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.

 

68 – Grammar shot: Interpolated coordination

I feel it was a tad unfair to leave you, in my previous post, more or less high and dry after hitting you with the term ‘interpolated coordination’, with which some of you may be unfamiliar. In this post, I’m trying to atone for the lapse. The logical start would be a brief overview of coordination. Coordination is a way of combining words, phrases and clauses of equivalent status into more complex structures by means of coordinators. Coordinators include coordinating conjunctions and, or and but and punctuation. Coordination is an exceedingly common procedure, and it’s not at all necessary to be aware of the term to be able to perform the operation without mishaps, although it is by no means plain sailing. But that’s not what this article is about.

Examples of coordination:

 I like apples, plums and pears.

Sink or swim.

They were bloodied but unbowed.

I was late; consequently, I wasn’t allowed to sit the exam.

 So far, so uncomplicated. We, however, also use the so-called interpolated coordination, a very common device, but one which often seems to present some writers with difficulties – hence this post. Since to interpolate means to insert, interpose, incorporate, inset, interpolated coordinate constructions are constructions where one is ‘inserted’ inside another. This usage is illustrated in the examples below.

Examples of interpolated coordination:

She is, or at least was, a famous pianist.

He is known for his love for, and expertise in, grammar.

Some girls consider themselves not just equal to, but the same as, boys.

 In order for interpolated coordination to work, the inserted unit MUST be enclosed by two correlative commas (the most common), dashes or brackets. Why?  Because it is inserted – or interpolated. But the point is that it often lacks the required punctuation, this being illustrated through the two examples below.

 Both correlative commas (or dashes/ brackets) missing (very common):

 “It was perfectly possible to get an A grade in history without the slightest interest in or grasp of the subject.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Write: interest in, or grasp of, the subject.

 The second correlative comma (or dash/ bracket) missing (very common):

 “Extra money and facilities must be focused on, not away from the disadvantaged.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Write: focused on, not away from, the disadvantaged.

 Interestingly, I have found no examples with the first correlative comma (or dash/ bracket) missing, although such omission can be seen with other constructions. I am using the three examples below to exemplify the omission of relevant prepositions – another type of error – but there are punctuation mistakes in two of them as well.

 “The imperial bureaucracy must be accountable and the servant of the commonwealth.” (The Sunday Times)

 Write: must be accountable to, and the servant of, the commonwealth.

 “Nobody loves fancy dress as much (or is more ill-advised in its adoption) than members of the Royal family.” (The Daily Telegraph)

 Write: as much as (or is more ill-advised in its adoption than) members of the Royal family.

 Occasionally, the omission of a preposition is likely to result in unintentional hilarity.

 “Every school should offer classes for parents to teach them how to talk and play with their children.” (The Times Educational Supplement)

 Blimey, you would think that parents can talk already!

Write: to teach them how to talk to, and play with, their children.

So mind how you go with interpolated coordination!

Post 2: Murder on Radio 4

Area: grammar
Topic: coordination (the error exposed below being faulty coordination)

 

“What is cindererra?” enquired my young Japanese pupil Akito, who was staying with me for a few weeks to improve his English (and whom I had introduced in my first blog post).

“Who.”

“Me.”

“You what?”

“I ristened.”

“What did you listen to?”

“Radio.”

“Well, we have both been listening to the radio, Akito. What exactly do you mean?”

“I want know about cindererra, prease.”

“No, no, Akito, Cinderella is a who – a person. Well, not a real person.”

“Not rear?”

Could I detect a trace of incredulity in Akito’s voice? “No, she’s just a character. From a fairy story – like a fantasy.”

“Is raw fantasy?”

“No, no, no, Akito: law is not a fantasy. Well, it can be sometimes. Take tax law, for example: in theory, everybody has to pay tax – above a certain threshold, obviously – but, if you are a powerful corporation or a very wealthy individual, you may end up paying astonishingly little.”

“Astonishingry rittre,” pondered Akito.

“That’s right. Uhrm … what I meant is … I mean it’s not right, but that’s how it is.”

