“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 content disjunct – a type of adverbial.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“So what were they?”
“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.”
“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.
Phew – the final day of the daily-blogging challenge! Thank you so much for your patience; I will now revert to a more civilised frequency.
“This Marine Policing Unit of the Metropolitan Police – how they dive and recover all sort of stuff, including bodies.”
“Aha, they find quite a few, apparently.”
“And they have this one female diver; The Sunday Times did a very interesting interview with her.”
“I mean the conditions she has to endure under water – the darkness and the stench and all that …”
“Must be awful; I wouldn’t want her job for all the tea in China.”
“Me neither; but you know what the worst thing is?”
“You mean even worse than the bodies?”
“I think it’s affected her … ummm … cognitively, shall we say.”
“It must have done.”
“Because that’s what she said.”
“All of us are qualified to drive the lorry; the rest of us read and chat on the way back from the site to Wapping.”
“I see what you mean – poor, poor woman.”
“I know; I hope it’s reversible.”
“Me too. But, evidently, sub-editors are also afflicted.”
“Yep. Only, in their case, the condition probably isn’t.”
“Yep. Listen what they let through.”
“The folk on The Sunday Times.”
“More than 45,000 pensioners are living in one of McCarthy and Stone’s 40,000 retirement homes.”
“Oh dear, it must be awfully crowded in there!”
“You would think so. I must say these editors are quite consistent. ”
“So what else have they let slip through?”
“A separate report by government inspectors showed that 4 out of 10 pupils aged 11 were two years below their reading age in three London boroughs.”
“You mean they should have suppressed this for political reasons?”
“No, no, no – how can you be below your age? You can’t: you are always at your age – reading or otherwise. What they were trying to say was ‘below their expected reading age’.”
“Listen to this; it’s more obvious.”
“When he died, he grabbed my hand and said (…).”
“Ha, ha, ha!”
“And how about this?”
“A 12-year study by the American National Cancer Institute published last year found that men who drank at least six cups of coffee a day reduced their risk of dying by 10%.”
“Well, even a 10% shot at immortality is not to be sniffed at; I will be plying hubby with coffee from now on.”
“So will I; ha, ha, ha! Here’s another one.”
“Schools forced to readvertise blame the lack of candidates and their poor quality.”
“Not sure I follow; I’d also be peeved if candidates were of poor quality.”
“Not if you didn’t get any – which is exactly what they wrote.”
“The Sunday Times; that’s where all these examples come from. But other newspapers can be just as illogical. Don’t have other examples to hand at the moment, but that’s what I heard on BBC Radio 4; they were talking about merging fire and rescue services.”
“There have been two mergers in the past 20 years but none since.”
“I know, I know. This was also on the radio.”
“After this, he had moved 360 degrees from his original position.”
“Wow, that was quite a turn!”
“Yep; not quite the volte-face they meant, though.”
First of all, Happy Thanksgiving Day to all my lovely American friends – both those I know personally and those whom I’ve met through this blog. I trust you have many wonderful people and things in your life to be thankful for and hope those blessings will continue to rain down on you. Have a fantastic day – and don’t overdo the turkey!
“What a good idea.”
“Allowing TV viewers to voice their opinions.”
“In The Sunday Times.”
“You mean the Culture bit?”
“Aha: under ‘You say’.”
“Yep; there’s been some riveting stuff there.”
“Is this supposed to be riveting?”
“People protest when football gets its biannual monthly showing.”
“In a way, ha, ha, ha! But such contradictory stuff is not at all uncommon.”
“Nope; look what they wrote in a book review.”
“It [a book about David Lloyd George] tells a deceptively familiar story of his 30-year affair with a young woman called Frances Stevenson (…).”
“Blimey, there must have been something in the water to keep her young for 30 years!”
“You’re not kidding! And this piece of sage advice was given by an agony aunt to one of her readers.”
“Right now, I’d say: do nothing but act with love.”
“To the point and clear as mud – ha, ha, ha!”
“Quite. I have one here about this cricketer; listen.”
“We could not afford the asking price, but we bought it as an investment. We were only able to afford it because interest rates were low.”
“Well, it’s always best to be clear on what you can and cannot afford.”
“Absolutely. And this was from another interview – with India’s biggest male film star, apparently.”
“Dreams I never remember. What I never dream about is work.”
“But how does he know?”
“That’s what I’d like to know. How about this?”
“‘We don’t benefit positively or negatively from the coffee prices,’ he said.”
“What? How can you benefit negatively?”
“A million dollar question.”
“Who said this?”
“The managing director of Coffee Republic, apparently.”
“Where is all this stuff from?”
“The Sunday Times.”
“All of it?”
“Yep. But they don’t have monopoly on contradictions. I remember one from The Independent.”
“What Saddam does with his al-Samoud missiles today will make the difference between the possibility of peace and the certainty of war.”
“They actually wrote this?”
“Absolutely: in a prominent headline on the front page. And that’s what an Australian naturalist came up with.”
“We are trying to save these animals from the inevitable [i.e. extinction].”
“Oh dear! But at least his heart was in the right place.”
