The Finlayson style guide

January 18th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Andrea Vance at Stuff reports:

Here’s a heads-up to staff in ’s office – he is passionate that they 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”.

Excellent. All words that often mean nothing.

Mr Finlayson, who is also attorney-general, harbours a special dislike of Oxford commas, split infinitives and any extraneous uses of “that”.

“The minister has commented ‘commas hunt in pairs’. This would, for example, look like this’,” the memo instructs bureaucrats.

It is somewhat sad the Minister needs to point this out.

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.”

Entirely appropriate the Minister sets the style for his own speeches.

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90 Responses to “The Finlayson style guide”

  1. Harriet (5,200 comments) says:

    WTF does ‘good’ mean?

    The public service always use those types of meaningless words.

    And unbelivably and without shame the Teachers are the worst offenders!

    Like they say “The culture war has always been about the language.” things are starting to change for the better :cool: I think.

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  2. Camryn (481 comments) says:

    Is Finlayson being a funny bugger when he uses the term “jihad” to describe a memo on avoiding hyperbole?

    [DPF: Chris chooses words very carefully, so yes I’d say he is being ironic]

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  3. Positan (396 comments) says:

    As an occasional National voter, and given that part of my income pays his taxes, I’d be a hell of a lot more impressed with Findlayson if he’d exacted a similar pedantic concern for detail for justifiability before granting the screaming generous Treaty “settlements” he’s flicked off to Maori !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  4. calendar girl (1,258 comments) says:

    So a senior Minister who has solved all the real problems in his portfolios?

    Attorney-General
    Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations
    Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage
    Associate Minister of Maori Affairs

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  5. iMP (2,455 comments) says:

    Unfortunately, Chris is Canute and the classic(al) tide of barbarian hordes is not so much lapping at his ankles but is up to his lap.

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  6. lazza (401 comments) says:

    I have found that those pompous pedants, like Finlayson, who opine with their own precious perceived misuse of split infinitives are merely demonstrating their innate self-selected “I am smarter than you” superiority.

    There is NO one generally accepted inflexible grammatical rule that applies here … and … Who really gives a split infinitive anyhoo?

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  7. peterwn (3,332 comments) says:

    What is not mentioned is newspapers, book publishers etc all have style guides. For example Punch many years ago invited people to submit an alternative to ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’, then pointed out a word such as ‘organize’ was not acceptable as it would be edited to ‘organise’. Similarly you get the odd appearing ‘ … two to 12 … ‘ whereas common sense should indicate that the editor should loosen up a bit and allow ‘ … two to twelve … ‘.

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  8. mandk (1,028 comments) says:

    There’s nothing wrong with Oxford commas. They are useful in clarifying matters and removing potential absurdities.
    Consider, for example, the Oxford comma in the following:
    “In receiving her prize, the head girl said: “Most of all, I would like to thank my parents, Madonna, and the Pope.””

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  9. bhudson (4,741 comments) says:

    $20 to the first person game enough to ask Chris Finlayson “where the museum is at?”

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  10. Viking2 (11,667 comments) says:

    Status pratt.
    Condescending, I’m smarter than you crap. Never liked the fucking lawyer.
    Like all great soialists he’s great with giving away other peoples money. In good lawyer fashion he will have no doubt ensured that he donates as little as possible to the socialist donation fund.
    As whale would say; scum list MP.

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  11. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    Ambiguity increases if you always forgo Oxford commas…… such a Godsend for lawyers.

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  12. Harriet (5,200 comments) says:

    “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…”

    I’ve lived in Aussie for 20 yrs ……Key almost speaks pidgeon english. Seriously he does. Most of the All Blacks are like that too. Words are spoken far too quickly, and with the vowels also shortened it sounds rather like the chattering way that Asian Languages are spoken. It’s hard to pick up some words.

    It’s not a good look when everyone else in the world makes an effort at pronuncing English so that it is immediatly understood.

