17 Days to War? This was the innocent looking subtitle for an episode of a recent high profile BBC series to mark the Centenary of World War One. It instantly upset me, not deeply – I mean I wasn’t throwing things at the TV or thinking about writing a letter because I was close to tears. But the grammar of that phrase bothered me! I think the Beeb made a shocking error here because their grammar is ambiguous and could mean something insulting. Let me explain:
17 Days to War may seem like an innocent phrase to you but it grates on me, as a writer, editor and reader. It grates especially because I know a thing or two about war, although I have never had to fight in one, for which I thank God in my heart almost every day! I am not a war-lover, despite writing fiction about it. I have an affection for the technology used but more than this, I love writing about people, people in difficult situations, and there are no more extreme situations than war. I would like to think it’s an emotive subject for anybody.
That’s why it is particularly important that the BBC get it right. That’s why I was disappointed that the BBC – known as Auntie Beeb to some of us since childhood because of its supposedly ‘teacher’ attitude to delivering content. One is supposed to be able to rely on the accuracy and correctness of anything they show us. I think the Beeb made a shocking error here because their grammar is ambiguous and could mean something insulting. Why do I think this?
Of course, such language might be part of this new trend to ‘dumb down’ everything for the masses. I hate the trend in adverts of taking good songs, even great songs, like All You Need is Love and not only getting a choir to sing them but actually changing the unusual original time signature to 4/4 and cutting out half a bar just so that ‘normal people’ can hum it more easily! How the hell did it become one of the biggest sellers of the 60s then if people couldn’t hum it! Are people becoming more stupid? Perhaps they will do if advertisers treat them that way. I also hate the poor grammar now used in adverts. All of this just makes BBC’s slip worse.
According to dictionaries:
The word ‘War’ can be a noun; 1- A state of armed conflict between different nations or states or different groups within a nation or state (ie Japan declared war on Germany), 2- A state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups (ie she was at war with her parents), 3- A sustained effort to deal with or end a particular unpleasant or undesirable situation or condition (ie a war on drugs).
4-The word ‘War’ can also be a verb; Engage in a warm (ie small states warred against each other)
5-According to Macmillan Dictionary it can also mean: b) [COUNTABLE] a particular period of fighting between countries or groups of people
Let’s look at possible uses of these terms in sentences
I may as well say in advance that I don’t think any of them do but if you think differently, please let me know:
However, the usual construction for indicating a period leading up to war would be ’17 Days until War’, not ’17 days to War’. Nowhere can I find an erudite quote using that sentence construction. It seems to me that the BBC has erred shamefully here. And it’s not even a main title!
I could accept it if it were a main title. There are many book, film and newspaper article titles that do not use good grammar. Just to gran somebody’s attention, I think its acceptable to bend the rules a bit. But here it is just a subtitle so it should fit one of the correct forms
Another word that is both a noun and a verb is ‘sleep’. It too is a state, can be a period in time and can also be something you do.
You can say, “We are going to sleep.”
You can say, “We are sleeping
But you wouldn’t normally say 17 hours to sleep because that can mean two things; 17 hours of sleep or 17 hours available in which to sleep. They are both quite different.
Yet another word which can be both a noun ( a state) and a verb is holiday
You can say, “We are going to holiday.”
You can say, “We are holidaying
Now if you say 17 hours to holiday, that can only mean that you have 17 hours in which to holiday.
Looking at the phrase in a purely temporal setting:
Can you say 12 hours to noon?
It sounds weird. That’s because it is wrong!
12 hours to live makes you think of 12 hours left to live.
You don’t say one month to Christmas. You say one month until Christmas.
I would love to know that the BBC’s title is correct. But I don’t think it is and I think the meaning suggested by the phrase, ’17 Days to War’ is 17 days within which to make war! This is an insult to all those who suffered in the Great War or remember somebody who did. Not only that but it also contradicts the whole mood of the series, which aims to show how almost everybody did their utmost to avoid war. If I was a conspiracy theorist I might even believe that the War was deliberately started by the British Government and that the BBC is secretly trying to divulge this! Either way, shame on you BBC!
Is there a specific grammatical rule for war and time that I don’t know of? I would like to think the BBC knows some archaic grammar rule regarding the word War. I would be a lot happier if there was one and I knew it. But have searched on the internet and I can’t find it. Perhaps there is, and if if allows the phrase 17 Days to War, please can you let me know?