Monday, June 28, 2010

Plumb Wrong

A recent issue of Britain’s respected and usually grammatical newspaper The Guardian commented as follows on the new prime minister: “Cameron's powers of patronage are slightly reduced since he does not have power through government whips to hand out plumb posts chairing parliamentary select committees.”  The writer probably meant “plum” posts, which would mean jobs that were very desirable—especially those given as a reward. 

Plumb, from the Latin plumbum (meaning the metal lead), means “a lead weight on the end of a line used to establish a true vertical.”  By extension plumb can also mean “perfectly straight,” “immediately,” or “absolutely”—as in “you are plumb crazy.”

Plum, on the other hand, from the Latin prunum, refers to the purplish fruit, and,  likened to the sweetness of the fruit, to any desirable thing.  Food companies are now trying to persuade us that the food product so loved by costive oldsters and known for generations as a prune, should really be thought of as a dried plum, which is much more desirable.  No one ever talks about handing out “prunes” as rewards. 

Use of the wrong plumb in The Guardian may come as no surprise to those who remember the paper’s unfortunate habit (now largely a thing of the past) of making so many typographical errors—it once printed its own name as The Gaurdian—that the satirical magazine Private Eye began referring to it as The Grauniad.  

The Brad of Buffalo Bayou hardly ever makes typographical arrows, but he does perpetrate even worse linguistic offenses, like the following:


            You may find The Guardian
            A wee bit Edwardian.
            And perhapsThe Observer
            Could display some more fervour.
            It’s quite true that the Mail
            Is a tad shy on detail,
            And a few folks were slandered
            By that old Evening Standard
            The Daily Telegraph
            Can make a fella laugh,
            While The Daily Express
            Causes only distress.

            No hillside’s dew-pearled
            In the News of the World--
            But if you need some rhymes,
            Then you’d best get The Times


  1. Wait, "Britain’s respected and usually grammatical newspaper The Guardian" -- the one that used to be known as "The Grauniad"?! Things have changed, I guess, since they moved away from Manchester and down to The Smoke ... Heh.
    And my WORD, Sir Bard, Wikipedia cites your good self in its entry for the organ!

  2. (Guess I shoulda read the entire blog entry BEFORE I commented. That'll teach me.)