Word of the day: staycation (and stoliday)

I'm finding that sticking BBC1 Breakfast on in the mornings is a good way to discover new words (new to me, at least). Last week's new word was 'gastrosexual'; today I heard 'staycation' for the first time.

Unfortunately I had to leave for work before the staycation piece came on, but Googling the word this morning I found out that a staycation is (somewhat unsurprisingly, being a portmanteau of 'stay' and 'vacation') a vacation where you stay at home.

However, as the word 'vacation' is "chiefly North American" (Concise OED), I suppose that 'staycation' is also chiefly North American. The British English equivalent would be stay + holiday = stoliday. Or would that be a holiday taken by a calm, dependable person?

"Going anywhere exciting this year?"
"No, I'm getting too old for all that. I'm taking a stoliday in Stalybridge."

The Sun: "dream wedding of ecstatic doctor"

The front page lead of The Sun today features a large photo of the wedding of Catherine and Ben Mullany, the Britons who were recently shot in Antigua, and the following opening sentence:

This is the dream wedding of ecstatic doctor Catherine Mullany – shot dead days later on her honeymoon

Here's a scan of the front cover (click to see a larger version).

Now I don't want to make light of a horrible story, but isn't that phrase "ecstatic doctor" rather odd? It suggests that, for Catherine, being ecstatic was a permanent trait rather than a temporary state. Or perhaps she was indeed "subject to mystical experiences" (Concise OED).

Also, given that the photo clearly shows a very happy Catherine at what we are told was her "dream wedding", is it necessary to point out that she was "ecstatic"? Sometimes it is better to let such powerful stories speak for themselves. Mind you, subtlety has never been The Sun's strong point.

Grasping the female market with both hands

A while back, my former colleague Dylan brought to my attention a particular press release by "female-friendly insurer Sheilas' Wheels" (natty pink logo pictured on the right).

In the press release, spokesperson Jacky Brown (sex not specified) is quoted as saying:

Our research shows that Britain's car industry is not meeting the needs of the modern-day female driver. It's stuck in the dark ages and is missing out by not grasping the female market with both hands.

Dylan comments:

This press release is referring to sexist car salesmen - but the way it is written, most men will only think of one thing. The woman who wrote this has probably been at the end of quite a few sexist remarks for a reason.

So is Jacky Brown's use of language deliberate or accidental? Appropriate or unfortunate? What do you think?

Original press release

Friday roundup: Talula, Giles, Mexico and China

I'm using this week's Friday Roundup to share some of the things that you lot have been emailing in to me.


First is a BBC News article on a story that has received a lot of media coverage here in the UK: the nine-year old New Zealand girl who wanted to change her name from 'Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii'. The article also includes some other great names that New Zealand parents have chosen for their children. 'Benson' and 'Hedges' for twins made me chuckle.

Thanks for that, Harry.


Second is something that has been doing the rounds for a while but is worth sharing: a furious letter by journalist Giles Coren to subs on The Times criticising them for a change they had made to one of his restaurant reviews. It reads like a spoof, but isn't, and illustrates what a thankless task it is to be a sub.

Cheers, Andrew.


Andrew also sent in the following photo for those of you who like spotting stray apostrophes:

And it's up on Andrew's Flickr account.

(Don't forget that this blog also has its own Flickr account...)


And one more photo, this time from Clutchslip:

Apparently using translation software to translate the name of your restaurant into English is not without its hazards. (NB I'm not sure of the provenance of this snap and it too may have been doing the rounds for a while.)


Thanks, everyone, for all your contributions. You can find the blog's email address up on the top right, under the section called 'Stay in touch'.

Bookshelf of books: "a thing of beauty"

Towards the end of last year I wrote about the Amazon Kindle "wireless reading device"; picking up the theme again, one of the regular readers of this blog has drawn my attention to an interesting article in The Independent on whether electronic books threaten the future of traditional publishing.

the iLiad e-book from iRex

Towards the end of the article, one of the arguments made for electronic books being "the end of books as we know it" is that:

Few people like the fact that books take up an inordinate amount of space in their houses and travel bags

It's news to me if people dislike having a large number of (physical) books in their houses. One of my colleagues commented that a bookshelf of books is "a thing of beauty", and I am inclined to agree with him - although another colleague admitted to having to periodically prune his book collection due to space restrictions.

Anyway, I've put up a poll on this blog (over on the top right) to find out whether people really don't like books cluttering up their homes.

And as for books taking up too much room in travel bags – an electronic book takes up just as much room as, and is almost certainly heavier than, one or two paperbacks. I suppose it depends on how long you are going away for and how quickly you read.

