66 – Grammar shot: Asymmetry with correlatives (either/or)

Happy New Year! I have decided to introduce yet another type of post, namely a grammar shot. While I will aim to keep such posts light-hearted, the emphasis will be on grammar.


“How right they are.”

“About what?”


“What about it?”

“You either have it, or you don’t.”

 “Either you have it, or you don’t.”


“No, no, I mean asymmetry.”

“But I was talking about charm.”

“No, yes, what I mean is that you’ve got asymmetry there.”

“Where, where? Pass me the mirror, will you?”

“No, no, not your appearance.”

“Thank goodness! You know what they say about beauty: the more regular your features …”

“No, no, no! I’m talking about grammar.”

“Grammar? What has grammar got to do with charm?”

“No, no, not with charm. But you said: ‘You either have it, or you don’t’.”


“You see, ‘either/or’ are correlative conjunctions.”

“Are they really?”

“Yep. Or correlatives – for short.”


“Well, people often misplace them, and what results is asymmetry. It’s a very common error.”

“It is?”

“Yep; you’ve just made it.”


“Aha. Just bracket off what comes after each of the correlative conjunctions, and you will see.”

“How do you mean?”


 You either [have it], or [you don’t].


“Now extract the bracketed stuff and put it side by side, like this.”

 First bracketed unit: have it

Second bracketed unit: you don’t


“Well, how does it look?”


“No, no, that’s not the point.”

“So what’s the point?”

“Would you say that these two bracketed constituents do an equivalent job or have an equivalent status?”

“I don’t know; are they meant to?”

“Absolutely. Look what happens when I do this to my version.”

 Either [you have it], or [you don’t].

 First bracketed unit: you have it

Second bracketed unit: you don’t

“Are the bracketed constituents equivalent now?”

“I suppose; but does it really matter? As long as you can get what the stuff’s about …”

“Oh yes, yes, the famous proclamation.”

“What famous proclamation?”

“We know what we mean – the less you know, the more often you trot it out. I mean … I don’t mean … not you, obviously. But asymmetry is asymmetry: while some instances can be barely perceptible, others are more striking.”

“They are?”

“Yep. Take this; it’s from The Sunday Times.”

 “She’s either criticised for being too fat or too thin.”


“Never mind who; just bracket off what comes after either and or.”

“Just a sec, just a sec; you mean that what they should have written is this?”

 She’s criticised for being either too fat or too thin.

 “Absolutely. But that was easy. Just look at this – from The Evening Standard.”

 “Nick should either be able to carry on investing via his Personal Equity Plan (PEP) or by using the tax shelter within the new Individual Savings Account (ISA).”

 “Hmm …”

“Brackets, brackets!”

“Just a sec, just a sec; you mean this?”

 Nick should be able to carry on investing either via his PEP or by using the tax shelter within the new ISA.

 “That’s it, that’s it! And this is from The Times Educational Supplement.”

 “Teachers would either be paid extra to supervise the sessions, or non-teaching staff would be employed.”

 “You mean this?”

 Either teachers would be paid extra to supervise the sessions, or non-teaching staff would be employed.

“By Jove, you’ve got it! But such asymmetry is extremely common; even professors of English stumble over their correlatives.”

Professors of English?”

“Yep; and all sorts of other luminaries. And it’s not only ‘either/or’ that are problematic.”

“Get away!”

“No, no, I’m serious. Other correlatives notorious for being misplaced are ‘neither/nor’, ‘both/and’, ‘not/but’, ‘not only/but also’ and ‘whether/or’.”


“So mind how you go and, when in doubt, just use brackets.”

“Hmm, I think I’d better.”



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 30: Pure-nonsense sequel

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.


“How interesting.”


“This Marine Policing Unit of the Metropolitan Police – how they dive and recover all sort of stuff, including bodies.”

“Including bodies?”

“Aha, they find quite a few, apparently.”

“Oh dear.”

“And they have this one female diver; The Sunday Times did a very interesting interview with her.”

“Oh yes?”

“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 has?”

“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.”

“They are?”

“Yep. Only, in their case, the condition probably isn’t.”

“Isn’t what?”


“You reckon?”

“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.”

“It certainly wasn’t!”


Daily Frolic 29: Meaning the exact opposite

“Surely, that’s child abuse!”

“What do you mean? Not yet another case of sexual …”

“No, no, no, this one’s totally unique; at least I haven’t heard about anything like that!”

“Gosh, it sounds serious.”

