Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Daybreak texting

I'm normally one for small print, but in this instance my attention was drawn by the interjection of Adrian on the Daybreak show. He had just invited viewers to text comments to the show when I imagine a producer bellowed "Terms and conditions" down his ear at which point he hurriedly read out was had just flashed up on the screen that the viewers had to be 18 and over. So what?

Well it means no-one can text in.

It's possible for me to be 18. It's possible for me to be over-18. It's not possible for me to be 18 and over. It seems pedantic after all we all know what they mean, but it's a poor use of the language particularly when the alternative is just as simple. How did this usage come about? It's all about contractions.

I state that it's possible for me to be over-18, but that wording doesn't match the disclaimer. It simply states "over" this is because it's attached to the previous "18", but the entire sentence has also been contracted. In full it should state "You can text us if you are 18 and you can text us if you are over-18". Laid out in full this now makes sense, however in English we like to remove redundancies and in this case as the subject of the sentence has been made clear in the beginning to be about texting there is no requirement to repeat it. Again though so what so long as it's understandable?

Consider if we took this particular "18 and over" context and used it elsewhere. A fairground ride might state that you need to be "over-18 and over 5'6"" does that mean someone under 18 but over 5'6" can use the ride? No-one would interpret that instruction in that way, yet we are expected to do so for "18 and over".

If I wished to travel to Birmingham and not take my car I could state in full that "I can get to Birmingham by bus and I can get to Birmingham by train" thus "I can get to Birmingham by bus and train". What if I needed to get the bus to the station to catch the train? "I can get to the station by bus and the train to Birmingham" doesn't that mean I am getting to Birmingham by using the bus and the train and can state truthfully that "I can get to Birmingham by bus and train"? Isn't that what I just said? No not if I can't get the bus to Birmingham. Adding a simple "or" clears up any confusion "18 or over" "bus or train" or even "bus or bus and train".

The rule is quite simple "and" is an additive; "or" is an alternative. If I need to be or have all requirements use "and" if I need to be or have only one of the requirements  use "or".