Q. My future son-in-law has been successfully house-trained in the use of upper-middle-class English over the years that he has been walking out with my daughter. However, one bad habit remains. How can I cure him of saying ‘must of’ when he means ‘must have’? He always says ‘of’ very clearly, as though he really means it. I dare not correct him for fear of making him feel inadequate.
—Name and address withheld
A. First disarm him with praise. Find an excuse to praise the fluency and elegance of his conversation, perhaps by comparing him with a less articulate contemporary. Then add, ‘And I don’t think I’ve ever caught you making a grammatical error — except of course for “must of”. But then so many of your generation seem to make that mistake because “must’ve” sounds so like “must of”.’ With his morale boosted by your endorsement of his 99 per cent articulacy rating, he should in future take pains to avoid saying ‘must of’ so that he can attain a 100 per cent rating.
Q. Thanks to my well-connected new girlfriend, I have been invited to a grand house party. Other friends will be present, so I am not suffering from any sort of social anxiety, Mary, except about one aspect of the weekend. I have learned that our generous host traditionally requires that all guests should do an after-dinner ‘turn’. I have absolutely no musical or theatrical ability, and any performance I could give would be the opposite of entertaining. Is there some ingenious way to duck out of this obligation?
— P.W., London SW1
A. Were you to drop out, it would not go unnoticed. You must approach this challenge with enthusiasm. Purchase a ukulele. The cost is nugatory, and the instrument is lightweight and portable and still has enough surprise and rarity value to deliver satisfaction at a house party. A three-minute rendition will be more than enough to discharge your social duty and, if your own voice is grating, why not ask another guest to accompany you on vocals? More to the point, you can, with the aid of Will Grove-White’s Get Plucky with the Ukulele, pick up in a matter of hours sufficient skills to knock out a one-chord tune.
Q. Following a change in domestic circumstance, I find myself having to go to the supermarket almost every day. Is there any way of enlivening the tedium of this chore?
— Name and address withheld
A. Why not aim to follow a different colour scheme for your purchases each day? See if you can walk out of the supermarket having achieved, for example, only red products such as ketchup, tomatoes, steak, bacon and strawberries or only white such as plaice, fabric conditioner, yoghurt and milk?