Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 13/07/17

Comb On! That's A Bit Steep!

We all have linguistic solecisms which, when we encounter them, cause either a wince of pain or a shout of annoyance. This is either due to the offensive vacuity of them (see under 'management Bollocksese'); or arising from the complete misunderstanding of a phrase; or because of the thoughtless mixing of concepts.

I've just been reminded of two of them.

The first is when - wishing to describe a process of rigorous scrutiny, examination or investigation - one describes the procedure as "going through <such-and-such> with a fine-tooth comb".

Got that? A fine-tooth comb. It is not "a fine tooth-comb"! Not even werewolves comb their teeth, and it wouldn't do their dentition any good if they tried. But the number of times one comes across this barbarism - even, today, in the writings of so consistently good a communicator as the journalist Ian Dunt (see paragraph five of the piece I've linked to) - cannot be accounted for by some mere shift of fashion; this is slovenliness, pure and simple, and all the more depressing for that. (*)

Reading that just now reminded me of the other one which makes Yer Judge grind what few teeth he has left...

(I do have all my own teeth; it's just that in the case of about half of them, I have the receipts to prove it)

This one is the case of getting two canting phrases from the world of business, commerce and other forms of criminality, and not even being able to cant them properly.

How many times have you heard someone (often someone whom, one would hope, would know better) refer to an arduous process of progression as "a steep learning curve"?

A curve may, of course, be steep; I can think of a few roads hereabouts which have them. But steepness is not the key attribute of a curve. Sharpness is, and whilst both "a sharp learning curve" and "a steep learning gradient" are both abominations in themselves, it merely augments the offence when the two are inter-mangled like that.

Of course, none of this can possibly matter in an age where form has triumphed so completely over content; as long as it sounds as if you've not only read but understood the handbook, then all shall be well.

For those of us of a more fastidious and careful mien, however, it simply drives one up the bend.

Update: At some later point after I posted this, someone - either Dunt himself or some sub - amended the text to "fine-toothed comb".