Magazine article The Spectator

English like What It Ought to Be

Magazine article The Spectator

English like What It Ought to Be

Article excerpt

Last week saw the launch of the Bad Grammar Awards, an annual contest in which prizes are handed out for poor E nglish. Actually, 'prizes' is probably the wrong word since no one wants to win them.

No one, that is, apart from A.A.

Gill. He entered himself and submitted a badly written email that he'd composed specifically. The judges, of whom I was one, considered this but ruled it out on the grounds that Gill would never write as badly as that for the Sunday Times. He may hate grammarians and their pedantic tribe - a point he was trying to make - but his newspaper columns are grammatically sound.

A journalist we spent longer on was I sabel Oakeshott, the Sunday Times political editor.

I n one of several emails she sent entreating Vicky Pryce to give the story about Chris Huhne's speeding points to her paper, Oakeshott spelt 'jeopardising' and 'licence' as 'jeapardising' and 'license'.

But we concluded that these were fairly minor mistakes in a private correspondence.

An entry we took more seriously was the following notice that is currently displayed in several Tube stations: ' I t is safer to stay on the train than attempting to get off.' As I 'm sure sharp-eyed readers will have spotted, the mistake here is to use an infinitive and then a gerund, when it should be two infinitives or two gerunds. So Transport for London should either replace the first half of the sentence with ' I E njoy the taste of E E very little helps.'

The judges felt that ' E E E I E t is safer staying on the train. . .'

or the second half with '. . . than to attempt to get off.'

Another contender for the main prize was the text of a recent Tesco ad: ' ngland. Working with local producers to bring you a wider range of seasonal locally sourced products.

njoy the taste of ngland' was just about acceptable, but thought the second sentence should have a comma after 'seasonal' and 'locally sourced' should be hyphenated to make it clear that 'sourced' is what is being qualified by the adverb 'locally'. ' very little helps', while a common phrase, is incorrect because 'little' is not a noun.

However, after careful consideration the judges decided to award first prize to the letter from 100 'educationalists' that appeared in the Guardian and the Independent earlier this year attacking Michael Gove's new National Curriculum. …

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