Frolic: Meek parents and content disjuncts

“Blimey, those British parents!”

“What about them?”

“I never knew they could be so meek.”

“Meek? British parents?”

“Well, to allow yourself to be abused like this when you are a fully-functioning adult. Particularly when there’s a few of you and only one abuser.”

“Depending on the type of the abuse, I suppose. What have you been reading now?”

The Daily Telegraph.”


“They wrote about this children’s doctor who sexually abused not only the boys he was supposed to be looking after but also their parents.”

“You are kidding!”

“No, no, look: that’s what they wrote.”

  “John Farmer, prosecuting, told the court how Bradbury abused boys with their parents in the room and said the doctor began using a camera pen in an attempt to gain images of the boys when partly clothed.”

“No, no, it’s the commas!”

“But they said it was sexual abuse.”

“I know, I know, it’s absolutely awful, but he didn’t actually abuse the parents.”

“But they said he had abused boys with their parents!”

“No, no, no: ‘with their parents in the room’ is a content disjunct.”

“A what?”

“A content disjunct – a type of adverbial.”

 “Of what?”

“Adverbial – one of the five clause elements. This one is actually a contingency construction.”


“Oh never mind; the point is that ‘with their parents in the room’ should have been enclosed with two correlative commas.”

“Correlative commas?”

“Yep, commas that come in pairs – because they co-relate. If The Daily Telegraph had used these commas, the meaning would be completely different.”

“I s-e-e-e, so he didn’t actually abuse the parents themselves.”


“But, even so, they must have twigged.”

“Well, it says here that he was behind a curtain, doesn’t it? So they probably couldn’t see him.”

“But, but … how could anybody not have noticed that this doctor was partly clothed? Surely, alarm bells must have rung or something …”

“Ha, ha, ha, it wasn’t he who was partly clothed!”

“But that’s what it says …”

“I know, I know, but it’s a relatively common error. Look, participial adverbials really are a minefield – how many times? What they should have written is this.”

 John Farmer, prosecuting, told the court that Bradbury had abused boys, with their parents in the room, and said the doctor had begun using a camera-pen in an attempt to obtain images of the partly-clothed boys.

 “Or they could have said: ‘to obtain images of the boys, who were partly clothed’. What they can’t do is leave this sentence as it is.”

“But that’s exactly what they did.”

“Yep, that’s exactly what they did.”

“So how …”

“Don’t even ask!”


Frolic: Another dangling participle

“Poor, poor man!”


“This Rupert.”

“Which Rupert?”

“Rupert Christiansen. From The Daily Telegraph. I thought that Rupert was supposed to be a posh name.”

“It is, but there are worse things you could do to a kid. Fair dos, he might prefer to be called something down-to-earth like Peter or John, but you can’t expect all parents to be that sensible. So I wouldn’t feel too sorry for him.”

“No, no, it’s not that!”

“So what is it then?”

“His background; poor mite.”

“Hmm, I see what you mean: some of those toffs can be right weirdos; at least that’s what I’ve read.”

“A-a-a-a, but that’s just it!”

“That’s just what?”

“They weren’t toffs at all.”

“They weren’t?”


“So what were they?”

“Pagans, apparently.”

“Well, some toffs may well hold different beliefs, so I wouldn’t …”

“No, no, no, if they were toffs, why did they then palm him off on some peasants?”

“Peasants?  Listen, you are not making any sense.”

“It’s not me – look at what they wrote. Right at the very top of this article.”

 “Begun by pagans, kept alive by peasants – Rupert Christiansen traces the surprising origins of our favourite seasonal songs.”

 “Ha, ha, ha, it’s another … ha, ha, ha … it’s another dangler.”

“Another dangler?”

“Yep; you know, a dangling participle. Two, actually: begun and kept. I’ve told you about dangling participles, haven’t I?”

“You have, you have.”

“They are an absolute classic.”

“But it’s The Daily Telegraph …”

“Makes no difference. Look, what they were trying to say was this.

 Rupert Christiansen traces the surprising origins of our favourite seasonal songs, begun by pagans, kept alive by peasants.

 “I s-e-e-e. But didn’t you tell me that people often started their sentences with participles to sound sophisticated?”

“They do, they do, but a dangler will never sound sophisticated – trust me.”

“Are you saying that it’s not possible to plonk these participles at the beginning here?”

“Nope, I’m not saying that at all. But you have to rearrange this sentence to make sure that both participles refer to the subject of their governing clause.”

“Like … you mean … I’m not sure …. so how would you …”

“That’s how; look.”

 Begun by pagans, kept alive by peasants, our favourite seasonal songs have surprising origins, traced here by Rupert Christiansen.


