Sunday, 23 December 2012

If You Have Tears ... Dr Johnson III

You may have thought it strange that I suggested anything from a Preface to "A Dictionary of the English Language" should be moving, but consider the final words:

"... if the embodied critics of France, when fifty years had been spent upon their work, were obliged to change its oeconomy , and give their second edition another form, I may surely be contented without the praise of perfection, which, if I could obtain, in this gloom of solitude, what would it avail me?

I have protracted my work till most of those whom I wished to please have sunk into the grave, and success and miscarriage are empty sounds: I therefore dismiss it with frigid tranquility, having little to fear or hope from censure or from praise."

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Dr Johnson Speaks Out! Language Change II

No-one has yet submitted an entry here but I did say that Bryan A. Garner definitely qualified for a prize for posting on Twitter the next lines from Dr Johnson's Preface. I originally quoted:

"If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity?"

After wisely conceding the inevitability of change, the great lexicographer (Dr J) continued:

"It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure."

So, in the end we can't stop the changes that we disapprove of but we can say what we feel we are losing, as well as what we are gaining. Perhaps also we should struggle, as Dr J demands, to retain the best of the old, while admitting any useful changes. Although we might not think it right to talk now of degeneration as the great man does, I find his call for effort and vigilance as moving and relevant as ever:

"Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our constitution: let us make some struggles for our language."

From the Preface to "A Dictionary of the English Language" (1755)

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Greatest English Pope

My nomination for greatest English Pope is Alexander Pope, born Lombard Street in the City of London 1688, died Twickenham, Middlesex 1744.

He is indisputably the greatest English poet named Pope from an established Catholic family.

You can see many of his witty couplets on Twitter at #PopeQuotes and #Pope (not Pontifex). Funnier than the other chap IMHO (in my humble opinion).

He said of himself that in his youth he "thought himself the greatest genius that ever was". As he wrote "An Essay On Criticism" when he was about twenty, he might have had a case.

Indeed Dr Johnson wrote (in his 'Lives of the English Poets'):
"Self-confidence is the first requisite to great undertakings. He, indeed, who forms his opinion of himself in solitude, without knowing the powers of other men, is very liable to error; but it was the felicity of Pope to rate himself at his real value."

Beat that you other Popes!

Expletive (In)Fixation

There are a lot of expletives about, not just every other word with some people but in the middle of words, too; they are addicted to them, it seems. Dr Ashley Murphy @LinguistAshley kindly tweeted me from Seoul to tell me the proper name for this: "expletive infixation". Thanks, again. Very appropriate. Awe-f***ing-some!

But wait, there are rules for this, it seems. So fan-f***ing-tastic is fine but my facetious
awe-f***ing-some reply to the good Doctor doesn't work. Well, no, it just doesn't sound right. Partly intentional, he claimed hastily but unconvincingly: it seems the expletive should go before the syllable that has the main stress.

So how do these rules come about? And don't people who are not very good at this sort of thing break these rules? I suppose so, but then unsatisfactory coinings don't last. Is it folk prosodic infixation scanning, to go with folk etymologies and grammar? Clever, eh? As with crowd chants at a football match / game (I meant Association, but any will do) some are judged unworthy and do not catch on.

Ah, well, back to the greatest Engish #Pope (not Pontifex):

While expletives their feeble aid do join,
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Intrasyllabic Expletive Insertion - Absobloodylutely!

Yes, no, absolutely! No, honestly, I really did hear somebody on the Tube (ok, subway, if you must, US followers) say, without apparent humour, "Abso-f***ing-lutely". Well, ok, not with the arguably mealy-mouthed asteriskification.

I wonder if there is a proper linguist-approved term for this? I felt I was flirting with trouble in an email to an expert a while back by facetiously inventing a journal called Isis Review. I thought at first it might just have been an Oxford student cabaret. But it seemed more convincing the more I googled "is is / double is / double copula". And the spoof name, Dr Nawat Amin, is perfectly possible. No offence intended to any real person. It was invented, indeed, to suggest a very distinguished academic whose research might not be appreciated by the world at large.

Hence, to post or not to post?

Amin (2011): "Intrasyllabic and Intramorphemic Expletive Additions" by Dr Nawat Amin, in Journal of Metropolitan Dialectology, Jan-Jun 2011 (vol. xx, iv).

No, this is only a joke  - just  a link at most. Need to relaunch Joke and Irony Alert?

Neglect the Rules

I've been tweeting about grammar points and following a discussion via @StanCarey on Twitter and at his excellent website called, Alice / Carroll fans, "Sentence First":
about apparent misuse in published novels of "who's" for "whose". I just commented that even the great Jane Austen could be accused of misuse of apostrophes (eg it's, their's) and indeed of poor grammar at times ( eg "those sort of people"). Then I came upon another quotable couplet in "An Essay on Criticism":

"Neglect the rules each verbal critic lays,
For not to know some trifles is a praise."
A. Pope

(I know, the rules on spelling and apostrophes may have been even less clear in Austen's day.)

Bar Hamburg

I heard Arthur Smith on BBC R4 "Loose Ends" say he was going to spend Christmas in Germany, at the Bar Hamburg, I think. I follow him @ArfurSmith on Twitter.

