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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CONTEXTUALLY YOURS #70 (article first published : 2005-12-8)

The pickings have been a little thin in the world of peculiar language lately, but our Durban morning newspaper always comes up trumps in the end. There have been some interesting headlines in recent issues. In one issue there was a thoughtful article on dealing with employees under the influence of drugs, headed “Substance abuse, handle with caution”. In the same issue the main front-page headline read “MPs stoned at meeting”, which only goes to show how widespread the problem is.

Another headline writer made a bid for world-class status with the ringing statement “Warders face assault charge after death”. This must surely be a classic of its kind. And our old friend Jane, Dean of Something-or-Other at the local university, had something to offer. Quoting a “well-respected media consultant”, she advised us that “journalists must always consider…that their role is to serve as public watchdog and that the tenants of good journalism…are always maintained.” I think the word she was groping for was “tenets” – principles or doctrines. She also advised us that a journalist should have “the morality of a self-actualised person”. What on earth do you think she meant?

Later in the same article she described an awards ceremony where “the entire ceiling of the auditorium was bedecked with white daisies and from the ceiling emerged fairy-like nymphs twirling and swinging from steel bars”. I don’t know what the other bars were serving, but I think I’ll have what she had – it must have been quite a party.

Grammar is another besetting problem for newspaper writers. One frequent error is illustrated by this example from the business section of the paper: “Other countries are more likely destinations for these type of investments”. Because “investments” is plural, the writer felt that “these” was appropriate. But of course it refers to “type”, the only singular noun in the sentence, and should be “this”. “This type of investment” makes perfect sense, as does “these types of investments”. But you can’t have it both ways.

Another common error is this one: “Medical supplies for animals cost the same, if not more, than those for humans”. Where is the “as” that should follow “same”? It’s gone missing. The sentence should read (and be punctuated) as follows: “Medical supplies for animals cost the same as, if not more than, those for humans.” If that’s too difficult, what about “…the same as those for humans, if not more”?

And finally, if you were wondering what Mrs Noah’s first name was, it has now been revealed in a reader’s letter. It was Joan – Joan of Ark, of course. I read that in the newspaper, so it must be true.

And on that Biblical note, I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas – oh, all right, Festive Season.

Contextually Yours, Ulysses Online.




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