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News & views

Language snippets

For want of a comma

A TV listing reads:

‘Women behind bars with Trevor McDonald’

What terrible crimes must they have committed to deserve that fate?

Positively gharstly, dear

The Countess of Carnarvon recently accused the makers of ‘Downton Abbey’, the ITV series, of etiquette errors during their filming at her gaff, Highclere Castle. She asked them: ‘Do you know you’re setting the table wrong?’ (She meant ‘wrongly’, we snort.) But an etiquette expert told the Daily Mail, ‘You lay a table, you don’t set it – it’s almost as bad as saying toilet.’

Her countess-ship also stands accused of pronouncing valet as ‘valay’ in a BBC4 documentary. Snobs say it must rhyme with mallet. Pity they didn’t explain this to the old music-hall types who sang ‘I was Lord Kitchener’s valet, from Kandahar to Calais.’ Somehow it doesn’t scan in the mallet version.

Abbott: bottom of the class

In the Australian election campaign, the best gaffe came from the man whose party eventually won, Tony Abbott of the Liberals: ‘No one, however smart, however well educated, however experienced, is the suppository of all wisdom.’ (Read ‘repository’, of course.)

Fizzling or fizzing?

The Guardian’s Laura Barton writes: ‘I had spent the weekend in Washington, where the city was fizzling with the new academic year – all around the Capitol building milled football fans in town for the next day’s big college game [etc]’.

That would surely be ‘fizzing'?

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