Eudemonic neoteric year!

A eudemonic neoteric year to all our fellow English language energumens. And if you'd like your own guide to Wordsmanship, the book of that name (subtitled The Art of Verbal Conquest) was published in 1984 by Angus & Robertson (ISBN 0-207-14915-1). While JD and I have sworn the subbing guild oath to keep English lucid, sometimes it's nice to be able to stop an argument with a word or two that your opponent doesn't know.

Here are a few more examples you might like to drop into conversation:
hepatic disagreeable
edacious greedy
incondite crude
hebetudinous thick-headed
hebdomadal weekly
nugatory trifling
iracund irritating
oscitancy lazy
nocuous harmful
irrefragable undeniable
vilipend slander
thrasonical boastful

Wordsmanship has its roots in the concept of one-upmanship, for which we are indebted to the late, great Stephen Potter. His books, Gamesmanship (1947), Lifemanship (1950), One-Upmanship (1952) and Supermanship (1958) explain "how to win without actually cheating" by taking psychological advantage of your opponent at every possible opportunity.

Also well worth tracking down is the smashing 1959 film School For Scoundrels, an archetypal British comedy co-written by Peter Ustinov with a tremendous cast including Ian Carmichael, Terry Thomas, the incomparable Alastair Sim (as Stephen Potter), Dennis Price, Peter Jones, John le Mesurier, Hattie Jacques Hugh Paddick and Irene Handl.

Google reveals there was a US remake in 1996, which strikes me as being about as worthwhile as a British remake of Casablanca. Nuff sed.

Arise, sir Terry: former sub Pratchett is knighted

I know Apus will be pleased to learn that Terry Pratchett (pictured below) has been made a knight in the New Year Honours list.

Photo by: Sutton-Hibbert / Rex Features

Of course, the novelist was awarded his knighthood for services to literature, rather than for his early work as a sub (and reporter, I believe) on the Bath Chronicle.

BBC News – Profile: Terry Pratchett
The Engine Room – Independent: Pratchett blooper

Support lung disease, help the genocide

Here at The Engine Room we appreciate all your contributions, especially those we sit on for six months. Gareth sent us this email back in July:

A few weeks ago, I took part in the ASICS Great British 10K run through central London. As you'd expect, there were lots of teams of charity runners taking part.

At one point I ended up following a team of people in matching orange sweatshirts with the slogan "Breathtakers - Supporting Rare Lung Disease". Which seemed a little harsh. I was hoping they'd meet a team of people supporting research into preventing rare lung disease, and they could have had a big punch-up.

Anyway, joking aside, they are a good cause and they've got a website - I've chucked them a few quid just for giving me a good laugh. Maybe if your readers are feeling charitable then they'd like to do the same!

Shortly after this, and rather coincidentally, Lynneguist (from Separated by a Common Language) emailed us with the following:

Was driving through Palmyra, New York (the birthplace of Mormonism!) yesterday, and spotted a handwritten sign affixed to a telephone pole near a traffic light. It said:

"Children are being hurt and killed in Darfur. Donate money to help the genocide." (I think it gave a phone number at the end.)

Now, the handwriting was rather childish, so I feel a little bad poking fun at what is probably a heartfelt desire to do good. But still, I thought it was funny.

But now I've just googled "help the genocide" and found examples from people who ought to know better:


None of us is immune from making this sort of mistake. Recently I caught myself telling someone that I was "raising money for male cancer" – as if cancer needs the cash...

A firm grasp of history

Sharpe's Rifles
I just heard the following in a preview for this afternoon's entertainment on the History Channel: "Forget fantasy! Richard the Lionheart, Napoleon Bonaparte and Sharpe are real superheroes!"

Jason and the mystery of the pigs in blankets

We recently had an email from Jason regarding two kinds of own-brand bacon-wrapped sausage (pigs in blankets, if you prefer) that are available in Sainsbury's. He wrote:

One is 37cal per roll and shows as red on the traffic light system. The other is 40cal and shows as green. One is 6.7g salt and is red; the other is 6.7g salt and amber. Is it me or does this not make sense as a quick-glance guide to healthy eating?

