Writing wrongs: More grammatical gripes

Picture drawn and etched by Thomas Rowlandson, 1818               Picture ALAMY


DON JOHNSTON gets a few more grammatical grievances off his chest

Hang on there, My Peerless Lord Drone. 

I’m not finished yet, oh no sir. There’s more than half a century of grumbles stored up here and we’ve just skimmed the top. Worse awaits to be spewed into your revered site for word-worn eyes. And I am reassured to know that embedded in your fellow Fleet Street soul as deeply as is embedded in mine lies the mantra of the seasoned sub-editor: “I can improve on perfection.”

Long ago, I lost count of the thousands of times I’ve had to change “try and” to “try to”. Today it plagues newspapers, and the once-precise BBC, like mouse-shit in a backstreet kebab den.

For me, the most irritating misuse of a phrase is the idiotic “of all time”. Bloody hell, if that’s true we’ve missed the big story. So Armageddon’s been and gone, time’s ended and nobody noticed? That means we’re living in eternity and we can’t put a date on the next edition. We’re really in trouble now. Use “in history” or “on record”.

On the time subject, a pet hate of the great former Indy Editor Simon Kelner, for whom I had the privilege of working, was “last”, as in “the last week” context. Sometimes, we’d mischievously leave it in a page proof so he could change it to “past”. More than one “last” per page could risk a blast, usually rather a gentle one, comparatively speaking as a graduate of the wilder, often drunken hot-metal days.

When you see “razed to the ground”, recognise a tautology. Razed means flattened.

On tautology, “intense scrutiny” is twaddle. Scrutiny itself means intense study. How can you intensify “intense”?

When a rival paper cuts its price you refer to it as cheap “in every sense of the word”. When you cut your price, your paper is “inexpensive” or “cost-effective”. It’s simple marketing-tosh.

More marketing-tosh. If you see “a great majority”, beware. That’s a public relations blag for “most”. This kind of shyster avoids exact numbers in an effort to shape public opinion for the paymaster. Also chopping it saves two words and helps tighten the story as well as removing rubbish.

Me no like. When you read that House of Fraser owes hundreds of millions to luxury firms “like” Gucci ... stop reading. It’s a gratuitous insult. What firm is “like” Gucci? None. The word is “including”, a word shorter than “such as”.

Leave off. “The car was driven off...”. Off what? No, it was “driven away”. “The bomb went off...”. Question repeated. No, it was “detonated”. These belong off the page.

Today’s mostly upper middle-class journalists frequently fail to justify their expensive educations by misusing words they can’t be bothered to check. Two glaring examples are “enormity”, and “refute”.

We old-time hot-metal veterans share painful memories of public bollockings bawled by foul-mouthed Night Editors. This certainly ensured those particular errors were never repeated. Alas, these PC days, newsrooms are forced to dwell in the silence of journalistic lambs.

 I almost forgot, “enormity” has only a faint relationship with “enormous”. It does mean “monstrous wickedness”. “Refute” is often wrongly used instead of the simple and accurate “deny” but it really means “proved beyond all doubt by evidence”. Use the OED.

Others from the legion of misuse. I see that President Trump (to my shame, I too am a Donald, and even stemming from the same island his mother came from) “pours” over documents. He was having yet another of his bad spells. The word is “pores”, meaning “studies”.

“They watched with baited breath as ...”. Well, I suppose halitosis is better than no breath at all (allegedly Confucius), but the correct word is “bated”, as in holding a breath.

The use of “the murder scene was grizzly” is unbearable. A grizzly is a huge mountain bear. The word is “grisly”. Some cuts of meat can be “gristly”, although I admit some of us old-timers can be grizzled.

“Nearby” is an adjective. Otherwise, it’s “near by”.

Around and about. The use of “around” is geographical. “About” is an approximation.

Out of order. Use of “in order to” is clumsy. Knock out “in order” and you’ll get there more efficiently.

Whew, got that lot off my chest so that’s all, folks. For now.

More complaints from the Donald

Have you got a grammatical bee in your bonnet? Send your grievances to dailydrone@mail.com 


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