A single version of English

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was an internationally-recognised standard for written English? If people saw the word color (or indeed colour) and didn’t recoil. If there was a widely acknowledged view as to whether The meeting Thursday or The meeting on Thursday was acceptable.

I’m not asking us to can our respective versions of English—British, American, Australian, Canadian etc. I’m instead suggesting that a new version of English is created that would, over time, supersede our respective versions, taking the loveliness from each and consolidating it into a single set of rules that people can abide by in certain media, predominantly the web at first.

And I’m not suggesting that any one of our beautiful set of idiosyncrasies overrules those of the other countries’. There are some beautiful American constructs; and some equally beautiful British ones. I’m sure the same is true of the other variants, although I’m less familiar with these.

To achieve the goal, I’m proposing we first brainstorm the inconsistencies. And then we bring together five leading literary luminaries representing each of the English variants to agree on which version is preferable, leaving aside their local bias.

The whole process would strengthen the language and bring closer the English-speaking world.


Posted by Dan, 21 November, 2009 under Grammar | Thoughts

Grammar: supply and demand

As grammar and spelling standards continue to slide and txt-speak continues to gain prevalence, will demand for skills in grammatical correctness (e.g. proofreading) increase because of the shortage of skilled resources, or decrease owing to the reduced demand?

Posted by Dan, 23 February, 2009 under Thoughts

The difference a letter can make

There are a couple of word pairings that differ by a single letter but whose meanings are completely different.

Encourage: inspire with confidence; give hope or courage to
Entourage: support group

Homophone: one of two or more words with different origins and meanings but sounding the same
Homophobe: one who hates or fears homosexual people

Any other non-trivial examples?

Posted by Dan, 13 September, 2008 under Thoughts


It would be lovely if the plural of apex was apices and if that of annex was annices.

Posted by Dan, under Thoughts

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

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

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

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

The ellipsis in braille

Steve questioned how an ellipsis was displayed in braille. Apparently, it’s three apostrophes. In six-dot braille, the bottom-left dot is raised for an apostrophe, and you repeat this three times for an ellipsis. So in effect, it looks very similar to the ellipsis in written English.

As an aside, the full stop in braille is made up of three dots, middle-left, middle-right and bottom-right. Seems inefficient, but I may be wrong.

As a further aside, the fact that braille symbols are made up of six binary entities means that there are only 64 combinations to play with. This limit is extended by the use of prefixes to signify that a capital (bottom-right) or number (bottom-left, top-right, middle-right, bottom-right) follows.

Posted by Dan, 12 November, 2006 under Life | Thoughts