All I can imagine, Jason, is that the second type of bacon-wrapped sausage weighs much more than the first (per sausage, that is, not per pack). Although the heavier sausage has a similar calorie count and salt content to the lighter one, it has fewer calories and less salt per 100g (or any other fixed weight) and is therefore 'healthier'.

To me, the real question is: why does Sainsbury's go to the trouble of offering two types of own-brand bacon-wrapped sausage?

These are actually pigs in blankets from a recipe on the Waitrose website. I don't know how they fare on the traffic light system, but they certainly look tasty...

Holiday round-up

Here are some oddments that have caught my attention over the past few days...

From Mrs Apus's favourite property programme:

we took the doors to a recreation yard
we haven't seen any unforeseen problems at the moment

Newspaper reports of a woman arrested for claiming her aunt's pension for 10 years after the lady died... aged 98 (you have to wonder how long she thought she'd get away with it for)

The Sunday Times report that a British yachtsman who suffered a broken leg in a round-the-world race had been rescued by "an Australian navy frigate" (as distinct from all those civilian frigates in private hands)

And lastly, an issue that, as JD knows, has irritated me for years. As widely reported, just before Christmas four people were convicted of conspiracy to commit blackmail and other offences during a campaign to stop suppliers working with Huntingdon Life Sciences, which tests drugs on animals.

The Engine Room is not a forum to discuss the case for or against such tests; my quarrel is with the media's description of the perpetrators as animal rights "activists" or "extremists".

The court heard that the campaigners had "made the lives of some families and employees a living hell" during "a campaign of fear" including bomb threats, office invasions by masked gangs, damage to homes and posting needles said to be infected with AIDS.

The OED includes the following definition: "One who favours or uses terror-inspiring methods of coercing government or community" and the word, of course, is not "activist" or "extremist" but "terrorist". Activists and extremists argue in favour of their causes; terrorists use force or the threat of force.

Even when the cause involves cute furry animals, a terrorist is a terrorist.

'Subway' and 'underpass' in British English

Something else Christmassy, this time spotted in Forest Hill, London:

This interested me because of the use of 'subway' to refer to what I would call an 'underpass' (namely a tunnel that enables pedestrians to cross under a road).

Googling reveals that the two terms are often used interchangeably in British English. For example, I found an article in the Barking & Dagenham Post which begins:

A 71-year-old man was beaten to the ground by a group of thugs as he walked past a notorious subway.

The pensioner was attacked near the underpass linking the Mark's Gate Estate to East Road, Chadwell Heath.

The OED Online indicates that 'underpass' originated in the US – where, of course, 'subway' is used to mean "underground railway" (again, OED Online).

I wonder whether 'underpass' is ousting 'subway' here in Britain.

So a couple of questions, mainly for our British readership: would you use 'subway', 'underpass' or both? If both, is there any difference in how you would use them?

No jokes about sandwich shops, please.

(Oh, and I appreciate that 'subway' is a shorter word than 'underpass', and therefore easier to fit on a sign.)

Gold, frankincense and myrrh Christmas menus

Something appropriate for Christmas Day:

One of the bars near to my place of work has been offering 'three tailored Christmas menus', named 'gold', 'frankincense' and 'myrrh' (or rather 'myrhh', but let's not be picky).

Some browsing on the internet reveals the following:
  • Gold is toxic if consumed in high quantities. And prohibitively expensive, of course, so not many people get the opportunity to test that.
  • Myrrh, which often cost more than its weight in gold in ancient times, has a bitter taste and is traditionally associated with funerals and cremations.
  • Frankincense... is actually edible, although chewy and sticky. Mmmm.

So it looks as if the frankincense menu wins the day.

(This is just for fun, and I wouldn't be surprised if any or all of these facts were incorrect.) Can you eat gold? Gold, Frankincense, & Myrrh

Oh, and one last thing: Merry Christmas!

Half baked potato

I didn't manage to take a photo of it, but Monday's menu at work included "blackened chicken with half baked potato".

Half baked potato? Not sure they thought that one through...

