Category Archives: English language

Waugh on the merits

Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh was born in 1903 to upper-middle-class Anglicans who lived in a suburb of London. He attended a boarding secondary school (Lancing College), read history at Oxford, published his first book (a biography of the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti) at age twenty-four, then his first novel a year later. Waugh married that same year (1928), divorced after two years, and converted to Catholicism. After the first marriage was declared null, he married a Catholic by whom he had seven children. He served honorably but ineffectively as an infantry officer in World War II, and was to publish thirteen novels, as well as seven travel books, three biographies, a volume of autobiography, and numerous essays and book reviews. Lionized in the 1920s as a trendy man of fashion, he became increasingly conservative in politics and churchmanship and notorious for his truculent contempt for the sham enthusiasms of modernity. He died on Easter Sunday, 1966, at his house in Somerset. Read on…

‘Core’ vs. ‘non-core promise’ is a legitimate distinction

During his long term as Australia’s prime minister (1996-2007), John Howard made a distinction between promises or undertakings that were ‘core’ and those that were ‘non-core’. He made the distinction in response to an accusation that he had gone back on an undertaking.  Some undertakings, he said, have to be reversed because of changed circumstances. It seemed an unexceptionable explanation, but the words had hardly passed his lips when a howling of abuse, ridicule and scorn arose from the Left like a cloud of red dust blowing in from the outback. The ABC/Fairfax coalition went to town, confident that such an absurd declaration by a conservative they hated just a touch less than Tony Abbott would give them years of fun. Indeed, their confidence was not misplaced.

Continue reading ‘Core’ vs. ‘non-core promise’ is a legitimate distinction

English is largely made up of the rules we don’t know that we know.

Have you ever wondered why many foreign speakers of English, as fluent as they may be, never entirely master the language? I can think of the Dutch. Many Dutch people speak English well, but there are few that speak it really well, like a native-speaker – unless they spent some time growing up in a English-speaking country. I exclude those. Mark Forsyth’s fascinating piece on BBC online explains why.

The language rules we know but don’t know we know

Over the weekend, I happened to go viral. Or rather a single paragraph from a book I wrote called The Elements of Eloquence went viral. The guilty paragraph went like this:

“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”  Read on…