Another Good Book

I have just received this book from amazon having seen it referred to in a Spectator Coffee House Blog.

Whilst my written English has improved since joining MyT under the tutelage (not always welcome) of amicus, janus, araminta and others. I am sure that there is still room for improvement and Mr Heffer seems to be the man for the job. He manages to be erudite, rigorous and funny all at once which is exactly the sort of tutor  (in any subject) that I need. God knows how many grammatical crimes I’ve committed so far in this piece.

Anyway having got the book I’ve discovered that Simon Heffer is the style guru (he’d hate that) for the Daily Telegraph and that many of his emails to DT hacks are online, here and here

Author: jazz606

An Old Dog

52 thoughts on “Another Good Book”

  1. Whilst exploring Heffer’s style notes on line I came across this rant from Giles Coren to the Times subs. Interestingly it’s also on a DT link but the DT have ****’d out all the bad words, the version below is from the Gruniad.


    I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda and Ben because I don’t know who i am supposed to be pissed off with (i’m assuming owen, but i filed to amanda and ben so it’s only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn’t here – if he had been I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.

    I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you that fucked up my review on saturday.

    It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

    I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.”

    It appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rosé and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.”

    There is no length issue. This is someone thinking “I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and i know best”.

    Well, you fucking don’t.
    This was shit, shit sub-editing for three reasons.
    1) ‘Nosh’, as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardisation of the German ‘naschen’. It is a verb, and can be construed into two distinct nouns. One, ‘nosh’, means simply ‘food’. You have decided that this is what i meant and removed the ‘a’. I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun, ‘nosh’ means “a session of eating” – in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of ‘scoff’. you can go for a scoff. or you can buy some scoff. the sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what i meant. Why would you change a sentnece aso that it meant something i didn’t mean? I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? it’s easy. Not. A. Word. Ever.

    2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, i was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as “sexually-charged”. I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y.. I have used the word ‘gaily’ as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blowjob. Not specifically gay, for this is soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. “looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. the joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a renaissance fresco and thinking jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking christ, don’t you read the copy?

    3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittest of all, you have removed the unstressed ‘a’ so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, metre is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for The Times and i have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck. fuck, fuck, fuck.

    I am sorry if this looks petty (last time i mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word i got in all sorts of trouble) but i care deeply about my work and i hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you’ve been subbing joe and hugo and maybe they just file and fuck off and think “hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips” – well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. weird, maybe. but that’s how it is.

    It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. i’ve got a review to write this morning and i really don’t feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the pay-off, and i’m going to have another weekend ruined for me.

    I’ve been writing for The Times for 15 years and i have never asked this before – i have never asked it of anyone i have written for – but I must insist, from now on, that i am sent a proof of every review i do, in pdf format, so i can check it for fuck-ups. and i must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way i can carry on in the job.

    And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

    Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger can make a man verbose.
    All the best

  2. Well his e mail certainly needed subbing. I would guess that he’d been pursuing his restaurant critic duties too zealously in the wine department.

  3. Peter Barnett –

    Who is Billy Crystal?
    What has he to do with me?
    What is the relevance of your advertisement for the Inquirer? Adverts are not allowed on WordPress sites.

  4. Hello Bearsy – a sly dig about David (?) Crystal who, it seems, doesn’t like Simon Heffer’s book the advertising was inadvertant – the quote “Google claims to to have sped up the web” was intentional – it doesn’t sound right to me.

  5. Ah.

    Billy is some Yank actor, I believe.
    David is a famous linguist, an acknowledged leader in the field with impeccable credentials.

    Do you have a reference to David’s comments on Heffer’s book? I would be interested to read them.

    Google have apparently only just discovered that JavaScript allows asynchronous processing, a fact known to every programmer worthy of the title, I would have thought. Understood about the advert – I have removed it. 🙂

  6. John Humphrys, Radio 4’s tame-ish Rottweiller, wrote a good one, ‘Lost for Words’, ISBN 0-346-83658-X


  7. Well, well!

    I had not previously encountered Geoff Pullum, but it is wonderful to see another eminent linguist joining with my idol, David Crystal, in condemning the spurious and ill-informed grammatical furphies perpetrated by Heffer and his “Victorian”-inspired fellow pedants.

