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  1. #161
    PREPOSITIONS AND OTHER THINGS

    Conversation between two passengers, A and B, during a train journey.

    A. Excuse me, but now that you seem to have finished using your mobile telephone, perhaps we could have a word.

    B. About what?

    A. Your use of language.

    B. So youíve been earwigging, have you?

    A. I think eavesdropping expresses your meaning less colloquially, but I could hardly avoid hearing what you said. You were speaking loudly enough to obviate the need for a telephone on your part.

    B. Never mind that. Whatís wrong with the way I talk?

    A. Among other things, I think you should consider the way you deal with prepositions.

    B . Explain.

    A. You mentioned to your contact that you were on the train, that you would later be on the bus, and that you had been working on your laptop. At another point you asked him to slow up a bit.

    B. So?

    A. It would have been more accurate to say that you were in the train, that you would later be in the bus and that you had been working at your laptop, or perhaps with it. As for the speed, one slows down, not up.

    B. Would you care to go through all that again, and make it a bit clearer?

    A. Certainly. You could hardly be on the train, bus or laptop. It would be very difficult for you to get onto the train or bus unless you had a ladder. You would get into those vehicles. Also you could not use your laptop if you were on it. Finally, you would never speak of speeding down, so slowing up should be avoided.

    B. Thatís just the way most people talk.

    A. No doubt, but it is careless.

    B. What about the Internet. Will you allow me to be on that?

    A. Yes.

    B. Why?

    A. Because it can be regarded as somewhat analogous to other infrastructure systems, such as roads or railways. Itís perfectly all right to be on them.

    B. Very kind of you to give permission. Anything else?

    A. Yes. At one stage in your discussion, you said that you had met up with Simon.

    B. Thatís right. Something you donít like about that as well, is there?

    A. I was disturbed by the pleonasm.

    B. Meaning what?

    A. Redundancy of words. It would have been sufficient to say that you met Simon. The Ďupí and Ďwithí are unnecessary.

    A. Have you finished?

    A. Not quite. You also said that on hearing the result of a football match, you were literally over the Moon.

    B. And you find something amiss with that too, right?

    A. Yes. Unless you were a NASA astronaut involved in the Apollo missions, which your accent and apparent age indicate is unlikely, you could not have been literally over the Moon.

    B. Pardon me, Mr Faultfinder, but I happen to know that the Oxford English Dictionary accepts that word in the sense in which I used it. I believe the term is figurative.

    A. Iím aware of that, and I think the OED has something to answer for the manner in which it embraces that kind of usage. It all started when the compliers began work on it in 1857.

    B. You look as though you might have been around at the time. What did they do that displeases you?

    A. They decided at the outset that their dictionary would be descriptive, not prescriptive.

    B. Would you like to enlarge on that?

    A. By all means. The lexicographers concerned agreed that they would not instruct people in the use of the language, but would instead record how it was used. They did not wish to emulate certain other countries by setting up an academy. The rot set in there and then and it has led to a great deal of confusion and sloppiness.

    B. That gets up your nose, does it?

    A. A colourful expression, but appropriate. We in the Anglosphere have given the rest of our world an excellent method of communication, namely the English language. I think we must accept that we are custodians of it and that we should act accordingly.

    B. Look, I agree that weíve provided the world with a great tool, but we canít give other people orders about the way they handle it. Theyíll do as they like, and thereís nothing a busybody like you can do to change that. Youíve just said that the original OED experts didnít aim to make rules, so donít set yourself above them. Youíre just a fogey, completely out of touch with modern practice.

    A. Perhaps youíre right. If so, that is regrettable Itís depressing to live through a period of declining standards. However, Iím sorry to say that we canít continue this conversation.

    B. You mean your lecture. Youíre a funny old buzzard. Anyway, why canít we keep talking?

    A. Because the train is slowing down and I live near the next stop, so I must get off.

    B. Hah, gotcha!

    A. How?

    B. You gave me an earful about my being in the train, not on it. Well, youíre in it too, so youíll have to get out of it, not off it, or you could alight from it. And you reckon youíre an expert on prepositions?