Nature Moves: Great Expectations (2012 film)

"Survey the whole, nor seek slight faults to find,
Where nature moves and rapture warms the mind."
(From "An Essay On Criticism" by Alexander Pope)

I didn't have great expectations, especially after the last BBC TV adaptation. But, in fact, I was sniffing and dabbing away manly tears all the way through. I thought it was wonderful, right from the first shots of the Kentish "meshes" and the churchyard. By the by, Cooling (Kent) churchyard has a family plot with so many children's graves that the usually over-the-top Dickens actually had to cut the number down to make it more believable.

Even David Walliams and the comedy characters worked for me. Well, they were just ... Dickensian! And the Finches / Bullingdon Club scene! And Wemmick with his office and his Walworth persona! And the lovely Pips (brothers!) and Estella, haughty but not cold, with a quiver of emotion and even (innovation, this) a touch of sympathy and feeling for Pip in the early scenes.

And Sir Ranulph, no sorry, Ralph Fiennes - is that right? - with an impeccable Cockney persona and accent, thanks in no small part to the admirable dialect coach Joan Washington! Or was it North Kentish? That was my only nit-picking point, the yokel-type Kentish accents. Does anyone know how people spoke around Rochester then? Possibly they had done research and it was accurate. I hope so - and after all Rochester area accents were more countrified and even rhotic (ooh arr ooh arr eh) in those days. Anyway, Joan W wasn't in charge of those characters, I imagine, but 1:1 with RF. And it didn't spoil it though it might have reduced my emotional and tear-ridden assessment from 10/10 to 9.75. After all we have to aim for a perfect fulfilment of our expectations one day.

But I'm not seeking to find any faults #Pope (not Pontifex) !

Monday, 17 December 2012

Barnet Hospital

This is probably not a new thought but seeing a bus with "Barnet Hospital" on the front made me wonder if it could have "Emergency Hair Care" in brackets.

Friday, 14 December 2012

"The Hour" (BBC TV) Again

Well, big, bloody and involving finish! But I found it difficult to concentrate sometimes. Sort of used to the unconsciously AmE language or the stuff just used without a thought by young people as normal BrE, "raise" for "rise", "call her" for "ring / phone her", "do you have his address?" etc. I don't think I heard "Can I get a tea?" but probably will in next Downton.

But the last episode had someone "whose stock has crashed", "Westminster is running scared", a "nooclear" (or was it "noocular"? ), several "Piss off!"-s (one shouted down the phone and seeming rather modern), and, interestingly, "no lon(g)er" with silent g, not often heard on the BBC until "the Stron(g)est Link"*. I used to muse whether the last was an idiosyncrasy of Ms Robinson, possibly after elocution lessons in Lancashire, or the Wirral or somewhere.

But this is strangely anticipatory, retrospectively anachronistic. Or is it? Aren't anachronisms usually retrospective? What's the oppositte of anaphorically? Maybe cataphorically? Why is this one particularly disturbing? What am I talking about late at night? I am confused. And don't start me on the glasses / specs.

A shame as it all distracts from all the important and worthwhile elements, not least the interesting casting - a very beautiful but implausibly fragile Producer, for example, who, while fascinating me, made me wonder what the impressive Anna Chancellor would have done in that role. Detracts and distracts, too, from the powerful and admirable acting.

* A phrase used on BBC TV quiz show "The Weakest Link".

In-Swinger or Off-Cutter, Aggers?

Both SkyCricket and Test Match Special loosely talk of swing when it is seam movement. I don't think they give Jimmy Anderson, for example, enough credit. When there is little swing, he really works on the seam, bowling fast off- and leg-cutters.

Delighted that Lord (David) Gower, at least, intelligent and witty as ever, took up my point! Liked his surprise question to Athers, too: "OK, who was the first official British Prime Minister?"

The Empty Air

I sometimes think my wit
Is wasted on the empty air:
Very few can read it
And the wife doesn't care.

(Apologies to Clydesdale, only half true.)

Thursday, 13 December 2012

New Hashtag: Pope (not Pontifex) - and PopeQuotes

I started the Pontifex hash tag but it got mixed up with the Pope Benedict ones - so I did some with #PopeQuotes but there are lots already, about the Pope tweeting etc. I meant Alexander Pope, the poet (1688-1744), you know?

There are so many great quotes and a lot which are relevant to language matters, journalism, Twitter and so on. How about this one:

Ask you what provocation I have had?
The strong antipathy of good to bad.
(From "To Augustus")


Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see
Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be.
(From "An Essay in Criticism")

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Pope not Pontifex, Jeremy

Well, Shakespeare quotes every day and Chaucer doth tweet, so what about Pope? Not Pontifex, he seems to have an account but to be silent.

I was prompted to start this by seeing Jeremy Hardy last night. Clydesdale and I agreed that his rants, or material, were / was much the same as mine but that he was much nicer and funnier - and he's on Radio4.

I tweeted him to this effect but then softened it to "What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed." That was Pope (not Pontifex). Still no tweets from him or Himself, or replies from anybody (except my one loyal reader), in fact.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Turnham Clean!

On "Turnham Green, please" just saw this photo of "Turn'em Clean", a dry-cleaners there:

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ellis Edgar Achong

"A Chinaman": now there are variations on the origin of this cricketing term and even its present meaning can vary from speaker to speaker and country to country. Generally, though, it means a delivery by a slow left arm bowler that turns in the opposite direction from "normal". (This could be from leg to off for a SLA wrist-spinner as opposed to an orthodox one.)

