Grammatical howler: Illogical co-ordination

Well, you cannot keep the girl away from her grammar for long, can you? Perusing The Telegraph Magazine recently, I happened on this scientific revelation. Do you reckon the author knew something which the readers worldwide were being kept in the dark about?

 The partners of men over the age of 40 carry a much higher risk of miscarriage, regardless of their own age, and are half as likely to get their partner pregnant as those under 25.

Naturally, it must be devastating to suffer a miscarriage, but at least the female partners of older men are just about able to get their blokes pregnant – at least according to this illustrious publication. Just when we rated the chances of their performing this feat as precisely zero – it must be a scientific breakthrough! Unless, of course, what the hapless writer meant was this:

 The partners of men over the age of 40 carry a much higher risk of miscarriage, regardless of their own age, and such men are half as likely to get their partner pregnant as those under 25.

 

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Satirical verse: UKIP Brexit if you want to

As my Brexit-inspired satire continues, here is my mini-glossary for those reading this post outside Great Britain.

UKIP stands for the UK Independence Party, which is a Eurosceptic and right-wing populist political party in Great Britain. The party strongly opposes immigration, pledging to reduce it to zero within five years. Incidentally, the wife (alluded to below) of the party’s former leader (who is a great fan of President Trump) is German.

Brexit refers to the British exit from the European Union, narrowly voted for in the 2016 EU membership referendum. Brexit has bitterly divided the country, and even the government cannot seem to agree what sort of Brexit it wants. Needless to say, Europe is baffled …  

 

We don’t want no immigration

To pollute this brilliant nation;

We were once the purest race

Which this Mother Earth did grace

(Sorry, there is one correction:

German wives are an exception),

 

But the EU plots and schemes

To extinguish our dreams

About being alien-free

In this land of ours – see?

Our challenge is immense –

We must mount a bold defence.

 

When we seal our porous border

We’ll restore all law and order,

And, to pick our fruit and veg,

We will summon good old Reg

(He is 80 – did we mention? –

This will help him boost his pension).

 

We will stop most foreign aid

And engage in global trade

Beyond EU neighbourhood

(North Korea would be good),

Plus, in line with our agendum,

We will rule by referendum.

 

Also (you’ll be filled with glee),

We will let you park for free*

When you do your weekly shop

(We don’t reckon it’s a sop:

As an ordinary Brit,

You’ll be rather badly hit**).

 

Even if our gut gets busted,

We want to be done and dusted

By the end of next year – max;

See how neatly all this stacks?

(We can – by all indicators –

Trust our clever negotiators.)

 

To take charge of our laws,

We must rally to the cause

With a zealous incantation:

“We are here to save our nation,

And, in Donald’s dazzling vein,

We’ll make Britain great again!”

 

*For at least 30 minutes

**In your pocket

 

PS

 

Wanna know – that’s by the way –

What folk Googled the next day***?

“What’s this construct called EU?”

You are laughing? It is true;

Still, we say: “You know the score,

That’s**** what you have voted for.”

 

***After the 2016 referendum on Britain’s EU membership

****Whatever that is; if the government still (at the beginning of 2018) can’t agree about what sort of Brexit it wants (hard, soft or anything in-between), you can jolly well make up your own wish list and announce that this is exactly what you have voted for – hey ho!

 

93 – Mini-rant: Dead survivors?

Having been greatly distracted by two momentous events, Brexit and the American election, I’ve been very remiss with this blog. And, let’s face it, language misdemeanours, however diverting, pale into insignificance with what’s going on in the world. But having stumbled across this snippet, widely broadcast by the British media, I’m unable to resist a mini-rant. The revelation came courtesy of an eminent foreign correspondent, who commented on a catastrophic plane crash thus.

There is little hope of finding survivors alive.

Although overcome with an overwhelming sadness, I nevertheless wondered whether there might be some dead survivors – an obvious (to me, at least) interpretation of this tautological statement. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, tautology – saying the same thing twice in different words – is a stylistic fault which is quite common, but the venerable BBC and its reporters might be expected to be above such lapses. What the correspondent should have said is, of course, this.

