What strikes you about the following passages?
- Wearing a ‘very slinky, very sexy’ gown down the aisle, the bride decided to flaunt tradition (and her figure) on her big day.
- At their peak, a punnet of strawberries cost an average of $8–$9, but buyers can now pick them up for as little as $3.72 at major supermarket chains and $3.98 at independent grocers.
- Your house has lovely brickwork. Don’t paint it. That would be gilding the lily.
- The man was arrested and charged under the APEC Act with entering a restricted area without justification, which carries a maximum jail sentence of up to six months.
From the pictured examples below, clockwise from left:
- Victorian Opera’s new production reunites the team who bought you The Magic Flute and Don Giovanni with Richard Gill conducting Ludovico’s Band with award-winning Jean-Pierre Mignon directing an acclaimed ensemble cast.
- He had began to volunteer at Dad’s electoral office, as he’d joined the Labor Party out of disgust for Pauline Hanson’s growing support in Queensland. In 2001, I began volunteering there, but my reasons weren’t so noble as his.
- In the days to come, I also meet plenty of people travelling in groups who aren’t at all adverse to folks like me joining them for a meal.
- To flaunt is to show off. To flout is to show a contemptuous disregard of something, such as convention. A bride can flaunt her figure and in doing so she would flout tradition (not flaunt tradition!). Here, the writer mistakenly treats the two words as the same.
- How can a number range be considered an average? A true average is a discrete amount. Here, the writer must choose between cost an average of $8.50 and cost between $8 and $9.
- The phrase to gild the lily is a misquotation of this part of Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John:
To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, to throw a perfume on the violet, to smooth the ice, or add another hue unto the rainbow, or with taper-light to seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish, is wasteful and ridiculous excess.
Does the popularity of the phrase gild the lily make it an acceptable corruption?
- The phrases up to and maximum of mean the same thing. Using both is tautological. To correct this sentence, replace the offending phrase with either a maximum jail sentence of six months or a jail sentence of up to six months.
- Victorian Opera’s team has certainly been very generous if it has bought you so many productions! Bought means to have purchased. The verb intended here is brought (past tense of bring). Another creative corruption of brought is brang, which is not even a word. You may also have noticed that the rules of referencing have not been applied in this example.
- Either he had begun to volunteer or he began to volunteer. Began can only be used if you choose to drop had. Begun, on the other hand, is never correct without have or has or had.
- It’s nice to hear that these lovely folks were not opposed to socialising, but the word that ought to have used is averse, not adverse.
The original version of this article was published as ‘Frustrations of an English Pedant’ in The Australian Writer issue 378 (December 2012–February 2013).