    A. Drat! Hoist with my own petard.

    B. I probably shouldnít ask, but where did you dig that one up and could you put it in plain English?

    A. Itís from Hamlet and it means blown up by oneís own bomb. To use a more modern expression, Iíve shot myself in the foot, and perhaps undone some of the good work I did during our brief exchange, but now I must go.

    B. Not a moment too soon. By the way, whatís the name of this place weíre approaching? Nitpickingham, is it?

    A. Oh, well guessed. You came very close. Itís Punctiliousford. Goodbye, whippersnapper.

    B. Toodle-oo, fossil.

    * * *
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.





  2. #162
    Really enjoyed the wit and style this piece was written in. "Human nature is disgusting", really made me laugh as well as the bricks of course!

    The article has clearly had some work put into it, the style is clear and reporter like as you'ld expect but it reads incredibly well and I like the way you have organised the piece. Even though it introduces some quite complicated notions, the way in which you have written this piece means no headaches at all for the readers as it is very easy to follow.

    Excellent quality article; love its wit, professional standard: well done!

  3. #163
    Dear Introvertrme,

    Many thanks for the kind words. I try to entertain and it's nice to know that the effort succeeds at times. Good luck with your own work.

    Best wishes, Cj
    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.





  4. #164
    CRUNCH MEETING

    A country seeking to leave a large trading block with a substantial degree of social integration has had a number of high-level discussions, in an effort to agree proposals for the terms of separation. Following several failures to reach a unified position to present to the block’s negotiators, the prospective departing country’s head of government arranged a gathering of the most senior cabinet members, the aim being to establish a consensus.

    Present at the conference were the Premier, regarded as the Primus Inter Pares (PIP), the Minister of Finance (MOF), the Minister of the Interior (MOI), the Minister of the Exterior (MOE), the Minister of Defence (MOD) and the Minister of Trade (MOT). In the absence of the Cabinet Secretary, minutes were taken by Pip, who added a post-meeting note. A full transcript was inadvertently leaked. It is reproduced below:


    PIP: Good morning everyone. We all know why we are here, so to open our debate I will say only that we must devise a policy, which I will then convey to the other side.

    MOT: Sounds as though you are about to depart this life, Pip:

    PIP: I don’t think we have time to waste on facetiousness, Mot: Let me stress that we are holding a crunch meeting.

    MOD: Oh, Pip, we’ve held so many crunch meetings that it’s a wonder we haven’t already been reduced to powder.

    PIP: More frivolity. As usual, you are witty and unhelpful in equal measure. If you need further emphasis, we must regard this as the crunch-crunch meeting – the crunch of crunches. I am not prepared to let anyone leave here until we get a result that satisfies me.

    MOI: Then you’d better start wheeling in the beer and sandwiches. I missed breakfast to get here and I’m ravenous.

    PIP: Excellent, Moi: Fasting sharpens the mind, so I expect a major contribution from you. And kindly forget the victuals for an hour or two. You’ve had a lot to say to the public recently. This is your chance to sound off to your colleagues – and do try for once to avoid putting your foot where your mouth is.

    MOE: Just a moment, PIP: I’d like to make a point here. I’m in charge of foreign affairs, which makes me the country’s top diplomat. You spoke of the other side. I would prefer to call a spade a spade and give it its real name – the enemy.

    PIP: What a diplomat you are. More like a bull in a china shop. Heaven knows why I appointed you, but just remember that what the Pip giveth, the Pip taketh away – maybe. Watch your step.

    MOE: Don’t threaten me. Bear in mind that primus inter pares means first among equals. The pecking order can change.

    PIP: No doubt, but not in favour of a twit like you. I doubt that you could find your face with both hands.

    MOE: That’s rich coming from a perfidious backstabber and turncoat. We all know you as Janus, but I don’t think you could find your hands with both faces.

    PIP: Clearly you have nothing of importance to say, so shut up. I’d like to hear some constructive observations. You haven’t said anything yet, Mof.