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  13. dog_eat_dog (785 comments) says:

    Maybe Australians are just slow.

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  14. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    Anything that helps rid us of clichés such as, “I’m gutted” when the All Blacks lose has to be of benefit.

    But split infinitives?

    I know they are technically wrong, but there just seems something right when one seeks to boldly go…

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  15. Jack5 (5,272 comments) says:

    It’s surprising his guidelines aren’t in Maori, given what he negotiated for the tax-exempt Ngai Tahu, and the top-up he negotiated for them (it was paid out last year during his term as Treaty Minister).

    But what a poseur! His language authoritarianism illustrates what happens to you when you forgo sexual intercourse.

    For fuck’s sake is the conclusion.

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  16. simonway (387 comments) says:

    The proscription against split infinitives is, of course, a fictitious “rule” invented by Victorian school teachers almost out of whole cloth, which has never born any relation to actual written or spoken English. Adhering to it is exactly as sensible as adhering to the rule—which I learned in primary school—that every noun must be accompanied by an adjective, and every verb by an adverb, and it will tend to produce writing of similar quality.

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  17. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    Sorry folks… I meant to write godsend not Godsend on my 9:35 posting….. I’d hate to prolong the religious flamewars on this topic.

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  18. lazza (401 comments) says:

    Hey Harriet … you got it in one

    “Words are spoken far too quickly, and with the vowels also shortened it sounds rather like the chattering way that Asian Languages are spoken. It’s hard to pick up some words”.

    Errr … like Cameron Bagrie maybe?

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  19. ChardonnayGuy (1,230 comments) says:

    I’m still mildly annoyed at Chris for not commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the abolition of capital punishment by his distinguished predecessor Ralph Hanan back in 1961.

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  20. Urban_Redneck (112 comments) says:

    he is passionate that they should not sloppily split infinitives, or use Oxford commas.

    That could at the very least explain why as treaty negotiations minister, he has used his office to dilute submissions made against claims for customary title of the Coromandel and east cape foreshore and seabed under the Marine & Costal Areas Act into abbreviated forms to give to his handpicked “independent assessor”, the erstwhile high court judge, Judith Potter.

    For example, Findlayson’s department reduced a 20 page submission made by the Council of Recreational Associations Of NZ to just three sentences.

    The magnitude of damage being done by this pompous little fifth columnist has yet to be truly felt, all the while our neophyte PM minces on the catwalk or snivels around Obama at a posh Hawaiian country club. Despicable.

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  21. MH (830 comments) says:

    and it is pronouncing. It is considered pro forma.
    All the wailing at treaty treating by our people must have affected the affectatious Minster, the poor dear.

    anyhows it is a matter of pride that we can pronounce words without moving our upper lip. The days of a fag sticking out of them to indicate if someone is actually speaking has sadly gone.

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  22. kowtow (8,932 comments) says:

    “Use plain English?”

    First example being ‘jihad’ instead of crusade?Do as I tell you not as I do.

    In future govt telephone recording greetings no longer have to be Kia Ora bro, but Salaam and end with Allahu Akbar.

    But then this guy are happy to sell his Anglo culture out to a tiny minority ,so why is i not surprised?

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  23. holysheet (466 comments) says:

    This lack of good english is the direct result of our education system loosing the plot in not focusing on the three “R’s” from the beginning of a child schooling. Reading, writing and arithmetic should be the basis of any child’s early education. Instead, too much focus is put on trendy namby pamby subjects.
    “Just saying”

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  24. MH (830 comments) says:

    please send him Fowler’s Modern English Usage or whatever is considered the authoritative NZ version.

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  25. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    hmmm.

    Actually, I think ‘crusade’ has long since lost its original meaning (e.g., Salvation Army, Canterbury rugby team) and has descended into cliché, whereas ‘jihad’ when used in English still retains its shock-value (although the original Arabic context in the Qur’an gave it a wider meaning than just military).

