Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More


Warsaw Will

Member Since

December 3, 2010

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I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Latest Comments

@jayles - OK, let's deal with cacography first. Yes, literally, in Greek, it means what you say, and that seems to be the standard dictionary definition, but it also seems to have taken on a new meaning, at least in linguistics:

"Cacography is deliberate comic misspelling, a type of humour similar to malapropism ... A common usage of cacography is to caricature illiterate speakers." Wikipedia.

Languages are creative like that, giving new meanings to adopted words, and so HS was perfectly correct.

You ask HS why he is resorting to Greek. But I could also ask why these (for me, at least) weird Anglish-inspired words have been noticeably creeping back into your own comments recently ("spider-dread" - come on, get real!). For me they have even less to do with natural English than Greek loan words, and I very much doubt that "normal people" have much time for them either.

English is a glorious mix - and I relish it. I have no objection to keeping things simple, but personally I hate this idea of language purism as much as I hate pedantry. Leave the language alone, it's just fine as it is!

I wouldn't have mentioned this if you hadn't brought the subject up :). And as for Stephen Fry, he has made one of the best commentaries on English I've ever seen:

mixing semicolon and em dash

  • November 20, 2015, 7:43am

Not an answer, but a comment on the use of dashes in British English. As far as I know BrE doesn't talk much about em-dashes, for example you won't often see -- (substituting for an em-dash) from British contributors to forums etc. We simply use a dash, in writing the same length as a en-dash, (but on a computer just using a single hyphen), and we put spaces either side - like that, for example. And they don't seem to be used nearly as much as in American English.

From one website on British grammar:

'The double dash encloses supplementary information in the same way as round brackets –
"Alaska – purchased from Russia in 1867 and granted statehood in 1959 – comprises some 586,000 square miles and 624,000 people."
But brackets are preferred in formal scripts.'

This is from the Chicago Manual of Style Online:

"note that it is also the common British practice to use an en dash with a word space on either side where American publishers would use an em dash closed up to the surrounding words"

But I've noticed that the Economist has recently started using M-dashes without gaps. In the online version they are obviously M-dashes, and there's no real problem, but in the print edition they don't seem to be as wide. This is really confusing my students (and me, to be honest), who think they are hyphens, reading the two separate words as one hyphenated word. It turns out that Polish, like British English always uses gaps. I'm beginning to wonder about other European languages. WW will have to investigate!

“Defeat to”

  • November 10, 2015, 7:47am

Most of what Ngram is picking up from 200 years ago are false positives, like "ascribes / likens / attributes / owes his defeat to", or you find that defeat is followed by a comma or full stop. I thought I'd found something with this, from 1790:

"Conon, who commanded the Athenian forces, retires after his defeat to Evagoras, king of Cyprus."

But it turns out that Conon in fact took refuge with Evagoras. And then there was this, from 1709:

"Michael, a Natural Son of John, the King's Unkle, revoking in Asia, fled after his Defeat to the Sultan"

But it was followed by - ", who supply 'd him with Troops to invade the Empire," so it seems he fled to the Sultan.

So I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that "defeat to" was used this way two hundred years ago.

Fast forwarding to the 1980s and 1990s, though, we can find a couple of real examples at the British National Corpus, for example:

"Scotland's last hopes of pipping Canada for a quarter-final place ended with the 3-0 defeat to Sweden." (Independent - 1989)

"But Sunday's win should erase those ghosts, as well as make up for last year's defeat to France in the final in Lyon." (Today - 1992)

Although to be honest most of the other 34 instances of "defeat to" are false positives.

And what of HS's example? Well results are somewhat mixed: (Google p1 counts):

"after defeat to Liverpool" - 13,500
"after defeat by Liverpool" - 4,210
"Chelsea's defeat by Liverpool" - 23 300
"Chelsea's defeat to Liverpool" - 14,900

I'm afraid HS's exact quote only appears on this page, but we can find similar quotes with both "by" and "to":

"RAMIRES has revealed what Jose Mourinho said to Chelsea's stars after defeat to Liverpool - nothing!" (The Express)

"Chelsea Jose Mourinho quotes in full after defeat by Liverpool." (SkySports)

And what Ngram does show is that there has been a slight increase in "defeat to", combined with a drop in "defeat by" since around 2000, which might suggest something.

It then occurred to me to try "defeat to Australia", something that has no doubt been talked about since the nineteenth century. There are no examples in Google Books for the nineteenth century (3 for "by"). In fact there is nothing until 1977; the 70s and 80s have only one example each, and there still only four for the 90s. (For "by" - 1900-1949 - 5, 1950-1999 - 10). So twentieth century 15x "by", 6x "to".

This then is my candidate for first published use of "defeat to Australia":

"The Australian Board too may not like it if the Test record showed that in the 1977-78 series India handed out a crushing 4-0 or 5-0 defeat to Australia! " (Link 1977)

The picture changes with the first decade of this century, with 23 examples (13 for "by").

So, yes it looks as though the increase in use is fairly recent, but has it taken over? I'm not so sure.

On a different subject, I really miss having easy access to latest comments. It's possible to find them through the RSS link, but it doesn't seem that easy to log in.

Backward vs. Backwards?

  • October 31, 2015, 9:40am

@Deanne - Merriam-Webster is of course an American dictionary, and one of my favourites. But before saying what applies to Great Britain, perhaps a look in a British dictionary might be a good idea:

And if you read Merriam-Webster more carefully you'll see: "toward - also towards"; "Variant of backward: backwards". And it even has an entry for forwards" with this example "for every step that her campaign takes forwards, it seems to take two backwards"

my same school

  • October 20, 2015, 7:16am

Rather not. Better is "she is in the same school as me"

From Practical English Usage (Swan):
'We normally use the before same ... before a noun we use "the same as":

"You've got the same idea as me, (NOT ... my same idea)"
"Her hair's the same colour as her mother's" '

“feedback” and “check in”

  • October 17, 2015, 12:20pm

The first question I might be interested in is why virtually no words survived from the Brythonic Celtic. The Normans weren't the only people to invade England, and while Old English survived that particular trauma, the Celtic language didn't survive the earlier Anglo-Saxon one (at least not in most of England), and nobody really seems to know why.

