The Times: coldest temperature on record

Advert for The Times weather forecastsI was a little confused when I first saw this advert for The Times – especially by the fourth paragraph, "The coldest temperature on record is -27.1C, in Braemer, in February 1895 and January 1982."

I lived in Russia for a little while and certainly experienced temperatures lower than -27.1.

It was only when I read the fifth paragraph ("The hottest UK temperature recorded...") that I realised that the previous par was referring to the coldest UK temperature on record.

Even then, isn't the name of the Scottish village in question Braemar, not Braemer? (I may be wrong about this – possibly both spellings are acceptable, although my gazetteer only lists the former.)

I also want to know exactly where in February 1963 "enough snow fell to bury a double decker bus in an hour" – again, presumably this par is referring to somewhere in the UK, rather than somewhere in Antarctica...

(Click the image for a larger version.)

Names: Crook and Fear, Tinkler and Fidler

A while back I came across a news story in which a courier firm employed a transport manager called John Crook and then ended up being called before the authorities for various offences.

It gets better: the company was defended by a solicitor called Jeremy Fear.

Kent courier disqualified for hours offences

And from the same site, here's a story in which a haulage firm chief executive called Andrew Tinkler meets a government official called Stephen Fidler.

Tinkler pushes ahead with LHV prototype trial

Little things like these help me get through the day...

Acronyms: AM, MP, MEP and MSP

Raw copy today made reference to:

Plaid Cymru’s Chris Franks, South Wales Central AM

Who is this man, I wondered – a politician or a Welsh radio station?

AM is actually an acronym for Assembly Member; that is, a member of the National Assembly for Wales.

As such it is akin to MP (Member of Parliament), MEP (Member of the European Parliament) and MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament).

But I think that AM is less widely understood than the other acronyms, at least outside Wales...

Beverly Hills Chee' WOW wa and rat-a-too-ee

Movie poster for Beverly Hills ChihuahuaSo here's a new phenomenon: film (movie) posters that include pronunciation guides.

Over on the right you can see part of a poster for the current release Beverly Hills Chihuahua, which helpfully points out that 'chihuahua' should be pronounced chee' WOW wa.

Is the apostrophe indicating stress on the middle syllable? Surely putting 'WOW' in caps is sufficient?

The only other example of this phenomenon I can think of is the poster for the children's animated fim Ratatouille (2007), as shown below.

Here the pronunciation guide is rat-a-too-ee – the syllables are separated by hyphens but this time there's no indication at all as to stress.

Movie poster for RatatouilleSo how do you feel about these pronunciation guides – are they an example of dumbing-down and declining standards in education?

Personally, I applaud the film-makers for not shying away from using 'difficult' words in the titles of children's films.

And can you think of any other examples? Maybe it's not a new phenomenon at all...

Friday roundup: The Engine Room is 500

I think it's time we had another Friday roundup, seeing as we've just passed the 500-post mark here on The Engine Room. How many hours of my life...

In celebration, here are our five most popular posts, this time brought to you by FeedBurner's aggregate item use analysis:
  1. Photo special: toilets & disabled toilet
  2. Friday roundup: odd book titles, scary comments
  3. Headlines: celery eating paramedic
  4. Eagle-eared listeners – and BraveStarr
  5. Word of the day: Bankenstein
The fact they're all relatively recent posts is a good sign, I suppose.

On to other matters. One blog I've been meaning to plug for a while is The virtual linguist. The linguist behind it is a regular blogger and obviously passionate about language. But she doesn't have BraveStarr videos or photos of pub toilet doors on her blog – so I guess we win. I'll add her blog to our blogroll as a consolation prize.

Another linguist more knowledgeable than I is Garik; you may have noticed some of his insightful comments here on The Engine Room. He's a thoroughly nice chap to boot, so do check out Garik's blog.

Not muti murderers but organleggers

By its very nature science fiction has always looked to the future so writers of SF have always had to invent nouns and verbs for things and activities that don't yet exist. 'Robot' was coined, if memory serves, by a Czech writer in the 1920s; Star Trek's warp drive is one of many names coined for the faster-than-light technology that, like Asimovian robots, is still on the drawing board.

