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Another rant about ironwork assessors, serials, grates, and blokes who are punching

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I’ve had a week in which it seemed that everywhere I looked I saw English usage nonsenses.

Typos I can forgive, we all make errors. The examples below are errors of ignorance. The cause of several  is clearly that someone heard a word or phrase and reused it, although they’d misunderstood it, without bothering to check the meaning. That sort of laziness I cannot forgive.

There was also a normal week’s helping of mistakes: their and there mixed up; too used when to was needed; it’s with an apostrophe where its without an apostrophe should have been; loose and lose looking lost, and various capers with punctuation.

But these are misdemeanours I have seen many times. The vexations I am about to describe are new. They have included:

Invaluable is not the opposite of valuable. Dour and door are not the same thing. You wear a brooch, but broach a subject. To “test your mettle” is not “to test your metal” – unless you are an ironwork assessor.

Valium, not vallyum; no one is air to a fortune; Andy Murray is not an all-time-grate; and if we are to have piece talks I’ll have a jammy one.

The usual collocation is “scalding hot”, not scolding hot. A scaredy-cat “wouldn’t say boo to a goose”, not a moose. You did not eat serial for breakfast. And the North See isn’t off the coast of Arbroath. Honestly, how could anyone not know how to spell “sea”!

“I know for a fact” must be followed by a bona fide fact, not an opinion. “I know for a fact that the new Top Gun movie is better than the new Jurassic World one” is a matter of taste, not a statement of veracity (although, to be fair, it is better).

“I’ve tooken mega photos” is indecipherable. JFK was not shot at from a grassy nole. The phrase is “punching above his weight” – to claim a short fat bloke romancing a pretty woman is “punching” merits a 999 call.

You can say “the late Mr Smith” and everyone understands the poor chap is dead. But you can’t say, “Mr Smith, who is late” and expect the same. Perhaps he merely missed the bus.

And this isn’t really an error but it always sounds shrilly overstated when people say they are “super excited”, “super hungry”, or have “super respect” for their Wimbledon opponent.

I will end with an old complaint.

A picture is hung, a criminal being executed is (or used to be) hanged. Everyone who ever attended English class was told this but they have forgotten, or weren’t paying attention.

In any case (and this is the crushingly sad bit) few people now know, or care, that there is a difference.


Word of the week

Prolix (adjective)

Unduly prolonged, wordy, tedious. EG: “I’m not sure why anyone reads my prolix column in The Courier, but I’m very grateful if they do”.

Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at

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