‘I have never ended on an unstressed syllable!’

A fabulous article articulating the tension between journalists and sub-editors in the newspaper industry. Lots of sweariness, some beautiful humour and some artistically-crafted, unedited prose. Well worth a read.

Posted by Dan, 25 July, 2008 under Grammar | Life

Is that shoe pastry?

A wonderful miscorrection of the Economist by Stephen J. Dubner on his Freakonomics blog on the New York Times website.

In the extract below from the Economist’s London Stock Exchange index, he suggests that pasty should read pastry.

“In the hills north east of Mexico City it is not uncommon to find Cornish pasties for sale.”

Some research needed before you go correcting people, Stephen.

Posted by Dan, 8 July, 2008 under Grammar | Life

Apostrophe madness

Now I love the apostrophe as much as the next man, assuming of course the next man is an apostrophe-crazed fool. But there is one use in particular that aggravates the shit out of me: when people head documents Do’s and Don’ts. Or Do’s and Don’t’s. The latter may be worse, with two faux pas, or better as at least it’s consistent. If you have to use the phrase, Dos and Don’ts, please. Thank you.

Posted by Dan, 16 June, 2008 under Grammar | Rules

The Link’s effect

Lynx’s latest campaign tells us men that “Its good to mix things up”. Punctuation included, it seems.


The above screenshot from the Lynx website has addressed the error, albeit with the apostrophe quite clearly added as an afterthought; the TV is yet to catch up. It reminds me of Cadbury’s Creme Egg slogan, which temporarily read “How do you eat your’s?”

Posted by Dan, 5 May, 2008 under Grammar | Life


I’ve recently started working on a project in which apostrophes are second-class citizens. In communications, they crop up where they shouldn’t, and they are distinctly lacking where they rightfully belong. The apostrophisation (Look it up! Actually, please don’t) or otherwise of its is a lottery, seemingly unconnected with context; an agenda is pluralised with an errant apostrophe, yet people in possession of stuff are merely pluralised.

Maybe my concern of 1998 that the apostrophe is a dying punctuation mark is coming true. But maybe not, given that it’s cropping up in places it shouldn’t. Hopefully my voting it one of the seven wonders of the modern world two years back will keep its profile sufficiently high to fight off its mis-use, and promote its place in our documents, below the @ sign on our UK keyboards, and below the in the US. Long may it reign.

Posted by Dan, 1 May, 2008 under Grammar | Life

King’s Cross

King’s Cross is slowly becoming Kings Cross. More and more establishments, some of them well-respected, are ignoring what I assume is the ownership of the cross by the King, deciding instead to imply an anger shared by a whole host of kings.

The recent movement of the King’s Cross Thameslink connection to St. Pancras has prompted whatever company is responsible to erect associated, apostrophe-free signage diverting its customers accordingly. I genuinely believe the trend is down to ignorance rather than defiance.

It will be another bitter blow to punctuation if and when London Underground adopts the trend, removing the apostrophe from the blue bar across its logo. I’m confident that this move is a long way off.


Posted by Dan, 6 March, 2008 under Grammar | Life

Under- and over-estimation

A John Inverdale quote from tonight’s England vs. France post-match analysis put into question the premise behind its more common opposite:

Now Jonny Wilkinson: you can’t overestimate his importance in tonight’s game.

At first, I thought Inverdale was wrong. Surely he’d meant underestimate, right? But on analysing, it seems he’s right: if I estimate his importance, then the fact that this estimate cannot ever be too high suggests that he performed pretty well.

The counter is that we can’t underestimate his performance. And surprisingly, this is equally valid. But the can’t brings with it a different meaning.

  • Can’t underestimate: the estimator should not underestimate the importance, or do so at his/her peril
  • Can’t overestimate: there is no way that the estimator could ever overestimate, no matter how hard he tried

It’s a confusing language.

Posted by Dan, 23 February, 2008 under Grammar | Thoughts

Underway, under way

For as long as I can remember, BBC News has adopted the single-word approach for the word underway. But it seems that it made a conscious decision about four months ago to increase its articles’ word counts and update its styleguide by introducing a space between the previously inseparable r and w. Every article in BBC News now seems to adopt the two-word style, although the odd anomaly slips through. BBC Sport, in its less formal style (particularly in live Premier League updates), is more likely to adopt the single-word style, most likely at the disgust of the house-style police on the news desk.

Some quick searches across the News site show 362 pages of results for the one-word variety, yet only 86 pages for the newly introduced two-worder. In Sport, the two worder has racked up a mere three pages of search results, the more common one-worder clocking up 100 pages.

I expect the News site’s results will close up over time, while Sport will retain its defiant imbalance.

My strong preference, for what it’s worth, is for the conflated variety. Thanks for listening. I say! Hello? Is anyone there?

Posted by Dan, 18 February, 2008 under Grammar | Thoughts

Period drama

The Clapham branch of Hamptons the estate agents underwent a revamp just before Christmas. Its new sign is shown below.


I’m always amazed that important signage gets through basic proof-reading with mistakes. Maybe the period after Lettings (and the lack of a corresponding one after Sales) sticks out more to me than to other people. But nonetheless, it’s something that should have been picked up in the proof-read, particularly as this is the only text on the sign.

Nice font though (Georgia), and well done on the phone-number grouping.

