Wordwatch Towers

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

An error of judgement and an error

with 15 comments

Olympic Mascots

Olympic Mascots (Photo credit: AndrewHavis)

First of all, I had no idea that we here in Blighty had spawned two mascots for the 2012 Olympics. It’s embarrassing in so many ways, and I apologise on behalf of my country. If you’re prone to nightmares, don’t follow this link to find out more.The Canadians are rightfully and gleefully on our case about it:The Globe and Mail united their opprobrium with current affairs, quoting the industry minister Tony Clement’s tweet: “Saw the pic of the UK mascots. See what happens when you create a coalition?” while the Vancouver Sun turned the approbation global under the banner: “World unites online against London’s Olympic mascots”… (Observer online)

And so, thankfully, I can turn my attention to a less toe-curling matter: the word ‘approbation’. It has been used wrongly in the excerpt above, and in the two examples below:

…the 34 year-old is attracting applause and approbation in almost equal measure. (Telegraph online)

Deprive Capello of one of his greatest hopes or run the risk of public approbation at playing a fallen hero? (Telegraph online)

‘Approbation’ means ‘approval’ or ‘praise’. The first few letters of the word are a bit of a giveaway, but, despite that, a number of writers use it to mean ‘disapproval’.

This is even stranger when you consider that the opposite of ‘approbation’ is ‘disapprobation’. It all seems so obvious, but obviously isn’t.

Those mascots. They’ve even got Twitter accounts, apparently. And names.



Written by Wordwatch

07/11/2010 at 1:37 am

15 Responses

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  1. I’m sorry, but the “nightmare link” is just funny. I must be in a goofy mood 🙂


    07/11/2010 at 2:06 am

    • Hi, there, scribadiva — I’m glad they made you laugh!


      07/11/2010 at 9:46 am

  2. I had never even considered using this word, but I do see what you mean now, that the meaning is obvious.

    You have disapprobation as the opposite. But there is also of course reprobation and its other forms reproval and reproof. Not a word used much, although I have often heard a person called a “reprobate”.

    According to my old Chambers dictionary, reprobate means failing to pass a test (especially used of silver purity) and hence base, depraved or unprincipled.

    These words all come from the Latin probare, to prove. And hence probate (as in to prove a will) and probation (as in a time of testing to see if you are up to a new job or are able to be of good behaviour after becoming an offender).

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to explore a little bit of Latin again.

    Keep up the good work.

    And yes, those mascots are AWFUL!


    07/11/2010 at 8:16 am

    • Hi, Pat — thanks so much! I got really engrossed in your comment — it’s like a post in itself! Very interesting.

      I have made two waxen images of the mascots and stick pins in them hourly.


      07/11/2010 at 9:43 am

  3. Those things are just vulgar-looking. They seem suggestive, the one with the Smurf look in his lower section in a couple ways. I doubt whoever did it meant to glorify certain areas of male anatomy and shouldn’t be censored or anything, but I would give it an “Epic Fail” award.
    That is odd about the misuse of ‘approbation.’


    07/11/2010 at 8:26 am

    • Hi, Lisa

      ‘Epic Fail’ just about sums it up, I think.

      Yes, the ‘approbation’ thing is strange. I can’t quite work out why the confusion has arisen. Perhaps because the pronunciation is reminiscent of ‘opprobrium’ meaning ‘harsh criticism’?


      07/11/2010 at 9:51 am

  4. “This is even stranger when you consider that the opposite of ‘approbation’ is ‘disapprobation’. It all seems so obvious, but obviously isn’t.”

    Little is obvious in the intellectually-compromised world of football, and its reporting. After all, look how long it took them to work out that football is, famously, “a game of two halves”.

    But, Deborah, how could you have missed the mascots, and all the opprobrium heaped upon them?

    And let’s not forget the cretinous logo, widely believed to portray Lisa Simpson doing – bearing in mind this is a family show – something better left to the News of the World’s prurient imagination.


    07/11/2010 at 10:49 am

    • Hi, Ron — I don’t know how I missed it. And I wish it hadn’t — belatedly — come to my attention. I hadn’t heard about that interpretation of the truly terrible Olympics logo. Now I don’t know if I will dare look at it again.


      07/11/2010 at 12:03 pm

      • The problem is, once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it! Though it must have taken a very strange mind to make the connection in the first place.


        07/11/2010 at 12:21 pm

  5. But it had to go this way, with (since 1972) increasingly silly mascots and fanciful names. What was or is wrong with animals (symbolic beavers or tigers) or humans (say, a friendly, fuzzy Buckingham guard or a cleaned-up Pete Doherty)?

    List and images of past mascots: http://www.mapsofworld.com/olympic-trivia/olympic-mascot.html

    Michael Farrell

    07/11/2010 at 5:57 pm

    • Hi, Michael — thanks for that link. I like Waldi. Cobi looks as if he is having acupuncture treatment for a nose problem. But they are all infinitely preferable to the unspeakable creations Blighty has cooked up.


      07/11/2010 at 6:14 pm

  6. @Michael “…or a cleaned-up Pete Doherty”

    We do have some standards!


    07/11/2010 at 6:15 pm

    • That’s why I dumped my Pete Burns suggestion. Going the other way, a doe-eyed Paul McCartney c. 1966? He’d love to do the silly theme song, too.

      Michael Farrell

      07/11/2010 at 6:49 pm

      • We have a theme song? Dear god, is there no end to this?

        Pink Floyd doing “Money” might be more appropriate:-

        Money, it’s a gas
        Grab that cash with both hands
        And make a stash

        New car, caviar, four star daydream
        Think I’ll buy me a football team

        Money get back
        I’m all right Jack
        Keep your hands off my stack


        08/11/2010 at 12:13 pm

        • I think that’s Simon Cowell’s theme song.


          08/11/2010 at 12:40 pm

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