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.”

 

 

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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?”

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?”

“Charm.”

“What about it?”

“You either have it, or you don’t.”

 “Either you have it, or you don’t.”

“Exactly.”

“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’.”

“So?”

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

“Are they really?”

“Yep. Or correlatives – for short.”

“And?”

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

“It is?”

“Yep; you’ve just made it.”

“Me?”

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

“How do you mean?”

“Look.”

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

 “So?”

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

 First bracketed unit: have it

Second bracketed unit: you don’t

 “So?”

“Well, how does it look?”

“Bitty.”

“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.”

 “Who?”

“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’.”

“Blimey!”

“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.”

“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!”

Miscellaneous: my irreverently satirical book An Alien in a Madhouse

Just to let you know that my irreverent political – and grammatical – satire, An Alien in a Madhouse, is now available in both electronic and paperback format (at £1.96 and £6.99 respectively).This jocular book satirises the bureaucracy rampaging across quango-land, the vagaries of office life, the comicality of jargon beloved of officialdom, political correctness gone mad and the mind-boggling assortment of language blunders perpetrated by fully paid-up members of the educational establishment. The book, which also attempts to defuse some of the usage booby-traps strewn across English, is interspersed with humorous ditties which make light-hearted political and grammatical points and which underline the irreverence of the narrative voice. Below are given both links and the initial section of the first chapter.

E-book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LSZIQ5M?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

Paperback: http://www.lulu.com/shop/anna-nolan/an-alien-in-a-madhouse/paperback/product-21712758.html

An Alien in a Madhouse

“Fart.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Fart here.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like what?”
“Well, I am not sure I can manage to … manage it just like that.”
“Manage what?”
“What you’ve just told me to do … ”
“You what?”
“Well, you’ve just told me to … to … you know.”
“I haven’t told you to do nothing.”
“Well, you did say to … to break wind.”
“No, no – fart; that’s, like, what we are.”
“That’s what you are?”
“It is.”
“Terribly sorry, but I’m not with you.”
“That’s what we are, like: the Fore … Forest … umm … Foremost Authority for the Regulation of Transformation.”
“O-o-o-o, I see: FART.”
“That’s what I’ve been saying, like.”
“Yes, no … I mean, it’s obviously an acronym.”
“No, no, it’s an authority.”
“No, I meant … oh, never mind. And what do you do exactly?”
“We deliver and stuff.”
“You deliver? Like in a maternity ward?”
“How do you mean a maternity ward?”
“Well, that’s what a maternity ward does: delivers babies.”
“We don’t have no babies here.”
“So what do you deliver?”
“Oodles, like.”
“Oodles of what?”
After what sounded like a deep sigh at the end of the telephone line, there followed a slight pause, itself followed by some rustling accompanied by several more sighs. “Just a sec; where’s the blinking list? That’s it, we … we deliver directors … umm, sorry, directives, police … oops, no, policies, reports, guides … no, no, it says guidelines, circles, umm … circulars, surveys, degrees, no, no, decrees, handbooks, app … appen … appendices, annexes, schedules, memo … randa, pre … pre … oh shucks, precepts?”
“Yes, it would be precepts.”
“ … specifications, explanations, ex … exhortations and …. and im-plo-ra-tions, like.”
“You deliver them all?”
“That’s what all them people say and stuff. And we deliver statements. And certificates. And, like, customer focus.”
“And customer focus? Wow. So you are some sort of delivering organisation, is that right?”
“That’s what all them people say and stuff.”
“But what’s that about regulating? In your name?”
“’Cos we also regulate and stuff.”
“Wow, you must be busy. You deliver and regulate.”
“All the time. And on overtime.”
“And on overtime? Wow. So you regulate transformation?”
“That’s what all them people say and stuff.”
“What sort of transformation?”
“I don’t know, do I? They didn’t tell me nothing. I‘m on work experience here. I’m doing an Intermediate Certificate in Handling the General Public, like. Stage Two.”
“Stage Two?”
“Yes. Stage Two comes after Stage One.”
“Does it really?”
“It does, it does! I’ve, like, got Stage One already.”
“Congratulations. You handle the general public very well.”
“That’s what all them people say and stuff.”
“I’m sure you’ll sail through your Stage Two. You’ve made FA … your organisation sound very intriguing: I’d love to find out more about it. Do you think I could speak to your manager?”
“You could – if he wasn’t in a meeting.”
“Is he in a meeting?”
“He’s, like, always in a meeting.”
“Maybe I could phone him when he’s finished?”
“When he’s finished, he’ll go to another meeting.”
“He must be terribly busy.”
“That’s what all them people say and stuff.”
“What about his manager? Is he available?”
“She.”
“Is she available?”
“That would be a first.”
“Would it? Why?”
“Every time Callum is in a meeting, Fenella is in the same meeting, like.”
“I see. So how could I find out more about FA … about your organisation?”
“Go to our website, like.”
“Good idea. The address is … ?”
“Www.fart.com”
“Of course – could have guessed. You’ve been very helpful.”
“No worries. We pride us … ourself on delivering customer focus and stuff.”
“Evidently. Thank you.”
“Wait, wait, there is a survey.”
“A survey?”
“There’s customer satisfaction surveys on our website, like – will you do one about this call and stuff?”
“With pleasure. Good luck with your Stage Two.”

