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A few weeks ago I had a bit of a go at carelessness in writing, and at the deliberate misuse of words to create the illusion of something that actually was not true.

Today its a similar set of themes, but relates to the misuse of language in a way that prevents us thinking accurately. All of these have cropped up repeatedly in recent days. 

I was pleased to note that Haringey has put up CPZ signs that state the forbidden hours to be 10am - 12 noon. This is by contrast to the very many instances that now state midday or noon to be 12am or 12pm (or 12pm or 12am - it varies a lot). The people who write the software for this website have done it. This event starts at noon and finishes at six but Ning announces it as 12pm - 6pm. The problem is obvious. Does 12am mean the 12 o'clock that starts the morning (i.e. midnight) or does it mean the 12 o'clock that ends the morning (i.e. noon). There is no way to tell. The difficulty here is that we are being denied the opportunity to utilise the concept of a moment in time, which I guess in these dumbed down times might be a tricky one, no longer taught in schools. Noon is the instant at which morning becomes afternoon. The instant has no duration, rather as a line in geometry has neither thickness nor height, and a point has no dimensions at all. The increasingly large number of organisations that use 12am and 12pm are not only guaranteed to be wrong, they are degrading our ability to understand.

For my next example I'd like to complain about the number of times (not the amount of times) that I have heard the expression " . . the amount of people . . ". Now amounts are measured in tons or litres or gallons - measures of weight and volume. An amount of petrol - 25 litres. An amount of coal - 4 hundredweight. An amount of butter - one pound. An amount of people - 87 gallons. It just doesn't work for people. We count people, we don't weigh them. And when we count we end up with a number. A number of people. A corollary of this error is the confusion of less and fewer. Less refers to an amount and fewer to a number - fewer people, less butter. The terms are used as though they are interchangeable, but they are not. You will hear and read "less people" but no one would write or say "fewer butter". Another important distinction, between amount and number, is being eroded.

Moving on - I have for some time now used Photoshop. I was compelled to change my computer recently and in doing so moved from Photoshop CS2 to Photoshop Elements 8. A frequent task is to rotate pictures. In CS2 I was able to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise. I was very happy to do so. In Elements 8 I have the choice to rotate right or left. But I can't. There is a point, at the middle of the top of the picture, which if I rotate clockwise, will start its movement to the right. But as soon as it moves from middle top (an instant after the rotation begins), it begins to move down. It is no longer rotating right. The point halfway down the right hand side, makes its first movement downwards. The point at the middle of the bottom makes its first movement actually to the left. Not to the right at all. If I rotate only through 90 degrees (or fewer) this point never moves to the right, only ever to the left and up. The generation that begins using Elements 8, may never be able to think this thought.

I'll finish for now with a usage that not only worries me as an abuse, but infuriates me because of the context. The BBC insist on saying, for frustrating example, that "Tottenham have a game in hand and are within three points of Manchester City". No they're bloody not, they are exactly three points behind. If they were "within" three points (2.9 points say) then winning the game in hand would take them ahead of Man City, which would be a better situation IMHO.

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Tags: crouch end, crouchend, haringey, hornsey, london n8, usage and abusage

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Comment by Adrian Essex on June 3, 2011 at 10:29

"Less homes on sale due to wedding" - fewer - you , you , you  . . .journalist. This was in the property insert in this week's Hornesy Journal - do they mean fewer or do they mean lesser - there may be just as many homes on sale but of poorer quality.

And why is selling fruit and veg described as an "industry" - it ain't, it's commerce. And why if E coli is a bacterium does the BBC news say "the symptoms of the virus are . . . . "?

And why, when Hornby announces its annual results can no one ever pronounce scale-ex-trick

Comment by Adrian Essex on May 16, 2011 at 8:46
I was driving yesterday so I listened to some traffic reports. - " a lane is closed in both directions" - one of their favourites. Well of course if a lane is closed it is closed in both directions - if it were open in one direction it would be open, wouldn't it. What they mean is "a lane is closed in each direction" - i.e. two lanes are closed - why don't they say so - sheer bloody carelessness again.

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