One version of the story goes that E.E. "Puss" Achong, touring England with the West Indies in the 1930s, dismissed Walter Robbins of England with a ball that moved "the other way", that is, presumably, from off to leg. "Fancy being got out by a Chinaman!" Robbins is supposed to have remarked - or something a lot stronger, in some versions. "Do you mean the delivery or the player?" asked the West Indian captain, who had seen Achong's variations before. Apparently the term has stuck ever since.

Achong is reputed to have bowled both left arm orthodox finger-spin and the less common wrist-spin. The term "Chinaman" is sometimes used in a more restricted sense for the left arm wrist-spinner's googly, or "wrong un". He also, by the way, represented Trinidad and Tobago at football (or soccer, to all my transatlantic readers). Any questions?

Cricketers' Names III

The baseball joke I mentioned relied on using a foreign / ethnic minority name but I haven't dared go there yet (although I've got one myself): "Hoo's on first base". This is presumably a reference to a player of Chinese origin and there have no doubt been plenty of those in baseball, as well as some in cricket. Indeed, the inventor of the Chinaman delivery was reputedly a Trinidadian of Chinese ancestry. What was his name? (Oh, don't start that again. I'll look him up.) The joke continued with "I don't know" on third base, I think, which seemed even weaker, though I have met an Odonwo or two, if I remember right.

Well 'ard! Cricketers' names (cont.)

Harold Pinter wrote somewhere that his proudest moment was not receiving a theatrical ovation or a big literary award, but getting a curt "Well, batted, lad" from Arthur Wellard. I imagine that not even the Nobel Prize would have come close.*

Wellard played for Bexley CC, where I netted and failed to make the team as a shortsighted under-12. He went on to play for Somerset and England, picked mainly for his seam bowling but also for his lower order six-hitting. He also played for the Gaieties, Pinter's team, well into his seventies. Well 'ard: hard but fair.

*This was how I remembered it but on Pinter's website, still extant, he records Wellard's remark as "I was proud of you." Pinter scored a slow 25 and, with his partner, saved the match. Even better.

No Holding - Bowler's name?!

In the sort of cricket I used to play the teams often struggled to field eleven men and it was very rare to have a designated scorer. So it was common for the batting side to take it in turns to score and to have to shout out to the fielders "Bowler's name?!" at each change. Merriment could be had with some names, even apart from comical pretended mishearings. (I always hoped to tour the Netherlands where my name might be written down without comment for a change - but I never did.) Imagine if Jack Crapp of Gloucestershire and England had bowled for a pub team! It was bad enough with names like Dyer: "Oh, give him a chance. He might not be that bad!"

Although there are other unfortunate names like Cheetham or Crook, Pratt or Sidebottom - father and son sidle, unfairly, into my mind at this point - there have been many suitably or even poetically named players at first class and international level. By the by, baseball fans might think of the Abbott & Costello joke "Who's on first base?" This might work even better in Norfolk where Hugh and Hughes are pronounced without the yod, "Who" and "Who's".

Anyway, there have always been Fielders, Players, Bowlers, Stumpers, Batts and Balls. And Boots, Plimsolls, Insoles, Studds and even Boxes. Then there are the pastoral or agricultural names like Park(e)s, Mead(e)s, Meadows, Rivers, Forests, Woods and Underwoods, plus Hoggards, Shepherds and Oakmans (-men) to go with them.

In addition to those Bowlers, there have been Breakwells, Seamers, Throwers, Pitchers, Drivers, Hookers and Pullars, Cutts and Cutters, and other occupational names like Glover, Palmer and Shooter or Shuter. Birds and beasts of the field occur in the scorebook, too. Do you know your Hawkes from your Hansers? Preferable to Bulls and Hoggs, perhaps, though they both could be formidable, too.

And what about the lovely combination of Parfitt, Gentle and Knight? Somebody tell me they played together! And then I won't even mention the Willeys and Holdings!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Changin' the Gee

There's a lot of talk about new legislation, especially about Leveson and the Press. If commentators have to say the word several times they seem to find it tedious and change the g to a hard one - it seems less trouble, perhaps?

Now one or more of my distinguished linguist (good rhyming moniker just tossed away there) followers will tell me that this is "A very well-observed phenomenon, usually known in the literature as neopalataldroppification", or summat - then I'll feel silly, again!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

I'll Askham

Decades ago when visiting a university friend in York, some other chums and I used to chuckle over local village names. "Which way now?" "Askham Bryan!" "No, you Askham Richard!" Silly fellows! But I still get innocent amusement from such place names. Does anyone else?

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Turnham Green, please / Can you tell me the best way to...

This is related to the previous place name jokes and was prompted by living near Turnham Green tube, west London. In those far off days you would often ask for a ticket by just stating your destination at the ticket office. "Turnham Green, please" never seemed to raise other eyebrows but tickled my funny bone every time.

Similarly, over the years Clydesdale and I have got amusement by suggesting variations on the request: "Excuse me, can you tell me the best way to Beckenham?" Frettenham and Pulham (Norfolk) were also sniggerworthy here. Is it just us? OK, she is a Barking woman and her mother later moved a stop beyond so I, indeed we, have always been ready for a cheap laugh on these lines.

Any other giggleworthy names out there?