***
Actually, I had no intention at all of approaching the Foremost Authority. For a start, I had no idea of its existence. I was merely trying to report a non-collection of my rubbish. You know how it is: those refuse collectors tear round the neighbourhood like demons, tattoos flashing, nose rings dangling, attitude oozing, and, invariably, they miss some bins. This has been happening more often recently, actually. So you call the council, and they put you on hold and play you some soporific music, and, after fifteen minutes, they put you through to a nice lady, who says sorry, you’ve got the wrong department, whereupon she puts you on hold for another fifteen minutes (by which time the soporific tunes have rendered you somewhat torpid), after which you do get through to another nice lady, who is, mercifully, the right lady.
The right lady asks you whether you are sure that your rubbish hasn’t been collected, to which you, having now perked up, reply that yes, you are quite sure. She then asks whether you left your bins in front of your house, to which you reply that you did indeed leave your bins in front of your house. The right lady then enquires whether this was on the correct day, to which you reply that it was. The right lady then questions your general recollection of events, suggesting that you might be new to this address and not familiar with how things are done, to which you offer your assurances that your general recollection of events is entirely correct and that you have lived at the same address for the past 27 years and have always left the bins right in front of your house on a Tuesday evening for a Wednesday morning collection, this occasion being no exception.
There then follows at the other end a moment’s silence, after which the right lady says, “I see.” But just when you think that you are finally getting through, she plays the trump card. At least you think she thinks it’s her trump card because there is no disguising a triumphant note in her voice, “But our contractors haven’t reported any non-collections this morning.” You then say that of course they haven’t reported any non-collections because they can’t have noticed that they have left your rubbish behind. After all, if they had noticed that they were leaving a full bin behind, they would have emptied it, wouldn’t they? But, as you are saying this, the surrealism of the whole scenario suddenly hits you hard, and you actually start doubting your own sanity. Luckily, the right lady cannot see your bewildered expression and finally concedes defeat. “All right then, I will log your non-collection and notify the contractor.”
“So are they going to come back for my rubbish today?”
“Today? No, no, no.”
“Why not? It’s not even 10 o’clock yet, so they must still be in the area.”
“That’s not how it works.”
“How does it work?”
“You have to give it 48 hours.”
“But why?”
“Because you have to give it 48 hours.”
“And what if they don’t come back within 48 hours?”
“You will have to wait till the next collection.”
“But, look, it’s beginning to smell already. By next week, it will have stunk the whole neighbourhood out.”
“Well, if they don’t come back, you could call again, I suppose.”
When the refuse collectors fail to turn up within the next 48 hours, you call the council again, and they put you on hold and play you some soporific music … you get the picture. The script will be slightly different this time – but not much. So, anyway, I had been trying to call the council but obviously misdialled the number, and now I was seriously intrigued by the Foremost Authority with its mysterious regulation and transformation. And delivery, of course.

