Thursday, 19 October 2017

The pedants are revolting, by Veronica Zundel

Are you or have you ever been a pedant? I must confess I am. I wince at a misplaced apostrophe, and am conducting a one woman campaign to make people spell Gandhi right (no 'h' after the 'G', it's after the 'd'). Yes, some people are dyslexic, and need help. But we are writers, so it is incumbent on us to communicate clearly and without unintended ambiguity. So indulge me a little, as I list a few of my least favourite errors.

First, there is no such word as 'nuptuals'. It may sound temptingly like 'voluptuous', but in fact there is
no relationship  and the word is 'nuptials'. Second, unless you live in a 'finate' world but worship an 'infinate' God, you cannot 'definately' come round tomorrow. The word is 'definitely'. Then there's that good old dangling participle. 'While suffering from dementia, he cared for his mother'. Very heroic of him, but it was his mother, not he, who had the misfortune to have dementia. An introductory phrase refers to the next subject mentioned - it's really quite logical. And 'They came to see my husband and I' may sound extra-correct, but try leaving out the husband (I often do) and you are left with 'They came to see I' which only works if you are from the Caribbean. If it's 'They came to see me', then it's 'They came to see my husband and me'.

Here's another that infuriates me. 'The talk will take place between 2.30 to 4.00'. You don't say 'Between you to me, he was horrible', do you? Or 'She was standing between me to the fence'? It's either 'between... and', or 'from... to'. Please don't muddle them up. And no one ever 'steps foot' inside a church for the first time. It's 'sets foot', and always has been. Meanwhile, may I inform you that 'a duck lays eggs, but nobody lays down'? I can lay down my arms but I can only lie down on the bed, unless I am in the past tense.

Language changes, of course, and some of these battles are probably lost by now. And errors of grammar and punctuation can make for hilarity of the order of 'The ladies of the church have cast off clothing of every kind and can be seen in the crypt on Saturday'. Nevertheless, if we have something worthwhile to say, it behoves us to say it right.

The English language has complex origins and crazy spelling, but these things reflect its history and   do useful stuff like distinguishing homophones from each other. So please forgive my little rant, and if you're not certain about some spellings or grammar, or where the apostrophe should really go,
please a) use dictionaries or the internet to help you and b) read more, and notice what you're reading.  My husband's spelling improved massively after he started reading more - and he's an engineer, so if he can improve... Either the devil or God is in the details - if the former, drive him out, and if the latter, pay him more attention.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at


  1. I do believe we were cruelly separated at birth.

  2. I must be the third triplet, in that case!

  3. Thanks, Veronica. Never was a truer word spoke.