Word of the day: fourgy

We haven't had a word of the day for a while, so I thought I would remedy that with 'fourgy' – a portmanteau of 'four' and, um, 'orgy'. I'm sure you can work out what it means.

I came across this word in Douglas Coupland's novel JPod (published 2006, and pictured right), but I doubt whether it has its origins here. IMDb lists the 2005 film Wicked Fourgy of Whorror, for example. I'm not sure I even want to know.

Googling 'fourgy' also throws up the word 'twenty-fourgy', which isn't as exciting as you might imagine – it's actually an orgy of watching TV series 24. I can relate to that.

On another note, this will probably be my last post before Christmas so season's greetings and all that. And now that I have been entrusted with Apus's bulging 'Black Museum' file I need never fear running out of blog material again...

Life outside the engine room

After more than 20 years in the engine room my escape plans are coming to fruition so within a few weeks JD will be labouring on with a new fellow stoker – though I hope to continue submitting noteworthy points from my seaside hideaway.

One of the more precious artefacts I'll be leaving in JD's care is a thick file entitled the black museum, packed with some of the more noteworthy howlers produced by our charges over the past couple of decades. No doubt JD will trawl through them for your delectation, but while the file's on my desk, here are a few examples, picked at random:

  • "it will in each case be a question of fact as in each case no two cases will be the same"
  • "a street lighting upright" (lamp post?)
  • "fire or heat turns this chemical into a lethal gas which causes severe irritation to skin and eyes" (leaving an uncomfortable corpse?)
  • "dangerously unsafe vehicles"
  • "underground motorway toll tunnels"
  • "sloping rear ramps"
  • "new and previously unseen problems"
  • "facilitates easy mounting"
  • "rear entry doors at the back of the vehicle"
  • "an unfair bias"
  • "a database of information"
  • "over the years he's built up his business rapidly"
  • "dimensionally precluded" (won't fit?)
  • "the judge commented that that was not the only problem that that company had had"
  • "a secret police undercover operation"

Headline: Mum left tot in car to booze

Ambiguous headline of the day goes to today's Daily Mirror with:

Mum left tot in car to booze

When I read this I initially thought the tot was left to booze (in the car), when in fact the mum went boozing while the tot was just left.

Nice headline words too: 'tot' and 'booze'. When was the last time you saw the word 'tot' outside a tabloid?

The Mirror's web version of the story

Mr MacMaster and the sun lounger

Surprised by a recent story in free London paper Metro. Here's the relevant bit:

A businessman who was hit on the neck by a sun lounger blown off a pub roof was awarded £1million damages yesterday.

Mr MacMaster was standing outside the Crown in Romford, Essex, when the accident happened on a windy day in October 2002. The neck injury was 'much more severe than one would expect' and left him in chronic pain, the High Court was told.

"Much more severe than one would expect"? He was hit on the neck by a sun lounger blown off a roof; there's not much more severe than 'instant death'.

Incidentally, kudos to Metro for its punning headline: "Pub's ill wind costs it £1m". However the paper's online version of the story includes neither the pun nor the above quote...

Drinking: hazardous to health

Production desk Christmas: 2

Well, having just finished a delightful day of confusion and extra work caused by our charges failing to do their jobs thoroughly (and this, mark you, on an annual product we publish over the Christmas holiday) I can only say that shooting would be too good for them.

Christmas? Bah humbug, says I.

A production desk Christmas

The pre-Christmas period is one of the busiest and most stressful for us on our magazine. Not only do we have a bumper Christmas issue to prepare but we work on the two following issues at the same time (no one wants to come in between Christmas and New Year, after all).

The production desk is a mess of layouts, proofs, plans and charts, and the smallest mistake can lead to much confusion. Earlier today there was a great example of the effect this can have on the best of us when I noticed that our production editor, who is normally a calm, reasonable person, was looking a little harassed.

"Is there anything I can do to help?" I asked him.

"Yes. Line up some journalists against a wall and shoot them for me," he replied, before stalking off.

Glad to see we're all getting into the Christmas spirit...

Independent: Pratchett blooper

Bit of a blooper today in an Independent story on novelist Terry Pratchett. Here's the passage in question – the italics are The Independent's own.