    Also, English has always borrowed and incorporated words. That is part of its genius. Like George W Bush was alleged to have said, “The French have no word for ‘entrepreneur’.”

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  26. Tom Barker (150 comments) says:

    “This lack of good english is the direct result of our education system loosing the plot in not focusing on the three “R’s” from the beginning of a child schooling…”

    That should be spelt ‘losing’, you ignorant dick.

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  27. bc (1,384 comments) says:

    It’s funny the little things that annoy you when it comes to the use of language. Here are a few of mine:
    1) People saying “… did good” instead of did well, and double negatives “I didn’t do nothing”
    2) Any of horrible business speak, eg “let’s touch base”
    3) Horrible Americanisms often used by middle aged men who should know better, eg “from the get-go”
    4) Overuse and incorrect use of the word literally – “I literally died when …”

    Rant over!

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  28. kowtow (8,932 comments) says:

    Jihad retains its shock value.

    True,now all those ministry employees will be worried that some mujahid will cut their heads off the next time they split an infinitive.

    Allahu akbar.

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  29. bhudson (4,741 comments) says:

    bc,

    How about ending sentences with prepositions? Or is that a whole-‘nuther-story?

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  30. Manolo (14,164 comments) says:

    Given his penchant for Treaty-related affairs, it is a surprise Mr Finlayson didn’t extend his dictum to the useful Te Reo, king of languages.

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  31. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    I think it is about the quality of thought. If you don’t think clearly and precisely about what you write, then you run the risk of merely plugging into a blancmange of lazy ‘group-think’. Good on him for upping the expectations from PROFESSIONAL speech writers.

    Good English aids the quality of thought and expression, and in turn informs and stimulates others.

    Poor language is lazy, imprecise, and drags down the level of understanding.

    Overuse of adjectives and adverbs is designed to stimulate the passions, but dull the critical faculties. Good use of appropriate verbs is the best way to both inform the mind, and stir the heart.

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  32. Adolf Fiinkensein (2,703 comments) says:

    I have found, over many years, that those who describe their successful intellectual betters as ‘pompous pedants’ usually are themselves lazy boneheads who claim, as an excuse for ignoring simple rules, that there are none.

    Speaking of pompous pedants, there is none better than Geoffrey Palmer.

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  33. lazza (401 comments) says:

    Oh yes “loose/lose/loser” … and BTW, I am sick of the tired ol’ … “losing/loosing? the plot” too … while you are at it.

    Oh Dear …. See where all this is going?

    Once a topic like this takes off … there is no end to it.

    END OF STORY-FINITO (from moi) … OK?

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  34. kowtow (8,932 comments) says:

    Hey bc all those “horribel Americainisms” you hate are pouring in through your beloved movie world!

    There’s a lot of snobbery about in relation to the Yank use or misuse of English.

    https://theconversation.com/the-americans-are-destroying-the-english-language-or-are-they-21461

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  35. bc (1,384 comments) says:

    Like I said bhudson, everyone has their own particular pet hates.
    Not quite sure why I got a down tick for mentioning mine, but oh well.

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  36. Psycho Milt (2,423 comments) says:

    2) Any of horrible business speak, eg “let’s touch base”

    Don’t worry, they all “reach out to” someone rather than “touch base with” them these days. I find that more ludicrous than annoying, so it’s kind of an improvement.

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  37. OneTrack (3,348 comments) says:

    ““This lack of good english is the direct result of our education system loosing the plot in not focusing on the three “R’s” from the beginning of a child schooling…”

    That should be spelt ‘losing’, you ignorant dick.”

    Tom, is this just another result of the New Zealand education system not focussing on the three Rs?

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  38. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    Quite right, kowtow – or as that name simply a cover for you running distraction for the Yellow Peril?

    Better purge out all that nasty Arabic influence.

