A Cable tied in knots

AS a statement of political analysis it was straightforward enough:

AS a statement of political analysis it was straightforward enough:

“We face the prospect of rule by charming and utterly inexperienced young men armed only with a sense of entitlement to run the family estate.”

Some of us might struggle to see the charm, but essentially that’s a fair description of the incoming Tory government.

The irony is that the man who wrote it, leading LibDem Vince Cable, is himself now a lesser member of that very government.

And I wonder how George Osborne – as chancellor, effectively Cable’s immediate boss – feels about this honest assessment: “I never rated George’s understanding of financial and economic matters.”

The quotes come from Cable’s memoir, Free Radical. Originally published last November, it has just appeared in paperback.

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The intervening election, and the job it propelled Cable into, will no doubt have given his book a good sales push – as well as making it a rather squirmy read.

Cable may still manage to sound mostly as if he’s talking more sense than any of his new colleagues.

But he can hardly be called radical any more. And certainly not free.

ST ANDREWS, traditional home of golf, where Louis Oosthuizen won The Open last weekend, has no apostrophe.

St Andrew’s, home of Birmingham City Football Club, has one.

You may never have noticed this obscure distinction before – and if you have, you may not think it matters a whole lot. But as a sports sub-editor (which I have been, among other things, for more than 30 years), it’s the kind of thing I’m supposed to know.

Then there’s the case of Newcastle United’s ground.

I was virtually raised as a football fan on its terraces. Throughout the 1980s I was a regular attender in its press box.

Its name, as I’ve known well most of my life, is St James’s Park. Except that apparently it isn’t any more.

We were discussing this the other day around the sports desk of the other paper where I work. (You get such interesting discussions round sports desks.)

The conclusion that was reached is that the famous old Tyneside stadium should now be referred to as St James’ Park.

Indeed, horror of horrors, against all tradition and well-established pronunciation, the club itself on its website and its headed stationery, has now lost the second ‘S’.

Never mind that this flies in the face of the grammatical rule that I, like most of us, was brought up with.

St James, being singular, needs an apostrophe and an ‘S’ after his name to denote his possession (or, in this case, a dedication).

St James’ suggests something jointly owned by (or dedicated to) several people, each of them called St Jame.

Or is that being too pedantic?

News rooms are full of people who think such things do matter.

I’ve had colleagues who get quite hot under the collar about the use of apostrophes.

About whether “aging”, unlike raging, staging or paging, should have an ‘E’ in the middle.

About whether “under way” should be one word or whether “anymore” should be two (you can see above what I think about that one).

The astonishing sales achieved by books such as Lynne Truss’s (NOT Lynne Truss’) Eats Shoots And Leaves suggests that plenty of other people care about such things too.

I once wrote a book about it myself. Not a bestseller, unfortunately, but one aimed exclusively at Evening Star journalists.

It was the paper’s Style Guide, in which – among a great many other things – I stipulated all the above points about spellings and apostrophes.

My version is now being updated by another journalist, as these things must be from time to time.

Language changes. An earlier guide insists on the spellings “to-day”, “to-morrow”, “un-likely” and “any-way”, which may already have been a little old-fashioned when it was written.

Modern habit suggests that “underway” probably has contracted from two words into one.

It seems bizarre, looking back, that I used to care either way.

One of the things I found while writing my guide was that the more I considered each entry – whether, for example, a free-kick should be taken with a hyphen – the more arbitrary it seemed. And the less important.

(An earlier arbiter of style would have seen red at that last comment. To begin a sentence with “And” – aargh! And yet… )

Does it still make sense to insist that “decimate” should mean reduce by exactly one tenth? Or should we accept that it now denotes vaguer, usually greater, damage?

There was a time when it would have made me quite cross to see St James’s Park reduced to St James’. But why should it?

Now I find I really don’t care anymore. Well, not much anyway…