Published on February 5, 2014
Grammar & usage: December 2013 The history of the English language This short animation is brilliant. I think I might start using "fopdoodle" as an insult. It might take a while top catch on, as I don't insult people very often. Do feel free to help the campaign! http://ow.ly/sO25H An easy way to cut redundant language If only all strategies were as easy to remember as this one. Stop using the prefix "pre" when it adds nothing to the sentence: http://writejudi.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/2165/ A powerful tool for language analysis Google have enhanced their language analysis tool. I've got a nasty feeling this will provoke an awful lot of time wasting "research", but it does look fascinating stuff: http://ow.ly/sO2hh The evolving role of the Oxford English Dictionary I think we all know there is more to the OED than just a book. It is still a bit of an eye opener to find out how much more there really is: http://ow.ly/sPR2i Confused about due to and caused by? It can be easy to confuse these, but their meaning is very different. Due to = caused by Owing to = because of The Proof Angel is the trading name of Sarah Perkins, freelance editor and proofreader. www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
Check you have the right one by substitution the other half of the equation. These pairs of sentences mean the same: • The collapse of the house was due to the earthquake. • The collapse of the house was caused by the earthquake. • Owing to the collapsed bridge it was impossible to get there. • Because of the collapsed bridge it was impossible to get there. A or an? The basic rule is easy. For nouns beginning with a vowel use an, for the rest use a as the indefinite article. So it is an orange, but a bus. An apple grows on a tree. The complication is words pronounced as if they were a vowel sound. This issue raises its head in two basic types: • Abbreviations like MP (empee) or SAS. So we say an MP or an SAS man. • Words beginning with h. It used to be common to treat this h as a vowel. These days it works on whether the h is pronounced. So it is a horse, a hotel, but an hour. Unless you are posh & pronounce hotel the French way... Confused about off and from? My husband is, and it causes endless discussion in our house. To him, a present comes off someone. As if it had been balanced on their head & he got it off there. If something has been sent by someone, it is received from them. Things come from places like the market. If it was on a stall, you could take it off that stall, but you have bought it from the market. You borrow from people on the same logic. Confused about complement and compliment? May I complement you on your new car? The colour complements the rest of the fleet the colours are so patriotic. A compLEment makes it complete. A compLIMEnt puts you in the LIME light. www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
Lay and lie This is such a controversial topic in our house that I dare not write anything myself. Just in case. You never know. So here are some thoughts from Daily writing tips: http://ow.ly/sPS6T Confused about forwards and forewords? Well you won't be for much longer. This post will put you straight: http://ow.ly/sO4tc The history of text Here is an interesting post about the origins of "text" and how the word has changed. I love the connection with woven fabrics: http://ow.ly/sO4IB The origins of cheesy and corny An interesting bit of trivia for you: http://ow.ly/sO4T2 Caught red handed It is a reasonably common phrase, and we rarely give it a second thought. But as this post from Glossologics shows, it is surprising: • how easily we refer to something so gruesome, and • how powerful a novel can be in spreading usage. It is also fascinating to see how other languages have used a similar idea: http://ow.ly/sO54F All about the word hostage Here is a fascinating article about a word that is in the news too often – hostage: http://mashedradish.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/hostage/ www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
The name of our flag Here is a fascinating post about a very specific point. Does the name of the UK flag change according to where it is flown? http://ow.ly/sO9jC This really illustrates how much nonsense can be talked about rules if one is that way inclined. Surely the location of the flag will be clear from the context of the sentence if it is at all important. It makes me wonder how the idea came up in the first place. Are there any other flags with more than one name? An apostrophe complication One of the uses of the apostrophe is to show possession, as in Mary's doll. But there are a couple of places where that general scenario doesn't apply: • Yours, theirs, its, his, hers, & ours never need an apostrophe. • When 2 people own the same thing the apostrophe goes in the last name mentioned, as in Mary and Jane's swing. Our most popular words Dictionaries and other major reference works are updated regularly. This means that the people who compile dictionaries have to watch out to see how the language is evolving. They need to assess what changes are happening, and decide whether each change should be included in the next edition. The Oxford English Corpus is a major part of the research carried out by Oxford Dictionaries. It is a collection of written or spoken language in electronic form, giving evidence of how language is used in real situations, so lexicographers can write accurate and meaningful dictionary entries. Software is used to analyse the material to spot: • new words, • old words used in a new sense, • trends in usage, spelling, etc. www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