    Let’s start with the letter ‘A':

    admiral

    adobe

    albatross

    alchemy

    alcohol

    algebra

    alkali

    amber

    apricot

    arsenal

    artichoke

    assassin

    A bit too radical?

    OK, maybe just the numerals derived from Arabic?

    1, 2, 3, 4…

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  39. bhudson (4,741 comments) says:

    bc,

    It beats me, but. I got one for my “whole-‘nuther” as well. It could be because I misspelt it. Or perhaps they didn’t like where I was coming from.

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  40. kowtow (8,932 comments) says:

    kowtow?

    A reminder that the Celestials are our new masters.Both main parties agree.

    Oh the old numerals one eh? They nicked ‘em from the curry munchers.Like so much else in the constanly over vaunted Arabic world…nicked.

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  41. lazza (401 comments) says:

    Oh heck …can’t resist it … Just one more then … a response for “Adolf F …”

    You said AF …

    “I have found, over many years, that those who describe their successful intellectual betters as ‘pompous pedants’ usually are themselves lazy boneheads who claim, as an excuse for ignoring simple rules, that there are none.

    Speaking of pompous pedants, there is none better than Geoffrey Palmer.”

    Oooh Boy … lets analyse this … leaving aside shall we, the obvious “pompous” in itself term used of “betters” … (Says Who?)

    First para … you say “those who describe etc” … so have I got this? … you-yourself!, having thus “described” some as “lazy boneheads” (above) … does this not as a result make YOU one ! … a bonehead that is … seems so.

    Second para … having just berated “those who describe” “as boneheads” (above), you then single-handedly hoist your good self to a lofty petard by doing exacaly what you bemoan … that is, beating up on your selected nominated pedant (Spare Me! … and spare poor ol Geffwrey as well?).

    Over it …

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  42. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    “Oh the old numerals one eh? They nicked ‘em from the curry munchers.Like so much else in the constanly over vaunted Arabic world…nicked.”

    “Refined” and “mediated” might be the words you are looking for.

    Is “curry” Anglo-Saxon? Seems like that episode of ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Pet’, where Oz/Jimmy Nail the Geordie goes into the Indian restaurant in Dusseldorf, and orders a “Vindaloo and a pint ‘a bitta”. When the waiter asks, ‘Vos is das?” Oz complains, “Well bugga me! They don’t speak English? You can’t get more British than a curry ‘ouse!”.

    How about the rag-heads preserving the writings of Aristotle, kowtow?

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  43. Paulus (2,707 comments) says:

    I have always been of the opinion that if a child cannot speak properly – (by that do not include the made up language of maori) – that they cannot read or write.
    In New Zealand we live in an English speaking world to which the above long held comment applies.
    In principle I fully support Findlayson.
    Sloppy writing is anathema, and is just laziness taught at Primary School by Teachers who cannot speak properly themselves, having taught the parents the same laziness, and consider it to be acceptable.

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  44. PaulL (5,446 comments) says:

    @bc – literally:
    http://theoatmeal.com/comics/literally

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  45. MH (830 comments) says:

    Was the Rt Hon Finlayson just being commacal?

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  46. PaulL (5,446 comments) says:

    And, if you wanted a style guide, why would you write a new one when the authoritative one already exists:
    http://www.economist.com/styleguide/a

    Some of my favourites from it are:

    Luxurious means indulgently pleasurable; luxuriant means exuberant or profuse. A tramp may have a luxuriant beard but not a luxurious life.

    If not a vessel in which herbs etc are pounded with a pestle, a mortar is a piece of artillery for throwing a shell, bomb or lifeline. Do not write “He was hit by a mortar” unless you mean he was struck by the artillery piece itself, which is improbable.

    Put only as close as you can to the words it qualifies. Thus, “These animals mate only in June.” To say “They only mate in June” implies that in June they do nothing else.

