Do you like grammar at all?…

But first…
Dulltown, UK: Today’s ancient Egyptian deity is the woman with cow ears, or horns, and sun disc on head, or a perched falcon on head – the goddess Hathor. Her attributes are: Canopic, lungs, North mother, love, fertility, sexuality, dance, alcohol and sky. (Hathor)

As you may have gathered dear reader, since I started trying to write things that people might find amusing (this blog of course), I have become a bit more interested in the practical mechanics of words and writing than I used to be.
This isn’t really an academic interest, but is driven by my fear of making awful gaffes (like misspelling the word ‘gaffe’ for instance) in spelling and grammar – and also I am trying hard to avoid the construction of ugly, long, uneven, misshapen, sentences, that pause, unexpectedly break, and trip up the reader in their tracks, and cause them to stumble, and, become upset, and annoyed with me…
By the way, thank god for spellchecker! I have made friends with the one on my machine and I am slowly educating it in British English one word at a time – US English is fine I suppose, but if you use the UK version I find that it puts a little bit more ‘gloss’ on the language. I always think that the word colour looks and sounds more colourful than color, which always sounds a bit pale and pasty-faced to me.
I have even started noticing bits of clumsy language in places where you’d think a bit more care might have been taken over it; dialogue in films and TV shows, politician’s speeches, the BBC News. You’d think that journalists would have attended lectures at ‘Journalism School’ to learn how to cover the ghastly events of the world in simple and straightforward sentences (I almost used the word ‘cogent’ there, but I’m afraid I chickened out – well, I’ve never used it before!) it can’t be that hard be be clear, can it?…
A few days ago I came across an unusual and puzzling phrase used by the counter staff in Marks & Spencer. I couldn’t quite place what the grammatical fault was, but I knew that there was something up with it.
All of the staff at the checkouts were saying it to all of the customers as they passed through – I think they must have been recently instructed by the management to do so at some early morning meeting.
Shops here in the UK no longer give out free plastic carrier bags with purchases – it’s a green eco thing – and quite right too! If you need a plastic bag you now have to buy one.
The assistants were saying to the customers, ‘Need a bag at all?’ which through repetition had transformed into an echoing ‘Needa-bagga-tall? Needa-bagga-tall?’
Of course, ‘Do you need a bag?’ would have been fine and correct, but for some reason it was determined that ‘at all’ should be pinned on the end; perhaps it sounds more ‘friendly’ and possibly even slightly ‘persuasive’ as the ‘at all?…’ hangs there in the air waiting for an answer. I suppose the customer should respond with, ‘No thank you, not at all…’ or, if the mood took you, you could add, ‘… not even a little bit!’
As I write, I am still not quite clear on why the ‘at all’ sounds a bit wrong. Let’s have a think about it – what phrase would be alright with ‘at all’ in it? ‘Do you feel ill at all?’ Aha! Thant’s alright isn’t it? I get it now, you can have degrees of feeling ill or well, very ill, slightly ill, or even not ill at all…
‘Are you hungry at all?’ Same thing, degrees of hunger – actually I do feel a little peckish – I have a cube of nice cheese in the fridge and the remains of a sliced oaty bloomer…
But there isn’t any leeway with needing a bag (singular), is there? Either you need one, or you don’t – You know Morris, I think I ever-so-slightly need a bag to put my eggs and potatoes in… No, that’s just ridiculous, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’m glad we’ve got all that sorted out, aren’t you? I think I might go and make that cheese sandwich now… I’ve earned it, writing all this twaddle!…

About Dave Whatt

Grumpy old surrealist artist, musician, postcard maker, bluesman, theatre set designer, and debonair man-about-town. My favourite tools are the plectrum and the pencil...
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19 Responses to Do you like grammar at all?…

  1. Dana Doran says:

    Oh spellcheck! The other day, spellcheck told me that I misspelled “surveillance.” At the time I didn’t realize that it was a covert message that I shouldn’t be writing anything that incorporated ‘surveillance’ within the text. I just keep looking at the word – as if studying that string of letters would jog my memory, trying to spell it differently didn’t result in that red line disappearing. So, I opened a new tab, typed in the word surveillance and there is was….a dictionary spelled it the same way I did. “Huh,” I said to myself. Perhaps the spellcheck message (the addition of the red line – OH THOSE PESKY RED LINES) was just a little outside of spellcheck’s purview or normal operational mode….you know, surveillance of writing….any writing, every keystroke, in context…..misspellings don’t encrypt well. And, you spelled color wrong. aha.

