View Full Version : What's this poor form of prose called?

Shaggy Sheep Driver
19th Feb 2015, 21:13
On Beeb news tonight:

"Found, a cat's head in a cottage in Cornwall that turned out to be a rare bronze artifact".

A cottage made of bronze? Well, that would be rare!

Other examples, these made up but typical: "man crashes car with bear suit on". A car in a bear suit? "Woman opens door in dressing gown". :eek:

BBC news seem to excel at this particular example poorly-written prose, with an example of it presented to the public maybe several times a week. Does it have a name?

19th Feb 2015, 21:20
Along those lines I once saw a note in a loo saying DO NOT PUT ANYTHING IN THIS TOILET EXCEPT TOILET PAPER!

Er, where exactly was I supposed to put my, um.......then???

Mrs BwsBoy

tony draper
19th Feb 2015, 21:27
Remember the teacher giving us this example 'For sale a Piano by a lady with carved legs' I found this hysterically funny for some reason at the time and couldn't stop laughing which earned me a cuff along the lug.

20th Feb 2015, 00:36
It's called modern English more's the pity.

After an excellent landing etc...

20th Feb 2015, 01:42
When I was in university back in the 60s, there was a student radio station that one could receive while on campus. Of course there was a code of honor that no one listened to this station while in one's dorm room. However, while driving on campus I would bend that code of honor and listen to the hopelessly inept student disk jockey read the news. One night I heard this little gem and I have never forgotten it.

In a somber and very serious voice a male student radio announcer said;

"Today on campus there was a car pedestrian accident. The driver of the car told the campus police that a female student walked off the curb in front of him and hit the brakes."

I started laughing so hard I missed the rest, but found out later that the ‘female student that walked off the curb in front of him and hit the guy’s brakes’ was not hurt.

I think the student announcer was Brian Williams.

20th Feb 2015, 01:54
It's not prose. It is simply the result of churning out teachers whose level of English skills and comprehension is so execrable, that they are in turn, are unable to teach their students how to write proper English.

The standards of writing in journalism today are absolutely appalling, and they would make English teachers and editors of the 1960's spin in their graves.

Here in Oz, we have been allowing teachers to graduate with inadequate abilities in literacy and numeracy, and now the Gubbmint has actually realised they need to do something about it.

Perhaps the decision has only come about because the pollies were unable to read their ministerial reports and White Papers, due to the amount of poor writing?? :rolleyes:

Student teachers to sit literacy and numeracy test before being allowed to graduate (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-13/teaching-students-to-sit-literacy-and-numeracy-test-to-graduate/6090062)

20th Feb 2015, 02:47
"Found, a cat's head in a cottage in Cornwall that turned out to be a rare bronze artifact".

Here's the drum.

"that turned out to be a rare bronze artifact" is an adjectival phrase which modifies the noun "cat's head". The grammatical error is known as a 'misplaced modifier'.

One of several alternatives which avoid the error is: "In a cottage in Cornwall a cat's head was found which turned out to eb a rare bronze artifact."

Obviously the writer felt a bit playful, so used the style of a 'found ad', but still could have done better: "Found, in a cottage in Cornwall, a cat's head which turned out to be a rare bronze artifact."

I suspect the young journalist was attracted by the line 'cat's head in a cottage' and couldn't recover after that.

So a misplaced modifier ends up modifying the wrong noun. Sometimes, there is a particiaple - an adjectival form of a verb, like running or coloured, or a phrase copntaining such a word, which ends up with nothing to qualify. Then it's a dangling participle or participle phrase, eg, "Travelling to the North Pole, the weather got chilly." 'Travelling to the North Pole' is a participle phrase, and it's dangling because it has nothing to modify. It should be 'As I was travelling...' then it modifies the subject 'I'.

I teach Latin every weekend and it's full of this stuff, so I'm not a swot, honest.

20th Feb 2015, 02:57
And 'artifact' is the US spelling,whereas 'artefact' is the British one,so interesting to see the Beeb using the US spelling.