This enormous collection gives an accurate picture of the English language in the 21st century. It contains over 2 billion words, and it has been estimated that if laid out end to end starting from the northern tip of Scotland they would stretch past the south tip of New Zealand. So what does the research show? The top 100 words are: These words alone account for 50% of all the words used in the whole Corpus, while the top 10 account for a massive 25% of the total. There are a couple of interesting points to note here: • The majority of the words are short. • Most of them are function words, that glue the longer words together. What are the most popular verbs? Oxford Dictionaries have published an analysis of the Oxford English Corpus: a collection of written or spoken language in electronic form, giving evidence of how language is used in real situations. It is no surprise that the verbs we use most frequently express basic concepts. As with the 100 most common words, they are all short, keeping 2 syllable words out of the top 25 completely. If the list were longer, it would have included 2 syllable verbs next, as become is 26th and include is 27th. www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
The origins of the top 25 are fascinating: • 20 are Old English words, • get, seem, and want came over with the Vikings, • try and use came from Old French. So the old ones are still the best. Here are the top 25 verbs: What are the most popular nouns? Oxford Dictionaries have published an analysis of the Oxford English Corpus: a collection of written or spoken language in electronic form, giving evidence of how language is used in real situations. The nouns are an interesting group, because you can see why these are more common than their rivals. Many of them have more than one meaning. For example the Concise OED lists 18 meanings for way and 16 for part. They often also form part of common phrases. Some of the popularity of time, for example, comes from its use in adverbial phrases like on time, in time, last time, next time, this time, etc. The majority of the top 25 nouns (15) are from Old English. Most of the rest came into medieval English from Old French, and before that from Latin. What are the most popular adjectives? Oxford Dictionaries have published an analysis of the Oxford English Corpus: a collection of written or spoken language in electronic form, giving evidence of how language is used in real situations. As with the other word groups, most of the top adjectives have one syllable, and come from Old English (17/25). Only different, large, and important are from Latin. www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
Once again, words used in more than one way are higher up the list. Great is probably higher in the ranking than big because of its informal sense 'very good'. The list reflects a general optimistic tone, with happy, successful words at the top of the list, and bad scraping in at 23. One reason for this could be because we have such a large choice of synonyms available for expressing bad things. Did we expect little to be so much higher at 7 than small at 15? How language shows what matters to us This week I've been looking at the most popular words based on research by Oxford Dictionaries. The Global Language Monitor has also published a survey recently. This is their 14th annual survey, aimed at fulfilling their slogan "We Tell the World What the Web is Thinking ". To achieve that aim, they eliminate the smaller more common words to find what people are saying rather than how they are saying it. The results for 2013 are rather depressing, with both the list of favourite words and the list of phrases being dominated by gloom. Let's hope for better things in 2014! http://ow.ly/sO90h New words ending in ee Now I freely admit this is a rant. But I would quite like to know it is that over the last ten years we have acquired so many ugly words ending in ee? None of them seem to cover new situations. We have managed for centuries without them. So why have we suddenly got an outbreak of eeitis? Ten years ago people were invited to an event by being sent an invitation. At that event they were guests. Now they are sent an invite to something where they are all fellow invitees. Invitation has died and has been placed by a new noun, invite. The verb to invite (I'm going to invite) has been replaced by to send, which needs the new noun adding to it for clarification (I'm going to send an invite). Actually, that is an exaggeration. The verb hasn't died. It is still used to www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
invite speakers to take the microphone, or more often the PowerPoint pointer. Which leads me to the other common example. Conferences used to be attended by delegates or participants. Now they are attendees. In what way is that progress? An article caught my eye recently which had me completely bemused. It started talking about business processes. So far so good. Then it started to tell me how to deal with my selectees. That turns out to be people on my short list. Of course, once you have made a decision about the most appropriate selectee for the job you will want to find out who should be Pursued as an endorsee. Known to the sane as asking for a reference. Not exactly progress towards clarity, is it? Office jargon a book review I feel it is my duty to let you all know about this book. It is well motivated, as it is written by someone who has had enough of senseless jargon. It sounds as though it is well researched, and well written. Some of you may find it interesting and amusing. I'm not sure I can bring myself to read a whole book about office jargon, management speak, and other abuses of our beautiful language. I'm a fan of plain English: http://ow.ly/sOanW Is Twitter bad for the language? Or is it just a natural part of the development process? It is a debate that will run for a long time. Here are some thoughts from The Economist. http://wp.me/p3u22jzK www.theproofangel.co.uk or http://ow.ly/sNlFs © Sarah Perkins 2014
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