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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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.”

 

 

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.”

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.

69 – Frolic: Babies and participles

“Blimey, your health service …”

“Yes?”

“It’s incredible.”

“Do you think so?”

“Well, maybe not all of it, but your midwifery – the mind boggles.”

“It does?”

“Absolutely. I mean delivering babies isn’t usually a walk in the park – not in Poland anyway.”

“I’d say not anywhere.”

“A-a-a-a, but that’s just it.”

“That’s just what?”

“It is, apparently.”

“It is what?”

“A walk in the park.”

“Look, you are not making any sense here – what is a walk in the park?”

“How you deliver babies. In Britain.”

“Get away!”

“No, no, it is. Or, at least, it can be.”

“Says who?”

“The Times Educational Supplement. I’ve found this article – in your archives. Listen to this.”

 “When delivered in a fresh, artistic way, children will seize on writing as they do art and drawing.”

 “Oh this, ha, ha, ha!”

“What’s so funny? I mean what a feat: they manage to deliver kids in a fresh way. And artistic! I defy you to beat that.”

“No, no, they don’t deliver children!”

“What do you mean they don’t deliver children? Are you saying that The Times Educational Supplement would have wilfully misinformed its readers?”

“No, no, of course not; it’s just that they didn’t know their grammar.”

“Are you saying you need to know grammar to deliver babies?”

“No, yes, I mean everybody needs grammar to communicate – grammar is the mortar that holds the bricks of vocabulary together – but this has nothing to do with babies; it’s a dangler.”

“A dangling baby?”

“NOT A BABY THERE IS NO BABY – IT’S A DANGLING PARTICIPLE!!!”

“A dangling what?”

“Participle. ‘Delivered’ is a dangling participle here.”

“Why is it dangling?”

“Because they made it refer to the wrong noun.”

“They did?”

“Absolutely. They obviously thought that you could relate an initial participle such as ‘delivered’ to the object – which, in this sentence, is writing – but you can’t.”

“You can’t?”

“Nope. Initial participles will always be interpreted as referring to the subject of the main clause – ALWAYS. And the subject here is children.”

“Sure, it’s an important subject.”

“No, no, I don’t mean a subject of discussion – I mean grammar. It’s a very common error.”

“It is?”

“Yep. But it’s very easy to put right. Whenever an initial participle is meant to refer to the object instead of the subject, you just change the voice of the main clause from active to passive – that’s all.”

“Is that really all?”

“Yep. Because, when you change the voice, the object becomes the subject.”

“And what happens to the subject?”

“It becomes the agent.”

“Secret?”

“Get away! Look, what they were trying to say was this.”

  “When delivered in a fresh, artistic way, writing will be seized on by children as eagerly as art and drawing.”

 “Blimey.”

67 – Maxi-rant: Moving sheds, the comma splice and interpolated coordination

“Wow, what a feat!”

“What feat?”

“Of engineering. I’ve read that Britain is famous for its engineering. They’ve had this … this famous Brunel, if I remember correctly.”

“Isambard Kingdom.”

“Yes, yes, that’s what I mean: in your kingdom.”

“No, no, it was his name: Isambard Kingdom Brunel.”

“His name? Wasn’t it rather unusual?”

“Very. But it was simply an amalgamation of his parents’ names.”

“I see. Anyway, what your Duke of Westminster has achieved here is surely worthy of this Isam … Isam … this Brunel.”

“And what is that?”

“Constructing moving sheds.”

“Moving sheds? You mean like … like on wheels?”

“Not sure; they weren’t all that specific.”

“Who wasn’t?”

“This week’s Sunday Times.”

“What exactly did they write?”

“This.”

 “The sheds are large and airy, they can move around.”

 “But this makes no sense; let’s have a look. Ha, ha, ha! They didn’t mean it like this!”

“But that’s what they …”

“I know that’s what they wrote, but you can’t use pronouns like this.”

“You can’t?”

“Nope; pronouns are useful if you want to achieve textual cohesion or to avoid repetition, but you have to be careful to make them refer to the right nouns.”

“How do you mean?”

“I mean they meant cows – not sheds.”

“They meant cows?”

“Yep: this was about this farm, set up by the Duke of Westminster, where dairy cows were kept indoors all the time. And the farm’s director was trying to defend the practice, you see.”

“He would, wouldn’t he?”

“That’s exactly what the late Mandy Rice-Davies said to the judge. But the point is that a pronoun will usually latch onto the nearest preceding noun agreeing with it in person and number.”

“It will?”

“Absolutely. And, in this sentence, the nearest congruous noun is ‘sheds’ – hence the confusion.”

“I s-e-e-e-e. So are you saying … you mean that … what exactly do you mean?”

“This; let me write it down for you.”

 The sheds are large and airy; the cows can move around.

 “A-a-a-a-a.”

“It’s an absolute minefield, I’m telling you. It’s very easy to end up with pronouns whose reference is, at best, unclear and, at worst, completely misleading. And, often, you have unintentional hilarity to boot.”

“What boot?”

“No, no, it’s just a saying. And, of course, they had the comma splice in there.”

“The comma splice?”

“Yep: the one after ‘airy’. You can’t just plonk a comma between individual sentences like this.”

“Why not?”

“Because this weakens both sentences. If you don’t want to divide them with a full stop, you’d usually use either a semi-colon or a connective.”

“Or a connective? How …”

“Look, look, I have three different connectives for you here.”

 The sheds are large and airy, and the cows can move around.

The sheds are large and airy, which is why the cows can move around.

Because the sheds are large and airy, the cows can move around.

 “I s-e-e-e; so you wouldn’t use a comma on its own there?”

“You certainly wouldn’t use a comma on its own there. But people often do. There is this myth that it’s a mistake made largely by kids, but the comma splice is quite common among adults – including professional writers.”

“Blimey.”

“And look what they wrote further on.”

“What?”

 “If the facilities are good and the cows are well managed, the welfare of cows kept inside can be as good and in some cases better than they would be outside.”

 “So? Maybe it can.”

“No, no: can’t you see the mangled interpolated coordination?”

“Inter-what?”

“Interpolated coordination; it often gets mangled – particularly if you don’t use commas.”

“How do you …”

“Look, what they should have written is this.”

 (…) the welfare of the cows kept inside can be as good as, and in some cases better than, that of those kept outside.

 “‘As good as, and in some cases better than, something’ is called interpolated coordination. If you use both commas – as you should – it will be easier to see that you need ‘as’ after ‘good’.”

“It will?”

“Well, it should. And, of course, the cows’ welfare won’t be better than they. The whole sentence is an almighty mess.”

“But I thought you said it was this farm manager, didn’t you? I mean, you’d expect him to know about cows and that, but this intercol … interbol … interpol …”

“Sure, but you’d think The Sunday Times could stretch to a sub-editor, wouldn’t you?”

“But aren’t you supposed to be having this standard-of-living crisis? The one that your Labour Party is always banging on about?  Maybe your press can’t afford a sub-editor these days?”

“Looks like it, doesn’t it?”

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.”

“And?”

“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.”

“A WHAT?”

“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.”

“Nope.”

“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!”

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.”

“What?”

“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?”

“Aha.”

“What?”

“I think it’s affected her … ummm … cognitively, shall we say.”

“It has?”

“It must have done.”

“Why?”

“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?”

“Reversible.”

“You reckon?”

“Yep.  Listen what they let through.”

“Who?”

“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?”

“This.”

 “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’.”

“A-a-a-a.”

“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.”

“Who?”

“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.”

 “What?”

“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 …”

“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 …”

“Positive.”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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?”