Daily Frolic 22: Lusting milkmen and dangling participles

“There must be something in your water.”

“In my water?”

“No, no, I mean in this country.”

“Like what?”

“No idea – but it must be dodgy.”


“Aha; we would never allow anything like this to happen in Poland.”

“Like what?”

“To upset people’s hormonal balance like this – never. I mean, you don’t want to mess with hormones, do you?”

“What are you on about?”

“Well, I’ve been reading this Sunday Telegraph …”


“They had this interview with a singer – they said he was very famous in Britain …”


“And he said that, after he’d left school with no qualifications, he became a milkman.”

“Well, when you have no qualifications your options are a tad limited. But I guess becoming a milkman is a viable career option in such circumstances.”

“Or a footballer?”

“Or a footballer. But what’s your point?”

“Well, he said he’d come across all these funny women – when he was delivering their milk.”

“Look, you are not making any sense. What exactly did he say?”


“My outstanding memory was that despite bursting with testosterone, bored housewives never lured me into their home.”

 “Oh this, ha, ha, ha!”

“But it’s not funny. These poor women; I wonder whether they were hairy. I mean, testosterone can …”

“No, no, no, it’s a dangler.”

A dangler?”

“Yep: a dangling participle; bursting is a participle.”

“But why is it dangling?”

“Because it’s misrelated. It’s a very common error: many people don’t seem to realise that a participle such as this will always refer to the subject of the clause which governs it – in this case, housewives. In other words, such participles are always forward-looking.”

“Hmm … I mean … do you mean … how do you mean?”

“Look, what he was attempting to say was this.”

 My abiding memory was that, despite bursting with testosterone, I was never lured by bored housewives into their home.

 “So it’s not your water?”

“Nope; neither is his memory outstanding – it’s abiding.”

“A-a-a-a, but if these women had really been crazed by testosterone, it may well have been!”

Daily Frolic 21: A question of etiquette

“Wow, this Hunter Davies …”


“He must be awfully important.”

“Well, he is a well-known author.”

“There must be more to it.”

“You mean his OBE? I believe he’s just been awarded one.”

“What’s OBE?”

“Order of the British Empire; it’s the most junior order of chivalry in Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth.”

“Are you saying he hasn’t been sufficiently chivalrous to merit something more substantial?”

“No, no, it’s still an honour.”

“Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right.”


“Well, I’ve been reading this week’s Sunday Times; he wrote an article for them.”

“Oh yes, yes, he is a regular contributor.”

“But he implied that he was more important than the Queen.”

“More important than the Queen?  You must be joking! Nobody is more important than the Queen.”

“That’s exactly what I thought, but, apparently, the Palace people had to instruct your Queen on how to greet him during the awards ceremony.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“It’s not me who’s ridiculous; look, it’s here in black and white.”

 “I did remember to bow after she shook my hand, as instructed, which was the signal to leave, but I forgot to call her Your Majesty.”

 “Oh this! It’s a classic!”

“What – this etiquette?”

“No, no, this ambiguity! It’s word order that’s at fault here.”

“Word order?”

“Actually, the title is a bit misleading because the order of words within an English phrase is fixed.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, could you change the order of words in the phrase: ‘the expensive leather jacket he owned’, for example?”

“After five double brandies – more than likely.”

“Behave! You can’t – because it’s fixed. But this happens only within phrases. The point is that both phrases and clauses can move.”

“Where to?”

“No, no, I mean in a sentence. And it’s quite easy to arrange them in ways which cause ambiguity or even unintended hilarity.”

“But this Hunter Davies – isn’t he supposed to be a writer?”

“Look, this happens to everybody – that’s why it’s such a classic. But it’s easily remedied: you simply move the offending phrase or clause to a more appropriate position.”

“But he didn’t.”

“Neither did the sub-editor. But stuff like this is easily overlooked.  What he was trying to say was this.”

 As instructed, I did remember to bow after she shook my hand (…).

 “I bet your Queen will be relieved.”

Daily Frolic 16: Will I come to a sticky end?

My Dear Readers,

I fervently hope it’s not a farewell, but if you never hear from me again, this might be because I’m locked away in the Tower of London. And this is why …

“Your Queen …”


“Elizabeth 2nd …”

“Yes, yes – why?”

“Isn’t she’s widely respected?”

“Absolutely – even by the Scots.”

“Even by the Scots?”


“And by the Commonwealth?”

“And by the Commonwealth.”

“And by Canada?”

“You numpty: Canada is in the Commonwealth. Come to think of it, so is Britain.”

“Oh … well … anyway, I’ve been thinking …”


“No, seriously, I can’t get my head round it, but I think there is a plot …”

“A plot? What sort of plot?”