Post 8: Landing noises and dented jobs

 

Area: grammar
Topic: noun adjectives (erroneously treated as nouns rather than as adjectives)

“Horses, they are very much admirable in Kazakhstan,” opined Nartay with a thoughtful nod.
“Admired. Or perhaps appreciated, Nartay.”
“No perhaps – for sure.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant. We appreciate horses.”
“You appreciate also?”
“No, I mean yes, of course we appreciate horses. But I was simply suggesting that the verb ‘appreciate’ would be more appropriate.”
“Very much appropriate,” concurred the young man.
“No, no ‘much’, Nartay.”
“Why not? I am understanding that horses, they are special in Britain also.”
“I understand.”
“This is good; so we are common!” exclaimed my pupil triumphantly.
“No, no, Nartay, what I was trying to say was that the progressive aspect was unnecessary there.”
At that juncture, Nartay’s physiognomy became a picture of discombobulation. “Progressive, it is necessary always.”
“No, I meant aspect.”
“What aspect?”
“What you’ve used in ‘I am understanding’ is called the progressive – or continuous – aspect. But we say ‘I understand’. People do sometimes say things like ‘I’m liking it’ or ‘I’m not caring about it’, but that’s incorrect.”
“I understand, I understand,” repeated the young man with considerable concentration. “But I do not understand.”
“What don’t you understand?”
“This.” He passed me a copy of The Sunday Times, a quality newspaper which I had supplied him with to strengthen his grasp of the intricacies of the English language and which he had been engrossed in before our surreal exchange.

They are all animal people – mainly horses.

“So are they people, or are they horses?”
“Oh, Nartay, ha, ha, ha!”
Nartay shot me another one of his searching looks.
“They are people – horse people, Nartay.”
“We have horse people in Kazakhstan also.”
“I know, I know, Nartay. But the point is that people sometimes get confused over noun adjectives.”
“Horse people?”
“No, no, people in general. In this context, ‘animal’ is a noun adjective, but some folk don’t seem to understand that noun adjectives have no force of nouns; they merely describe. You could say they were emasculated.”
“Ema … ?”
“Emasculated – weakened.”
“I very much like.”
“What do you like?”
“Weekend. You can rest. And ride your horse also.”
“No, no, I mean weakened – you could say they were made weaker.”
“People?”
“No, no, not people – noun adjectives.”
“How?”
“By being placed before the nouns they pre-modify. The nouns they pre-modify behave like normal nouns, but noun adjectives don’t: to all intents and purposes, they have stopped being nouns and have become adjectives.”
“These normal nouns, they behave … how?”
“For a start, they team up with verbs, but adjectives don’t. A few years back, a reader who lived next to an airport wrote this in a letter to the editor of one of our quality newspapers.”

Aircraft noise is awful – particularly when taking off and landing.

“You see, this person evidently thought that a noun adjective such as ‘aircraft’ is just like any other noun. It’s like saying that a park bench is a park rather than a bench! Can you conceive?” The unease on Nartay’s face made me realise that this turn of phrase was, perhaps, a tad unfortunate. “Uhrm … what I was trying to say … I mean what he was trying to say was this.”

The noise made by aircraft is awful – particularly when they take off and land.

“Secondly, you can use a pronoun to replace a noun but certainly not an adjective – even if it’s a noun adjective. But that’s exactly what some people do. I call this error illusory co-reference; it’s relatively common. What do you think about this? I found it in The Times Educational Supplement.”

Job crisis? Only if you need one.

Deep in thought, Nartay rubbed his chin. “You need a crisis?”
“Precisely, Nartay! Because the ‘job’ is here nothing more than an adjective, we need a noun on which to hang the pronoun ‘one’.”
“Hang?”
“I mean putting together: we use pronouns for co-reference with nouns. So we’d need to say, ‘Only if you need a job.’”
Nartay gave another one of his gratifying nods.
“And this morning, when you were doing your exercises … ”
“Physical health,” interjected the young man earnestly, “it is very much important. President Nazarbayev, he emphasis it in his State Strategy.”
“Emphasised it. Your president is absolutely right.” I was indeed most impressed by Nartay’s daily exertions involving press-up, pull-ups, crunches – not to mention my husband’s weights. “But when you were doing your exercises, that’s what John Humphrys said on Radio 4.”

If you make your passport application in good time, you will get it.