Responding to a Twitter hashtag I've been thinking of some #placenamesongs. It's a sort of "I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue" running joke. The funniest ones are often where a famous American song is given a very British place name eg "24 Hours from Tulsa" becomes "24 Hours From Tulse Hill" and so on. I don't think I invented that one but it's hard to tell as some are trad. Some others that occurred to me were:
The Winchelsea Lineman
Tijuana Dance? / Tijuana Know A Secret?
Wenham 64 (Great & Little Wenham, Suffolk, since you ask)
Woking Back To Happiness
Tell Me Wye / Hay Bulldog (twinned)
Diss Is My Song
and so on ad (imminent) nauseam.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Manley signs

Drove past a sign for Wright Manley something. Hoped it was a fitness centre but not sure.

Names - what's in 'em, anyway?

Someone just tweeted that he was considering voting for a candidate for Police Commissioner because his name was Marshall Lawe. Better than Seymour Grimes, perhaps?

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Boardcasting 1957-style bought back

"The Hour" is back on BBC2 with Series 2, set in 1957. Not only do BBC people say "bought" for "brought" and "nucular" (Ms Garai)  well before George W but talk about their "input" and everyone wanting "a piece of you". Is this sloppy writing or a clever move to please the US market? Will we hear the characters talk of the British, or maybe the Bitish, Boardcasting Corporation in the next episode?

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

90 Years of BBC B(r)oadcasting

For the past few years we've noticed the pronunciation "boardcast" and "boardcasting", and possibly a touch of  "bwoardcasting". Today on the 90th anniversary of BBC radio I thought I noticed it on Radio 4 News. Have other people observed this? Is the r sound particularly sensitive in this word or is it part of a trend? I haven't really heard it with, for example, the words "broad" or "bread", or with names like Stuart / Chris Broad, the cricketers.

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Some people I know have expressed mild irritation with the use of "So" as the start of a response in interviews. This is a trend that has been recorded online - as with many language usages, there are more notices/comments about AmE than BrE. It has even been called "the ubiquitous 'So'". So I was interested to read a comment on a recommended blog -
- which pointed out (just used those dashes, I realise, to avoid commas, which can be controversial) that it had been used by Seamus Heaney in his translation of Beowulf. This was more with the sense of Old English "Hwaet!", though, than with the traditional BrE use of suggesting a logical next step. It is more like introducing a new topic, or even chapter, especially in Irish English usage, it seems. So, next time you hear a politician on the Today programme answer with "So...", tell yourself that it doesn't have to be logical: it could just be story-telling.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Nominative Determinism

"The Guardian" had a thread of correspondence and comments about this - is it also called "nominal determinism"? - possibly prompted by discussion of Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice.

If your name is, for example, Teresa Green are you more likely than most to work in forestry, perhaps because your parents were arboriculturalists? Or work in a garden centre if your name is Anita Lawn? To work for the Meat Marketing Board if you are Mr Lamb, or London Zoo if you are a Ms Lyons?

After listening to Gardeners' Question Time with its Flowerdews and Swithinbanks, I heard that the head of the Horticultural Trades Association was Mr Briercliffe. By the by, the awful ash virus was first spotted in the UK at Ashwellthorpe - but that's another topic, place names.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Norfolk Dialect: "In Love With Alma Cogan"

I thought Roger Lloyd Pack made an honourable attempt at Norfolk dialect in the recent film, set in Cromer. Keith Barron's Brummie, though possible, of course, was unexplained and not very convincing. Was RLP a bit inconsistent on his "hair" for "here"? And I didn't notice any "that"s for "it's" as in "That's freezin'" etc. I suppose a point in his favour was (was / is - extra copula optional, but now recommended as POTUS Obama uses it) that he didn't go Mummerset as many actors do when attempting Norfolk without doing any research!

Monday, 22 October 2012

John Finnemore - Awesome!

Anyone else hear  the "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme" (BBC R4) where he did the "awesome" sketch? A female shop assistant thanks a male customer for giving her exactly the right money by saying, "Thanks, that's awesome".  He then berates her for exaggerating and tells her that her use of language is awful. She then asks if he is really saying that it fills him not only with some awe but full of the stuff. And adds that he should be more careful about abusing people who are just trying to be pleasant. Yes, OK, it rang a distant bell somewhere.

Lady Mary - Game Girl!

Ah, Downton - you are all terrific but that Lady Mary's a game girl, isn't she? She'll tackle all the new 1920s lingo. And the staff too, all being absolute bricks. "Oh, I'll give it a go!" seems to be their watchword - really spiffing! Or "awesome" in the next series, reader.

Downton Abbey Time Travel

There's a #tag of Downtown Anachronisms on Twitter. But last night we had a new bit of time travel with Matthew's "I've been on a steep learning curve". No prizes for the first one to spot a double is! "The problem is is that good servants are getting jolly scarce, Lord Snooty."

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Word Inflation (percentage count)

Once upon a time, a football coach had a brilliant thought and said, "Now, lads, we're not beaten yet. I know you've given everything, a hundred per cent, but now I'm asking for just a little bit more. I know you've got it in you. Dig deep and give me that extra ten per cent and we can win this!" Wow, great new phrase and somehow so true. But good enough (satisfactory) just isn't good enough nowadays. Soon it was 120% and then coaches and players and Chancellors of the Exchequers, allegedly, were asking for 1000%, a million, a billion per cent. Oh, where will it all end, Clydesdale?

