Yet more howlers

A few more choice examples of conspicuous illiteracy, as a pendant to the last collection:

Sir Roy Mcnulty, acting chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority, … [i]n an interview with the Guardian to mark the project's first year yesterday, … insisted it had been "fast out of the blocks" and hit all the main milestones.   Guardian, 2 Apr 07

[I treasure the image of an athlete small enough to get inside his starting-blocks, and then losing the race through being slowed down by constantly hitting milestones.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been strained since the border conflict that ended in 2000. … As part of a fierce propaganda war, both countries routinely accuse the other of trying to spread instability.    Guardian, 5 March 07 

[I wonder which this 'other', third country is that both Ethiopia and Eritrea routinely accuse?  Somalia?]

Very early on, I had to understand something I didn't before: that Afrikaaners are Africans.  I didn't get that.    (Guardian, Film and Music, 16 March 07, Ed Pilkington quoting the actor Tim Robbins)

[The language and the people who speak it getting mixed up once again.]

He [Barack Obama]'s black alright, but [for some Americans] simply not 'black enough'. Gary Younge, Guardian, 1 March 07

[Comment is superfluous.  Not necessarily G Younge's fault: perhaps he dictated it to some illiterate intern on job experience at the newspaper.  But the subeditors and proof-readers have no excuse.]

One tree in particular, the Faidherbia albida, known locally as the gao tree, is particularly essential.    New York Times section, Observer, 18 February 2007

[Perhaps it's even more perfect than other trees, too, and more unique?  Nice to see the mighty New York Times nodding, though.]

So far, the first minister, Jack McConnell, has failed. Unless he can start sounding like he wants power and fears the SNP for something more fundamental than the possibility of being beaten by it … the SNP will stay on course to come first.    Guardian editorial on the Scottish elections, 3 April 07

[This is another losing battle, I know, but one still worth fighting to the last drop of ink (or the last byte)]

And a tailpiece which isn't a linguistic howler, just a wonderful example of intellectual ingenuity in the vain hope of extracting the speaker from a tricky situation:

The public consultation… has flouted the Cabinet Office code by not involving campaigners before publishing proposals and asking closed questions with no option for the unit to remain open. Challenged on this, the [Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Trust]'s corporate secretary, Terry Alty, said: "We followed the code. We haven't specifically complied with it."   Report by Sarah Hall, Guardian, 11 April 07

[A formula that might come in handy when you're booked for speeding?]

As usual, the Guardian figures heavily,  because (a) I read it regularly (as well as wearing sandals and a beard) and (b) since it's generally better written than its competitors, its lapses cause more of a jolt.  Anyway, some of the howlers are committed in quotation marks and can't be blamed on the dear old Guinarda.

Contributions of other jewels most welcome.  Excuses for items in this batch will be sceptically entertained — but civilly, in accordance with the new bloggers' code.


2 Responses

  1. Tim Weakley says:

    Brian, what was the context of the quotation about Faidherbia albida?  I believe botanists sometimes refer to trees producing so-called essential oils as 'essential'.

    'Fast out of the blocks'  seems to be a phrase popular with sports journalists, meaning 'fast out of the-section-of-the-track-where-the-starting-blocks-are'; fast off the blocks, in fact.  I suppose interviewers are trained to refrain from saying things like "Wouldn't hitting the milestones slow one down?"   Perhaps they just don't notice.

    The American "like" for "as if" seems to be with us for good.  Better, though, than the U.S. teenage interjection "like" meaning "um, er, yaknow, sort of"; another regrettable import.

    Brian writes:  I did write a reply to these queries and other points (for which thank you) but it seems to have disappeared into a black hole.  The URL of the NY Times article quoted is given in my post, above, but you have to pay around $5 to read it.  In any case, whatever the botanists' usage, I don't think anything can be more or less 'essential':  like being pregnant, it is or it isn't.  Fast off the blocks would have been all right, despite the cliché:  saying 'fast out of the blocks' just shows that the cliché is dead and that the phrase is being used without any awareness of it being a metaphor at all.  A kindly and literate interviewer would have changed 'milestones' to something else, such as 'targets' — another case of a totally defunct metaphor (even more dead than the last, except that like essential, you can't be more or less dead, except in certain religions).  I'm afraid 'like' instead of 'as if'  ('it looks like it's going to snow,' etc) is no longer an Americanism, being now too common a mistake in Britain too — and if it makes literate people flinch, as it should and does, it's a mistake, although it may become acceptable in time.  Even worse than 'like' as an equivalent to 'um' is 'I'm like' meaning 'I said', increasingly often heard.  (Sometimes it seems to mean 'I was thinking'.)  Weird, ugly and quite unnecessary.

  2. Tim Weakley says:

    I completely share your dislike of "I’m like" for "I thought or said".  It quite spoiled my day when my local paper in the States quoted a schoolteacher as saying "He goes ..blah blah..and I’m like.. blah blah" – a schoolteacher, who you would have expected to have some commitment to English as a means of conveying ideas and information precisely and unambiguously.  He goes?  He muttered, he snarled, he insinuated, he had the gall to insist, he was so full of ego as to suggest?  I’m like?  I snapped back, I thought to myself, I courteously retorted, I was speechless with surprise?  This practice must now cease.

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