8 February 2021

Radar

Just one of the legacies of  teaching English for most of my working life is that my ability to spot errors is laser-like. I just cannot help it. It is how my brain is wired.

I hear grammatical errors upon the tongues of TV newscasters and I see them in signage, in newspapers, in books that have been edited extremely carefully. In fact, I see mistakes everywhere - even in blogs!

Please don't get me wrong. What matters above everything is what people say - their meaning. The "how" is less important - for it is just a means to an end. Furthermore, I readily admit that I am prone to the occasional error myself - perhaps through carelessness or occasional stupidity. The old adage - "We all make mistakes" is very true when it comes to expression in the English language.

Oftentimes, people will bristle when their errors are pointed out to them. It is as  if you are challenging their very personhood. I like it when people accept correction gracefully - recognising that you are not challenging who they are, just how they have written or said something. 

Throughout my life I have had a series of "pet hates" when it comes to grammar and spelling. I wonder what your "pet hates" are? Here are three of my current "pet hates".

1)   would have..., could have..., should have... becoming  would of..., could of..., should of... Hence, "I should have posted that letter" is changed to "I should of posted that letter". Aaargh!

2)   confusing "lightning" with "lightening". "Lightning" is a zigzag of electric light in the sky as a storm approaches. "Lightening" is the opposite of "darkening" as in "Sadly, the Ugandan woman had a penchant for lightening her skin colour". The verb "to lighten" can also concern the reduction of weight as in, "Donald the donkey refused to pull the cart any further so we lightened his load ".

3)  issues with sat/ was sitting and stood/was standing.  You hear someone say "I was sat in the cinema watching a film" when what they really mean is "I was sitting in the cinema watching a film". If you had been "sat" in the cinema you would have been physically placed there by somebody else. It's the same with stood/standing. Did the climber really mean to say "I was stood on the summit for ages, admiring the view"? Who put you there my friend? Either remove the "was" or write "I was standing on the summit for ages".

My  internal radar system for inaccuracy is not something I ever chose to have planted in my brain.  It's just there and that's all there is to it. Maybe it was always there but teaching English for four decades certainly promoted this feature of my being. 

Years ago one of my teenage pupils said to me, "Sir, you talk like a book". I have always remembered that and he was right. He was sat at the back of the room!

77 comments:

  1. Luckily we are all adults and don't need teachers anymore. But never forget some of us as pupils maybe have gone around for years feeling guilty because of our inability to interpret English language grammar. English literature helps as it frees one up to write at length.

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    1. I would like to think that I always dealt sympathetically with children's errors. I was always looking for the reasons behind particular mistakes. Having a brother who was dyslexic helped me to realise that acquiring accurate skills in grammar and spelling was a complicated cerebral process. By the way, adults still need teachers even though COVID has halted evening classes.

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  2. There, their and they're - it's painful to read some comments where they are wrongly used. Also apostrophes - where people do not know what a plural is and add an apostrophe s is particularly annoying. Also your and you're and where/were - don't get me started!

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    1. I am with you on all of those issues Jo. Up The Pedants!

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  3. I haaaaaaaaaaaate the learned souls who say, 'it's a mute point'. It is jarring to my ears every time.

    There are others I suppose, but I can't think of them right now. As a person that you've caught (I found another mistake all by myself which I assume you noticed as well, but graciously did not point out), I hesitate to make too much of this.

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    1. I must inform you that the verb "hate" contains only one "a" and not twelve Debby. There is no fee for this advice though a donation to the charity of your choice would be appreciated. Have a nice day!

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    2. I have made a generous donation to the Battered Pedant Protection Society. They lend a hand to pedants who have been beaten badly for the most minor of reasons usually by folks who are jealous their vast and superior knowledge. Such a shame really. I do hope you're not next.

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    3. Just a moment. Protesters are gathering outside my door. Now they are hammering on it. What do you want? Arrgh! Get off!

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  4. An old foreman once asked me: "Why do they put rubbers on the end of pencils?"
    I said: "I don't know?". He replied: "Because everyone makes mistakes."

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    1. I thought he might have said, "To stop them reproducing!"

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    2. I should have put erasers.

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  5. When Norman Mailer was a boy at Brooklyn High, his English teacher said, *Name two pronouns, Mailer.*
    Norm said, *Who, me?*

    Lenin asked *Kto - Kovo? Who, Whom?*
    It would seem to mean, Who will overtake Whom?

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  6. My pet hate is when someone uses reign instead of rein and vice versa, it happens surprisingly often.

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    1. Queen Elizabeth II reigns over us but she does not require reins to do that.

