In praise of pedants, the true defenders of clear language

Share this article
Have your say

From: Mr SB Oliver, Churchill Grove, Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire.

FATHER McNicholas’s letter about bad spelling and grammar (Yorkshire Post, November 27) received three swift replies endorsing his comments on November 29.

I, too, have similar views on poor pronunciation by presenters and reporters on TV and radio. I hear “particularly” as “patickly” and “temporary” as “tempry” or “tempory”.

The BBC has a pronunciation department and, in recent correspondence, they advised me that the policy of this department is not to advise staff on how to pronounce English words correctly... but to only advise when people ask how to pronounce words, usually foreign names and places. Unbelievable!

In other words, staff can speak as they prefer, with all their imperfections and mistakes, so English isn’t a priority but foreign words are. The BBC recently closed down about five of its foreign language departments yet correct English is almost ignored.

Estuary English gives us “cheese-day is when my safer comes” translates to “Tuesday is when my sofa comes”.

I can add two other common errors of singular/plural verb usage which are “One in ten people has” (not have) etc. Also “None of the survivors was (not were) injured” – the word “none” meaning not one.

I would, however, take issue with Fr McNicholas over the use of plural verbs with what he calls singular subjects (collective nouns). It is acceptable to use either singular or plural depending on the meaning. The difference lies in how you view the subject. If it is regarded as a single unit, then singular is more likely, but if it is regarded as a group of individuals, then the plural is more likely to be used eg “The committee is united on this” but “The committee have been fighting amongst themselves”.

However, I agree that the rules of English grammar, spelling and punctuation are slowly getting diluted, deformed and almost discarded by today’s society.

It is quite wrong to shout “pedantry” at those of us that wish for accuracy with this subject. A pedant is a person who is concerned with minor detail or who displays technical knowledge. Most of us should welcome it if our children/grand-children were being taught English or maths by a pedantic teacher and how many of us would much prefer to have a pedantic solicitor to represent us in legal matters?

From: Elisabeth Baker, Broomhill Crescent, Leeds.

MAY I add my contribution to the recent correspondence on the English language and its current mangling? For some time I have wondered what has happened to the verb to persuade.

Whenever I hear on the radio or read in the press that someone is persuaded to do something, the word convince is used instead. Correctly, convince should not be followed by another verb, and to say “I convinced her to do something” really grates! The correct wording would be “I persuaded her...” Convince in most cases should be followed by “that” eg “You have persuaded me and I am convinced that you are correct...”

While on the subject of “that”, what has happened to this conjunction? Its absence frequently creates confusion, particularly with the written word. It is often necessary to read to the end of a sentence to work out what is the subject and what is the object of any reported speech. Language is about communication, but so many developments really hinder this.

I have long been troubled by the invention of new active verbs from nouns or passive verbs and the speed at which these become common usage. The latest is the use of “launch”. Only a year ago, one would have heard of a project being launched. Today, the project would be described as “launching”.

I know that even my hero, Dr Johnson, wrote that thus the language develops, and I concede that much of what I say or write would probably have been considered incorrect some time ago. Nevertheless, my pedantry will remain with me and I shall continue to be annoyed by what are, to me, infelicities.

Finally, does nobody these days understand that noon is when the sun is at its meridian, and that to describe 12 o’clock as either am or pm (ante [before] meridian or post [after] meridian) is nonsense?

Noon and midnight are much more accurate. I feel like starting a campaign for their preservation...

From: Michael J Robinson, Berry Brow, Huddersfield.

IN his letter (Yorkshire Post, November 27), Father McNicholas refers to a number of annoyances.

He starts with what Henry Fowler (1858-1933) referred 
to as “collectives” – “nouns singular in form used as plurals” – as in Government, team, 
council etc.

Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage (my edition is the 1974 reprint) uses “flock” as its example and explains that with such collectives, both the singular and the plural verbs are correctly used.

What is not correct is the commonly misused plural with “none”, as in “none have” etc. Nil cannot be plural.

Fr McNicholas adds the poor pronunciation of our language is perpetrated in what we know as Estuary English, but how about the way that BBC presenters and correspondents say “t” rather than “to”? The price of pedantry is eternal vigilance.

From: Terry Duncan, Greame Road, Bridlington.

AN international report reveals that the English education system is at its lowest level since 2009. Can Westminster’s Education Secretary Michael Gove answer that one?