“To undermine your Queen.”

“You must be joking! She is a national treasure – nobody would dare.”

“That’s what I thought, but … but … you had this independence referendum, didn’t you?”

We didn’t – the Scots did.”

“Same country, same thing.”

“Just don’t say this in Scotland. So what about the referendum?”

“The result.”


“Well, some people were very happy – weren’t they?”

“They were indeed.”

“Including the Queen?”


“And then she spoke on 19th September.”

“She did indeed.”

“But I think somebody had interfered with her speech.”

“How do you mean?”

“You said she had people to write her speeches, didn’t you?”

“All important people do.”

“That’s it, that’s it – they must have interfered with it.”

“But why?”

“I don’t know why, but they must have done; I heard it on the radio.”

“What exactly did you hear?”

“Your Queen said this.”

 “Now, as we move forward, we should remember that despite the range of views that have been expressed, we have in common an enduring love of Scotland, which is one of the things that helps to unite us all.”

 “‘Things that HELPS’ – she said this?”

“She did. If you don’t believe me, just Google ‘Queen’s Speech 19 September 2014’ – it’s all over the internet.”

“I do believe you, actually – it’s a classic.”

“It is?”


“Is that why they chose this error?”


“The plotters: the people in charge of her speech.”

“Look, there was no plot!”

“But, but … she must … they must … I mean she can’t …”

“Look, I really don’t want to discuss this: as they say, walls have ears.”

“What yours have is peeling wallpaper – that’s for sure.”

“No, I mean it. You’ve heard of the Tower of London?”


“Well, I’d rather be outside than inside.”

“Why? I think you should definitely go inside: it’s very interesting; we went on this tour, and …”

“No, no, I don’t mean a tour. Look, you know I write a blog, don’t you?”

“You write a blog?”

“Yep – about common errors of grammar, punctuation, spelling, stuff like that. I try to make it funny, but it doesn’t always work.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t.”

“What? Oh forget it. Anyway, I wrote about this mistake in my very first post.”

“You did?”

“Yep. We had this Secretary of State for Education; his name was Michael Gove – well, still is. That’s what he said.”

 “I am not one of those people who HAS an instant answer.”

 “The Secretary of State for Education?”

“Yep; and Kenneth Clarke, another former Secretary of State for Education, said this.”

 “I am one of the few people who HAS met Jean-Claude Juncker.”

 “You are kidding!”

“Nope; it’s a common pattern. You see, many people get awfully confused by this ‘one’awfully – and think that they need a singular verb. But they don’t: the verb has to agree with THINGS and PEOPLE – not with ‘one’ – so it has to be plural.”

“But you said that number agreement was basic grammar.”

“It is.”

“So how come …”

“Look, they don’t like grammar here – or, at least, didn’t use to.”

“Why? Grammar is simply about how we construct sentences, isn’t it?”

“Yep, but many reckon native speakers don’t need it.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I am, sadly.  Look, just read my post.”

“I will, I will. Shall we contact the Palace then?”

“And say what?”


One of the things that HELP [NOT helps]

One of the people who HAVE [NOT has]

 “Go right ahead; just leave me out of it.”


I apologise for revisiting the subject, the trigger being the Queen’s speech of 19th September 2014. The jocular post in which I wrote about this error for the first time, Accordant Waverleys and Discordant Secretaries of State (Post 1), can be found in the archives under May 2014. I actually published it on April 25th but as a page rather than a post (at the beginning, I didn’t know what I was doing technology-wise – no, please don’t tell me I still don’t) and twigged only on May 9th, which is why it appears under that date.

Not Quite a Frolic 14: The distributive singular

I dedicate this post – with thanks – to my fellow blogger Deborah Drucker, whose comment on my previous post has prompted its revision and spurred me on to write this one.

 I had every intention of frolicking with you today, but a remark from Deborah has prompted me to comment further on the so-called ‘distributive singular’, which was mentioned in yesterday’s post. Deborah pointed out (albeit most pleasantly) that the singular ‘life’, which I suggested using instead of the plural ‘lives’, sounded ‘funny’ – and she did have a point in that this particular example wasn’t very good, both forms being in use. That will teach me not to try to squeeze too much out of a quote, the one in question having been chosen for quite a different purpose. Happily, this post affords me the opportunity to regale you with more apposite examples from my collection.

Whether to use the distributive singular is a matter of idiom – of what sounds natural in English. You may think this a bit rich coming from me: after all, I am a Pole for whom English is – or at least used to be – a foreign language, but, after nearly five decades of feasting on English grammar and over 30 years of living in Britain, I have become quite attuned to this fabulous language – though many idioms still remain a challenge. Here come my examples.