All must have prizes / AMHP Syndrome

This is related to word inflation, I think, and to societies that are focused on surface, presentation and marketing. In education (and New Labour started it, not the Nasty Party who are in charge now) being good is just not good enough and satisfactory, well, that's disgraceful and "special measures" are called for. No, all must have prizes (except the failing teachers) and so all must be outstanding - otherwise we'll sack everyone, bring in new contracts (without benefits, pensions etc) and rebrand the school / institution - that should do it.

Ludwig II

This is probably a widespread one - maybe you'll let us know, but don't swamp us with queries today, we've got visitors - only you, reader! Do you just say "Vicar?" to mean "Would you like another cup of tea, dear?" You don't, Transatlantic followers? Well, I'm pretty sure nearly everyone does over here.


Like many couples, Clydesdale and I have a shorthand of private phrases. Sometimes it's just a spoonerism or an abbreviation. C is rather (or I might say over-) conscious of weight and figure and has even been known to tell me I should lose some lbs, whereas I'm known for being thin to the point of painfulness and yet, indeed, a "fine figure of a man" - or woman, no, I'm not revealing which Jefferson is. So (not the ubiquitous, the ever-spreading "so", but the old-fashioned one), sometimes, on the train, for example, (yes, ok, too  many brackets & commas, stylists),?, C will nudge me and just say "FFM" or "FFW". And, if one of us snores at night, all that is said (as the elbow is administered) is "Ludwig". Yes, you're ahead of me, "Roll over, Beethoven". Oh, dear, now I've revealed it to the Twittersphere. Do you say that as well? Discretion please, reader.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Mute Points

Has anyone else heard people say "It's a mute point"? Is it an East Anglian thing (hypercorrection?) or is it more general?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Between he, for we - pooh!

I'm a big fan of Stewart Lee and enjoy his contributions in The Observer when he takes over David Mitchell's column. This week he was being satirical and ironic about the Olympics and the Rings. Partly because of the toilet humour of much of it I wondered if his use of "we" was also a joke in "to we satirists". I don't think so, as he has written it before in this column: I suppose it is an established phrase. On the Media Show last week a Guardian columnist said "to we licence-payers". Is it a media thing or general, perhaps a sub-/conscious feeling that "me", "us" and even "him" are somehow second-class or suspect pronouns? Is it only sports commentators who say things like "between he and X"?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Yes. No. Absolutely. 2012

I asked some of my younger friends a year or so ago if they'd noticed people saying "Yes. No." to agree with something. They weren't aware of it, although I thought they, like most people under fifty (45?), did it themselves. I'm glad to see that the excellent BBC TV Olympic satire "2012" often has people say it, along with all sorts of current media and PR speak, "We gotta move up a level, guys", "It's all good", "You so have" etc. Of course people in the US have already written books about this sort of thing. There's even one called, I hear, "Yeh. No. Totally." Anyone remember the old "Yes / No Interlude"? "Are you ready?" "Yes." BONG!

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Humbled of Erith

I'm following another excellent tweeter @LoisMcEwan. She points out that "humbled" is now consistently used to mean its opposite, "proud", as in "I feel humbled to be nominated for this prize" etc. This is despite Rupert Murdoch's use of "humble" at the Leveson enquiry with more of the usual (?) dictionary meaning, though nearer to the related "humiliating". Lois also mentions the new cable car between Royal Docks and Greenwich but quite reasonably suggests that other areas of London need a crossing more. How about a Barking-Erith crossing, she asks. I'm reminded of Erithian comedian Linda Smith and her wonderful joke that Erith hasn't got a twin town "but just has a suicide pact with Dagenham." I'm allowed to say that as I was brought up there too. well

A tweeter I follow @editunited (see, I could be young, Twitter Generation, for all you know, not the old pedant you thought) tells us of "America's Next Top Redundancy". I've asked her if she's noticed a few examples common here. I once heard a terrifying Oz fast bowler say "Yes, he also does that too as well." A record at the time, I thought, but common now. Oh dear, hope Jeff doesn't read this.

Split Infinitive Correction Syndrome

One danger of going on about things like "double is" is that people who don't really follow closely might over-react and start correcting perfectly grammatical (dare I say? Why not, it's my blog) examples like "What it is [,] is a matter of grammar", or similar. On the net and in the press you can read lots of complaints by self-appointed prescriptivists about split infinitives. As you will agree, dear reader, this is a foolish cause as English infinitives have been split by many of the best writers: sometimes it's more elegant not to split, sometimes better to boldly go for it. Not only this but sometimes these deluded souls mistake phrasal verbs for infinitives and berate even distinguished linguists for splitting them up (splitting up them?). It's a dangerous thing to write about language at all. Think I'll go and lie down again.

Isis review

Writing about the rise of "double is", I invented a spoof journal and called it "International Isis Review"' editor Dr Nawat Amin. Trouble was / is that it was / is in danger of being taken seriously. In fact it is quite possibly already in preparation, under different editorship.

Friday, 22 June 2012


Seen any good notices and signs? Here's a genuine one:

 Please wash own cups and stand upside down in sink.

Without pitching on the pitch

I've read that cricket was the main summer sport in the US until the Civil War, unsurprising when you consider where many of the immigrants came from. Lacrosse could stake a claim, of course, and probably could be said to be the more indigenous game - any Canadians / Native Americans out there?

