Archive | April, 2013

Misusing words

25 Apr

Misusing words.

Misusing words

25 Apr

Why does using exactly the right word matter? The simple answer is, because it makes your meaning clear.

There are many words that are commonly misused. In speech that often doesn’t matter: no-one can hear that you’re confusing draft with draught, flair with flare, or practice with practise, but it does matter when you write. These are a few of the most commonly misused or confused words.

“Affect” (verb, to influence or change), “effect” (noun, the result of the change). Effect is also a transitive verb, to do or make something, but is rarely used.
“Biannual” is twice a year, “biennial” is every other year.
“Continuously” (uninterrupted), is often used when what is meant is “continually” (regularly or frequently), or “constantly” (happening repeatedly). If, for example, the sun shone “continuously” on holiday, it never stopped; if a neighbour “continually” complains about noise, he does if frequently; if a person often has colds it might make him or her “constantly” absent from work.
“To compliment” is to praise, “to complement” is to add something, to complete it.
“Disorganised” is something that was organised, but has been muddled, “unorganised” was not organised in the first place.
“To distract” is to divert someone’s attention, “to detract” is to diminish or to take something away.
A “misanthropist” hates everyone, a “misogynist” hates women.

There are, of course, many, many more but, as always, make sure you say/write what you mean and be sure that the word you use means what you think it does.

Today’s picture

I have a new camera, a Sony XH300 – a lightweight SLR with an integrated zoom lens. I’m trying it out. These swans were on the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

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Finally…

22 Apr

Finally….

Finally…

22 Apr

…the leaves are beginning to come out on the trees in Hyde Park. I took this yesterday, 21 April!

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More mangled English (and mangled logic), courtesy of Francis Maude

17 Apr

More mangled English (and mangled logic), courtesy of Francis Maude.

More mangled English (and mangled logic), courtesy of Francis Maude

16 Apr

In a comment on Radio 4’s Any Questions, reported in today’s Guardian, Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, once again proved that an expensive education is no guarantee of an ability to speak coherent English. (He was educated at Abingdon School, Cambridge and the College of Law; was called to the bar in 1977 and became an MP in 1983, at the age of 30.)

Maude is reported to have said, “that reports that [Margaret Thatcher’s] funeral will cost £10m had mistakenly included the costs of police and soldiers who would be working anyway. ‘These are costs which are people doing their ordinary jobs which are costs which are being borne in any event. There is no one who has been hired who should not be doing their ordinary jobs which they would not be doing in any event. We are not hiring more police’.”

Let’s deal with the mangled English first: The Guardian might have been unkind in not attempting to punctuate that piece of verbal diarrhoea – although they might simply have given up in despair. Maude commits the common errors of using “which” where he should have used “that”, of repeating a (meaningless) phrase, “in any event”, and of simply not making sense. He must have anticipated that a question about the cost of the funeral would be asked and should have paid the questioner, and the programme, the courtesy of preparing a coherent reply.

Now, the mangled logic: it is reported that 3,000 police officers have had leave cancelled in case they are needed to help secure the route of the funeral procession (and after yesterday’s bombs in Boston, I imagine they will be used). They – I hope – will be paid overtime, so they won’t be “doing their ordinary jobs”, nor will all the other police on duty who would not normally be standing about in the City – so who is doing their “ordinary jobs”? More police on overtime, or is it just a good day to commit crime? The service people who will be on duty? I assume they don’t normally spend all day lying on their bunks waiting for a ceremonial occasion to come along, so they are not doing their “ordinary jobs” either.

I think the spending of any public money on Thatcher’s funeral is indefensible, but I expect those who disagree with me to be able to defend their position in good English.

Today’s picture
I drive through Hyde Park each Sunday and Tuesday morning. There are still no leaves on the trees – in mid-April. Perhaps there might be some by next Sunday and I can take a photograph. In the meantime, here is a wild flower meadow that I photographed in Connecticut in 2011.

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Subjects and verbs

2 Apr

Subjects and verbs.

Subjects and verbs

2 Apr

A sentence, even one as short as “He left”, always contains a subject – a noun or pronoun – and a verb. The two should always agree although, in practice, they often do not.

For example, an article in today’s Guardian by Jessica Shepherd (its education correspondent, no less), read, “One in five free schools are opening…”. This should have been, “One in five free schools is opening…”. As far as grammar is concerned, it’s irrelevant whether she was writing about one school in five or one school in twenty-five – the singular subject of the sentence was “one” (one school in five). I know it’s easy to criticise journalists’ grammar (and I realise they are working to a deadline), but it would probably have been better to write, “One free school in five is opening…”.

The most common, and to me irritating, use of plural verbs with singular subjects is “are” with “team” and “group”. When talking about a team, commentators now always seem to say, for example, “England are unlikely to qualify”, or “Arsenal are unlikely to finish in the top four in the league”, but both “England” and “Arsenal” are teams – and a team is singular. “England is unlikely to qualify”, is not only correct, it sounds better – even if the outcome is just as disappointing.

The writer of another article in today’s newspaper couldn’t make up his/her mind about “group”: “The group say they do not blame…”, but farther on, “…exemplifies the frustration the group feels…”. (At least be consistent!) If, “The group says it does not blame…” sounded odd, it could easily have been resolved by writing, “The members of the group say…”, so that the subject was “the members” (plural), rather than “the group” (singular).

There’s a lot more on this to come, so watch this space.

Today’s picture

I took this in California in 1980. Is it the ultimate in bone idleness?

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