David Davis, the Foreign Office minister who told John Major he was resigning (no he didn't, yes he did, no he didn't ...) is a cheerful soul and the latest victim of what one might call the journalistic Heisenberg Principle.

Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle was, in essence, the observation that by observing something, you changed its behaviour. He was talking about the velocity and direction of particles, but it works just as well for ministers. What happens is that a journalist reports that something is going to happen and, by reporting it, embarrasses everyone and ensures that it doesn't happen.

In this case, the story was that Major was threatened with resignation by Davis and bought him off by promising to sack the agriculture minister Douglas Hogg later this summer, giving Davis his job. Let's assume that the story was true (and it came from a highly experienced journalist): now that everyone is expecting it to happen, Major cannot possibly oblige. It was a story that ate itself - which happens all the time.

Your bad English is bad English. My bad English is style, swagger and syntactical chutzpah. That, at any rate, is the instant reaction to the eagle-eyed readers (both of you) who corrected my sentence beginning: "The Daily Mail, followed by the Times, were keen ..." As one put it: " 'Followed by' does not co-ordinate the two nouns; it introduces an adjectival/participal expansion ... so the verb should be singular." There was a little who/ whom difficulty, too.

Now, this mild chastisement is clearly correct and there is no editorial defence, bar a hung head and a moist eye. But it comes at a time when grammar has been much in the news, thanks to a new test for 14-year-olds, and when the campaign for better English, headed by Trevor Macdonald, is catching the public imagination. (The ITN newsreader has been inundated with mail on the subject.)

Grammar is clearly important. But how important? And what, precisely, are the current rules? For instance, I was firmly taught at Dundee High School that every sentence must contain a verb, that no sentence should begin with ''and'' or ''but'', and that infinitives must not be split. In this paragraph, I have broken all these rules. The point of grammar is to ensure clarity of meaning (though elegance is a secondary purpose). Yet has any reader been confused by the previous few sentences?

There are, however, mistakes that drive me mad and mark out a hopeless reactionary. The worst is the rampant spread of the inverted comma, which has become simply an alternative to underlining or italicisation. This spread from fruit and flower stalls to faxes and letters and is now as rampant as bindweed in suburbia. Interestingly, though, its effect can be unintentionally accurate: "fresh" produce; "genuine" watches; "historic" furniture - which, translated into oldspeak, means rot, fakes and tat.

The greatest humiliation of my editorship so far has been the realisation that so many Independent readers are obsessive football fans: the more football in the paper, the bigger the circulation. Why is this a problem? Only because, of all the males in all the bars in all the world, there is no one who is less footballsy than myself. But it is the job of an editor to be interested in everything and I have been trying. I watched all of the Scotland-England game and heard almost all of the Dutch game. I have discovered something. In some ways, association football is quite interesting. I don't know if this insight is helpful to any readers who are wondering what to do this afternoon; but I pass it on for what it's worth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Maths teacher require...

KS1 Teacher

£21500 - £31500 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work...

Java Developer - web services, XML and API

£330 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Lond...

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to teach Furthe...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Cyclists v the rest of the world – can we please call a truce?

Philip Hoare
Brooks Newmark  

If Brooks Newmark is ‘sick’ what does that say about the rest of us?

Simon Kelner
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style