Errors & Omissions: Frequent and regular – they're not interchangeable

 

There are many pairs of words in English that have similar but distinct meanings.

In some cases a useful distinction is being lost because one of the words is increasingly taking the place of the other. Refute and rebut. Jealous and envious. And this week's example: regular and frequent. If something is regular that means it happens at predictable intervals. If it is frequent that means that it happens a lot. In our report on Wednesday of the trial of Silvio Berlusconi, we said that prosecutors alleged that "teen belly dancer Karima 'Ruby' el-Mahroug" and 30 other young women "regularly attended parties at Mr Berlusconi's mansion". That suggests that the parties were every Tuesday night at 7.30, which they might have been, I suppose, but I think "frequently" or "often" was what we meant.

Sometimes, though, occasional and unpredictable events are described as regular even when they were infrequent. In John Walsh's entertaining survey of snobbery on Tuesday, he quoted Nicholas Soames, the Conservative MP. "'Mine's a gin and tonic, Giovanni, and would you ask my friend what he's having?' he would regularly ask of John Prescott, a working-class former ship steward." That implies he did it every fortnight at Deputy Prime Minister's Questions. Actually he might have heckled something like it once or twice. On this occasion, the word should simply have been struck out.

Seven-day itch: "A week is a long time in retail" was a headline on the business pages last Saturday that clashed a cliché with a contraction. Just because a cliché is from politics doesn't make it any more interesting when applied to retailing.

Whom to patronise? Because we are not taught formal grammar any more, we all have our different ways of checking whether something that sounds odd is actually right or not. My father, who was taught formal grammar, finds it easier to translate anything doubtful into Hindi. The rest of us have to find other ways. Mine is always to rephrase the sentence. That is what someone should have done when composing this headline on the Letters page on Wednesday: "Don't patronise we teenage girls." Sounds odd to me. Sure enough, if you rephrase it as "Don't patronise we", you can see what's wrong with it. It should have been "Don't patronise us teenage girls".

Hello: A profile on Wednesday of Alassane Ouattara, the winner of last year's election in Ivory Coast, said that, as tanks rolled into the capital, he "sat speaking on the telephone with French President Nicolas Sarkozy". To speak "with" is a harmless Americanism, and perhaps it is what people increasingly say in natural speech in this country (although they are more likely to say, "Ouattara was like, 'Hello,' and Sarkozy was like, 'Yeah?'"), but for others of us it jars. If he had been "speaking on the telephone to Nicolas Sarkozy", we could have concentrated on the significance of the conversation.

Still waiting: I liked the headline on Ian Herbert's interview with Sir Alex Ferguson on Wednesday: "Piano lid closed as Ferguson dismisses talk of retirement." The effect was spoiled by the sub-headline, "Manchester United manager says music lessons will have to wait as he has no plans for abdicating any time soon." I don't suppose we will get rid of "any time soon" any time soon.

Tick or cross: Alice-Azania Jarvis's review yesterday of the previous night's television was nicely done. "The Kennedys is many things – lusciously filmed, richly sound tracked – but exciting isn't one of them. Neither is good." But, in explaining why it was so bad, she accuses Katie Holmes, as Jackie, of "mugging for the camera", and said: "It's a tick repeated throughout the cast." That should be "tic", as in a repeated involuntary twitch.

Guy Keleny is away

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?