Wednesday, 16 June 2010

And another thing

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I know that you all have lives and jobs and dogs and children and husbands and wives. I know that you have houses to clean, thoughts to think, food to cook, gardens to garden, books to read, and miles and miles to go before you sleep, but do take five minutes to look at this.

I think it must be a spoof. It is a website set up to guard and preserve the great English language. (How could I resist that, when I am the scourge of the dangling modifier?) Here, however, is the title emblazoned on one page:


I'm certain it must be a typographical error. They surely must know how to spell academy. I might have had a cheap laugh at that and walked away, but I clicked on Julian Fellowes, who is their number two rogue, below George W. Bush and above the European Union. Here the ironies were piled so deep I had to struggle my way through them. The furious article denouncing Fellowes for being a pretentious snob who cannot write English and does not know how to use the subjunctive is possibly the clunkiest piece of prose I have read this week. Or last week, for that matter. It's flat and ugly on the page, confusingly punctuated, and often mildly unclear.

It favours a shockingly clumsy use of dashes. It is far too free with inverted commas, often for no apparent reason. It uses gratuitous exclamation marks. It does not know that Gosford Park was a film, not a television play.

There is also a weird class warrior aspect to it. It accuses Fellowes of being posh, and a snob, but then uses the word 'fraightfully' to describe his speech. Anyone interested in language and the strange, mazy class system of the British knows that 'fraightfully' indicates the refined speech of the aspirant lower-middle-class, the Hyacinth Buckets of the world. It means that people who are not posh are trying to sound posh. Fellowes is upper middle class, and speaks with the clipped accent of the old landed gentry, overlaid with the slight camp of the theatrical community. None of this matters a whit in any sensible discussion, but if you are going to make an ad hominem attack, you should at least make your insults accurate.

Then there is a most peculiar problem with commas. I became quite fascinated with this site, and roamed all over it. On every page, I found at least two glaring mistakes in punctuation. I was going to list all the missing commas for you, but I know you have jobs and lives and dogs.

I keep feeling that I should get cross about all this. Who will guard the guardians? Then I think: oh, really, it's just silly.


Found via Johnson, the Economist's excellent new blog, which is funny and well-written and knows what to do with a comma.

PS. I'm sorry, but I have to give you one of the QES comma howlers:

'At a Board of Trustees meeting in early March, it was agreed with much pleasure, that RHEA WILLIAMS would be appointed as acting Chairman of the Society, with immediate effect.'

The only way that sentence works is if you put in a comma after agreed, or take the comma out after pleasure. If I were getting really sniffy, I might also point out that board of trustees is not a proper name and therefore does not require capital letters. And, since I appear unable to stop, is it slightly odd to refer to a woman as a chairman? I know that chair and chairperson are ugly and unwieldy, but what is wrong with using chairwoman? We quite happily say businesswoman. Imagine how curious it would be if you read: 'Miss A was a highly distinguished businessman'.

Oh, perhaps I am crosser about this than I thought.


  1. Yikes! I am highly suspicious of anyone who pronounces himself/herself the artiber of anything. Dangerous business that is. You were more gentle in your chiding than most might have been. Bully for you. Do so love your blog. Haven't been able to find quite the words to tell you how much coming here regularly means to me. Your little patch of the planet is quite lovely. Cheers.

  2. Oh, Jean, what a lovely comment. Was sitting here with a bit of angst, thinking I had been too critical. Now I feel entirely reassured. So very glad you like the blog; you will have gathered by now that I am never quite certain what I am doing, so your kind words work like a balm.

  3. If you like language Language Log is a good read. I cant fathom some of the more obscure linguistics posts but the rest is good. Johnson got a plug there too.

  4. Dear Tania, I can't work out if that website is a joke or not. Sadly I think maybe not.

    I'm guilty of too many commas. I'm trying to curb them. My pet hate is text speak, using numbers for letters and unneccessary abbreviations.

    Hope you're well. Your pictures are getting lovelier. Which camera did you buy? I'm slightly envious of how much more than mine it does. Although I have yet to read the manual, or even find where I put the manual... xx

  5. You're not being too critical. I was raised by a mother who to this day is a stickler for grammar. I must admit I'm not the best - I am usually corrected by you-know-who. xxxx

  6. Betty - thanks for directions to Language Log. I don't understand a word of linguistics either, but I always think if I concentrate very hard, one day I might get it.

    Christina - SO agree about text speak. I am the most awful old purist, and even use semi-colons when texting.
    Camera is an Olympus PEN. It is one of those three quarter cameras, smaller and slightly less sophisticated than an SLR, but miles better than a compact. Also: it is a thing of beauty. I partly bought it just for the design.
    You will be glad to hear I have not even BEGUN to read the manual.

  7. Dear Tania, I shall look into the camera. I'm delighted about both the semi colons and the lack of manual reading xx


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