    Uglier even than human-rights abuses and more obscure even than comfort station, affirmative action is a euphemism with little to be said for it. It is too late to suppress it altogether and perhaps too soon to consign it to the midden of civil-rights studies, but try to avoid it as much as possible. If you cannot escape it, put it in quotation marks on first mention and, unless the context makes its meaning clear, explain what it is. You may, however, find that preferential treatment, job preferment or even discrimination serve just as well as alternatives.

    Anticipate does not mean expect. Jack and Jill expected to marry; if they anticipated marriage, only Jill might find herself expectant.

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  47. Duxton (658 comments) says:

    Two common mistakes that always annoy me:

    1. ‘Up until….’ It should be either ‘up to’ or ‘until’.

    2. Misusing ‘less’ and fewer’. eg, ‘I had less apples than my brother’, should be ‘I had fewer apples than my brother, and so had less to eat.’

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  48. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ PaulL…. Sir Ernest Gowers and my hero Eric Partridge (a forgotten NZer?) were losing the anticipate/expect argument in the 1940s…

    Check out Chambers (10th or 11th Ed)… (The best dictionary for those with links to Scotland)…or Collins English Dictionary (I’ve only got the 2003 ed on hand)

    You’ve just got to expect that some words change over time.

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  49. tvb (4,553 comments) says:

    He should have slammed the civil service for writing in passive language instead of active prose. And it tendency to use meaningless jargon. As for split infinitives the famous one at the beginning of Star Trek you know to boldly go is amusing as they have stuck with it regardless of the pedants. English is a living language. I doubt that many school teachers a profession I despise would know what a split infinitive is.

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  50. holysheet (466 comments) says:

    That should be spelt ‘losing’, you ignorant dick.

    Who wants to bet that “tom Barker” is a teacher. God forbid that anybody dares to criticise their holy than thou group!

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  51. Tom Barker (150 comments) says:

    “Who wants to bet that “tom Barker” is a teacher.”

    I’ll take that bet.

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  52. lolitasbrother (774 comments) says:

    more from idiot nanny nat

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  53. Fentex (1,130 comments) says:

    Mr Finlayson, who is also attorney-general, harbours a special dislike of Oxford commas, split infinitive

    Mr Finlayson is mistaken.

    Split infinitives are perfectly good English – they are only banned by people who confuse English with Latin (in which it is impossible to split an infinitive as they are single words in Latin).

    I personally think the Oxford comma is appropriate – it’s absence requires greater context to understand a sentence. That would be fine if sentences were always presented in their full context but sometimes, and in a world of computers and ease of cut and paste increasingly often, they are not. Thus the Oxford comma is increasingly the rational option for clarity in writing.

    Apart from those quibbles I agree that plain writing is preferable to waffling excess.

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  54. Akld Commercial Lawyer (166 comments) says:

    DPF, if the Minister’s style guide ever falls off the back of a truck, please do share. I collect such gems for the teenagers in my household – because I have observed that it is often better for them to read/hear such things from someone other than the old man.

    And from the “language is a virus from outer space” collection, I still recall times as a very junior lawyer when I gauged a good draft letter as being one which survived a review by the senior partner with a single sentence completely intact.

    One of the older partners I first worked for used to change the tense no matter what – even if his previous letters had been in the first person and I followed his lead – he would alter it (in red pen). Some of my colleagues fared worse – with drafts being torn up and binned in front of them.

    Fun times – luckily the profession seems to have evolved (slightly) during my decades at the coalface.

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  55. Urban_Redneck (112 comments) says:

    “To boldly go where no man has gone before” – Captain James T Kirk always split his infinitives.

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  56. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ Fentex…. of course split infinitives are acceptable, if used wisely. Those years of studying Latin (Mr Finlayson has a BA in Latin & French) may have coloured Mr Finlayson’s thinking. Why anyone would persist with learning Latin is beyond me. I didn’t enjoy my 2 years of Latin and they were the only classes I ever wagged (thank-you step mum for writing phony excuses for me). What really annoys me nowadays is that some state schools still teach Latin. The usual excuse offered is that it assists with a student’s learning of English.
    What a feeble argument…. any second language learning will benefit the student’s mother tongue. I’d rather see state schools employing Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic language teachers (note the Oxford comma) than continuing to employ teachers of Latin.

