Occasional Limericks Only #25

The less said, the better…

A physiotherapy clinic in my childhood hometown has moved to flashy new premises and simultaneously picked at a scab; the shibboleth that separates those of us that observe a distinction in the use of the words few and less from those that don’t. I can imagine their business plan for moving premises…

  • Draw up plans to move to bigger premises. Check!
  • Invest heavily in new fixtures and fittings. Check!
  • Source signage for the storefront windows. Check!
  • Make a hash of the English language. Check!
Reflections in the window fail to mask an irritating misuse of the word ‘less’ (irritating, that is, to pedants like me!)

A pedant once had to confess
Some people just fail to impress
When they’re compelled to show
That they simply don’t know
The difference between fewer and less!

A limerick a week #163

Jacqueline got a medal FFS!

I was invited back to my old workplace last week because a recent retiree from its library service was to be presented, unbekownst to her, with an Imperial Service Medal for meritorious service.

Her closest colleagues had advised that she would not want a big fuss to be made, so just a few past and present compadres were asked along to an informal presentation and I was chuffed to be one of them.

The oration (albeit written and not spoken)

Although, formally, the medal is awarded for meritorious service, the reverse side of the medal is inscribed For Faithful Service, (so that’s what FFS stands for in text talkūüėČ) but, as well as the inscription, the reverse bears the image of a bloke ‘in the altogether’, which begs the question as to exactly what service was rendered? I suspect that, as always, what happens in the library will stay in the library!

So, in honour of Jacqueline IMS, I give you…

There once was a woman, quite headstrong,
Whose work in a library was lifelong,
But she did it so well
That on her farewell
She received the Imperial gong!”.

A limerick a week #49

Lies, damned lies, and linguistics!

A friend recently asked whether I treat the word data¬†as singular or plural; is it data is or data are? It seems an innocent enough question doesn’t it, but oh boy, does it not half stir passion in the hearts of traditionalists versus modernists in the world of pop-linguistics!

Indeed, having spent some time researching the differing views, it’s clear there are unresolvable differences between the extreme singularists¬†and the extreme pluralists (although it does look as if the latter are increasingly in the minority).

I’m a pluralist, but not an extreme one since I long ago dispensed with my antagonism towards those of a singular disposition (unless they are deserving of a wind up!). After all, it is the quality and interpretation of data¬†that ultimately matter:

My friend says she is inconsistent in her approach to data’s plurality, but, as with language in general, she feels that if it sounds¬†okay then it is acceptable. I think that is a pragmatic and sensible view, and, if it sounds okay to one but not t’other then we have simply to punch the other’s lights out¬†accept the plurality of perspectives. Even ones like this:

Singular data annoys the same people that find split infinitives objectionable – pedants with no understanding of linguistics.”

… so that’s me told, but at least the UK Office of National Statistics is on my side:

The word data is a plural noun so write “data are”. Datum is the singular“.

Amen to that, and …

To me, it’s singularly bizarre
That scoundrels linguistically spar
And deny the reality
Of data’s plurality
‘Cos data ain’t ‘is’ – they just ‘are’!

Data to die for …

Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!

I came across an old professor of mine in the Graun’s Birthday announcements today. Professor William Stewart by name, and I well remember one of the few face-to-face meetings that I had with him.

It was at the start of the summer term in the third year of my four-year degree course in Dundee. I had been called in to explain why I had walked out of a pre-Easter ‘class’ exam without answering any of the questions.¬†The short answer was that I couldn’t, so I told him that, but added (truthfully) that it was because I had spent the entire term training for and playing rugby.

Such is the arrogance of youth that I also told him he shouldn’t berate me for it, but that he should celebrate the fact that someone from his Department was the University’s only first choice player in that year’s Scottish Universities Rugby XV. With an eloquent flourish I then demanded that he judge me on my junior honours exams in the summer and not on a meaningless class exam!

Quietly, he lowered his glasses down the bridge of his nose, tilted his head forward to look over them, smiled malevolently and whispered threateningly in his soft Islay lilt: “Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!”

That had more effect than any ‘hairdrier’ kind of bollocking could have ever had and my goodness did I work hard to make up for what was effectively a missed term. He has since been dubbed a knight, so “thank you” Sir William Duncan Patterson Stewart DSc, FRS, FRSE (and former Government Chief Scientific Advisor), your understated menace had the desired effect.

Aye, Phil, I'll do just that!
Aye, Phil, I’ll do just that!

Postscript:¬†a former colleague and I once disagreed over a detail on a poster that he had created for our library to highlight the fisheries research work of D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, a leading scientist of the Victorian school and, like Sir William, a knighted professor. I argued that he should be entitled ‘Professor Sir D’Arcy …” whereas my colleague had labelled him “Sir Professor D’Arcy …”. We asked our Librarian to arbitrate, each confident of inviolability, at which point she quietly put us both in our place by referring to Debrett’s and announcing that he should be referenced by his senior honour only, so, Sir D’Arcy it should be. That’s my kind of pedantry, but clearly not the Graun’s; it announced the birthday of ‘Prof Sir William Stewart’ – see pic, above.