The loss of inflections seems to have been partly due to several germanic languages and dialects living sided by side (not only Anglo-Saxon, but also Scandinavian). It is thought that these languages were similar enough to allow communication, but differed in inflexions, etc, so they just dropped away naturally.

"Norse influence may also have contributed to an important grammatical change, which mainly occurred in English between the 11th and 14th centuries, and which marked the transition to Middle English (ME) (conventionally dated c.1100-1500). OE had indicated many grammatical categories and relationships by attaching inflections (endings) to word roots, in a similar way to Latin or German."

Being largely ignored by the Norman upper crust, Old English probably went on its own quiet way. And remember that many from the 'middle sorts' learnt French so that they could sell stuff to the 'big house', and that the mix could as well come from them, as from the offspring of the Norman invaders.

It appears to be with the loss of French territories under John Lackland (1204, I think),that the Norman nobility started looking more to England and to the English language in the 13th and 14th centuries (parliamentary papers were in English from about the middle of the 14th century). And the consensus seems to be that the greatest influx of French words took place after this change. This was not, however, Norman French, but Paris French, as Paris was seen at the time as the cultural capital of Europe.

And Frensh she spak ful faire and fetisly,
After the scole of Stratford atte Bowe,
For Frensh of Paris was to hir unknowe.
At mete wel y-taught was she with-alle;

Canturbury Tales, the Prologue.

It is perhaps ironic that this French influx came at the very time when English was in the ascendancy, eclipsing French at court and in the manor houses of England. And at this time many educated people in England were trilingual. You could actually look on this transitional period as a great victory for English. Yes, it absorbed many Latin words, but English took over the legal functions Latin much earlier than in some other European countries. And yes it took in a lot of French words, but it completely replaced French in courtly and baronial circles.

"There was no need for all that borrowing". Well evidently people at the time thought there was. And when it comes to stool and chair, we have both, but each with a specific meaning, and that's the case with a lot of borrowings; they didn't totally replace older words, but existed alongside them, each taking a more specific meanning. That's what I call enrichment. English today is what it is precisely because of its history, and I don't see any need to regret anything about its develpoment. Some of the behaviour of our forbears maybe, but not the language. I don't want to bring up the Anglish wars again, but I for one rejoice in English's mongrel pedigree. And for a mongrel, it hasn't half done well for itself.

“feedback” and “check in”

  • October 15, 2015, 8:42am

@jayles - Gaelic in the Lowlands.

It is likely that English (of the Northumbrian variety) was spoken in the eastern Lowlands before the arrival of Gaelic from Argyll (the south-western part of the Highlands), and that in the western Lowlands, Cumbric, a Brythonic Celtic languag, was spoken by Celts who had moved north into Galloway, and as far north as Glasgow, at the time of the Anglo-Saxon settlements in Cumbria. Gaelic was certainly spoken in parts of the western Lowlands, and became spoken more widely with the merger of the Gaelic Kingdom of Alba with the Kingdom of the Picts, centred in the north and west (where Gaelic slowly replaced Pictish), but:

"In south-eastern Scotland, there is no evidence that Gaelic was ever widely spoken. The area shifted from Cumbric to Old English during its long incorporation into the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria. After the Lothians were conquered by Malcolm II at the Battle of Carham in 1018, elites spoke Gaelic and continued to do so down to c. 1200. However, commoners retained Old English" -

And under Malcom III, the move to English as the language of the Scottish court began. The reign of Gaelic as the lingua Scotia was a very brief one. If English surplanted anything in the Eastern lowlands, it is more likely to have been Pictish than Gaelic.

Yes, there's occasional ambiguity, but that happens in language: "I met a funny man man the other day." "Funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?"In any case, it's usually used in a spoken context and easily resolved - "Do you mean this coming Wednesday or the one after?"

“feedback” and “check in”

  • October 13, 2015, 9:54am

I'm a big fan of George Orwell, but I don't take his strictures too seriusly. In the essay 'Politics and the English Language' he castigates the use of the passive, a form he himself used more than most.

One of the great strengths of English over the centuries has been 'conversion' - the ability to form a word in one word class from a word in another. OK, verbing, or verbification doesn't involve any change, but it's being going on for centuries - a few examples from Wikipedia - stop, drink, cup, lure, mutter - and these days we have text, Google etc.

Yes, there are some pretty dire examples around, like dialogue, transition, workshop, but showcase is fine by me. But I think everything should be taken on its own merits, rather than making blanket rules such as that the passive is bad, turning nouns into verbs (and vice-versa) is bad, use of adverbs is bad, etc.

@HS - Oh, grump away, we need some decent questions to get our teeth into. An I'm out of the country, I'm not sure of the situation in the UK.

@jayles - Yes, I'm all to well aware of that from my blog stats, etc, but how do they say them? Perhaps an American reader could help us here. Do people in the States say June the sixth or June sixth or June six?


When “one of” many things is itself plural November 27, 2011
You’ve got another think/thing coming September 29, 2012
Fit as a butcher’s dog May 22, 2013
“reach out” May 25, 2013
Tell About October 18, 2013
tonne vs ton January 25, 2014
apostrophe with expressions of distance or time February 2, 2014
Natural as an adverb April 13, 2014
fewer / less May 3, 2014
Opposition to “pretty” March 7, 2015