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  7. You could not make jokes about Lenin with members of the Communist Party.

    There is a video interview with Gary Saul Morson, on the pernicious legacy of Vladimir Lenin. It's on the New Criterion website, October 2019.

    There is also a short text by Michael Matheson Miller: Think Like Lenin, on Acton Institute Powerblog. December 2019.

    As Professor Morson said, the Soviets directed their fury at their own people, and this began (before Stalin) with Lenin. Communist Party members would have said, *That is a lie!*

    The Grammarian's Barbecue: Do you say ...
    Well done.
    Well-done.
    Or .. Well, done.

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    1. No. I say "Medium please my good man!"

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  8. I totally agree with the three you have listed - number 1 in particular sets my teeth on edge - and have a few more that jar with me whenever I read or hear them. One that I often see written is loose instead of lose, and discrete instead of discreet.
    Please feel free to correct any errors you find in my blog posts Mr P. I am not "adverse" to a little guidance (that's another of my pet irritants by the way 😏 ).

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    1. Oh yes - "adverse"/"averse" - that is a heinous crime in my book JayCee.

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  9. I rarely see the first of your examples in writing although it often appears in speech. The other two are the least of my irritations simply because lightening/lightning are easily confusable as spelling errors and the last one is unlikely to be an error made by anyone who has been fortunate enough to have been taught English correctly. However the general use of poor English is something I have come to realise is becoming the norm.

    I no longer worry about split infinitives or ending sentences with prepositions having campaigned even when I first started blogging. I am still, however, fussy about the correct use of less and few. It's interesting that the Oxford educated Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson both use 'less' incorrectly in their briefings and it actually sticks out when Nicola Sturgeon uses 'few' correctly.

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  10. My current pet peeve is the unnecessary "at" - as is "where is it at?" That just sets my teeth on edge.

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    1. Anybody who uses that expression should be lined up in front of a firing squad.

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  11. *Why did English teachers stop teaching grammar in the 1960s?*
    Read online ...
    The English Patient: English Grammar and teaching in the twentieth century.
    By Richard Hudson and John Walmsley.

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    1. I will catch up with that. Thanks. By the way, in forty years I never stopped teaching the necessary features of grammar.

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  12. A common and annoying mistake is when someone says "loose it" instead of "lose it", which is a fairly recent misuse of the word I think. I do wonder how it came about as the two words mean such totally different things.

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    1. I am sure you are right. I had not noticed that one and will now watch out for it. I might lose my rag.

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  13. "This is her" when I was taught "this is she"

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    1. Thank you Joyce. Sometimes good grammar concerns politeness.

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  14. I throughly reccommend, flooding your afflixion with Giles Brandreths' book "Have You Eaten Grandma?'

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    1. I feel like a tiger in a cage and there's a young lad at the bars poking me with a pointy stick. GRRRRRRR!

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    2. Its having the affect I expected.

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    3. EFFECT! Aaaaaarrrrgh! Put your pointy stick away you varmint!

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  15. Errors in grammar make me crazy, so I'm with you on this, Neil. I'm more than willing to accept constructive criticism with grace and good humor when I make mistakes.

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    1. Yes my friend. Good humOUR is vital!

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    2. You'll like this. When I was a kid, I read lots of classic English literature for children and regularly used "your" spelling because I liked the way it looked. Grey, honour, glamour, and yes,even humour. My teachers were not impressed with my "mistakes". :)

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    3. Good on you Jennifer! Standing up for what is right and true like South Carolina's own Emmeline Pankhurst.

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  16. Your first one is on my list of pet hates. I'll add to that the inability of some to differentiate between their, there and they're. Another one is its and it's. I had grammar pounded into me at school and am a stickler for it. Having said that, language evolves all the time and we don't speak the English of Shakespeare or Chaucer any more. I find too that texting with its abbreviations has changed language a lot too.

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    1. You are right to suggest that our language is always evolving. We sticklers must accept change but not slovenliness.

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  17. I bet you have a field day on my Blog then, I write just as I talk and put dots and commas where I fancy, lol
    Sorry Sir.
    Briony
    x

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    1. See me in my study after school young lady!

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  18. I am Australian and I find the English use of sat instead of sitting to be particularly jarring.

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  19. Thank you for lightening Donald the donkey's load.

    Having grown up with an English teacher for a mother, and perhaps also being lucky enough to have inherited her affinity for spelling and grammar, there was a time when I reacted to others' mistakes as well. Now I get upset only when those errors are in published sources where the writers really should know better, such as newspapers, magazines, or books. Everyone else gets a pass from me, as we are all given different sets of circumstances, opportunities, and genes. Those of us lucky enough to find things easy need to lighten the load of others, like you did with Donald.

