Dangling modifiers by Angela Caldin

Most people know a modifier when they see one. A modifier is a word, phrase, or clause that clarifies or describes another word, phrase, or clause. But do they know a dangling modifier when they see one? I like the term dangling modifier because it is so evocative and so unlike any other grammatical term. I imagine someone hanging off a cliff or escaping by clinging on to a window sill. With a dangling modifier, the thing it is meant to modify isn’t even in the sentence, so it seems to modify… Read More

The abstruse apostrophe by Angela Caldin

I’ve been pondering this week on apostrophes. What a sad life she must lead, I hear you sigh. But actually this particular case is quite interesting. It concerns the question of whether there should be an apostrophe after a plural adjectival or attributive noun. Specifically, I was writing up the notes of our recent residents meeting and wondering if there should be an apostrophe after residents or not. I looked it up and it seems that in this case, either would be acceptable: Residents’ meeting – the word residents’ is a possessor. The phrase could be rewritten… Read More

Common expressions often misspelt by Angela Caldin

It’s not baited breath; it’s bated breath. It’s not that your breath has some kind of bait attached to it; the idea is that your breath is held or restrained. Bated is a shortened version of abated which means to lessen. It’s not free reign; it’s free rein. This is a straightforward misinterpretation and an understandable mistake. We have a notion of reigning kings and queens doing as they please, that is, having free reign. But the rein in this expression is the strap used by a rider to control a horse…. Read More

Words sometimes confused – climatic and climactic by Angela Caldin

One letter makes a big difference Climatic is an adjective which means relating to climate and climate refers to the average atmospheric conditions that prevail in a given region making it generally cold and wet or hot and dry, for example. There is still some scepticism about the claim that our carbon footprints are on course to lead to climatic extremes. The climatic conditions led to the heaviest rainfall for many years which caused extensive flooding. Drought and famine in some African countries can be attributed in part to climatic changes. Climactic… Read More

Mutating idioms by Angela Caldin

He did it off his own back You hear that a lot these days, so much so that it’s entered into common use. In fact, the original expression is ‘He did it off his own bat’. The bat in question is a cricket bat and the first activity that was said to be done ‘off someone’s own bat’ was to score runs. The idiom conveys the idea of someone doing something independently, without prompting. Each one worse than the next This phrase makes no sense if you pause to think about the… Read More