Category: professional writing services

English idioms: how they get distorted

The other day, a friend asked, “How do you spell towing the line as in the sense of complying? Is it toing or towing?

This is just one of many examples of how idioms become distorted over time.

Basic English: Four of the most common mistakes

In my job as a sub editor I come across so many basic errors in grammar and the use of unnecessary words.

These are exhibited by junior writers with no more than six months of cub training to senior writers and even contributors who are academics in their respective fields.

These are just a few of the most common.

A deadly blutterance: How words are formed

 

Blasted, blithering and blooming. All lovely descriptive words with a possible to probable note of irritation in how they are expressed, depending on context of course.

These words remind me that the art of conversation could be in jeopardy what with SMS, Twitter and Google-speak.

Theft and larceny: correct usage

With so much exposure to people’s dirty legal laundry and equal amounts of televised fictional dramas – Law and Order my personal favourite – I often heard the charge of larceny and never understood what it meant. So today I delved into it.

How words are formed

The English language owes much to many.

From the outset it borrowed from Germanic, French, Latin and Dutch influences, to name just a few.

Overtime the language has seen words come and go. Word styles and forms change continuously. Suffice to say the language lives among its users.

The incidence of incidents

There’s not much to say about incidence and incident except that temptation (also read auto brain) to misuse the two words is quite common.

It’s one of those cases in the English language where words sound the same with different spelling.

I find these the most challenging in the language and tend to make the most mistakes with this type of English trickery. I find when I am busy, a word sound in a sentence can pass for the right word because the brain picks up the sound if one reads aloud.

Incident is a noun, meaning event or happening. For example: There was an incident during the student protest.

The word incidence, a close neighbour in the Paperback Oxford English Dictionary (2001), just one above, is also a noun. It means the occurrence of something, or frequency of occurrence, for example to form patterns. Such as: The incidence of student protests at South African universities has been high of late.

Both have a plural with the simple addition of an ‘s’.

Thus, there have been many incidents since violence erupted at universities throughout the country.

wits

And, The incidences of violence have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.

 

And, The incidences of violence and injury have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.

Although this would be better said as, The incidents of violence and injury have students, parents lectures and police extremely worried.

However, you would say, Studies will compare the incidences of violence at UCT and Wits to suggest solutions (in other words two sets of incidences). However, you could just as well use incidents and the sentence would be correct.

Incidence in its plural form is a less preferred usage and should be avoided if at all possible.

Please add your views or leave a comment

 

 

 

 

A stonking good word

 

There’s so much to say about stonking. For starters dictionaries across the web from Cambridge to Oxford and Encarta broadly agree on its adjectival usage to mean “large, impressive, used to emphasise how good or enjoyable something is.”

Tony Thorne in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang described stonking as “an all-purpose intensifying adjective usually used in place of more offensive terms”.

It’s thanks to Greg Wallace, BBC Master Chef Professionals’ judge, who described one of the contestant’s presentations as “a stonking good dish”, that stonking is the subject of my blog.

Stonking has a rich and colourful history with pundits arguing for its Scottish origins, others its British birth right and still others remarking on its Australian slang usage.

Wordlwidewords.org: says “Stonk and its relatives are an interesting bunch: with all those strong consonants they’re thudding, active, strongly masculine words,” namely noun, verb, (especially) adjective and (even) adverb.

For the Sottish argument, worldwidewords.org claims  the first recorded use of it was in John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1841, in which he said that stunk was “the stake put in by boys in a game, especially in that of marbles” .

According to the Concise Scots Dictionary, this is now only local Scots dialect, and it suggests the Scots got it from local English dialect which might have originated in stock, a store, presumably the bag or other container the marbles or money were kept in.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “stonking” as an adjective meaning “Excellent, amazing; considerable, powerful” and as an adverb meaning “extremely, very”.

The second sense of “stonk” the OED gives is “a concentrated artillery bombardment,” dating in print to 1944. The OED suggests that the word is “echoic,” mimicking the sound of a shell exploding, also known to practitioners of the English language as onomatopoeia.

A South Korea's K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea's military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE
A South Korea’s K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea’s military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE

You can trust the Australians to outslang any slang and that argument is that “stonker” used as a verb in Australian slang means “to outwit, defeat, render helpless, defeat” or  “to kill or destroy,”.

Thanks to the Aussies,  “stonkered” is a popular slang synonym for “drunk”. Apparently these originate from the “artillery bombardment” sense of “stonk,” and the Australian slang use  first attested to in 1919, shortly after World War I.

“According to the Macquarie Dictionarystonkered in Australia can mean drunk, though it also has associated ideas of being defeated, exhausted, done in, or lethargic, as after a large meal. This comes from the verb stonker, which at one time could mean to kill, but is now the action of outwitting or defeating somebody.

Whichever way you take it, it’s a stonkingly meaty and delicious word.

 

I offer my singular condolence: Grammar

English demands that its users know more than just the meaning of a word.

They also must know how it’s used. It’s not okay to slap just any words together. Some have special ‘partners’.

