94: The Demise of a Publisher – and the Rise of a Phoenix

Grammar and punctuation book cover 2.jpg

It was ten months ago that I proudly announced the impending publication of my linguistic opus, Grammar and Punctuation for Key Stages 3 & 4 with Handy Usage Notes, by First and Best in Education. Well, maybe not quite an opus: I had, in fact, lopped nearly a third off an earlier incarnation of the textbook, which was targeted mainly at the British Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). But, while the book had been shortened and, I hope, improved, its scope had been widened to include also older students. So all that was left for me to do was to sit back and wait for the royalties to start rolling in. Alas, a few months later I found myself a bewildered recipient of a notification of the demise of my book’s publishing house. How come: they had been going for years! Sadly, it appeared as if they were now going straight into administration.

But what is it they say about doors closing: when one door closes, another slams in your face? No, perhaps not that one, for I definitely wasn’t going to let this setback deflate me. After all, I am now a fully-fledged publisher myself. So my phoenix-like textbook is again in the public domain, as a shiny A4 paperback, elegantly bound, as well as an e-book, both available worldwide. And the best thing is that, with no middlemen to take their cut, I was able to slash the book’s price considerably. The book can be accessed via the links below, via the books page on my website or by Googling its title and author (i.e. me).






 For those interested, here’s a brief description of my textbook. The book gives an introduction to the grammar and punctuation of present-day Standard English in the context of their relevance to communication. Its up-to-date grammatical and punctuation content, rooted in British national literacy strategies, is particularly relevant to Key Stages 3 and 4 (ages 11-16), but the book can be used also for, and by, older students. Its unique selling points include concise notes addressing a range of relevant usage points, a spotlight on the areas which writers tend to find troublesome and authentic examples helping to bring the content to life. While focusing on British English, the book does point out some differences with American English – particularly in the area of grammar. Its main aims are to improve students’ communication skills (particularly written), to constitute an accessible reference source and to serve as an editing handbook.

I hope the book will serve its users well.




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.


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.

Daily Frolic 21: A question of etiquette

“Wow, this Hunter Davies …”


“He must be awfully important.”

“Well, he is a well-known author.”

“There must be more to it.”

“You mean his OBE? I believe he’s just been awarded one.”

“What’s OBE?”

“Order of the British Empire; it’s the most junior order of chivalry in Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth.”

“Are you saying he hasn’t been sufficiently chivalrous to merit something more substantial?”

“No, no, it’s still an honour.”

“Hmmm, that doesn’t sound right.”


“Well, I’ve been reading this week’s Sunday Times; he wrote an article for them.”

“Oh yes, yes, he is a regular contributor.”

“But he implied that he was more important than the Queen.”

“More important than the Queen?  You must be joking! Nobody is more important than the Queen.”

“That’s exactly what I thought, but, apparently, the Palace people had to instruct your Queen on how to greet him during the awards ceremony.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!”

“It’s not me who’s ridiculous; look, it’s here in black and white.”

 “I did remember to bow after she shook my hand, as instructed, which was the signal to leave, but I forgot to call her Your Majesty.”

 “Oh this! It’s a classic!”

“What – this etiquette?”

“No, no, this ambiguity! It’s word order that’s at fault here.”

“Word order?”

“Actually, the title is a bit misleading because the order of words within an English phrase is fixed.”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, could you change the order of words in the phrase: ‘the expensive leather jacket he owned’, for example?”

“After five double brandies – more than likely.”

“Behave! You can’t – because it’s fixed. But this happens only within phrases. The point is that both phrases and clauses can move.”

“Where to?”

“No, no, I mean in a sentence. And it’s quite easy to arrange them in ways which cause ambiguity or even unintended hilarity.”

“But this Hunter Davies – isn’t he supposed to be a writer?”

“Look, this happens to everybody – that’s why it’s such a classic. But it’s easily remedied: you simply move the offending phrase or clause to a more appropriate position.”

“But he didn’t.”

“Neither did the sub-editor. But stuff like this is easily overlooked.  What he was trying to say was this.”

 As instructed, I did remember to bow after she shook my hand (…).

 “I bet your Queen will be relieved.”

Daily Frolic 4: Depravity and elegance

A bit of humour, a bit of grammar …

“Poor mite.”


“Jack Nicholson.”

“The famous actor?”

