Very Advanced Mistakes (v)

Source: Swan. M. 2005. Practical English Usage Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press (2011).

Practical English Usage lists over a hundred common mistakes in the English language. Even very advanced students of English can make mistakes – nobody’s perfect! Swan (2005) has listed a number of them.

“Will you go and see me when I’m in hospital?” = Will you come and see me when I’m in hospital?
(134.4) We use come for movements to the place where the speaker or hearer is. We use go for movements to other places.

“May you go camping this summer?” = Do you think you’ll go camping this summer?
(339.3) May is not normally used to ask about the chance of something happening, except in indirect questions.

“My cousin works for the NATO.” = My cousin works for NATO.
(2.3) Articles are usually dropped before acronyms.

“My wife will be angry unless I’m home by 7:00.” = My wife will be angry if I’m not home.
(601.2) Unless means ‘except if’. Unless is not used when the meaning is more like ‘because … not’.

“We were poured water on.” = We had water poured on us. / Water was poured on us.
(416.2) If there is already a direct object, the second object (after the preposition) cannot become a passive subject.

See other: Notes On English Grammar

Olbers’ Paradox

There is enough luminous matter in the universe to completely light up the night sky brighter than the surface of the Sun.

If you add up all the photons spewing out of all the stars and galaxies and the space in between, there is enough to light up the universe, yet when we look up at the night sky, this is clearly not the case. So, why is the sky dark at night?

Simply stated, the paradox formulated by the German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers (1758–1840) says that if the universe is infinite and static, then at any given angle from the Earth the line of sight will end at the surface of a star. An infinitely old universe means that there has been plenty of time for the light from every star that has ever shined to reach our eyes. When we look up, there should be a star everywhere, in every piece of sky. Because of this, the sky at night should be just as bright as when the sun is up.

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
― Oscar Wilde

The explanation for why the sky is dark instead of a brilliant curtain of light comes from more recent observations and discoveries about our universe made since Olbers’ time. From what was known up to about the nineteenth century, it seemed seemed very reasonable that the universe was infinitely old and unchanging, and in such a universe, Olbers’ paradox is a real problem.

We now know however, that the universe is not infinitely old and static, the universe (in which we live now) had a beginning – given birth by the Big Bang (whatever preceded it, is still a bit of a mystery). This has important implications for Olbers Paradox. Because the universe has a finite age, one reason our night sky is dark is that many photons have not had time to reach us, those that have lie within our observable universe. This would not be so if the heavens had been around forever. The darkness of the night sky is a characteristic that argues against infinity.

But the Big Bang presents us with another paradox: it states that the early universe was awash in photons. Everywhere, hot photons permeated spacetime. At this time in our history, the cosmos was truly bright. Given these hot, bright early conditions, shouldn’t wherever we look in the sky reveal the remnant of the Big Bang? Shouldn’t there be a luminous curtain of light behind every star and galaxy we see?

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

The fact is, this curtain of light is there, but our eyes cannot see it. Due to the expansion of the universe, the wavelengths of these hot, early photons have been stretched over 1,100 times longer than their original wavelengths. The high-energy, luminous backdrop of the early universe, is today filled with relatively cool, microwave photons, invisible to the human eye after being stretched by the expanding fabric of our universe for over 13 billion years.

Non Sequitur

A non sequitur, literally ‘it does not follow’ in Latin, is an inference that does not follow from the premises; it is a logical fallacy resulting from a simple conversion of a universal affirmative proposition or from the transposition of a condition and its consequent. All formal logical fallacies are special cases of non sequitur.

“Non sequitur: when a train of thought proceeds from A to B and back again to Q.” – Bill Griffith, Zippy the Pinhead

Simply put, it is a statement that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said; it is an invalid argument in which the conclusion cannot be logically deduced from the premises. For example:

  • It has been very cold this weekend. Global warming is a left-wing conspiracy.
  • Many people consider Jesus their personal saviour. The Bible is completely true.
  • She is a lesbian. She hates men.
  • I lived in a house without a basement; that house flooded. Houses without basements will definitely flood.
  • Wood for furniture comes from trees; trees should not be cut down. Therefore, no new furniture should be produced.
  • If you do not buy this type of dog food, you are neglecting your pet.
  • If evolution is true, why help the poor?
  • God does not believe in atheists, therefore atheists do not exist.
  • If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?

