Writing Wrongs: Don registers a few more complaints

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By CYN TACKS, Grandma of Grammar

With a shiver of apprehension, the good Lord Drone says: “By the pricking of my thumbs, something grumpy this way comes.”

Don Johnston’s grammatical groans rumble on. All are directed at the sloppy section of today’s journalists, whose quality he derides probably because he is old and frustrated. Don does make a good point or maybe two. Maybe not.

He finds this somewhat indecent exposure in the Daily Drone quite a change from his usual retirement relaxation, hanging upside down in a darkened cupboard during daylight. In the evening, he resorts to the John Clarke retirement solution, devotion to bio-chemistry, transforming wine into urine.

So now Don can moan on without being interrupted by folk with common sense. That allows his earlier career of intensive red-top training in the fevered application of lies, smears and innuendo to be more fully inflicted on the public domain. Again.

Here we go.

 I’ve often been asked about changing quotes. Remember, reporters write the quotes so one assumes any errors are theirs. I’ve always tried to make the interviewee look good, but obviously not changing facts or context. For example, if they say “married in a Registry Office” don’t make them look ignorant, switch it to “Register Office” where a registrar does the business. The Land Registry lists the history and legal rights of your owned domain.

Another daft misuse is “pre-order”.What does that entail? It’s bloody impossible and its use is irritating. Consider yourself pre-warned.

 “The bridge saw £4m of improvements over a year.” Hell’s clanging bells, inanimate objects with eyes? Make anyone paranoid. Anyway, “A year of bridge improvements cost £4m” is crisply efficient.

So what’s the difference between an eye-witness and a witness? Most witnesses use eyes. Not many blind ones.

“! saw it with my own eyes”. Whose else? Stop the quote at “it” and don’t embarrass the interviewee.

That brings me to words one really should keep an “i” on. Or not. Parachutists bale out and people in leaky boats just bale, the former hopefully with working parachutes, the latter with whatever water-containers they can find.

The money a Mum places with the court as a bond to allow her beloved hubcap-nicking idiot to be freed from the local Crowbar Hotel on promise of him appearing in court later is bailing him out, using the “i”. That usage also applies frequently in business to “rescue” by financial sharks, usually posing as philanthropists.

Here’s another. “Joe Bloggs was one of five men held ...” Blindingly obvious, innit? “One of”? Use “and four others” or “was among”.

What’s in a number? The phrase “a number of” can mean three or hundreds. If you can’t be accurate, use “several”. It’s crisper. “More than one” is stupidity.

“His success was incredible.” Well, if it isn’t believable, why print it? That shouldn’t be “incredibly” difficult to understand.

“He had a smile on his face.” The stomach churns. Where else could it be?

“Murdered in her own home.” Parochial pseudo-journalism at its lowest. Obviously, drop the “own”.

Exactly what does “as to” mean. I’d be grateful for a clinical grammatical analysis. Never happen. Use ”about”. Also, there is frequent use of “as” instead of the correct “because”.

When I hear: “We will be with you momentarily”, that too never happens. They bloody well rattle on. A “moment” is a flash in time. And: “We’ll be with you in a moment” doesn’t happen either. Be accurate, if you can. At least, be truthful.

Ageing Sun oppo Jim Cassels finds his few remaining teeth grating at “bored of” instead of the proper “bored with”. That also applies to “fed up of”. But these bloody misused “ofs” are all over the place. You’ll often see “could of”, “should of”, “will of” and “would of”. So wrong. Use the accurate “have”.

More irritating nonsense includes “free up” and “speed up”. Down with “up”.

Another is “doomed to failure”. If it’s doomed it’s doomed.

Reading the BBC News onscreen, I see a man “has been stabbed in the city centre”. Ouch. A rewrite is needed.


© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre