The BBC’s pet linguistic hates in 1981

If today’s pet linguistic hates for BBC journalists and news writers are try and (for try to), concede defeat/victorygone missing and Americanisms (e.g. turning nouns into verbs and attaching prepositions to verbs: hospitalizemeet with) (see elsewhere in this blog), different ones are listed in Robert Burchfield’s The Spoken Word, published for the BBC in 1981.

This forty-page booklet deals with pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar, and Burchfield has labelled grammatical items that are “Unacceptable uses in any circumstances” with a triple asterisk.  An overview is found in an article by Robert Tilson, published in 1985:

  1. False concord in sentences: There’s two birds in the nest
  2. Classical plurals construed as singulars: criteria, data, media, phenomena, strata
  3. Failure to use the oblique case of pronouns: between you and I
  4. Hanging or unattached participles
  5. Confusion of less and fewer
  6. Wrong participles: We want this changing/This needs changed
  7. Inability to carry through a sentence with one as subject
  8. Confusion of more and most: The most interesting of the two.

For numbers 6 and 7 Burchfield notes that there are differences between American and British usage. If continued usage of these two items can be grouped under the category of Americanism, it is interesting to see how attitudes to usage have changed in the course of thirty years. None of the other items that receive most criticism today are listed by Ilson in his overview, not even with a double asterisk (“Uses restricted by listeners but permissible in informal English”) or a single one (“Debatable features: preferences provided”). It is interesting to see, given the discussion on this blog, that split infinitives are labelled with one asterisk only.


Ilson, Robert (1985). “Usage problems in British and American English”. In: Sidney Greenbaum (ed.), The English Language Today. Oxford etc.: Pergamon Press. 166-182.

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