Thursday, May 20, 2004

Lessons from Bremner

This is the second lesson. (Click here for the first.)

BREMNER: You can't teach this [grammar] unless you know it. And one way of finding out what you know about it is to give you a test.

NARRATOR: John Bremner had a little test he used in his copy editing classes as a means of finding out what his students did and did not know. I'll give you a few sample sentences from this quiz to see whether you can correctly edit them without rephrasing or rewriting. Don't be too mortified if you're surprised at some of John's answers. This test has been known to embarrass some of the most experienced journalists among us.
[On-screen] 1. Volkswagon is only having trouble with one of there new models.
BREMNER: "Volkswagen: I'm looking around here, and quite a few of you can't spell it. It's W-A-G-E-N. I had a job once in Oklahoma City, and this guy, "Well," he said, "what's the importance of it?" And I said, "What do you do if there's an accident story involving a Volkswagen?" "Well," he said, "you spell it the way the cops spell it." [Laughter] "Now, that's no way to go through life. You know that." I said, "What did you do here?" "I crossed it out and put Ford." If you don't have a dictionary, when in doubt, put Ford.

On only: Put your modifiers as close as possible to the word they modify.

On their: ... On there, T-H-E-I-R, not T-H-E-R-E. For heavens' sake, that's elementary. [Teachers erupt into questions about their.] OK! I just wanted to make sure that somebody was still awake out there. Just checking. That's it, that's it. Come in, come in, sucker. That's it.

Stay awake. Of course, it's its. A collective noun, in the United States of America is usually considered to be a singular -- the team is, the congress is, the school is, whatever. In England, it's treated usually as a plural. And don't knock it! It's their language. We got it from them. They will say: "Parliament are in session. The government are doing something or other. The team are having their worst season ever." It takes awhile to get used to. I'm not saying you should treat collectives as plurals. But don't say it's wrong.

In fact, I treat collectives most of the time as plurals. What are you going to do? Most American newspapers will say, "The couple was married yesterday." Great. God bless 'em. The couple was married yesterday. And then, if you're going to be consistent, then it went to Florida on its honeymoon, yes-yes, yes-yes. Well, then it had an argument. And then it decided to have a divorce. It went its separate ways.
More tomorrow.


At 10:48 AM, May 20, 2004, Blogger DFW Blogger said...

I never knew that about the Brits. I guess the mates I have from there all have been converted to the dark side of English, or "Ehng-lish", as we say in Texas.

At 5:55 PM, May 20, 2004, Blogger Nicole said...

It's one of my favorite reasons to tune in to BBC World Service. That, and hearing about "sport" instead of "sports."

I'd say it is responsible for my longing to go "on holiday," too, but that would be pretext. It's really just general ennui.


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