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The Pedant

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Alan H
Posts: 24067
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:26 pm

The Pedant

#1 Post by Alan H » July 27th, 2009, 5:10 pm

Ah! A column in The Times just for the likes of me:
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The pedant: refuting - Times Online
http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life ... 726804.ece
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The pedant: refuting
To refute a proposition means that you disprove it. If you don't offer evidence against a charge, you aren't refuting it
Oliver Kamm

The 40th anniversary of the Moon landings gave new impetus to the conspiracy theorists who maintain that the Apollo programme was a hoax. Nasa responded: “Conspiracy theories are always difficult to refute because of the impossibility of proving a negative.”

That statement is a nice instance of the correct use of “refute”. To refute a proposition means that you disprove it. Nasa rightly observes that a conspiracy theory is unfalsifiable. That makes it unlike a scientific theory, which advances hypotheses that can be tested. Scientists continually try to refute theories to arrive at better explanations. Conspiracy theorists do the opposite: they explain conflicting data by positing an even wider conspiracy than the one they had first thought of.

If you don’t offer disproof of a charge then you can’t be refuting it. When Greater Manchester Police were accused this month of collusion in the torture of a member of al-Qaeda, a spokesman declared: “We are confident in the behaviour of our officers and we refute any allegations of impropriety.” No, they didn’t: they merely said that the allegations were false. That was not refuting the charges but denying them. Refuting them was what the police wished to do but had not yet done.

The police are not the worst public-service abusers of “refute”. A long dispute about admissions data for an academy recently drew this sharp comment from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE): “It’s completely untrue that we turned a blind eye to incorrect data returns from London Metropolitan University. We also refute the fact that there was any change in attitude by HEFCE.”

The HEFCE spokesman managed to confuse not only deny and refute, but also (and bizarrely) “allegation” and “fact”. You can't refute a fact because, by definition, a fact is true. To deny something while inadvertently describing it as true is a defence of some incompetence.

Occasionally a writer will be aware that refute and deny mean different things but not be familiar with the exact distinction. There is a temptation then to use “rebut” in the sense of “deny”. It should always be resisted. To rebut a charge means to offer detailed evidence against it. In a debate, one side will rebut the argument presented by the other. If it merely denies the argument, then there won’t be much of a debate. If it refutes the argument, then it will have won the debate.

thepedant@thetimes.co.uk

[Retrieved: Mon Jul 27 2009 17:06:10 GMT+0100 (GMT Daylight Time)]

###################
What's your favourite pedantry? What about using 'they' instead of 'he/she/it'? Does that annoy you, or do you think it is OK?
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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Lifelinking
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Re: The Pedant

#2 Post by Lifelinking » July 27th, 2009, 6:09 pm

Flaunt being used when the correct word would be flout. Or vice versa.
"Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It's what we have because we can't have justice."
William McIlvanney

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jaywhat
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Re: The Pedant

#3 Post by jaywhat » July 29th, 2009, 2:47 pm

'They' often sounds strange when referring to a single person but as we do not have a non-gender word for the third person singular what can we do?
I think someone tried to invent a new word - like 'Ms' to mean a woman without referring to her marital state, but I cannot bring it to mind.
One way is 's/he' which might be regarded as preferable to 'they'. In fact I think I prefer, 's/he'

Nick
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Re: The Pedant

#4 Post by Nick » July 29th, 2009, 3:05 pm

Being a pedant, one surely knows that such a word exists, doesn't one? :D

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jaywhat
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Re: The Pedant

#5 Post by jaywhat » July 29th, 2009, 3:08 pm

Is one being a bit sarcastic here?

Fia
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Re: The Pedant

#6 Post by Fia » July 29th, 2009, 7:55 pm

Hmmm... one sounds archaic and possibly a little posh (which I sure aint :) ) s/he is perfect when written, but how on earth is it pronounced?

Misuse of lesser and fewer raises my pedantic ire.. but I think we've talked about this before... but can't find thread currently...

My Mum was always annoyed at "floor" instead of "ground" but now it seems generally accepted. Language continues to evolve I guess. (Mum hated "I guess" too :redface: ).

lewist
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Re: The Pedant

#7 Post by lewist » July 29th, 2009, 8:19 pm

Fia wrote:My Mum was always annoyed at "floor" instead of "ground" but now it seems generally accepted...
Not by me, it's not.

What about the adjective military constantly used as a noun? That really annoys me. What's wrong with armed forces?

By the way, surely this is not pedantry but a wish for better use of language. :)
Carpe diem. Savour every moment.

Hundovir
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Re: The Pedant

#8 Post by Hundovir » July 30th, 2009, 8:33 pm

All of the above, plus my mother and brother telling their dogs to "lay down". Lay what down, I always wonder.