“We have this passport crisis, you see.”
Nartay looked bemused. “Why? You have not made sufficient passports?”
“Well, are certainly not processing passport applications fast enough. But the point is that John Humphrys obviously had no clue that, in what he said, ‘passport’ wasn’t a noun. And how about this? It’s from The Sunday Times.”

If I was ever going to have surgery, I’d have a nose job. It’s got a dent in it.

“Bolder dash.”
“Absolutely! It’s my nose that’s got a dent in it – not a job.”
Further nodding provided a welcome reassurance that I was getting through to my pupil. “And this one is from The Economist.”

June 12th is Russia Day, celebrating its emergence from the Soviet Union as a sovereign state.

“We freed in December 1991.”
“Ourselves.”
“You also?”
“No, no, I mean ‘We freed ourselves.’ The point is that this is the same type of blunder. What we need is something along these lines.”

June 12th is Russia Day, the country celebrating its emergence from the Soviet Union as a sovereign state.

“We celebrated also; my parents, they told me.”
“I bet you did. I’ve got one more for you – also from The Economist.”

The meteorite hunter needs to be ready to travel to any corner of the world where one may land.

This time, the young man appeared prepared. “Where the meteorite may land?”
“Spot on, Nartay, although we’d say ‘a meteorite’. I’ve written a little ditty about illusory co-reference with noun adjectives.”

A noun adjective is never a noun:
You team it with pronouns – you’ll always fall down;
Nor will it ever take verbs as its mates,
Yet folk often blunder – an error that grates.

“Superlative. Like your beshbarmak also; your horse meat, it tastes very much different – more tender.”
Regrettably, a violent coughing fit which seized me at that precise moment prevented me from expressing my appreciation in the usual manner.

Post 6: Of warriors, princes and queens

Area: grammar
Topic: misrelated ‘as a/ the’ (meaning ‘in the capacity of’)

“We are common,” opined Nartay, my urbane Kazakhstani pupil, who had recently replaced Chen, now back in Beijing.
I was not entirely sure how to react to this unexpected insult from the young man, who had, so far, comported himself with great courtesy. “Are we, Nartay? Well, I might be, but you are … you seem … poised.”
“No, no, I am assuring you I am not!”
The vehemence of Nartay’s protest suggested that all not was well in the comprehension department. As I was about to probe, Nartay volunteered an elucidation on the point in question.
“I am feeling well. Your food is superlative; I very much like.”
“No, no, Nartay, I didn’t mean poisoned. Poised means suave – the opposite of common.”
“But she is calling you.”
“Who?”
“The red lady with the tattoo.”
“Oh, you mean Waverley; we say red-head.”
“Red-head,” nodded Nartay. “Red-head is calling you Hun. We had Huns – in our empire. So we are common.”
“Ha, ha, ha! She … she … ha, ha, ha! … she didn’t mean the Empire of the Huns, Nartay. I very much doubt if she knows what the Emp … oh, never mind, what I’m trying to say is that she wasn’t implying I’m descendent from the Huns.”
“No?”
“No, she calls me ‘hon’ – for honey.” Even though he had been staying with me for only two days, Nartay had already witnessed one of my frequent confabulations with Waverley, to which he must have paid careful attention. “But what has made you bring this up, Nartay?”
“The prince.”
“What prince?”
“Camilla. It is a superlative name for a prince. Near as good as Attila – Attila the Hun.”
“Nearly. But Camilla isn’t used for males, Nartay.”
“It must: I am understanding that Prince of Wales is called Camilla.”
“No, he isn’t, Nartay. It’s his wife whose name is Camilla; he is Charles.”
“But this was on television.”
We had indeed been watching Channel 4, but, an attentive hostess that I am, I had popped into the kitchen to organise the evening’s fifth cup of tea for Nartay, whose capacity for the drink seemed limitless. “So what did they say, Nartay?”
“This.”

As Prince of Wales, Camilla is helping Charles.

“Oh, this; it’s a classic.”
“He must: he is a prince.”
“No, no, Nartay, I didn’t mean classy: it’s a classic blunder – it’s practically everywhere. What they were trying to say is this.”

As Prince of Wales, Charles is helped by Camilla.

