Friday 27 September 2013

Barnaby has a bit of a rant

Barnaby finds that he is increasingly irritated by the misuse of English words. Perhaps it's a sign of his age. It seems that fewer and fewer people understand the difference between 'few' and 'less' for instance, although one is plural, fewer people for example, and the other is singular, e.g. less sugar, but they are universally confused. Or, take another example, 'due to' and 'because of'. They are not interchangeable. 'Due to' is an adjective, which means it can only modify pronouns and nouns and 'Because of” is an adverb, which means it can only modify verbs, adjectives and clauses. One trick you can use is to substitute 'due to' with 'caused by'. If the substitution doesn't work, then you probably shouldn’t use 'due to' there. Then there is the word 'decimate', now used almost indiscriminately to mean 'devastated' or 'almost totally destroyed' when it actually means 'one in ten' or 'ten per cent'. Thus a town which is described as 'decimated' is actually ninety per cent intact. (Sadly, Barnaby just discovered that even his own dictionary now gives the meaning of decimate as 'laid to waste'. Is this progress?)
Of course all language changes with time and perhaps Barnaby is simply behaving like an old fart trying to hang on to outmoded English usage. At one level it can be argued that it doesn't matter at all as long as the meaning is clear. On the other hand, Barnaby finds that it jars when he hears or reads an incorrect usage, which spoils the flow and enjoyment of whatever he is reading or listening to.
Does Barnaby make mistakes in his writing? Almost certainly, though he tries hard not to. If you spot something which is wrong, please let him know.
There are hundreds of other examples of confusion between words in the English language. Take the words 'sarcasm' and 'irony' for example. 'Sarcasm' is usually defined as 'a sharp, bitter, or cutting expression or remark; a bitter gibe or taunt', whereas 'irony', of course, is the 'use of a heated metal object to remove the creases from clothes'.
You can find more of Barnaby's writing, correct and otherwise, at

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