Wordwatch

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Welcome

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

American writer Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) “I can’t write five words but that I change seven.”

 

Welcome to Wordwatch Towers where you’ll find lots of stuff about how to write well. Please scroll down for the latest posts or explore the Wordwatch Towers vaults for more information about punctuation, grammar and how to use the English language.

You can also try the lucky dip on the right — you never know what you might learn! Plus, one lucky winner will hit the jackpot and walk away with £1 million.*

Please ask a question about any aspect of the English language here. Alternatively, I can be contacted using the form on the About page (but not about the jackpot).

*Important legal disclaimer: Not really.

A woman without her man…

Good grammar and punctuation aren’t optional extras:

A woman without her man is nothing.

With the correct punctuation all becomes clear:

A woman: without her, man is nothing.

Marquess, marquis and marquee…

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Originally posted on The Squirrelbasket:

marquee

Cardiff Castle, created by the Marquess of Bute, and a marquee (right)

It’s time to look at some more words. This particular ramble through the English dictionary starts with the fact that when I am sub-editing our Cardiff newspaper, reporters are always wrongly spelling the Marquess of Bute as the Marquis of Bute.

The 3rd Marquess of Bute was responsible, with architect William Burges, for

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Written by Wordwatch

28/07/2014 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Wordwatching

Tagged with , ,

Out now: Ghost Writings

with 13 comments

GhostWritings06I know, I know, I haven’t posted for ages and to add insult to injury this is blatant advertising. But in mitigation… oh, who I am kidding, there is no mitigation.

Anyways, here it is: the latest Bennison Books publication: Ghost Writings. I’m kind of proud of it. It took ages to do and it’s got lots of good stuff in it:

  • detailed introductory notes by a bona fide expert, Neil Wilson;
  • lots of author biographies, including the acknowledged ghost story masters as well as literary giants who wrote in the genre;
  • a section on female writers’ enormous contribution to the genre;
  • a recommended reading list (not for the faint-hearted; make sure your doors are locked);
  • M. R. James’ essay about ghost story fiction;
  • an entry on the mysterious ‘B'; and
  • a brief overview of research into supernatural phenomena and some of the more famous first-hand accounts of ghostly encounters.

Available for Kindle at  Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

This is just to say…

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Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

… that ‘ensorcelled’ means ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’. See Oxford Dictionaries. You can see from the word that its derivation is linked to the word ‘sorcerer’ (which I just had to check how to spell). I kind of like all of that, but is it a good choice in this article in the Guardian? The first paragraph includes the following sentence:

I was immediately ensorcelled by the singularity of the Shrigley worldview: here were pictures that had a bewilderingly complex naivete about them – it was as if a preternaturally intelligent child were rendering the attempts of a smart-aleck adult to draw like a kid.

Ensorcelled? Really? Why send your readers away (probably never to return) to consult a dictionary when ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’ would work just as well (probably better) there? Yes, I learnt a new word, no, I didn’t go back to read the rest of the article (I wrote this post instead). And is the writer just showing off? Oh, I don’t know. Sunday morning tea and toast calls.

The brain of a pea… hen

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Peacock in Portugal

A peacock. Not prone to distraction. Obviously.

This morning, a story about peahens made me angry. (Did I just write that?) Or rather, the reporting of it did. It was the BBC, too. Shame on them.

You know that thing – how descriptions and interpretations can differ, depending on whether the person being referred to is female or male?

If you missed that meeting, catch up here:

Trilling and shrieking
Excitable and bubbly

Anyways, I was half-listening to the BBC’s flagship news programme on the radio this morning when a ‘scientists have found’ story came on. Apparently, according to the BBC, ‘scientists have found’ that peahens are ‘prone to distraction and easily lose attention’.

Really??

That noise is an alarm going off. The Wordwatch Towers butler just checked and has confirmed it’s the ‘women being undermined via descriptions of the animal kingdom to avoid accusations of blatant sexism’ alarm. Thought so.

I checked. In fact, the scientific study has found – no surprise – that the female of the species in Peacock World, the maligned peahen, is actually a multi-tasker: Dr Jessica Yorzinski explains (on the BBC’s news website, ironically) that peahens have to stay alert, shifting their focus between potential mates and their immediate surroundings to avoid being eaten by a predator. The exact opposite of being prone to distraction and easily losing attention, I would have thought. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a cheap (sexist) jibe?

I’m willing to bet an extensive amount of chocolate, two wildlife DVDs that I’ve never watched, and my ticket to see Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse (this Saturday: very excited), that similar findings about peacocks would not have been deliberately misinterpreted in this way.

You might also like: The female of the species.

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