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words | Peter Rodney

There is nothing more satisfying, especially to a pedant like me, than pointing out errors made by others. As a result, I have not many friends. But correct use of the apostrophe (and punctuation generally), spelling, pronunciation and accuracy in all things is important. When I remark to my beloved wife that: “I may not understand what you mean, dear, but I understand what you say,” she stamps her foot and her eyes dart fire in the most charming way — and then she refuses to speak to me. I cannot tell why this should be.

Even in ancient times there were inaccuracies. Homer described the sea as ‘wine-dark’. What a plonker. Apparently there was no word in ancient Greek for ‘blue’. And the ancient Greeks were among the founders of modern civilisation. How on earth did they manage that, given that they were looking at the Mediterranean every day and could not find a word to describe it? In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has the clocks striking the hour. Clever chaps, the Romans, to have invented mechanical clocks so early. And a recent television series, set in 1946, had London Routemaster bus No. 19 travelling to Peckham.


As any fule kno, the Routemaster was not introduced until the late 1950s and the 19 goes from Battersea, via the West End, to Finsbury Park — nowhere near Peckham. Hollywood films delight in changing history, usually to the disadvantage of the Brits — see Enigma (or, if relating to British history, then to the disadvantage of the English — see Braveheart). A recent short film posted on YouTube purported to show the history of mankind in three minutes. While splendidly produced, the final minute was taken up solely with the achievements of the USA in the last 70 years or so (including winning World War II single-handedly). Unaccountably, the great Arsenal double-winning team of 1971 and the ‘Invincibles’ of 2004 were left out. These relatively innocuous mistakes may have be a source of mild amusement to most people. Even the great Dr Johnson, when asked why he had defined ‘pastern’ as ‘the knee of a horse’ in his dictionary, replied: “Ignorance, pure ignorance”. But these mistakes matter. ‘Residents refuse to be disposed of in the rubbish bin’ might be an interesting newspaper headline until one realises that there is an apostrophe missing. Sir Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist was hanged by a comma: the translation into English (from Norman French) of the Treason Act 1351, under which he was convicted, included a comma where there was none in the original, thus changing the meaning. These errors can be found in the wine world. Leaving aside mistranslations and/or ludicrous


The Gibraltar Magazine - May 2013  
The Gibraltar Magazine - May 2013  

Gibraltar's fabulous business and leisure magazine. Crammed full of great features from finance to football, from fashion to arts. Enjoy i...