Rantings of a sub-editor

February 16, 2011

A question of form

Filed under: Uncategorized — substuff @ 4:55 pm
Tags: ,

I have just received this email. Frustratingly, I don’t know the answer either. Anyone?

Hi Cathy,

Received this from my friend ‘The Headkicker’ James [oh that one, yes, he and his apostrophe have cropped up before] today. I don’t know the answer…

I have a new grammar conundrum for your friend’s blog that needs answering: On a form you often see a word with an (s) after it if the answer could be single or plural – e.g. Enter middle name(s) here: etc.

What happens when you have a word that doesn’t pluralise so conveniently such as property/properties? Is it acceptable to have property(s)? We all know what it is asking but is it grammatically correct? Is there even a rule of grammar that covers this sort of thing? Am I putting too much thought into the new house name change application form I am creating? Probably.

What do you reckon Relfy?

I hope are well and you don’t have VD*,


* I do not. This is a reference to a text message I received on Valentine’s Day asking whether I’d received any “VD cards”.

November 22, 2010

Not my Howard

Filed under: affair,Uncategorized,word choice — substuff @ 4:32 pm
Tags: , ,

Here’s a tricky little question for you: when is an affair an affair? I am talking affairs of the heart and the bedroom here, rather than affairs of state.

I was alerted to this last week while reading a story about my favourite Take That member Howard Donald (well, at least joint favourite, anyway – Jason Orange will always have a place in my heart too). According to The Evening Standard, a court had lifted a super-injunction that the lovely Howard had taken out on a former lover: Take That star Howard Donald has no right to keep his affair secret, judges rule. But while The Evening Standard described it as an “affair” throughout the story, the Metro the next day described it as a “relationship” and the woman concerned as his “girlfriend”: Take That’s Howard Donald’s super-injunction lifted by court (mmm… great headline there).

To me, the word “affair” implies that infidelity is involved. In this case, there appears to be no suggestion that either of the parties were married or in another relationship. Neither was this a fling – it began in 2000 and ended last year. So is there any justification for describing it as an affair, other than that it sounds sexier than “relationship”? It strikes me that “an affair” and “a love affair” are also subtly different – the former suggests infidelity, but the latter suggests (non-permanent) romance.

This prompted two more questions in my mind:

1. If two people have a relationship, but one of them is also in another (presumably more permanent) relationship, are they both having an affair? Or only the cheating party?

2. If a newspaper refers to a relationship or “love affair” as “an affair”, thus suggesting infidelity where there was none – could there be a case for libel?

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