Fun [Adj./Noun.]

From the Middle English fon, fonne meaning ‘foolish, simple, silly, probably of North Germanic origin; related to Swedish fånig meaning ‘foolish, and fånea fool.

An alternative etymology connects the Middle English fonne to Old Frisian fonna, fone, fomne, which are variant forms of Old Frisian fāmne, fēmne meaning ‘young woman, virgin‘; from the Proto-Germanic faimnijǭ meaning ‘maiden, from Proto-Indo-European peymen girl, and poymen meaning ‘breast milk.

If the second etymology is correct, it was then combined with the Old English fǣmnemaid, virgin, damsel, bride, West Frisian famkegirl, and the Eastern Frisian fone, fonwoman, maid, servant,’ ironically, it also means ‘weakling, simpleton.

In short, the modern English word fun probably derives from an early medieval word meaning ‘foolish’, possibly combined with various older words meaning ‘virgin maid’.

So, ‘foolish’ and ‘girl’ come together to spell out “fun” – what else’s new?

19/iii mmxiv

Salvador Dali did nine months of military service and was assigned the role of toilet cleaner. He pretended to have nervous fits to avoid night duty.

27,000 trees are felled each day for toilet paper.

There are 443 named islands in Denmark, only 76 of which are inhabited.

The highest mountain in Turkey is Mount Ararat, which is where Noah’s Ark is supposed to have landed. It was first climbed in October 1829, by a professor called Frederick Parrot.

In 380 CE the church issued a law specifically forbidding anyone to read the Bible whilst naked. People had been trying to emulate the innocence of Adam and Eve by taking their clothes off before services.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts


‘Of course, people of all faiths regularly assure one another that God is not responsible for human suffering. But how else can we understand the claim that God is both omniscient and omnipotent? This is the age-old problem of theodicy, of course, and we should consider it solved. If God exists, either He can do nothing to stop the most egregious calamities, or He does not care to. God, therefore, is either impotent or evil. You may now be tempted to execute the following pirouette: God cannot be judged by human standards of morality. But we have seen that human standards of morality are precisely what you use to establish God’s goodness in the first place. And any God who could concern Himself with something as trivial as gay marriage, or the name by which He is addressed in prayer, is not as inscrutable as all that.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation (obtained from p. 18-19

Foreign Office Secrets

‘You just said that they were keeping something from me – how do you know if you DON’T KNOW??’
Bernard was beginning to look desperate. ‘I don’t know specifically what, Prime Minister, but I do know that the Foreign Office always keep everything from everybody. It’s normal practice.’
‘So who would know?’ I asked.
Bernard thought for a moment. Then he gave me the full benefit of his education and training. ‘May I just clarify the question? You’re asking who would know what it is that I don’t know and you don’t know but the Foreign Office know that they know that they are keeping from you so that you don’t know but they do know, and all we know there is something we don’t know and we want to know but we don’t know what because we don’t know.’ I just stared at him in silence. ‘Is that it?’ he asked.
I took a deep breath. It was that, or grabbing him by the lapels and shaking him senseless. ‘May I clarify the question?’ I asked. ‘Who knows Foreign Office secrets, apart from the Foreign Office?’
‘Ah, that’s easy,’ said Bernard, ‘only the Kremlin.’

– Lynn J., Jay A. 1986. The Complete Yes Prime Minister London, Great Britain: BBC Books (1989) p. 173-174

On Bibles In Tibet

“I remember a gentleman coming and telling us how very difficult it had proved to get the Bible into Tibet. There had been seven occasions: the first time, there had been landslides. The second time, it rained—the pages got stuck together. The third time, the mules fell off the mountainside. The fourth time, there were thunder bolts, and so on. The seventh time, he said, “God helped us! And we got the Bibles into Tibet.” The obvious conclusion is that God was trying like hell to stop them.”

– John Cleese