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jaywhat
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Re: The Pedant

#9 Post by jaywhat » July 31st, 2009, 6:22 am

lewist wrote:By the way, surely this is not pedantry but a wish for better use of language. :)

A fine line. Perhaps it becomes pedantry when you shove it at other people.

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Alan H
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Re: The Pedant

#10 Post by Alan H » July 31st, 2009, 10:03 am

The Language Log is an excellent place for all you pedants.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

Nick
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Joined: July 4th, 2007, 10:10 am

Re: The Pedant

#11 Post by Nick » July 31st, 2009, 10:05 am

Alan H wrote:The Language Log is an excellent place for all you pedants.
Except, Alan, you should have said "all us pedants".

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Alan H
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Re: The Pedant

#12 Post by Alan H » July 31st, 2009, 10:07 am

Nick wrote:Except, Alan, you should have said "all us pedants".
I leave it to all of you to decide whether I belong in that category... :D
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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jaywhat
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Joined: July 5th, 2007, 5:53 pm

Re: The Pedant

#13 Post by jaywhat » July 31st, 2009, 10:21 am

Alan H wrote:
Nick wrote:Except, Alan, you should have said "all us pedants".
I leave it to all of you to decide whether I belong in that category... :D
Some of us might say that it should be 'all of us pendants'. I am not sure and I cannot understand Fowler's point in his Modern English usage under 'all of'. However, I enjoyed pointing out that, just possibly, some of the pedants amongst us are making small errors. :laughter:

Nick
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Re: The Pedant

#14 Post by Nick » July 31st, 2009, 10:34 am

Alan H wrote:
Nick wrote:Except, Alan, you should have said "all us pedants".
I leave it to all of you to decide whether I belong in that category... :D
I would like to present exhibit 1, M'lud:
Alan H wrote:The Pedant
Ah! A column in The Times just for the likes of me:

I rest my case :D

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Alan H
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Re: The Pedant

#15 Post by Alan H » July 31st, 2009, 10:54 am

Guilty as charged!
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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jaywhat
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Joined: July 5th, 2007, 5:53 pm

Re: The Pedant

#16 Post by jaywhat » July 31st, 2009, 2:05 pm

- or should one say 'all we pedants' - oh! I give up

Fia
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Re: The Pedant

#17 Post by Fia » August 2nd, 2009, 10:28 pm

What a good thread to ask you good pedants about the usage of apostrophes... I can sense you all thinking "greengrocer's and cd's"....

I understand the basic concept. If it replaces a letter it's where the letter should be, if indicating belonging it goes after the word. But, as all these things, there are grey areas, and what's the best way to approach them?

For instance, I just typed "my eldests" and wondered if it's best to leave as is, apostrophe-free, indicating I'm not sure, or bung one in hoping it's right: eldests'. Which I think should be right by the rules but the (usually useful) spellchecker disagrees.

What do you do if you're not sure? Heavily leaning towards language pedantry myself I do try to get these things right :D

Hundovir
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Re: The Pedant

#18 Post by Hundovir » August 2nd, 2009, 10:40 pm

Your eldest's, unless there's two of them (identical twins, born literally simultaneously?), in which case it would be eldests'.

The word you are modifying is "eldest":

"My eldests summer schedule..." = "the summer schedule of my eldest..."

lewist
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Re: The Pedant

#19 Post by lewist » August 2nd, 2009, 11:00 pm

I think you meant to type my eldest's summer schedule, Hundovir! We'll take it as a typo.

Ok. I was on a course recently called Lifting and Handling. It used to be called Manual Handling but of course somewhere, some moron saw the man in manual and thought it was sexist. Don't both sexes have hands?

While I'm on the subject, I have to mention media, plural of medium. So why do we constantly get things like the media is...?

Then there's the perfectly simple matter of subject - verb agreement...
Carpe diem. Savour every moment.

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Alan H
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Re: The Pedant

#20 Post by Alan H » August 2nd, 2009, 11:05 pm

Fia wrote:If it replaces a letter it's where the letter should be
Correct. Also like here's it'll.
if indicating belonging it goes after the word.
Only after a plural like "the chairs' legs are broken" if you're talking about more than one chair, but "the chair's leg" if it's just one chair.
What do you do if you're not sure?
Look it up on the Internet of course! Whaddya think it was invented for?

H W Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage is online here, but a paper copy of it is essential. (Worth reading for his occasionally humorous style and great to jump in and out of!)

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. is a good place to go for general grammar/style advice and is available online.

Another good source for all sorts of advice on language is the Economist Style Guide, but remember it's a style guide, not necessarily a definitive source for correct grammar. Useful nevertheless.
Alan Henness

There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating Brexit:

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of leaving the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens is an acceptable price to pay for those benefits?
3. Which ruling of the ECJ is most persuasive of the need to leave its jurisdiction?

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