WordNet Search: half-baked

Wonderfully silly

Any reader from outside the UK with an interest in the very best of wordplay silliness would be well advised to check out BBC Radio 4's "antidote to panel shows", I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue. Last April the show ended a run of more than 35 years following the death of its chairman, national treasure Humphrey Littleton (Eton, Brigade of Guards and world class jazzman... well worth a google).

Last night I happened to catch a repeat of the final broadcast including a regular feature, the Uxbridge Dictionary of new definitions for existing words.

Here's a sample:

gurgle to steal a ventreloquist's dummy
sanctity a multi-breasted frenchwoman
fastidious ugly sprinter
tallyho loose woman who keeps count
cursory where toddlers learn to swear
semolina form of signalling with puddings

Over the years I'm Sorry spawned a series of books, including a couple of editions of the Uxbridge Dictionary. I selected the following from my copy for your delectation:

halitosis bad breath brought on by a comet
baccanallian to bet on a martian
canape Scottish inability to settle bills
acne a dyslexic's walking stick
navigate scandal involving road menders
senile what to while holidaying in Egypt

and, the caulkheads' fave:

insolent fallen off the Isle of Wight Ferry

RIP Humph, you were one of a kind.

Christmas in the office

It's a strange experience being in the office just a few days before Christmas, as we use the same workflow but have only a skeleton staff. That means everyone has to wear more than one hat, as the metaphor goes.

For example: a writer writes a story for our website, then sends it to me for subbing. I sub the story in one program, then send it to... myself, for classification in another program. I classify the story, then send it to... myself, for final approval before it goes live. And then, should it need pulling or updating, that's done by... me.

With no content editor, no web editor and no digital assistant (great job title, huh?) to contend with, everything runs that much more smoothly – but then, I have fewer people to share the blame with when it all (inevitably) goes wrong. Still, after today I'm not back in until New Year's Eve.

It's on the house

I'm becoming addicted to Mrs Apus's favourite TV programme about house auctions, not least because one of the presenters is showing encouraging signs of having attended the Murray Walker school of rhetoric. Today's offerings included "this looks like a job half started" and the glorious double tautology "this property has a maximum ceiling bid price".

The Engine Room will follow her career with interest.

Antique etymology

Plenty of words have more than one meaning (I believe 'set' has most of all, so it sets a record) but one that's always puzzled me is cabinet. As the OED tells us, it's "a case or cupboard... for storing or displaying articles" and it's an "inner circle of ministers controlling government policy".

And today I finally learned the link between them, thanks to a furniture expert on The Antiques Roadshow. It seems that in the 18th century a gentleman would keep his fave trinkets in a cabinet to be displayed only to his inner circle of friends. They became known as 'cabinet friends' and from there it's only a short jump to a cabinet of the Prime Minister's closest associates.

English really is an unending source of small pleasures, don't you think?

A problem with using syndicated news... quality control.

Spotted this on the front page of the website yesterday:

"Paris Hilton Robbed of $2 Million in Jewl Heist"?

Clicking on the headline took me to Hollywood - where the 'Jewl' typo obviously originated.

Hollywood seems to have picked up the story from the Los Angeles Times - which at least managed to spell its headline correctly.

Perhaps should get its news from the LA Times rather than from Hollywood

And I do appreciate the irony of writing about this story myself. Blogging can be so parasitic...

Ennnui on Wii

Amid the torrent of pre-Xmas adds pouring forth from the telly my attention was caught by a rather sweet homonym, courtesy of the oddly named computer game company Wii. The phrase was "Wii music! Only on Wii". Yes, the idea of pretending to be a musician by waving my arms about holding an electronic toy certainly engenders a feeling of ennui.

Photo special: '20p per unit'

Spotted this in a hotel room recently (the Cathedral Gate Hotel in Canterbury, if I recall correctly):

Photo of phone taken in Cathedral Gate Hotel, Canterbury
The note on the phone reads '20p per unit' - but what does a unit get you? There's no indication, so the information that a unit costs 20p is entirely unhelpful.

Or is there such a thing as a widely known, standard 'telephone unit'?

