Yes-no questions in headlines

I recently came across a reference to Betteridge’s Law. Not having heard of this before, I looked it up on the web. As Wikipedia explains, Betteridge’s Law of Headlines says the following: ‘Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.’ Ian Betteridge, a technology journalist, explained that journalists…… Continue reading Yes-no questions in headlines

Odd gap in the English genitive

I recently saw a statement about ‘feedback on Jane and my visit to London’. The phrase ‘Jane and my visit’ seems ungrammatical to me. This post considers why. It looks at how to form genitives of nouns, co-ordinated noun phrases and personal pronouns. It then goes on to consider whether it is possible to form…… Continue reading Odd gap in the English genitive

Cross-language blues’

I found this week an odd blend of English pronunciation and spelling with French pronunciation and spelling. Writing about last Saturday’s Football World Cup match between England and France, a journalist wrote the following:   Philippe Auclair, the French writer, calls him Les Bleus’ “beat-giver”. The Times, 12 December 2022(‘him’ refers to the French footballer…… Continue reading Cross-language blues’

Flushing out the Oxford comma to clear the NHS backlog

In early September this year, the new UK Prime Mister, Liz Truss (remember her?) appointed Conservative MP Thérèse Coffey as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care. Soon after, the press reported that Thérèse Coffey had sent staff in her new departmental fiefdom a strict manual on writing. I haven’t seen the writing manual…… Continue reading Flushing out the Oxford comma to clear the NHS backlog

Time to stop talking about the time

The conjunction while can have 2 meanings: a temporal meaning, introducing a subordinate clause that refers to an action occurring at the same time as an action described by the main clause: They whistled while they worked.a concessive meaning, as a synonym for although: While they aren’t perfect, they are good enough. Avoid while for…… Continue reading Time to stop talking about the time

There could potentially be too many modals here

People often write or say ‘could potentially’ when just ‘could’ by itself is enough. For example, some people say ‘it could potentially rain’, instead of saying ‘it could rain’. Both these both modal expressions—the modal verb ‘can’ and the modal adverb ‘potentially’—express uncertainty. If we use one of them, the other is redundant. In this…… Continue reading There could potentially be too many modals here

Contronyms

I recently came across a word that was new to me: contronym. A contronym is a word that is its own opposite. An often-given example is sanction. Sanctioning an action can mean either penalising it or permitting it. Some other examples are: WordOne meaningAnother meaningcleave clingsplitclipattachcut offdustremove dustadd a layer of dustapologystatement of regret for an…… Continue reading Contronyms

When house style gives a silly answer

An organisation’s house editorial conventions are useful because: they make documents from that organisation look like documents from a single place; andallow writers to concentrate on what is important without worrying about trivial editorial details. It is important, though, not to let house editorial conventions get in the way. I once worked on an accounting…… Continue reading When house style gives a silly answer

Addicted to ‘right node raising’

In this post, I look at a construction that I often saw in drafts of documents I was reviewing. Although the construction is grammatical and concise, readers find it difficult to process. I explain what this construction is and why it is difficult. I also summarise a published review of some of the vast linguistics…… Continue reading Addicted to ‘right node raising’