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He was sat

February 8, 2012

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Oh no! Looking back I learn that in August I said I would hold my counsel on the subject of the subjunctive. And now I've gone and raved on about it for a while. If only I were to have ...

retired teacher February 27, 2014, 3:13pm

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You quote me:

If I was the Prime Minister, I would change the law." This to me suggests that I am surprised and doubtful to hear that I was sometime in the past the Prime Minister, find it hard perhaps to believe that such an thing could have been allowed, and if it is true, would want someone to change the law, maybe to prevent such a calamity in the future.
The logic doesn’t stand. You are linking the assumption of being the Prime Minister in the past to the change of law which would be made to happen in the future. Who would the speaker be talking to? It’s hard and complicated to find such a context that would fit in here.

No it isn't. It is easy and simple: I am informed (by anyone at all) that this national misfortune has occurred, and I as the speaker am declaring that it should not have been allowed (if indeed it was - the indicative mood of the verb "was" rather than "were" means it is treated by me as an open condition, which is to say that I accept it is possible that I was prime minister at one time, but I can't remember). If I wished to indicate disbelief in such a preposterous assertion I would use a closed conditional clause, denoted by the subjunctive form of the verb: "were".

If I am ... means perhaps I am (present tense, open, indicative, conditional clause)
If I was ... means perhaps I was (past tense, open, indicative, conditional clause)
If I do ... means perhaps I shall do (future, open, indicative...
If I were ... means I am not (present, closed, subjunctive ...)
If I were to have been ... means I was not (past, closed, subjunctive ...)
If I were to do ... means I shall not do(future, closed, subjunctive ...)

Piece of cake, really. Twelve year old children learning Latin get a couple of lessons to master all this and cope perfectly well, including the Latin forms of the verbs. The logic stands then that I could assert to the world at large that if indeed I was PM, which I accept as a possibility, then I would wish whoever can do so to get the law changed.
Saying "I would change the law" when I have not the power to do so means that I am declaring that I wish someone would change the law, and that I would counsel, and indeed advocate this course of action. It does not suggest that I must necessarily play a part in this legislative tinkering, merely that I recommend it.

Where was I? What are we talking about again?

retired teacher February 27, 2014, 3:01pm

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Oh dear, all this talk of 'bellicose' and 'unacceptable' and 'vulgar'. 'Inexcusable' and apologies all over the place. Not a clue as to what need there is for apologies in the preceding debate about the correctness of saying "This is she".
Is this something to do with this new thing they teach children about not being 'judgmental'? Can't make head nor tail of it myself. Makes no sense at all. I believe 'political correctness' comes into it somewhere, an American thing now but originating as one of Lenin's little jokes. (Bad news to study the law and end up becoming a judge, only not to be allowed to be judgmental!)
Calm down, children, and have another glass of wine, I say! Come back, Jasper, and post away, come on, do.

retired teacher February 24, 2014, 2:57pm

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But isn't it just more humourful, more fun indeed, to call these devices mice? Is that indeed not why we do it, regardless of the stern, possibly even puritanical views of the dictionary makers?

retired teacher February 10, 2014, 12:30pm

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Jeff, of course you are right. It goes without saying. "The baker kneads the dough - he kned it the same way yesterday", "we dread paying the charge he'll put on it, but I suppose our forebears dred the price they were asked, too"," it's my turn to weed the flowerbed because you wed it last week" all very poor, really. pled is no better.

I'd blame the Americans; we usually do. the Scots are very sloppy about this too, although we usually do much better than the English in linguistic matters, because it is not our native tongue.

retired teacher January 7, 2014, 11:44am

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So now we don't have spelling chaos?

Who will make the dictionaries, if no one is to be at the cutting edge? Are they to be descriptive (Webster's) or prescriptive? Who will prescribe if no one is to use logic?

retired teacher November 16, 2013, 7:13pm

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Oh please! Must we check what others think before committing ourselves? If we fancy that we are at the cutting edge the idea, surely, is to jump in and suggest what we think is sound. Whatever prompts us to debate what the 'authorities' cite as the dernier cri, when their work does ours for us?

Now, it seems to me that the reason for check in as a verb, necessarily two words definitely with no hyphen is that otherwise you cannot have it in other tenses, most obviously the perfect tense: I check-inned is all to hell, while checked in will brook no hyphens, therefore present tense check in must be separate words.

I babysat because I was asked to babysit is fine.