Dangling modifiers and BK's meat scent

Spotted a couple of good dangling modifiers in BBC News stories today.

The Road to Bethlehem says of Jenin: "Known in the Bible as En-Gannim, a large refugee camp lies adjacent to the town."

Wow, that is one old refugee camp.

And in Burger chain markets meat scent, we are told: "Called Flame, the company says the spray is 'the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat'."

The company in question is Burger King – it's the scent that is called Flame. But what a great story...

We got shortlipude

Our company had its annual awards bash/Christmas do earlier in the week, and quite an extravagant affair it was too.

At some point during the proceedings I appear to have texted my significant other with the informative message 'Ah we got shortlipude'. I'm attributing this to my mobile's dictionary not knowing the word 'shortlisted' rather than to the complementary complimentary champagne.

Incidentally, we were the only production desk in the company to be shortlisted for an award. Sadly, I think this says more about the awards that were on offer than it does about us.

He's a daedal geezer

Mrs Apus interrupted my musings this morning by asking if I knew the meaning of a word she'd just encountered in her current read, Andrew Taylor's The American Boy (not only a winner of the Historical Dagger award, but shortlisted by Richard and Judy's Book Club, no less).

Now Mrs A's vocab is at least as extensive as mine so I was surprised, and asked for the word and its context, which is: daedal, "It was a daedal maze of chambers..." The OED Concise defines daedal as: (literary) "skillful, inventive, complex, mysterious; of the earth etc adorned with natural wonders."

Goodness knows what Mr Taylor thought it meant when he used it to describe a 19th century London slum but I plan to drop in into conversation on a regular basis. JD, for example, is in my experience a skillful and inventive wordsmith so daedal would seem to be a fair adjective... and if that means he's also complex and mysterious, well, why not?

Project Gutenberg really takes the cake

I wrote a while back about some of the great project names we have at work, including Project Platypus and Project Prometheus.

One that I neglected to mention was (the sadly non-alliterative) Project Gutenberg, which is currently providing editorial teams with "a clutch of exciting new tools and resources".

You may know that there exists a better-known Project Gutenberg, according to Wikipedia "a volunteer effort to digitize, archive and distribute cultural works". And that, presumably, takes its name from Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the mechanical printing press.

So I have high expectations for my company's own Project Gutenberg. Not so some of my colleagues, who have taken to referring to it as Project Battenberg...

Office jargon: go-live

A colleague recently received a work-related email that included the following sentence:

I’d love to get this up and running before the go-live

It seems that phrases such as 'go-live date' are being shortened to give a new noun, 'go-live'. Well, new to me at any rate.

I've even found a Computer Weekly article that uses 'go-live' (as a noun) in the headline:

Screengrab from

Auntie's bloomers

There was a sad story on today's daytime BBC TV news about a bride and her father who were en route to the church in a horse and carriage when the nag bolted, leaving the poor girl with concussion. Fortunately she and her dad have suffered no permanent damage. None of which would be of relevance to this blog, were it not for the reporter's breathless announcement that the nuptials have been "cancelled for the time being".

Makes you wonder what they invented the word "postponed" for. And this from the organisation that has always been widely accepted as an arbiter of correct usage.


This evening, while half listening to the evening news, I was brought to a state of shudderation by a sports reporter's use of the phrase: "...Brighton and Hove Albion's unwinning streak". The word is LOSING, dammit – unwinning is not only a pointless neologism, it is also a prime example of Orwellian Newspeak, and the great man invented that tortured language as a dystopian warning, no more; no less.

A common subbing pitfall as shown by the BBC

Screengrab from may have to take my word for it (unless you click on the screengrab to see a larger version), but the fourth and eighth pars of the BBC News story shown over on the right are identical.

Both pars read: "Pipistrelle, a smaller animal, is among the few species found on the isles."

I'm blogging about this not to mock the BBC but to highlight a common pitfall for busy subs – only completing the first step of a two-step operation.

I have no way of proving it, but I imagine this is what happened in this particular case:

While working on the story, a sub decided to move the 'Pipistrelle...' par. He* completed the first stage of the operation, copying the par and pasting it in a new location. But he was then distracted and failed to complete the second stage, namely deleting the par from its original position.