 Of course, the soldiers suffered from a lack of cricket pitches (ok not their main cause of suffering) and used their bats (wider cricket-style ones by then, not curved ones) to play the more two-dimensional English game known as rounders. [Joke alert / Irony Warning Scheme has proved ineffective] Now in Jane Austen's baseball and indeed in modern rounders, baseball, softball etc the ball doesn't need a pitch to pitch on and so in the 1860s soldiers could pitch up and play on any rough piece of ground. Are you with me?

Comments welcomed: there are similarities - innings (singular and plural) but also inning (singular) in AmE; 22 yards / 66 feet pitch but only 20 yards / 60 feet approximately from batter to pitcher / bowler; cricket / baseball caps / helmets; hard ball (roughly same size & weight); umpires (?); the Art of Fielding (not the novelist) etc. Special language of both sports?

Alfred E. Newman regrets ...

Did you spot the deliberate mistake of the month - well, and yes, I have been away, on holiday, since you are kind enough to ask. But just checking if anyone is reading this stuff! I hope I've corrected it now before anyone has seen it (I'm pretty confident about that) but will the first version be there for years?
Of course, I meant to write that 'worry' has for many years, perhaps two hundred, generally been said (by RP speakers, I should say) with an uh sound as in BrE 'cut' ie wurry. Now there seems to be a lot of spelling pronunciation about, so with an o sound, as in BrE 'not'. Any comments? Americans don't do either, anyway, I understand, but use a schwa sound.

What, me wurry?

Anyone remember MAD magazine in the 60s - oops, showing my age?! But on "worry", is the BrE (British English) pronunciation with an uh sound (as in 'cut') moving towards an o sound (as in BrE 'hot') ie towards spelling pronunciation? It seems to be, judging from politicians (new Labour leader, note lower case there) and TV/radio reporters. I'm not bovvered, of course, just noticing a possible change and commenting. Is it the influence of international media, perhaps? The perceived need to be clear on satellite phone reports? But doesn't it introduce a new ambiguity with warrior / worrier? US correspondents on Twitter suggest AmE pronunciation is with a schwa sound (like unstressed first sound of 'about') and it is given as such in dictionaries.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Epenthesis or eltse syndrome

A couple of proper linguists have told me that what I've noticed with else is quite common really: apparently we say fentce and dantce much of the time. We put an extra sound in to make articulation easier. Yes, well, I knew that really and about assimilation, where we say things like telephome bill - but not many people notice or would believe you. What I was asking was is (see what I did there?) it getting more frequent with the commonly used word "else"?

Friday, 4 May 2012

Pre-warned is fore-armed

My informant in the real world of work has now suggested that pre-warned is no more tautologous than forewarned, which is of some antiquity and unquestioned. But if we've already got the word isn't it funny how another comes into use?

Are you standing for Mayor - I said May-yor?

Mayoral elections in London. In the US, or at least online, there's some controversy about whether it should be may-yor or rhyming with mare. You can appreciate that if you were to use the second pronunciation in, say Texas, it could be quite embarrassing. Over here, except in country areas (Gloucestershire, comes to mind for some reason), you wouldn't think it would be a problem. So you wouldn't expect the May-yor pronunciation to catch on so fast. It seems that it has, though.

Monday, 30 April 2012


My sources in the business world tell me that it is now common to get a "pre-warning", for example of things on the agenda for an upcoming meeting. This rather reminds me of other redundancies or tautologies that are now appearing in more formal settings. It used to be that "return back" was the sort of thing said by foreigners. I might even have pointed out that "back" wasn't really needed as "re-" contained that idea. They probably nodded politely, even expressed some interest - and carried on. Now it's common enough with L1 speakers too. And why not? Redundancy, or overkill, you might call it, is common enough in language and there ain't nothing wrong with it.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Just Google Eltse ( if you think I'm silly)

Googling "eltse" reveals a lot of talk about it. Mostly in the US, and mostly saying it's wrong because there's no t in the spelling, which I would never do, of course. Spelling pronunciation is increasing but I can't see it going the whole way and I don't think we can insist on it. Interestingly, one of the first sites to mention it references Labov's research and "intrusive t". I've heard it for years out on the tough streets, of course.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Although / Think of That Too

I sometimes leave a deliberate mistake for my follower to pick up on. Sometimes I just make mistakes and sometimes the software, Spellcheck, and even hardware make them for me eg their /there or it's /its. But with Think of That, I meant, of course, that maybe the association of "though" with "although" may not be remembered in these cases. Or on the other hand, maybe it is remembered and contrasted in some way?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Withany Clan

Is it a myth that there are clans of people called, for example, Clarke-Withany, because they were asked on the phone "Is that Clarke with an e?" I ask because I just checked on Anne from strongest link post.

Stron(g)est Link?

Is it just Anne Robinson on "The Weakest Link" that says "the stron(g)est link? Or is it a trend / is it trending? Is it hyper-correction by northerners or a country-wide trend? When will we hear the first German style "fin(g)er"?

