information built in; ie the type designer has been through every single combination of two letters, kerning them individually. Lovely stuff.

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Saturday, 28 July 2007

Smug is good.

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This clip was sent into us by Nigel in London.

Obviously we're big fans of Stephen Fry here at GrammarBlog and in this sketch I love the way Fry revels in the smugness of his character and the intellectual gibberish he comes up with. (I shouldn't end my sentence with a preposition, should I?)

I have to confess to never before having seen this sketch before. (That preposition rule is one up with which I shall not put.)

Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Nigel - keep them coming.

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Thursday, 26 July 2007

Bank Gothic Burger

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P6300390, originally uploaded by Gez.

Now then, this is a bit of an experiment - it's not strictly grammar related but as Tom is well into typefaces I thought tickle his fancy and post this.

Bank Gothic has to be the most over-used typeface in the world. Ever.

You may have seen it recently adorning the credits and subtitles in the new Transformers film (which is amazing by the way), a setting where it is particularly suited as it implies a kind of nostalgic vision of the future. Like watching old episodes of Tomorrow's World in which a BBC presenter is claiming we will all live on the moon in 1995.

In fact, I can think of no other reason for using Bank Gothic unless you are Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay and you are making a film about a race of extraterrestrial robots based on a popular cartoon from the 1980s.

You certainly shouldn't use it as the sign for your hamburger restaurant.

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Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Should of, would of, could of...

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When I get the time, I'll write a proper post on this with references and everything.

But for now I simply want to voice my displeasure at receiving the following sentence in a work email:
I guess that's something we should of considered at the time
Urgh. Writing 'should've' is fine, a bit colloquial but fine. Writing 'should of' however, that's a death sentence. No trial, no jury: just death. That's street justice, GrammarBlog style!

To paraphrase the milky-eyed songstress Gabrielle (where is she now?), "Should of, would of, could of are the last words of a fool". At least they would be if everyone would just agree to give me Ultimate Power.

That's another thing that annoys me - why haven't I been given Ultimate Power yet?

**UPDATE** - I've just remembered it was Beverley Knight who did "Shoulda Woulda Coulda" (we've briefly touched on lyric grammar so I won't get too het-up about the deliberate misspelling - although if I had a cat, it would get kicked tonight). Nevertheless the point about Gabrielle's low profile still stands.

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Friday, 20 July 2007

Apostrophe Abuse in Signage - Part 4

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There are good intentions here, I almost feel for the proprietor. I can imagine her furrowed brow as she checks what she has written:

Possessive singular - correct.
Possessive plural. She's thinking, "I know that's how you spell ladies but I've got to stick an apostrophe somewhere".
She's losing interest in the possessive now, she knows something is wrong with the last one and is giving this one a wide birth.
Possessive plural, abbreviated form. She's given up here. I can almost imagine her trying out all the variants of apostrophes, plurals and full-stops to indicate abbreviation.
Gent's. Gentleman's Gents.' Oh sod it!

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Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Calm down, take a deep breath and count to 10.

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Recently seen on a friend's Facebook wall:

AAAAAARRRGH! It makes me want to break something.

I don't know why but I expect more from Facebook users than say, MySpace or Bebo users. Maybe it's because Facebook started as an academic network site; or maybe it's because of articles such as this from the BBC or blog posts making statements such as Facebookers are voters, MySpacers are not. Maybe it's because I'm hopelessly addicted to Facebook and don't want it to become representative of that which I loath - like Pete Doherty telling people that crack isn't that bad, it's just the press blowing things out of proportion.

You may have noticed that the name and picture in the screengrab above have been scrambled to protect the not-so-innocent. However if you recognise this from your wall, you should have a word with your friend and point out the error of his ways. As Dan alluded to, I guess most of us have friends who use "txt spk" or its more hardcore cousin, "L33t speak" when texting, emailing and social-network-site-ing (someone really needs to come up with a snappy, generic verb for that).

When one has a friend who is a persistent offender, it can be tempting to ignore the infractions. For much the same reasons I try my best to ignore the massive mole on the side of a particular mate's face. The difference being, short of surgery, my mate with the mole can't do much about his affliction, whereas people who write, "gud 1 m8!!!" can and should be reformed.

