Rantings of a sub-editor

April 16, 2010

A substitute for sense

Filed under: grammar,substitute for/with — substuff @ 9:52 am

There is not much I like less than being told I am wrong when I know I am right. I’m not particularly partial to being told I am wrong under any circumstances, I’ll admit. But when I know I am right, have discussed it with two other subs and confirmed I am right and also checked in the dictionary,  to have someone insist that I am wrong is particularly irritating.

Did I mention that I was right? Oh yes I was. Rightly right.

The offending sentence said this:

The new Bernard Matthews advert features a boy orchestrating a rendition of Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ but substituting the word ‘beautiful’ for ‘bootiful’.

“Oh,” said I. “Someone’s got their substitutes the wrong way round again, that keeps happening.” And Vince and Kit had a good humm and haw and agreed with me and then I checked in the OED for good measure.

a person or thing acting or serving in place of another: soya milk is used as a substitute for dairy milk.

So I accordingly swapped the ‘beautiful’ and the ‘bootiful’.

Imagine my surprise when this came back from the editorial powers with a big red ring about it. Firstly, the powers said it was inverted. When I protested, the powers said that it could be read either way. When I mentioned the dictionary (the words “I do feel quite passionately that I am right” may have been mentioned), the powers responded with my favourite spank-the-subs comment: “Well I’m sure you’re right grammatically, but in real life…”

Hurrumph. Much giggling from the art desk – and, may I say, even my fellow subs.

The conclusion of the discussion was that I would change the offending sentence altogether, much to my (mostly) silent sulking. So it now reads:

The new Bernard Matthews advert features a boy orchestrating a rendition of Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ but using the word ‘bootiful’ instead of ‘beautiful’.

Some battles you can’t win. But if the powers are confused, it’s likely others are too. I think this confusion probably stems from ‘for’ and ‘with’, so here’s how it works:

The scene: Didier Drogba is on the field, Nicolas Anelka is on the bench. Drogba injures himself and Anelka is called on.

Anelka is called on as a substitute for Drogba. Or Drogba is substituted with Anelka.

Or, if you prefer a cooking analogy:

You’re following a recipe for fruit scones but you want to make savoury ones instead.

You can substitute cheese for the raisins. Or the raisins can be substituted with cheese.

I’m glad we got this sorted.



  1. I love the idea that grammar bears no relation to real life. Us subs are really fantasists…

    Comment by Marianka — April 16, 2010 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  2. You are right… but I wonder if even the correct grammatical form of the sentence would have been correct “in the real world”. I’ve not seen the advert but I assume the rendition of “You Are So Beautiful” was exactly that, a rendition (in the sense of “a performance of a musical or dramatic work”). If so, then surely no substitution is taking place. It is the same word but pronounced in different dialect.

    Comment by Dino — April 16, 2010 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

    • Ah, I believe that while you are absolutely correct, you are also wrong – dialect and pronunciation are different things.

      More to the point, in all probability ‘bootiful’ has become something akin to a trade mark. Hence a fair substitution is taking place: a straightforward word is substituted by a whole raft of marketing ‘expertise’ and brand awareness. Or whatever they call it these days.

      Comment by Trenchard Cleats — April 16, 2010 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

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