“So how … so … so why …?”
“Because they can’t tell their subject from their object – evidently. You see, many people don’t realise that the initial ‘as’ meaning ‘in the capacity of’ always relates to the subject – always. But you’ve interpreted the grammar correctly because, in the sentence you quoted, Camilla was the subject, so well done.”
Nartay’s face brightened. “Raxmet – thank you.”
“I call this blunder ‘the marketing as’ because it’s extremely common in marketing literature – particularly letters.”
“I am working in marketing.”
“I know, I know.” Naturally, one of my rules of engagement with the students Waverley sends my way is to enquire into their background – albeit without appearing overly intrusive. So I was well aware that Nartay was working as a marketing executive in Almaty. “But I’m sure you wouldn’t write anything like this, Nartay. I remember quite a few examples; listen.”

As a valued customer, we are pleased to offer you a fantastic discount.
As an existing customer of ours, I would like you to be the first to be informed of our superb promotion.
As one of our most valued customers, here’s your own magazine.

“It’s all balderdash, but organisations keep writing stuff like this.”
“Bolder dash,” repeated Nartay in his studious manner.
“No, no, balderdash – nonsense.”
Nartay gave me a probing look, considered my proposition briefly and then nodded.
“I remember a great example from another TV programme. It was broadcast on BBC2 and was called The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler. You know about Hitler, don’t you?”
“I know.”
“So what do you reckon?”

As a mother of eight, the Fuhrer awarded me the Cross of Honour.

Despite my earlier exegesis, Nartay’s physiognomy betrayed bewilderment. “BBC? But it is bolder dash.”
“It is indeed, Nartay; it’s balderdash. But they just don’t realise what they are saying. What they meant was this, of course.”

As a mother of eight, I was awarded the Cross of Honour by the Fuhrer.

Nartay nodded.
“I’ll give you one more example. It’s from The Sunday Times; they were writing about who would attend the memorial service for Princess Diana in 2007. She was Prince Charles’s first wife – before Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.”

But as the person blamed by Diana for breaking up her marriage to Prince Charles, the Queen fears that all eyes would be on the duchess.

“They are blaming the Queen? Blaming rulers is bad manners.” I didn’t call Nartay suave for nothing, did I?
“No, no, they didn’t mean it; I’ve told you. What they were trying to say is this.”

But as the person blamed by Diana for breaking up her marriage to Prince Charles, the duchess would, the Queen fears, attract too much attention.

“Actually, Nartay, people misrelate all sorts of constructions; this happens all over the place. Misrelated ‘as’ represents a type of misattachment similar to that seen in dangling participles and misrelated adjectives. I covered them with Chen; she couldn’t believe it either – that educated people would come up with such bal-der-dash. I’ll give you a few examples tomorrow. But I also write little ditties about the errors people make. This one is about the misrelated ‘as’.”

Just as English lang. is glorious,
So is ‘as a/ the’ notorious:
Often misrelated, tangled,
It does make the sentence mangled.

 

“Superlative.”
“Thank you, Nartay.”

 

Other posts on related topics:

Post 3: Hangings in the British media (on misrelated participles)
Post 4: An astonishing revelation about British MPs (on misrelated adjectives)

Post 4: An astonishing revelation about British MPs

Area: grammar
Topic: misrelated adjectives

“Is this veracious?” enquired Chen, my delightful Chinese pupil, who was staying with me to improve her English and whose physiognomy was, at that particular moment, a picture of utter bewilderment.
“What?”
“That your MPs are so anomalous?”
“Well, no, I don’t think British MPs are particularly anomalous, Chen. Maybe just the expense claims some of them submit; you see, there was a bit of a hoo-ha over duck islands and things like that and a few dodgy overnight-allowance claims. And, of course, there is the small matter of tax dodges, but global corporations are far worse, I can tell you.”
“I meant part-animals.” Although I was pleased to see that my English tuition was having an effect in that Chen had stopped using ‘signify’ in place of ‘mean’, I was taken aback by the revelation.
“Part-animals, Chen? I don’t believe our MPs are that; well, maybe Cyril Smith.”
“Who is Cyril Smith?”
“Was – he was an MP.”
“What did he do?”
“Oh, it’s a long story. He is alleged to have been a serial sex offender. But he’s dead now. Anyway, what’s this stuff about part-animals?”
“It was on the news.”
Since Chen was able to stay in Britain for only a fortnight, I had gone for an all-out immersion, trying to expose her to as many sources of excellent English as possible. That evening, we were watching the Ten O’Clock News on BBC1, but I had nipped out to the loo (or, as my dear American friends would say, a restroom, though I don’t recall having ever had a particularly restful time there) and must have missed the bit she was referring to.
“What exactly did they say, Chen?”

