Language is the least important casualty of our current political crisis, but it is a casualty nonetheless. In December, London’s Metropolitan Police foolishly suggested that their policy is not to routinely investigate ‘retrospective’ breaches of the law. I’m not qualified to discuss the legal, constitutional and ethical rights and wrongs of this notion. But linguistically…… Continue reading What are retrospective breaches?
“Literally” everyone now says “literally” when they mean “figuratively”. Maybe we should now say “figuratively” when we mean “literally”.
I’ve recently heard my daughter asking her children whether they are excited for things, for example about something that will be happening at school or about a friend’s forthcoming party. That usage sounds odd to my dinosaur ears. I would say I’m: excited about an event or thingexcited for a person I had a quick…… Continue reading Excited for
I recently came across Longman Guardian New Words, by Simon Mort (1986). It gives a fascinating interesting snapshot of words that entered mainstream British English in 1986. The author says the book has 3 aims: to entertainto provide a convenient reference package of the patterns, logic and fashion of word formation of 1986to be a…… Continue reading New words of 1986
Many people now use ‘kind regards’ as their default sign off on emails. This sets my teeth on edge. I was brought up to describe other people (or their actions) as kind, but never to describe myself (or my own actions) as kind. Such self-praise was viewed as an unforgiveable example of ‘blowing your own…… Continue reading Not so kind regards
Crooked usage: a street name, not a commentary. Seen on a bus in Finchley (London) in 2016. Too slow to get a photo myself but here’s a link to someone who did. Is This London’s Oddest Street Name? | Londonist
A recent question in the daily quiz in The Times annoyed me. Question: Which of the three orders in classical Greek architecture shares its name with a type of chemical bond? Purported answer: ionic This annoyed me because ionic (a chemical bond, an adjective derived from the noun ion) and ionic (a classical Greek architectural…… Continue reading A homonym is not a shared name
In English, auxiliary verbs (have and be) and modal verbs behave differently from all other verbs. For example, they combine differently with negatives, as shown in the following table for auxiliaries (have and be), a modal verb (can) and another verb (go). TypePositiveNegativeAux (have)You have goneYou have not goneAux (be)You are goingYou are not goingModalYou…… Continue reading You need not understand
Politicians have recently taken to saying they are ‘humbled’ when they win an election. Likewise actors and other creative artists at award ceremonies. But nothing about winning could make them humble. They might have good cause to become more humble if they lost, though in most cases even losing wouldn’t be enough to give them…… Continue reading I’m humbled
The pedantic old dinosaur in me gets grumpy when people use the verb ‘represent’ as a pretentious synonym for ‘be’. My inner dinosaur gets even grumpier when the literal meaning of this verb contradicts the intended sense. One striking example I saw: “women represent only 32 percent of lawyers”. Are these ladies really representing the…… Continue reading Representing you lazily