Think of That

I think there are more words with "th-" that begin with the sound of "think" ( unvoiced, lighter-sounding? ), rather than the sound of "that" ( voiced, heavier-sounding?). Is that right? I always stand to be corrected ( don't even think about that expression.) I've noticed several people pronouncing "though" with the lighter sound lately. Peter Gibbs, BBC weatherman) usually does, for example. Listen out, go on, or is it just me? Is it an unconscious idiosyncrasy or perhaps some lurking feeling about "although", maybe the dropping of the first syllable and the l sound? I know most people don't think that much about pronunciation but maybe you do if you are a weatherman - people are always criticising things they say, like "organised rain", or even "bits and pieces" of it.

Rhymes for Else - or Eltse!

Can anyone suggest any one-syllable rhymes for 'else'? Plenty for 'eltse'. See what I mean?

Or Eltse

Is there a movement in pronunciation away from 'else' towards 'eltse' with an extra 't'? Perhaps it is easier to grasp or there may be more models / rhymes for it? Melts, belts, welts, Celts, pelts, Feltz?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012


Is this being used more nowadays as a "posh" version of although, while at the same time losing the connection with the original phrase all be it? The pronunciation seems to be changing to a short a? Or I could just be thinking of Lawro again.

Windows Is

Clive James puts a lot of this stuff much better in a poem, "Windows Is Shutting Down". His website is highly recommended (by Jefferson, for what that's worth):

Monday, 16 April 2012

What it is is

Of course, "What it is, is (a question of ...)" etc is a perfectly grammatical ( dare I say? ) and well-established structure in standard BrE. It usually has a comma in writing, which reflects speech, giving a pause for summing up. The two is's(izzis?) are together but separated by a pause or comma. However,grammatically, the first "what it is" is a clause which is the subject of the second is and so doesn't really need separation by punctuation. English doesn't usually (except for some relative clauses and so on) use commas for grammatical purposes so much as to represent speech. Just clearing it up in my own mind. I'll go and have a lie down now. Good night to my follower.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Shops and Bars

Best shop and bar signs of the month (seen from London bus): SELLFRIDGES (specialist fridge shop). NILE BAR

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Sitting in the Hole (again)

What happened to the post answering this question? Anyway, although pundits and managers rarely explain what they mean, I think I've worked out that it is something about playing in the gap between striker(s) and midfIeld. Right, Lawro? Jamie?

Language Change I

"If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence as in the other insurmountable distresses in humanity?" There seems no answer to that, or is there? No prizes but I might buy a drink in my local for anyone who could quote the next bit before next week.

Friday, 13 April 2012

IWS Update - Retrospective Regrading

After a request from our follower, there has been a retrospective regrading of some posts. After consideration "Fortuitous" has been regraded MCI and "Incidences" IW. It is not as yet clear how much extra workload this will generate and the IWS will be evaluated in due course. We will try to keep our follower in touch with all developments.

Laters, Placky etc IWS now in place!

I really, really love some new usages, don't you? No, really. I suppose it's easier to love new vocabulary items rather than new grammar, yes, but I really, really do (ANIIAA)love things like "laters" for "see you later" (so concise). And things like "placky" for plastic bag. Really, really. IWS Note: following requests from readers for more clarity on the tone of these posts, it should be noted that a new Irony Warning System (IWS) has been put in place. This is being trialled with a five star rating system. Note: for technical reasons ?? have had to be used rather than stars. ? JW: joke warning, might not be as subtle as irony. ?? IW: irony warning, means the opposite of what it says. ??? MCI: may contain some irony. ???? NII: no irony intended. ????? ANIIAA: absolutely no irony intended at all (as in above item).

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Incidences - words, words, words eh?

We used to have "incidents" but "incidence" used to mean, I think, how often something happened. But now we have "incidences" for "incidents" (R4 News just now). "Incidences" used to be quite a technical word, used by sociologists and scientists. Now it has been democratised - how lovely - to be the plural of incident as well. See, I'm not just an old grouch.


I really like the way football ie soccer commentators say fortuitous instead of lucky. Much posher, isn't it?

Just Sit in the Hole

What would happen if an under-11 footballer - that may be soccer player / socceroo / soccerer to all our US followers, do you use the same phrase, I wonder - were told to "just sit in the hole"?

Shakespeare IV Grammarcheck

There was no prize for spotting April's deliberate mistake, just checking to see if everyone was paying attention. Of course, as several people have pointed out, if Shakespeare had used Grammarcheck programs - no apostrophe please! What was that, a pedantic greengrocers you know what because it's short for programmes? - "bones are coral made" would probably go unchecked as they would parse bones as the subject of are, whereas we know that Shakespeare was probably using coral as an unmarked plural. Or he just didn't care because it sounded better. Or some actor copied it down wrong or misremembered it.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Shakespeare III

My point about "are coral made" was partly about unintelligent grammar- and spellcheck program's. If he were to write "of his bones are coral made" now "are" would be changed to "is" before he knew it.

Got it or Don't Got It?

A: Have you got it? B: No, I don't. A: What? You don't got it, you say? B: No, I don't. I first heard this many years ago from a Northern Irish friend and he seemed to see nothing unusual in the construction. Time has proved him right and me wrong, again. Nowadays most US speakers and possibly most UK under 40s would agree with him. They say NI accents were a big influence in the New World and maybe that's where this grammatical construction and more common use of "don't have" rather than "haven't got" comes from? I still miss the distinction, as in the old joke about the American doctor working in Britain: Dr: Now Mrs Smith how many children do you have? Mrs S:( looking worried) Oh, dear, normally only one at a time, doctor!

