Working as a writer and copy editor, I have noticed how the brain tricks you, or me. If the word sounds right in the mind it’s easy for it to be mistaken as the right word.
For example, earlier this week, in the final proofread of my book review I wrote about a ‘smaller waste’ and the context was food so it was even easier to miss. Just moments before submitting the final draft, I realised that what I meant was ‘smaller waist’.
Rats! If you’ve ever had the problem of rats in your home, you may identify with strongly negative feelings about the small annoying creatures.
Thanks to my compulsive TV watching habits, I learnt that the collective noun for rats is mischief – a mischief of rats.
Collective nouns for animals, such as a congress of baboons are very interesting and often surprising – too many to mention here.
Thinking back to last year when the rats came to eat the dog food that was carelessly left around the home, their trails of mischief were abundant. From the holes in the packaging of the sturdy dog food bags, to little poo droppings all over the place, it was plain to see we had a rat problem.
We could hear them running in the roof, and saw a couple run across the lounge floor, but at such a speed, we could not catch them. We would shriek, “there goes a rat” but be frozen to inaction as the rat scuttled to safety under the cupboard. And who wants to touch a rat with bare hands and no trapping device? (not that I would use one of those).
It wasn’t long before the rats were breeding faster than rabbits. We had to call the exterminator to get rid of the multiple mischiefs.
Rats are associated with dirt, disease and disgust, so when you refer to someone as a rat, you imply that they are not trustworthy.
To rat on someone means to give the game away, in other words, to tell the boss that your colleague is not at work because he is applying for another job, and not at the doctor with a near fatal tumor.
Rats in the language give expression to displeasure or distaste but their close cousin the mouse, has a much friendlier reputation. They are considered cute and considerate – as quiet as a mouse – and many a character has been animated to be a larger than life rodent. Perhaps we have Mickey Mouse to thank for that.
Any famous rats of Walt Disney fame? None that I know of, but thousands upon thousands used in medical experiments for the health of human kind.
Today we are going to have some fun exploring the difference between veracity and voracity. These words if not heard correctly can be interchanged to disastrous effect. The one has to do with truth, the other appetite. Or you could say, veracity concerns one’s appetite for truth, while voracity has to do with a desire to consume.
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.
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.