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’

Don’t put one relative clause inside another

Readers and listeners can find it very difficult to process sentences that embed one clause in the middle of a 2nd clause and then embed that 2nd clause in the middle of a 3rd clause. In this post, I review an example that embeds one relative clause inside another. Sentence with no embedding Let’s start…… Continue reading Don’t put one relative clause inside another

Think what you’re dealing with

Think what you’re dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it’s the greatest possession we have.Professor Henry Higgins, in Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw I came across this quote in the Claire Foges article I discussed in Different accent or bad diction? – Language Miscellany The quoted passage contains an interesting example…… Continue reading Think what you’re dealing with