 There is little hope of finding anybody alive.

Or this.

 There is little hope of finding any survivors.

92 – Frolic: The Trump revelation

“Holy moly!”

“Hmmm?” “How on earth did he manage to keep that quiet?”

“Who?”

“Trump.”

“Donald?”

“The very same.”

“Keep what quiet?”

“That he had transitioned.”

“No, he hasn’t – not yet.”

“But he must have.”

“And how exactly do you work this one out?”

“Well, that’s what it says here – in this week’s Sunday Times.”

“Don’t go believing everything you read in the press. Even if it’s The Sunday Times: the stuff they ha …”

“But he is a man!”

“Of course he is a man.”

“So he must have transitioned!”

“Look, he is only a Republican nominee for now: the presidential election isn’t until November, so …”

“No, no, no!”

“Yes, yes, yes: Americans will be electing their president on November 8th; it’s a Tuesday, I believe.”

“No, no, not that!”

“So what?”

“I had no idea he was born a girl, no idea at all – fancy that!”

“A girl? Of course he wasn’t born a girl; don’t be silly!”

“But that’s what Ivanka Trump said – his daughter.”

“What?”

As a young girl growing up, my father told me I could do anything that I set my mind to.

“Oh this! It’s just her grammar.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, it’s a very common error.”

“It is?”

“Yep; I call this ‘marketing as’.”

Marketing as?”

“Yep, they are always coming up with stuff like: ‘As one of our best customers, we are pleased to offer you this exclusive deal’; I keep getting marketing literature strewn with such nonsense – so does everybody else.”

“O-o-o, so it was her.”

“Of course it was her; look; what she should have said is this.”

 

As a young girl growing up, I was told by my father I could do anything that I set my mind to.

 

“M-m-m, she would … I mean he would have been too young to father a child anyway.”

“Look, it’s just a misrelated phrase – just like a dangling participle.”

“A dangling participle – what’s that?”

“Another time.”

 

 

90 – Grammar shot: The proximity trap

Yippee, my revised textbook, Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 and 4, has now been published by First and Best in Education! The book is enlivened (I hope) by examples of grammatical and punctuation booby traps, one of which is illustrated in this post. It is called the proximity trap, and it ensnares even professional writers.

As for the book itself, the link can be found on my books page; it is also given below.
http://shop.firstandbest.co.uk/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=828

 From my revised textbook: Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4

In standard English, a verb must agree with its subject in number and person: i.e. The improvement of standards is not an easy task – not *are an easy task. Familiarity with clause elements allows us to realise that it is the entire phrase the improvement of standards that is the subject of this sentence. Thus, this rule can be further refined as follows: if the subject is a multi-word phrase, the verb must agree with its head (the most important word). In the example given above, the singular noun improvement is the head of the noun phrase the improvement of standards that constitutes the subject. This is why we have to use a singular verb, despite the fact that immediately before the verb comes the plural noun standards.

Violations of the principle of subject-verb agreement are relatively common even among educated adults, including education professionals, such as OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) and its school inspectors as well as teachers – and even professors of English. A handful of examples, all attributed, from my huge selection is given below.

One of the main culprits is the so-called ‘proximity trap’. Writers who fall into this trap make the verb erroneously agree with the noun nearest to it – whether this noun is indeed its subject (or, to be precise, the head of the noun phrase acting as its subject) or not. This mistake is exemplified below, with both the head of the noun phrase constituting the subject and its verb being emboldened and italicised. The asterisk marks the sentences whose authors have fallen into the proximity trap.