“It is, it is – and to think that a quality newspaper … you said this Sunday Times was a quality newspaper, didn’t you?”

“I did, I did.”

“To think that it openly encourages child abuse – it’s disgusting!”

“Encourages child abuse – The Sunday Times? You must be joking.”

“I wish I were, I wish I were.”

“So how are they doing this, exactly?”

“Well, they used to have this health-advice section, apparently.”

“Oh yes, yes, I remember: in the Style section.”

“Exactly; I’ve found a copy in your archives. People would write letters asking for advice, and this expert would advise them.”

“I do remember; so?”

“So one piece of advice went like this.”   

 “Zinc has been linked to delayed growth, so give your children 5mg a day each.”

 “Hmm, I don’t actually know all that much about zinc, to be honest. Perhaps the children were suffering from gigantism …”


“You know, when people produce too much growth hormone and grow too tall.”

“No, no, no – this letter was from a short Malaysian lady whose children were, apparently, below average height. That’s what she said, anyway.”

“O-o-o-o, I s-e-e-e-e, ha, ha, ha!”

“What’s so funny?”

“Well, they must have meant the exact opposite, mustn’t they?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yep, what they must have been trying to say is this.”  

 Zinc has been linked to promoting [OR enhancing] growth, so give your children 5mg a day each.

 “A-a-a-a …”

“Or perhaps this.”

 Zinc deficiency has been linked to delayed growth, so give your children 5mg of zinc a day each.

 “If you’re sure …”


“Thank goodness for that.”

“But saying the exact opposite to what you are trying to say is not all that uncommon.”

“It isn’t?”

“Nope. Take this, for example. From The Economist.”

 “Fewer people with less disposable income is bad news for shopkeepers.”

 “Isn’t it?”

“No, of course not: it’s good news for shopkeepers.”


“Because if fewer people have less disposable income, then more people will have more disposable income, won’t they?”

“Hmm …”

“But I suspect that what they were trying to say was this.”

 Fewer people and less disposable income are bad news for shopkeepers.

 “Are you sure?”

“Well, it can hardly be anything else. Look, there is a pattern to such illogical reasoning.”

“There is?”

“Yep; this is from The Sunday Times.”

 “Buying fewer clothes that are easy to wash could cut your emissions down.”

 “Couldn’t it?”

“No, no: what would help would be buying more clothes that are easy to wash – not fewer. But they could also have meant this.”

 Buying fewer clothes, and only those that are easy to wash, could cut your emissions down.

 “I s-e-e-e …”

“And that’s what they wrote in The Independent.”

 “Losses are very important to the small grower.”

 “Grower of what?”

“It doesn’t matter of what – of anything that makes you money. The point is that they meant the exact opposite.”

 Preventing losses is very important to the small grower.

 “Oh dear.”

“And, a few days ago, that’s what I heard on BBC News at Six.”

 “We don’t want mis-selling mortgages to the wrong people.”

 “You mean they reckon it’s OK to mis-sell mortgages to the right people?”

“You got it! What this expert was undoubtedly trying to say was this.”

 We don’t want selling mortgages to the wrong people.

 “Blimey, they do get muddled.”

“Don’t they just?”

Daily Frolic 28: Do women belong to the human race?

“It looks as if you still have a way to go.”

“With what?”

“Gender equality.”

“You mean in public life?”

“No, no, a more fundamental equality.”

“More fundamental? You mean who does the cooking, washing up, vacuuming – stuff like that?”

“You are trivialising the issue.”

“No, I’m not: I’ll do anything to avoid vacuuming. So, if the hubby doesn’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”

“It shows.”

“How kind of you.”

“Don’t mention it. I mean how you perceive women.”

“As the superior gender, naturally.”

“Oh stop it! But it’s really worrying.”

“What is?”

“How The Economist sees women.”

“What have they written now?”


 “The main roadblock is safety: overall, 62% of people think it is too dangerous to cycle, and around 75% of women do.”

 “Don’t worry; they haven’t excluded us from the human race – ha, ha, ha!”

“You sure?”

“Positive. I reckon what they were trying to say is this.”

 “Overall, 62% of people think it is too dangerous to cycle, and, of those, around 75% are women.”

 “That’s rather a relief.”

 “Isn’t it just? But it’s not an isolated slip-up.”


“Nope; these two are from The Sunday Times.”

 “I have written columns in praise of everything from recruitment consultants to tall people, handsome people, women (…).”

