Archive | March, 2013

Unnecessary words

29 Mar

Unnecessary words.

Unnecessary words

29 Mar

I have been out to the National Portrait Gallery this afternoon – not a particularly bright idea on a holiday weekend, since London is full of people wandering aimlessly about and stopping dead in the middle of the pavement – but the sun was shining and it seemed a good time to go to see the Man Ray exhibition; and I had the added pleasure of getting there on the Thomas Heatherwick-designed 38 bus.

The exhibition was worth seeing, if quite expensive, but the real treat was a free exhibition of George Catlin’s portraits of American Indians. I’m particularly interested in (what is now called) Native American art and culture and bought the catalogue (oh dear, another book!).

The NPG seems rather unorganised and not very well signed. I eventually managed to find the basement café, really to sit down for ten minutes between looking at the two shows. You could die of old age waiting to buy a cup of coffee there – one tiny service counter, and one person serving.

Then I spotted the sign that read, “Sugar sachet [sic] can be found on the tables”, instead of, “Sugar is on the tables”, and then, back on the entry level, another that read, “The cloakroom is located in the basement”, instead of “The cloakroom is in the basement”. Why oh why do people use unnecessary words, particularly on signage? They don’t make the sign easier to read or understand and the sign either takes up more space or has to be written in smaller type.

Today’s picture

In 2008, I had a driving holiday round much of the area that features in Catlin’s paintings. This is Yellowstone National Park.

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Splitting infinitives (not splitting hairs)

12 Mar

Splitting infinitives (not splitting hairs).

Splitting infinitives (not splitting hairs)

12 Mar

I have written before, that “I’m one of those dinosaurs who hates split infinitives” and, despite assertions that “our language needs to change and grow”, my opinion will not change. In my view, far from allowing English to grow, the habit of splitting infinitives cuts it off from its roots.

Sentences that contain split infinitives are invariably ugly. They stem, I believe, from a basic misunderstanding of where an adverb could, or should, sit in a sentence: it should follow the verb it modifies – not necessarily immediately – but it should certainly not be between the two elements of the infinitive.

There are many languages in which it’s simply not possible to split the infinitive because the infinitive is a single word: for example, “to go” is “aller” in French, “ir” in Spanish and Portuguese (and “ire” in Latin), “andare” in Italian, and “naar” in Dutch. English, however, in common with many other northern European languages uses two words: “to go” is “zu gehen” in German, “at gå” in Danish, “att gå” in Swedish, and “å gå” in Norwegian. I doubt, though, that it is common to split the two words in these other languages.

In the past couple of days of newspaper reading, I have groaned over many split infinitives, including: “to not eat sweets”, “to publicly name names”, “appears to also be drawing away”, “to better protect victims”, and “failed to even ask them”. Each of these would have been more elegant if structured properly: “not to eat sweets”, “to name names publicly”, “also appears to be drawing away”, “to protect victims properly”, “failed even to ask them”.

Then there was the sentence that committed two horrors: “to actively look for cases”; since it would be impossible to look for cases inactively, this should simply have been “to look for cases”.

As The Economist Style Guide points out, “To never split an infinitive is quite easy”! Think about what you are saying, look at what you have written and, if necessary, simply turn the sentence around.

Today’s picture

I have been taking photographs of signs and lettering for many years and have recently collected them into a book, Signs of the Times, which I have self-published on Blurb (www.blurb.co.uk/b/4054360-signs-of-the-times) – and yes, there’s a typo on the cover flap! This is one of the pictures from the book, taken in Florence in 2002.

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