In their war against gender, the English have abolished number.


Another in a long series on How the English Are Ruining Our Language

Here’s a recent tweet by a Londoner:

Once I accidentally queue-barged a man in a supermarket. I apologised profusely for not realising they were in a queue. They then apologised for making a big deal about nothing. I then apologised for their apology. Then someone behind us apologised for asking us to move up.

As quoted in the Guardian

Here is a woman writing about a specific, identified man as if he were more than one person.  Apparently, all British schoolchildren are being taught to do this.



This is from an e-mail message by somebody (I think an American, and a native speaker of English) in the financial industry:

We have inputted the necessary data and have begun ordering all the pertinent listings.

Apparently, the writer believes that there is a verb, to input, past tense, inputted.  And, for all I know, she or he is right!  I’ve always understood the noun input to be computer jargon for, that which is put in; but what do I know?

I have also always understood the word, putted, to be the past-tense form of the verb, to putt; but, again, what do I know?




The adjective, secretive, means “disposed to secrecy”.  The adjective, secret, means “done without the knowledge of others” or “kept from the knowledge of others”.  The two words are not synonyms.  What, then, are we to make of this paragraph:

Dr. He says he has submitted his research to a scientific journal. But nothing has been published yet, and he announced the births of the twins before his research could be peer-reviewed by fellow scientists. He also appears to have taken other secretive steps that defy scientific standards.

Gina Kolata and Pam Belluck, “Why Are Scientists So Upset About the First Crispr Babies?“, New York Times, 5 December 2018 

There’s something wrong here.  Dr. He submitted his research to a journal.  He announced the birth of the twins.  Those are not secretive steps.  They are the opposite of secretive.  The article does not tell us what “other secretive steps” he appears to have taken.  In fact, it does not identify any step taken by the doctor that could properly be described as secretive, such as, e.g., conducting his experiments at a hidden location, implanting the altered embryos without the parents’ knowledge, or making a false announcement intended to cover up what he had actually done.

It’s not absolutely clear, but I suspect the writers mean secret steps, and that augmentation disease is at work here.

“Out of Pocket”

How did “out of pocket” come to mean “unavailable”, “out of the office”?  The phrase used to mean, “Required to spend one’s own money”, as in “I’m fifty dollars out of pocket on this deal.”  Nowadays, it almost never means that.  Actually, I seldom see or hear it at all anymore, but when I do, it’s almost always in a sentence like, “I’m going to be out of pocket for the rest of the day for my daughter’s graduation activities.”

How did that happen?



I keep seeing the word singular used to mean “single”.  This is augmentation disease.  Singular has two meanings, neither of which is “single”.  With reference to words, it expresses number, and is the alternative to plural, as in “Das is a singular article in German.”  Otherwise, it means “unusual”, “odd”, “peculiar”, as in “Uncle Jim is a singular old fellow.”


Now is as good a time as any to talk about this.  It is fashionable, especially in the business world, to talk about “mentees” and the “mentor-mentee relationship”.  Some ignoramus heard somebody call another person “my Mentor”, figured there must be a verb, to ment or to mentate, or something, meaning “what a mentor does”, and decided that if one person can be a mentor, his or her protégée must be a mentee.  That would be fine if mentor were an agent noun.  We have other agent-patient pairs for the doer and the recipient of some action:  mortgagor (which should be spelt mortgagior, as it’s pronounced, but isn’t) and mortgageevendor and vendee, and so on.

But Mentor is not an agent noun.  Mentor is a character in the Odyssey, who advises and guides Odysseus’s son, Telemachus.   To call somebody, “my Mentor” is to employ a metaphor.  To call somebody “my mentee” is to employ a solecism.