The grammar police never sleeps [sic]

Okay it's time to don the grumpy old man suit and make the neighbourhood safe for humanity.

Listening to the radio the other day I found myself cringing at something that has always got my back up when talking to primary school teachers about maths. These days if you want to do, say, multiplication, there are a number of different techniques available. The teachers refer to these (often while speaking to baffled parents) as 'strategies.' They may even ask little Johnny 'Which strategy are you going to use, little Johnny?'

No, no, no, NO!

These are not strategies. The strategy is having a range of different techniques. A strategy is a broad direction, not a specific methodology. The specific approach being employed at any one time is a tactic, or a technique or a method. It is not a strategy. It is not strategic, it is tactical.

Why do they do this? We've got perfectly good English words for what they want to say, but they have to distort the meaning of another word. I suspect they think it sounds clever, but it's not, it really isn't. So stop it, please. Now.

Incidentally, in the unlikely event you are intrigued by the slightly odd title, it's a reference that might have been picked up by old folk rockers to the Jethro Tull song with the repeated line The mouse police never sleeps.


  1. Or even invent a new word. All primary schools seem to be obsessed with 'minibeasts', which I found defined as creatures without a backbone. Perhaps the existing word was thought to be too difficult?

  2. So does that make a giant squid a minibeast? You would think 'method', say, was a simple enough term. But I can just imagine it becoming a do-way, or ideazap or some such baloney.

  3. On the same theme you might have also had a go at the way teachers have hijacked traditional ways of teaching multiplication and long division because the old ways and methods were too difficult to understand....maths understanding seems to have nosedived in my children's schools because the people that know (parents) now can't help their children to learn without going back to school themselves to learn these new methods (about boxes and grids)

    You with your mathematical mind probably don't have a problem but for those lesser mortals it doesn't help to encourage scientific thought if the kids can't handle the maths required without resorting to a calculator for the easiest of sums because they haven't grasped the principles.

    I could go on but it's your ranting platform not mine!

  4. Thanks Brian - I was never sure what the difference between 'strategy' and 'tactics' was. My boeuf-du-jour is the way that Americans use ('among' when what they mean is 'between').

    laurasdad is quite right - modern methods of primary school maths seem very complicated and time-consuming. I couldn't help my kids with division, because they hadn't been taught the tried-and-trusted 'bus shelter' method, relying instead on a combination of chalk pentagrams and chicken entrails.

  5. I believe the strategy (!!) for division is called "chunking", and I think it involves subtracting multiples ("chunks" I suppose) of the divisor until you can't subtract any more. I actually quite like the idea - what's 6427 divided by 63? I immediately know it's a bit more than 100, because I can definitely take 100 lots of 63 away from 6427 but won't have much left over. My gripe with chunking [great title for a book!] arises if it's taught as an approach where you just randomly guess. 6427 / 63? Let's try 7? Hmmm, 441 down, 5986 to go. How about another 23 lots? OK, but still about 3500 to go. Let's try 1000.....


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