[Pratchett] has written a number of specifically children's books, including Truckers in 1989, which became the first of its kind to appear in British adult fiction bestseller lists.

Two others, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents won the prestigious Carnegie medal for children's fiction in 2001.

I'm not a particular Pratchett fan (unlike Apus) so hadn't heard of the books in question – but winning the Carnegie with two books in one year? That, the strange, unitalicised 'his', and the missing comma after 'Rodents' all rang my subbing alarm bells.

You guessed it: Pratchett actually won the Carnegie with one novel, called The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Someone – probably a sub – compounded the italicising error by adding 'Two others' to the start of the sentence. And not checking on Amazon.

(At the time of writing this post, the same mistake can be seen (minus italics) on the Independent's online version of the Pratchett story.)

To float a balloon for something

Has anyone come across the expression 'to float a balloon for' something? It appeared in some copy recently and was a new one on me.

Judging by the context, it seems to mean something similar to 'to fly a kite for' something, ie express support (not to be confused with 'go fly a kite', a euphemism for 'go away'). But 'fly a kite for' isn't an expression I would personally use either, and I don't think it is that common.

Googling just gets lots of pages about literal balloons and kites, rather than metaphorical ones. And there's nothing relevant in my Concise OED or limited reference library – time to invest in some new books perhaps?

It's not a flange, it's a congress!

Spotted (not by me, I confess) in an Amazon book review:

In this marvelous book Smuts draws from years of painstaking field research in which she followed around a flange of chacma baboons in the Mateti Game Park in Zimbabwe. Her findings inspired the plot of When Harry Met Sally.

Fair enough, and if the film link's true a nice bit of trivia. But here's another bit of trivia: the collective noun for baboons is a congress. A flange of baboons was invented by scriptwriters on the seminal British TV comedy show Not The Nine O'Clock News for a classic sketch, 'Gerald the Gorilla' (yes, really). A fine case of fiction trying to become fact?

Gerald would have approved.

Isn't the net wondrous – I googled Not The Nine o'Clock News and found a youtube video on the Gerald sketch. Enjoy!


A brief cry of anguish: cost-negative

JD just called me over to share a chortle at a suit's quote: "This policy will be cost-negative." It's a direct quote so he (and I) left well alone. But I had a brief fantasy of beaming in to grab the source of the quote by the ears to ask him: "WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY 'THIS POLICY WILL SAVE MONEY', YOU POMPOUS TWIT?"

I feel better now.

Pair of footwear

I was doing some Christmas shopping yesterday when I noticed a sign in a shoe shop promising a "free gift with every pair of footwear".

I know what this means, but 'footwear' isn't a countable noun, so a pair of footwear – no way. What would be a good alternative?

'Free gift with every pair of shoes' – but the shop might also sell boots.

'Free gift with every purchase' – but the shop might sell accessories (such as shoe polish) which don't come with a gift.

'Free gift with all footwear'. I think this could be a winner. After all, no one is going to buy a single shoe – are they? Or would someone buying a pair of shoes (for example) try to claim a pair of gifts?

On another note, I am no longer an itinerant sub so will soon be able to dig out my digital camera and start posting photos of offending signs such as this one. In the meantime here is a generic photo of a 'pair of footwear':

Hey bro, is this the 17th century?

Thirty years ago as a young motorcyclist with more hair and less avoirdupois than is currently the case, I followed the fashion of calling close male friends bro; a term we copied from American magazines and films. It sounded horribly dated for some years but now a new generation of youngsters seems to have adopted it.

We thought it was up to the minute; so no doubt do they. In fact I'm indebted to a colleague with a passion for social history who has found the term being used as far back the early 17th century.

I bet they thought they were being cool too.

Racer mag and Europeans

On our publication, Apus and I make sure our writers don't use phrases such as 'the UK and Europe' – after all, the UK is part of Europe. Instead, we prefer them to use 'the UK and mainland Europe' or similar.

Flicking through Racer, which is a UK magazine devoted to the world of remote control cars, I was amused to see that a certain event on the Continent was described as accessible both to Brits and "mainstream Europeans"...

Quotes: there's nothing like...

Today's copy contained a rather unfortunate quote from a health inspector:

“There’s nothing like going on to a site and seeing a dead body and then going on to their family and telling them they won’t be coming home.”