Anything could have distracted him: an urgent phone call, a crisis meeting, a breaking story, a box of mince pies in the far corner of the office. I speak from experience...

Oh, and here's the link to the BBC News page so you can check whether the story has been fixed yet:

Bat 'may have been blown' from US

UPDATE 13/12: The BBC story has indeed been changed - now it's the third and eighth pars that are identical.

*Yes, I know, I haven't used singular 'they'. Please don't flame me.

Oxymorons: 'And now for our morning matinée..'

While JD spends his days plying his trade in the engine room we used to share I've fallen into bad habits, such as watching too much daytime TV. Most of it slides into one ear and out t'other but this morning I caught a presenter introducing what turned out to be a dismal Randolph Scott western with the phrase: "And now for our morning matinée..."

This had me smirking because everyone knows that a matinée is an afternoon performance so a morning matinée is, like military intelligence, an oxymoron*. The funny thing is that matin being French for morning, the English usage of the word matinée is in itself a solecism, if you happen to be a Frenchman (perish the thought).

While I had my OED Concise to hand I looked up the word oxymoron to find it's derived from the Greek words oxy (sharp) and moros (dull) so the word oxymoron is itself an oxymoron, which will hardly be a coincidence.

From the numerous lists of oxymorons online I culled a few that, while not necessarily accurate, made me smile:

  • accordion music
  • active retirement
  • airline food
  • French resistance
  • German humour
  • American culture
  • adult male (courtesy of Mrs Apus)

* Confession: With my brain softened from inactivity I couldn’t bring the word oxymoron to mind. Fortunately JD’s younger, more agile mind was only a phone call away.

Pipped to the punch?

Recently, one of our publications ran a headline that contained the phrase 'pipped to the punch'.

Although the headline in question had nothing to do with me, I thought 'pipped to the punch' was interesting because it seemed to be an amalgamation of two common idioms: 'pipped to/at the post' and 'beaten to the punch'.

In one sense, 'pipped to the punch' was a good choice as it filled the space on the page better than 'pipped to/at the post' would have done while retaining the alliteration.

In another sense, it was a bad choice as 'pipped to the punch' isn't a recognised idiom (although its meaning is easily deducible, I would hazard, to native speakers).

Interestingly, Google returns just four results for 'pipped to the punch'...

Survivors: wearing glasses can harm your health

Slightly off-topic today in that this post is about the media rather than language use, but...

...have you been watching the remake of Survivors currently showing on BBC1? And if so, have you noticed how few of the survivors wear glasses?

None of the main characters in the TV programme is bespectacled, as the photo below shows. Dexter's group, from the second episode, is similarly lacking in glasses-wearers. Two of the elderly folk at the eco-centre (episode three) have specs on, but that's it, and they hardly have a speaking role anyway.

Screen grab from

So why, when around two thirds of the UK population wear glasses or contact lenses? Possible reasons:
  • The programme-makers didn't consider glasses cool enough. Unlikely, seeing as Doctor Who often wears specs and he is the sexiest man in the universe (apparently).
  • Wearing glasses puts you at an increased risk in a world "with no society, no police and no law and order". True, someone might be able to sneak up on you if you were busy cleaning your bins, and it could make life very difficult if you happened to break them, but I don't think this can account for the almost total absence of glasses-wearers in the programme.

  • The virus that struck down 99% of the UK population is especially dangerous to the myopic. This seems the most likely explanation - perhaps someone should tell the scientists working on a vaccine (incidentally: why bother, when almost everyone who was susceptible to the virus is now dead?). And this explanation would account for the two elderly folk at the eco-centre: they were wearing reading glasses, and weren't short-sighted at all.

Of course, it could be that the survivors are all wearing contact lenses: but really, in a post-apocalyptic world, would you bother?

"We must defy Dexter's thugs and mount a raid on the supermarket!"
"Why, what do we need: food, fresh water, medicines?"
"No, I'm nearly out of contact lens solution..."

Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

UPDATE 10.15pm: You can watch the Survivors remake on the BBC's iPlayer.

News from the island: 1

Fed up with being bombarded with big stories? In the first of an occasional series, here's a news brief from the local paper that serves my adopted home, the Isle of Wight:

A child became stuck in a trolley at Sainsbury's, Newport on Thursday morning last week. She had been freed by the time the fire brigade arrived.

Well, it made me smile.

Word of the day: Obamania

Obamania photo from, this post would have been more timely had I written it in the run up to the US election, but better late than never.

Today's word of the day is 'Obamania': perhaps obviously, a portmanteau of 'Obama' (as in Barack Obama, the next US president, not pictured) and 'mania'.

As such, it follows in a long line of 20th and 21st century '-mania' words, from Beatlemania to Spicemania and beyond.

Discounting Urban Dictionary, the only definition I could find of 'Obamania' was on Wikipedia - but the page on which it featured seems to have been deleted.

When it did exist, the page made mention of:

The unprecedented enthusiasm and depth of grassroots support that some believe Barack Obama’s candidacy has generated

Anyway, I've chosen 'Obamania' for two reasons.

Firstly, I love the way that it competes with the longer 'Obamamania'. A Google search gives the former 591,000 results and the latter 437,000, so there's not a lot in it. And if the search is limited to pages from the UK, the position is reversed - Obamania scores 7,340 to Obamamania's 8,500.

And secondly, 'Obamania' doesn't work very well for me as a portmanteau because the stresses seem all wrong. 'Obama' has its main stress on the second syllable; 'Obamania' seems to be stressed on the first and third syllables, at least judging by this footage from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

To my ears, Obamania is more suited to describing a passion for aubergines than one for Barack Obama. But that's probably just me.

(Photo of Obamaniac taken from:

Literal meanings

For some time I've been meaning to write about the way advertising copywriters take advantage of the fact that, in general, people don't consider the literal meaning of the words they read. Take sale posters promising "up to 50% off". Hopeful shoppers read that as a promise that all goods will be half price. In fact the only promise being made is that no discount will be greater than 50%. "Up to 50%" could mean a price cut of 50%, 49%, any other figure down to zero.

With this in mind I couldn't help but chortle into my morning weteepops at a report in today's Sun under the damned clever headline "Plunder of Woolies".

It seems that Woolworths' closing down sale posters promised price cuts of up to 50% and, as the Sun puts it, "shoppers branded the sale a con after hundreds of items were reduced by only 10%" and "many shoppers put products back on the shelf in disgust after realising not everything was half price".

Nonetheless the day's takings topped £25 million, making it the best day's trading in Woolies' 90-year history. A spokesman for the administrators must have had trouble keeping a straight face when he said: "It's unfortunate if people find it misleading."

Two other examples of carefully crafted ad phrases have caught my eye recently.

First is a Halfords advert promising that every bicycle the firm sells will be put through a full safety check. Commendable. Except all this means is that Halfords doesn't intend to lay itself open to prosecution under the Sale of Goods act by selling bikes that aren't of merchantable quality. It's about as meaningful as a supermarket promising that the food it sells isn't poisonous.

Then there are those ads for painkillers, shampoo and other products in which copywriters solemnly promise: "No other pill/shampoo etc is more effective." Which simply means there are legal limits on the strength/amount of the active ingredients and every manufacturer follows those rules.

Better a poor, honest sub than a rich, cynical copywriter says I.

PS Apropos of nothing at all, another headline I spotted recently in The Independent left me grinning in appreciation. Over a story about a comely young opera diva who has, to put it mildly, been burning the candle at both ends, was the exquisite "Excess all arias". Now there's a sub worthy of his salt.

Photo special: ceramic views across London

I've got quite a backlog of language-related photos now so I'm going to start posting some at weekends.

Spotted this advert in the window of a local estate agent's:

For those who can't see the photo, the text reads in part:

A beautiful spacious 2 Bedroom Flat with ceramic views across London is situated on 3rd Floor

Ceramic views? Perhaps the flat looks out on to a pottery - not that I know of any in Forest Hill.