But a TV preview on the UK's Channel 4 which is on my screen as I write this promises an investigation into an activity that until now I assumed was still safely in the realms of SF.

In the 1970s US SF author Larry Niven launched a series of stories and novels set in a coherent 'future history'. Some of these stories featured criminals who Niven called 'organleggers'. Instead of the bath-tub hooch that was the stock in trade of prohibition gangsters, these 22nd century perps dealt (will deal?) in body parts.

In fact my puzzlement over tenses is irrelevant because the Channel 4 Unreported World programme promises "an* horrifying investigation into 'muti murder' in South Africa where people are being killed for body parts". And organlegging, which stuck in my mind 30 years ago as a clever name, has become a reality far sooner that Niven or I expected.

That's humanity for you: robots and warp drive you'll have to wait for. Organleggers? They're here now. And where are Niven's Co-Dominium Line Marines when we need them?

* I do have a view on the misused aspirate but launching a debate on usage based on this story might be seen as poor taste

Homophones: Lance Armstrong is a peddling miracle

I spotted this in a London Lite article on Tuesday entitled 'The TEN coolest books all men should read':

Cutting from London Lite article on books for men
So not only is he a brilliant cyclist but Lance Armstrong also finds time to walk around selling stuff. (UPDATE: possibly drugs; I don't know.)

(In case you can't see the image, the text reads: "You should know the story: brilliant but flawed professional cyclist falls victim to cancer, almost dies, miraculously recovers and wins the Tour de France SEVEN times. Armstrong is a walking, peddling miracle.")

Question of translation: Armitage and Gawain

Armitage's version of Sir Gawain and the Green KnightWhere was I last week? I was at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, and one of the events I attended involved British poet Simon Armitage talking about – and reading extracts from – his version of the 14th-century poem 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight'.

I say 'version' but the word that Armitage used in his talk was 'translation'. 'Translation' was also used in The Independent's review, for example.

However when I was studying Middle English at university, one of my tutors told me never to use the word 'translation' to refer to this process of writing Modern English (or rather, modern English) versions of Middle English works.

Middle and Modern English, my tutor argued, were not two separate languages, and therefore it was not possible to translate between them.

I'm not sure I agree with him, but the habit of avoiding the word 'translation' in this context has stuck with me.

My question to you is: if this process is not 'translating', what should we call it? 'Rewriting' suggests that more major changes are taking place (as does 're-imagining'); 'updating' suggests the original is somehow irrelevant.

On the theme of Simon Armitage, have you seen the film of Rufus Sewell reading Armitage's 9/11 commemorative poem 'Out of the Blue'? It's up on YouTube:

In which JD's mum mishears him

While I was away last week, I happened to phone my mum for a chat.

During the course of the conversation my mum asked me when I would be getting back to my flat on the Sunday. "Not too late," I replied, "because my bus is at two."

"You've busted a tooth! How did you manage that?" was her worried reply.

Photo special: America's favo(u)rite mustard

I took this snap in a South London supermarket.

French's has missed a trick here. If it really is 'America's Favourite Mustard', why not emphasise that by calling it 'America's Favorite Mustard'? I'm sure British shoppers would be able to cope.

A box of French's mustard with the slogan 'America's favourite mustard' and the British English spelling of 'favourite'

Looks like French's has trademarked the phrase, too. I wonder if that's only for the British English spelling?

Photo special: diabetes causes amputations

I took this photo on the tube recently. 'Diabetes causes... amputations' seems a bit strong. That's like saying 'cancer causes chemotherapy'.

A warning poster with the message 'Diabetes causes heart disease, stroke, amputations, kidney failure and blindness'

Mind you, 'diabetes can lead to the need for amputation' isn't as catchy, and screws up the sentence structure.

Photo special: The Heden Room, Seaton

Right, I'm on holiday yet again so that means photos for the rest of the week. The usual disclaimer applies.

