Category Archives: Words and meanings

Grammar query – Is it I, or me, that’s wrong?

When to use ‘I’ or ‘me’ in a piece of writing can cause arguments, confusion, and – if you pen to paperthink you’re in the right – a severe dose of smugness about other people’s ignorance. But the correct usage is not always straightforward. Some years ago, in The State of the Language, Philip Howard wrote: “Already, even educated users of English, such as journalists, suffer from chronic uncertainty about the use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ and the other cases of pronouns.”

Old school grammarians, like Sir Ernest Gowers in Plain Words, have been quite clear about what they think is right: if the first pronoun is in the object case then the pronoun following ‘and’ must also be in the object case, as in ‘between him and me,’ or ‘he decided to let her go, but not me.’ Moreover in educated society, I was brought up to believe, the subject case should be used with the verb ‘to be.’

I tend to the old school usage, and sometimes have to stop myself jumping in with a correction when I hear people say things like ‘between you and I’ instead of my preferred ‘between you and me.’ But more modern grammarians, such as Oliver Kamm, have said there is no rule for or against using ‘I’ or ‘me’ in such a phrase. It’s just a question of what you are used to – although publishers and newspapers will have their house style rules, and writers will be expected to conform with these, whatever they personally prefer. pen and paper

You can’t blame modern teaching methods, or the vogue for more informal speech, as the quandary over which is correct goes back hundreds of years. After all, the greatest writer of them all, William Shakespeare, has written ‘All debts are cleared between you and I’ (Merchant of Venice) or ‘… Cassio and she together,’ (Othello), so if it is OK by him ….

No doubt I will continue to say and write ‘between you and me’ etc. because that is what I am comfortable with. But I should accept that it is a convention I am comfortable with pen and paper 2not a grammatical rule, and that to use ‘I’ instead of ‘me’ is not a blunder (even if my computer’s spell checker agrees with me!)

Anyway, I too am inconsistent. I have never answered the question ‘who is that?’ with the phrase ‘It is I.‘  To me ‘I’ sounds pretentious and ‘me’ sounds much more natural – even if it is not strictly grammatical for those who take their subject case pronouns very seriously!

More of my published work can be found at:

You can find me on Facebook: fb.me/margaretegrot.writer

Or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/meegrot

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Is a scapegoat what we think it is?

A few posts ago (on 4th February), I wrote about how the term whipping boy was used wrongly to mean a scapegoat. Which doesn’t mean to say that people should be called to account if they use the term – of course not; that would just be being pedantic. But why should those of us who now know its false derivation, not view the term with a supercilious smirk?

What about the word scapegoat though? Does that still mean, er, scapegoat – a person made to take the blame for one or more others? It seems so. The word was first used in 1530 by William Tyndale in his translation of The Bible from Hebrew. He took the wordGoats Go.. Inspecting. Azazel to mean ‘the goote on which the lotte fell to scape.’ (OT, Leviticus, Chapter 8). In the Mosaic ritual for the Day of Atonement two goats are selected: one to be sacrificed, the other to be laden with the sins of the community and sent off into the wild – literally, the goat that escapes.

Since Tyndale, other animals have been used in literature for the same purpose, usually with humorous intent. But scapegoose, scapehorse and scapecat, have never really caught on.

That deals with the goat bit of the word. Does scape also mean what we think it does? I believe so. My dictionary describes it as an archaic word for escape – as in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when Cassius says to Brutus:

“How scaped I killing, when I crossed you so?” (Act IV, scene 3).

By the way, if you find anything wrong with this post, don’t blame me. Blame the spell checker – my usual scapegoat for any spelling, grammatical or other mistakes.

This post is going out on 14th February, Valentine’s Day. Would you like a gentle love story to read? Then try my short story, Sleeping Beauty. You might think the young heroine is a scapegoat at first – until it all ends happily ever after.

myBook.to/TheSleepingBeauty

NB: Most of my novels and short stories can be found on Amazon Books:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

or http://www.solsticepublishing.com

solstice logo (1)

 

 

 

 

Whipping Boys – fact or fiction?

My Collins dictionary defines a whipping boy as ‘a person of little importance who is blamed for the incompetence etc. of others, especially his superiors; scapegoat. [Seventeenth century. Originally referring to a boy who was educated with a prince and who received punishment for any faults committed by the prince]’

This is what I and many others have believed, including Mark Twain who popularised the term in his story, The Prince and the Pauper. Past historians have gone further and

Edward_VI_Scrots_c1550_cropped

Edward VI did NOT have a whipping boy to take his punishment for him!

named, for example, Barnaby Fitzpatrick as the whipping boy for Edward VI. William Murray was supposed to have played the same role for Charles 1.The idea was that, as a Royal could not be physically punished, he could be made to feel bad knowing someone else was being whipped on his behalf.

