An Irishman’s Diary – A Further (but not Farther) Reading from the Stylebook of Leviticus

Flout ye not the rules

A further reading from the Stylebook of Leviticus. Use ye not the word "alternate" when ye mean "alternative". That is unclean.

Start ye not a sentence with “however” when ye mean “nevertheless”. That also is unclean. Avoid “brilliant” as a synonym for “very good”, if ye can. For although it is no longer unclean, officially, it is much overused now, and could certainly do with a wash.

Confuse ye not “farther”, which referreth to distance, with “further”, which signifieth degree. That is an abomination in the eyes of the Chief Subeditor.

Similarly, confound ye not “fewer” with “less”.


The difference there can be illustrated by an example that also showeth the importance of capital letters. An upper-case “Alsatian”, for example, hath fewer legs (two, usually) than a lower-case “alsatian” (four), while the latter is much less likely to speak French.

Beware the difference between “historic”, which indicateth a past event that was notable in some way, and “historical”, which meaneth only that it hath passed. Thus, if thou wert bitten by a lower-case alsatian last year, that is now historical. If it was an upper-case Alsatian bit you, there’s still time to contact the newspapers.

‘Meteoric rise’

Refer ye not to somebody’s “meteoric rise”, especially if ye mean that the person is a sudden success. For verily, what a meteor doeth, as a rule, is fall.

Or to more be precise, in the manner of the Pedantites, that is what a “meteoroid” doeth upon entering the atmosphere, whenceforth it becometh a “meteor” and either burneth up completely or hitteth the ground, as a smoking “meteorite”. In none of these cases doth it make a suitable metaphor for career progress.

News scribes: say not that something is “set to” happen if though meanest to predict that it will. For although the word “set” can be useful if the forecast event occurreth not, there are some scribes for whom this hath become an addiction. “Sun set to rise tomorrow,” their typical headline telleth us, quoting “well-placed sources in the Met Office”.

Also, append ye not the word “gate” to the end of every noun that featureth in public controversy.

That is another abomination. For although it be two score year and more since Watergate hath unleashed this plague of locusts upon the world, it showeth no sign of letting up yet.

Even now, verily, if a politician as much as sneezeth without saying ‘excuse me”, somebody somewhere is sure declare the declare the incident “Sneezegate”.

But I tell you this – it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a scribe who overuseth the “-gate” suffix to enter the kingdom of Heaven. (And, by the way, it is untrue that the “needle” referred to in that Bible passage was a small gate in the walls of Jerusalem. That is a latter-day myth, which a journalist somewhere has probably called “Gategate”.)

Sports scribes: say ye never that a striker was “denied by the woodwork”, nor that a goalkeeper was “saved” by it.  For, verily, the goalposts are by definition not part of the goals. And it followeth that a player can never be saved by woodworks (nor indeed by good works, in the view of Protestant fundamentalists), but only by being born again, or training harder, or both.

Know ye too that "naught" means nothing, while "nought" means the figure zero. But know also that, contrary to what many rugby correspondent still thinkest, nought is also the number of "naughts" in the name "Connacht". A similar point applieth to the entity often called "Glasgow Celtic".  There is but one "Celtic Football Club", to give it its official name. Thou shalt not have "Glasgow" before it.


Scribes in general: Confuse ye not “ganja”, which some of ye call “weed”, with “janjaweed”, which is a militia in western


. “Ganja” and “weed” are drugs: “Janjaweed” meaneth literally “man with gun on horseback”. (In the unlikely event that thou meetest such a man, and if he showeth signs of being on ganja as well as a horse, thou art advised to take urgent avoidance measures).

Flout ye not the rules. But neither flaunt your knowledge.

For yea, verily, it is good to know that Pieter Bruegel the Elder dropped the "h" from his surname in 1559, whereas his son Pieter Brueghel the Younger retained his. But there are very few instances, this aside, where thou wilt have any good excuse to advertise thy possession of such facts.