Lonely men

13 Oct

I’m not sure if I was amused, or bemused, to see a long piece in The Guardian (13 October) headlined “1.5 million men over 50 will suffer severe loneliness by 2030”.

A government report is calling for government action to prevent the “worsening of a largely hidden crisis [which] is worse for men than women”. (One interviewee actually said, “For women there is more to do with things like knitting groups…”!) “Nearly one in five older men,” the piece states, “admitted to having less than monthly contact with friends compared to one in eight for women.”

Interesting, I think, that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that “society has ‘utterly failed’ to address the problem. He described ‘a forgotten million who live among us to our national shame’.” Ignoring Hunt’s inability to put a coherent sentence together, society has also “utterly failed” to deal with the much longer-term problem of women who live alone.

Women may, indeed, be better at coping with living alone, but that may be because, as a group, we’ve had a lot more practice.

Today’s picture
A recent holiday in Mallorca where the weather was, unusually, rather stormy. This is one of the many lighthouses round the island.



More on unnecessary words

4 Sep

Top of my current list of unnecessary words is “actively”. How often do you hear someone (frequently a politician) saying something on the lines of “We are actively encouraging”?

The antonym of “actively” is “passively”. The definition of “encourage” is “to give hope or confidence, to urge, to foster”.

Since it would be impossible to be passively encouraging, it would be more concise and better English to say, “We are encouraging” or “We are pursuing”. As ever – keep it simple!

Today’s picture

Clouds and sunrays off the coast of Maine, with one of Maine’s many lighthouses in the distance.

Photography in galleries

2 Sep

Photography in galleries.

“And” and “But”

9 Apr

“And” and “But”.

“And” and “But”

9 Apr

I hate to read sentences that begin with “and” or “but”, both of which are conjunctions. The clue to how conjunctions should be used is in the name: a conjunction connects one part of a sentence with the next. To my mind that means that conjunctions should not be used at the beginning of sentences, as they so often are.

I have to admit that Fowler’s Common English Usage disagrees: it comments that, “this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times”, but the fact that something is, or has been, done frequently doesn’t make it right. A bit of judicious punctuation invariably removes the apparent need to break a long sentence and start a new one with “And” or “But”.

An example in today’s Guardian: “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties. But it is for the standards committee…” Why not, “Under this process, an independent parliamentary commissioner investigates complaints against an MP and submits a report to the committee, including proposed penalties; but it is for the standards committee…”?

The useful, but increasingly ignored, semi-colon connects the two threads of the sentence together to make a more coherent whole.

Today’s picture
This year’s mild, wet, winter has encouraged everything to come into flower – rather early.



7 Feb



7 Feb

Why do people find apostrophes so difficult?

On 17 January, it was reported that the City council of Cambridge (of all places) had banned punctuation from new street names on the basis that it “could lead to mistakes, especially for emergency services”. Birmingham had banned them, in 2009, as had mid-Devon, in 2013. Yesterday it was reported that Cambridge had reversed its decision, but I guess the others will not.

Far from causing confusion, apostrophes remove it: using as an example the old chestnut of “the girls books”, without an apostrophe how would you know whether that was one girl who had many books (the girl’s books), or more than one girl who each had some books (the girls’ books)?

Apostrophes can give added information. For example, “his sisters’ children” immediately tells you that the “he” has more than one sister, “the hen’s eggs” that one hen has laid more than one egg.

It’s hard to know which is worse, however: omitting apostrophes, or inserting them in plurals where they don’t belong?

There’s a workshop near King’s Cross, London, that makes “cabinet’s” and “book case’s”….and an (official) road sign nearby that reads “NO LEFT TURN EXCEPT TAXIS’s” – and how often do you see apostrophes in decades: “1990’s” instead of “1990s”?  While this seems to be “correct” grammar in the US, the reason is beyond understanding. If you were to write out 1990s, you wouldn’t write the nineteen ninetie’s.

Then there’s the general panic about what to do if a word or name ends in “s”. This results in “St Thomas’ Hospital” rather than as it should be, “St Thomas’s Hospital” – no-one would write “St Bartholomew’ Hospital”, so why St Thomas’?

Finally, there’s the trap of “its” and “it’s”. “It’s” is one of the cases where an apostrophe has been used to denote missing letters (like “aren’t” – are not – and “wasn’t” – was not). “It’s” means “it is” (it’s going to rain today, it’s my birthday next week); “its” is a possessive, just like “his” or “hers”.

The following extract from the Economist Style Guide sets out the use of apostrophes very clearly:

Use the normal possessive ending ’s after singular words or names that end in s: boss’s, caucus’s, St James’s. Use it after plurals that do not end in s: children’s. Frenchmen’s, media’s.

Use the ending s’ on plurals that end in s – Danes’, bosses’, Joneses’ – including plural names that take a singular verb, eg, Reuters’, Barclays’.

Peoples’ = of peoples, People’s = of the people.

Do not put apostrophes into decades: the 1990s not the 1990’s.

All clear now?

This sign takes the biscuit

20 Jan

An official-looking sign in York Way, Islington:


All I can say to that is, oh dear!

Today’s picture

After that, I need cheering up. This is the lighthouse at Hartland Point, Devon, with Lundy Island on the horizon – and blue sky! Image

Remember what that looked like?

“We can’t go on like this”

17 Jan

“We can’t go on like this”.

Remembering the First World War (not personally!)

9 Jan

Remembering the First World War (not personally!).