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000

I'm sorry if this is slightly off-topic, but civil liberties are a particular concern of mine - as I hope they are for most journalists.

I catch the train to work each day, and this morning when I reached my local, suburban train station (railway station, if you prefer), I was surprised to see a number of police officers present, searching the bags of some of the people waiting for a train. All of the people they had stopped were either schoolgirls or young female commuters.

I didn't speak to any of the police officers - and none of them stopped me - but I did notice that at least one of them was carrying a bundle of leaflets entitled 'Terrorism Act' and subtitled 'Section 44'. I meant to Google this when I got to work but promptly forgot about it until I received an email from my girfriend saying that she had been stopped and searched at the same train station earlier that morning (we catch different trains).

I then did Google 'Terrorism Act' and 'Section 44', which took me to a page on the Liberty website explaining that:

Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the police to stop and search anyone in a specific area.

Before Section 44, the police could only stop and search individuals if they had 'reasonable grounds' and certain criteria were met. That is no longer necessary, and we have seen Section 44 powers used against anti-war, anti-weapons and anti-capitalist protestors.

The power to stop and search under anti-terrorism powers should only be used when there is evidence of a specific terrorist threat.

I cannot be certain that there wasn't a "specific terrorist threat" in my London suburb this morning, but I find the notion surprising. And if there was a specific terrorist threat, the actions of the police would suggest that it was posed by female commuters and schoolgirls as young as (I guess) 13 and 14.

I find it much more likely that the police were searching perhaps for knives and other weapons - teenagers carrying knives being the media scare story of the moment here in the UK. If so (and I have no real evidence either way), it would be an abuse of the Terrorism Act. What do you think?

Update 02/04/2009: Gez from Grammar Blog was stopped and searched at Clapham Junction under Section 44 recently. I recommend his blog post regarding A response from Wandsworth Police.

Update 11/04/2009: And here's a photo of a policeman stopping someone at my local station under Section 44 on another occasion:

Word of the day: gastrosexual

Caught a brief mention of the word 'gastrosexual' on BBC One this morning, and had to find out more. I guessed that it was a neologism along the lines of metrosexual, and had something to do with food (or stomachs). Perhaps gastrosexuals were people who loved their stomachs?

Googling it led me to a Mail Online article explaining that gastrosexuals are in fact men who:

consider cooking more a hobby than a household chore and use their kitchen prowess to impress friends and prospective partners

The article indicates that the term comes from a study commissioned by food company PurAsia and entitled 'Emergence of the Gastrosexual'. This is downloadable from PurAsia's website, which is – ridiculously – under construction (see below). The site's URL (www.gastrosexual.com) indicates that the company is making a big deal of its neologism.

I'm not sure what PurAsia is trying to sell – Asian food aimed at men in some way? But whatever it is, it is "currently exclusively available at Tesco Extra, Tesco Superstores and tesco.com" so maybe I should go and check. Or perhaps PurAsia should have got its website up and running before releasing the report and attracting interest from the mainstream media (and me).

So what does this all prove? That if you want people to read your study, coin a word – even a lame one. I mean, it doesn't even rhyme with 'metrosexual' or any other '-sexual' word.

Another thought: PurAsia is an unfortunate name for a food company. It reminds me of Purina.

Mince beef (curse if they have it)

When I was at work the other day (before I went off on my hols), my girlfriend sent me an email listing some items she wanted me to pick up from the supermarket. These included:

  • Mince beef (curse if they have it)
  • Spaghetti
  • Milk
  • Juice

The first of these left me rather baffled. "Curse if they have it"? I had visions of going into the supermarket, picking up the mince and shouting, "Hooray! They've got f**ing mince!" Of course, I didn't do anything so vulgar, and I did manage to work out what my girlfriend had meant.

Any guesses?

On a similar note - 'minced beef', 'mince beef' or 'beef mince'? Google prefers the first of these, but how about you? Perhaps you call it something else entirely...

Photo special: Paine Funerals

OK, a bonus photo seeing as it's a Saturday and I'm assuming that I'll be in a good mood after my holiday:

Well, it made me laugh. Kind of suggests that the people they're disposing of aren't quite dead yet.

Back to the (slightly more) serious stuff next week.

Update 21/07: I meant to say that I took this photo in North London - Crouch End or Hornsey, I think.

Photo special: Golters Gift Set

So the last snap before I return from my hols:

If the writing in the photo is not very legible, then please take my word for it that this "Golters Gift Set" is half price. Yes, "Golters Gift Set". The lack of apostrophe doesn't surprise me; the spelling mistake, on the other hand, is rather impressive.

