Category Archives: Nit-picking

“Anniversary”: years in a word

Originally posted in August 2011.

***

It seems an opportune moment, as we approach a significant date that history will never forget, to look at the meaning and derivation of the word “anniversary” — a word that will be on everyone’s lips over the coming weeks and days. It’s a word that many feel the need to qualify – wrongly – with the word “year”, even though the notion of year is inherent in the definition of the word itself. Do a Google news search on the phrase “10-year anniversary”, and hundreds if not thousands of results come up, none of them really correct. Continue reading

A literary “fav” – and a couple of gems – from Meghan Markle

An installment of The Duchess of Sussex’s now defunct lifestyle blog, “The Tig”, has been doing the rounds, thanks to People magazine. Describing in hungry detail what Meghan Markle wrote about five years ago on the subject of “the sweetest tradition [she] can think of,” People quotes liberally from the former actress’s July 2014 post in which she listed her summer literary “favs” and those of some of her Suits co-stars. I caught a couple of little gems in The Duchess’s post — both sparkling prettily in the same paragraph. Can you spot them? (Clue: I wrote about one of them in a very recent Glosso post. The other one just made me giggle.) Here’s the paragraph in question: Continue reading

Some sketchy business email language

Wikimedia Commons

We’ve all got our own lists of business buzzwords that set our teeth on edge. Synergy, bandwidth, actionable items, scalable, leverage — and the more recent and ubiquitous “circle back”: these are just a few of my personal bugbears in the boardroom, and I know you’ve got more. (You can get your fill of them from an earlier Glossophilia post on The ubiquity of buzzwords and business speak.) But there’s another category of business-lingo that’s getting some of our backs up: it’s the common misuse in emails of certain standard English words or phrases, which just never will sound or be right, however often they’re typed and no matter how good the intention. They’re not just icky words and phrases: they’re just plain wrong. Continue reading

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Here’s the last exchange of letters (unpublished) between my late father and The Guardian: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

***

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.

*   *   *

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