Sunday 11 May 2014

Grammar: Yet More Misplaced Pedantry

Et tu...?

The funniest example of misplaced pedantry I’ve seen for a long time appears in a comment thread about what Google’s spiders are up to. Photo Matt used the phrase, “Et tu, Googlebot.” François Briatte, thinking himself clever, responds, “Correct French words would be ‘et toi, GoogleBot?’” I thought “Et tu, Brute” was one of two Latin phrases (veni, vidi, vici the other) everyone could recognise.
(Davos Newbies Home, 2004)

Someone in the Shetlands ticked me off for saying Shetlands. Seems it must be Shetland or Shetland Islands. (Hugh Pearman)

My old English master ... taught us that "television" was an abstract noun and that one could have "television" and one could have "a television receiver" but one could not have "a television". (efrog@cix)

Just been forced to report somebody's Facebook status as spam because it was written entirely in text speak. No need for that, not nowadays. (‏@welsh_gas_doc 2013)

It’s “eat your cake and have it”.

In Ireland, children are taught that ‘haitch’ is the correct pronunciation.

Strange how Shakespeare produced such great plays without consistency in spelling. Maybe content matters more. (@Good_Beard )

Sing choirs of angels, sing in exaltation, sing all ye citizens of heaven above: It seems to have always been citizens, but some pedants tried to change it to denizens on the grounds that Heaven is not a city, therefore citizens is incorrect and it should be denizens. (walsham@cix. But isn't it "exultation"?)

Some people used to insist on pronouncing Milan and Seville with the accent on the first syllable, margarine with a hard G, and cinema as ky-nee-mar, and referring to a "facsimile machine". They lost.

They probably also said "parl-i-ament, med-i-cine and choc-o-late" rather than parlament, meds'n and chocklit.

There’s a whole genre of worrying about the grammar of buying and selling: Can I get a latte, Did you want fries with that, Can I serve who’s next etc. (Just as long as I get my coffee.)

massive: properly means only something with great mass, ie something very heavy

comprised of: should be either comprising or composed of

prestigious: means “connected with sleight of hand”.

trait is a French word pronounced “tray”.

per capita should be per caput

Never use what for which.

It's “hoi POLLoi” not  “the hoi polLOI” because hoi is Greek for the.

It's “the chapel is adjacent the school” because “ad” is Latin for “to”.

Angela Brazil is pronounced “Brazzle”.

It's bored with, not bored of.

ate: pronounced “ett” not “eight”.

The circumflex accent in French indicates a very subtle pronunciation difference. In German, the "ch" is pronounced differently in "ich" and "ach".

It's most important not most importantly; first, second not firstly, secondly and so on.

It’s the reason that, not the reason why – that’s a tautology.

Remember to never split an infinitive, but why don't Americans object to "to better understand"?

It’s not a rota, it’s a roster.

It's the past week or decade, not the last.

It's the Union Flag, not the Union Jack. (Apparently this quibble is quite recent.)

Halley's comet – does it rhyme with surely, bailey or rally?

Anticipate means “jump the gun”, not “look forward to”. (OED accepts “look forward to” but notes that many people think it’s incorrect.)

substitute: Someone has substituted my photo for one of Barack Obama, ie someone has swapped my photo…/Someone has substituted a photo of Barack Obama for one of mine. In both cases, we see Barack, not the writer. People get very steamed up about this one and insist that the second way is wrong... I think.

The Tube only refers to underground trains that run in tube-like tunnels and are dug very deep.

It’s “an historic”, "an historian" and “an heroic”.

The word “whatsoever” is obsolete. (Do you mean

For old times’ sake
not “for old time’s sake”. (The pedants could be right about this one.)

It should be cabinet shuffle, not reshuffle.

less and fewer – what if you want to write “a few fewer”?

vibrancy, incompetency: a ghastly modern habit, probably American (the Book of Common Prayer talks about continency).

The man in the job before you isn’t your predecessor unless he’s died - he should be your precursor or forerunner. (And you should never use "he's" for "he has", save it for "he is".)

My daughter is not called Mary, she is named Mary.

It’s “I have” not “I have got”.

“Those who fight custom against Grammar are fools,” said Lord Melbourne (reports Queen Victoria)

More here, and links to the rest.
And a pedant writes to the Times here.


  1. And of course he is a pedant, you are a bit fussy, I am just correct. I have a vast working inner pedant, but as soon as I hear other people complain in a sneery way I am on the side of this changing language. In early journo days I was told off for 'fill in a form- - American! It should have been 'fill out'. I think that one's gone. I do still like to maintain a difference between uninterested and disinterested, and I will notice when people misuse 'beg the question.' Pointlessly....

  2. Surely Americans say "fill out"....??? ;-)

    1. Quite likely I got it the wrong way round, no wonder I got it wrong then!