A few days ago, I nearly went flying when I dashed to grab a pen so that I could jot down what I’d just heard on BBC Radio 4, which went like this.

“Schools are doing great jobs.”

 How does it sound to you (particularly if you are a native speaker of English) – wouldn’t you say: “Schools are doing a great job”? If you would, you would be using the distributive singular. Another example (which I quoted in my reply to Deborah) comes from The Economist.

“They are the ones who turned blind eyes to the concoction of credit …”

 This one should definitely be: “those who turned a blind eye” – even if the esteemed Economist thinks otherwise. And how does the quote below, from The Times Educational Supplement, grab you?

 “92 per cent of secondary pupils own mobiles.”

 I wonder how many mobiles each of them owns But change ‘mobiles’ to ‘mobile’ and the ambiguity disappears. The next quote is also from The Times Educational Supplement.

 “Collaboration is all very well, but principals have enough on their plates without having to support other schools.”

 Nope: they have enough on their plate. My final example has been culled from The Sunday Times.

 “Life expectancies were much lower before the 20th century came along.”

 ‘Fraid not: what was lower was life expectancy.  This is what the authors of the fabulous Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, four distinguished professors, have to say on the subject. (I haven’t used quotation marks around their examples.)

 “The singular is sometimes obligatory or preferable with idioms and metaphors.”

 We are keeping an open mind. [PROBABLY NOT open minds]

They vented their spleen on him. [DEFINITELY NOT spleens]

They can’t put their finger on what’s wrong. [DEFINITELY NOT their fingers]

 “The distributive singular is sometimes used to avoid ambiguity.”

 Students were asked to name their favourite sport. [NOT sports]

Children must be accompanied by a parent. [NOT NECESSARILY parents]

So that’s the distributive singular in a nutshell. Tomorrow’s post will definitely be a ‘proper’ frolic. I hope you will all have a lovely weekend – NOT lovely weekends (those too, but NOT this week)!

Daily Frolic 13: Expiry and taxes

“I knew it, I just knew it!”


“That you have it in for the sadly departed.”

“I have?”

“No, no, I mean British authorities; that settles it!”

“That settles what?”

“Confirming this vile persecutory attitude. After all, it’s not just The Independent – it’s also The Sunday Times!”

“What have you found now?”


 “There is nothing to stop homeowners who have been basic-rate taxpayers all their lives generating higher-rate liabilities when they die.”

 “But I promise you they didn’t mean it like this.”

“So you keep saying; do these newspapers mean anything they say?”

“Naturally, but …”

 “I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“Trust me. And I’d prefer the distributive singular here.”

“Sure: if you have to have such a distributive law, don’t introduce any more.”

“No, no, I’d prefer the singular ‘life’.”

“But they were talking about more than one life.”

“Yes, but I would still use a singular noun. It’s called ‘the distributive singular’ because we interpret it in a plural sense.

“We do?”

“Yep; listen, what I would have written is this.”

“There is nothing to stop the estates of homeowners who have been basic-rate taxpayers all their life incurring higher-rate death liabilities.”

“If you are absolutely sure …”

“Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Don’t: you might incur higher-rate liabilities!”

“No, no, it’s just a saying. But our esteemed Sunday Times does seem to get a bit muddled over matters pertaining to expiry.”

“I’m not surprised it’s about to expire: writing such tosh.”

“No – not its expiry.”

“How do you mean?”

“Listen to this.”

“We found that provided we could get them started six weeks before death they could recover.”

 “Started on what?”

“Anti-retroviral drugs – for Aids.”

“But … it’s … how… how did they know it would be exactly six weeks? That’s … that’s impossible. Plus, they didn’t die!”

“You don’t say.”

“I do!”

“No, no, it’s another saying. I think that what they were attempting to communicate was this.”

 We found that, provided we could get them started sufficiently early, they could recover.

“A-a-a-a, that’s more like it.”


This post alludes to the quote given in Daily Frolic 12, How Researchers Earn a Living, and published on 12th November 2014.

Daily Frolic 12: How researchers earn a living

“But you said British authorities didn’t pursue people beyond the grave?”

“Of course they don’t, don’t be silly.”

“Well, I wouldn’t be so sure.”

“Why not?”

“Because this Independent – it seems quite insistent. You remember when they wrote about Britain attempting to prosecute its citizens who’d been helped to die in Swiss clinics?”

“How could I forget? But we established that it wasn’t the sadly departed they actually meant, didn’t we?”

“Well, I thought we had, but they’ve gone and done it again.”

“Done what again?”

“They quoted this important research.”