Subject-verb disagreement

*Team inspector covering IT needs to see whether improvement in standards are sufficient since last inspection. (OFSTED’s Handbook for Inspecting Primary and Nursery Schools; Effective from January 2000)

Subject-verb agreement

Team inspector covering IT needs to see whether improvement in standards is sufficient since last inspection. [= improvement is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Check if your preliminary analysis of performance and other output data indicate if there are any significant differences in the attainment. (OFSTED’s Handbook for Inspecting Primary and Nursery Schools; Effective from January 2000)

Subject-verb agreement

Check if your preliminary analysis of performance and other output data indicates if there are any significant differences in the attainment. [= analysis indicates]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Teachers’ implementation of the strategies are good. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Teachers’ implementation of the strategies is good. [= implementation is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The importance of good attendance and punctuality rates are well promoted by the school. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

The importance of good attendance and punctuality is well promoted by the school. [= importance is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Teachers’ skills in developing pupils’ creative awareness varies between the classes. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Teachers’ skills in developing pupils’ creative awareness vary between the classes. [= skills vary]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Sometimes oral learning of tables or facts are set. (OFSTED inspection report)

Subject-verb agreement

Sometimes, the learning by rote of tables or facts is set. [= learning is]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The remains of the body was found in the vessel. (The Independent)

Subject-verb agreement

The remains of the body were found in the vessel. [= remains were]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The development of the tests play a pivotal role in teaching and learning. (The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority)

Subject-verb agreement

The development of the tests plays a pivotal role in teaching and learning. [= development plays]

Subject-verb disagreement

*No evidence of any ability, experience or qualifications were required. (The Sunday Times)

Subject-verb agreement

No evidence of any ability, experience or qualifications was required.[= evidence was]

Subject-verb disagreement

*Participation in these courses have been coupled with high success rates. (The Times Educational Supplement)  

Subject-verb agreement

Participation in these courses has been coupled with high success rates. [= participation has]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The professor’s concerns about prescription mirrors earlier criticisms by schools. (The Times Educational Supplement)

Subject-verb agreement

The professor’s concerns about prescription mirror earlier criticisms by schools. [= concerns mirror]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The impact of these prices imply that inflation would still be 1% in 2013. (The Economist)

Subject-verb agreement

The impact of these prices implies that inflation would still be 1% in 2013. [= impact implies]

Subject-verb disagreement

*The academic qualifications of those entering training has remained the same. (The Times Educational Supplement)

Subject-verb agreement

The academic qualifications of those entering training have remained the same. [= qualifications have]

So mind how you go – and spread the word about my revised textbook. Millions of thanks!

88 – Some little light relief with spelling (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

This is also from my political – and linguistic – satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

 

Chapter 14

ET

It had been a hectic time since our ill-fated team-building event, with all the SPs busily working on their priority deliverables. Having got over my concussion, I immersed myself in FART’s policies, procedures, standards, visions, priorities, tenets, agendas, regulations, principles, doctrines, prescriptions, proscriptions, instructions, rules, precepts, commands, conventions, codes, protocols, directives, decrees, orders, schedules, exclusions, guidelines, recommendations, suggestions and advice. Oh, and process maps and process flow charts, of course. Among all this spiritual nourishment were also the writings of my more established colleagues.

Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I discovered that I couldn’t rely on my powers of comprehension as reliably as I had – undoubtedly naively – assumed I would. My perplexity desperately needed an outlet, but there was only Crystal around, for our Cluster was having another action-packed day: Greg was attending a meeting of the Current Government Thinking Committee, Morag was attending a meeting of the Shared Vision Committee, Duncan was attending a meeting of the Common Purpose Committee, Ant was attending a meeting of the Information Technology Advisory Forum, Violet was attending a meeting of the Inter-Divisional Liaison Group and Trace was attending a meeting of the House, Lift and Stairwell Committee.

By now, I had been through my own baptism of committee fire, having attended my very first meeting of the Big CORPSE. Before the meeting, Morag had e-mailed us the agenda accompanied by the following message: “Blackberries will be needed”.

“Won’t the hotel supply them? That’s what usually happens.”

“Too expensive, Ali.”

“You mean because they are out of season?”

“Uh? Rewind.”

“Well, blackberries usually ripen in September.”

