Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Some uncommonly common solecisms

I've been perusing the Economist's list of common solecisms and although it greatly pains me to admit this, because I think I'm actually quite good atta de Inglish, I have in fact learned quite a lot. Please don't mock if you picked these things up in kindergarden or if you have ever noticed me using any of them .... repeatedly.

For example, I had no idea that there was a difference between compared to and compared with. Did you?
Compare: A is compared with B when you draw attention to the difference. A is compared to B only when you want to stress their similarity. ( “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?”)
It had never occured to me either that there was anything wrong with the expression softly spoken, or the term homosexuals and lesbians. Nor was I aware of the difference between to forgo and to forego (I think I may have been guilty of that crime against the English language here).

Others are more widely known eg. the distinction between less and fewer. Although native English speakers so frequently use less instead of fewer that I no longer correct students for if they get it wrong. There are more important things in life; there are more important things to be taught in an English course.

Certain of these unsayables seem to have been included just to refute American usage. It's true that the American "to protest the plans" has always sounded a little strange to me:
Protest. By all means protest your innocence, or your intention to write good English, if you are making a declaration. But if you are making a complaint or objection, you must protest at or against it.
Others can only have been included to be deliberately provocative :
Scotch: to scotch means to disable, not to destroy. (“We have scotched the snake, not killed it.”) The people may also be Scotch, Scots or Scottish; choose as you like. Scot-free means free from payment of a fine (or punishment), not free from Scotsmen.
I mean, come on: the people may bloody not be called Scotch. Indeed, we ra people refuse to be called Scotch.

I suspect that if any of the sticklers at the Economist who compiled this list were to take a quiz on Facebook they would have an apopletic fit.

11 comments:

Jordan said...

I read that stuff and think, Damn, really? But then I remember that the editors at The Economist are a bit too conservative when it comes to language, and I go on breaking some of their rules with nary a twinge of guilt.

deborah said...

Well I had to check the word solecism for a start ...

The only thing I remember from school was learning the difference between due to and er, due to? but always got it wrong from then on (a bit like when you move something precious to a safer place and you never remember where you moved it to).

However it was wonderful to have the image of Mrs Gibbons, our English teacher, brought back to me today!

Lesley said...

Jordan: ..... and so shall I, in that case.

Deborah: Mrs Gibbon - almost too easy a target for nicknames!

~profgrrrrl~ said...

Oh, yikes. I didn't know this whole compare to/with thing before but now that I do it will forever drive me bonkers to read it the wrong way! :)

Ms Mac said...

I knew the thing about homosexual/lesbian but most of the rest of it had me scuppered.

The thing about it is that while it is nice to know these rules, it's the kind of thing that will bother me from now on, thinking of all the mistakes I have made in the past and will make in the future and who is judging me for them.

Like today, I have revisited this post to get the link so I can check if there is a rule for the word "different" (There is, I knew that, see, but questioned myself.).

I need coffee now.

Lesley said...

Profgrrrrl: Now I need an easy way to remember which is which.

MsMac: Different to. Right? Darn, I'll have to go back and check now too.

Mim said...

Hello, Scots woman. Did I get that right?

Think on the difference between "fewer" and "less."

Lesley said...

Mim: Yes, that's right!

Le laquet said...

Hell I still struggling with affect/effect!

Lucy said...

I've got quite used now to 'scotch' meaning to stick something with sellotape...

I hate that less and fewer thing, though I never get it wrong myself, it just seems to be a pointless linguistic imbecility designed to make life even harder for learners of English.

I enjoy reading some of the Economist, Charlemagne sometimes and the reviews, but bear in mind they backed the Iraq war so they're not so bloody clever.

spentrails said...

Apoplectic fits indeed. I feel one coming on right now.

If I admitted to having, in the past, secretly wished to be an Economist proofreader, would you banish me forever from your blog? In those days I was teaching EFL and larking about in fabulous locations around the world.

Nowadays I am much more easy-going and have left that ambition in the past where it belongs. Heavens! I even make the occasional mistake myself.

There is a terrible smugness about these instructions. Ye olde difference between a grammar being either descriptive or prescriptive seems to have eluded them, not to mention missing the obvious evolution in any language. And they probably disapprove of 'modern ways' such as the mini-skirt.

Bah! Humbug.