The English Pedant. Five American expressions we don’t need

This blog is certainly not anti-American, but we don’t like what they have done with our language. The US has taken over English to the extent that even British people are using expressions from over there instead of our own versions. Just as the American grey squirrel has squeezed the red squirrel out of its own territory, so Americanisms have invaded the speech of the very country that gave it to them in the first place.

Maybe they should adopt Spanish after all – serve you right, amigos.

Here are just five of the subtle insurgents.

  1. Taking a rain check. It means that because it is raining, you are getting a ticket to watch the match when it is replayed, or another match instead. So it can be applied to any situation where you’re going to cancel or can’t do it when suggested. Check=ticket (in this instance).
    Why we don’t need it: because no one understands it, but they use it wrongly anyway. And we managed perfectly well without it for centuries.
  2. Throw someone a curve ball. Do something they didn’t expect. A baseball term meaning the ball doesn’t go straight, but swerves.
    Why we don’t need it: because we have cricket, in which a bowler can make the ball swerve (or ‘swing’) to the left or right. And when footballers do it, it’s called ‘bending’, as in Bend it like Beckham.
  3. It came out of left field. Similar to 2; it means something happened unexpectedly.
    Why we don’t need it. Because we don’t know what left field means and why something that comes from there should be so difficult to deal with.
  4. It’s a crock. Abbreviation of a crock of shit, meaning something is untrue, rubbish, worthless etc. Crock means an earthenware cooking pot.
    Why we don’t need it: we already have the expression ‘a load of crap’.
  5. I could care less.
    Why we don’t need it:
    because it means I couldn’t care less. So it doesn’t make sense.


The English Pedant. Belt and braces

Return is a word that does the work of two if the alternative is go back, but when did we lose confidence in return’s ability to convey that? When exactly did we start to talk about returning back somewhere?

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It’s a rhetorical question, because so many of the misuses of English just appear and spread like wildfire through the population, before threatening to make the move into people who should know better: writers, broadcasters and those in public positions whose utterances come to our attention whether we like it or not.

And how do we stop it? We can’t. Even pointing it out, as I am here, does little more than attract derision in some quarters.

So does talking about it in private – but note that it’s so. Not so too, which is currently sweeping the English-speaking world. You enjoy the language? So do I. Not so too do I. Where did this start? We’ll have to return back to the start of the article (notice an unnecessary back in there?). But the media are full of it in sentences like: ‘the Prime Minister is strongly against the idea – so too the Home Secretary’.

This sort of thing is sometimes referred to as a “belt and braces” approach, i.e. you have two mechanisms to prevent your trousers from falling down.

Another example is the verb “to miss”, as in “You’re going to miss me when I’m gone”.

In that case, it’s “you’re going to miss having me around”, but there is a trend towards adding a negative, so it becomes “you’re going to miss not having me around”.

Please note: the dictionaries will simply report that people are doing these things. They won’t say it’s wrong. I’m just saying, that’s all.


The English Pedant. Don’t shoot me – it was the proofreader wot done it

The writer writes. The sub-editor chops and changes as he or she sees fit. And the proofreader has the final say.

Many people would like to be proofreaders. When they read a piece in a newspaper or magazine they notice things that they perceive to be wrong. And if they are obsessive enough about it they may want to spend their life making minor corrections.

Take that last sentence, for example: you don’t start a sentence with a conjunction such as and or but. We were taught that rule at school. But everyone does it these days.

And is there anything really wrong with it? It reflects how we speak, and writing is becoming ever more conversational.

Does it prevent us from understanding what is being expressed? I don’t think so.

Would it stand up under the unscrupulous scrutiny of a court of law? I doubt it.

If you have never contributed an article or story to a publication, you may think that means your writing has never been examined by a proofreader, but wait a minute: have you ever used Microsoft Word? When a word is underlined, that is the automatic checker telling you you’ve done something wrong. It could be the spelling, spacing or grammar, or it could have noticed that you have repeated a word by accident (it assumes).

Many people rely on the spellchecker to point out errors and are not just grateful but completely accepting of its verdicts. However (he said, avoiding using but at the start of the sentence) where do you think the rules came from? They weren’t generated by an intelligent computer. No, they were drawn up by a human being, and as such are open to debate.

