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Monday, December 12, 2011

In search of good grammar

Just when you thought that Government Ministers had far too much to do, news breaks of a new initiative by Transport Secretary, Justine Greening that has led to a 1,500-word report detailing all her pet grammatical hates in remarkable detail.

Given the way that English standards have slipped in recent times (including on this blog, before anybody points that out), one cannot really blame Ministers for ensuring that reports and letters that go out in their name are grammatically correct. After all, the Government should be setting an example. However, did we really need a 1,500 word treatise?

After all the nine-point guide states that for correspondence with MPs, “the Secretary of State would like to keep letters to under a page where possible”. If that is so then why not keep the guide to a page?

Still, for my education, if nobody else's, here are some key pointers to good English from the Transport Secretary and others:

The report, leaked to the Mail on Sunday, is said to provide painstaking detail on gramatical advice to officials.

It stated: “Do not put in too many adverbs.

“For example avoid phrases like ‘strongly opposed’ and just say ‘opposed’. Do not use abbreviated forms such as ‘don't’ or ‘couldn't’.

“Avoid passive construction at the start of sentences eg ‘it is essential to note that’. ‘However’ should only be used at the start of a sentence and do not use the word ‘firstly’.”

Meanwhile, the letter-writing section for Theresa Villiers, Miss Greening's deputy, is two pages long – four times as long as her boss.

Civil servants who work with the 43 year-old, received an extensive correspondence course, including an order to write “while” rather than “whilst” and “in legal terms” rather than “legally”.

Miss Villiers also banned the word “onto” as opposed to “on to” while she also expresses a distaste for the phrase “with regards to”.

It added: “The Minister would like letters to have a courteous and helpful tone, while remaining assertive when delivering difficult messages.”

The guidance for Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat junior Minister in the department, is brief, running to just four paragraphs.

The former English teacher's staff should "avoid the use of contractions in formal writing. Example: 'that's' should read 'that is'".

One last thought: I was bemused to see that in the sub-editors secondary headline on this piece he or she spelt 'correspondence' as 'correspondance'. Perhaps the Telegraph need their own grammar guide.
Another misspelling in the Telegraph article is that of "gramatical".

I always find it amusing when an editor doesn't take particular care to check their own words when writing about spelling or grammar. That's irony for you.
I'm severely dyslexic, the army found this out for me, and I did a years education to pick my education up to a standard they said would give me a better chance of promotion.

But I still make mistakes when I write with a pen I have problems with b and d. I write a five like an S and I get really mixed up with some words, it did stop me getting on.

So normally I tell people especially on forums or Blogs look I do have a problem, it helps stop the comments like your a moron, which I have just had on labour list just now. is it not a pity in this day and age we still pick up on spelling, my own GP is bloody terrible at spelling, he said to me a few years ago it's been the bain of his life, asked him why he's Dyslexic, now of course I have to write with a dam pointer stuck to my right hand, which is even worse.

But the biggest problems I get of course are with educated people and the worse are those who have been to University and then become MP's.

I know off topic....
I have been having similar trouble with the Student Loan Company. However, as the matter is still under investigation I cannot say very much about it.

However, apart from their howlers, I do collect silly mistakes of spelling and grammar, so if you are interested, here are two of the best ones I have come across. First, from a published book about W. T. Stead, Christian, moral campaigner and journalist:

"The 1871 Sexual Offences Act (sic) outlawed homosexual acts between consulting male auditors".

And, of course, the great Warren Gameliel Harding, on the stump in 1920:

"I would like the government to do all it can to mitigate, then, in understanding, in mutuality of interest, in concern for the common good, our tasks will be solved."

And people imply standards are slipping?
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