Learning The Lingo

Reading & Writing

I hope he was happy with the drawn part of the tattoo, at least.

I know I’m going to turn into one of those old geezers who complain about language. I believe language should live, breathe and change, but this one’s really bugging me.

‘According to investigators, the mother purposefully drove her car off a dock’ – this from a highly respected US newspaper. Perhaps it’s not technically wrong – after all, she was probably full of purpose, but it seems unnecessary.

I’ve certainly been responsible for more than my fair share of split infinitives and dangling participles, but here are my five Top Pet Hate Grammar Tics.

1. ‘Bored of’ – wasn’t it always ‘bored with’?

2. ‘Train station’ – what was wrong with ‘railway station’?

3. ‘Gotten’ – perfectly acceptable if you’re American, or quoting from a period phrase (‘ill-gotten gains’), but the UK use is ‘got’.

4. ‘The set of principles are laid down’ – set is singular here – this one crops up in papers almost every day.

5. ‘And that was it’s purpose’ -apostrophe only when it’s an abbreviation – easy.

And as for ‘Quadrilogy’ – just don’t wind me up, okay? The word is ‘Quartet’. I can hear some advertising creep saying ‘but it sounds like classical music – we need something cooler.’

The good news is that the recent success of grammar books suggests a fresh interest in language. I do get irritated by the fact that all Macs divert automatically to US spelling, which needs to be turned off and replaced with a UK dictionary. This isn’t jingoistic, merely my need to deliver in UK English for editing purposes.

The complexity and subtlety of English will fascinate me to the grave. I just wish I had the same subtlety in French. Once I had to retitled a Chabrol film for UK release. The film was called ‘Poulet Au Vinaigre’, which was a threefold pun. First, it’s a dish. Second, in this case a ‘poulet’ implies a young person, an innocent, and third, the ‘vinaigre’ hints at a poisoned atmosphere. The film was about a young cop in a mean-spirited milieu.

My title – the closest I could get – was ‘Cop Au Vin’.

19 comments on “Learning The Lingo”

  1. Russ says:

    I’m grammatically confused, hardly a surprise being educated during the 80’s when grammar in school was most likely to be an elderly relative visiting, but isn’t it an apostrophe in 5 rather than a hyphen?

  2. admin says:

    Yes, that’s what I meant – I’ll amend. I had a mouthful of cake when I was writing it and wasn’t really concentrating.

  3. Martha says:

    You missed out my pet peeve:
    ‘between you and I………’

  4. FabienneT says:

    Not trying to be clever but in French, “poulet” is slang for a cop. So I think the title probably referred more to the cop element than the young person one? That’s my guess… Haven’t seen the movie.

  5. Sam Tomaino says:

    I think the headline wanted to convey that the mother did not drive her car off the dock accidentally.

    In the US, we’ve always said “train station”, at least since the Fifties, when I was born.

  6. Allan Lloyd says:

    My pet hate is “He was sat by the river”. The correct form has to be “He was sitting by the river” unless someone had actually placed (or sat) him there

  7. Alan Morgan says:

    I literally exploded with laughter! (!!!!!!!)

  8. I.A.M. says:

    “Quadrilogy” bothers me as well. The four-movie set of Alien films on DVD bears this label, when the word “Tetralogy” would serve just as well. Granted, one would have to know Ancient Greek. Plus, ‘Tetralogy’ is more accurate on a content level, given that in Attic theatre, a ‘Tetrology’ was specifically a group of three tragedies followed by a satyr play, much as the first three films are damned dark and tragic, whilst the fourth — Alien Resurrection — is a bit different with broad comedy, physical gags, and some sexually-based jokes.

    And a ‘railway station’ is one at which no train arrives, whereas a train station serves a purpose.