Every one of the rules reflects his or her opinion of what is correct. And quite honestly, you or I may not always agree.

Never use a preposition to end a sentence with.

The one that gets my goat is when you refer to ‘the person who wrote the rules’ and it wants to change it to ‘the person that wrote them’. Is a person a thing? No. A building, a grape or a dog is a thing and is therefore the building, grape or dog that is referred to; a person is a human being and is therefore the person who did something.

We’ve all got pet hates. Even those who you might not expect to be interested will have something to say if you ask them.

This is particularly apparent to the writer who allows people he’s writing about to look at the article before it is published. Let’s say I’ve interviewed you about your new coffee shop. And I’ve started a sentence with but.

“In general it’s fine,’ you may say, assuming the mantle of proofreader. ‘But you start this sentence with but.”

“But you’ve just done that yourself,” I point out. “Anyway, carry on.”

“You say we have a bewildering range of flavours.”


‘I don’t want my customers bewildered.’

This actually happened to me once when I was attempting to describe the variety of nails and screws in a hardware store. Everywhere you looked there was row upon row of little sticks of metal. Now, strictly speaking, I can see the owner’s point, but is anyone really going to be prevented from entering his shop, having read the article, fearing they are going to be overcome by the huge choice and panicking?

The English Pedant

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Is the English-speaking world getting worse at English? Or is it just that social media and the internet have given everyone the chance to display their grammatical ineptitude?

Dictionaries such as the Oxford Online proudly tell us that they don’t see themselves as rule-makers – they merely record what is actually said and written. Which means that if enough people keep making the same errors, the errors become accepted.

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How very politically correct of them. Let’s apply the same principle to arithmetic: if you and your friends think two plus two equals three, well, who are we to argue? Text books will henceforth show that two plus two traditionally makes four, but can also now make three, seven or whatever.

Now here’s your wage packet. The standard 36 hours at £10 an hour makes (in my book) £25, so that’s what I’m paying you. Well I’m sorry you feel like that, but I’m entitled to my opinion.

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Apologies for all the multi-syllable words, by the way. That’s what comes from being a posh, educated git.

Here are some linguistic deviants that particularly get on my tits.

  1. Plurals don’t need an apostrophe before the s. See? Plurals. Not plural’s. The apostrophe s business denotes either that a letter is missing (it’s means it is, for instance) or possession. So if the ball belongs to David it is David’s ball and so on.
  2. Definitely does not have an a in it. It is definitely not definately. Definitely.
  3. Predominantly (meaning mostly) is not predominately. It’s like the word dominant. Barcelona are one of the dominant sides in European football. The ‘ant’ one the end indicates that this is still going on. Okay?
  4. Convince is not interchangeable with persuade.You persuade somebody to do something but you don’t convince them to do it. You convince them that it is the right thing to do or convince them of the wisdom of doing it..
  5. It’s should have, would have, could have, not should of doubt the confusion originated with the fact that the end sounds of the contractions should’ve, would’ve and could’ve sound like ‘of’ when we don’t stress the o. A cup of tea, for instance. This is not a 21st century disease. It has been a plague for decades.
  6. Formerly known as, not formally known as. Formerly means in the past; formally means in a formal, official or legal way. The artist formerly known as Prince is formally known by his proper name, Prince Rogers Nelson.
  7. It’s my old stamping ground, not stomping ground. It just is.
  8. Skank is not a dirty word. It’s a dance style associated with ska music. Possible origin of the mistake: someone noticed that skanky sounds like manky, which means horrible, unhygienic or dirty. And of course it’s not a million miles away from wank. But skanky just means ‘like skank’, if it means anything at all.
  9. Leverage is a noun, not a verb, denoting the action of a lever, used to exert force.You don’t leverage something, but you can lever it open or up. And anyway, in British English it’s pronounced leever. So it would be leeverage if it was a verb, but it’s not. So there.
  10. Momentarily means for a moment, briefly. In the USA some people use it to mean in a moment, i.e very soon, and the English radio presenter Steve Wright, once married to an American, introduced it, perhaps jokingly.