Anyway, I took this snap of a sign outside the Eyre Court Hotel in Seaton, Devon. The name of the function room is 'The Eden Room', but because the words 'EDEN ROOM' are positioned directly underneath the word 'THE', you would be forgiven for thinking that it is called 'The Heden Room'.

A sign for 'The Eden Room', with 'The' running across and 'Eden Room' underneath it running down

I think a better sign would have 'THE' and 'EDEN ROOM' overlapping on the 'E'.

A revelation about Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food

Jamie Oliver and his message of 'pass it on'I've been watching Jamie's Ministry of Food, a TV series in which southern celebrity chef Jamie Oliver tries to improve the eating habits of the people of Rotherham (a large, northern, industrial town).

During the Second World War, the Minister of Food oversaw food rationing. In Rotherham, Jamie establishes his own Ministry of Food to educate the public about healthy eating and give cooking demonstrations.

With a title like Ministry of Food, you might expect Jamie's programme to look at the politics of healthy eating, or the role of the government in encouraging home cooking. But, to me, the programme's tone is very much religious rather than political - something that I don't think has been picked up on much elsewhere.

'Pass it on'

One of Jamie's key concepts, as you can see from the picture above, is what he calls 'pass it on'; he teaches a small group of people how to cook a number of simple dishes, and they in turn teach each dish to four friends. Those friends teach other friends, and so on.

Within a small number of steps - or so the theory goes - all of Rotherham will know how to cook. Jamie is, in effect, evangelising about food, and recruiting others to carry on spreading the word.

Jamie's small group originally consists of eight people, to which four more are later added. So one leader, twelve disciples. But wait - one of those twelve fails to 'pass it on', in effect betraying Jamie and his message.

Mick the miner

There are other religious themes in the programme, too. One of the people that Jamie meets is a coal miner called Mick who has never cooked a meal. Jamie shows him how to prepare a simple dish, and Mick is instantly converted - he will go on to cook for his family every single night. A real 'road to Damascus' moment.

Jamie meets Mick at an event held at Rotherham United FC. In a practical demonstration of 'pass it on', Jamie teaches two people how to cook a dish; those two people teach four; those four teach eight; and so on. Soon, hundreds of people are cooking Jamie's dish.

In other words: a large group of people gather together in a grassy place to listen to one man, and are fed by that same man in a demonstration of his powers.

Finally, there's the title of the programme. Perhaps it's a reference not to the old government Ministry of Food, but to Jamie's own ministry; he is the minister, and his religion is food. Amen.

Photo special: www kat eat kinson co uk

Here's a snap I took a couple of months back of a billboard near my office:

The web address on the billboard advert reads, with the 'atkinson' in bold

This advert's interesting because of the subtle use of bold in the web address. It's easy to separate into its component parts:


With (the unbolded version), the task is much harder and a reader may well come up with (for example):


(Kate Atkinson is an English novelist; I think this advert was promoting her latest novel, When Will There be Good News?.)

Photo special: please pass the CV inside

Something lighthearted for Friday afternoon.

This photo was taken by Clutchslip in Sutton high street (in London) a little while back:

A printed sign in a shop window reading 'VACANCY  PLEASE PASS THE CV INSIDE  THANK YOU'

Packs of Skol contain 440ml of alcohol. Really?

From yesterday's Metro, page 2:

Supermarket Asda has been accused of encouraging underage binge-drinking by selling four cans of lager for 90p.

Its packs of Skol, each containing 440ml of alcohol, work out at just 51p a litre.

So each pack contains 440ml of alcohol. Does 'pack' here mean a can, or does it mean the four-pack? If the former, then Metro is claiming that Skol is pure alcohol, or near enough (depending on the size of the can). If the latter, then it would still be around 20-25% alcohol.

I suspect that, actually, Metro is confusing 'pack' with 'can' and 'alcohol' with beer', and that each can contains 440ml of beer.

Here's The Sun's version of the story - and Brand Republic's. Interestingly, neither mentions the alcoholic strength of Skol. Would pointing that out have watered down the power of the story?

And does anyone know off-hand exactly how strong Skol is? I mean regular Skol, not Skol Super or Skol International or anything like that. Cheers!