However key historical records have recently been digitalised and modern historians now have the evidence from these that Barnaby et al were no more painfully employed than as grooms / servants. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has always disputed the existence, ever, of whipping boys – and now the definition has been removed from the BBC education website – Bitesize. It’s more likely that the term was first coined by a seventeenth century playwright, Samuel Rowley.

I doubt if the mere fact that the term has no historical validity will stop me, occasionally, using the phrase as an alternative to ‘scapegoat’. But, if there was no such practice of using a whipping boy as a scapegoat, how can I be sure that there was an original scapegoat?

But that is a discussion for another blog!

Links to my published work:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

Divided by a common language?

imagesAmong the many things the UK has in common with the USA, is the English language. Except that, with a huge ocean and many centuries between when the English spoken was pretty much the same and now, subtle, and not so subtle, divergences have given rise to the sentiment conveyed in the title of this post. No one is quite sure who said these famous words. They are often attributed to George Bernard Shaw. But they might be from Oscar Wilde,George_Bernard_Shaw_1934-12-06 or Mallory Browne, or Raymond Gram Swing, or the prolific Anon.

Some of the misunderstandings over words and phrases are humorous (to Brits, anyway – the American term ‘fanny’ is a more sexual part of the anatomy in Britain, so not a word to be used in polite society without a titter or a tut). Some are misleading (American pants are British trousers; the American woman’s purse is the British woman’s handbag). Some are annoying (‘have a nice day’ / ‘take care.’ – No, I’ll damn well have a sh***y day, and run out in front of cars, if I want to. But then, as the English novelist, Kingsley Amis, really did say: ‘If you can’t annoy someone with what you write, there’s little point in writing.’ And the same, I suppose, can go for speaking.

As much as the different meaning of words and phrases can cause confusion, is the difference in nuance. The English person’s use of understatement, often puzzles American and other nationalities.  Carol Midgley, recently wrote about this in The Times:

“When a man says he’s going ‘for a pint’ he means five, minimum. ‘I’ve felt better,’ means ‘I’m so ill I could die.’ ‘I’ve been a bit silly,’ means I’ve gambled the house away, and got my wife’s sister pregnant.’ …

… When someone is described as a ‘livewire’ it means they are ‘a drunk.’ ‘She’s a bit tricksy’ means ‘she’s a complete bitch.’ …

… ‘You look well,’ means ‘you look fat.’ ‘Help yourself,’ means ‘only take one you greedy pig.’ ‘I might see you later,’ means you definitely won’t, and ‘Right, I must let you get on,’ means ‘I’m bored with this conversation and want to end it now.’ (I’ve used that one a few times.)

Although I have had a number of books published in America (by Solstice Publishing), all my work sells better in the UK. Perhaps this is because, despite knowing about pants and purses, I use more typically British terms and stylistic idiosyncrasies than I realise.

There’s plenty more I could say on this topic. But right now, I’m sure you are busy, so I must let you get on.

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to one of my Amazon Author pages:

Sent to Coventry

Coventry

Coventry UK has just won the bid to be City of Culture for 2021. The official announcement was made just as the audience was settling down to a play in my local theatre. The production was delayed slightly for the artistic director to tell everyone the news, which was greeted by a huge roar of approval and clapping – a good way to get the actors geed up for their performances too!

I have lived in Coventry, with its world famous new cathedral, for over twenty years – longer than I have lived anywhere elseCoventry 2 in England or Wales. What surprised me most when I first moved to the city was how down beat everyone was about the place. “Why made you move to live here?” was a regular question, not uttered in an unfriendly way, people were simply amazed that someone would choose to live in Coventry. But there has been a lot of excitement about the city of culture bid, and genuine pleasure, not just among arty types, in winning.

Where once the talk was about how good the roads around Coventry were for getting out of the city quickly, now these same roads are seen as a huge plus for getting people in for events etc. in 2021. This is a far cry from the old consensus (not actually based on fact) that you were either born in Coventry, or you were sent there – so didn’t have any choice in the matter.

The phrase ‘sent to Coventry’ is known far outside the city. It now means to become a social outcast, one who should be ignored socially. The phrase arose because during the English Civil War, in the mid 1600s, Coventry sided with the Parliamentarians. Captured supporters of the King (Royalists) were sent to Coventry. They were not actually imprisoned in the city, but were dumped there and left to wander around, ignored by the locals who would refuse them food and opportunities to work. Maybe worst of all, they were refused entry to any of the local inns!

