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. 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?