A loud favourite

Further to JD's post on eponyms and the interesting comments it attracted, I see that stentorian (no capital letter) features in a recent newspaper feature on favourite words.

It was cited by playwright, poet and author Peter Mortimer who points out that "it's almost impossible to say quickly" – and he's right; it seems to demand to be uttered slowly and with emphasis, as is only right for a word defined in the OED as "very loud and far reaching".

The newspaper in question published some favourite words as part of the run-up to Literacy Day on 8 September. It reports a list of favourites is being assembled by the charity Education Action International, which works in war-torn communities to "rebuild lives through education".

If you have a favourite word you'd like to share JD and I would be delighted to hear from you – you might also care to submit it to Education Action International.

And for what it's worth I have not a favourite word, but a favourite phrase: "Breakfast's ready!" Hmmm... breakfast...

Corporate speak

JD and I work for a large company which, despite being in the communications sector, is beset with corporate-speak. A recent example was an e-mail to all staff welcoming the arrival of an IT security specialist.

We were told that "he has coupled the tools and techniques for security with compliance and risk management functions... enriched the information technology practices relating to policies and standards... introduced programs that balanced the evaluated risk to the business".

Let me through... I'm a sub!


Like most people I do my best to avoid, or at least ignore, TV adverts, but a couple of adman phrases never cease to irritate me.

Manufacturers of painkillers regularly use the phrase: "No headache pill is more effective than..." Translation: "There's a legal limit on the active ingredients we're allowed to put into our pills and, like our competitors, we've complied with the law so apart from the packaging and the price they're all about the same."

And insurers regularly promise: "You could save up to £xxx." Translation: "You might not save a penny; all this advert promises is that there's an upper limit to the potential saving. And that potential saving is the most extreme case we could justify to the Office of Fair Trading."

In the first example the key word is "more" which to Joe Public might be synonymous with "as" but isn't. In the second example the key words are "could" and "up to".

But presumably most people don't pay close attention to the exact meaning of words, which is why advertisers can fool most of the people most of the time.

Bread-making factory

A recent news story by one of our writers made reference to a "bread-making factory". My first thought as a sub was to change this to 'bakery', but before I did so I checked with the writer who had submitted the story.

His reasoning behind using 'bread-making factory' rather than 'bakery' was that 'bakery' might make readers think of a shop rather than a large manufacturing operation – a high-street baker's, perhaps.

An interesting point, but Apus made an executive decision and we went with 'bakery'. Not before he had pointed out that 'bread factory' would have been pithier than 'bread-making factory' in any case...

Googling "bread-making factory" does throw up some hits from UK sites, so it's obviously a dilemma other subs have faced. The Telegraph & Argus hedged its bets and used both....

Daily Mail and the typist's sore thumb

An interesting example of a national newspaper twisting the truth today.

In its front page standfirst, the Daily Mail is outraged over a severely injured paratrooper getting only "a fraction of the £1/2m given to an RAF typist with a sore thumb". While the paper may have a strong argument, it lets itself down by using the phrase "sore thumb".

The woman in question, who was only in her 20s, actually developed a permanent repetitive strain injury (RSI) which left her unlikely ever to be able to return to full or part-time work. She also developed associated depression. A bit worse than "a sore thumb"...

Oh, one more thing. The typist's award included unspecified legal costs - so I don't know how much of that £1/2m was even compensation.

I also note that the Daily Mail's online version of the story uses the phrase "typing injury" instead of "sore thumb" - a little more accurate, but hardly conveying the full truth.

Word of the day: rexy

I came across a nice portmanteau today: rexy. It's a blend of 'anorexic' and 'sexy', used to describe the kind of heroin chic look championed by model Kate Moss (pictured).

Interestingly, the word seems to be a fairly recent coining by Kate Moss herself - one for the South London Massive then. Or rather, not massive, but alarmingly underweight...

Appears to be primarily an adjective but also a noun (as in, 'what a bunch of rexies').

Machiavellian, draconian and quixotic

A bit of a puzzler today.

The adjective 'Machiavellian' (meaning "cunning, scheming and unscrupulous, especially in politics or business", OED) is derived from the name of the Italian statesman and writer Machiavelli (1469-1527) - the chap pictured on the left.

Similarly the adjective 'draconian' (meaning "(of laws) excessively harsh and severe", OED) is also derived from the name of an individual - in this instance the ancient Athenian legislator Draco.