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  57. smttc (767 comments) says:

    I agree with the minister that it is important to be vigilant against the dumbing down and corruption of our language (god knows our spoken word is bad enough).

    Look at Australia. My 13 year old son who lives with his mother and sister in Queensland has rightly in my view concluded after just 4 years living there that your garden variety Aussie male speaks contrived slang rather than English.

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  58. kowtow (8,932 comments) says:

    kimbo

    Whether the ragheads preserved the great works is besides the point.They are western works .

    Are we all meant to bow to Mecca because the ragheads invaded and overcame Christian Byzantium,Spain,Egypt,Syria etc and did the world a favour by “preserving ” our culture? Preserved from what? Our culture wouldn’t have needed preserving if the ragheads had stayed where they belonged in the Arabian peninsula.

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  59. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    Don’t be silly. It is nothing to do with bowing down to Mecca.

    The New Testament, which is primarily Jewish (Ancient Near Eastern Semitic) in theology was originally written in Greek because Alexander and the Greeks didn’t stay on the Western side of the Aegean, “where they belonged”.

    Acknowledging the Arabs were a great and ancient culture doesn’t mean you are an unwitting dupe for the European Caliphate.

    Or does it?

    Really?!

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  60. BeaB (2,164 comments) says:

    What a riot of good old NZ anti-intellectualism and no sense of humour.

    Good for Finlayson. Ignore the homophobes, pedants, racists, Lefties and general haters. I applaud your efforts to make public servants say what they mean succinctly in good plain English. And to reply promptly to OIA requests.

    Why on earth would anyone object to these laudable aims?

    PS My pet hate is ‘learnings’.

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  61. BeaB (2,164 comments) says:

    Maggy didn’t enjoy Latin so no-one should be allowed to teach or learn it.

    Perhaps I should say I loved Latin and everyone should learn it.

    Talk about a feeble argument!

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  62. Scott Chris (6,178 comments) says:

    “Just saying”

    Now there’s a cliche that’s reached saturation point.

    Finlayson sounds like a pretentious prat

    Moi, pretentious? (shortest joke in the English language apparently)

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  63. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ BeaB … read what I wrote carefully…….. nothing about not being allowed to teach or learn Latin….. just don’t use taxpayer’s money to fund state school teachers. I’m happy for folks to teach/learn Latin at their own expense.

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  64. Scott Chris (6,178 comments) says:

    @Maggy

    I’d’ve thought Latin would be useful to you as a botanist – but I take your point. Latin is an anachronistic ecclesiastical hangover. About as much use as a superfluous comma…

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  65. Joanne (177 comments) says:

    Photocopy the list and teach it is schools! The sooner the world is rid of passionate, the bloody better.

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  66. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    I suggest you are both wrong.

    Gordon McLachlan wrote a really good piece a number of years ago critiquing the New Zealand attitude to language, and our primary test – “usefulness”. While that is a common trait of practical settler folk, McLachlan’s point was that language is more than just a tool, like a shovel or hammer out of which one earns a crust.

    His point was that a second language, any language, is a gateway into another world of thinking and expression, that, like history, helps lift us out of the tyranny of ‘here and now’ It has a capacity to impart self-knowledge.

    While I have qualifications that included a knowledge of two dead languages, I am still kicking myself I never took the opportunity to learn Latin at school when I had the chance. It was the language of Western European scholarship for 1000 years! Leaving aside the ancient Romans, it was the primary written language used by Augustine, Aquinas and Calvin, and it forms the basis of Italian, French, Spanish, and Portuguese, the latter three being some of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

    It is also the language of law.