20th Feb 2015, 03:24
Journalism :ugh::ugh:

The standard of English as used by journalists is abysmally low.

20th Feb 2015, 03:49
One could expect ads to be full of bad English, but not journalistic articles!

"Man wanted to wash dishes, and two waitresses ..."

"Accommodation - Suit two girls willing to share room, or young man ... "

"Photographer setting up in business needs model, as sleeping or active partner ... "

20th Feb 2015, 04:18
Being not in the least sorry to carp, Mr RJM, allow me point out, that while your grasp of English grammar is impressive, your failure to proof read your own text has lost you points. Not quite to the extent that resulted in Miss O'Shaunessy, my long-suffering English teacher, longtime passing, marking an essay of mine, 2 out of ten - SEE ME!

Mind, she was not in every sense an English teacher, as she was a beautifully accented, (and endowed), native of Tipperary.

Ah! The sweet nostalgia of those never-to-be-forgotten moments
of class-room fantasy.

Krystal n chips
20th Feb 2015, 04:26
and listen to the hopelessly inept student disk jockey read the news.

In a somber and very serious voice a male student radio announcer said

Ah, now we know where AFN recruited from then.

Always "amusing" to listen to, preferably when the blood alcohol level was slightly skewed.....little gems such as "the temperature in downtown Mew Nick / Owgsberg" etc....come to mind.

joy ride
20th Feb 2015, 08:01
TWT, the Beeb does not just use American spelling, but also increasingly uses Dollars as its standard currency, even if the story or programme has nothing to do with USA. I saw one recently about a German company which had invested X million Dollars developing a new motorcycle.

20th Feb 2015, 09:51
Ah now, not the Maily Dail for once then

20th Feb 2015, 10:32
A further annoying modern turn of phrase are the 'enormous', 'gigantic' and 'miniscule' absolute values.

Such as 'The super car costs an enormous £200,000'.

Just how different is and enormous 200,000 from a normal or miniscule 200,000?

20th Feb 2015, 10:45
Some years ago I went into my local newsagent chortling after reading the car advert in the window.

Low mileage lady owner regularly serviced.

Pinky the pilot
20th Feb 2015, 10:50
Low mileage lady owner regularly serviced.

Lucky Lady!:D

P6 Driver
20th Feb 2015, 11:32
I once saw an entry in a guardroom lost property log recording someone handing in "a gold pen" rather than "a pen which is gold in colour".

Shaggy Sheep Driver
20th Feb 2015, 11:44
That's a bit like 'chocolate penis'. There's obviously no such thing, though chocolate in the form of a penis is, I'm told, available.

'Misplaced Modifier'.

Thanks RJM!

20th Feb 2015, 12:03
from Bad Language - Writing, marketing and technology (http://www.badlanguage.net) -

from Seven types of bad writing
By Matthew Stibbe

Everyone can write. But not everyone can write well.
We all learn to write at school but then society makes a distinction between ‘writers’ and ‘the rest of us.’ A writer sits in a garret and writes the great American novel. The rest of us write memos. It’s a false division.
Because everyone can write, people underestimate its importance and overestimate their own ability. Because they think that writers are creative weirdos they rarely think about hiring a specialist when they have something important to say.

I’m not talking about advertising copywriting. This is an artform at its best – business haikus. I’m talking about brochures, websites, case studies, press releases, reports, letters and the humdrum daily word torrent.
What comes out of most companies is bad. In my experience there are seven types of bad writing:

1. Thinks too much of itself. The UK satirical magazine, Private Eye runs a regular column lampooning the abuse of the word ‘solution.’ For example, Dow Corning’s “Innovative solutions for wound management,” which means “bandages.” This kind of word inflation devalues meaning and arouses the scepticism of readers.

