What?!

Sanitation has gained importance on the global development agenda, starting in 2008 with the UN International Year of Sanitation, followed by the recognition of the human right to water and sanitation in 2010 and the call for an end to open defecation by the UN Deputy Secretary General in 2013.

You’d think the UN Deputy Secretary General would have known better …

Oh, wait …

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“He’d run them all”

I’ve read a few books by Sir Terry Pratchett, but I’m not a big fan. I know of one Discworld novel titled The last continent, in which the ?hero Rincewind  is magically transported to the continent of XXXX” (pronounced Four-ex), loosely based on Australia.

Today I was reading through the synopsis and quotations, for no particular reason. My eye was caught by this one:

Rincewind had always been happy to think of himself as a racist. The One Hundred Meters, the Mile, the Marathon — he’d run them all.

Haha. Race has two meanings, athletic and anthropological, which are unrelated. In real life, racist can only mean “a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that one’s own racial group is superior or that a particular racial group is inferior to others”. It does not mean “someone who takes part in an athletics competition” (though Wikipedia notes that Rincewind “spends most of his time running away from bands of people who want to kill him for various reasons. The fact that he’s still alive and running is explained in that, although he was born with a wizard’s spirit, he has the body of a long-distance sprinter.”)

In particular, my eye was caught by “he’d run them all”. This is perfectly ambiguous between “he would run them all” and “he had run them all”. Grammatically, the first is an infinitive verb (compare “he would swim them all”), and the second is a past-participle verb (compare “he had swum them all”). This ambiguity is possible only with the two small groups of verbs in which the infinitive form and the past-participle form are the same: come, become and run; and burst, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, set and shut (with perhaps a few others).

I have previously posted about saying to a student “I wish you’d come on time”, in which the same ambiguity arises. 

entertaining cheeses

Today I sub-editing an article about “entertaining cheeses”. My first thought was of them singing and dancing for us. My second thought was of us singing and dancing for them. My third thought was of us chatting together, while eating the cheeses and drinking a nice bottle of red.

And I didn’t know until today that Camembert and Brie are towns in France.

qualified and unqualified

Today I edited an article featuring a pharmacy that offers its customers, among other things “qualified advice”.

Qualified has developed two almost opposite meanings, for reasons none of the dictionaries I’ve looked at explains: “1a) officially recognised as being trained to perform a particular job; certified; 1b) competent or knowledgeable; capable” and “2) not complete or absolute; limited.” (Oxford Living Dictionaries Online)

A qualified pharmacist would usually give unqualified advice, while an unqualified one would give qualified advice.

I assume that the advice given in this pharmacy is “of or pertaining to someone who is qualified”. I can’t really change it to “this pharmacy offers unqualified advice”.

Google Ngrams shows that qualified advice (in whatever meaning(s)) is more common than unqualified advice, while unqualified opinion (likewise) is more common than qualified opinion.

every single day

I try to avoid ‘celebrity’ ‘news’, but this headline was right there on the newspaper’s website:

Khloé Kardashian thinks about having a nose job every single day

I suspect this means she thinks about (having a nose job) (every single day), but I can’t help get the feeling it means she thinks about (having a nose job every single day). The latter scenario would keep her out of the public eye, though, which could only be a good thing.

“Who’s left?”

Today several of my colleagues were away, then one left early. I looked around the office exaggeratedly, then said “Who’s left?”, meaning “Who is still here?”. “Who’s left?” might also mean “Who has gone?”, but I would be unlikely to mean that given that I’d just said goodbye to the colleague who was leaving.

Our colleague left, and we were left.

as free as a bag

A sign at a supermarket says Single-use plastic bag free from [date]. I know what they mean — [Single-use plastic bag]-free — but it’s awkward. When the unwanted item is one word, it’s easy to write, say gluten-free (uncountable) or car-free (uncountable note that this is ‘free of cars’, not ‘free of car’), but when it is a multi-word phrase, itself with a hyphen, we can’t write Single-use-plastic-bag-free. The best I can suggest is to rephrase the whole thing as No single-use plastic bags from [date].

At least they didn’t write Single-use plastic bags free from [date]. Single-use plastic bags have always been free, which is part of the whole problem.

(Note that there’s “free as in speech” free software, which is “distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions” and “free as in beer” freeware, which “may be used without payment, but is most often proprietary software and usually modification, re-distribution or reverse-engineering without the author’s permission is prohibited”: see here. I have no idea what “free as in gluten” software might be.)