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
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
News
science
Life and Style
Emoji are rapidly becoming the language of the internet
techWhy internet acronyms are being driven out by emoji
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before