Sunday, November 28, 2010

Nowadays awesome is not quite so awesome as it used to be.

In my last post I think I fairly definitively nailed my colours to the mast of anti-pedantry. So it might seem strange that I'm now going to give vent to a pet peeve. But if even Stephen Fry, in his marvellous paean to linguistic freedom, 'Don't mind your language ...' (see below), can admit to 'nails on the blackboard' moments that make him 'wince', then I feel I'm allowed to do the same, just this once. (That's a lie for a start; I bet there will be more at some stage later.)

In language, two and two can be four, or a foursome, or a quartet or maybe two couples, but it doesn't equal anything

I recently saw this extraordinary statement on a language blog:

We have often noted that often repeated language and grammar errors seem to become “correct” usage. Wouldn’t it be weird if math used that philosophy? When enough people said 2+2=5, it would! It would still equal 4, of course, but it would also equal 5.

Quite extraordinary! And I’m not referring to the frequency of the word often. Nor to the quotation marks around 'correct' and the corresponding lack of them round 'errors'. But to the fact that somebody would want to compare language to maths.

Sorry for buggering up the commas post

An apology and a quiz
Update: commas quiz now works OK

A couple of weekends ago, I wrote what I thought was a really neat program, to test a theory I had about the use of commas. That is, that they almost always denote a pause. I spent all of Saturday writing the program, and it worked perfectly on a normal web page on my browser. So, feeling rather pleased with myself, I then wrote the text for my commas post.

On Sunday I started 'translating' the Javascript program for Blogger, which is a bit of a bugger. You have to change parts of the code, known as 'entities', which I'd already learnt the hard way that you had to do, so I wasn't expecting much trouble. But when I posted the blog, and clicked on the relevant button - nothing. 'Bugger!', I thought, and spent a couple of hours trying to find the problem. The real bugger is that to try it out on a normal web page you have to translate it back again, and so forth and so on.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Commas - perhaps there's more than meets the eye.

Update: everything is now in working order.

Commas were the last thing I thought I'd be writing about on this blog. Surely using commas is just like breathing, isn't it? Or pausing for breath, perhaps? Apparently not.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Idioms from Horse racing and betting - explanation and quizzes

Horse racing is a very popular spectator sport in the UK and Ireland, and has a very long history. There are currently about sixty race-courses in the UK, with two or three meetings happening on any given day. People don't of course watch the 'gee-gees' out of a simple love of animals, but because it involves betting on the horses, in other words gambling. If you walk into a 'bookies' (bookmakers shop) in the UK, the screens will be dominated by horse racing.

Horse racing, and more particularly the betting associated with it, has given a lot of idioms to the English language, especially in the areas of probability, risk and competition. They are therefore used a lot in business. Let's take a look.

Racecard - Erewhon 14.30 'Happy Humbugs' Handicap Hurdle

No.Name of horseFormWeightBet
1 Fine and dandy 2351-5211-43/1
2 Finnegan’s Wake 2/61-P3110-144/1
3 Lucky Blighter 12212111-103/5
4 Captain Bennett PP-428610-625/1
5 Greased lightning 16772311-04/1

This is an (invented) racecard typical of those you will find on the website of a racing newspaper such as the Racing Post or the Sporting Life, although I've left out certain information such as the names of the jockey, trainer and the owner. The first thing we are going to look at is the bets column on the right.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Word corner - antidisestablishmentarianism

At 28 letters, antidisestablishmentarianism is commonly thought to be the longest word in the English language (although apparently it has its competitors). It is not, however, the longest word in Britain, that distinction going to the name (in Welsh) of a village in Wales usually referred to simply as LLanfair P.G..Which is understandable given its full name of, I think, 58 letters.

To understand what antidisestablishmentarianism means, we need to break it down into its component parts.


anti negative prefix meaning against
dis another negative prefix, here meaning something like undo
establish the Church of England is established as the state religion by law
ment suffix to create an abstract noun from establish
arian a second suffix - someone who believes in this
ism a third suffix - the belief system, movement

Now look at the following article and matching exercise.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Confusing words quiz - the verbs rise, raise and arise

These three verbs can be confusing for students both in meaning and form.