Monday, 15 November 2010

Getting it wrong isn't so bad if you say it right

The elegant use of language has always struck me as a highly desirable goal. I don’t claim to achieve it all that often, but I always aim for it, on the basis that if I try hard enough, I might actually pull it off from time to time.

One habit of English usage that always grates on me is putting a plural verb with certain singular nouns. People justify it on the grounds that the noun is a collective of some kind. A government, a team or a company contains multiple individuals and so, they say, a plural verb is appropriate. My view is that there’s only one Manchester United, Cameron government or BP drilling operation – one too many, you might feel, in each case – so let’s use a singular verb for each of them.

That’s why I’m so pleased, when standing on a railway platform, to hear announcements in the form ‘Capital Connect apologises for the late running of this train and the inconvenience caused.’ ‘Apologises’ instead of ‘apologise’ – one company, one subject, one singular verb. I’m also pleased that they’ve dropped the time-honoured formula ‘any inconvenience caused’. That ‘any’ seemed to suggest ‘well it probably isn't any real inconvenience, since wasting your time doesn't add up to much in the broad sweep of things, but for pure form, we felt we'd apologise anyway. But with bad grace.’ Now they admit that it will undoubtedly cause inconvenience and apologise for it without reservation.

Of course, if I wanted to get picky, I might say that it would be even better if we heard the apology a little less frequently. But I suppose I shouldn’t be too demanding. So my congratulations, train companies, on at least getting the form of what you say right. Working on the content and eliminating the delays in the first place: could that be your next objective?


Anonymous said...

How dare you speak of Manchester United in less than reverential terms? I know from a previous blog that you sold yourself to those Abu Dhabi chappies on the other side of the city (no thanks to Ronnie!)
Disgusted of Edinburgh.

David Beeson said...

Yes, I did think that knocking Chelsea might have been more appropriate, but I thought Man U would get more of a reaction. Seems I my not have been mistaken.

Of course, I suppose I could have had a go at Hearts or Hibs, 'Disgusted of Edinburgh', but would anyone have cared?