Spoken English

My pet hates regarding speakers from anywhere.

Life is hell for those of us who have high standards of literacy. One can avoid having to listen to the illiterate by avoiding places where they lurk or listening to anything they say, along with careful exclusion of hearing any of the sort of radio or TV broadcast on which they are likely to be allowed to speak; but what is more difficult to avoid is the kind of equally gross error perpetrated by the supposedly well educated — or at least (again, supposedly) well-spoken — who ought to know a damned sight better.


The double-is syndrome

This is possibly the worst grammatical (or is it syntactic...?) error around nowadays, because it is so extraordinarily prevalent, on both sides of the Atlantic, and continually said by some people who really ought to know better. Consistent perpetrators include Jeremy Clarkson.

“The point is, is that ...”
“The thing is, is that ...”
“The question is, is whether ...”
“The depressing thing is, is that ...” (Rod Liddel, BBC 1 TV Question Time 3 April 2008)

These people don’t seem to listen to themselves. If one only had a perpetual tape recorder, and could just stop them, play what they just said back to them, and ask them what in the name of all things syntactical possesses them to imagine that a second utterance of the verb “is” is grammatically required in these circumstances ... But when I have tried to ask this, it usually turns out that they have no syntactical scaffolding in their minds at all; they function merely on the basis of blindly copying a mental model of each construction, and their model of this form of introduction to an indirect statement is so long since corrupted that they are incapable of replacing the broken model with a correct one.

Broken conditionals

I hate hearing people who clearly have no grasp of the counterfactual-hypothetical conditional construction in English!

A typical example is:
“If you’d of listened to me, you would have stocked up on sandbags.”

It is this totally misbegotten “of” that stands out, but of course the “you’d” expands to “you would” implying the grammar “if you would have” which is the first and most fundamental error: using the modal auxiliary verb would that in English implements what in some other languages is the conditional tense in the (counterfactual-hypothetical) conditional clause — which is not where it belongs at all; it belongs only in the main clause associated with which there's an actual or implied conditional clause that uses a correct (typically the pluperfect) tense. It is very difficult to disabuse speakers who talk like this of their erroneous habit, probably because it has taken three stages, two of them erroneous leaps (as it were) to get from “If you had done” to “if you’d of done”. See Conditionals.

Double negatives

What is not objectionable

I long ago ceased to worry about the sort of speaker (typically Cockney, or else black “street” talk on either continent) who uses what is traditionally called a double negative:

Curiously, some of the bogus language mavens (in Pinker’s phrase) get obsessed by this, as they have done since the early 19th century apparently, on the (now, anyway, seen to be) false grounds that, just as in mathematics the product of two negative numbers is positive, the result of two neagative particles must necessarily be positive in English syntax.

Those of us with slightly more linguistic sophistication recognize that, although this argument applies in educated English, and is the basis for the form of understatement known as litotes, it does not apply to the (albeit substandard) English of speakers who say such things as “not nothing”, simply because they are effectively using a separate dialect in which the grammatical rule is different! This is a perfectly valid view to take, for there are standard languages — important languages — in which grammar requires the identical construction, and not so far away geographically. Among the modern Indo-European languages Russian, to name just one, uses this very construction as the normal everyday and the educated, literary standard.
I know nothing = ЙК

What is objectionable

So which double negative am I berating here? The kind where an educated speaker says the opposite of what he means. Example:

What this speaker actually means is: I frequently hear this error made by supposedly intelligent well-spoken broadcasters and public figures in the audio and video media.

Wrong case pronouns

Simple instances are still apparently rife among the semi-illiterate and in quasi-dialect (whether inner city or rural): “Us don’t do that.”

Worst of all, because the perpetrators should know better, are those especially commonly heard inversions apparently provoked in the brains of (often otherwise quite well-spoken) people by the insertion of some noun + “and” just before the pronoun, as in “The Baxters invited my husband and I to dinner” from a person who would never dream of saying “The Baxters invited I to dinner”.

Vocabulary usage

Bring and buy confusion

A “bring and buy sale” is a humble and rather inbred sort of fund-raising event in which people come along with something to get rid of and donate it, in the hope that somebody else will buy it. The result of having these in small communities is that the same small reservoir of junk does the rounds indefinitely, so that it would be much simpler and less of a waste of time if everybody just threw away the junk (or gave it to a charity shop quite alomng way away) and donated cash to the cause.

However, this is not what I am on about here; I refer to the amazingly frequent abuse that arises simply from the incorrect voicing or dropping or the distinguishing R in the past tenses of these two verbs.

Yes; I have lost count of the thousands of times I have heard actors in plays and TV dramas and movies, and (the usual culprits) professional broadcasters and other supposedly educated, well-spoken public figures, say “brought” when they mean “bought” and vice versa!

The abandoned preposition in phrasal verbs

Omission of “against” after “protest”; a person can protest his innocence, but he does not protest a war; he protests against a war.

The redundant preposition in simple or phrasal verbs

To beat up [on]

There is a perfectly good phrasal verb to “beat up” meaning to attack viciously, in an action that in fact constitutes the crime of “assault and battery”. Such verbs are what in German is called separable; that is, the preposition goes after the object:

However, at some stage in the 1990s or so a totally redundant second preposition, “on”, seems to have been introduced perhaps first in the USA but certainly among some UK speakers, with which the above become: This is longer, very clumsy and ugly and totally unnecessary.

Speech organization

The abandoned ordered list

Starting an ordered (almost always lettered) list structure and then abandoning it or just changing the format after one item. This is amazingly common among public speakers pontificating about politics or economics in interviews and discussion programmes in the broadcast media. I have heard countless people, often otherwise basically competent speakers, say things like this:

Such people sometimes say, instead, “... and also because ...” or simply “... and because ...”.
The person who said this could have said either of the following, which would have been internally consistent and correct:


You might think that all pronunciation bugbears differ between Britain and the USA. There are, however, a few that are just the same on both sides of the pond...


The word that 99.99% of people who say this want is nuclear. NUCLEAR. Pronounced “NEW-clear”. It couldn’t be easier. Why do these morons, from George W. Bush to several BBC news reporters (including James Robbins, to my horror), lose the “-E-” and put a second “-U-” into it???!!! Ugh!

There is actually a word “nucular” meaning “related or pertaining to a nucule”, where a nucule is a section of a compound fruit. However I have never heard “nucular” used on radio or TV with this meaning. They are mis-pronouncing “nuclear”.

For details about how bad this has got, see the Wikipedia article on “nucular”.

“Amiga” for “Omega”

There is a type of fish oil component called “Omega-3” which has put the name of the last letter in the Greek alphabet into the mouths of people who have not the slightest idea how to pronounce it. Not only ad hoc speakers on radio and TV but also even the scripted voiceover speakers in TV advertisements (another reason why I usually try to avoid seeing or hearing them!) pronounce omega as “uh-MEEGa” instead of the correct O_mega. What they say is roughly the right way for an English speaker (one who is not speaking Spanish) to say “amiga”, the Spanish word for a female friend. Grr!


This word is not related to “consume”; it is related to “summit”; the double M is the clue. It should therefore be pronounced “kon-SUMM-ut” and definitely not “KON-syoo-mut”. Unfortunately, however, the latter is very much more common. Ugh.