“Up to 3.6million people will be liable to pay inheritance tax on their estate when they die, a report by Grant Thornton and Lombard Street Research said.”

 “I mean, it’s not just anybody, right? It’s Grant Thornton and Lombard Street Research!”

“Look, for all I care it may be Humpty Dumpty Incontinental Researchthey didn’t mean it!”

“But it’s Grant …”

“Ye, ye, ye; what they were trying to say is this.”

The estates of up to 3.6million people will incur inheritance tax.

 “Mmmm, but …”

“No buts!!!”



This post mentions the quote given in Daily Frolic 7, The Discombobulating Pronoun, and published on 7th November 2014.

Daily Frolic 11: Discontinuity

“This standard-of-living crisis that people keep on about.”


“Is it really that bad?”

“So they say.”

“It’s scary: I didn’t think that even professionals would suffer.”

“Actually, professionals are not doing too badly, all things considered.”

“But that’s not what they are implying.”


“The Times Educational Supplement.”

“Why? What have they written?”


“First, we could ensure that all schools employ more teachers, especially those in challenging circumstances.”

 “No, no, it’s discontinuity.”

“What are they going to discontinue?”

“Nothing, nothing: discontinuity is short for discontinuous modification.”

“What’s that when it’s at home?”

“When the phrase being modified is separated from the phrase, or clause, modifying it.”

“A-a-a-a, you mean like … when you have … when it’s … what do you mean exactly?”

“Just look at your sentence; what they should have written is this.”

First, we could ensure that all schools, especially those in challenging circumstances, employ more teachers.


“Discontinuity is actually very common, and some of it can be quite funny. It’s just that the authors don’t seem to notice; I mean when they don’t mean it to be funny.”

“They don’t notice?”

“Nope. Listen to this – from The Independent.”

“I had a water leak into the kitchen from the flat above, which required redecoration.”

 “The flat above?”

“Exactly! What you’d want to write is this.”

 I had a water leak from the flat above into the kitchen, which required redecoration.

 “This is also from The Independent; listen.”

 “Deformed foetuses have died in the womb with oversized organs.”

 “What a funny womb.”

“Isn’t it just?”

“Hmm, it should be something like this, shouldn’t it?”

Deformed foetuses with oversized organs have died in the womb.

 “Absolutely! And what do you reckon about this one – from The Sunday Times?”

 “City bonuses dodge taxman in Turkish lira.”


 City bonuses in Turkish lira dodge taxman.

 “By Jove, you got it! Wish those hacks would.”

Daily Frolic 9: Strange but true

“They say reading broadens the mind, don’t they?”

“I thought it was travel.”

“Oh yes, yes, but reading is also awfully good for one, isn’t it?”

“Obviously: without reading, there wouldn’t … you couldn’t … it would be … I mean you would be completely stuffed.”

“Agreed. I have been reading the stuff in your archives – it’s mind-blowing: all the newspaper cuttings you have collected.”

“Oh yes, yes, I’m addicted to British newspapers: you always find something interesting there.”

“They say the British press is a cut above the rest, don’t they?”

“Undoubtedly. So how did you get on with your reading?”

“Very educational; it’s just that I’m not entirely sure about their grasp of geography …”


“Well, take this Sunday Times.”

“What about it?”

“That’s what they wrote.”

“A recent poll of Bloomberg subscribers found Britain has dropped behind Singapore into third place as the city most likely to be the best financial hub two years from now.”

 “Oh dear! It must have been a one-off, though.”

“That’s just it – it wasn’t.”

“It wasn’t?”

“Nope. Look what they wrote.”


“This Sunday Times.”

 “Every country has risks of inter-ethnic violence – from Syria to Stockholm.”

 “OK, OK, geography may not be their strongest point, but on the whole …”

“A-a-a-a, but it’s not just geography.”

“It’s not just geography?”

“Nope. Their maths – it’ also quite, quite … funny.”

“Funny? How do you mean?”

“Well, take this, for example – also from The Sunday Times.”


“The survey reveals that two-thirds of British children have televisions in their bedrooms, double the proportion for most of Europe. By contrast, only three-quarters of British children have a shelf of books in their bedrooms.”

“Just a sec, just a sec: two-thirds is … is …”


“And three-quarters is …”


“Oh dear! But, on the whole, British journalists are quite good with fractions and percentages.”

“Well, not those on The Rambler.”


“Nope. Listen to this.”

 “But at this point a mere three percent of routes had been reopened, leaving four out of five paths still shut.”

 “Just a sec, just a sec: four out of five is … is …”


“Oh dear, so what happened to the remaining 17%?”


“Dear oh dear …”