By now, Crystal, who had been giggling fairly quietly, was laughing so hard she could barely draw breath for all the gasps. “She … ha, ha, ha … she means … our … ha, ha, ha … smartphones … ha, ha, ha.”

“O-o-o-o.”

“‘Course I’m meaning our smartphones – what else did you think I was meaning?”

“But that’s not how you spell BlackBerrys.”

“‘Course it is, Ali.”

“No, no: you use ‘y’ – not ‘i’. Cross my heart and hope to die.”

“Look, Ali, I know for a fact – for a fact – that you write ‘two ladies, three baddies, four ditties’, eksetera, eksetera, eksetera – with an ‘i’. The ET have told us that you have to change ‘y’ to ‘i’.”

“Absolutely, Morag, but proper nouns are an exception.”

“No offence, Ali, but all our words are proper, aren’t they, Greg?”

“Indeed they are, indeed they are. You might have some improper ones in Polish, Ali, but, in English, everything is proper.”

“No, no, no, proper nouns are names of people, places, organisations, gadgets, things like that – it’s a grammatical term.”

“Not your grammar again – go and get a life!”

“But Morag’s rule does not apply to names, Greg. For example, if you had more than one person called Kerry or Perry, you’d write Kerrys and Perrys – with a ‘y’ – not Kerries and Perries – with an ‘i’. Where you do have to use ‘i’ is with plural forms of common nouns.”

Greg and Morag exchanged their usual look, to which I have, by now, become quite accustomed, and Greg terminated the exchange with a stern, “Basically, we don’t do common, you know what I’m saying.”

87 – Grammar shot: Faulty Coordination (From my satirical book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?)

Here comes another grammatical sketch from my political satire, Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat?

Chapter 10           SOD

“Ha, ha, ha, read this.”

“Which one, Crystal?”

“The last one.”

The e-mail, from Greg, went like this, “Trace phoned earlier today. Her granddad died and won’t be in the office today.”

We were both duly seized by an attack of giggles – slightly unseemly, given the circumstances. Seeing as Greg was in another meeting – possibly Information Technology Implementation Committee or the Marketing and Market Penetration Issues Focus Group – I spotted an opportunity for another little grammatical session with Violet.

“Violet, why don’t you sit next to me for a bit?”

The girl nodded, came over and parked herself in Greg’s chair.

“Have you seen Greg’s e-mail about Trace’s granddad? May he rest in peace.”

“I have; poor Trace.”

“Yes, it’s awfully sad. But have you noticed that Greg actually attempted to resurrect him?”

“He did?”

“He did: he should have written that she wouldn’t be in the office, of course. I call this type of error faulty coordination.”

“What’s coordination?”

“When we link words, phrases and clauses with the coordinating conjunctions and, or or but, for example: ‘We must and will persevere’, ‘Sink or swim’, ‘We are bloodied but unbowed’ – constructions like this.”

“So coordination is not hard?”

“Of course it isn’t – we use it all the time. But as soon as you put a label on it, people panic and think, ‘It’s grammar – I don’t do grammar’. But the point is that we ‘do’ grammar every time we say or write something.”

“Do we?”

“Absolutely. Because grammar is simply about how we arrange words in phrases, clauses and sentences.”

“Is that all?”

“That is all. But there are lots and lots of principles organising language, and we all need to be aware of them. Coordination is one example – it sounds innocuous but can be a minefield.”

“It can?”

“Well, take Greg’s e-mail for a start. Coordination does trip people up all over the place. And, when it goes wrong, it can be quite funny.”

“Do you remember any examples?”

“Lots; many are blunders made by educated adults. Take this: ‘She made friends at school, but never a boyfriend’ – what’s gone wrong there?”

“Hmm, she can’t have made a boyfriend – can she?”

“Of course not. So?”

“But never had a boyfriend?”

“Absolutely! Or this: ‘Thirty years ago, students received full grants and no tuition fees.’”

“Why would students receive tuition fees?”

