Wordwatch Towers

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

Pet peeves, a slight mistake, a palindrome and plus fours

with 7 comments

Well, the Wordwatch Towers butler is threatening to resign and claims he’s been offered a new post on what he refers to as a ‘successful grammar blog’. Says he’s bored here. Nothing to do except polish the turrets and hoover the drawbridge.

Wordsworth the butlerYes, I know, he has a point. It has been several ice ages since I posted. So, here’s a little selection from the various notes that have been scattered about on my desk for the past few months.

Pet peeves

A World Service radio presenter introduces a group of eminent writers:

I have with me today four leading women novelists.

Would this presenter (female – she should have known better) ever say:untitwsled

I have with me today four leading man novelists.

Or even ‘male novelists’? I don’t think so. Read more on this. And here’s a post on ‘women bishops’.

Words I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t know until very recently

Such a lovely word too: oneiric. It’s derived from Greek and means ‘related to dreams or dreaming’. On the Oxford Dictionaries site you can hear how it’s pronounced.

Words I can’t spell and didn’t notice were palindromes

Rotavator. At first, I  spelt it ‘rotivator’ – and lots of other people (online journalists, I’m looking at you) do too.

imappgesAnyways, it’s an interesting word, meaning a bladed machine that breaks up or tills the soil. I dug about a bit (see what I did there) and found that the word was coined in the 1930s and is a combination of ‘rotary’ and ‘cultivator’. Which  makes it a portmanteau word as well as a palindrome. And in case you’re not sure what a palindrome is, it’s a word or phrase that’s spelt the same backwards as forwards.

Slight mistake

Look at this from the BBC news website:

They were sensational: speed, power and slight of hand in equal measures made them almost impossible to stop.

Can you spot the mistake? It should, of course, be ‘sleight of hand’. You’ll see this mistake absolutely everywhere. As explained in Oxford Dictionaries,  ‘sleight’ means ‘the use of dexterity or cunning, especially so as to deceive’.untitleddd

Plus fours – minus the hyphen

Just a little nugget I recently came across: Plus fours are so-called because of the extra four inches of material needed to drape over the knee. Note, there’s no hyphen (as in ‘plus-fours’) – although many writers insist on adding one.

And finally…

Find out from the wonderful Guy Keleny (who still refuses to marry me) whether or not the following use of ‘thrall’ is correct:

Why do the Emmys matter to Brits? Because US TV has us in its thrall.

So  – the butler has now agreed to hang around for a bit longer, the kettle is on, and all is well again at Wordwatch Towers. For now.



Written by Wordwatch

16/09/2014 at 2:10 pm

7 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Welcome back!

    Rotavator was also a brand name, for the Howard Rotavator Co. Ltd, founded by the guy who devised the rotary tiller in Australia, one Arthur Howard. However, like Biro and Hoover, the name eventually became generic.



    16/09/2014 at 4:37 pm

    • Hi, Ron – yes, it’s funny you should say that, because I almost started burbling about the fact that ‘rotavator’ is noted as a trademark on the Oxford Dictionaries site, but not capitalised, which I don’t quite understand. Maybe because it’s become too generic like ‘hoover’?? But that doesn’t quite make sense either, as ‘hoover’ is capitalised on Oxford Dictionaries. A bit of a strange one. Take care, Ron.


      16/09/2014 at 4:47 pm

  2. Lovely to read you here again! Thank you for the morning’s entertainment column. However, I will be engaged trying to extract the palindromes from my mind for the next several hours. Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era? A man, a plan, a cat, a ham, a yak, a yam, a hat, a canal-Panama!

    It’s going to be a strange day…

    Invisible Mikey

    16/09/2014 at 5:49 pm

    • Thank you, Mikey. Good to see you here. Those are great palindromes! Don’t forget that book thing we spoke about a while back. 🙂


      16/09/2014 at 6:01 pm

Your questions and comments are welcome.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s