I urge you all to attempt the same. Be persistent - no-one likes constantly being corrected, so either the friend will see the light or he/she will stop texting you. Either way, job done!


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Get Involved

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Sometimes our quest to protect grammar requires action, not words. Which is satisfyingly ironic I suppose.

Restaurant menus are not massively verbose tomes. Nor – as the food-snobs among you are doubtless aware – should they ever be.

Whilst dining recently in the comfortable but contrived surroundings of Newcastle 'GastroPub' As You Like It, I felt compelled to take matters into my own hands:

I advise that all GrammarBlog readers and contributors take a red pen along to restaurants in future. Remember to add to your graffiti.

Oh and yes &ndash sadly I hadn't the time nor the inclination to highlight every grammatical and linguistic horror on the menu; one look at the smorgasbord of errors and trite capitalisations in the above photo ought to give you an indication of just how dreadful the whole thing was.

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Friday, 13 July 2007


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‘Exclamation Mark: n. a punctuation mark (!) indicating an exclamation.’ ‘Exclamation: n. a sudden cry or remark expressing surprise, strong emotion, or pain.’ Not my words, reader, the words of the Oxford English Dictionary.

The exclamation mark does, obviously, have its purposes. ‘Stop!’ on a sign prohibiting you from entering the pilot’s cabin on an aeroplane or a staff-only area in a brothel is perfectly acceptable (unless you’ve paid extra to enter the staff-only area, so to speak); in a piece of literature, a man who is rapidly sinking into a vat of cement is entitled to cry ‘help!’; and a camping store advertising its sale in what it hopes is an amusing way is, if I’m feeling kind, justified in displaying posters bearing the words ‘Now is the Summer of our Discount Tents!’

I would estimate, though, that only around 4% of exclamation marks are being used correctly. Misappropriations are everywhere: ‘Hello!’, someone writes to me in a text message, ‘How are you?!’ I try to imagine these words and punctuation marks being spoken, but how do you exclaim ‘hello’ or ask someone how they are in a sudden and surprising manner? I suppose you could wait around a corner and then jump out at them whilst wearing some harrowing apparel such as an Adrian Chiles mask.

The ubiquity of this misuse is not merely in private exchanges. ‘Newspapers!’ reads a sign at the newsagent’s (I’m glad it did though, I had gone in for a haircut). ‘Menu!’, I read on a blackboard outside a pub, as if we’re living in Moscow in 1989 and no-one has seen any bread for eight weeks.

And then there is multiple use. Multiple bloody use. A bookmark from a library tells me to ‘Take care!!’. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘no, we really do mean it’. But what exactly do they mean? Are they being sarcastic? In reality, are they saying I shouldn’t take care - I should cross the road in front of a bus or eat a Rustlers beefburger?

At least the library restricted themselves to just two exclamation marks. I’ve seen anything up to 11 in a row in emails, and it isn’t nice. The people who exclaim with such gay abandon should just give up and have the words ‘LOOK I’M MAD, ME’ tattooed in red onto their foreheads.

The Super Furry Animals were close to naming their fifth studio album ‘The Text Message is Ruining the Traditional Pub Quiz’. I wish to assert that misuse of the exclamation mark is ruining the ability to exclaim. Very soon people will think the ‘stop!’ signs are just a bit of a laugh, as the exclamation mark becomes merely a new version of the full-stop. In short, it will be overused into normality.

What I suggest is that each British citizen be restricted to the use of five exclamation marks per year.

Honestly, you really don’t need any more than that. Trust me!

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Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Should we simplify spelling?

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From the BBC website:

Thoughts please.


Saturday, 7 July 2007

Typography Part 1

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I mentioned way back at the start of this blog that I'd like to talk about typography, considering it is the vehicle that carries our blessed language.

My job involves designing and making things that people read, and admittedly I often bore people to death by harping on about how important typography is. But the key point here is that I'm not expecting everyone to become a graphic designer; what I would like to see is a greater appreciation of typefaces and how to use them properly, and rather less font-based barbarism.

