Passive voice peeving and ignorance

May 13, 2016

Despite all the solid, readily available information on the passive voice, there remains a great deal of misinformation and confusion about it. This confusion, far from being limited to non-specialists, pervades professional circles too – journalists, for example, but also journalism professors and authors of writing manuals.

A case in point is Essential English: For Journalists, Editors and Writers by Sir Harold Evans. First published as Newsman’s English in 1972, book one of a five-volume manual of newspaper writing and design, it was fully revised by Crawford Gillan and published by Pimlico in 2000, also incorporating book three, News Headlines (1974).

Essential English first wades into the passive-voice swamp in Chapter 2, in a section titled ‘Be Active’:

Read the rest of this entry »


Hypercorrect ‘as’ for ‘like’

September 17, 2015

I tweeted about this a couple of months ago and have been meaning to follow up ever since. The item that interests me is a usage in the subhead of an article from Brussels-based news service Politico. Here’s the relevant portion:

politico.eu grammar - hypercorrect as for like

Read the rest of this entry »


Fears crawling, crash blossoming

June 2, 2015

This headline on the front page of today’s Guardian caught my eye for reasons both ecological and syntactic. See what you make of it before reading on:

guardian headline crash blossom - fears crawling, invasive fish

Read the rest of this entry »


Departing wisdom

November 18, 2014
*[click to enlarge]

irish times headline typo - Wayne Rooney departs [imparts] wisdom to youth

*

It took me a moment to figure out this headline in today’s Irish Times. I wondered if it might be a novel or obscure sense of depart in sports journalism that had escaped my notice to date, before realising it was probably supposed to be impart. The article supports this analysis.

To impart is to pass on or transmit, to communicate or disclose, to bestow. One often imparts wisdom. To depart is to leave: a train departs a station. Depart from can mean deviate from (a normal or recommended course of action): the headline departs from intelligibility.

John McIntyre, in The Old Editor Says, warns that errors lurk in the big type and imparts the following wisdom: “Always give the big type a second or third look before publication.” Be on guard, too, for departing wisdom when parting wisdom is meant.

Google returns a few examples of “departs wisdom”, each seemingly intended to mean imparts wisdom, but none so prominent as this. I expect it will crop up again sooner or later.

[Hat-tip to Ultan Cronin for the link. For more like this, see my archive of posts about headlines.]

The pedantic, censorious quality of “sic”

April 29, 2014

Jessica Mitford, in The American Way of Death,* quotes a text that uses compliment when complement was intended, and adds [sic] to indicate this. What’s of interest here is the footnote she then appends:

I do not like the repeated use of sic. It seems to impart a pedantic, censorious quality to the writing. I have throughout made every effort to quote the funeral trade publications accurately; the reader who is fastidious about usage will hereafter have to supply his own sics.

This “pedantic, censorious quality” is sometimes insinuated and sometimes unmistakeable. Sic – not an abbreviation but a Latin word meaning thus or so – can usefully clarify that a speaker said or wrote just as they are quoted to have done. But it can also serve as a sneer, an unseemly tool to mock a trivial error or an utterance of questionable pedigree.

Read the rest of this entry »


Book review: ‘For Who the Bell Tolls’ by David Marsh

October 9, 2013

For Who the Bell Tolls: One Man’s Quest for Grammatical Perfection is a new book by David Marsh, production editor of the Guardian and editor of its style guide and language blog. The ironic title and tension with the subtitle will give you an indication of the contents and tone: serious yet light-hearted, personal but universal (sort of). It makes for an interesting balancing act, and to Marsh’s credit he pulls it off.

Structurally the book is a mixum-gatherum of analysis and advice covering grammar and language usage, both general and in the particular domains of journalism and the internet. Over 280-odd pages it covers a lot of ground, owing to Marsh’s plain, direct style and talent for concision. There is also pleasure in its easy humour: this is a funnier book than is usual for the field.

Read the rest of this entry »


Living under a hen

April 22, 2013

Alice Taylor’s Quench the Lamp is a warm and funny memoir of her childhood in rural Cork in the 1940s, full of anecdotes and observations on farm activities, family dramas, eccentric neighbours, and Irish life before and after electrification.

A chapter on thrift and the “art of making do” shows how objects’ versatility was engineered and enhanced. Pot lids warmed beds, goose wings dusted cobwebs, turf dust was deployed when the cat did “what he must where he shouldn’t”. Bags and boxes were strategically repurposed once emptied of their original cargo.

Newspaper served a multitude of roles, some of them still current even in urban lifestyles:

Our newspaper, the Cork Examiner, was a multi-purpose item. It cleaned and polished windows and it covered bare timber floors before the first lino or tarpaulin went down, thus providing underlay and insulation. Placed in layers on top of wire bed-springs, it eased the wear on the horsehair mattress; cut into the right shape, it became insoles in heavy leather boots and shoes and, later, in wellingtons when they became part of our lives. Even though it could never be described as baby soft, it was the forerunner of the multi-million-pound industry that subsequently provided soft solutions in the toilet-paper business. Rolled into balls it was a firelight, its effectiveness improved by a sprinkling of paraffin oil. Ned [a local shop owner] shaped it into funnels and filled it with sweets to make a tóimhsín, as he called it. At home it lined drawers and was considered mothproof and, when nothing else was available, it was used as a dustpan. One of our more industrious neighbours regularly covered her potato stalks with newspaper at night and this protected them from frost.

Taylor says those who excelled in the frugal art ran the risk of being considered thrifty to a fault – it would be said of them that they “could live under a hen”. Or you might say someone “could live in your ear and rent out the other one without you knowing it”.

A tóimhsín or tomhaisín /’t̪oːʃiːn/, by the way, is Irish for a small measure or amount, or in this case a cone-shaped paper bag or poke, often used for holding sweets. It comes from tomhais “measure, weigh”, and is sometimes anglicised as tosheen, to-sheen, or toisheen.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 23,501 other followers