Category Archives: Nit-picking

Widows & widowers – and a Guardian typo

Anna Pavlovna as widow by J.B. van der Hulst / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the last exchange of letters (unpublished) between my late father and The Guardian:

To the Guardian Letters Editor from Sir Brian Barder

I submit the following letter for publication.

I’m intrigued by your description of Brendan Cox as the late MP Jo Cox’s “widow” (caption, National, p15, 23 June). Has “widower” been banned from the Guardian’s pages as offensively gender-specific, and “widow” promoted to gender-neutral status, like “actor”? Or is it a typo?

Brian Barder
London
24 June 2017

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Dear Brian,
Thank you for your letter which was passed on to us by the Letters desk. In this case widow was a typo. There is no entry in the Guardian and Observer’s style guide for widow/widower; widowers are male and widows are female.
Best regards,
J.A.
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
***
Dear J.A.
Of course. My enquiry had its tongue deep in its cheek. Someone in your letters department has a sense of humour in need of a refill. I just thought that some Graundia readers might enjoy my letter if it were to be chosen for publication.
Anyway, thanks for taking the trouble to reply. 
Best,
Brian
Posted in loving memory of my father, who passed down to me his pedantic and slightly obsessive love of language and usage.
***

A short proofreading quiz on National Proofreading Day

From Wikimedia Commons

Fancy trying your hand at a bit of proofreading, on National Proofreading Day? See if you can catch all the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the five sentences below. A clean copy will be posted tomorrow. (Clue: you should be able to spot at least 10 errors, and a few more.) Good luck! Continue reading

In the news … (Friday, Sep 16)

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) via Wikimedia Commons

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) via Wikimedia Commons

In usage and grammar news this past month: how and why we curse (or swear, if you’re a profane Brit); a new app for grammar snobs; a celebrity scolds Siri for mispronouncing her name; names that parents regret giving their babies; the true nature of the word gypsy; and a grammar rule that we all use without knowing it. Continue reading

“Wens and hypertrophied members” (courtesy Fowler & Fowler)

Guess how many Wens are in this photo ...

Guess how many Wens are in this photo … (answer below)

In a section called “Euphony” in their book The King’s English, H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler give the following advice to writers, under a rather bizarre subheading: Continue reading

To boldly go where Byron went before …

boldlygo

Are we now safe to boldly go where we weren’t allowed to before? Glossophilia tackles the dastardly split infinitive: here’s most of what you hoped possibly to know — or hoped to possibly know — about grammar’s favorite villain.

Lord Byron’s poem Solitude, written in the early 19th century, opens with these lines:

“To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene” Continue reading

In the news … (Jan 9)

noussommes

That Gerund Is Funky: words, grammar, usage and language in the news this month.

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As cartoonists and demonstrators around the world raise and wield their pens in protest against the recent atrocities in France, the BBC asks the question: who first wrote or uttered the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”? Continue reading

Glossophilia’s top 21 posts

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Celebrating its 70,000th visitor earlier today, Glossophilia brings you its 21 most popular posts so far. Subjects include Cockney Rhyming Slang and other quirky Englishisms; contranyms and homophones; when to use which and when to use that; British tea – when is it low and when is it high? and British school – when is it public and when is it private?; some modern words like yolo and like, and a not-so-modern one: dildo. And, of course, some American-British differences that we can never get enough of — this time in the kitchen pantry  …

Enjoy (them)! Continue reading

In the news … (Aug 22)

 

MoS2 Template Master

TGIF. In language, grammar and usage news this week: does how we write tell others how smart we are? Do punctuation and grammar matter when we’re flirting digitally? Does the language of a restaurant’s menu tell us how expensive the restaurant is? Plus some spelling challenges presented to U.S. foreign policy reporters; movie titles that make us cringe; and the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks …

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How you write can affect how smart others perceive you to be. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “Typing … in the Comic Sans font … could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent. The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”

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“The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon.” So Roy Peter Clark maintains on Poynter.

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The Huffington Post has identified 18 movies whose titles make every grammar geek cringe. It’s mostly a case of missing hyphens (“40 Year-Old Virgin” has a slightly pedophiliac quality to it) and apostrophes (“Two Weeks Notice” cries out for one); but when it comes to Zach Braff’s new movie, he’s

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“Funky or very informal spelling” is the biggest turnoff for both men and women when it comes to digital flirting, according to the results of a digital flirting rules survey done by Omlet, a chat app. …For women, the second biggest turnoff was the lack of punctuation and grammar.” Delaware’s News Journal has the story.

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The Hill has published an article on the spelling challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Is it ISIS or ISIL?

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Does the language of a restaurant’s menu indicate how expensive it is? Dan Jurafsky has found that it does, as reported in the Atlantic. “Fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf)…. Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like deliciousflaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words.” Does that mean I get a bargain when “steak frites” is on the menu?

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TGIF: That Gerund Is Funky (July 25)

Pou2

An appropriate name for this type of doctor ... (seen on Manhattan’s Upper West Side)

TGIF. Language and usage in the news this week: a missing comma in a tweet; how to pronounce a footballer’s name; Zach Braff’s bad grammar; and a different typ(o) of freedom …

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AP sent the Twittersphere into a frenzy when it left an important comma out of one its tweets:

APtweet

Yes, we do need commas. Even when we’re tweeting …

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Zach Braff used bad grammar on purpose in the title of his new movie, Wish I Was Here. Continue reading

Orange Is the New Grammar Nerd

Spoiler Entitlement

Is Piper Chapman — the most famous of Litchfield Federal Penitentiary’s inmates — a grammatical descriptivist or prescriptionist? Well, we got to find out recently during the second season of the Netflix runaway hit, Orange Is the New Black. Who would ever have guessed that we would discover something as important as Piper’s stance on grammar and usage?

Halfway through the seventh episode, during a meeting of Piper’s newly formed newsletter committee, a heated discussion about language usage unfolds (weirdly covering some of the same ground that Weird Al did in his Word Crimes video yesterday).

Flaca starts the nit-picking, identifying Lorna’s phrase “I could care less” in her newsletter contribution as being a grammar fail. “If you could care less, that means you still care. You know what I’m saying? Cause, like, it is possible for you to care less.”

Continue reading