So let's cover the basics, in easy-to-understand chunks. First up: serif and sans-serif.

The vast majority of typefaces (not "fonts" by the way - a font is the actual file; we should refer to "typefaces" when we're talking about the design or visual appearance) fall into two categories - serif and sans-serif. A "serif" is the decorative tail which appears on the end of certain characters. Times News Roman and Arial are the well-worn examples of each.

Sans-serif typefaces tend to be used for informal and/or contemporary design (eg. logos, signage or promotional literature), with serif faces being used to maintain (or contrive) a more traditional feel.

The general school of thought has always been that serif typefaces are slightly easier to read when used for large blocks of small, printed type - this is why newspapers and books are largely set this way - with sans-serif being more suited to small text on screen (due to the low resolution of monitors in comparison with print). This has changed dramatically over the last ten years, however, as monitors and computer type-rendering are getting more sophisticated - our lovely, crisp, serif-based GrammarBlog design being a good example.

If you're interested in the detail, there's lots of it over at Wikipedia.


Friday, 6 July 2007

Warning: bad grammar may cause increased levels of honesty

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Words are important. Words are powerful. Choose the wrong words and although you are trying to convey one particular meaning, you may inadvertently convey another.

This is especially true and damaging when considering a sales pitch. With a sales pitch you are trying to persuade people to part with money in exchange for something you are offering.

This doesn't just happen, the process guides the potential customer through a series of consecutive impulses from first contact through to sale. If you screw up when trying to engender any of these impulses through inaccuracy or stupidity, it's hard to get back on track.

The most important step (along with the close) is the first contact. Which brings me to my point, I found a very good example of why one should check website copy very carefully.
Website solutions should always be custom made for a client. Here at ICBusiness we listen to your requirements BEFORE trying to sell you something you do not need.
How very honest. They'll listen to you - and then try to sell you something you don't need.

Can't fault them for trying.

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Wednesday, 4 July 2007

An Apology?

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After looking at my previous post I began to wonder whether all this vitriol is justified. Do a few misplaced apostophes, missing capital letters or wrong tenses really signify that our language is rotting from the inside? And even if it does should we just roll over and let it happen?

I was reminded of this clip from room 101:

I get a bit uncomfortable when watching this video as I can identify with the "nerds" and "bullies". I was certainly very disappointed by the outcome. Should we be a bit more lenient or is the answer to be more light-hearted and less elitist with regards other people's spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes?

Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age, or maybe I should cut down on the "magic Es".

Speaking of old age, I'd like to wish a happy birthday to two of our GrammarBloggers, Tom and Andy.

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Monday, 2 July 2007

Don't pluralise it, idiot.

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Chatting with a like-minded individual is always good. In this case the like-minded person is my brother, Matt. His grammatical bugbear, which he invited me to share with the world, is the idiotic practise of pluralisation of inherently singular places or people.

It's a trait seen mostly in Football, especially managers or commentators. They regularly utter phrases such as:

You've got your David Beckhams, your Tierry Henrys, your Scholeses, your Giggses, your Shearers.
Equally you have:
You know, you've got your Londons, your New Yorks, your Milans.
Perhaps the borderline unforgivable:
You're not likely to catch the Man U's, the Arsenals, the Liverpools, the Chelseas of this world. They're too far ahead.

There is only one London, one New York, one David Beckham (aren't we all grateful?) and only one Tierry Henry. To say otherwise is not only idiotic, it's utterly illogical piffle. And why is it the cretins who do this count out on their fingers and look towards the sky? I suppose it simply shows they're having to concentrate to even get that far.

Finally, since I'm dissecting, the "of this world" part is deeply irritating; while I'm no expert on extraterrestrial life, I don't expect that, were they to play football on Mars (for example), they would have teams called Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea. And I'm certain they wouldn't have "Manchester Uniteds, Arsenals, Liverpools or Chelseas."

Sunday, 1 July 2007

A reply to our unfortunate Andy

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Re: Andy's first post.

Dear me! Where to start?

Maybe here:
...the inhabitants of Cheshire and Merseyside have been successful in disassociated themselves from the county.
It's a shame Andy can't have been successful in written good English. On a geographical note, Cheshire has never been associated with Lancashire, apart from sharing a river.