  9. Helen Martin says:

    One is ‘tired of’ but ‘bored with’
    Apostrophes – Eats Shoots and Leaves says it all.
    Nucular instead of nuclear and the use of literally when you certainly don’t mean it. Shriek Shriek
    And Tetralogy (!) I had to look it up but it is an A in there.
    Am trying to ignore the train station bit, although that certainly is N.A. usage.

  10. One usage that has puzzled me, in recent years, has been the apparition of “different than”. I had been taught to use “different from”, and for years, that’s all I’ve encountered. And suddenly, “different than” has sprouted everywhere. It looks like an American derivation, and I’ve seen even more exotic forms since, but it just seems very wrong to me.

    And I have to agree with Fabienne: in French, poulet is primarily slang for cop. If I remember that movie correctly, the “Poulet au vinaigre” in it was in fact the acerbic Jean Poiret whose biting wit and agressive way to conduct his investigation explain the title. But he was something of a gourmet as well (his favourite dish being fried eggs with paprika, I think), so “Cop au vin” is quite a valid translation.

  11. J F Norris says:

    I often have a mouthful of cake when I’m typing, too. Never knew it was becoming a universal bad habit.

    You would love a book called The Great Typo Hunt about two US guys who went around the country correcting misspellings in signs, billboards, posters and public places. They needed to ask permission first. Most often they received it, but strangely often the sign owner was incensed and chased them off the property. Check out the book here.

    I will gladly start up a Grammar Curmudgeon group and we can all be charter members. Who wants to design the website logo?

  12. Gretta says:

    My bugbear this year – especially in regards to the cyclones and whatnot which hit Queensland – has been the appearance of ‘bunker down’. Even one of the reporters on Radio New Zealand used it. And one of our English reporters, at that. Sufficed to say, expletives were directed at said radio.

  13. alan griffiths says:

    My greatest howler. Was translating from English to Spanish – and got the phrase “a growing girl” wrong.

    I used a particularly vernacular expression which does refer to growing, but manners do not allow me to fully express. However I’m sure imaginations will fill in the gaps.

    Apologies for my awful grammar – just got back from a beer session.

  14. Anne Fernie says:

    Could an American reader of this blog enlighten me as to the (to me) inexplicable tendency of American grammar to mess about with regular/irregular verbs? I don’t see the logic in changing ‘He spat on the floor’ to ‘He spit on the floor’ or ‘He dove in the water’, ‘he pled guilty’ etc

  15. Helen Martin says:

    Americans are members of the ‘simplify English’ school and wish to make all verbs (except ‘to be’, which is irregular in every language, except, probably, Spanish) regular. When did ‘wove’ become weaved, ‘dove’ become dived and so on? Perhaps books should have “Traditional Usage” or “Simplified Usage” on their covers. There was a while when primary children were allowed to make up their own spelling so they could get their stories down on paper without having to worry about spelling, but I maintain that that just leaves them with a mental uncertainty as to whether what they’re writing or reading is ‘creative’ or acceptable. I have this desire to change all of these weird usages and often read them out loud in correct format. This may get me arrested on Skytrain for being weird myself, but I feel strongly.

  16. Vickie Farrar says:

    JF NORRIS – followed your link to the amazon.com listing for The Great Typo Hunt, and was so delighted by the searchable portions of the book that I ordered two copies (one for a friend who will also devour it with great amusement/agreement). Thank you for sharing!

  17. Helen Martin says:

    And the subjunctive! Whatever happened to the subjunctive? Do speakers of French make up formations to avoid the subjunctive?

  18. John H says:

    A lot of people seem to have forgotten how to write English. I saw a clause in a well-regarded author’s recent novel (not Mr Fowler!) that mentioned someone “laying down in a park”; it should, of course, be “lying down”. Sentences with no subject or a confused subject have also become common. If someone writes “Being nearly 90, I must visit my grandma before it’s too late”, they presumably mean that the grandma is nearly 90 – but that’s not what they’re saying.

  19. Andrew Breitenbach says:

    I concur with Sam Tomaino; in the US, they’ve always been called “train stations”.

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