If the verb component comes after, one word will do if that is what is popular, because -sit -sat raises no problems. Verb first, we need two words: I feedback, I fedback - ugh! I fed back, therefore I feed back - it still to me suggests the causes of borborigmus, and it is a term I abhor, probably for psychological reasons, but I can just about thole it if it two words, to use a Scots term.

Hairy Scot: I showed case?? Now, I cannae thole that! I am not fussed about the OED and H L Mencken Amer - life is too short to consult authorities and yet still to contribute to this argument.

retired teacher November 15, 2013, 5:47pm

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Sky news reports today: " the GOCE (Gravity Field and Steady-State Ocean Circulation Explorer) satellite will break apart and much of it will burn-up in the atmosphere, scientists say. ". Then it says "Most of this burns up when it re-enters in the atmosphere due to aerothermal heating " quoting Professor Heiner Klinkrad from the ESA. No hyphen this time. "Re-enters in the atmosphere?" Oh dear, on so many levels. And due to?? My old English teacher taught us to use due to (for money) and "owing to" for causal effect. 'There is £20 due to me when you get round to paying me' and (here) 'burns up ... owing to aerothermal heating'. The fact that my spellcheck doesn't like aerothermal can pass for now. Astonishingly, it is happy with aero-thermal.
Sky news tends to be riddled with poorly written pieces not subjected to proof-reading. Is proof-reading supposed to be with a hyphen? OMG, as they say these days.

retired teacher November 9, 2013, 5:45am

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Thanks for all that, Warsaw Will. Jargon, jargon, all jargon to me. The telling part is that your sharp insight in deciphering all the gobbledegook still has you hesitating to declare that it makes sense even to you: your piece is full of reservations: 'I think', 'probably' and 'in my opinion' and clearly you have taken far more trouble to make sense of it than I did. No apologies from me. I really don't know what Dimbleby was on about, in that case, but I know this much: he didn't like it, whatever it was!
Meanings of words like 'commissioning' being 'pretty obvious' to the cognoscenti despite an object to follow, all very well for the said cognoscenti but a mystery to those of us in the wide world. I must be one of the few people in the land who do not work for the BBC then, and mighty glad about it I am, despite the massive salaries and redundancies they pay, if this is how they speak. Hats off to you for digging into their verbal swill in this manner and suggesting what it might all mean; for me, I really wouldn't bother. Speak the language of outreach? Nah, but I'll have another beer.

retired teacher November 6, 2013, 6:31pm

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Hey, Niall, what about all those teachers at the best schools in England, by which I mean the ones who prove it by getting their pupils into the best universities in the land as a sample of the quality of their teaching. There is no dispute about it in England. Private schools and free schools are staffed by teachers who are free, and their results prove that it works very well indeed.
Not all students wish to pursue such a path, understandably, and not all are indeed suited to it, but when year after year the best exam results are scored by a succession of young people who have been taught by people who have the freedom to teach as suits them, it is a no-brainer to me what to make of that. How do they do it? They know their subject, that is important, they communicate with their students in ways which no one can teach - you have it or you don't - they are the best and need no 'training'? Their minds are free to soar.
They used to say that those who do do, those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach teach the teachers, and they had a point, really.
Obviously the teacher knows his subject, but that is not included in the 'training'. Training does nothing for a teacher, and all the really good teachers I have known agree, including the few who were subjected to 'training', which they endured but tried to be unaffected by it. Not one of the teachers at my old school had done any. I am sure it is quite different if you are teaching toddlers, or indeed people who are younger than about 9, I grant you, where methods to impart what is required may indeed need to be taught to the teachers.
I think your analogy with the gynaecologist would be apt if he were to be taught how to talk to the patients, how to treat the nurses, and how to cope with the bureaucracy in his hospital. Or if he foregoes such training he might be sharp enough to work out all that on the hoof, really, once he has studied his medicine.

retired teacher November 6, 2013, 3:00pm

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Okay, how about: "Observation of the need for perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation ... was required ..."
After all, the point about using ellipsis is that the words left out but understood are indeed left out, and those who wish to put them in must choose which ones to put in. (Is that a bit like Donald Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns ..? )
And don't try to tell me that the observation in question means watching others do it! It means of course doing it yourself, like observing the law.
I sense the ghost of Cathyem's teacher with that ruler for the knuckles lurking nearby, so I'm going out now.