Is it me, or does the wording make the inspector sound like he really enjoys telling people a family member has died? "There's nothing like a nice cup of tea and a biscuit." "There's nothing like going on to a site..."

On the trail of a caravan

It's hardly news that we Brits continually adopt American usage but last night the reporter in a TV crime documentary took it to new levels by telling us that a fugitive from justice "ran into a trailer park and hid under a caravan".

Maybe this was an attempt at (in)elegant variation - condemned in the first (1926) edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage as a weakness of "second-rate writers" and "young writers". But would it really have been so offensive to the ear had the reporter said the fugitive "ran into a caravan park and hid under a caravan"?

In any case, as he was speaking on a British programme, the reporter might have considered that while a "trailer" is a large and generally static caravan in the US, it has a different meaning on this side of the pond. UK eyebrows would elevate sharply at the suggestion that the athletic suspect "ran into a caravan park and hid under a trailer".

The contrasting status of a trailer park and a caravan park is a matter for sociologists and anthropologists rather than subs, but isn't it odd that trailer parks are seen (possibly unfairly) as downmarket places inhabited by what I believe our American cousins refer to as "trailer trash" while caravan parks are seen (possibly unfairly) as claustrophobic places inhabited by what we Brits refer to as "anally retentive neurotics".

Vive le difference! (or is that la?)

I love my Bushisms calendar

It's coming towards the end of the year, which means I need to think about replacing my 'George W Bushisms' desk calendar. This great little gift from my father has provided me – and the rest of the magazine staff – with a year's worth of unintentionally amusing quotes from the US president.

Today's entry is particularly fine:

For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three nonfatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It's just unacceptable. And we're going to do something about it.

-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; May 14, 2001

I know, I know – the quotes are given out of context; everyone makes mistakes when speaking in public; it's just Democrat propaganda. But it's still pretty funny, especially as I'm not American.

Feeling tense: sequence of tenses

Here's an obscure bit of usage that has me in two minds; it's from a newspaper report on military spending.

Admiral Lord Boyce said the Prime Minister should recognise the armed forces were over-committed and he should ensure they were properly resourced.

JD points out that the verbs have (had?) to be in the past tense to agree with the "said". Nonetheless the use of "were" rather than "are" seems to put the problem in the past, rather than the present and indeed the future.

Would I have substituted "are"? I'm not sure. I do feel it would make more sense, but rules, after all, is rules, in grammar as in everything else.

Comments, anyone?

Headlines: cop office

Was quite taken aback by a headline in yesterday's London Lite free newspaper:

Boy, 14, stabbed
to death outside
empty cop office

There is something incongruous about the headline for such a horrific story including the uncommon yet jaunty phrase 'cop office'. I understand that it was chosen for reasons of space – being several characters shorter than 'police station' – but still.

What would I have used instead of 'cop office'? I'm not sure. 'Cop shop' has the advantage of being an established phrase (at least here in the UK), but is possibly even jauntier than 'cop office'. And if you went with 'police station' you would have to lose some of the other information in the headline. For example:

Stabbed dead
outside empty
police station

Here I've had to drop 'Boy, 14' – but as the story was accompanied by a photo of the victim, I think that's acceptable. What do you think?

Correction: I've just discovered (by actually reading the story properly) that the police station in question was a "neighbourhood policing office" rather than a "regular police station". I'm not sure what the precise difference is, but it makes the original headline more accurate. Saying that, the online version of the story, which has fewer space restrictions, uses "police station" rather than "cop office"...

AdSense: no sense

This blog, like many others, uses Google's AdSense to provide relevant advertisements (see the two little ads above). However a couple of recent AdSense offerings have stopped me in my tracks.

One was an ad for cheapo British pub chain JD Wetherspoon - presumably AdSense picked up on my name for this one (and possibly my post about pub rowdyism...).

The other questionable advert was for, and I quote, "The Engine Room CD" on Play.com – it was news to Apus and me that we have ever released a CD. But it's given me the idea of an 'Engine Room Greatest Hits'. Watch this space.

If you spot any other inappropriate or plain bizarre AdSense adverts, on this blog or others, please let us know...

My other post about AdSense