Enough’s enough in grammar war

By Keith Newbery

Friday, January 31, 2014


THIS ISLAND LIFE WHAT do you think constitutes behaviour which, in its most unreasonable manifestation, is likely to provide grounds for divorce?

I ask the question only because Mrs N gave me a look the other day which, freely translated, said: "If you do that once more I shall take myself and the dogs (not all bad news then) off to my friend in Chalfont St Giles and live out the remainder of my days free from the predations of your bloody biro."

Her chagrin was understandable. It was the same old story, I’m afraid.

She had left out her shopping list and I had succumbed yet again to the overwhelming urge to edit it.

This directly contravened a solemn promise I had given on January 1 this year never to do any such thing ever again and, snivel though I did (blaming a hitherto undocumented illness called OCD edititis), my

apology only just rescued a marriage which has, so far, lasted 42 years.

The following morning a newspaper cutting appeared on my desk, which was headlined The Pedants’ Revolt.

It was the inspiring tale of a group of grammar guerrillas in Cambridge who, sickened by their local council’s decision to remove apostrophes from street signs, had set to with black marker pens and reinstated them.

Attached to the cutting was a note in Mrs N’s fair hand, which read: "Ever thought of taking a trip to Cambridge!"

I returned it to my wife with the exclamation mark replaced by a question mark and the withering reaction I received was so full of asterisks which, if fully transcribed, would have made this part of the column look as though it were covered by a layer of frost.

But I applaud the staunch citizens of one of our great university towns for their efforts to hold back the tide of dumbing-down, which threatens to swamp our wonderful language.

Of course accurate grammar is important. It provides the superstructure around which our language is able to evolve.

If it wasn’t, why did teachers such as Charlie Bawdon and Japhet Wallace spend so much of their time at Sandown Grammar hammering the penny into baffled young brains until it eventually dropped?

Some dozy councillor in Cambridge said apostrophes on street names led to mistakes among emergency services and had therefore been removed on safety grounds.

One can imagine the conversation in the cab of a fire appliance as it turns up at a blazing building in the heart of Fenland.

'You sure this is the right place, Darren? The address I’ve got is Pepys Court, but this is Pepys’ Court, with an apostrophe. Better check with base to be on the safe side.’

Perhaps it’s time for a team of guerrilla grammarians to be formed here on the Island and leading the force will undoubtedly be Gwyneth Dawson, of Shanklin, who e-mailed me last week to complain about the latest outrage to be committed against the mother tongue.

She wrote: "In the interests of sharing my frustration, I point you in the direction of Brownrigg’s Farm Shop in Godshill.

"In front of said shop there is a board bearing a mock-up of a newspaper headline: 'Brownriggs now sell’s the County Press.’

"I think we’ve hit a new low. It has thus far only been the humble common noun which has been assaulted. It seems the verb is now getting it in the neck."

I’m with you on this Gwyneth. It’s time for action. Break out the balaclavas and felt-tips.

This has gone far enough.

So how did the mission statement fit with this?

NO self-respecting company or council can possibly function these days without a mission statement.

They amount to a rather pompous assembly of words which usually state the obvious to people who couldn’t care less anyway.

You will not be surprised to learn, therefore, that the parking services department at the Island Council wishes it to be known its purpose in life is to "manage and promote safe and fair parking practices and to discourage anti-social parking and illegal parking, thereby creating a safer kerbside environment in line with the Local Transport Plan and the Traffic Management Act."

The FAQ section of its website contains such pressing inquiries as "why are Yaverland gates no longer locked overnight?" and "what are the regulations for parking trikes?"

I have another more pressing question for it to answer.

"You state you wish to 'promote fair and safe parking practices’. Can you therefore tell me what is unfair or unsafe about a genuinely disabled driver parking his car (complete with blue badge) in a back-street loading bay a good two hours after every shop in the immediate vicinity has closed for business on a cold and rainy January night?

"And is it too much to expect your apparatchiks to apply a little commonsense when they sneak around Shanklin on said cold and rainy night and issue a ticket timed at 7.18pm?"

My friend, who suffered thus, intends to contest the ticket for all he is worth — and I shall faithfully report the answers he receives.

In the meantime, I have also submitted a Freedom of Information request asking whether parking attendants have targets they are required to meet, or whether they are offered incentives of any kind for the number of tickets issued.

I’ll report back in due course.

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