    Learning a language is not a case of “you only have so many brain cells to give”! The more you learn, the easier new ones are to acquire.

    How could that be of no value

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  67. Joanne (177 comments) says:

    I was taught Latin at school in the 80s. It’s not the fact you can converse in it but the fact it helps in understanding words. It was great for law.

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  68. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    ooops, bad grammar.

    Left out ?

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  69. Kimbo (1,216 comments) says:

    And Newton originally published his ‘Principia’ in Latin: –

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophi%C3%A6_Naturalis_Principia_Mathematica

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  70. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ Scott Chris… yes apart from Catholic Priests, I ended up with the one other job in NZ where a knowledge of Latin was vaguely useful. As Editor of NZ J Botany I sometimes had to peruse taxonomic descriptions of newly described species…. they had to be published in Latin…… sure I could recognise if there was gender disagreement in genus and species names or confusion of nominative and genitive cases….. but they are hardly critical skills.
    My crowning moment was to insist that some poor Geology professor provide a Latin description for his newly discovered plant fossil… only to learn after he’d tracked down the one qualified person in NZ who kindly wrote him one that fossil descriptions didn’t need a Latin description.
    And just as the Catholic priests have ditched Latin, the botanists decided in 2011 to permit validating descriptions of new species to be written in English (as well as Latin).

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  71. Brian (Shadowfoot) (70 comments) says:

    For some people language is an art form they carefully craft. Other people just use it to communicate. Successful use of a language depends on the listener/reader understanding the intent.

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  72. BeaB (2,164 comments) says:

    Actually as a taxpayer I do help foot the bill and am happy for anyone to learn anything that stimulates and excites the intellect. I loathed biology but quite like knowing what a drupe is.

    And I applaud Finlayson for trying to make our mandarins express themselves clearly and be responsive.

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  73. Scott Chris (6,178 comments) says:

    My crowning moment was to insist that some poor Geology professor provide a Latin description for his newly discovered plant fossil…

    Shoulda used Google Translate – or maybe not…. it’s not the most accurate tool. For instance, using it to translate: “My crowning moment was to insist that some poor Geology professor provide a Latin description for his newly discovered plant fossil… into Latin: Tempus est, ut ad aliquam summus magister Marcus Latine praebere descriptionem eius plantatio quam fossilium, nuper reperta … and then back into English translate it ends up as:

    It is time, in order that his plant, which to some supreme guide Mark in Latin provides a description of the fossils, the newly discovered …

    :?

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  74. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    Tom can’t be a teacher – he can spell. Have you seen some of the dyslexic material coming out of schools?

    The Oxford comma is pretentious and is so rarely needed you’re a t**t if you use it as the norm.

    Personal hatred verbising nouns. Yes, I know it should really be verbalise but arrrrgggghhhh!

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  75. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ Scott Chris…. I’m practically a fossil myself…. I was referring to pre-Google days… but your point is valid… who amongst us could tell whether that is a good translation into Latin ……. and further, who cares?

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  76. Scott Chris (6,178 comments) says:

    @Kimbo – notwithstanding your sentimental attachment to Latin, I’d have thought that a more useful second or third language would be one you could use outside of a séance :)

    And Newton originally published his ‘Principia’ in Latin

    Pfft, I’ll just wait for the movie version.

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  77. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @BeaB… in an ideal world I would agree with you that any learning should be supported. However, our state schools are not ideal institutions. Some are seriously underfunded and many suffer from an inequitable distribution of resources. One of the reasons I left secondary teaching was that I saw many pupils entering the secondary system with reading ages of 8-12 year olds (i.e. below the level needed to cope with secondary school syllabi). It probably requires at least two or three full-time remedial teachers to bring a years’ cohort up to an average reading level within a year or two. Maybe some schools do this. I wish all did. Some choose to spend their funds on Latin teachers with very pupils in their classes and neglect the greater need of the majority of their students.