2. Is too clever by half. For some reason, people are afraid to write how they speak. They want to sound big, grown-up and clever. So they use big words and long sentences. For example, I was presented with this beauty at a school board meeting once: “the Governing Body are agreeing this budget as the financial mechanism to support the education priorities of the school as identified in the School Development Plan and will adhere to the best value principles in spending its school funding allocation.” It meant, “We approve the budget.”

3. Gets hyped up. Press releases often include frankenquotes. These are made-up quotations that bear no resemblance to normal speech. For example: “Nortel has established a legacy in innovation and will continue to push the envelope…” Try saying that in a pub to your friends. See if they still listen to you afterwards. Or trust you.

4. Tells lies. In the UK, journalists score low in public trust. Somewhere near politicians and spin doctors. However, good journalists are obsessive about research, accuracy, good reporting, details and, yes, truth. What works for newspaper stories also works for business communication.

5. Ignores the reader. As a writer, the greatest skill is to think about what the reader needs to hear, not what you need to say. It takes an imaginative leap. For example, Google says “Please read this carefully, it’s not the usual yada, yada.” Microsoft says “This software is licensed under the agreement below.” Which one is more likely to be read?

6. Needs to go on a diet. Most writing can be improved by liposuction. Consider the Gettysburg Address. Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” This is especially true when writing for the web, when you need to cut the word count by about 50 percent.

7. Has no direction. My favourite tutor at Oxford told me that I had to take my essays and drive them like Ayrton Senna (a famous racing driver). Good writing has a strong purpose. Bad writing has either no direction or has too many.

joy ride
20th Feb 2015, 12:07
The poor grammar which bothers me most is the incorrect use of tenses. Being interested in History I watch various programmes on TV and virtually all of them now use the present tense when discussing events in the past, things like "In 1815 Napoleon IS defeated at the Battle of Waterloo" and "In 1939 Hitler INVADES Poland". The latter is doubly bad, because I am sure that it was the German armed forces who did the invading, rather than a deluded megalomaniac with odd face fungus.

This crime against grammar is often compounded by "If he WOULD HAVE known, then he would have changed his plans".

Romani eunt domus.

20th Feb 2015, 12:49
The historical present is a matter of style, rather than of grammar. I agree it is overused and can be irritating.

My personal bugbear is the increasingly common use of 'an' in front of words beginning with 'h' - as in 'an horrendous accident'. It is ugly, illogical and pretentious. Nobody speaks like that, or do they? Sadly, I see it is regarded as acceptable in some style guides.

20th Feb 2015, 15:22
More examples from the BBC today:

Patients face fines on free scripts (http://www.bbc.com/news/health-31537381)

Russian bombers escorted by RAF jets (http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-31530840)

US 'war on those perverting Islam' (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31523213) :E

Uncle Fred
20th Feb 2015, 22:41
My personal bugbear is the increasingly common use of 'an' in front of words beginning with 'h' - as in 'an horrendous accident'. It is ugly, illogical and pretentious. Nobody speaks like that, or do they? Sadly, I see it is regarded as acceptable in some style guides.


I think this is where we can borrow from the French concept of the aspirated H. This steers us toward thinking, at the very least, of the sound that comes after the H. Not perfect I know, but it makes me think of a word like hour that sounds much better with an in front of it. I will be there in an hour.

Homage, honourable, and honest are other words that fit into this pattern. Note that the second letter is O. Words like hat, harp, hit of course would just use an A.

An apparent exception to this is if the H word has 3 or more syllables. Thus a history book but an historical event. I found this exception at this site: "A" or "An" Before H? | "A" or "An" Historic (http://www.aoran.org/a-or-an-before-h.html)

21st Feb 2015, 00:25
Right said Fred :ok:

Whenever did you say "60 miles a hour"?

joy ride
21st Feb 2015, 08:14
Last night I watched The Avengers on Freeview 61 True Entertainment.

The synopsis read "....John Steed and his charismatic female assistances..." very odd!

21st Feb 2015, 08:54
I always enjoy the newspaper articles which start, "Titanic star Kate Winslet......"
She's a big girl but she's not that big.