The Grammar Factor: simply, mondegreens, question marks and quotes


I was reminded last week of one of my pet peeves – the use of the word ‘simply’.

This word is often best deleted for two reasons:

  •  When used in instructions, ‘simply’ is often not true! When I read ‘simply’ in instructions, my immediate reaction is that the instructions will be difficult. My preconceptions were confirmed last week when I arrived at my accommodation after-hours and read the instructions to access my room. They started with ‘Simply…’, but were far from simple.
  • ‘Simply’ is often redundant. After a safety briefing on a plane, I was told if I had missed anything to ‘simply read the safety brochure’. What’s wrong with just ‘read the safety brochure’?

What are your pet peeves?


A reader brought mondegreens to my attention this month.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines mondegreen as ‘a term or phrase which results from a mishearing or misinterpretation of the original words, especially in song lyrics, as Australians all eat ostriches from Australians all let us rejoice, the first line of the national anthem’.

It was coined by US author Sylvia Wright (1917-81) in 1954 from a line in a 17th century ballad, ‘They have slain the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green’ that was misconstrued as ‘They have slain the Earl of Murray and Lady Mondegreen’.

The mondegreens my reader offered were:

  •  ‘The girl with colitis goes by’ for ‘the girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ from the Beatles song.
  • The title, A Monk Swimming, a memoir by Malachy McCourt, is a mondegreen from the prayer ‘Hail Mary, blessed art thou amongst women’. What are your favourite mondegreens?

Readers’ questions

Nested questions

Question: Is it OK to combine two questions within one sentence, or should you ask two separate questions? For example, ‘What is it and who is involved?’

Answer: It’s fine to have more than question in a sentence if the meaning is clear.

Quotes within quotes

Question: If you have a comment in quotes and then they quote someone else do you put separate quote marks around that?

Answer: Yes, but you use a different style of quotes. So if you used double quotation marks for the whole quote, you use single quotation marks for the quote within the quote. Or vice versa – single for the whole quote and double for the quote within the quote.

“I wish I had invented Nike’s ‘Just do it’ slogan,” said Jane.
‘I wish I had invented Nike’s “Just do it” slogan,’ said Jane.

Interesting articles about writing

Why walking helps us think
‘What is it about walking, in particular, that makes it so amenable to thinking and writing? The answer begins with changes to our chemistry. When we go for a walk, the heart pumps faster, circulating more blood and oxygen not just to the muscles but to all the organs – including the brain.’ Read the rest of this New Yorker article.

Why ‘youse’ deserves its place in Australia’s national dictionary
‘Over the years the editors of the Macquarie Dictionary have occasionally been taken to task by people who feel we have let the side down by including the word “youse” in the dictionary.’ Read the defence of ‘youse’.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Read an article about the pronoun ‘whom’, which has been on the decline since 1826, and watch some ‘whom’ moments from the TV show, Friends.

Quote of the month

‘Any document written to communicate thinking must be structured to answer a question.’ Barbara Minto, Think Your Way to Clear Thinking


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