‘I think the mouses climb in up the ivory’ – a classic line uttered by my neighbour over the garden fence when we were sitting out on a sunny day.

We (my partner and I) then spent a fruitless half-hour trying to tactfully educate her in proper plurals (mice), botany (ivy) and zoology (ivory). She stated at the end of the ‘lesson’ that she preferred her version (because it was funnier) and that she was too old to change (31).

Do you ever correct people on their use of english or just remain increduously silent preferring not to rock the boat or annoy/embarrass them?

I’ve often been told that it’s a very annoying habit of mine. I suspect it stems from when I taught English As a Foreign Language to bored, middle-aged Chinese housewives in Hong Kong. I did this in my late teens when living there as a way to make some extra dollars. My primary employment was as a swimming teacher where the students where advised NOT to open their mouths unnecessarily or suffer the painful consequences.

With more advanced students we taught the use of idioms and proverbs such as ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’. The lessons were often not very successful due to the cultural differences. To my recollection the Chinese version is more similar to ‘Don’t step on the dogs tail, he’ll bite you’ – probably more pragmatic. I think the Chinese generally think a bit bigger and worry more about waking dragons up rather than puppies.

We are often regaled with stories of the funny things children say (I seem to remember a TV series being made on that particular topic) but why do adults ‘cock it up’? (Do you know where that expression comes from? – check here for a list of possibilites – http://www.english-for-students.com/Cock-Up.html – it’s fascinating)

The obvious answer is that poor education/upbringing is to blame and that’s certainly partly true but could there be other explanations? Some people will say things ‘wrong’ to get a laugh and I wonder if perhaps others do it either to see if people are actually listening to what they’re saying or to test the intellect of those they are talking with/to.

Anyway I’ll leave it there, I have to get on with the irony…


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