Or perhaps here:
Those names really do send a shudder down the spine, Hyndburn?
Are you addressing Hyndburn, Andy? If not, I suggest the use of a full stop, a colon or even a dash. Which brings me on to my next point. The scorn you pour on the paragraph from LCCC's website is misplaced - as has been discussed a dash is pretty hard to get wrong. Although I will concede its overuse is irksome.

Thanks for updating me on Mark Chilton's thoughts but please could I have commas after the tw*t's name so I can breath while reading this inane rubbish.
It is astonishing to me that this short sentence requires a list to describe its errors.
  1. The sentence is a question so requires a question mark. Isn't that a grammar rule known by the majority of 6 year olds?
  2. I don't know why, in the context Andy is writing about, a name would require a comma after it.
  3. It seems merely one comma wouldn't satisfy Andy anyway, as "commas" are requested.
  4. One of the most embarrassing errors one can make is to write "breath" instead of "breathe". It makes me loose my mind in anger.
  5. I find it hilarious that Andy gets out of breath while reading. For the sake of your arteries, Andy, please eat less cheese and walk occasionally.

Also, an infinitive is split in the last sentence but I'll defer to Tom's wisdom and let this go. I could go on but I'm exhausted so I'll leave it there. Andy, please try not to disgrace yourself again.


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If you're a regular visitor, you may have noticed that we now have a very nice new design. Bear with us whilst I iron out any bugs that crop up.

NB - I haven't had time to style the comments just yet, so they look a little bit scrappy.

Time gentlemen please

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Firstly, may I applaud everyone's contributions to this blog thus far. I have been very impressed by what I have seen. However, I have been disappointed by the anti Yorkshire bias which seems to be creeping into much of the writing on this blog. Clearly, this places me in something of a predicament. So I thought now was the opportunity to, quite literally, write (intentional pun) a few wrongs and call time on this rather unpleasant practice.

I thought the best way to do this would be to start with some good, clean, Lancashire bashing. Lancashire a county so fragmented and disparate that it really is rather tricky to know who makes up its constituent parts. Fair enough, the inhabitants of Cheshire and Merseyside have been successful in disassociated themselves from the county. But what's this? Even old Lancashire is having an identity crisis. In a sad attempt to rebrand itself, the 5 areas of Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale are coining the name 'Pennine Lancashire' (Those names really do send a shudder down the spine, Hyndburn? Why is Blackburn with Darwen as well? Surely Blackburn and Darwen would be better. Are the Darwenians happy to be riding on the bottom of Blackburn's coat tails. I got lost in Darwen once on the way to Ewood Park and I'm sure it's to large enough size to justify standing on it's own two feet?).You can read more about plans for "Pennine Lancashire" on but why anyone would want to elevate the land that time forgot is a mystery to me.

I knowingly digress. So back to the Lancashire baiting and as this is a grammar blog, I thought I should try and make a sustained attack on bad Red Rose prose. I sought solace on the Lancashire County Cricket Club website and found this gem on having the displeasure to "click here to enter LCCC website".

Lancashire captain Mark Chilton has insisted that there will be no let up in his side's drive to reach the twenty20 Cup quarter finals – despite their healthy position towards the top of the North Conference. The Red Rose host Derbyshire Phantoms tomorrow afternoon with fans and pundits alike trying to work out the intricacies of what will be needed to progress through to the knockout stage. Lancashire Lightning currently sit second with seven points – two behind leaders Nottinghamshire Outlaws. With quite a bit of heavy rain forecast over the next week, one more win and possibly a no result would surely see them home and hosed. But that kind of thinking does not interest Chilton – he wants three wins from three against the Phantoms, home and away, and then Leicestershire Foxes next Friday night.

Thanks for updating me on Mark Chilton's thoughts but please could I have commas after the tw*t's name so I can breath while reading this inane rubbish. Also, why the hell is there a f*cking dash at any given opportunity in this piece. Home and hosed? Home and hosed? Is this really the best this twit of an author can muster?

I look forward to grammatically stitching up Lancashire over the next few weeks.

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