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Pesky indeed! – But see my reply to Scribbleartie – It’s quite enjoyable educating the damn thing.
      “Surveillance” – a dangerous word if ever there was one – I like the way it has ‘veil’ in the middle of it too… He also sounds like a medieval knight… watching us through the slots in the front of his helmet…

  2. At the one and only shop left on our high street, they also ask the “needabagatall?” but they also ask “Gottacardatall?” meaning “Have you got one of our special loyalty cards which you can use in our larger stores, but not in this one because this is an outlet store and we don’t allow them” Also spellcheck annoys me because it tells me I am wrong, when I am right, yet I don’t know how to change it to the “proper” spelling. Hrmph. 🙂

    • Dave Whatt says:

      “It tells me I’m wrong when I’m right” – gosh! How dare it!…
      Well, this is how I get my spellchecker to understand UK English – perhaps yours works the same dear Scribbler?
      When it underlines some word in wiggly red, say ‘colour’ – I right click on it – a window opens and I can click on “add to dictionary” – from there on it ignores that spelling. It’s a long job adding them all in, but a satisfying one.
      “Gottacardatall?” Hm, I like that…

      • Ahh..thank you, I’ll try that next time it dares to correct me. Great satisfaction shall be had for adding the proper spelling…..actually….could any word be added? (imagines a whole new dictionary of made up words!)

      • Dave Whatt says:

        Also, do have a look at my reply to Junkmonkey – I have just changed my Firefox spellcheck over to British English! Ho ho!… Hope it works, I haven’t tried it yet.

  3. Jheron Bash says:

    Anyway, it’s marginally better than “D’you guys needabagatall? When are the gender equality people going to tackle this “you guys” business?
    By the way, I just got the spellcheck red line under “needabagatall” (there, it just did it again!) but do I want this adding to my dictionary? Sometimes when you right click on a RL (there it goes again), you also get an “ignore” option as well. Not this time though. Weird! Anyway, on this occasion I’ve left the red lines because when you send they disappear anyway. Just saying …

    • Dave Whatt says:

      My Dear Jheron, I’ve just learned something about spellchecking – see my recent reply to Junkmonkey!…
      And as for ‘you guys’ – it’s like we are pretending that we are all living in bloody New York or something!

  4. junkmonkey says:

    Ooooh! Spooky Synchronicity! Daughter Number One and I are watching Stargate SG1 from the start all the way through – we’re up to date with Doctor Who and season 6 of Xena was getting a bit too serious and soap operatic – and which ancient deity of the week should appear in last night’s episode but Hathor! I don’t think the actress playing her had cow’s ears but given the skimpiness of her costume I wasn’t really paying much attention to that end of her…

  5. junkmonkey says:

    Hmmm spellcheckers strange things. Mine for instance does not recognise the word ‘spellchecker’ but happily informs me that I can’t spell Japanese film directors’ names. ‘Kurasawa’ gets squiggled and suggests ‘Kurosawa’. It also recognises Hitchcock, Chaplin, Spielberg, Kubrick, Lang Bergman, and Pabst but not Scorsese, Bunuel, Welles, Fellini, Coppola or any number of other important directors.

    I don’t know what program you write in, Dave, but I would be very surprised if it wasn’t possible to swap the default dictionary from English (US) to English (UK) – or even another language. I’m typing this in almost straight out the box Firefox (very few add ons or tweaks) and a right click > Languages > Select from the pulldown menu lets me chose from those two and ‘French (classic)’ – because I added that one via the ‘Add Dictionary’ option thereabouts.

    • Dave Whatt says:

      Well, my dear Junkmonkey, I am using Firefox too, but I’ve never noticed anything about languages… Oh, hang on, if I right click on the red underline, look, there is the word ‘languages’ – gosh I can download the British English dictionary!
      Whoa! Thank you JunkyMonkey!…

  6. This “at all” thing has me puzzled. The phrase hasn’t arrived here in Pennsylvania USA yet, I guess. We tend to be abrupt. “Need your receipt?” and so on. I think “at all” tends to a bit aggressive when it shows up, such as ” I don’t need your help AT ALL”. ” I don’t understand you AT ALL”. I enjoy thinking of the bag offer like this: “need a bag AT ALL?” And thrusting at the customer, letting go when it makes contact with any part of the customer. Now that’s Philly.

  7. Twaddle, indeed, but of the most amusing and amazing variety. My young daughter visiting the UK from Canada, was puzzled by the phrase “sosi, jegg, and chips” … “What’s a jegg, dad?” she kept asking. I guess the sosi was more self-explanatory. Still love that top photo … Don’t stop writing …

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