And presumably the writer meant 'scenic', but is 'ceramic' due to the careless use of a spellchecker's suggestions list?

Person-first language and Down('s) syndrome

Today I stumbled across a BBC News page entitled Down's syndrome: Your comments.

Unsurprisingly, several commenters point out that 'it's Down syndrome, not Down's syndrome'.

More interestingly, others express disappointment with the BBC for not using "person-first language" (also known, it seems, as 'people-first language'). One US-based commenter says:

These children are NOT "Down's syndrome babies" but instead babies with Down's syndrome.

Another, this time from Saddleworth here in the UK, writes:

People really should get used to the idea of naming people who have down syndrome as 'a person who has down syndrome' and NOT a 'down syndrome person' – they are people first and should not be called according to the condition they have, this is prejudice.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. After, all, talking about 'British people' rather than 'people who are British' is not in itself prejudicial. I am almost certain the same is true for 'black people', 'young people' and so on.


And is person/people-first language more of an American phenomenon than a British one? I've never come across it before.

There's no place like ohm

While I'm mostly retired I do take on the odd subbing job and today encountered this rather sweet unintentional pun:

Amperage and voltage commands are set in the same way as the analogue interface, providing easy integration into current operations.

Hyphens: 'big fish processing plant'

Just a quick one today as I've been on a CS3 training course all afternoon.

Here's a phrase from recent raw copy that could have benefited from a hyphen:

big fish processing plant

Is that a big plant that processes fish, or a plant that processes big fish? The former, I would assume...

Ingersoll Rand or Ingersoll-Rand?

Whenever I'm unsure how to spell or punctuate a company's name, one of my first ports of call (after checking our house style guide) is the company's own website. After all, if I write the name how the company itself writes it, I can't go far wrong – can I?

Recently, however, I have been frustrated with (and by!) companies that use their own names inconsistently. Take this screengrab from Ingersoll Rand's website:

Screengrab from Ingersoll Rand's website
So is it Ingersoll Rand or Ingersoll-Rand? The former, not that you would know that from the corporate website.

I wonder whether Ingersoll-Rand is hyphenated in the above example because the writer is treating it as a compound adjective? Not common practice with company names!

Stating the obvious with Barack and Britney

According to a current BBC News story:

Of the billions of searches carried out on the portal,, over the last year, Mr [Barack] Obama was third behind [singer Britney] Spears and World Wrestling Entertainment.

Mr Obama was, however, the most searched-for politician during 2008.

Isn't that second par rather obvious, seeing as neither Britney Spears nor the WWE are politicians?

BBC News: Britney more popular than Obama

The perils of daytime TV

Apus here. As a retired wordsmith I'm no longer dealing with solecisms in an engine room. But having spent so many years looking out for them I find it hard not to spoil Mrs Apus's enjoyment of her favourite house-hunting TV programme by repeatedly pointing out that the presenters deserve prosecution for language crimes.

The following ARGHHHH-inducers were noted in no more than five minutes, at which point Mrs A took my pencil away and sent me out for a walk to calm me down:

  • "peaceful and tranquil"
  • "they have lengthy criteria"
  • "it's a place full of local shops"
  • "future plans"
  • "unexpected windfall"

The walk helped.

Office jargon: 'oven-ready' and 'staff buy-in'

A friend of a friend of The Engine Room works at the Home Office, and she was recently told at a conference of managers to ensure that all policy delivery was "oven-ready before getting staff buy-in".

What does oven-ready mean? That something is "ready for people to work on immediately rather than being a work in progress," according to our mutual friend.

And staff buy-in? "Getting people to support any new policies rather than having them do something they think is stupid."

Note from a small island: cyberchondriac

Apus here, JD's retired former fellow stoker, now living on the Isle of Wight, with one of those portmanteau words that JD is so fond of.

This one surfaced on a Radio 4 health programme and describes anyone who has decided they have a dreadful disease after logging on to a self-diagnosis website: "cyberchondriac".

Apologies to my esteemed colleague for not blogging for so long; to avoid confusion I'll sign off future blogs so readers won't blame JD for my ramblings.