Tag Archives: language

Euphemisms: 2

14 May

Nick Cohen castigated Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith in an excellent piece in Sunday’s Observer. He pointed out that, according to the UK Statistics Authority, the figures IDS had used to support his assertion that “his department’s cap on benefits was turning scroungers into strivers” were wrong.

Cohen concluded his piece: “When pressed [the Conservatives] say that they want to ‘flag up’ their support of marriage, ‘signal’ their dislike of scroungers or ‘send a message’ to immigrants. Our language has been so corrupted by the euphemisms of advertising and public relations that we no longer realise that what they mean is that they intend to lie.”

And therein lies the problem with euphemisms. They enable lies to be made palatable by couching them in imprecise language.

Today’s picture

Well it’s raining hard – again – today (was last weekend our summer?) I went for a walk in Hyde Park again on Sunday morning. I don’t know what sort of ducks these are, but they are very beautiful and there are a lot of them on the Serpentine.



Get and got

28 Aug

“Get” is a useful verb but, as The Economist Style Guide says, “it has its limits”. A politician does not get to be party leader, he/she becomes party leader; nor does an employee get a promotion, he/she is given a promotion or even, perhaps, earns one.

“Got”, the past participle of “get”, is even more frequently misused. In conversation, we all tend to say, “I’ve got” – as in “I’ve got a headache” etc – but “got” is superfluous here. All we really need to say, or write, is, “I have a headache”.

 It is particularly irritating to hear our so-called well-educated politicians banging on about education: “We’ve got to improve standards in English” is a favourite. Yes, indeed, we have – and let’s start with you!

Today’s picture

An interesting piece of lettering in Melbourne, Australia.



The Olympics buzzword

17 Aug

There’s been rather a gap in my blogs – I’ve had (both) kneecaps replaced and that has prevented me getting downstairs to my computer. It gave me a good excuse, though, to do nothing but lie on the bed and watch the Olympics coverage.

 The BBC’s team was excellent: the commentators were knowledgeable and didn’t create too many reasons for me to yell at the screen. The new athletics’ buzzword seems, however, to be “executed” – nobody swam, ran, rowed, jumped, cycled, performed, accomplished or achieved, they all executed. It didn’t seem to matter whether they were British, American, or whatever – they executed. Now, where did that come from?

Today’s picture

The Badlands, South Dakota, 2008


Plurals, possessives and the “greengrocer’s apostrophe”

1 Jul

Plurals and possessives are a cause of much confusion in English – and there are no easy-to-follow rules.

Some words simply add an “s” to denote the plural – for example, girl to girls, boy to boys, house to houses; some insert an “e” – potato to potatoes, tomato to tomatoes; others make more substantial changes. For example, scarf changes to scarves, life to lives, person to people, lady to ladies; and some nouns, such as politics, are always plural (politic is an adjective and means prudent, which people in politics often are not!).

Never, ever, put an apostrophe in decades: it’s the 1990s, not the 1990’s, unless (and in English, there always seems to be an unless) you’re using it as a possessive – and possessives are an even bigger problem.

English is, I think, the only language to use apostrophes – ‘s (for singular) or s’ (for plural) – to denote ownership. It is much more fluent to say or write “The man’s hat blew off” than “The hat of the man blew off”, but it leads to a great deal of confusion and to the common use of what has become known as “the greengrocer’s apostrophe” (greengrocers seem to be particularly prone to labelling their goods “Fresh tomatoe’s”, instead of “Fresh tomatoes”, etc).

What is the easiest way to work out where the apostrophe goes? Turn the sentence around so that the noun is at the end; the apostrophe will follow the last letter of the noun. For example, “The homework of the girl” – one girl – is “The girl’s homework”, “The homework of the girls” – more than one – is “The girls’ homework”.

We also use apostrophes to indicate an elision (one or more missing letters): I’ve (I have), I’m (I am), wasn’t (was not), etc, and it’s (it is) –  and with it’s we’re back to the confusion between possessives and plurals. It is a pronoun (like him and her) that is used to refer to an object or an animal; the plural is its, not it’s.

As you can see from the following pictures, the confusion about apostrophes is not recent. The person who owned the pie and mash shop was, undoubtedly called Clark. Strictly speaking, his shop sign should have read “Clark’s”, and the addition of the apostrophe wouldn’t have spoiled the sign. Similarly, I’m sure that the man who built the terrace in Islington, in 1824, was called Thomson…and how interesting that the stonemason added a pointless full point after the date.




Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language

24 Jun

I arrived back today from five days in New York – the land of the split infinitive – where there was a record-breaking heatwave. (It was rather a shock to land in rain and cold, at 6.45am, this morning.)

There was a brilliant exhibition, Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language – seemingly tailor-made for me – at the Museum of Modern Art. The exhibits, which are all based on “the material qualities of language – visual, aural and beyond” include work by painters, sculptors, etc, from the DaDa and Futurist periods to the modern day. My favourite, modern, artists were Tauba Auerbach and Karl Homqvist.

Today’s picture is of one of Homqvist’s works. I shot it on a compact camera and in difficult conditions, so I apologise for the quality. It was an entire wall in a side gallery – and the background is actually white!


Superfluous words

18 Apr

You may have guessed that I’m a newspaper addict, but so many people subscribe to the “why use one word when you can use three (or more)” syndrome, that it’s not really good for my blood pressure.

Today, for example, it was reported that Judge Anthony Pitts told the Southwark Crown Court “…the figure may be in excess of £200m” – why not “the figure may exceed £200m”? And in a piece about an Alfred Hitchock season “…one of the highlights…will be to fully restore nine of the director’s silent films”. Who needs “fully”? Apart from splitting the infinitive (and, yes, I am one of those dinosaurs who hates split infinitives), they’re either going to be restored, or they’re not.

The most frequent culprit is, of course, “of”: “all of” instead of “all”; and “inside of” and “outside of” instead of “inside” and “outside”.

Back in the day, as they say, with the exception of direct quotes, newspaper subs corrected grammar, cut copy to fit without losing important parts of the story, and wrote headlines, captions and stand firsts (introductions) that accurately represented what was in the piece – which isn’t always the case now.

I realise that cost precludes the use of subs now, but could we not teach people to write better English in the first place? Minister for Education please note.

Today’s picture

The weather is vile today (I think we had summer in March; in a few years we’ll be having it in December), so here’s some sunshine: the shell seller’s shelter on the beach at Trinidad del Mar, Cuba.Image

Trying to add tags

31 Mar

Mmm, wonder if I’ve managed to do that!

Today’s picture

The garden is full of flowers – not that I know what any of them are called, other than the obvious ones. Here’s a picture I took in summer 2010, and I do know this is a poppy – and a bee.Image