While subbing an article yesterday, I happened upon the phrase ‘pay their condolences’. I knew instinctively that condolences were not paid. However, I forgot for a second what it was that you did with them.

So of course, you offer them. Thus the phrase was corrected to ‘offer their condolences’

While gathering information on the matter, I discovered that one can offer condolences in the singular, as in I offer my condolence. There is also the verb, to condole.

Lifesomundane has explained the difference between the singular and plural usage so well that I’ve just copied it in.

 

Now this is a tricky one. I have always preferred ‘condolences’ because that is how I often hear it from native English speakers. It is not, apparently, as straightforward as I used to think.

First of all, the word condole is derived from the Latin ‘condolere,’ meaning to ‘suffer with one another.’ It means to ‘express one’s sympathetic grief, on the occasion of someone’s death.’ (Advanced English Dictionary)

Condolence, therefore, is an expression used to commiserate or sympathise with a person who has just lost a loved one.

To get back to the gist of the matter, does one say ‘condolence’ or ‘condolences’ when expressing sympathy to the bereaved?

weeping over loss

If used as part of an adjective phrase, there is no question that ‘condolence’ is more correct. Hence, one gives a ‘message of condolence’ rather than a ‘message of condolences.’

There also is no question when condolences are offered to the bereaved on behalf of a group of persons. Hence, you can say my family’s, my company’s or my office’s condolences. Likewise, one can just say OUR condolences.

The tricky part is when one says MY condolences. There seems to be something not quite right about a singular person offering the plural of condolence on his or her behalf alone.

However, as a matter of convention, it is perfectly correct to do so and this is, in fact, how native English speakers condole with the bereaved.

Similarly, ‘my sympathies’ is often preferred to ‘my sympathy,’ the latter grammatically correct but not quite sounding so conversationally.

Most online English dictionaries that I referred to before writing this article do not state outright that ‘condolences’ is more correct than ‘condolence’ when used by a person on behalf of himself alone.

Instead, what they say is that ‘condolences’ is how the word is OFTEN used to express sympathy when somebody dies.

To conclude, ‘my condolence’ is perfectly correct and especially so from the grammatical point of view. That said, ‘my condolences’ is just as correct and particularly so because this is how it is often stated by native English speakers.

 

http://www.lifesomundane.net/2015/06/condolences.html

 

Tintinnabulation: Origin of words and #belltolls4JZ

Tintinnabulation.

This delightful six-syllable tongue-twister made its debut in 1831 according to some sources, even earlier according to others.

Take out the rubbish: When nouns become verbs

I am the first to admit, I am not always original but I do try to be topical and even then, perhaps decades out of touch. Bear with me.

The word rubbish used as a verb, first struck me about a decade ago when used by a most unsuitable boyfriend who said I had rubbished his apology gift.

The discomfort I had  – with the word  used in that sense, not the departure of the boyfriend – has never left me. And so like Mrs Chow, who wrote to The Star in  2011, I also have been curious to know: When did rubbish become a verb?

Never was there a question about its meaning, but rubbish making its way into the realm of doing rather than being has always upset me.

None-the-less Oxford Dictionaries defines rubbish the verb as (British Englishinformal) (North American English trashrubbish somebody/something to criticize somebody/something severely or treat them as though they are of no value:

rubbish

For example:

  • The book was rubbished by the critics.
  • He rubbished all my ideas, saying they were impractical.

Word Origin: late Middle English: from Anglo-Norman French rubbous; perhaps related to Old French robe ‘spoils’; compare with rubble. The change in the ending was due to association with -ish. The verb (1950s) was originally Australian and New Zealand slang.

 

Answering Mrs Chow, The Star explained that the offending word was often used in the Internet editions of some respectable British newspapers, and on BBC websites. It said editors were not finding it too informal to use in print  “but perhaps it is too informal to be used in scholarly publications.”

The Star, provided these examples: “The theory of Scandinavian racial purity cherished by Hitler and the Nazis has been rubbished by new scientific research.” (telegraph.co.uk, June 13, 2008)

“A top historian has revealed who rubbished rivals’ works in online postings.” (guardian.co.uk, April 18, 2010)

And in 2016, I find these among the thousand of responses on Google.

  • Guptas rubbish London news story – ANN7
  • Hillary Clinton rubbished health rumours on Jimmy Kimmels show (Today Online)
  • Bosso sale rubbished (Sunday News)

So it’s conclusive that rubbish is everywhere and having found its way into the verb class,  it’s here to stay.

However it still does not sit well with me, and I will make every effort to clear it from my writing path. My only other hope is that rubbish as a verb will remain too informal for the scholarly texts.

But for the noun, which has far greater potential, a  web dictionary provided the following rich alternatives.


bunk

bunkum

buncombe

guff

rot

hogwash

jive [N. Amer], 

flapdoodle [N.Amer], 

junk

nonsense

rhubarb [Brit], 

folderol, (my personal favourite)

tripe

trumpery [archaic], 

trash,

wish-wash

applesauce

codswallop [Brit], 

falderal

 

Now there’s no excuse for rubbish in your text. Use these words with prolific abandon to ensure no editor rubbishes your copy.