Language Peeves: Mistakes which aren’t

A while back I wrote that some mistakes aren’t in fact mistakes, especially conjunctions which are a natural part of the language. I have found a few other constructions which some people believe are mistakes when in fact they are anything but.

Split those infinitives:
Quick quiz. Which TV series’opening monologue has a grammatical mistake?
If you answered Star Trek you are both right and wrong. Right because it was the TV show I was thinking of but wrong because it does not contain a mistake. For years, people complained that ‘to boldly go’ was wrong because it split the infinitive. Well, in fact it is perfectly natural – which is why most people did not see a mistake.

However, I will leave it to the inimitable Bernard Shaw to explain. The following is taken from a letter he wrote complaining that a journalist was adhering to the rule too dogmatically:

I ask you, Sir, to put this man out. Give the porter orders to use such violence as may be necessary if he attempts to return, without, however, interfering with his perfect freedom of choice between “to suddenly go,” “to go suddenly”, and “suddenly to go”. See that he does not come back; that is the main thing.

I before e except when it isn’t:

There are surfeit of words in which i comes before e. Seizing on this rule is one of the most heinous of grammar fallacies. I would need a lot of caffeine to show all the inaccuracies and inconsistencies. But I hope you enjoyed these eight.

Collective data and media

I never thought this one was a mistake until doing some translation. Both data and media are the plural form of the Latin words datum and medium. However as soon as they were adopted into English they have been used as uncountable mass nouns, so we treat them as singular objects.


No one can agree on where these things go. So long as your sentence doesn’t, look, like, this, then use them where you feel a break is necessary.


Fun with Recycling

Most people are pretty conscientious about recycling if the option is available to them. In my neighborhood, there are large bins for glass, plastics and paper so it’s quite easy to do your part for nature. One artist though wanted to combine recycling with a more do-it-yourself theme. Dave Hakkens has designed his own machine to recycle plastic.

The Dutch designer created the machine in order to make it easier to make new products. He plans to share his design freely so anyone can make their own at-home plastic recycler. The Precious Plastic machine, as it is called, uses a number of industrial machines, including a plastic shredder, extruder, injection molder and rotation molder. They’ve all been modified however to be a bit less complex and easier to work with.

Hakkens got the idea when he learned how little plastic is actually recycled, and how a lot of manufacturers don’t use recycled plastic mainly because the recycled material isn’t as sturdy or reliable as new plastic. Hakkens designed his machine, gathered plastic from friends and family and refined the Precious Plastic mechanisms in order to create plastic he then used in his own designs.

Where are your pants, man?

It’s not often you get to say that phrase to people. But on January 12, commuters in 60 cities around the world could have as that was the day of the 13th annual “No Pants Subway Ride.” Participants don’t have to do much – just ride around their city’s public transport network sans trousers.

Charlie Todd created the event 12 years ago in New York for the Improv Everywhere group. This year between 3,000 and 4,000 people played along in New York alone – and they probably had a chilly ride. Sydney commuters however probably didn’t mind so much, it being the middle of summer down under. In each city, designated lines and stops were announced beforehand and participants were told to ignore each other. If someone asks you about your lack of pants, organizers suggest you respond with ‘I forgot.’

Like a flash mob, this event is all about provoking smiles from strangers and giving fellow residents something to spice up an ordinary day. Some public art with grins galore.


Most people assume I’m homesick. Only the other day, a visitor asked why I had no Australian Christmas carols. Aside from the fact that not many exist (and that many of the Australian Christmas iconography is shared with Britain) I don’t need these things to remind me of home.

Not being homesick doesn’t mean that I hate home. For me my lack of homesickness is that I can adapt to my new surroundings and find things to enjoy where I am. Symbols of home are just that  – symbols. They only stand in for the real thing as much as you want to believe it.

Of course I have memories and a song or a food can trigger those memories. I wonder if this is not what many people think of when they are homesick – the memories of the place and not the place itself. My memories live somewhere else. Perhaps selfishly they are a part of me and don’t belong to the broader land.

Yes, there are some specific things I miss from home: seafood and the band scene. But there are things I have found to replace them – the beautiful countryside, the local beer and the challenge of learning a new language. Everything is a trade off. Memories are golden. And we always mint new ones.

Taboo Topics

Over the last few weeks, many of us would have been doing our fair share of socializing. What did you talk about? Over Christmas the presents we received certainly dominated. The food we ate, what our children got and the unseasonably warm weather came up too. But according to a show on This American Life, one woman has a very clear idea of what we shouldn’t talk about. Her list was: health, sleep, dreams, one’s period, how you traveled to a destination, diet and money. She banned these topics because she considers them boring.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would be on my list. As much as I participated in talk about the weather, generally I detest it, so that would be at the top. I mean I can accept the occasional comment about unseasonable weather – but saying “It’s cold” when it’s the middle of winter or obsessing over actual temperature I find quite boring.

Shop talk around people who have no connection to the job is quite annoying. It is useful to get certain work-borne frustrations off our chest, but at the same time in depth discussions about office politics have no interest to the people who have no connection to the situation.

Renovations if the renovations are not in the immediate vicinity. I’m happy to hear about the hours and effort which went into getting the decking perfectly straight when I’m standing on the decking and can appreciate it. But anywhere else such detail is lost on me and is another form of shop talk.

This last one I’m guilty of. When you’re a parent it’s quite hard not to be excited and frustrated by your kids in equal measure. But not everyone wants to hear about them. And even when people do, you would like them to remember that there are other aspects to your life.