So why is it that Machiavellian takes an upper-case 'M' but draconian doesn't take an upper-case 'D'?

I tried to think of some other examples to see which camp they fell in but didn't get much past 'quixotic' - which is derived from the name of a fictional character anyway. Obviously I am discounting adjectives such as Jacobean because they relate to the individual's life and times rather than their personal qualities. Anyone help?

PR speak

Spotted in a press release by one of the writers in our care before it reached the engine room: "Vehicle maintenance can be a headache for small businessmen and women." Funny, you'd think vertically challenged businessmen, or women, would be less likely to bang their heads when crawling beneath vehicles than their taller colleagues.

The PR person responsible for this howler can almost be forgiven – if a business is run by a businessman (or woman) then a small business...

What's more worrying to those of us trying to hold the line against a tide of sloppy usage is that the release came from a large company, which presumably employs large PR people, and certainly has a large PR team. Someone should have noticed.

But spare a thought for the PR person, of whatever size, who sent in a release from an oil company which described the author of a report as the "heavy duty marketing manager". Yes, it's logical that the person in charge of marketing lubrication products for heavy-duty vehicles should be called the heavy duty marketing manager. But we wonder what the woman who holds that post thinks of her job title?

We flipped her job title to refer to her as the marketing manager for heavy-duty lubricants and hope her bosses take the hint.

All too easy to miss

A story that dropped in through the engine room hatch today concerned the funding of two industry sectors and concluded that "...one shouldn't be penalised at the expense of the other."

JD and I had both seen it; so had two of our magazine's writers. And just as he was about to pass the page JD mooched over and asked: "What do you think of this phrase?" Knowing he wouldn't ask such a question unless there was something amiss I read it, read it again, and finally the penny dropped – the phrase was glib, but gibberish. It was duly modified to read "...one shouldn't be subsidised by the other."

Remember this phrase had been written by a pro and read by four people. It goes to show that an extra read is never wasted!

Some other language blogs

Today we have some other language-related blogs you might want to look at.

Firstly, Apostrophe Abuse, which is a photo blog recording inappropriate apostrophes. Or, should I say, apostrophe's.

Secondly, Literally, a Web Log, a blog dedicated to tracking down misuse of the word 'literally'. It's something that literally makes me pull my hair out in frustration. Or do I mean metaphorically?

Thirdly, The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks. Again, lots of photos – this time of "unnecessary" quotation marks in signs and so on.

Moments from death in McDonald's

Today I'm continuing with the food theme - perhaps I shouldn't always blog around lunchtime! I spotted this story in the Daily Mirror recently:

A man with a serious food allergy is suing McDonald's for £5m after he was given a cheeseburger instead of a hamburger. Jeremy Jackson... suffered a severe reaction to the cheese... and "was only moments from death" or serious injury by the time he reached the hospital.

Jackson, 20, from West Virginia, made it known to staff five times that he could not eat cheese because of his condition.
I can just imagine this. Jeremy goes into his local McDonald's and tells the person behind the counter five times that he can't eat cheese: "Give me a BURGER... but with no CHEESE... don't give me CHEESE... I can't eat a CHEESEBURGER, I have an allergy to CHEESE. So that's a BURGER, no CHEESE please."

The McDonald's staff hear 'cheese' and 'burger' and that's what Jeremy is given. He would have done better not to mention the cheese thing at all. Or perhaps stick to the Chicken McNuggets.

Secondly, why would Jeremy go to the trouble to tell McDonald's five times that he can't eat cheese – five! – and then not check inside the burger just once to make sure there isn't any cheese?

But he's not the only one at fault. The story goes on to say:

Jackson's mother and a friend are also named in the lawsuit and are claiming they could have been injured rushing him to hospital.
Never mind what this says about the modern litigious society – what mum, knowing her son has a potentially fatal cheese allergy and having heard him mention this to McDonald's five times, doesn't remind him to check his burger for a stray cheese slice?

Cheese: can be fatal

Typo of the week: very fast food

The pub near to the office where Apus and I work is selling an all-day breakfast that includes "fired eggs". I presume they launch them at you from some sort of shell-firing cannon.

A rubber by any other name...

The magazine whose engine room JD and I inhabit is part of an international company which has just appointed a senior exec to look after purchasing. Which would be a big 'so what?' were it not that the lady in question is an American.