retired teacher November 6, 2013, 6:39am

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I am reminded of the elocution lesson in Some like it Hot, set in Hollywood when the 'talkies' came, and the established silent screen star whose name I forget turned out to speak poorly, saying 'I can't' to rhyme with 'ant' and being coached to say it with the long 'au', cahnt. Now why would they make the poor woman do this, if not for a good reason, hey? Well, the studio wanted the public to adore her, so she would have to speak properly, they reckoned. I rest my case. And I ain't American.

retired teacher November 6, 2013, 5:50am

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Perhaps "Perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax was required at all times" is not ungrammatical, your honour, if it can be regarded as an example of ellipsis, with the subject being "Attention to": 'Attention to perfect grammar, spelling, punctuation and syntax was required at all times.' So the singular 'attention' is the subject of the consequently singular verb 'was'. Indeed, attention to/adherence to/respect for are but a sample of the cloud of ideas 'understood' without being stated, thus ellipsis.The subject, being understood, was omitted in the interests of brevity and concision, unlike this argument. That is why, subliminally, 'was' in place of 'were' did its job in this statement rather better than 'were' would have done. I rest my case, your honour.

retired teacher November 5, 2013, 6:12am

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Craig, you have hit the nail on the head. The acceptance of the incorrect spelling with one accent, which is neither French nor English, is American. The joke is, of course, that it does not feature in the actual document which it describes, as it serves no purpose, does it? Is it the title? I have never made one, nor seen one.

retired teacher November 5, 2013, 5:58am

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Warsaw Will poses the question: ''Disgusted, of Tunbridge Wells". If he and his wife had signed jointly, would they have been "The Disgusteds"? I don't think they would ever have signed jointly for they would not be on speaking terms, being of a sour disposition, and would not collaborate on anything, let alone a letter.
But if they were to do so, they would still be 'disgusted' just as the multiple people involved in the term 'the great unwashed' are not the great 'unwasheds'. As folk have been saying, above, for some years, it's an adjective, not susceptible to pluralising.

retired teacher November 5, 2013, 5:51am

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Good to hear from you on this, fellow Scotsman. The four linguistic horrors you introduce are - well, you've put your finger on it: designed to irritate.

retired teacher November 5, 2013, 5:30am

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What on earth is wrong with calling them commissioning processes? you ask, and I said just now that it reeks of management-speak. This is because, I have worked out, it lacks the word which says what the commissioning is of: programmes. It needs to be 'programme-commissioning processes' ( 'processes' means, I must suppose, procedures. So many malapropisms to decipher with these days!). The hyphen links the participle 'commissioning' with its object: 'programme'. Now the burble-speak is rendered instantly intelligible. And elegant, I judge. I am sure Mr Dimbleby would be proud of me; perhaps even more so of "procedures for commissioning programmes". So that is what on earth was wrong with calling them commissioning processes, I suppose.
I was horrified to hear that a new horror manifested itself today in the House of Commons, the lower house of our British parliament, by no less august a person than the Home Secretary, Theresa May. There is a procedure for letting out, under surveillance of some kind, bad people who were formerly incarcerated, and it is known by some initials which I did not grasp, but she turned them into a made up word which sounded like 'tinkety-tonkies' or something like that. Acronyms make a word, this was not a word so it isn't an acronym. Anyway, she informed the house, a fellow who was under a tinkety-tonky order went into one end of a place and did a runner out of the other end attired in a burka and has disappeared. Vanished into the ether. Gone. Tinkety-tonky didn't help, then. All that is at it may be, but the real worry is, why did she speak to us in code, talking of tinkety-tonkies?
I'll tell you why: it is because management-speak loves acronyms and talking in initials. I don't know why, and I wonder if they do. I endured someone for a bit who at what seemed endless meetings would prate sometimes of something called 'enkities'. This was like tinkety-tonkies: you wondered idly what it might mean, but knew it didn't really matter in the great scheme of things so let it pass. It turned out in the end it meant NQTs but I never could remember what the hell that stood for. It just sounded awfully managerial, so pleasing to those who bandied the term, and those who endured it ignored it, happy in the knowledge that it didn't matter much. "Enkities, you say, boss, jolly good, splendid, carry on!" if allowed to speak, and bothered to do so.
But abbreviations and acronyms to be used in the House of Commons? I have not heard this before in that place, and hope not to again. But I shall tune in as always, alert to the possibility.