    Oh my, I sound cranky. Maybe I am. Please forgive me, as I'm still finding life hard at the moment.

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    1. Of course I forgive you. You are allowed to be cranky in these times of intense personal reflection and sorrow as you adjust to the prospect of years ahead without him. Nice to see you easing yourself back into Blogland Jenny. x

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  20. Bloggers make mistakes when writing? Oh dear. I am never critical of amateur errors, which are often typos. I am very critical of those whose job is expression of proper English, mostly media. Writing and speaking is a paid job and they need to get it right.

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    1. Good point. They should be setting good examples.

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  21. If you had dared to mention “the Ugandan woman with a penchant for lightening her skin colour” in the current climate in my native land you would be attacked as an insensitive clod, anti-feminist, obviously racist, a white supremacist, guilty of hate speech, flaunting your white privilege, et cetera. No one would give a fig about your grammar pet peeves. Armed gangs would call for you to be cancelled even as the set your car on fire, shouted vile insults at your wife and children, painted obscene graffiti on your house, and so on. Donkeys, however, wouldn’t care what you said or thought about them.

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    1. I thought very carefully about that example sentence. I am not referring to Donald the Donkey.

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  22. Yes, when did suicide become a verb - he suicided...... and since when was your bureau filled with draws instead of drawers.... and surrounded by a boarder instead of a border..... sigh...

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  23. All of those plus others listed by your readers easily go up my craw. :0)

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  24. In the 1940s Somerset Maugham gave the manuscript of his unpublished novel to an eminent grammarian.
    When the manuscript was returned Maugham was surprised at the number of annotations. Every slack and slipshod phrase was highlighted.
    Every grammatical lapse corrected.
    The grammarian suggested ways in which the prose could be improved, obscurities removed.
    You will find the full story in Ted Morgan's biography of Maugham, published in 1980.

    Watch YouTube: Benjamin Dreyer and Rachel Joyce on grammar and language.
    Penguin Books. 24 June 2019.

    Read online, Robert Browning's The Grammarian's Funeral.
    There are useful online crits of the poem.

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    1. "Here, here's his place, where meteors shoot, clouds form." I just read the poem - not with meticulous care but with enough concentration to realise that grammarians riled Browning. I think his praise for them is largely tongue-in-cheek. They imagine that they occupy the peaks of learning when really they are in hidden valleys.

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  25. I really, really dislike it when I hear people in shops asking "Can I get....." rather than "can I have...." It's everywhere, my own kids do it. ugh!

    I'm also really disliking that Autralian/ English terminology for everything seems to be universally Americanised by younger people. Jumpers are now known as sweaters, nappies as diapers, footpaths as sidewalks! Until probably just a few years ago we managed to use Aussie/ English words for these things but now it's like a foreign language

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    1. That slow linguistic takeover is driven by cultural imperialism that itself is connected with money and big business. Can I get...an atom bomb?

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  26. I agree with examples 1) and 2), especially 'should of' - what's this about? Do we replace 'have' with 'of'? Should I write, 'I of a problem with my computer?' I think it comes from the spoken language; incorrect words are heard in conversation, are repeated and then finally are incorrectly translated to the written word.
    Other comments have mentioned loose/lose; I'm not as generous as others, everyone should have some idea of the use of words. It shouldn't be confined to books, magazines and newspapers.
    Alphie

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    1. I could of responded to this comment but I of a headache Alphie!

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  27. As you can see from my writing , I'm not a nitpicker. I make careless errors and errors of ignorance. But since I did teach language arts to middle school kids I had to come up with some strategies. I tried to get kids to edit their work by getting them to edit my writing. I did every writing assignment I gave the kids . Then I had them edit my writing as a class. None of the private stuff. It was fun.

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    1. That was a great idea Red! At the end of my career I did the same - making good use of the interactive whiteboard which really helped that process.

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  28. The "should of/would of" thing is something I never "got" - where does it come from? How can people talk or write it without every fibre in their brains protesting? I am also a bit picky about the wrong use of "it's" when it should be "its", as in "The buzzard showed the beautiful pattern on its wings when it took off the fence post."
    Apart from being a trained Librarian (and it goes without saying that this usually goes hand in hand with a love for [of?] well-written language), I worked for a publisher of weekly papers for nine years, part of that time spent proof-reading. Like you, I can not help spotting typos and other errors. And like you - and everyone else - I make typos and other errors myself. Sometimes I notice them on my blog on an older post, but can not always be bothered to correct them.