Part-human, part-animal, MPs approved hybrid-embryo research in 2008.

“Oh, Chen, ha, ha, ha! I can’t picture any of our MPs as a centaur.”
“What is a centaur?”
“A creature that is part-man, part-horse. But it’s not the MPs who are part-human, part animal, Chen – they must have meant hybrid embryos.”
The young lady gave me another one of her baffled looks. “But they … but this … this was transmissioned by the BBC … ”
Transmitted. I know, Chen, I know; it’s a very common error. Actually, misrelated adjectives are very similar to dangling participles. You see, people put adjectives and participles at the beginning of sentences to appear cultivated.”
“You mean like rice?”
“No, no, Chen, it means refined.”
“Like sugar?”
“Not exactly, no. Initial participles and adjectives make sentences appear … appear sophisticated.”
“A-a-a-a, like you!”
“Well, no, yes, what I mean is … it’s nice of you to say so, thank you.”
“The pleasure is my.”
Mine, Chen. But what I was trying to say was that, when you start your sentences with participles and adjectives, you show people that you are a good writer. Compare these two statements.”

He was driven and powerful and changed the course of history.
Driven and powerful, he changed the course of history.

“You mean Chairman Mao?”
“No, no, Chen. It could be anybody: it’s just an example. I’m trying to say that the second sentence is considered stylistically more mature than the first.”
Chen sucked on the pen she had been assiduously gnawing at and nodded.
“But people often misrelate such initial participles and adjectives. What those BBC folk were really trying to say was something along those lines.”

Part-human, part-animal, hybrid embryos were, in 2008, approved by MPs for research.
In 2008, MPs approved research on hybrid embryos, which are part-human, part-animal.

Chen liberated her pen and cocked her head in a manner suggesting thoughtfulness.
“Unfortunately, this is a bit longer than what they said, but at least it’s not poppycock.”
“I like poppycock.”
“How can you possibly like poppycock, Chen?”
“Because it’s tasty. We roast it until it pops.”
“A-a-a-a, you mean popcorn! No, no: poppycock – it means nonsense.”
“O-o-o-o, sorry, sorry.”
“Easily done, Chen. And what do you think about this sentence?”

Unless very high, most people with hypertension have no symptoms at all.

“This is not the truth. We don’t have many very high people in China, but a lot of people suffer from hypertension.”
“People are tall.”
“Not in China.”
“We say tall – not high, Chen. But that’s not the point: they misrelated the adjective high. What they meant was this.”

Unless the blood pressure is very high, most people with hypertension have no symptoms at all.

Chen looked at me quizzically and cogitated for a brief while, her pen manifestly assisting in the process.
“I found this in The Sunday Times, Chen; I’ve culled, I mean collected, lots of interesting examples from there. I remember another one; what do you say to that?”

Durable, warm, wonderfully tactile – we are falling in love with this wholesome material all over again.

This time, Chen seemed a tad more guarded. “Hmmm, the Chinese are quite warm and tactile, but … but … is this wrong?”
“Got it in one, Chen: they meant wood. What they were trying to say was this.”

Durable, warm, wonderfully tactile – wood is a wholesome material we are falling in love with all over again.

“We use an awful lot of wood in China,” concurred Chen.
“I know, Chen, but my point is that misrelated constructions are practically everywhere. You see, this is such a common error that I have written a little ditty about it.”

Misrelated constructions in English abound,
Not a day passes by when one is not found;
They meaning subvert, play havoc with sense,
And make perpetrators appear rather dense.

“Sophisticated,” declared my young pupil.
“Thank you, Chen.”

 

Other posts on related topics:

Post 3: Hangings in the British media (on dangling participles)