No, this is not going to be an anti-American rant, it's just that she might have some problems when handling stationery orders from the UK and our colleagues Down Under.

For example, a Brit might ask for rubbers, which is the accepted Stateside usage for condoms. Once that's sorted out and she's realised we actually want erasers the good lady might well have a request from the Aussies for sticky tape. No problem, unless she asks them if they want Sellotape which, in Ozspeak, is a brand of condom.

It could be an interesting learning curve in the upper echelons of international purchasing.

Word of the day: rowdyism

Today's word of the day comes from a story in one of my local papers, the Wandsworth Guardian:

The Asparagus pub in Battersea is to add between 10p and 15p per unit to the cost of its drinks, in response to "rowdyism" complaints from Latchmere residents

'Rowdyism'? As far as I was aware, the noun from 'rowdy' was 'rowdiness' - but no, the OED lists both 'rowdiness' and 'rowdyism'. However the former is four times more common than the latter, according to a Google search. (Incidentally, the Asparagus pub story comes up as high as fourth in a Google search of 'rowdyism'...)

Anyway, my question is: any difference between rowdiness and rowdyism?

Alcohol: may lead to rowdyism
(or even to rowdiness)

Triple mixed metaphor

A great triple mixed metaphor from one of our writers.

Apparently, our publication is "sounding like a scratched record" while the government "holds its sword aloft" and the industry in question "prepares to swallow the bitter pill".

OK, so one of them is a simile – but still not bad for one paragraph.

Write route; rout's wrong

If writers could spell JD and I would have little to blog about, but is it too much to expect civil servants to have at least a basic grasp of English?

A press release just in from the Department for Transport (a multi-million-pound rebranding of the Department of Transport... don't get me started!) refers to the rout of a major road.

Following a battle, there could indeed be a rout along a major road, although the road itself could hardly be said to have joined the rout. A joiner might even rout the edges of wooden signposts along the road. But if they mean route, why not write route?

And on the subject of civil servants' shortcomings, did you know there's a committee with wide powers over transport in case of emergencies? Fair enough... but because it sometimes meets in Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, it is known as COBRA. Remember, this name was, presumably, selected by the same senior civil servants who are entrusted with our safety following a national disaster.

Someone ought to make them meet in Room B, thus encouraging to stop thinking up silly acronyms and start taking their job seriously.

Thank goodness it's Friday.

Feeling tense?

The writers in our care do come up with some eye-crosssing phrases – today's input included "a figure that still stands in perpetuity".

The more you look at it, the better it gets.

Don't make it personal

Like JD one of my major roles is to serve as a filter; yesterday I filtered the following introduction to a news story: "One of the largest motorway services on the M25 has defended its decision..."

Would our readers understand it? Yes. Can an inanimate object defend a decision? No – or not on our watch.

To be fair to the writer concerned, organisations can be considered as legal entities in that a company can be said to make or lose money so maybe each case should be judged on its merits. All that intro needed was the insertion of "The operator of..." at the beginning.

Yes, one inanimate subject has been replaced by another so the rule is not a simple one. Maybe I'm happy with "The operator..." because the operator is a company (of people) but unhappy with "...motorway services" because the service area comprises steel, concrete, glasss, plastic and dodgy food at high prices.

Comments, anyone?

News stories: dodgy sentences

A couple of dodgy sentences in news stories I've spotted recently. The first, from a recent BBC story on the M40 biker shooting:

The shooting bears similarities with a similar incident in 2001

Well, if the incidents are similar, of course there are similarities... Secondly, something from our own publication. The story is about exam passes:

Even those who failed the grade are already applying for a retest

This implies that those who passed are also applying for a retest - don't worry, the sentence didn't make it into print.

Red tea: giraffe identification

Another post on packaging today...

I like to drink red tea, or rooibos, and recently tried a new brand - Clipper organic rooibos.

As you can see from the image to your right, the Clipper box has a large picture of a giraffe on it. This is presumably because both rooibos and giraffes come from Africa, not because rooibos is made from giraffes. A tenuous connection, but fair enough.

What you probably can't make out, however, is the small writing along the side of the picture of the giraffe. It says 'Giraffe', for anyone who is unable to identify the strange, long-necked, yellow animal. Thanks, Clipper.

Not only that, but it then gives the Latin name for the giraffe, 'giraffa camelepardolis' - perhaps to assist any red-tea drinking, non-English speakers with a grasp of Latin out there who cannot identify a giraffe from a picture alone. Marvellous.