    Most entertaining, and great advice to the grammatically-challenged.

    Your initial observation was correct! 😆

  8. I noticed that Pullum approved of the decision that Araminta and I arrived at a couple of weeks ago when we insisted that “None of us are …” should be the correct usage. 😀

  9. Bearsy :

    I noticed that Pullum approved of the decision that Araminta and I arrived at a couple of weeks ago when we insisted that “None of us are …” should be the correct usage. :grin:

    Is that because us the subject is plural ? Or you could say “Not one of us is …………”

  10. It’s not surprising that David Crystal doesn’t like Heffer’s book. Crystal is a lefty intellectual jobs worth and Heffer is a right wing journalist.

  11. Quoting from Heffer’s book (Pullman’s crtique?)the TES reviewer writes, “No educated American would blink”, he believes, at if I be wrong (for if I am wrong). No American from before about 1900, maybe. To which I would add “And neither would a 21st century West Country Wurzel blink”.

    It may be that Heffer has actually pulled the pigtails of the intellectuals? Here’s a review from The Guardian:-

    Do you hunger to “understand the essence of correct usage and good style” and approach the prosy heights of George Orwell and Enoch Powell? Then this book is for you. But it is no dull grammar: as a deliciously subtle satire on prescriptive style books, the author carefully breaks nearly all his own rules. This repetitious paean to concision advises scrupulous use of hyphens yet refers to a “free market economy” and “an equal opportunity writer”; it condemns hanging participles yet perpetrates a monster (on p165, too tedious to quote here). The arguments, too, are cleverly inconsistent: throughout, the author accepts some usages because they have become idiomatic, and forbids others even though they have too.

  12. I quite like the sound of “If I be wrong”.

    Anyway have scanned and copied the text from page 165 referred to on the Guardian. Peter perhaps you could identify the ‘monster’ hanging participle?

    The wrong word

    ………………direct. So little regard is given to strict etymology now that no-one would be likely to complain at the formation of an adjective from an Anglo-Saxon noun in this fashion – except on the grounds of instant redundancy, there already being a suitable alternative in the dictionary.

    Getting difficult
    Partridge has a long entry in Usage andAbusage on the word got -he could as easily have made the entry about the wordge/ – but, if anything, this usually strict grammarian lets the promiscuous and often thoughtless use of this term off lightly. Without detracting from Fowler’s point that the Anglo-Saxon is to be preferred to the Romance at all times, the use of the verb to get in an increasing number of contexts is not merely “slovenly” (Partridge’s word): it is downright confusing. If (and the point has repeatedly been made) one of the features of the best writing is that it avoids ambiguities, the ubiquity of get and its derivatives does more than most usages to undermine that. That is why it merits a section of this work to itself.
    One abomination I shall mention in more detail in the next chapter – the Americanism “can I get a beer?” – has pointed the way to this problem. Its misuse long precedes the transatlantic influence, however. Partridge quotes a passage in which the word is used in these different senses: to mount (“I got on horseback”), to receive (“I got your letter”), to reach a destination (“I got to Canterbury”), to take a form of transport (“I got a chaise”), to change condition (“I got wet”), to catch a disease (“I have got such a cold”), to rid oneself of something (“I shall not be able to get rid of [it]”), as an auxiliary for the passive voice (“I got

    Talking of Americanisms I quite like “Come round for supper I’ll make a chicken…!!”

  13. Crikey.

    (My father always swore by ‘Fowler’s English Usage’ and guidelines on writing from the Economist. Possibly outdated now?)

  14. David Crystal is not a ‘lefty intellectual jobs worth’ – he is a linguist. That is to say someone who has studied the natural structure of language. I tend to think that someone who has devoted his life to studying a subject might be considered to be more of an authority than a mere ‘right wing journalist’.

    Has any one on this thread read any of David Crystal’s work? Somehow I doubt it – and would suggest that they do before criticising his work.

