old salut!

Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

March 22, 2007

Minding our language*

This site has now moved to Salut!

It is time I lived up to the claim in my description, in the words that appear above, of what Salut! is about when it is not about France: "much more besides".

All that scolding in the comments field after my posting on the pools win that wasn't - the use of irony went down poorly with Smiley - reminded me of one of life's lesser known certainties.

If you somehow acquire a reputation as a pedant, as I did when working on the newsdesk of a newspaper that cared quite a lot about style and grammar, you should not be surprised to find that people cannot wait for you to falter.

Tim - to be a tragedy, or not to be a tragedy - and Smiley, along the lines of get a grip man, your dad did win the pools, left me with that biter bit sort of feeling I have not experienced since I sparred with belligerent contributors to my Telegraph blog.

But it is all perfectly fair sport, so far as I am concerned. How could it be otherwise when I post a reply promising to write about pendantry, as Bill spotted so sharply in his much-missed riposte (something to with suspense, I think, though this posting offers him the chance of another outing for his "best joke in a long time")?

Many of the people I have encountered over the years would be surprised to hear that anyone ever saw fit to make me a custodian of the correct use of English. The queue would be headed by all those teachers I failed to impress at school, and close behind would be the ghost of the Bishop Auckland alderman who interrupted a breathless telephone interview to exclaim: "Stop gabbling, young man."

My newsdesk job naturally went far beyond the discouragement of tabloid constructions, which have become commonplace throughout the media, and the lazy repetition of infantile reporting devices that are the stock in trade of most news agencies.

But that part of my role was justified by the strict view, taken by the man who then edited the paper, of style breaches, sloppy grammar and incorrect use of words.

Colleagues liked to mock my attempts to enforce the editor's will, not least because there were also issues of my own choosing to be raised from time to time.

If the policy had any success, it was in making reporters and specialists a little more careful about the stories they submitted. Any newspaper tends to look more grown-up when it does not simply shovel news agency copy - or copy that might have been dashed off by a news agency - into its pages, but looks to its own staff for work of a higher standard.

Only once was I given cause to regret the enthusiasm with which I approached this part of my work.

That was when the Queen's English Society invited me to be the guest speaker at its annual general meeting. Even without the ribbing of colleagues who threatened to organise a coach party and barrack every word, I would have seen that this was hardly a situation in which I could not lose.

The newspaper stickler was entering the domain of the hardcore pedant.

There was, of course, the coward's escape route. I was sorely tempted. In the end, I decided to accept the invitation and set myself the task of composing a speech with sufficient flattery of the society and its work, and modesty about my own efforts, to see me through without too much damage.

The first part was easy; I needed only to summarise the reason for the invitation, an exchange of letters in which I had accepted the QES's criticism of a particular news report.

The society's official with whom I corresponded was so accustomed to being ignored, or at best to receiving pompous replies to all such approaches, that she warmed instantly to this man who actually wrote back in agreement.

But the second component of my self-defence mechanism was trickier.

I realised that the society's members would study every word of my speech, and every aspect of its delivery, and spare no mercy in the event of the slightest slip.

So I used the following paragraph in my attempt to pre-empt any such challenge:

When I sat down to write this speech, I privately gave it the working title, 'Confessions of a Pedant'. I am not sure that I have necessarily lived up to that self-billing. I am, in my own way, a pedant, but I feel I have little to confess. I hope that my colleagues regard my interventions as helpful, not those of a bully. I do not present myself to them, and I certainly do not present myself to you, as one whose own written or spoken English is beyond reproach. Readers, fellow journalists and others have taken me to task more than once. I take full responsibility for each flattened vowel, any grammatical lapse and all flawed logic.

It didn't leave them much scope for launching a ferocious assault when it came to questions, and it is my response to critics now.

* The title eventually given (by me) to the speech to the Queen's English Society AGM at the New Cavendish Club, west London on September 27, 2003.

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At March 23, 2007 1:24 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I have my pride and I don't need charity. (Actually, no I don't and yes I do). Don't be hanging around waiting for me to repeat jokes about pendants and pedants. I shall keep you dangling...
Was that Bob Middlewood who told to stop gabbling? Are you sure he didn't say gambling?
Your O-Level is in English, isn't it?
Commercial break: Hamida Ghafour, a talented young journalist who was a protege of both myself in Toronto and Colin Randall in London, has a book coming out soon: "The Sleeping Buddha: The Story of Afghanistan Through The Eyes of One Family." I think it'll be a wonderful read. We're both mentioned in the acknowledgements but Colin goes me one better. I get a simple nod, he's singled out as "confidante and... pedant." Not pendant.

At March 23, 2007 2:11 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

In belated praise of the sub-editor's craft, I should make a real Confession of a Pedant and admit that since posting the above words, I have been back at least three times, not only to correct typing errors and breaches of my own (unwritten) style rules but to insert a missing question mark. Journalists should never have been given direct input.

At March 23, 2007 2:31 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

I'm a bit of a pedant too - even in French - but since I've been blogging/using Skype and msn, I realise that I make all sorts of grammatical and spelling mistakes...it's very embarassing. Perhaps it's because I'm typing as I speak (without thinking!) and 'your' and 'you're' and 'it's' and 'its' sound the same...

By the way, was Bill's joke anything to do with dangling participles?

At March 23, 2007 2:32 PM, Blogger Gigi said...

...like 'embarassing' for example. Did you spot the deliberate mistake??? :-(


At March 23, 2007 2:37 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

No, Gigi, it was about dangling pendants, as opposed to pedants who simply hang around waiting for others to make mistakes.

At March 23, 2007 3:15 PM, Blogger anonyhamster said...


Purgatory's to the right for those who think the above sign is correct.

At March 24, 2007 4:40 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

It occurs to me that we all might benefit from your sharing your speech with us here. We can mentally flatten the vowels if you'd prefer.

At March 24, 2007 5:49 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Trouble is I'd have to type every word........don't think it exists except on paper. I'm already doing that with the Celebrity Supporter interviews at Salut! Sunderland, so no thanks.

At March 24, 2007 6:27 PM, Blogger anonyhamster said...

Pretend you're James Bond. Take photographs of the documents. But needs a steady hand.

Photos posted here enlarge when folk click on them. Everything should be clearly legible, including the Tippex, fag ash, spilt wine etcetera, etcetera


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