Due to the bad weather

A letter in today's thelondonpaper begins:

I am very discouraged to see signs up everywhere, both official and unofficial, starting with "Due to the bad weather..." This is as ungrammatical as "Ten items or less", as seen in supermarkets. It doesn't take much to get it right. We seem to be dumbing-down to a woeful degree in this country so as not to make things too difficult for people who can't cope.


I understand the '10 items or less' argument, but what is this letter-writer's problem with 'due to the bad weather'? He doesn't say, and for the life of me I can't work it out.

Can anyone enlighten me?

9 comments:

Jonathan Shaw said...

The letter-writer seems to have absorbed the rule that a prepositional phrase beginning with 'due to' must not be used unless it refers to a noun, and then forgotten the 'unless' and everything that follows. According to this rule, 'Due to the bad weather, the trains are running late' is incorrect; 'Due to the bad weather, the sullenness of the crowd was exacerbated by the lateness of the trains' is correct.

garik said...

I'm not so sure. I understood the 'rule' as being that 'due to' should be treated as an adjective, not as an adverb. Meaning that this chap would accept 'This is due to the bad weather' (where 'due' is behaving like an adjective modifying 'this'). In other cases, where the word's a sentence modifier, he would prefer 'owing to'. I can't see the difference between the two examples Jonathan Shaw gives — I think our Colonel Blimp would find both unacceptable; 'the trains' and 'the sullenness of the crowds' are both noun phrases.

Either way, it's a load of nonsense.

goofy said...

According to MDWEU, the argument is that "due to" is acceptable when it follows a linking verb and precedes a noun or pronoun. So "X is due to NP" is acceptable. But when there is no linking verb, it's unacceptable: "Due to NP, such-and-such happened." There doesn't seem to be a linking verb in this example, so I think this is what the letter writer is referring to.

The history of this prescription is interesting and convoluted. MWDEU concludes "Due to has entered the folklore of usage."

Jonathan Shaw said...

garik: I agree my examples didn't quite work. I was trying to use "due" at the start of a sentence as an adjective. The natural way of writing my second sentence wold have been "The sullenness of the crowd was due to the bad weather, and was exacerbated ..." In the other sentence the "Due to" phrase is adverbial. I agree it's a load of nonsense.

Martin (riverScrap.com) said...

Sounds like another 'rule' that has absolutely zero relevance to speakers of the language, and serves only to annoy a select few grinches.

The differentiation between 'due to' and 'owing to' seems about as valid today as the rule dictating that sentences cannot end with an adverbial particle. I.e. Not at all.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Robert Butler has emailed me in the following:

(From Fowler's)

Used as a prepositional phrase in verbless clauses = owing to, due to was described as 'erroneous' by W. A. Craigie (1940) and was said by Fowler (1926) to be 'often used by the illiterate as though it had passed, like owing to, into a mere compound preposition'. Hostility to the construction is an entirely 20c. phenomenon. Opinion remains sharply divided but it begins to look as if this use of due to will form part of the natural language of the 21c, as one more example of a forgotten battle. Examples: Largely due to the defence efforts of the Western Powers, Europe was in a state of stalemate—Times, 1955; Michael ... hated mathematics at school, mainly due to the teacher—TES, 1987; The BBC serialisation of The History Man ... caused something of a stir a few years back, partly due to the excellence of the book itself—London Rev. Bks, 1987.

mighty red pen said...

Gah! I'd like to declare a moratorium on the "10 items or less" example of how humanity is going to hell in a handbasket!

The Ridger, FCD said...

Has anybody in the history of the world ever frozen at the "10 items or less" line, unable to fathom what it meant?

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Just to revive the 'due to' discussion briefly. Englishplus.com suggests that 'due to' should be used only if it can be substituted with 'caused by'.

That seems a handy way to remember the usage 'rule', even if it's a rule that you choose not to follow...