Tag: grammar

An Academic Car Crash?

An Academic Car Crash?

Photo by Marina Carresi

The other day I received an email whose title was, “The Academia Community Just[1] Hit a Big Milestone!”. The headline[2] was referring to the fact that the Academia.edu social-networking site[3] now has more than 50 million members. While[4] I celebrate the fact that “Facebook for Faculty[5][6] has more members than California or Spain has citizens, I was taken aback[7] by the headline. For me a milestone[8] is a physical thing. I dug one up[9] in my parents’ garden when I was young (see photo). Sure[10] I accept that it can be used metaphorically to mean an important marker[11] or a significant figure[12] but it is still a living metaphor[13] in that I associate the expression ‘to reach/pass a milestone’ with the image of someone walking past a milestone on a road in the English countryside. For instance[14], a milestone figures large[15] in the pantomime[16] Dick Whittington (see image). So, the mixed metaphor[17] ‘to hit[18] a milestone’ sounds comical: I imagine someone crashing his car into a stone next to the road. If “the Academic Community just1 hit a big milestone”, their car was probably a write-off[19]!

However, there are no milestones in the USA, so ‘a milestone’ there is just[20] an important marker11, a significant figure12 or an impressive number. If you have been trying to achieve[21] such a milestone, it no doubt makes sense to say “to hit a milestone”, just as[22] you hit a target[23]. In other words “to reach/pass/(hit) a milestone” in US English is a dead metaphor[24]. Interestingly, there are a very similar number of Google hits for “reach a milestone” and “hit a milestone” but the latter[25] is about 3% more popular. So it looks like I’ll just[26] have to get used to[27] it.

[1] just – (in this case) very recently, (literally) a moment ago

[2] headlinetitle to a news story

[3] social-networking sitewebsite for interacting socially (e.g. Facebook)

[4] while – (in this case) although

[5] faculty – university teachers, academics

[6] I thought I’d invented this epithet for Academia.edu but I’ve just discovered that people were using it back in 2010!

[7] to be taken aback – be surprised

[8] milestone – (literally) stone next to a road on which the distance to a town is written

[9] to dig sth. up (dig-dug-dug) – uncover sth., excavate sth.

[10] sure – (in this case) of course

[11] markerindicator, signal

[12] figure – (in this case) number

[13] living metaphorfigurative expression that can only be understood in reference to the original connotation

[14] for instance – for example

[15] to figure large – be prominent, be important

[16] pantomimetype of theatrical comedy performed at Christmas

[17] mixed metaphortwo expressions that have been confused, (in this case) ‘reach a milestone’ and ‘hit a target’23

[18] to hit (hit-hit-hit) – (possibly) have a collision with

[19] write-offvehicle that is so badly damaged that it cannot be repaired

[20] just – (in this case) only

[21] to achieve – attain, reach, get to

[22] just as – in the same way that

[23] to hit a target (hit-hit-hit) – achieve an objective, attain a goal

[24] dead metaphorfigurative expression that can be understood without knowing the original connotation

[25] the latter – the last mentioned, (in this case) the expression “to hit a milestone”

[26] just – (in this case) simply

[27] to get used to (get-got-got) – become accustomed to


Apologies for the recent silence but my life has been dominated by correction work for my university students, which has to take priority. One interesting thing came out of[1] all that correcting. If my students want their corrected work back[2], they have to send me a message from the email to which they want me to return it. A number of them asked for their corrections with phrases including the word ‘kindly’, such as, “Would you kindly send me my corrected work?” I have absolutely no doubt that they were trying to be polite[3]. In the past ‘kindly’ did more or less mean[4] ‘please’. However, as The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage points out[5], the use of ‘kindly’ to be formally polite has been declining for decades leaving the other adverbial use – to express authority and irritation. “Would you kindly not smoke?”, “Kindly keep your voice down” and “Kindly leave me alone” have the formality of using Usted in Spanish of vous in French but express the speaker’s frustration, not his or her respect.

P.S. We were incapable of finding an image to illustrate this blogpost, sorry!

[1] to come out of (come-came-come) – emerge from

[2] back – (in this case) returned

[3] politecourteous, wellmannered

[4] did mean – (emphatic) meant

[5] to point outindicate

Grammar Clanger[1]

Grammar Clanger[1]


Photo credit: The Poplar Walk in San Fernando de Henares by Adrian Llie

Here is a real job advertisement that appeared this week. Can you identify the grammatical mistake?

We are seeking to[2] appoint[3] a Senior[4] Teacher Trainer for our Head Office in San Fernando de Henares (Madrid). The successful candidate will be responsible for identify, propose, plan, elaborate and carry out[5] training opportunities aimed at[6] teachers and teaching professionals, communicating [the publishing company’s] mission, values, objectives and relevant methodologies:

I have eliminated the publishing company’s name for obvious reasons.

[1] clangerblunder, embarrassing mistake, serious error

[2] to be seeking to (seek-sought-sought) – be trying to, wantto

[3] to appoint – (false friend) select

[4] senior – (false friend) experienced

[5] to carry out – perform, execute

[6] aimed at – directed at, (in this case) for