Transport for London wins 2017 Bad Grammar Award

9 Nov|Tom Hodgkinson

Tom Hodgkinson announces the winner of this year’s Bad Grammar Award

On Monday night the judges of this year’s Bad Grammar Award met at the Parabola restaurant in London’s Design Museum, a cavernous building which, oddly, was featuring an exhibition of John Snow’s ties. Rowley Leigh, Britain’s brainiest chef, is not only a judge, but is chef patron at Parabola, hence the venue. And the food was quite spectacular.

Present were Jeremy Paxman, Virginia Ironside, Helen Hawkins (editor of the Sunday Times Culture section), Beatrix Macintyre (Editorial Manager at publisher Michael Joseph), Victoria Hull and me.

While drinking fine wines chosen by Rowley, we ran through the shortlist. Among the candidates was Tesco for its “Food Love Stories” ad campaign. “What on earth does it mean?” I asked. “I stare at the ads and try to work out where the verb is.”

“Quite simple,” said Jeremy. “It means love stories about food.”

“Oh, I see. I thought it was something to do with how food loves telling stories.”

Next up was the Government. Beatrix had nominated them (I mean “it”, don’t I?) for a departmental logo which reads: “Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport.” There are two errors, she said. First off, the use of the adjective “digital” as a noun, which may be trendy but which does not befit an august government department. “They’re just trying to get down with the kids and it’s tragic,” said Beatrix. Second, the missing comma after “Culture”, which appears to have been dropped for aesthetic reasons only.

I proposed “the Tweets of Ivanka Trump” for her use of “it’s” for “its” and for this howler: “Cuddling my little nephew Luke… the best part of an otherwise incredible day!” My fellow judges forgave her these minor lapses. “She’s American,” said Virginia. “It doesn’t count.”

“She’s the daughter of the president of the United States,” I countered. “She has been taught English in the finest schools!”

Then there was this abomination: “Dettol Anti-Bacterial range helps you protect you’re little Miss Curiosity.” Again, the judges felt that this was not a hugely significant crime. “But is Little Miss Curiosity a euphemism for something?” wondered Rowley.

The Metropolitan Police had been nominated earlier in the year for “routine barbarisms” like “proceeding” for “walking”.

“Too old,” said Mr P, “though I do like the phrase ‘routine barbarisms’. That’s very good.”

“That was your phrase,” I pointed out. “You used it when you nominated the police in an email to me.”

“Did I?”

Expedia were nominated for their (or should that be “its”?)  “Travel Yourself interesting” slogan.

“It’s advertising,” said JP. “They’re allowed to mess around.”

“But it makes people think this stuff is OK – the advertisers educate the youth!” I retorted, but the other judges concurred with Mr P.

Left to right: Helen Hawkins, Tom Hodgkinson, Virginia Ironside, Rowley Leigh, Beatrix McIntyre, Jeremy Paxman

I nominated Facebook for their mission statement: “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” That is unclear. Do they mean: “We give people the power to build communities [should be plural] and the power to bring the citizens of the world closer together”? After all, you can’t bring a “world” closer together. It’s like saying “bring this ball closer together”. And are we, the people, given the power to bring the world closer together, or does Facebook, as well as giving us the power to build communities, also bring the world closer together? Full of errors, in my view, which expose bullshit of the highest order.

“It’s just style,” said Virginia.

“It’s an abstract idea, and we should allow them that,” argued Rowley.

Now on to our final submission, Transport for London, with five examples of shoddy English.

“All the doors in this carriage will not open at the next station.”

“That is misleading and wrong,” said Helen. “It should simply say ‘Not all the doors in this carriage will open at the next station.’”

Another TFL error: “Spotting a ticket inspector is easy. They look just like you!”

“They’ve got their plurals and singles mixed up,” said Helen. “They should have written ‘spotting ticket inspectors is easy.’”

And there are more.

“If you are feeling unwell get off the train and speak to a member of staff who will assist you” (so really, don’t bother trying to talk to the ones who won’t, though good luck working out which are which). This could easily be put right. What about “and ask a member of staff for assistance”? Or how about inserting a comma after “staff”?

We also cited: “Only use the alarm to alert the driver in an emergency. The train will continue to the next station where assistance will be available.” Again there is a missing comma after “station”. In its current state, this sentence means that the train will continue to station after station until it finds one where assistance is available.

And finally:

“Take care and attention as you board and alight the train.”

Helen said: “You can’t ‘take attention’ – unidiomatic. And ‘alight’ is not a transitive verb; it has to be followed by a preposition.”

So for sheer quantity and lack of linguistic quality, the award this year goes to TFL.