When a comma means so much by Susan Grimsdell

My favourite news item of the year is the one about a comma.  It was all about overtime pay for truck drivers, pay dating back over four years.  Big money was at stake – as much as $10 million. Truck drivers and grammar I love it because I have to confess that I’m one of the “grammar police”: very picky about the way words are used and about things like syntax, apostrophes, and for sure – commas.  So when I heard that the humble comma, placement of, was the key to a… Read More

Angela’s ABCs – clichés and idioms by Angela Caldin

At the weekend, I was telling anybody who would listen that I’d been spending time with someone who spoke using a lot of clichés. To illustrate my point, I gave an example, ‘We mustn’t upset the apple cart.’ My younger daughter, who, surprisingly, had been listening, said, ‘That’s not a cliché, it’s an idiom.’ I was intrigued. She knows about these things because she’s a primary school teacher and she teaches her Year 4s all about these figures of speech: metaphor, simile, alliteration, onomatopoeia, idiom and cliché. Even so, I still felt… Read More

What’s in a name? By Angela Caldin

There’s a New Scientist journalist called John Hoyland who invented the term ‘nominative determinism’ for those strange and interesting cases of people who seem drawn to their chosen profession because of their name. He became interested in the subject after hearing of a scientific paper by authors JW Splatt and D Weedon on the topic of incontinence, on the same day as seeing a book on the Arctic written by Daniel Snowman. Some obvious examples include Judge Judge and Doctor Nurse, as well as the music teacher called Miss Fiddle who became… Read More

The many meanings of ‘chuck’ by Angela Caldin

Sometimes I’m struck by the richness of the English language, by how one word can have so many different meanings, arriving as it does by a variety of linguistic routes over the years across Europe and beyond. One such word is chuck which I discover has numerous meanings both as a noun and as a verb. Chuck as a verb means to throw something carelessly or casually: The family was frightened when someone chucked a brick through their window. Some people can make a living out of stuff other people chuck away…. Read More

Send in the clowns by Trevor Plumbly

I’m beginning to wonder if the popular concept of progress is entirely beneficial to the human race. Sometimes it seems that the more enlightened we become, the more patent stupidity creeps in. The least harmful, but possibly the most ludicrous, is the current fad for verbal gender neutrality. Today I heard a half hour radio discussion involving four adults, debating whether or not certain words are acceptable to those who wish to ram the more idiotic facets of gender identity down our throats. Somewhat naively, I’ve always held the theory that those… Read More