  15. Crystal is a lefty intellectual jobs worth and Heffer is a right wing journalist.

    Go research his qualifications and the positions he has held, Jazz. Your assertion is one of the most stupid I have ever seen appear here on The Chariot.

    If I weren’t listening to Australia losing against Pakistan right now, I’d give you chapter and verse. Just you wait ’til playtime! 😦

  16. With regard to your comment #16, Jazz, you have completely missed the point and I seriously wonder whether you know anything about grammar at all; it would appear not. The subject, you wazzock, is ‘none’, which prats like Heffer assert must always be singular. Your average brainless pedant therefore insists that the correct version must be “None of us is …”

    If “us” were the subject, it would be “we”. Do you not know how to decline the first person plural pronoun? 🙄

  17. Before saying what I did, I had read Chrystal’s biog and did note that his criticism was published in the New Statesman …proof enough for me. And to cap it all the bugger has a beard and an OBE!!!


    Well I haven’t read any of Chrystal’s books, not an omission that I have any intention of correcting.

    BTW I hope the Pakkis give the jailbirds a hiding.

  18. Ah well Jazz! Do not be surprised if I do not take your criticisms seriously. I had thought better of you – I did think you were one to research a subject before pontificating! Much as I, also, loathe beards, I would not damn a man’s opinion for the way he looks.

    Far too many men would have to be ignored if I did…


  19. Geez Jazz – You’re pressing me really hard on something I still have a lot to learn about and which I’m sure someone here could answer much more easily than me.
    My best answer would be “Talking of Americanisms I quite like “Come round for supper I’ll make a chicken…!!” The participle being “Talking of Americans”, which requires a subject in the sentence? And what’s with the ..!!(?) – Is the reviewer in The Guardian right?

    No Boa – I haven’t read a work (book) by Crystal, or Pullman, or Heffer.

  20. Peter – I would suggest that you do read Crystal. I don’t have the passion for language that Bearsy has. In sheer desperation at what to buy him for Birthdays and Christmases, I have bought quite a few books on language for him over the years – and read them myself.

    Crystal is a very clear, concise and logical writer… one that I, as a non-linguistic person, can enjoy and understand.

  21. Peter, re #26 – I think the sentence you have quoted is Jazz talking, not Heffer. But I could be wrong!

    176 all out. Worst Australian World Cup total since 1992. Awful! 😥

  22. Wasn’t sure Bearsy, I was looking for the ‘ing’! What with this and gerunds, the only thing missing is a book by Al Gore with the title ‘Very inconvenient grammar’!

  23. Peter – Grammar Girl is very good, but beware, she does make the occasional mistake, like using the “grocer’s apostrophe”. Don’t we all from time to time?

    I’ve marked the dangling participle in Jazz’s text (#19) in browny-red.

    I’m not going to even enter the “get/got/gotten” discussion. Hint: It’s from older English.
    Nor am I going to debate subjunctives. Not right now, anyway. 🙂

    Back to the cricket disaster.

    Cuprum – Damn good question! 😆

  24. Have been reading up on participles (hung, dangling and otherwise) and also on subjunctives….mind blowingly boring. Thank goodness it’s possible to write serviceable English without knowing all of this stuff.

    My current ‘favourite’ bête noir is ‘going forward’ invariably tacked onto a phrase which has no need of it*. The other one I hate is ‘ the coming months and days” and variations.

    * Can the expression ever add sense to anything?

  25. Hello Jazz – Certainly I’ve managed to pursue a successful career in the civil service based on grammar learned at a ‘grammar school’, with a rag eared COED by my side. Most of my written work, be it general correspondence or the writing of specifications, had to be free of ambiguity. This was especially the case when working on ‘European Standards’ that were to be translated into a language other than English. You are right, you can get by on fundamental grammar.
    On reflection, I now wonder how much of what we may call our ‘instinct for good English’ is simply the subconscious recollection of lessons learnt at school, where, in my case, the motivation to get things right was fear of the consequences of getting them wrong (Hem-Hem).;-)

    Bearsy – It may be older English, then I’m an ‘older’ man (Ahem-Ahem).
    And thanks for ‘ing’ thing. 🙂

  26. Blimey, Jazz.

    I do remember taking you to task, once, about some grammatical error, but frankly, it happens to me here and Elsewhere with monotonous regularity.

