More media monstrosities

Another crop of blunders, grammatical, syntactical and substantive, from the print media of early 2008:

"Was it wise of [Dr Rowan Williams], as head of the Church of England, to be passing judgment…  Rowan Williams's  position as head of the established church gives him a double advantage…  his church enjoys unique privileges in law. The Queen is its nominal head."
Observer, editorial, 10 Feb 08

So which of them is it?

"John McCain… stood on the brink of winning the Republican party's nomination yesterday… with almost half of the magic number of 1,191 delegates needed to win the race…  McCain [pushed] his total delegate count to 680 and rising…"
Ed Pilkington and Suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian, 7 Feb 08

Which of them can't do arithmetic?

"Mr Bush's successor will think twice before tearing up treaties or undermining international institutions and, if they are a Democrat, will think three times before playing at being a soldier."
Guardian editorial, 7 Feb 08

Will she, or he, or they?

"The exit polls suggested [that] Obama was winning-over [sic] young, educated and black voters, while Clinton had greater appeal among women, the working class [sic] and Hispanics."
Guardian, front page report by Ewen MacAskill, 6 Feb 08

The hyphen seems to have wandered — and wasn't necessary anyway.

"[Romney] has been under attack … for his rejection of punitive laws on illegal immigration and his support for campaign finance reform and global warming."
Ewen MacAskill, Guardian, 5 Feb 08

Perhaps Romney was on to something with his support for global warming?  Didn't work out, though.

"Q. Who can authorise … surveillance using bugs and other listening devices?
"A. Chief constables and officials of equivalent rank, ie, in Revenue & Customs."

Ian Cobain and Vikram Dodd, Guardian, 5 Feb 08

i.e., "e.g."?

"…David Cameron and his advisers are seriously concerned about the damage being done to their project of abolishing the Conservatives' image as 'the nasty' party, as Theresa May famously dubbed it."
Miranda Green, The Observer, 3 Feb 08

Or as she famously didn't dub it, as a few minutes with Google would have established.  "You know what some people call us — the nasty party. I know that's unfair. You know that's unfair but it's …",,806370,00.html

"Since then, a Prime Minister has been questioned by police, the Liberal Democrats' biggest donor has been jailed for fraud and the Labour party treasurer and a cabinet minister have resigned over improprieties in the declaration of donations."
The Observer, editorial, 3 Feb 08

And the Observer's leader-writer is about to be sued for libel by the treasurer of the Labour Party — or should be.

"There is no evidence yet that Labour donors received favours for their endorsements of deputy leadership candidates."
The Observer, editorial, 3 Feb 08

Don't you love that sneaky "yet"?  A distasteful smear in three letters.

"Offences of the type committed by Derek Conway are more egregious and easier to remedy than the arcana of party funding."
The Observer, editorial, 3 Feb 08

And therefore less serious, apparently — not a judgment many of us would agree with.  And which of the OED definitions of 'egregious' is intended here — "Remarkably good or great. Of events and utterances: Striking, significant. ?Obs.", or "Remarkable in a bad sense; gross, flagrant, outrageous"?  Neither seems obviously apposite.

[I]f [MPs] fail to put their house in order, they will all [sic] stand guilty of moral complacency.  That is not the same as sleaze, but it is a form of corruption none the less."
The Observer, editorial, 3 Feb 08

No, I'm sorry: it plainly isn't either sleaze or corruption.

"… MPs' expenses … should be as transparent as other parts of a politician's income … the parties must return to the negotiating table…  they must vote on new guidelines… Europe should put a brake on Beijing's excesses … The EU must use the power that wealth brings…" 
The Observer, editorials, 3 Feb 08

Must, should?  Who gives the orders around here?

"Draconian rules left my baby and I stranded"
Headline in Wandsworth Borough News, 3 Oct 2007

Well, blow I !


3 Responses

  1. "Draconian rules left my baby and I stranded"

    Headline in Wandsworth Borough News, 3 Oct 2007

    An ingenious riposte to this point is to be found in introduction to The Cambridge English Grammar of the English Language(2002) (, from where sample extracts can be downloaded.

    The authors consider two examples:

    a. They invited me to lunch.           b. They invited my partner and I to lunch.

    The usual argument against b is that given the accusative case in a we should also have an accusative in b, so I is ungrammatical. The authors ask why we should simply assume that the grammatical rules for case assignment cannot differentiate between a coordinated and a non-coordinated pronoun. They point out that there is another place in English grammar where the rules are sensitive to this distinction:

    a. I don’t know if you’re eligible.     b. *I don’t know if she and you’re eligible.

    ‘The sequence you are can be reduced to you’re in a, where you is subject, but not in b where the subject has the form of a coordination of pronouns. This shows us not only that a rule of English could apply differently to pronouns and coordinated pronouns, but that one rule actually does. If that is so, then a rule could likewise distinguish between a and b [in the first pair]. The argument from analogy is illegitimate. Whether b [in the first pair] is treated as correct Standard English or not . . . . . , it cannot be successfully argued to be incorrect simply by virtue of the analogy with a.

    Brian writes:  You've lost me here, I'm afraid, Barrie.  I can't believe that this amount of ingenious effort, verging on perversity, can be justified by the intention of establishing that what is manifestly wrong is actually right (cf. Socrates). 

  2. Peter Harvey says:

    I can’t agree with Barrie, and by extension with the Cambridge GEL (though I haven’t found the reference – can you give me the page number?) I would argue that contractions such as you’re, which exist primarily in speech, have pronunciation as priority since that is what they represent. You’re is pronounced as one syllable (albeit sometimes a diphthong), whereas she and you are is pronounced with a definite schwa for the verb. That, I would say, is why a contraction is not possible.

    I still go for hypercorrection as the reason for Brian’s original quotation.

    Nevertheless, ‘between you and I’ is found in The Merchant of Venice’.

  3. I wasn’t putting this forward as necessarily being my own view, but as a comment worth a little (very little, Brian will no doubt say) consideration. I knew not to expect universal endorsement.

    As always with extracts, they don’t give the full picture. Here’s a slightly expanded reference: You should then click on the red icon opposite the chapter heading Preliminaries. This gives you the entire introduction. The passage in question begins on page 8 under the heading ‘Spurious external justifications’ and continues on the following two pages. I’d be glad to hear your views, Peter (and anyone else), after reading the extract in context.

    The question whether ‘They invited my partner and I to lunch’ is treated as correct Standard English is considered in greater detail elsewhere in the book. But to buy it you’ll need to fork out £123.50 (Amazon).

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