“Spot on – so?”

“And didn’t have to pay tuition fees?”

“Absolutely. Sometimes, faulty coordination can be genuinely misleading. I’ve just found this in my local newspaper: ‘A wheelie bin was found to be on fire in a passageway and was quickly put out.’”

“The bin?”

“No, the fire. So?”

“And the fire was quickly put out?”

“Absolutely. And that funny notice in our kitchenette: ‘After the tea break, staff should empty the teapot and stand upside down on the draining board’ – it’s a classic. There’s lots of mangled coordination in FART’s bumf as well.”

“Really?”

“Absolutely; listen to this: ‘Students should identify, solve and apply solutions to problems’ – what’s wrong here?”

“You don’t solve solutions?”

“Absolutely. So?”

“Students should identify and solve problems?”

“Spot on. And this: ‘Students should gather, evaluate and present information in the form of a plan’ – what’s gone wrong here?”

“The plan is only about presenting information.”

“Exactly. So?”

“Students should gather and evaluate information and present it in the form of a plan?”

“Absolutely! But there is also pseudo-coordination.”

“Pseudo-coordination?”

“Yes, when people say ‘Try and do’ when they mean ‘Try to do’.”

“That’s what Morag always says,” whispered Violet.

“How about we try and do some work, girls,” said Morag, who had stopped tapping away and was peering at Violet and me over the top of her computer.

 

86 – Grammar shot: Tautology (From my book: Who’s Put Rat into Bureaucrat? Please see the previous post)

“This tautology – could you tell me a bit more about it, Ali?” asked Violet. We had adjourned to the foyer, where, to my surprise, brand-new refreshments had been laid on, with chocolate cake, carrot cake, lemon cake, cheesecake, cupcakes and flapjacks attempting to subvert the government’s healthy-eating offensive.

“Tautology is where you repeat a word or statement needlessly or re-state an idea in different words; it always involves redundancy because the repetition is unnecessary. As I said to Gavina, widget and gadget making is always practical – have you ever heard of theoretical widget and gadget making?”

“No, never.”

“Precisely. Tautology is a fault of style, but it’s actually quite common; there’s plenty of it in FART’s publications.”

“Can you remember any examples?”

“How could I possibly forget? ‘Acceptable performance in this unit will be the satisfactory achievement of the Summative Standards.’”

“What’s tautological?”

“Satisfactory achievement – have you ever heard of unsatisfactory achievement?”

“No, never.”

“That’s why we should omit satisfactory.  But this sentence is illogical anyway because performance is not achievement.”

“So what would you say?”

“‘Acceptable performance in this unit will be confirmed by the achievement of the Summative Standards.’ And how about this one: ‘This will improve students’ learning experience positively across the curriculum’?”

“An improvement is always positive?”

“Of course. So?”

“I’d remove ‘positively’.”

“Absolutely. And this one: ‘This will provide a positive incentive for students to improve their literacy and numeracy’?”

“It’s similar: an incentive is always positive.”

“Spot on, Violet. There is a lot of tautology about: collaborate together, good benefit, mutual cooperation, new beginning, new innovation, past history, recall back, revert back, share the same, unite together, successfully give up, unsuccessfully fail, positively improve/ support/ enhance, Morag’s pre-planningthere are literally countless examples.”

“But we are always saying past history, Ali.”

“I bet you are, but history is always past – have you ever heard of future history?”

“Never.”

“Precisely. And I bet you are also saying forward planning. 

“All the time.”

“But planning is always forward, isn’t it? When did you last plan backwards?”

“Never.”

“My point exactly.”

81 – Midi-rant: The Education Secretary in a comma tangle

“It says here that Nicky Morgan is your Education Secretary.”

“She is indeed.”

“Goodness me!”

“No, no, they say she is quite good.”

“It’s not that!”

“What do you mean it’s not that? You wouldn’t want cabinet ministers to be incompetent, would you?”

“No, no, it’s how she was quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph. She is supposed to have been speaking about changing her mind on gay marriage.”