No wonder the gift set is on special offer.

I spotted this in a London branch of Wilkinson.

Photo special: water pistol warning

I'm still relaxing in the sun, so here's today's photo:

So it doesn't have much to do with language use and even less to do with journalism, but I think it is quite striking as a sign of the times. For anyone who can't see, the photo is of a pack of children's water pistols (is there any other kind?) with a warning underneath reading: "It is an offence to sell imitation firearms to anyone under the age of 18."

I took this photo in a London branch of Woolworths. Incidentally, I ended up buying some water pistols from this very shop (although not the ones pictured) and it took me a good 15 minutes to extricate them from the packaging, even with a knife and pair of kitchen scissors. I suppose the excessive packaging could be to prevent anyone ripping the "imitation firearms" out of the box in the shop and running amok with them.

Haven't really got time to check, but should 'water pistols' be hyphenated? Or one word, perhaps?

Seriously decapitated

While JD's sunning himself in Portugal I'm still enjoying summer at Whitecliff Bay (pictured at the height of an English spring) where I while away the days building sand castles and reading the local papers.

Among the normally cheerful stories of fetes and flower shows I have just read the ghastly tale of a suicide by decapitation with a chainsaw. And in the midst of the awful details a reporter solemnly wrote: "Paramedics and police were called to the flat where a man had suffered serious injuries and was later pronounced dead."

Technically he was correct, in that even a headless corpse is not legally dead until a doctor signs a death certificate. A cub reporter used to covering the humdrum doings of a seaside resort might almost be forgiven for assuming that if the victim was not legally dead he must be described as "seriously injured".

But the sub who left this howler in place – and left me feeling guilty for laughing out loud when I read it – deserves a slap on the wrist, don't you think?

Photo special: working with Sainsbury's

Yep, your blogger went on holiday, and all you got was this lousy photo:

This is another snap taken in a Sainsbury's supermarket. I was struck by the sign's use of 'working with' rather than (as you might expect) 'working for'. I think Sainsbury's is trying to promote the idea of one big, happy team. No bosses here!

On the same note, I've noticed that the supermarket calls its employees 'colleagues' (at least in its tannoy announcements).

Photo special: which way Lower Sydenham?

I'm still on holiday, so here's another photo from my camera-phone:

Go right for Lower Sydenham and Ladywell, or go left for Lower Sydenham and Ladywell. Brilliant.

This photo was taken somewhere near Lower Sydenham and Ladywell, in London.

Photo special: wine double discount

As I'm on holiday this week, I've written some posts in advance. Each day I'll be sharing with you one of the photos I've taken with my camera phone recently (so do excuse the poor picture quality).

Also, please forgive any cock-ups on my part because I won't be able to fix them sneakily before anyone notices.

Anyway, here's today's photo:

This amused me because, if you look carefully, you'll see that the wine was reduced in price twice - once from £5.99 to £4.00 (fair enough), and then again from £4.00 to £3.99. Save a whole penny! Technically a double discount I suppose.

The photo was taken in a Sainsbury's supermarket a couple of months back.

Less emissions. More driving pleasure.

Chris Frumplington emailed the blog to draw our attention to BMW's new slogan, "Less emissions. More driving pleasure."

This particular use of 'less' with a countable noun doesn't offend me personally, but I'm surprised that such a large corporation as BMW isn't more conservative in its language use. (My, ahem, Reader's Digest Oxford Complete Wordfinder describes 'less + countable noun' as "disputed".)

Google gives 64,000 hits for "less emissions" and 93,000 for "fewer emissions" - far closer than I would have expected. I suppose it might be because, although 'emission' is a countable noun, we rarely talk about 'one emission' or indeed any specific number of emissions.

AskOxford on less vs fewer

JD gets by in Portuguese – with added melon

Long-time readers of this blog may recall my adventures learning Spanish last year with the misleadingly named 'Instant Spanish' book and CD set. This year, as I am off to the island of Madeira next week, I have been learning some Portuguese phrases from the rather less ambitiously titled 'Get by in Portuguese' book and CD set.

So far, I've learnt the first 30 phrases featured in 'Get By In Portuguese' (a poor performance, I know, but I've been busy with other things!). You may be surprised to learn that among those 30 phrases are:

  • What is the exchange rate for the pound?
  • I would like a melon.
  • Is there a lift?

These three phrases might appear to be useful for any scenario in which I exchange some pounds for euros in order to buy a melon and then need to take that melon up a tall building.

