He’s a colleague, sure enough. But he’s also a tosser.
We speak of Chris Finlayson, and if any readers of this post should question his credentials for being lumped among the tossers…
Well, just take a butchers at this report on the Stuff website, which tells us he is passionate his office staff should not sloppily split infinitives, or use Oxford commas.
Ten pages of guidelines have emerged, setting out the language the culture minister expects officials to use in correspondence and briefing papers.
It is accompanied by speech-writing instructions, with a list of more than 20 banned expressions.
Staff are forbidden to use “heads-up” and should instead plump for “early” or “preliminary indication”.
Also out in his language jihad are “process”, “outcome”, “community”, “stakeholder” and “cutting edge”.
The Stuff report does not make clear whether Finlayson personally wrote the 10 pages of guidelines.
But it’s just the sort of thing Alf imagine he has been doing over the Christmas holidays.
And how sad is that?
Let’s go on.
Mr Finlayson, who is also attorney-general, harbours a special dislike of Oxford commas, split infinitives and any extraneous uses of “that”.
Split infinitives? What are split infinitives?
They are the sorts of things that tossers worry about and they pop up when you put an adverb between to and a verb.
You have to really keep on eye on Finlayson, before he agrees to co-governance arrangements in every facet of this country’s administrative structures.
So what wrong with split infinitives?
We could ask him, of course.
But Mrs Grumble checked it out with the people who produce the Oxford dictionaries.
You can see here what they have to say on the matter:
Some people believe that split infinitives are grammatically incorrect and should be avoided at all costs. They would rewrite these sentences as:
She used secretly to admire him.
You really have to watch him.
But there’s no real justification for their objection, which is based on comparisons with the structure of Latin. People have been splitting infinitives for centuries, especially in spoken English, and avoiding a split infinitive can sound clumsy. It can also change the emphasis of what’s being said. The sentence:
You really have to watch him. [i.e. ‘It’s important that you watch him’]
doesn’t have quite the same meaning as:
You have to really watch him. [i.e. ‘You have to watch him very closely’]
The Oxford experts address the question: to split or not to split?
The ‘rule’ against splitting infinitives isn’t followed as strictly today as it used to be. Nevertheless, some people do object very strongly to them. As a result, it’s safest to avoid split infinitives in formal writing, unless the alternative wording seems very clumsy or would alter the meaning of your sentence.
The Oxford people also put us in the picture (here) about the Oxford comma that so anguishes dear old Chris.
The ‘Oxford comma’ is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list:
We sell books, videos, and magazines.
It’s known as the Oxford comma because it was traditionally used by printers, readers, and editors at Oxford University Press. Not all writers and publishers use it, but it can clarify the meaning of a sentence when the items in a list are not single words:
These items are available in black and white, red and yellow, and blue and green.
The Oxford comma is also known as the ‘serial comma’.
The Stuff article goes on to tell us Mr Finlayson has a very strict style for his letters.
This affirms he is a pedantic prick.
The address must be preceded by eight to 11 blank lines, with four lines or his signature. The font should be Arial, 12 point, and centred. “Don’t split paragraphs over pages,” the guide warns.
According to the note: “Minister Finlayson addresses his colleagues, support party colleagues and people he knows by first name.” Opposition MPs “should be addressed by their last name”.
Alf’s view is that Opposition MPs should be addressed as “you clod-headed fucker”, but obviously this would not go down well in the office of our Minister for Culture.
Then we come to how he delivers a speech.
A two-page guide was also compiled for the Ministry of Culture and Heritage as “a list of pointers about things the minister does and does not like in his speeches”.
“Use plain English. Avoid waffle at all costs. Get to the point quickly. State the point. Move on,” it reads.
“I have always preferred the understatement,” Mr Finlayson admitted.
“People use passionate when they mean like, or unique when they mean vaguely fashionable.
“It’s like what happened in Rome when classical Roman broke down into vulgar Latin. The more intensive adjective or verb was always used over the classical one. And I have this objection to that happening to the English language. It’s just my little jihad.”
Stuff – for whatever reason – has gone to Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson for an opinion on all this.
Robertson is a tosser, too, let it be said.
But he is on the button here in saying:
“It’s very useful for the minister to give his officials a heads-up, but I hope he is not taking himself too seriously.”
Alas, Chris doesn’t do anything other than serious.
And right now he is seriously tampering with our constitutional arrangements .
He won’t split an infinitive.
But he will split the country with all those bloody co-governance arrangements he is setting up around the country as a consequence of his awful interpretation of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Perhaps the treaty should be rewritten so he can better understand it, obviously without any hint of an Oxford comma.