For a change, a (very) short story inspired by a real event: a few Christmases ago, a male reindeer called Borneo (one of the pair brought over for our annual Christmas Fayre) got frightened by a dog, jumped over the fence of his pen in Whinlatter Forest, ran into the surrounding thicket and hasn’t been seen since – despite considerable publicity surrounding the case and appeals to the public to be on the lookout. But maybe, just maybe, what happened was this …
The vision of sublime loveliness before him made his stomach perform a somersault. He had no idea such pulchritude even existed. He stood rooted to the spot, staring at her. She appeared not to notice him; at least that’s the impression she gave. That afforded him the opportunity to study her more closely. Wasn’t it delectable – that cute little nose of hers? And that exquisite neck? Oh, and her adorable booty. He was transfixed, his legs nearly buckling under him. Surely, she was way out of his league. But how could he possibly just erase this enchanting picture from his mind and simply turn away? He couldn’t – not without giving it a go. He edged slightly closer, and, finally, she raised her head and looked at him. Oh, those eyes – those magnetic eyes. His head was spinning – and that was before he even noticed that utterly beguiling kink in her tail. But why did she have no antlers?
The conference hall was jam-packed: every single seat was taken, the press corps had their notepads poised, and the photographers were pushing and shoving in the aisles to get the best view of the podium.
At the appointed time, in marched Professor Wiseman, whom the audience greeted with a rousing ovation. Wearing a dignified expression befitting the occasion, he seemed to be lapping up the applause as he looked over the crowded auditorium in the manner of a sovereign surveying his fiefdom. When the uproar died down, he opened the proceedings with due solemnity.
“You will be cognisant of the fact that we have convened this conference to announce an extremely exciting – extremely exciting – discovery that may shake the very foundations – the very foundations – of zoology. We have …”
At that point, he was interrupted by another bout of feverish clapping and cheering. When it finally abated – and it had taken a while before it did – he resumed with the gravity the event fully warranted.
“We have incontrovertible – incontrovertible – evidence of a new animal species, which …”
Once again, his words were drowned out by wild clapping and hooting.
“… a new animal species, which has recently been discovered in the Lake District. Although the new species exhibits some features of red deer and some of reindeer, we have concluded, after a painstaking and rigorous – painstaking and rigorous – scientific analysis, that it is, in fact, neither.”
The pandemonium which ensued confirmed that the audience was simply unable to contain itself.
“Needless to say, we have discounted elaphus, hippelaphus, scoticus, hispanicus, barbarus and all other known subspecies of red deer. We have also eliminated woodland caribou, porcupine caribou, Finnish forest reindeer, Osborn’s caribou, barren-ground caribou, Kamchatka reindeer and all other subspecies of reindeer. In fact, we have scientifically eliminated all known deer species and subspecies and come to the incontestable – incontestable – conclusion that what we have discovered is an entirely – entirely – new species of deer. The observed specimen was young, but our painstaking and rigorous – painstaking and rigorous – scientific scrutiny of the photographic evidence generated by an independent witness walking on Bleaberry Fell has left us in no doubt – in no doubt at all – as to the significance of this ground-breaking discovery.”
At that point, the audience went so wild that Professor Wiseman found himself unable to continue and stood on the podium nodding his head gravely and shielding his eyes from all the photographers’ flashes being torpedoed in his direction.
High up on Bleaberry Fell, the breeze was gentle, the sun’s rays caressing the still surface of Derwentwater below. It was all worth it in the end, he reflected: all the time spent wandering alone round Whinlatter Forest, all those near-misses with motorists tearing along the local roads like demons, all his furtive attempts to befriend the red deer of Central Ridge. And now, finally, he was one of them, with a family of his own. Borneo joyously tossed his magnificently gnarled antlers, undoubtedly the crown jewels of every fully-grown male reindeer, and looked at his first female fawn with unbridled paternal pride. While it was gratifying to observe that she’d inherited her mother’s adorable kink in the tail, he could clearly see that she’d also taken after him, the stumps on her head unmistakenly heralding little ladylike antlers. He’d long since got over his initial astonishment on discovering that, unlike the females of his own species, the native ones grew no antlers. But his female offspring clearly will! Borneo beamed his youngster another delighted look and proceeded feasting contentedly on the lush grass covering the extensive slope.
Word play is a well-known literary technique, but this modest crop, harvested by me from the British press, betrays no traces of any conscious intellectual effort on the part of the perpetrators to employ this technique. It just came out like this … I hope these exhibits will raise a smile – or two.
“We arrested a boy for burglary, and the property was on him, but he couldn’t give us a decent explanation why.” (The Croydon Post)
Well, who would expect decency from a burglar?
“Figures to be presented to the conference will show just how the problem of excessive weight has grown in recent years.” (From my local newspaper, which shall remain nameless)
A weighty problem indeed.
“Gillian Shepherd, the education secretary, created a cabinet row when she said she favoured the return of caning, a suggestion slapped down by John Major.” (The Sunday Times)
He could have hardly used a cane, could he?
“ITC will be asked to look particularly hard at screen violence.” (The Daily Telegraph)
I should hope so.
“I feel some students who are already there [i.e. at university] would get a degree of benefit from an apprenticeship instead.” (The Independent)
Better than a Mickey Mouse degree, wouldn’t you say?
“Only three per cent of research funds for cancer in Britain go to the lung.” (The Independent)
Too right: lungs are best left unclogged.
“The heads of 25 nations stood shoulder to shoulder …” (The Sunday Times)
And with feet wide apart, by any chance? Although the last two quotes don’t involve word play, I have found them irresistible.
“Nelson Mandela, 84, became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after 27 years in prison. He lives in Johannesburg and is married to Graca Machel, his third wife. He has four children. By Marcelle Katz. (A headline in The Sunday Times)
All four by Marcelle?
“Reuse of graves makes them better places for everyone.” (The Sunday Times)