Tag Archives: photography

“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.



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?

Brevity is the soul of…

3 Jan

Shakespeare wrote that brevity is the soul of wit, but it is also the soul of clarity and understanding. Tautology – saying the same thing in different words – simply occupies time or, in a newspaper, valuable space, repetition is simply boring, and using unnecessary words is simply – unnecessary.

Politicians are well known for skirting around questions, particularly when faced by Today’s or Newsnight’s presenters. One of the classic ruses is to repeat the question, as in – Q: “Mr so-and-so do you believe that the majority of immigrants…?”; A: “Do I believe that the majority of immigrants…?”. What the listener wants to hear is a simple “yes” or a “no” followed by a justification for the answer. Do the people who are guilty of this think that listeners are too stupid to remember a question for more than a nano-second or are they simply taking up as much time as possible in a short interview to avoid having to answer it? No prizes for the correct answer.

I continue to despair at the style of language that is increasingly used in official documents. A recent letter to local councils said: “Tendering has negatively impacted on the provision of…[it poses several] key threats”.

“Impact” is a noun, not a verb (yes, I know I’ve said that before and will, no doubt, say it again), “provision” is unnecessary, and “key” is something to open a lock. Clear and simple: “Tendering has had a negative effect on [whatever it was]…and has created several important problems”.

A letter from Dame Barbara Hakin, COO of NHS England, read, “The concept of calling for advice first is essential for patient core outcomes and we are committed to ensuring 111 plays its full part”. Why is calling for advice a “concept”? Oh yes, someone’s discovered that “concept” is a synonym for “idea”, even if it’s not an appropriate synonym in this context. “Outcome” – rather than “result” – is rapidly becoming one of the words that makes me jump up and down with rage (and what does “core” add?), and if 111 is playing its part it is, by definition, playing its full part. Clear and simple: “For patients to achieve the best result it is a good idea if they call for advice first, and we are committed to ensuring that 111 plays its part in that.”

Could it please be everyone’s new year’s resolution to think before they speak or write, and to keep it simple (and there’s no question mark at the end of that request because it’s a rhetorical question).

Today’s picture

It seems to have been raining for 40 days and 40 nights, even though St Swithin’s day was months ago. I took this picture on South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, where the weather changes from hour to hour.



In, on and at

26 Nov

In, on and at.

In, on and at

26 Nov

In, on and at.


20 Nov


Cutting out the jargon

23 Aug

Cutting out the jargon.

Bored with “bored of”

10 Jul

A double-page ad (for Volvo) in today’s newspaper asks, “Bored of German techno?” Actually no, I’m not, but I am exceedingly bored with “bored of”. You can be “tired of” something, but you can’t be “bored of” it, only bored with it.

How do we expect children to learn decent grammar when they’re bombarded with illiterate advertising headlines?

While I’m at it, I’ll include “should of”. This, of course, comes from mishearing “should’ve” (should have) – more understandable than “bored of”, but equally grating.

Today’s picture

I’ve recently discovered the Culpeper Community Garden in Islington, London. This was taken on a rather dull day – before the sun decided to come out in England – but it’s still possible to see how beautiful it is.


Was and were

1 Jul

I continue to be amazed by the basic grammatical errors made by people who are reputed to be well educated. One of the most recent to make me cross was Sir Philip Hampton, Chairman of RBS – who graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford, with an MA in English, subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant and has an MBA from INSEAD.

On 16 June, The Observer reported: “Sir Philip Hampton…admits that [Stephen] Hester would still be in the top job [at RBS] if the plans for privatisation were not on the table. ‘If the privatisation wasn’t there, we’d be rolling on, probably looking for Stephen to have a successor (later) in 2014’.” No, Sir Philip, as The Observer’s reporter wrote, that should be “if the privatisation were not there…”. “If” should always be followed by “were”. Why?

The use of “if” indicates an hypothesis – something that, according to The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, is “imagined, wished, demanded, proposed, exhorted, etc. Its main contrast is with the indicative mood. It is plainly recognizable in modern English…principally in the third person singular present tense…and in the use in various circumstances of be and were instead of the indicative forms am/is/are and was.”

Today’s picture

I visited my sister in the beautiful medieval town of Ludlow last weekend (the only problem was that the wi-fi and mobile reception at The Feathers hotel were also medieval). The weather was pretty awful too, but on Monday we went for a walk around the perimeter of the 11th-century castle where I photographed this beautiful beech tree. (I’ve promised to go back to see it in its autumn colours.)


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.