Unprecedented levels for a litre of fuel

Taken from recent raw copy:

While the price of fuel may have dropped in recent weeks, we’re still at unprecedented levels for a litre of fuel

If the price of fuel is lower than it was a few weeks ago, surely it can't be at an unprecedented high. The precedent was set a few weeks ago. Unless this is an unprecedented low?

(I understand the point the writer is making; I'm just being pedantic. I think I rewrote the sentence, though, because some of our readers are pedantic too.)

The Engine Room, Alexa and Canadians

According to Alexa's traffic rankings, The Engine Room is now one of the top million websites in the world:

However, Alexa also says that 66.7% of our traffic comes from Canada (not true!), so I'm not sure how much faith I put in it...

What's a hotspot not? A hots pot...

A quote from a police spokesman, taken from recent copy:

Freight crime can have an adverse effect on the economy, with businesses staying clear of hotspot areas

So my first question - what's a 'hotspot area'? Is it synonymous with 'hotspot' and therefore an example of redundancy, or is it in some way different to a common-or-garden hotspot? Perhaps a hotspot area contains a number of hotspots, or maybe it's just like a hotspot but larger.

My second question - 'hotspot' or 'hot spot'? The Concise OED prefers the latter, but I'm the only member of our editorial team who agrees.

And the reason I prefer 'hot spot' to 'hotspot' is simply because I always read 'hotspot' as 'hots pot', and so find it breaks my flow. What's the name for when that happens - is it dissonance?

Cripes, Boris, it's Susie Dent again

From Thursday's thelondonpaper:

According to experts, 2008 has already given the English language more than 100 new words, ranging from the common "credit crunch" to "glamping" - to describe posh camping. Top of the list is "Cripes!" meaning surprise or shock, synonymous with Boris Johnson.

Where do I start? We've already had the discussion on whether 'credit crunch' is a word, so I'll leave that to one side. But is BoJo really synonymous with surprise or shock? And who else here knew of 'cripes' (with or without initial cap and exclamation) before 2008?

Thelondonpaper adds:

[Cripes] has joined a list of other words which have been so well-used in the past year they could be included in the Oxford English Dictionary

So only well used words make it into the OED? And 'cripes' isn't in the OED? Anyone have one to hand to confirm this? 'Cripes' is in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary, so it would be utterly shocking if it wasn't in the full OED as well.

And who are these 'experts'? The only one named in the article is Susie Dent, who I'm guessing is on a mission to shift a few copies of her new book.

OUP Word of the Year: credit crunch

The front cover of Susie Dent's book, Words of the YearOxford University Press emailed The Engine Room this morning to inform us that the OUP UK Word of the Year – "as chosen by Countdown's Susie Dent" – is 'credit crunch'.

You can see Susie pictured here on the front cover of her new book, Words of the Year, which is published by OUP. I suspect some kind of tie-in.

Anyway, I can understand the arguments for 'credit crunch' as word of the year: it's highly topical, in common use, nicely alliterative, and so on.

But there's one very strong argument against: 'credit crunch' isn't a word, as most people understand the term – it's a phrase. A noun phrase, to be more specific.

I suppose that 'OUP Word or Noun Phrase of the Year' doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

(It's probably worth mentioning here that I went for a very appealing job at OUP a few years ago and, shockingly, didn't get it. Not that I'm bitter at all.)

So what would be your word or noun phrase of the year?

Headlines: 'Sark fire blamed on a cleaner'

The most misleading news headline of the day goes to the Metro free paper with:

Sark fire blamed on a cleaner

In reality, the fire that caused £10m of damage to the Cutty Sark last year wasn't caused by a person who cleans – but by an industrial vacuum cleaner that had accidentally been left on for two days. Of course, it is possible that the cleaner had been left on by a cleaner, so to speak.

The Sky News website decided to run with an almost identical (and just as misleading) headline.

And here's some rather more enlightening video footage on the cause of the Cutty Sark fire from I've had to change the dimensions to get it to fit on the blog so apologies if it looks a bit squashed or otherwise doesn't display properly: