Archive | October, 2012

“i before e”

30 Oct

“i before e”.

“i before e”

30 Oct

English spelling is frequently bizarre. A few “rules” – the most commonly cited of which is “i before e, except after c” – can help, but they are often broken, and for no apparent reason. Neither “seize” nor “weird”, for example, contains a “c”, but in both “e” comes before “i”.

We double-up the “l” in words such as “channelled” yet use a single “t” in “benefiting” and a single “s” in “focusing” and “busing” (“bussing” is a synonym for “kissing”). “Instalment” has one “l”, but “installation” has two. Then there’s the problem of words such as “dependant” (which is a noun) and “dependent” (which is an adjective).

“Honour” keeps the “u” in “honourable”, but “humour” and “glamour” lose it in “humorous” and “glamorous”.

No, there’s no logic in it, it’s just the way it is.

The problem is compounded by the differences in spelling between US English and UK English. I want to protect our spelling – which, no surprise, I prefer – but it’s hard for children to remember how to spell “adviser”, for example, when they constantly see it as “advisor” on TV credits, and even more confusing when we spell “advisory” with an “o”.

I suppose that it’s inevitable that some US spelling will become the standard in the UK, particularly as websites such as this one underline UK spelling as being incorrect. I will try my best to live with it as long as we don’t succumb to using monstrous words such as “burglarized” instead of “burgled”.

Today’s picture

The Outer Hebrides are unspoilt (too cold to attract many visitors I think) and extremely beautiful. This is South Uist shot from Barra.

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Tautology

29 Oct

Tautology.

Tautology

29 Oct

Listening to BBC Radio 4 yesterday, I heard someone say that there were “various different reasons for…”. In this context, “various” and “different” mean the same thing: they are tautologous.

“Tautology” – which according to the Oxford English Dictionary is the “repetition…of the same statement, word or phrase, or the same idea or statement in other words” – comes sometimes, I imagine, from the speaker or writer trying to emphasise a point: reduce down, instead of reduce; join together, instead of join; mix together, instead of mix; etc.

At other times, it is probably because the speaker or writer doesn’t understand the precise meaning of a word: it is not, for example, correct to say, “raze to the ground”, because the definition of raze is “to destroy completely, to obliterate”; you don’t “revert back” to something, because revert means “to go back”; and you don’t have a “necessary requisite”, because a requisite is “something essential” – and finally, you should never put “in addition” in the same sentence as “also” or “as well”.

The golden rules? Think before you speak or write; don’t use two (or more) words where one will do; if you’re not sure of the meaning of a word, look it up!

Today’s picture

Oh dear, the clocks have gone back – it’s 17.15 and pitch dark (and it’s pouring with rain, again). This is sunset at Uluru, Australia.Image

 

 

 

Julius Caesar at ENO

25 Oct

Julius Caesar at ENO.

Family history

22 Oct

Family history.

Aside

Family history

22 Oct

I don’t know much about my family history on my mother’s side – her grandparents were immigrants from what was then Russia, but is now Ukraine – and, the story goes, my great-grandmother never learnt to speak English, other than “My daughter vill pay”. She didn’t know that babies had to be registered, so my grandfather and his siblings didn’t have birth certificates – my grandfather chose 1 May (Labour Day) for his birthday and simply guessed that he was born in 1879. Great-grandmother Sarah was said to be 15 when she arrived in England, already with a baby.

According to my mother’s marriage certificate her name was “Kyzor (known as King)” although it’s spelled Kyzar on various census forms. (Understandably my grandfather changed Kyzor to King during the First World War.) One of my cousins has done some research, which I intend to continue at some point, and I’ve been collecting photographs with the object of making a book for my nieces and their children.

This photograph is of my mother, Frances, on the right, her eldest sister, Rachel, on the left, and the youngest, Jeanette, in the middle. Since the fourth sister, Sarah, who was born between my Mum and Jeanette, is missing I calculate that the picture was taken in 1919 or 1920 because Sarah died in the 1918/19 flu epidemic. That would make Mum nine or ten, Rachel, 15 or 16, and Jeanette, four or five. Their brother, Simon – in between Rachel and Mum – is unaccountably not included.

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Mr Gove and educational reforms

18 Oct

Mr Gove and educational reforms.

Mr Gove and educational reforms

18 Oct

In yesterday’s Guardian there was more comment on schools. Plans to build two new state schools in Coventry, funded by developers of land previously occupied by Massey Ferguson and Marconi factories, have been scrapped after Coventry city council realised that all new schools must now be academies or free schools. The Guardian comments, “A little-noticed clause in the Education Act 2011 states: ‘If a local authority in England thinks a new school needs to be established, they must seek proposals for the establishment of an academy’.” Coventry council may now decide to spend the money on upgrading existing schools.

This prompted me to look at the Department for Education’s website to find out exactly what academies and free schools are. Written (surprise, surprise) in rather ungrammatical English – mixing singular and plural in one sentence and splitting infinitives, for example – it appears that both are state funded. “Some academies, generally those set up to replace underperforming schools, will have a sponsor. Sponsors…[include] successful schools, businesses, universities, charities and faith bodies” – and followers of this blog will already know my views on faith schools, on running schools for profit (which, presumably a business would be doing), and on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

The DfE site continues: “Academies benefit from greater freedoms [why is this plural?] to innovate and raise standards.” These include:
freedom from local authority control
Academies and free schools receive their funding from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), rather than from local authorities. The EFA also supports “the delivery of building and maintenance programmes for schools, academies, Free Schools and sixth-form colleges”, but who controls the educational standards?
the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
Is this an underhand way of emasculating the teaching unions, which Gove says exhibit “soft bigotry [can someone explain hard bigotry to me?] and low expectations”?
freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum
How does this conflate with raising academic standards and does it mean that schools can teach nonsensical theories, including creationism? According to the Telegraph, only 22 per cent of teachers support Gove’s plans to scrap GCSEs, although 77 per cent sensibly did agree that only one exam board should administer each subject, nationwide.
the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days
In principle, this seems logical, but how will working parents manage if they have children at different schools and those schools have different timings and holidays?

Gove was a journalist before he became an MP and (clearly) has no experience of teaching. He thinks teachers should “go the extra mile” by running after-school clubs and working on Saturdays. Teaching is tough – imagine spending all day controlling 30-or-so children as well as trying to teach them – and most teachers already “go the extra mile” by preparing lessons and marking homework out of school hours. Gove told the BBC that one of the “Five things I have learned” is that “you can’t spend too much time with your children”. Presumably, he thinks teachers don’t have children.

Today’s picture
And now for something a little more cheerful! My friends and I were excited to see this tortoise in Mallorca a couple of weeks ago. We’d only ever seen them as pets before.

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Photograph by Al Taylor

I and me

15 Oct

I and me.