    I don’t mind, actually, I am grateful, and as Bearsy said; none of us are perfect, and it is always easier to spot the glaring mistakes of others.

  27. Jazz – Thank goodness it’s possible to write serviceable English without knowing all of this stuff.

    Peter – our ‘instinct for good English’ is simply the subconscious recollection of lessons learnt at school

    The rules, or grammar, of English exist in our heads, programmed there as we learnt the language as a child. Those are the real rules, not the words that grammar-buffs or even linguists use to describe them.

    So Jazz, you do “know all this stuff”. That’s what enables you to read and write. Does it “feel” right? That’s the process that goes on when you write something.

    Sometimes the internal rules are not clear enough, because we didn’t get sufficient exposure to certain constructions as we grew up. That’s when we have problems and use our language badly – we may realise it, or we may not.

    You may regard grammar as boring, but you use it every second of your waking day.

    Clearly you’ve suffered from poor teaching, but at least you received some instruction. Kids today don’t even get that, which is tough for them.

    I’m not going to enter grammatical debates any more except with people who know enough, and have interest enough, to comprehend what I’m talking about – like Araminta, for example. I shall just cringe silently while my language is mangled by the plebs. 😆

  28. Cuprum.

    Bearsy has been correcting my spelling and syntax for about three years, and I would be extremely upset if he did not continue to do so. 🙂

  29. … and you have returned the compliment on several occasions when Homer has nodded, Araminta. 😕

    I rely on you continuing to do so!
    I rely on your continuing to do so!

    Cuprum, which is correct, and why? 😎

  30. Bearsy is the 2nd correct as someone is relying on the continuity of the action rather than the person? And is there an inference in the 2nd example that someone is relying on someone else’s choice to continue an action. And does that make a difference? Sod it, I’m going to bed. PS There was a book by John Whale I think from the Times in the eighties about speech and grammar – just a little booklet but a mine of information. I will try and see if I still have it somewhere. Not even sure if the name is right!

  31. Araminta :


    “………and I would be extremely upset if he did not continue to do so”. :)

    I think it would have been better to say “and I will be upset if he does not continue”. No need for ‘extremely’ one is either upset or not, extreme ‘upsetness’ occurs only at the personal tragedy level.

  32. PapaG – Um, well, er, yes and then again, no. I am being rather sneaky, devious and elitist in this question to Cuprum. I was, I admit, expecting Araminta to return immediately with a Bear-squashing quip which would reveal my mischievousness. I shall wait a while longer before I explain! 😆

  33. Jazz – No. But this is a question of style, rather than grammar.
    Araminta is using hyperbole for ironic effect; a common use of this figure of speech which appears to have eluded you. 😦

    Err no it didn’t. Being aware of the difference between style and grammar I was simply making the point that it might have been better to have said “……….”.

  34. Gosh how did I manage to do that? Inserting my comment into Bearsy’s comment see #46 above.

    Any way here’s the comment again.

    Err no it didn’t. Being aware of the difference between style and grammar I was simply making the point that it might have been better to have said “……….”. And I actually said “…..I think it would have been better to say….”

  35. Bearsy.

    As if! 😉

    I was intrigued to see what Cuprum would make of your sneaky challenge; hence my comment was to have been in the future and conditional!

    Pedant. 🙂

  36. OK, that’s long enough. I guess Cuprum didn’t notice my sneaky quiz. For any of you who may still be interested –

    Both versions are correct!

    • In the first, “continuing” is being used in its normal verbal role as a present participle
    • In the second, it is being used as a noun, having taken on the disguise of our new friend – the gerund.

    In my limited experience, older, more educated people are likely to use the second construction in normal speech, whereas younger products of a degraded educational system will opt for the first. But as JM says, I could be wrong. 😀

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