You may have heard about the recent Bad Grammar Awards, arranged by the Idler Academy. I wondered what they were going to have a go at – I hoped it wasn’t going to be another attack on market traders’ problems with apostrophes, which have always struck me as rather easy meat (and you try getting up at 4am to fetch the fruit and veg and see how much accurate punctuation matters. It’s a tomato, we can see that, the apostrophe’s no big deal), but rather people who really ought to get these things right. And, to be fair to them, they didn’t. In the event, they opted for this, an excerpt from a letter written by a group of academics to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary:
‘Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children’s potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity.’
Maybe I’ve read too much of this sort of stuff, but I thought it was OK – not award-winning (in the other sense), but fit for purpose. I got what they were saying, quite liked ‘too much too young’ (a nod, I assume, to The Specials), and didn’t notice any absolute howlers. But the award judges took exception to it. You can read why, if you wish – and you might ponder on how bad (or not) the runners-up were if this was the worst that they could find.
If they’re going to run the competition next year, they might want to aim rather higher (or lower) – there are plenty of awful things out there. Although perhaps you’d be surprised at how seldom professional proofreaders make fun of them in public – yes, we might have a joke among ourselves when something really horrible slips through, but I think there’s always an element of ‘There, but for the grace of God, go all of us’, and the knowledge that, when a bad mistake does occur, the proofreader (always assuming there was one) is an easy scapegoat, and that the problem is usually a result of a combination of circumstances rather than a simple proofreading error. Of which, I think it’s fair to say, there are none in the passage which won this slightly odd trophy.