Guy Keleny: Wanted: a saviour of English irregular verbs

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Where's a hoary old Tory when you need one? Fighting on the wrong side, it seems. You would think we could rely on Bruce Anderson to champion any reactionary cause, such as the preservation of English irregular verbs, with the wonderfully Gothic variety of their past participles. But apparently not.

This is from Anderson's Monday column, a violent denunciation of Kenneth Clarke: "Since Ted Heath relapsed into solipsism and retreated into sullenness, no British politician has strived more energetically to betray Britain's interests: to deliver these islands, bound and stupefied, into European serfdom." Whatever happened to "striven"? Modernised out of existence, it seems, like "besought", by some kind of linguistic Blairism.

Incidentally, I love the interwoven alliteration of "relapsed into solipsism and retreated into sullenness", and the way the repeated "s" comes back again in "stupefied" and "serfdom". Such vintage Anderson makes that "strived" all the more disappointing. Anderson's politics may be barking, but sometimes his use of language shows him a true heir of the Beowulf poet. Oh, sorry, Bruce, I forgot: the story of Beowulf takes place in Denmark and other European places.

Bad luck: On Wednesday an arts page profile of the musical group The Magic Numbers contained this: "Their album is filled with immensely personal tracks that suggest songwriter Romeo, despite his name, is perhaps a little unlucky in love." Why "despite his name"? Wouldn't "true to his name" be more like it? The writer here seems to have remembered vaguely that Romeo is the name of a famous lover, but forgotten that the original Romeo, after falling in love with the daughter of his family's enemy, ends up committing suicide by poison. I hope Romeo Stodart, songwriter of The Magic Numbers, is not quite as unlucky in love as that.

Cliché of the week: Chris Sladen writes from Woodstock, Oxfordshire, to denounce "the silly journalistic habit of writing 'back to back' when what is meant is 'nose to tail'". He goes on: "I was sorry to see that Angus Fraser, a really excellent writer about cricket, slipped into this error on Saturday, writing about the Australian team opening their account in the NatWest Series with 'back to back one day internationals'. It is extremely rare for people, vehicles, events or anything else to move back to back in the same direction through time and space."

Scarcely had Mr Sladen lain down his eloquent pen than we were at it again. A feature article on Thursday enthused: "For more than seven years the back-to-back killings of rival rap stars Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. have been more than an unsolved mystery; they have turned into a cultural phenomenon."

I should like to know where this "back to back" stuff comes from. The phrase indicates a series of events following one another without interruption. Perhaps it comes from back-to-back houses, those notorious double rows of Victorian slums with no gardens or yards in between. However, the sudden recent popularity of the annoying metaphor would seem to argue against such an old origin.

The problem: The titles of some books, plays, films, newspapers and suchlike begin with the word "the". In such cases the "the" appears in italics and with a capital letter. One such is The Daily Telegraph. With some newspapers, such as the Daily Mail, that is not the case, so you have to take care.

So far so good, but there is one further trap, and we fell into it yesterday, when we reported that Nigella Lawson "has demonstrated the power of sibling loyalty by pulling out of a scheduled appearance at The Daily Telegraph Home and Garden Fair". Here, "the" is not part of the newspaper title, but relates to the noun "fair". The words Daily Telegraph are there to tell us which fair it is - not, as it might be, the Blandings Castle Home and Garden Fair, but the Daily Telegraph Home and Garden Fair.

Movie greats: Our Wednesday television listings were spectacularly wrong about Dr Strangelove, the finest work of Stanley Kubrick. We wrote: "Peter Sellers excels in three roles, including that of a deranged US President." Pretty well everybody else in the film is deranged, but the joke about President Merkin Muffley is that he is so earnest and sensible.

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