Akito gave me a slightly puzzled look and rubbed his chin in a gesture to which I was becoming accustomed. This particular exchange had been precipitated by another one of Radio 4’s superb Today programmes, which are a soundtrack to all breakfasts in my household and to which I am keen to expose each of my students. After all, there are not many programmes which equal Today in terms of the quality of both content and language, are there? That morning, John Humphrys was interviewing one of the listeners about a proposal to introduce the so-called Cinderella law, the purpose of which would be to outlaw emotional cruelty.

“Emotionar cruerty is terribre,” concurred Akito.

“It is indeed, Akito. But do you realise what he’d actually said?”

“I rearise: he said raw difficurt.”

“No, no, I mean yes, but which bit of the law would be difficult?”

A further rubbing of the chin signalled a certain degree of discombobulation on Akito’s part.

“Listen again, Akito: what he said was this.”

 

It would be very difficult to prove and abuse.

 

“Which bit is balderdash, then?”

“What is barderdash?”

“Nonsense.”

The young man shot me another one of his hesitant looks.

“Think about it, Akito. Emotional cruelty is, indeed, very difficult to prove, no question about that, but the law outlawing it would not be difficult to abuse at all; quite the opposite, in fact. You see, what he was attempting to say was this.”

 

The offence would be very difficult to prove and the law easy to abuse.

 

While Akito was pondering the revelation, I pressed on with my grammatical elucidation. “The thing is that, when we speak, we are rarely that precise, Akito, but he could still have said something like this.”

 

It would be very difficult to prove and easy to abuse.

 

Having now evidently grasped the point, Akito broke into a broad smile and nodded. “Ranguage brunder!”

“It is, Akito. I call this type of error faulty coordination.”

“Faurty coordination?”

“Yep. We use coordination all the time, of course.”

“We use?”

“Absolutely: whenever we link words, phrases and clauses with the coordinating conjunctions and, or or but. But the point is thatwe often omit the bits which are understood.”

“Exampre, prease.”

“Of course, of course.”

I have tea, cereal and toast for breakfast.

Describe your mother orfather.

She may be old but is still agile.

 

“You see, coordination allows our sentences to be nice and compact; without it, we would have to say things like this.”

 

I have tea for breakfast, I have cereal for breakfast and I have toast for breakfast.

 

“Wouldn’t that be ghastly?”

“What is ghastry?”

“Awful.”

“Awfur,” concurred the young man.

“But coordination is very easy to get wrong. In fact, faulty coordination is a classic blunder.”

“Crassic?”

“Absolutely: people fall into this trap all the time – and often murder sense. Just as John Humphrys did on Radio 4. I have so many examples you wouldn’t believe; some are genuinely misleading. How about this one? It’s from my local newspaper.”

 

A fox bolted five times and killed late in the afternoon.

 

“What did fox kirred?”

“Kill, Akito, kill. No, the fox didn’t kill anything – it was the fox itself that got killed. Sometimes, coordination can be unintentionally funny. I remember this example – from The Sunday Times.”

 

I shaved and brushed my teeth.

 

“He shaved teeth?”

“You got it, Akito! With similar statements, you just change the order of the coordinated components, and Bob’s you uncle.”

“My uncre is Hitoshi.”

“No, no, it’s just a saying, Akito. What I mean is this.”

 

I brushed my teeth and shaved.

 

“But, mostly, faulty coordination is just clumsy. Listen to this – from The Times Educational Supplement.”

 

We are seeking to recruit two graduates or equivalent qualification.

 

“What is equivarent?”

“Equal. But they were not trying to recruit a qualification – clearly.”

“Crearry,” concurred Akito.

“Yep: they were looking for graduates or those with equivalent qualifications. I’ve collected hundreds and hundreds of similar examples. Whether faulty coordination is genuinely misleading, unintentionally funny or simply clumsy, it usually kills sense.”

“Usuarry.”

“I have written a little verse to alert people to this error; you know I write little verses, don’t you, Akito?”

“I know.”

 

Coordination should not be too hard,

But it is a minefield, so be on your guard;

The scope for mistakes is simply immense,

With things being said which often lack sense.

 

“Excerrent.”

“Thank you, Akito.”