Miscellaneous Little Things That Annoy Me, Part 3

Me and others, in fact: these are largely submissions by loyal readers.

No, you are thinking of almost. It’s all right – two words, always.

A word that used to be used to mean ‘in any way, in any respect, at all’. Witness the Book of Common Prayer (1560): ‘ all those who are anyways afflicted, or distressed, in mind, body, or estate’ (btw, English prose doesn’t get much better than the BCP).

More recently, anyways has come to mean ‘in any case, at all events, anyhow’ – but in usage that is variously described as ‘informal, ‘colloquial’, ‘dialectical’ or (ahem) ‘illiterate’.

The better way, in both speech and writing, is anyway.

Asking questions that aren’t questions
Just because you use a word that can pose a question doesn’t mean you’re necessarily asking one. The question mark in this blog post is wrong: When Three Rights Make a Wrong? – this is a statement, not a question. Reframe it as ‘When do three rights …’ and you can add your question mark.

The problem often arises in student memos: The first issue is whether a motion for summary judgment would succeed? Wrong again; statement, not question.

The disconnect
This should have been included in the tip on weak nouns formed from verbs.

I am so sick of hearing about the disconnect! Please say disconnection, disjuncture, failure (not fail), communication failure, gap – anything but the disconnect.

Firstly, lastly
These have a ring of circa 1875 to them: you’d be better not to use them.

One of the oddities of traditional English style is enumerating as follows: First, Secondly, Thirdly … Last. Firstly appears, in fact, to be a nineteenth-century invention that has always sounded fussy.

In modern writing, you could even go with second and the like over  the –ly form, which has the advantage of being consistent with both first and last.

Why do people tack on this prefix where it really isn’t necessary?

Please don’t preheat your oven, just heat it – this requires prior action before you can cook, so pre- is redundant.

Similarly, pre-arrange, pre-book, pre-build, pre-chilled, pre-cooked, pre-existing, pre-owned (just say used or second-hand), pre-plan, pre-prepare (an absurdity of the first order), pre-qualify, pre-select and pre-set can all lose the pesky prefix and suffer no loss in meaning. The concept of priority is built into all of them.

Pre-drinking as a concept has its uses, however – even if, linguistically, it also fails the logic test.

Stating the perfectly obvious
You really, really don’t need to write Gurpreet Singh (‘Singh’) if he’s the only Singh you mention in your client update or blog post. This isn’t contractual drafting.

Similarly, there is no need to say two (2) months (or whatever unit you’re talking about). Everyone knows what two means, and no amount of ‘for greater certainty’ is necessary. Even in contractual drafting.

Next: confusing pairs, part 4

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)



  1. Thanks for sharing your valuable post. Keep up…

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