Parallel and tandem are different

Last week I wrote to The Observer‘s Readers’ Editor: ‘I was concerned to see that in The Observer leader ‘Questions the PM must answer before we act’ (22 November, page 44) you have twice used ‘in tandem’ when you mean ‘in parallel’ (middle of column 2 and top of column 3).  The former means one after the other, the latter at the same time.  I am sure you intended the latter.’

The Readers’ Editor, Stephen Pritchard replied: ‘Thank you for your email which I will show to the leader writer. If indeed he did mean “in parallel” (which I suspect he did) we will correct it.’

Nothing has happened yet, the leader here still contains ‘in tandem’ twice and I could find no correction in today’s paper.*  It is a common and irritating mistake.

It would be nice if all cyclists knew the difference too.  In their case the change should be from parallel to tandem. It is annoying that many of them ride in parallel, filling up the narrow lanes, instead of in tandem which gives a driver a chance to overtake them where it is safe to do so and enables walkers and riders to use the roads safely too.


* I am pleased to report that the correction did appear on 6 December here.







About campaignerkate

I am the general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and I campaign for public access, paths and open spaces in town and country.
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7 Responses to Parallel and tandem are different

  1. carltonreid says:

    “Our” lanes? By “our” do you mean “motorists”? If so, and that certainly appears to be the thrust of your gibe, that’s a rather startling comment from someone who campaigns for access rights.

    This video – which I produced for driving instructors and which is fronted by Chris Boardman – shows the legality of riding two abreast. It also shows why riding “in tandem” is not always good for motorists.

    Oh, and use of “them” and “their” is potentially guilty of “othering” which, again, is a surprise from somebody in your position.

    • Thanks for the video link, it’s very good. I was referring to the narrow lanes in the Chilterns where cyclists often do not ride with respect for others and do not follow the advice in your video.

  2. carltonreid says:

    Take a look at your car, Kate. Does it have two seats in the front? In which case you’re riding “in parallel”, taking up even more road space than two cyclists riding next to each other.

    The comment you made is par for the course from commenters to the Daily Mail and to most local newspapers; what makes it odd is that you campaign for access rights. So, some access is more important than others?

    Access to Britain’s road network (apart from motorways, of course) is open to all, not just those folks in cars.

    • It was meant to be a light-hearted comment about the use of the words parallel and tandem! You have shown that they are certainly different which is helpful. Guess I shouldn’t try to be light hearted.

  3. Adam says:

    A slight difference of opinion between two of my favourite campaigners here. I must admit to a certain dismay when different user groups (on road or PROW) appear to take pot shots at each other rather than unite to work towards common goals.

    Carlton’s strongly-worded objections are more easily understood when you consider how frequently cycle campaigners have to deal with unhelpful stereotypes. It is a bit like when ramblers are collectively blamed for litter, unclosed gates and dry stone wall damage. We accept that it sometimes happens but object most strongly when we are all grouped with the perpetrators.

    It is worth noting that current best practice is for cyclists to position themselves so as to discourage overtaking where it would be unsafe. Sadly, a barely car-sized gap or one approaching blind bend can be too much temptation for a driver temporarily restricted to cycle speed. There is also widespread misunderstanding about the space drivers need to give cyclists when overtaking. I was taught to pass cyclists as I would equestrians; the Highway Code instructs to give a cyclist as much room as you would a car; several European countries have minimum passing distance laws which vary between 1 and 2 metres depending upon speed. Regardless, it is a great deal more than a foot from someone’s elbow. I suspect many drivers are completely oblivious to how it feels to be passed so close and at speed.

    No doubt there are inconsiderate cyclists and groups out there and I won’t justify such behaviour. It can only be deplored. However, as with horse riders, sometimes complaints about cyclists arise out of a lack of understanding of their needs.

    Apologies for such a long comment. I just wished to offer a different perspective on a common complaint, even though I do realise it was only intended light-heartedly on this blog, which I always enjoy reading.


  4. Adam says:

    On the actual subject of this thread (because at least one comment should be 🙂 ), I think you are fighting a losing battle with tandem/parallel. All of this household’s dictionaries of various ages include the figurative use of ‘in tandem’. Like so many things we were taught in school, usage has developed and the formerly discouraged usage has become largely accepted.

    I’m not even sure that using ‘in tandem’ figuratively to mean ‘together’ is illogical anyway. Two horses which are in tandem may also be said to be together. Why focus upon their exact positioning? An similarly literal interpretation of ‘parallel’ (equidistant and non-convergent) would create similar issues with using that.

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