In much of my research for clients in the past couple of months I have often seen the term black swan. As I know swans to be white in most cases, I was intrigued by this phrase suddenly popping up all over the place.
The term black swan has come to be associated with COVID-19 and its various impacts.
The English language is so rich and diverse that one lifetime is just not enough to master all of it.
But I have discovered that as much as English owes many of its idioms to the writings of the great Shakespeare, the bible has made a significant contribution of its own.
I hasten to add at this point, that researching Shakespearean idiomatic origins is a whole lot easier than that of biblical references.
In my job, as sub-editor at a community newspaper, I had to reprimand a reporter for shoddy work.
His report was submitted for subbing with several repeated paragraphs. When I pointed this out to him, he swore it was a systems error.
This was highly unlikely and even if it was, he should have made the necessary corrections to the piece before sending it on for subbing.
Today I’d like to share these word pairs that always confuse new writers. Not to sound arrogant there are plenty words in the English language that I need to check on for correct usage, despite considering myself an English language professional.
I have selected these five word pairs so that you can easily increase your word power.
English demands that its users know more than just the meaning of a word.
They also must know how it’s used. It’s not okay to slap just any words together. Some have special ‘partners’.
While subbing an article yesterday, I happened upon the phrase ‘pay their condolences’. I knew instinctively that condolences were not paid. However, I forgot for a second what it was that you did with them.
So of course, you offer them. Thus the phrase was corrected to ‘offer their condolences’
While gathering information on the matter, I discovered that one can offer condolences in the singular, as in I offer my condolence. There is also the verb, to condole.
Lifesomundane has explained the difference between the singular and plural usage so well that I’ve just copied it in.
Now this is a tricky one. I have always preferred ‘condolences’ because that is how I often hear it from native English speakers. It is not, apparently, as straightforward as I used to think.
First of all, the word condole is derived from the Latin ‘condolere,’ meaning to ‘suffer with one another.’ It means to ‘express one’s sympathetic grief, on the occasion of someone’s death.’ (Advanced English Dictionary)
Condolence, therefore, is an expression used to commiserate or sympathise with a person who has just lost a loved one.
To get back to the gist of the matter, does one say ‘condolence’ or ‘condolences’ when expressing sympathy to the bereaved?
If used as part of an adjective phrase, there is no question that ‘condolence’ is more correct. Hence, one gives a ‘message of condolence’ rather than a ‘message of condolences.’
There also is no question when condolences are offered to the bereaved on behalf of a group of persons. Hence, you can say my family’s, my company’s or my office’s condolences. Likewise, one can just say OUR condolences.
The tricky part is when one says MY condolences. There seems to be something not quite right about a singular person offering the plural of condolence on his or her behalf alone.
However, as a matter of convention, it is perfectly correct to do so and this is, in fact, how native English speakers condole with the bereaved.
Similarly, ‘my sympathies’ is often preferred to ‘my sympathy,’ the latter grammatically correct but not quite sounding so conversationally.
Most online English dictionaries that I referred to before writing this article do not state outright that ‘condolences’ is more correct than ‘condolence’ when used by a person on behalf of himself alone.
Instead, what they say is that ‘condolences’ is how the word is OFTEN used to express sympathy when somebody dies.
To conclude, ‘my condolence’ is perfectly correct and especially so from the grammatical point of view. That said, ‘my condolences’ is just as correct and particularly so because this is how it is often stated by native English speakers.
To me the word ‘dove’ brings to mind the soap brand and the birds referred to in one of Prince’s better known songs, When Doves Cry.
So I was a little taken aback when, reading a book by an American writer, he used the word dove to indicate the past tense of dove. This is what sent me on my search for correctness.
I have the contention that the American version of the English language is a lazy one (using practise as the spelling of the verb and noun, leaving out the u in colour, and so on).
So this supported my initial theory.
Merriam Webster had this to say:
Dive, which was originally a weak verb, developed a past tense dove, probably by analogy with verbs like drive, drove. Dove exists in some British dialects and has become the standard past tense especially in speech in some parts of Canada. In the United States dived and dove are both widespread in speech as past tense and past participle, with dove less common than dived in the south Midland area, and dived less common than dove in the Northern and north Midland areas. In writing, the past tense dived is usual in British English and somewhat more common in American English. Dove seems relatively rare as a past participle in writing.
Just imagine saying the car nose-dove into the river. The only possibility for the past tense of dive in this usage is dived.
And as I continue in my efforts to keep the English language pure, I hope that dove will remain rare in its usage as I cannot concede that thrive becomes throve, or hive becomes hove and there is no possible way that live becomes love.
So I say, dove, know your place!