Shakespeare II - are coral made?!

Dr Johnson criticised Shakespeare more for things like the dramatic unities (whatever they were) than for grammatical howlers, as he might have seen them. But he did find a lot of inelegancies and wished he'd blotted a thousand - a bit harsh? But what about something like the famous lines from the Tempest: "Full fathom five thy father lies, Of his bones are coral made."? Shurely shome mishtake, Ed? Actually spellcheck corrected that old Private Eye joke the first time - I had to retype the shurely bit. But Shakespeare anticipated Grammarcheck programs by hundreds of years. He could make his own mistakes and even, see previous blog, other people's too. Or are coral like sheep, the same singular and plural? Or is it for the melodious sound? What about "mistakes" with me and I and other pronouns (of the with my friends and I type)? Are they acceptable in Shakespeare because it is poetry, or characterisation?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Shakespeare! What a character!

That Shakespeare, eh? Very elusive, or was he just an alias for secret agent Marlowe anyway? Dr Johnson criticised him for making thousands of errors but can we be sure these so-called errors were not made by someone else? Not by Bacon, perhaps, but by one of the characters in the play? He certainly produced things of the "between you and I" type, but was this an error or was this the sort of thing that character would say? Come on you Shakespeare corpus analysts, there must be thousands of you out there!

Is is

Is is is (the double copula, including was was, the thing being is etc) now more or less standard, or at least unremarked? John Humphrys on the Today programme on BBCR4 had a bit of a campaign against it a few years ago but now most people around him seem to use it unnoticed - and no, it is not just a hesitation-type reduplication as several linguist say, perhaps because they do not want to be thought prescriptive. Did it begin as an imitation of influential Americans like George W. Bush (but not, I guess, his father)and John McEnroe, two early users?

Is is is

The thing being is, is that that we do tend to copy these famous people.


It seems almost standard to say in the broadcast media things like 'He was a former Cabinet minister' or even 'You were a former TV producer' (Woman's Hour just now). Surely this is a kind of double past and it should be 'you are' (still are, you are still alive). Why does this kind of duplication (redundancy, I think is the term) happen? Is it related to what I call 'word inflation'? Extra syllables, extra words, extra tenses?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Oo er ee!

Er/ ee! We used to have a distinction between doer and doee, eg employer / employee. Now everything seems to take -ee, surely formerly the French past participle? So we have attendees at conferences but why not attenders? Seems a bit silly to me but I'm sure I'll be told that it's been happening for centuries and reminded of exceptions. But evacuees, for example, we're people who had BEEN evacuated. Is it another useful or meaningful distinction that is being lost?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012


It used to be that only giants(or Americans) could throw rocks but now we're doing it here too. Progress : we're getting bigger and boulder.

What comes next?

Firstly,secondly and thirdly seems to have given way to 'first of all, second of all [and on occasion]third of all', which smacks of word inflation. I wonder why people want to increase speech output - enough already. Do they think it sounds more important? Perhaps I'll ask the experts at Guardian style!

Friday, 23 March 2012


Leverage loses credit We already had the verb to lever (pronounced with a long ee) so why do we have to accept making another verb from the noun leverage? Especially as it was used mainly by incompetent bankers etc? Perhaps this absurd back formation will now lose credit and currency.

Thursday, 15 March 2012


Transparency's a good thing in windows but when figures are described as requiring transparency it must mean you can't see them. We already see through the banking misdemeanors and that's without transparency.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Heavy load

Athletics commentators have a special language when it comes to running. We frequently hear that competitors have rivals on their shoulders - tough isn't it?

Sitting in midfield

Confusion reigned when our grandson was told by his football coach to 'sit in midfiled'- the game came to a standstill as 11 5 year-olds sat down on the pitch. What could it mean?

Delivering Promises

You can deliver a parcel, or even a baby but can you deliver, say, promises, or education as if they come in boxes?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Resistible Offer

Seen outside a Norwich corner shop: Velvet Toilet Rolls £1.50 Filled Rolls £2.00

So and so

'So' seems to be used for answering questions whether or not they require it. Particularly noticeable with second language speakers. Wonder when it will migrate

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Friday, 24 February 2012

Yes no interlude

Answers to so many questions elicit 'Yes, no'. When did it begin and what does it mean?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Dribbling and passing the square ball

Dribbling and passing the square ball always strike me as strange things to do. Why don't we just wipe our chins and inflate the ball to its naturally round shape? If you're a sportsperson you'll appreciate what the language means but if not, well, you could be confused. Dribbling can mean running with the ball while bouncing or kicking it and a square ball actually means passing to someone who is is in line with you across the court or pitch.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Expecting a delivery

You can deliver a parcel, or even a baby but can you deliver, say, promises, or education as if they come in boxes?

Monday, 20 February 2012


Are you wondering about the countryside? Or wandering in that interesting city? The words seem interchangeable now but can cause some confusing. Not even in context is it always absolutely clear.

Give or make

Do we give a speech or make a speech? It's all up in the air!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Bringing or buying?

Are we losing the distinction between bought and brought? It would seem so and usually the context makes it clear what is intended but does another word 'bite the dust'?


Purposefully Will this word shortly (or rather, at greater length)completely replace "purposely"? Is it another AmE. Import and an example of the "word inflation" that has given us "fulsome" for "full", "methodology" for "method", "transportation" for "transport" and so on?