The city’s hostile reputation among Royalists was such that any of their soldiers who were deemed to be rather apathetic in their duties would be threatened with being posted to Coventry as an incentive to show more commitment to the King’s cause.

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page. As we are rapidly approaching the Festive season, you may wish to consider one of the anthologies, the Winter Holiday Anthology, published by Solstice, and Festive Treats, published by the Pigeon Park Press, are both available from my page or via the following links. 

AWinter Holiday Anthology:

a-winter-holiday-anthology

http://bookgoodies.com/a/B017T6UJ8K

 

 

 

Festive Treats:

festive-treats

 

myBook.to/FestiveTreats

 

 

Playing with words.

Just a few lines today on words that describe games people can play with words. (More popular perhaps in the time before TV and social media, but could come in useful in a power cut if all you have is pen, paper – and a torch.)

An acronym is made up of the first letter of each word in a phrase. It is a comparatively new phenomenon (the first recorded use is in the early 1940s). Radar (radio detecting and ranging), and scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) are acronyms) are acronyms. An acronym needs to be pronounceable – hence RSVP at the bottom of a letter requesting a reply is an initialism, not an acronym.

Acrostics is where, in a poem for example, a number of letters form a word or phrase. This could be at the beginning of each line in a poem as in Lewis Carroll’s (of Alice in Wonderland fame) poem which starts:

A boat beneath a sunny sky

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July –

Children three that nestle near

Eager eye and willing ear

And goes on to spell out the real Alice’s full name through the first letter of every line.

An anagram is a rearrangement of letters of a word or phrase to form a different phrase or word: Evil / vile. Clint Eastwood / old west action. An antigram is similar, but the alteration means the dead opposite to the original word: funeral / real fun. (Sorry)

Lipograms are works where the author chooses to avoid using a particular letter. No problem if you decide, say, to omit the ‘z’ or ‘q.’ But Ernest Vincent Wright wrote a 50,000 word novel (Gatsby) without the letter ‘e’ in 1939. Univocalics, by contrast, are where just one vowel is used, as in ‘he went where she heeded her texts.’

Palindromes are words or phrases that read the same backwards as forwards: ‘Was it a car or a cat I saw?’ Or the more famous ‘Able was I ere I saw Elba.’

A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet), as in ‘the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.’ The same letter can be used more than once – I’m not sure anyone has managed to come up with a phrase that makes sense using each letter just once.

So there you go – Boxing Day post-prandial games sorted!

If you have enjoyed this post, and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page. I would particularly like to get young adults reading more and have written two novels specifically for this age group.

And Alex -cover

 

And Alex Still Has Acne: myBook.to/AndAlexStillHasAcne

 

 

 

Girl Friends - cover

 

Girl Friends: myBook.to/GirlFriends

 

 

Both are published by Solstice. http://www.solsticepublishing.com

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Christmas Phobias

Soon we will be celebrating Christmas. Our mundane routines taken over by the christmas crackerexcitement of visits to and from our loved ones, preparing and consuming food, drinking, parties …

Bring it on! But not quite yet – I like Christmas as much as the next person, but prefer to restrict it to the fortnight encompassing the 25th and New Year’s Eve. So, as it is not yet December, I feel entitled to spend a bit of time on the perils – for some – of the Christmas holidays.

Pity the poor person who is expected to join in a round of parties but has cherophobia (fear of gaiety), or chorophobia (dancing). Maybe their fears are more entrenched and they have koinoniphobia (fear of a room full of people), and the ensuing noise (noctiphobia), or smells (bromidrosiphobia – fear of body odour). Christmas

As for all meals, what fun do you get out of Christmas dinner if you suffer from deinophobia (fear of dining and over-dinner conversation)? Or potophobia? (fear of alcohol – also known, more obviously, as alcoholophobia).

Then there is the whole palavar of traveling around during the festive season, especially of you suffer from amaxophobia (fear of riding in a motorcar), or nostophobia (fear of returning home). What if other relatives will be there and you are afflicted by pentheraphobia (fear of your mother-in-law)? Christmas travel in the northern hemisphere may be tricky too if you suffer from chionophobia (fear of snow).

No doubt there are a lot of anxieties around giving and receiving gifts, not least for someone related to a writer (who has a new novel to shift), and suffers from bibliophobia (fear of books).

I must apologise to those of you who have read this far with growing annoyance. Maybe you suffer from phobologophobia – a fear of, or aversion to, phobia words!

However, if you have enjoyed this blog and would like to read more of my work, please go to my Amazon author page where you can find several novels and short stories, including one in the anthology – Festive Treats – that is free to download.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B00RVO1BHO

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00RVO1BHO