Posted by Dan, 28 December, 2007 under Life

The lanky em dash

I use the ALT short-cuts in Word and emails to make sure that my em and en dashes are correct (ALT+0151 and ALT+0150 respectively). It’s slightly annoying that in my font of choice (Georgia 12-point), the em dash seems to be a pixel taller than its sibling characters, shunting down a smidgeon the line of text which it graces. The result is, I’m sure, more noticeable by me than by my limited, highly appreciated readership.

Posted by Dan, 13 August, 2007 under Life | Thoughts

Strunk & White

I’m reading The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, a recommendation from Alan. It’s a lovely, pocket-sized book, and the first 47 pages have been educational and thoroughly enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed the following point of style.

Flammable. An oddity, chiefly used in saving lives. The common word meaning “combustible” is inflammable. But some people are thrown off by the in- and think inflammable means “not combustible.” For this reason, trucks carrying gasoline or explosives are now marked FLAMMABLE. Unless you are operating such a truck and hence are concerned with the safety of children and illiterates, use inflammable.

I’m looking forward to the remaining 48 pages.

Posted by Dan, 18 July, 2007 under Grammar | Life

I’ll be with you momentarily

A recent trend, one that was particularly prominent in New York, is to use the word momentarily to mean “in a moment”. I’ve always frowned upon this use, believing it to instead mean “for a moment”.

So my view is that the former of the uses is correct, while the latter is wrong:

  • She muted the call momentarily to cough up a lung
  • I’m just going to mute the call to cough up a lung, but will be with you momentarily

Answers.com seems to ratify my view.

Posted by Dan, 19 June, 2007 under Life | Rules

Tommorrow, tommorrow, I love ya, tommorrow

Bless her. And a lovely, if subtle, article title.

Posted by Dan, 1 June, 2007 under Grammar | Life

Crime’s against the apostrophe

We received a pre-printed gift card the other day bearing the message Its a girl. And I read a headline in a professional publication today bearing the word childrens’. Grammatical heathens.

Posted by Dan, 23 January, 2007 under Grammar | Life

Where grammar and geekery collide

It seems that these two ‘qualities’ are mutually exclusive: a healthy understanding of grammar and an above average appetite for all things technical.

While I’ve already referred to the sliding standards of people at large, it seems this trend is particularly prevalent among techies.

To prove this point, simply scroll down the titles and short summaries of articles on digg, and cringe away. Inconsistent mixed-casing, heinous apostrophe crimes and overall grammatical disappointment abound. It’s not as if they have to write long essays; digg summaries are really short.

I’m not sure whether it’s an education issue or one of attention to detail. Either way, it’s distressing, and one of the reasons you rarely get well-rounded techies.

Posted by Dan, 18 January, 2007 under Life | Thoughts

Grammatical disappointment

2006 has been a year of grammatical disappointment. On both sides of the Atlantic, I’ve been stunned at the lack of grammatical awareness among colleagues and clients.

There are two types: grammatical clumsiness and unquestionable errors. The former is almost expected; the latter is becoming similarly commonplace. I’ve seen numerous documents allegedly in a state ready for distribution which have been littered with mistakes.

While Microsoft Office will correct your spelling and make sure your sums are correct, it hasn’t yet mastered perfecting the grammar of the ill-educated.

The root of the problem has to be schooling. The trend is generally more prevalent among younger workers (although it’s surprising how often the older generation can get it wrong), indeed suggesting that educational standards have dropped over time. I also think the trend is exacerbated through laziness. People sometimes know the rule that they’ve broken (its/it’s being a prime example) once their copy has been corrected.

While I would be the first to give myself the pedant label (well, maybe not the first), I’m confident that my issue here goes beyond pedantry.

For the record, while both countries fall short of the mark, my experience suggests that grammatical standards in the American workplace are higher than those here in the UK.

Here’s a little test to keep you on your toes.

Posted by Dan, 21 December, 2006 under Grammar | Life

Apostrophe makes grammatically incorrect comeback

The Metro newspaper today tried to make up for its double apostrophe omission last Friday. In its offline article about the despicable Connor family from Brooklands, Manchester, it reported that “Natalie [Connor] faces 11 years’ in prison for manslaughter.”

Maybe the apostrophe is making a comeback, in a grammatically incorrect way.

Posted by Dan, 20 December, 2006 under Grammar | Life

Y-O-U-R means your; Y-O-U-’-R-E means you are!

Marks and Spencer has some grammatically incorrect slippers on sale at the moment. They contain a red card that you can pull out, which reads: Your Off.

Reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross teaches Rachel the meaning of your and you’re.

Posted by Dan, 17 December, 2006 under Grammar | Life

The death of the apostrophe?

Two headlines in this morning’s Metro:

  • Airports growth is a step nearer
  • 30 years jail for trying to kill PC

There should be an apostrophe after both Airports and years, although the former is potentially excusable.

Standards are slipping, and the apostrophe seems to be bearing the brunt.

Posted by Dan, 14 December, 2006 under Grammar | Life

Seasons deserve capitalisation

I’ve always thought that seasons deserve capitalisation, yet you’re unlikely to find a style guide that concurs. The Guardian’s opts for lc. I vaguely remember discussing this very subject with Steve a few years back, and him agreeing.

The days of the week and the months of the year are all classed as proper nours, being awarded the honour of a capital letter at the beginning—the grammatical equivalent of being knighted, I expect.

Yet spring, summer, autumn and winter are left behind, blending unnoticed with the words around them, and it seems unlikely that they’ll be granted a meeting with the Queen (who herself has been grammatically knighted).

Isn’t it about time we honoured their work?

Posted by Dan, 24 November, 2006 under Life | Thoughts