Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Three (3) things that really irritate me ...

I already aired my views about the bastard conjunction (pace Viscount Simon LC) "and/or", and I just encountered another piece of drafting nonsense that always gets my goat. I entered a competition online, and the rules state -
Two (2) prizes are available. Prize A consists of two (2) economy return flights from Heathrow to Rome and three (3) nights accommodation in a four (4) star hotel in a double/twin room on a bed and breakfast basis. Prize B consists of two (2) economy return flights from Glasgow to Rome via Heathrow and three (3) nights accommodation in a four (4) star hotel in a double/twin room on a bed and breakfast basis.
You don't need to know whose competition it is - anyway, I don't want everyone entering and lengthening the already considerable odds against my winning. What is it with this "number (numeral)" thing? And why that way round? I recall seeing it first, many years ago, where the number was spelt out in words to avoid ambiguity. That was probably back in the dark ages when people wrote using pen and ink (as I was reminded when I wrote a rare cheque yesterday), or typed on sometimes-not-very-legible typewriters, but there is not the slightest possibility of ambiguity arising in clearly presented type on a computer screen. Why do it? There are rules - somewhat variable ones - about when to spell out and when to use numerals: the Oxford Style manual tells me that at OUP the change is at 100, which seems very high; the Economist Pocket Style Manual sets it at 11. The author of the competition rules doesn't seem to agree with either. Would Viscount Simon have called these "bastard numbers", I wonder?

My third bugbear - might as well get them all off my chest at once - is the common use of 23:59 as closing time for competitions and other matters that require precision in this regard. Fine, the promoters are at liberty to set whatever closing time they like, and if they wish to have the competition close at such an odd time of day that's their privilege. If they are potentially giving something to me for nothing, I won't quibble about the qualifying terms. If, however, they have chosen to use one minute to midnight because they cannot grasp, or fear that entrants will not be able to grasp, that the day ends at 24:00, I have no sympathy. It is not a difficult concept. It is not even difficult to grasp that 24:00 one day is exactly the same instant as 00:00 the next. To carve out a minute here and there is nothing but laziness, and a lack of intellectual rigour.

And if I were to enumerate a fourth, it would be the unbalanced parallel construction, but let's leave that for now.

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