    MOF: I’m keeping my cards close to my chest.

    MOI: Some cards. Some chest. You haven’t got a hand worth playing. A pair of deuces at most, I’d say.

    MOF: Well, you’d be wrong, as always. If you must know, I have a full house.

    MOI: That’s not good enough. It can be beaten by four of a kind, let alone a straight flush, which is even better, especially an ace-high one.

    PIP: If you two have finished airing your knowledge of poker, perhaps you would address our problem and let us see whether you have anything other than card games in your heads, not that I have much hope in that respect.

    MOD: Hey, Pip, you’re supposed to be in charge here. What about some leadership from the top? At least give us guidance.

    PIP: That’s what you lot are here to give me, dimwit. The idea is that you provide me with your respective visions of the way ahead and I try to fuse them into a whole.

    MOE: Pardon my use of homophones, assuming you know what they are, but the only whole you’ll fuse them into is a black hole. For months now you’ve been vacillating, procrastinating, prevaricating –

    PIP: That’s enough ‘ings’ for the moment. I’ve already told you to dry up, so be quiet unless I invite you to speak again. We haven’t heard from you for a while, Mot: Say something!

    MOT: I’m getting flak from businesses large and small. Trouble is they’re in conflict. The big ones want us to stay in the block to avoid disruption, while the little ones are keen to get out because they’re bogged down trying to meet what they see as irrelevant standards imposed on them by bureaucrats from the block’s centre, who don’t seem to be accountable to anybody. My suggestion is that we should temporise.

    PIP: How?

    MOT: Well, we’re not going to satisfy all demands, no matter what we come up with here, so I think we should drag this affair on until everybody is fed up with it, we get some half-baked offer from the block and arrange another public vote. We could specify turnout and majority conditions that aren’t likely to be met because the result will probably be as close as the original plebiscite, so that would lead to a third try, and so on. What one might call a neverendum.

    PIP: Rubbish! Look, I don’t think I’ll get a sensible suggestion from any of you, which means we shan’t come to an accord here, so – hey, who threw that shoe at me? Ah, you, is it, Moe? Hmn, handsome footwear. Top brand. Indicates that you’re being paid too much. Anyway, you’ve slipped up. I’m keeping your size ten and you’re fired, with immediate effect. You may now leave the room, limp along the drive and see if you can hail a taxi because as from this moment, you don’t have a ministerial limo. That’ll teach you to hurl brogues at your boss. Bye-bye. Anyone else minded to throw things? No? Good. Well, I’m going to tell the public that we’ve had a frank and productive talk, then I’ll do what I see fit.

    MOT: You can’t dismiss my neverendum notion just like that.

    PIP: Yes I can. It’s nonsense and I didn’t expect anything better from you. You’re a dolt, Mot and I’ve had enough of you. Will you write your letter of resignation or shall I do it for you? Either way, you’re going. If you hurry you might catch up with the former Moe. He’s sure to be making slow progress with only one shoe or in his socks. Maybe the two of you could share a cab.

    MOF: You’re going too far, Pip. Next thing we know you’ll be firing all of us, then what will you do?

    PIP: Much better than I’m doing now. You’ve given me the only good idea I’ve heard since this meeting started. With Moe and Mot gone, that leaves me with three of you, Mof, Moi and Mod. Consider yourselves sacked. If you get a move on, you’ll probably be able to overtake the other two nincompoops and squeeze into the same taxi, although that’s not really important because I anticipated this outcome and ordered one for each of you. Hop it.


    Footnote. Pip’s thoughts after the meeting: I am reminded of Tom Lehrer’s song about a nuclear war ‘We will all go together when we go’. Well, everyone has gone – apart from me. What a relief to ditch that bunch of dunderheads. Now I’d like to get on with implementing the plan I had all along. Pity I can’t remember it.

    * * *

    Even though the darkest clouds are in the sky,
    You mustnít sigh and you mustnít cry.
    Spread a little happiness, as you go by.





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