 “The road vehicles amendment regulations stipulate that ‘no person shall drive a motor vehicle on a road if he is using a hand-held mobile telephone’.”

 “So how can you be sure that we are seen as fully paid-up members of the human race?”

“Trust me, I can. Anyway, we get our own back.”


“Listen to this; also from The Sunday Times.”

 “I have neither a husband nor a man at the moment.”

 “Well, it does redress the balance somewhat.”

“But such illogical reasoning is not confined to gender.”


“Nope. They were interviewing this industrialist on TV, and that’s what he said.”

 “I’ll go abroad or anywhere else in the world where I can manufacture more cheaply.”

 “Ha, ha, ha!”

Daily Frolic 27: Contradictions

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?”


“Here; look.”

“People protest when football gets its biannual monthly showing.”

 “In a way, ha, ha, ha! But such contradictory stuff is not at all uncommon.”

“It isn’t?”

“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.”

“Even if his brain wasn’t.”

Daily Frolic 26: Stating the obvious

 “This Sunday Times …”

“Hmm …”

“You learn so much from it, don’t you?”

“You do, you do; so what have you learnt?”

“About John Betjeman; they had an interesting article this week.”


“They said he’d been infatuated with this Swedish beauty.”

“That’s what beauties are for.”

“And they also implied he’d done things properly.”

“With this Swedish lady?”

“No, no, with his marriage, ha, ha, ha!”

“What’s so funny?”

“Read this.”

 “Betjeman was married to Penelope Chetwode for 51 years before his death in 1984 but had a relationship with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish for more than 30 years.”

 “W-e-e-e-ll,  I’m not sure if cheating on one’s wife classifies as proper.”

“No, no, I didn’t mean this.”

“So what did you mean?”

“Well, he made sure he’d got this marriage business out of the way before he died, didn’t he?”

“Oh this; it’s just a silly preposition. Of course you are married before you die – they meant until: he was married to her for 51 years until his death.”

“But that’s exactly what I meant!”

“Well spotted – this was actually quite subtle. But stating the obvious is fairly common; sometimes, people do this in quite blatant ways – even professional writers.”

“They do?”

“Oh absolutely. I remember quite a few examples from The Sunday Times. What do you think about this?”

 “A light-skinned Asian female and her white male boyfriend had a baby using a dark-skinned Caucasian egg donor.”

 “What’s obvious about using egg donors?”

“No, no, no, it’s the boyfriend – he’s bound to be male, isn’t he?”

“You got me there – ha, ha, ha!”

“Or this.”

 “The prime minister generally campaigns alone without this wife.”

 “Well, at least they made it extra clear.”

“They certainly did that. And how about this?”

“Watts has one daughter, Seraphina, 33, who during her teenage years ‘had a wild phase that lasted until her twenties’.”

“Poor man!”

“No, I mean your teenage years always finish before you hit your twenties, don’t they?”

“Oh yes, of course!”

“And this was about Prince Charles before he married Camilla.”

“Carey was concerned about the constitutional crisis that could arise if the monarch died, leaving the royal heir with a mistress out of wedlock who could not be queen.”

 “They are all right now, aren’t they, Charles and Camilla?”

But that’s not the point: by definition, your mistress is never in wedlock – not with you, anyway.”

“Missing out on alimony like this is never a good idea.”

“You know that’s not what I meant.”

“I know, I know.”

“And what do you reckon about these two?”

 “The increasing interactions between people of different civilisations are increasing.”

 “If your monthly mortgage payment is, say, £1,000 a month (…).”

 “Well, they are certainly hammering the message home, aren’t they?”

“Aren’t they just?”

“And all this is from The Sunday Times?”

“Yep, but I have examples from other newspapers too; this is from The Economist.”

“As Samuel Goldwyn so wisely advised, never make predictions – especially about the future.”

 “Hmm, how does one make predictions about the past?

“Good question. Look, I’ve lots more similar quotes ; I will dig them out for you one day.”

“Can’t wait.”

Daily Frolic 24: Word play and more

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)

 Does it really?


(Micro) Daily Frolic 23: Lexicon special

Seeing as Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest …

 Three weeks ago, The Sunday Telegraph had me rather intrigued with this bulletin about the fanatical Boko Haram in Nigeria.

 “Local reports claimed that, fearing an attack, 4,500 troops were positioned around the town. But they were overrun by 300 Boko Haram fighters (…).”

   Defeated or outmanoeuvred, quite possibly, but overrun? With the ratio of 15:1??