(I understand that in the military they communicate in these terms all the time: roads are called *MSRs, for example, and there is a vocabulary list at the beginning of "Bravo Two Zero" about the first Gulf war explaining all these bizarre terms which aid communication.
*Main supply route. Saves time: four letters where 'roads' needs five, you see.)

retired teacher November 4, 2013, 8:17pm

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Warsaw Will,
not a lot, really, I suppose. It sounds very inelegant, and reeks of management speak.
'Assertionism' isn't in my dictionary, by the way, I am afraid; despite all the professionalism and training undertaken by its team of lexicological trained compilers they didn't let it in, and I laud them for their omission.

retired teacher November 4, 2013, 6:39pm

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Warsaw Will, I totally agree with you. I must look up assertionism in the dictionary to see if it is there. Now, 'professional', ' team', 'professional' again and 'training', all terms you bandy, alert me to the danger of kowtowing to authority, and my upbringing as a lawyer taught me to question and test all that sort of thing. Question assertions, and dig deeper. Laws are rules, and we look for ways around these rules, dig into the rules, and above all argue with those who make and interpret them. Finally we might agree with them, and pretend we did so all along. Meanwhile if you practise the law on a professional level you do all that and charge a fat fee too. There is an interesting debate going on in England just now about teachers and the need for teachers to have 'training' - many argue that it is important that teachers do not have any such thing, for what they need to be good teachers cannot be taught, and that which they would be taught in the course of such 'training' does not make for good teachers. The government includes a party whose leader attended Westminster School, one of the best in the land, where none of the teachers had been subjected to 'training', yet he is the one who argues that the new 'free' schools' teachers should have this training. The debate rages and it is all quite a laugh. It is suggested that the pro-training lobbyists want rules, and structures to obtain in these establishments and their motive is to win control, and power. I have seen it in action: 'managers' who spend their time drawing up diagrams which show who rules over whom, and salary structures, and who is in charge of what, and they are excited by the idea of overseeing the 'career development' of others. All to do with having and wielding control and power. For me, I have just always thought they are daft, and dull, and pedestrian, and have no place in the world of education.
Now, experience. That is the one we must respect. English? Literature, that is where we must look. Do terms like 'feedback' and 'human resources', other than in connection with organ donation, feature in any form of literature you know? Does Jeeves feedback to Wooster, or indeed give him feedback? That is the place to look for the evidence, Warsaw Will, not in the dictionaries. The dictionaries are no two alike, after all, and the people who put them together are human just like the rest of us.
The things you say about hyphens are very interesting. I used to point out to my pupils the thing about how 'omnibus' became 'bus and finally bus, according to the times in which they were mentioned in the literature. No doubt hyphens and their usage operate the same way. My ravings about check in and check-in are inspired by their being examples of sheer carelessness and lack of proofreading, which is endemic these days. A fellow wrote a letter to the Telegraph the other day moaning that he was "in hoc" to the government to the sum of so much, or some such thing, and the proof-reader didn't bother to put in the customary (sic). So it is splendid that you are so fussed about proofreading and proof-reading and while both these pass muster with my computer's spellcheck (so does 'spellcheck') 'proofreader' doesn't and 'proof reader' does and so does 'proof-reader'. The message is: don't trust the authorities! They are probably lefties and want to control you, because they like power! Work things out for yourself!
Did you see the splendid episode of the comedy 'Frasier' where he instructs his son, who is in the final of a spelling bee, popular in the USA, to "get out there and spell his ass off", with reference to the opponent.
Hey! I wrote all that without looking up anything! Does that make me an assertionist? (Computer spellcheck does not allow this word. I'll look in a dictionary later.)

retired teacher November 4, 2013, 2:54pm

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If you can hyphenate 'proofread', why not 'check in'? you ask. I say you can read the proof of something, but you do not in your check, rather you check yourself (and your bags, if any,) in. Quite different. Read is the verb bit of proofread, or proof-read, and check is the verb part of check in. Check-in is a noun, I say, and proofread or proof-read is a verb, A noun, and then a verb, both similarly hyphenated, but for different reasons. I agree, proofread as a single word looks fine.

You, WW, go rushing to dictionaries and external 'authorities' to back your arguments. I don't, really, I just make them up as I go along, using my powers of reasoning and my observation of evidence, so that I can still look eventually at a dictionary and consider its suggestions in a critical rather than just accepting way. It's the way I was brought up, you know.

retired teacher November 3, 2013, 5:56pm

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