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    1. This attention to detail in expression is something one is born with. It is in one's blood.

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  29. Hello!

    This is definitely a topic which ignites heated debate. After two lifetimes in teaching, correcting grammar has become part of our DNA. However, it has become more of an uphill struggle of late as Standard English becomes americanised [should that be spelled with a 'z'?] and all hope of the apostrophe being used correctly diminishes daily.

    Still, as we now find ourselves living in Budapest and supporting our 'Bright Young Things' with applications for UK universities, it becomes apparent that Hungarian students have a far better grasp on English grammar than many of our former students in the UK ever had. And, with many of the Hungarians speaking several languages, it really does put us to shame.

    We understand and share your pain. We maintain that split infinitives are to be avoided and that compared 'with' and different 'from' mark out the educated from the ill informed. However, the tide seems to be turning against us and, to complete the metaphor, we shall soon be cast adrift from such finer grammatical points and swept out to sea. Will we make it across the pond?

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    1. A lot of the slovenliness in grammar is encouraged by social media where anything seems to go - including punctuation! Maybe it would be easier to just ban the apostrophe forever - such is the volume of its misuse.

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  30. Your first example was the one that came into my mind before I even read it, though as someone said, it is more often in speech rather than written . I don't claim to be perfect either, but I did have a good grammar school education and there are a lot of things that bug me. We have a " local" friend who always said " I done it" rather than " did" it. I was very difficult not to scream at him did did..not done !!
    The ex DIL used to write " I was sat" rather than "sitting" and considering she had an excellent education at a girls' school in Harrogate, I was very surprised. (I didn't mention it to her!!)
    My other bugbears are....people who say Haitch not aitch for the letter H, and so many people miss out the C in secretary when speaking. ( My husband being one of them, and I do sometimes tell him...he still doesn't learn though!)

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    1. Oh yes - "aitch" and "Haitch" - I have noticed that confusion too and please listen to our Home Secretary Priti Patel. She says -in for -ing words. As in, "I am supportin' Boris Johnson for givin' the EU a good kickin' ." As for Frances/Francis , many people seem unable to differentiate between the male and female forms of this splendid name.

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  31. "Sat" and "I was stood" are two of my pet hates, too. I'm amazed at the times it finds it's way into articles by so-called well educated journalists. "Innit" also sets my teeth on edge. If I'm honest, most of the examples mentioned here annoy me.
    I suppose we should blame these mistakes on the continual lowering of educational standards down the years.
    For the purely visual - you forgot to mention the Greengrocer's apostrophe!

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    1. Dontcha mean the greengrocers' apostrophe? They were brothers.

      I don't like "coppa" as in "I am going for a coppa tea with Coppa's girl."

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  32. And what about amount and number? A large amount of people instead of a large number of people. Someone else has mentioned less and fewer - less cars on the road instead of fewer cars on the road. These seem to be appearing more frequently on news broadcasts. I retired as a primary school teacher in 2008 but I never stopped teaching grammar; one TA thanked me for explaining its and it's in a class. Mistakes definitely grate.

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    1. I have always thought of "fewer" as a term that applies to things that can be counted such as people or cars or bars of chocolate. I use "less" with things that cannot be counted like oil, grass, sand or applause for example. Thanks for calling by here Jean. I bet the stream is cold today!

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  33. What about all the irksome solecisms concerning the verbs "lay" and "lie"? "He laid down", "The hen layed an egg" etc.

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    1. It would be so much easier if we just had "laid" and resigned "layed" to history.

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  34. I must admit that after years of proof reading that I too find it difficult not to see - or be bothered by grammatical and spelling errors. Most of the time I have learned to "just let it go" however, I do get very annoyed when I find these sorts of errors in a book that I have just purchased - usually for an astronomical amount (books are quite expensive in Canada). These are books by famous authors who have top flight publishers, editors and proof readers at their fingertips so how is it that these careless mistakes still happen?

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  35. What bugs me the most is their and there and your and you're. Lay and laid always causes me so much stress.

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  36. Apropos the "you speak like a book" comment: At 16 going on 17 I spent a summer month with a family in Yorkshire. On one occasion they took me to visit an elderly relative who spoke heavy Yorkshire dialect. I hardly understood a word he said, but I remember he told me something like "You speak like you come from the BBC, lass". I was never sure whether it was meant as a compliment or criticism! (I'm Swedish, and at the time I had been learning English as foreign language in school for seven years, taught by Swedish teachers.)(Still learning, 49 years later.)

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Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.

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