However as numbers have not figured (sorry!) in the first 30 phrases, except for the Portuguese for 'twenty', it is highly unlikely that I would understand any answer to the question 'what is the exchange rate for a pound?'. Unless, of course, the exchange rate is twenty euros to the pound, in which case I would be able to afford many, many melons.

There is also the fact that lifts are, as a whole, well signposted and easy to spot. I can't recall any instance when I have needed to ask 'is there a lift?' in English, let alone Portuguese.

But I do like melons, so it's not all bad news. (The phrase 'I'd like one of those' might have a wider application than 'I'd like a melon', however.)

MP takes up arms in House of Commons

According to recent raw copy:
Shadow Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers has taken up arms on behalf of the road haulage industry in the House of Commons.

I do hope that's a metaphorical rather than literal taking up of arms (although others may not be of the same opinion).

I changed it – just because it threw me on first read. I wonder how common it is to use 'take up arms' metaphorically...

Update 21/07: A very famous use of 'take up arms' (or rather, 'take arms') has just occurred to me, from Hamlet's most famous speech:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

'Sea of troubles' is definitely metaphorical here, but 'take arms'? Not sure.

A swath of swathing changes

From recent raw copy (emphasis is mine):

Taking legislation as a suitable solution, the puzzling bit for the likes of Allen is Defra’s Landfill Allowance Trading Scheme (LATS). Introduced to make swathing changes in English municipal waste policy, the introduction is set to help meet targets for reduction of landfill deposited biodegradable waste under Article 5(2) of the EC Landfill Directive.

Swathing changes? I've heard of sweeping changes, or even a swath(e) of changes (the noun having two commonly accepted spellings), but I've never heard of swathing changes.

The Concise OED does not give 'swathing', although it gives the noun 'swath(e)', "a row or line of grass, corn, etc. as it falls when mown or reaped" and the verb 'swathe', "wrap in several layers of fabric". I am assuming the 'swathing' of 'swathing changes' is related to the former rather than the latter. So why no verb 'swath(e)', meaning something along the lines of 'mow' or 'cut a swath(e)'?

"What are you doing, darling?"
"I'm swathing the back garden."

Interestingly, a quick Google search for "swathing changes" results in 58 hits, so it's an uncommon but not unknown little phrase. In comparison, "swathe of changes" gets 1,270 hits and "swath of changes" gets 12,000. "Cut a swathe" gets 28,900 hits and "cut a swath" gets 94,000. So it looks like 'swath' is the more popular spelling.

I like 'swathing changes', but I changed it anyway.

Literally going to the dogs

Tomorrow there's a work outing to Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium. So I can safely say that this office is literally going to the dogs...

Literally, A Web Log

Michele with an accent

Yesterday my girlfriend and I were guests at Michele and Ian's wedding.

While waiting for the bride to make her entrance, I was flicking through the order of service and noticed that Michele was actually Michèle.

"I didn't know Michèle had an accent," I whispered to my girlfriend.

"Yes, she's from South Africa
," she replied.

"Is that how they spell Michele in South Africa?" I asked.

Cue much confusion on both sides...

Forget LiLo, Boris Johnson is BoJo

I've just noticed that the Daily Mirror occasionally refers to London mayor Boris Johnson (pictured) as BoJo, in much the same way as some other publications refer to Lindsay Lohan as LiLo.

BoJo - just brilliant. It reminds me of Bozo the Clown, with added connotations of 'bodge'. Some would say that's very appropriate...

I've written about Boris Johnson on this blog before.

Right repercussions across the industry

So even subs need subs. Somehow I managed to write this on one of our work blogs:

There are a wealth of legal stories on the site at the moment, several of which are bound to have right repercussions across the industry

Of course I'd meant 'repercussions right across the industry', but the mistake made me sound like I was writing in a regional dialect...

Anyone want an "Israel GPS Navigation System"?

The Engine Room received a great junk/spam email yesterday - offering us an "Israel GPS Navigation System" with "Interface & Voice Guidance in English" for only $349. It's not exactly an impulse purchase. After all, to buy this product I assume I would have to:

a) be an English speaker
b) be planning a trip to Israel in the near future
c) be planning to drive while in Israel
d) know beforehand that I would require a GPS system while in Israel
e) be willing to buy a GPS system (as opposed to, say, renting a car that has one)
f) trust a company that sends unsolicited emails full of Initial Caps & Ampersands
g) trust a company that doesn't offer PayPal, and that doesn't advertise its own website in its emails
g) have $349 dollars spare

But wait - according to the email, "Additional Discounts Available for Bulk Orders". So maybe I should go into business retailing these things.

Anyone planning a trip to Israel?