Portmanteaux: foodswing and doga

Further to Apus's post yesterday on portmanteau words, here are a couple I've come across recently and actually rather like:

Foodswing - if you get cranky when you are hungry, then like me you suffer from foodswings. A blend of 'food' and 'moodswing'. Amusingly there's an American food manufacturer called FoodSwing...

Doga - simply, yoga for dogs. William Berloni wrote a book called Doga: Yoga for Dogs, but I'm not sure whether he coined the word. There's also, inevitably, a Yoga for Cats book and even a rather tongue-in-cheek Yoga for Chickens book (by different authors), but the words 'coga' and 'choga' seem not to have entered the language pool. Yet.

Lynn Brunelle's Yoga for Chickens
(sadly not known as 'choga')

Portmanteau words... ugh!

During my summer holidays I spotted a job ad in the local rag which invited readers to apply not for an 'application pack' (in itself a rather naff phrase) but for an "applipac".

It would have ruined my entire morning, were it not for the fact that I was demolishing a large 99 at the time.

JD, it's good to be back in the engine room...


There appears to be some confusion over the meaning of the three-letter acronym (or TLA) 'LOL', often seen in instant messaging, emails, text messages etc.

While most people (including myself) take it to mean 'Laughs Out Loud', a minority take it to mean 'Lots of Love'.

Don't believe me? A friend of mine recently received a text from his mother saying: "Uncle Robert passed away at 3:00 this morning LOL xx"

I have to admit I laughed out loud...

Hablo español!

Keen to learn a little Spanish before my holiday in several weeks, I recently bought an 'Instant Spanish' book and CD set.

"Study for thirty-five minutes a day for six weeks and you'll speak Spanish," it promises. Doesn't seem very instant to me - not compared to, say, instant mashed potato.

"Stir your flakes for thirty-five minutes a day for six weeks and you'll have mashed potato..."

I'm also amused by some of the strange sentences that language learning sets teach you as a beginner. Along with the Spanish for 'my name is James', 'good evening', and 'how are you?' I've learnt 'I have a large house and it costs a lot of money. And I have a Mercedes'. This is likely to get me mugged if nothing else.

I can also say (in Spanish) 'I worked for the Bank of Spain for three years' - which is neither useful nor true. And it might make people wonder why my Spanish isn't better - although perhaps it could explain the Mercedes...

Tengo un Mercedes...

Oh burger

At a rugby match yesterday, I was queuing up for a hotdog when a teenage girl behind me in the queue asked her friend:

"What's a one-stroke-four-ell-bee burger?"

"It's a quarter-pounder," her friend replied. Obviously it was written on the sign as '1/4lb burger' - enough to confuse one of the metric generation...

A one-stroke-four-ell-bee burger

Overseas goods and fisking

A couple of things today.

Firstly, one of the writers on our magazine submitted copy that included the following sentence:

more and more goods coming into the country are coming from overseas

The UK does have a land border, where Northern Ireland meets the Republic of Ireland, but I don't think our writer was referring to that...

Secondly, if you are interested in blogging and strange new words, check out this list of blogging terms. Here are a few of my favourites (perhaps because they all sound slightly rude):
  • blawg: a blog about law
  • flog: a fake blog - ie one that is ghostwritten
  • plog: a political blog
  • fisking: a point-by-point rebuttal of a blog post or news story (named after Robert Fisk)
I'm not sure how many of the words in the list will achieve widespread usage outside the - ahem - blogosphere...

Word of the day: tarantism

Today's word of the day, as brought to my attention by Rehana, is 'tarantism'. The Concise OED defines tarantism as:

a psychological illness characterised by an extreme impulse to dance, prevalent in southern Italy from the 15th to 17th century and formerly believed to be caused by the bite of a tarantula.

That has to be the dictionary definition with everything - history, strange but amusing illnesses, spiders and Italians...

The word listed above it in my dictionary is 'tarantella', "a rapid whirling dance originating in southern Italy". Could the two be connected? Wikipedia says yes...

Not dancing, just dodging a spider

Continent under hammer attack

Gingerous Humerous Maximus has emailed in the following headline from the BBC Football website:

Bellamy targets Europe with Hammers

He says: "Now clearly it is a reference to [footballer] Craig Bellamy hoping to get into European competitions with West Ham but still it made me giggle!"

Europe: beware hammer-wielding footballer