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  78. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    On the usefulness of dead languages – I was force fed Latin and Ancient Greek (showing my age now). At least with Ancient Greek I could read the motorway and street signs in Greece. A pleasant surprise.

    I still have terrible memories of doing the Iliad in three languages – it was s**t in all in all of them.

    And in terms of useless languages I lived in Holland long enough to pick up Dutch – a country where even school failures know English – more people speak Swahili than Dutch.

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  79. KevinH (1,253 comments) says:

    Last time I looked the Romans weren’t Greeks , certainly the Romans through brute force were able to subsume entire cultures and pinch any intellectual property and claim it as their own, including Latin. Such is the power of brute force. However they did transport Latin throughout the civilised world, even to New Zealand, where in the sixties state run secondary schools offered French and Latin as adjuncts to our agricultural education. We were civilised or so we thought.

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  80. Duncan Brown (16 comments) says:

    I know he’s a busy man, and sure, he needs background information for opening buildings and attending Treaty settlements but it makes me wonder who is really speaking in the House. I don’t remember a speech-writer’s name being on the ballot.

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  81. SHG (321 comments) says:

    This post demonstrating the necessity of the Oxford comma was brought to you by my parents, Ayn Rand and God.

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  82. lazza (401 comments) says:

    81 … Yes 81! responses so far for this somewhat precious topic!

    What is this telling us?

    that …

    Youz fellas should get out more often or that

    We are just as pedantic and navel gazing as the Min of J or that …

    All is well in our world … Happy with JK’s gummint are we?

    Must be/you should be … when split infinitives etc can rustle up this! level of holier than thou “chatter”

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  83. slijmbal (1,236 comments) says:

    @SHG

    “This post demonstrating the necessity of the Oxford comma was brought to you by my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”

    Bollocks – meaning is well understandable without an Oxford comma – you prove the point that they are rarely necessary and can be used as needed rather than be a pretentious t**t.

    Oddly enough, I was taught that any sentence that when read out loud is ambiguous should be re-stated as is the case of any sentence requiring an Oxford comma.

    “This post demonstrating the necessity of the Oxford comma was brought to you by my parents and Ayn Rand and God.” works when read out loud for instance.

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  84. Maggy Wassilieff (482 comments) says:

    @ slijmbal… touche…..I’m converted.

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  85. Viking2 (11,667 comments) says:

    This kinda sums it up.

    http://alfgrumblemp.wordpress.com/2014/01/18/precious-chris-wont-split-an-infinitive-but-he-has-become-a-dab-hand-at-divided-governance/

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  86. Paul Marsden (990 comments) says:

    When the arrogant, pompous and unelected “member” of parliament (Mr. Finlayson) refrains from inserting parts of his anatomy into the rectum of his own gender and giving away my hard earned taxes to a race of people for alleged wrong doings over 150 years ago, and perpetuating the myths for his own fiscal gain and that of his brotherhood, perhaps then I shall take notice of where to insert my comas.

    In the meantime, I wonder if he likes sex and travel..??

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  87. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    Finlayson is a bigger idiot than I thought he was.

    There’s nothing wrong with split infinitives and we use them all the time, especially when speaking. Even Margaret Mead, who is recognised as a pretty handy writer, splits her infinitives. Finlayson seems to be saying that she’s a dunce!

    http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/18th-may-1929/23/under-the-palm-trees

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  88. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    And, as for Oxford commas, what’s wrong with them? :)

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  89. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    Indeed, Oxford commas are very useful:

    Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist and a pet detective.

    Amanda found herself in the Winnebago with her ex-boyfriend, an herbalist, and a pet detective.

    One comma makes the difference between an awkward road trip with two people and a potentially hilarious road trip with four people.

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  90. ross69 (3,652 comments) says:

    meaning is well understandable without an Oxford comma

    Rubbish, as the above example illustrates.

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