“The very same.”


“Apparently, he was born out of wedlock and grew up believing that his grandmother Ethel May – they called her Mud – was his mother.”

“Oh dear.”

“But there was worse.”


“Apparently – some depravity in the family.”

“Good grief! What sort of depravity?”

“Kids getting spliced.”

“Jeez! With a cable?”

“No, no, they apparently forced them to get married – or something like that.”

“Kids? Surely not.

“Well, that’s what they wrote.”


The Sunday Times. Actually, it was John Harlow. From Los Angeles.”

“From Los Angeles?”

“Yep, look.”

“It is unclear whether Nicholson can explain what happened to Mud’s husband John, who went to a bar when he was a toddler and never returned.”

 “Just a sec, just a sec, but it’s … ha, ha, ha … it’s about … about elega … elegant … ha, ha, ha …”

“Elegant?  What’s elegant about kids frequenting bars? Not only that but …”

“No, no, what he needed was elegant variation.”

“If you ask me, what he needed was firm discipline.”

“No, no, no, not Mud’s husband – this reporter.”

“How do you mean?”

“‘He’ is at fault here.”

“You are confusing me now – who?”

“No, not whowhat. You have to be extra careful with pronouns. But this John obviously didn’t realise this.”

“Mud’s husband?”

“No, no, John Harlow – the reporter. Pronouns are very easy to confuse; you simply cannot use the pronoun ‘he’ there – you must use elegant variation.”

“What’s elegant variation?”

“A replacement phrase – even if it’s only one word.”

“And it would have solved Jack Nicholson’s problem?”

“It would have certainly solved yours! Look, what this reporter should have written is this.”

It is unclear whether Nicholson can explain what happened to Mud’s husband John, who went to a bar when Jack was a toddler and never returned.

 “Are you sure?”


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

“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?”
“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 … ?”
“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.

Mini-rant 3: Misleading word order

Nothing beats making your own entertainment is what my friend Norma always says. Having recently retired, she makes a point of wringing maximum enjoyment out of every day and can often be spotted departing for the crown court armed with a Mars bar, a large packet of cheese-and-onion crisps and a bag containing her knitting paraphernalia. Yesterday, however, she hammered on my door with an uncharacteristic urgency. “What’s the world coming to – just look at this!” she lamented, thrusting a recent copy of The Guardian at me. The revelation which precipitated her outburst went like this.

Maslin pleaded guilty to killing Hollie during a hearing at Bristol crown court.

“If they can’t keep you out of harm’s way IN COURT, where CAN you feel safe?”
“Don’t worry, petal, that’s not what they meant.”
“But it’s The Guardian!”
“Hmmm … I’m sure what they were trying to say was this.”

During a hearing at Bristol crown court, Maslin pleaded guilty to killing Hollie.

“But it’s The Gua … ”
“I know, I know, but they are all at it, petal. Misleading word order is normally quite easy to put right, though: often, you just plonk the adverbial at the front, and voilà!”
“Well I never!” exclaimed Norma – always more of a knitter than a reader.

Misleading word order is extremely common; I devoted Post 7 to this topic and will doubtless re-visit it again.

Post 7: Britain’s dramatic move

Area: grammar
Topic: word order (careless)