“Oh yes, yes, she used to be against. I mean, honestly – in this day and age …”

“No, no, NO: it’s not THAT!”

“So what is it then?”

“How they put it.”

“How did they put it?”

“What changed my mind was talking to same-sex couples.”

“So? All credit to her, I’d say. Not everyone would publicly admit to changing their mind – and on such a sensitive issue at that.”

“No, no, no, it’s this idiotic comma!”

“What idiotic comma?”

“The one they plonked after ‘mind’. Look at this!”

And, indeed, there is was, leaping off page 5.

 “What changed my mind, was talking to same-sex couples.”

“Oh yes, yes, it’s not all that uncommon, the comma separating the subject from its verb.”

“How come? Isn’t that a basic punctuation principle? I mean that you don’t separate those bits of the sentence that are closely related?”

“Of course it is. But I don’t think British schools used to be bothered. They may be now, but they weren’t for a long time.”

“Good grief!”

“I know, I know. So many folk are in the dark.”

“Including newspaper sub-editors?”

“Including newspaper sub-editors. And, of course, to avoid this error in all contexts you need to be taught that the subject needn’t be a noun phrase and may be a nominal clause such as this.”

“I wonder what your Education Secretary would make of that.”

“‘Must try harder,’ I should imagine.”

78 – Frolic: When editors fall asleep on the job

Finally, they have cracked it! The venerable Oldie has just provided an answer to the question which has been vexing us for ages.

“The overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades and more.”

So that is why climate change is occurring – fancy that! And what length of time is more than decades? Some more decades? Careless word order is at the root of many a misunderstanding, yet a moment of reflection (aka editing, a concept which seems alien to some) is all it is likely to take to prevent similar slip-ups. Usually, moving an unfortunately placed phrase or clause does the trick.

Thanks to factual evidence gathered over decades, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists accept that climate change is occurring.

Meanwhile, the editor of Your Money section of The Daily Telegraph had me utterly baffled with this sentence.

“You battled long and hard to get redress without success.”

I imagine getting redress without success would be nigh on impossible. Yet all it takes to make this oxymoron disappear is one, judiciously positioned, comma.

You battled long and hard to get redress, without success.

Alternatively:

You battled long and hard, albeit without success, to get redress.

Not a Guardian devotee, I was nevertheless hooked by an article on multiculturalism. Having been appointed professor of public policy at Stanford University, the author, originally from Canada, was waxing lyrical about becoming an American citizen. And not only did the professor expose the abject failure of multiculturalism in Western Europe – he also made a ground-breaking anthropological discovery. The latter went like this:

“The judge actually told us we now had equal rights to anyone in the country who had lived there for 3,000 years.”

Where the US leads, the rest of the world follows, so I rejoiced at the prospect of such phenomenal longevity. Alas, I quickly realised that what the professor must have been trying to say is this:

The judge told us we now had the same rights as anyone whose ancestry in the country went back 3,000 years.

Even so, one needs to plan for one’s retirement, which is why I devour articles on pensions. Imagine the extent of my discombobulation when I read this in The Daily Telegraph.

“Annuities provide a guaranteed income for the rest of someone’s life in retirement, but when they die the pension dies with them.”

So what is one supposed to do when one’s annuity dies? Having been diligently saving into a private pension, I began to panic – only to remind myself that pronouns are often used in ways which obscure their reference. Phew!

Annuities provide a guaranteed retirement income for the rest of someone’s life, but, when the person dies, the pension dies with them.

Finally, in an interview to The Sunday Telegraph an Italian chef goes a boast too far with a description of his six-acre kitchen.

“My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room, outside kitchen and inside kitchen set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.”

Why such nonsense should ever be allowed to slip the editorial net is hard to fathom.

My villa has eight bedrooms, a cinema room and not only an inside but also an outside kitchen and is set in six acres with a vineyard and private lake.

This is what happens when sub-editors fall asleep on the job.