“Is it very much terrible?” enquired Nartay. Having recently decamped at ours for a fortnight’s residential course in Executive English (at least that’s what Waverley insisted we call it), he’s already endeared himself to me with not only his courteous manner but also his thirst for knowledge.
“The EU?”
“Terrible? No, I don’t think the European Union is terrible at all. After all, I’m Po … ” Ooops, I bit my tongue at the very last moment, Waverley having impressed upon me the imperative not to reveal to my students that I’m Polish on the pain of death.
“Them foreign execs, they only wan’ native speakers, hon. Natural, like. All them immigrants, they don’ speak proper like what we do.” It must have been the expression on my face that made her attempt to minimise the impact of her insult. “Nuffink personal, hon, I know you was a teacher and that. Anyroad, they won’ co’on on; you just don’ let on, and we’ll be sor’ed.”
I did swear to her I wouldn’t reveal my shameful secret to any of the students she sent my way; after all, a writer needs to eat.
“What I mean is that the EU is like one big happy family, Nartay. Well, maybe not all that happy … ”
Nartay’s eyebrows shot up. “No? Family is very much important.”
“Yes, I know, I know, but our European family is a bit different, and some people don’t like it. Take Nigel Farage, for example.”
“Who is Nigel Farage?”
“A British politician. Of UKIP.”
“What what?”
“You keep what?”
“No, no, UKIP stands for the UK Independence Party. It is led by Nigel Farage, who thinks that Britain should leave the EU.”
“This Friday?”
“This Friday? No, no, no! The mills of politics grind much more slowly than that.”
“But they were saying.”
“Who was saying what?”
“The radio; about this Friday.”
It was clear that I had missed another revelation while I was busying myself in the kitchen preparing our dinner, the time coinciding with the News Hour on BBC Radio Cumbria, which is our excellent local radio station. Now, I must digress for a moment. Somewhat ignorant of the Kazakhstani cuisine, I had anxiously enquired into Nartay’s culinary preferences, only to be told all about Kazakhstan’s national dish, beshbarmak, which, apparently, consists of boiled mutton or horse meat and to which Nartay seemed to be especially partial. This, I must admit, sent me into a panic. True, our lovely mountains are practically covered in sheep, but to serve up a boiled sheep’s head was definitely a step too far. This left horses. Having pondered my unfortunate predicament for a little while, I recalled what I thought might provide the badly needed solution, namely the recent horse-meat scandal, when it was revealed that horse meat had been discovered in processed beef products. If I bought ready-made beef lasagne from Tesco’s or other implicated supermarkets, might there be a chance that it would still contain at least some horse meat? Clinging to that hope, I had purchased what I thought would be a sufficient supply of the product and was, that evening, shoving a tray into the oven while Nartay was listening to the radio.
“So what exactly did they say, Nartay?”

We will hear why we should leave the EU this Friday.

“Ha, ha, ha, it’s just misleading word order, Nartay; it’s another classic.”
The young man shot me an investigative look.
“You see, people often get careless with the order of phrases and clauses and end up with a garbled message. But it’s easily remedied: you just move the offending phrase or clause to a more appropriate position, and Bob’s your uncle.”
“I am frightened he is Beksultan.”
“Afraid, Nartay, but it’s just a saying.” As I was proffering my elucidation, I was making a mental note to stop using this expression, which only seemed to confuse my pupils. “What they were trying to say is this.”

This Friday, we will hear why we should leave the EU.

“A-a-a-a, so you yet are not leaving.”
“Not leaving yet. No, not just yet. Careless word order often results in genuine ambiguity. What do you think about this?”

Madeleine Vigar explains what she did to Geoff Barton.

“What did she do to him?”
“No, no, that’s the whole point: she didn’t do anything to him – she explained to him. I have amassed a huge collection of similar examples; this one was from The Times Educational Supplement. How about this? It’s from The Sunday Times; listen.”

Major is due to speak on terrorism at Miami University.

“My father very much wanted me to study at Miami University; it is superlative. You do not … you are not … ”
“Don’t worry, Nartay, I’m sure Miami University does not suffer from terrorism – any more than the University of Amsterdam is plagued by the problem of socialisation.”
“I do not know about this problem.”
“No, no, there is no problem – unless you believe The Times Educational Supplement. That’s what they wrote.”

Earlier this year, I gave a lecture on the problem of socialisation at the University of Amsterdam.

“You see, Nartay, careless word order may not only be misleading but also unintentionally funny. Listen to this; it’s from The Independent.”

He was said to be “totally worn out” by a doctor who visited him in prison.

“Are you … do you …?”
“Don’t worry, Nartay, he wasn’t actually worn out by a doctor – it was the doctor who said he was worn out. I’ll give you two more examples – both from Daily Mail.”


The liver had already been given to the seriously ill woman whose own liver was failing at another hospital.

Her mutilated body was later found by her 14-year-old daughter hidden under the bed.


“Bolder dash,” agreed Nartay, who now seemed to have grasped the point.
“So you see how careless word order can play havoc with the meaning you are trying to convey, Nartay. Actually, I’ve written a little ditty about it.”


What’s a source of great disorder?
Being careless with word order.
So you need to be aware
That it needs tremendous care,
And, not wanting to look dense,
You must check your bumf for sense;
Then, to show that you are bright,
You must edit and re-write.

“Thank you, Nartay.”