The House of Kitty Ussher

As regular readers of this blog will know, one of our preoccupations is names - company names, product names, project names and especially personal names.

On that theme, this morning I was tickled to learn that the Labour MP for Burnley and Padiham is called Kitty Ussher. What a brilliant and unlikely name for a politician - to me it seems very 1920s. And I love that double 'S'. Anyway, here's a picture of Kitty (taken from her website), in which she sadly isn't dressed as a flapper:

Any other politicians with good names that you know of?

(Oh, and isn't Wikipedia great? Apparently a previous Burnley MP and indeed relative of Kitty Ussher was the equally impressively named Gerald Archibald Arbuthnot...)

Invacuation photos, beverisation and so on

Just a little update to say: finally got those photos of the 'invacuation' sign up. Thanks again, Gareth.

While I'm here, I'd like to share the following Times Online letters on new words. Andrew Rogers sent me the links ages ago and said at the time: "I'm torn between 'beverisation' and 'underelevatorisation' for me words of the month."

Thanks, Andrew - I personally like 'groundfeed'.

Corporate speak extraordinaire

My colleague - in fact, Apus' successor, whom I have been trying to talk into contributing to this blog almost since the day he joined - came across this piece of corporate-speak within a quote in some copy submitted to our magazine:

It represents the coming together of two dynamic organisations with a shared vision of creating an imaginative and vibrant remarketing group with the skills base that will challenge the status quo on the global stage

I could name the speaker, but I'm not sure he deserves the recognition...

(By the way, I now have Internet access at home, so the timings of my posts may become somewhat less predictable as I no longer have to write from work. Good news for my boss.)

Word of the day: Tudorbethan

I've just finished a short evening course on architecture, which I've found to be a wonderful way to discover new words. One that came up in our final session is 'Tudorbethan', obviously a portmanteau of 'Tudor' and 'Elizabethan'. At the time I thought it was just a slip of the tongue by our tutor or perhaps just part of his idiolect - but then I checked Wikipedia and it turns out that 'Tudorbethan' is a recognised synonym for what I would call 'Mock Tudor'.

Indeed, it's interesting that Wikipedia's page on the architectural style is titled Tudorbethan rather than Mock Tudor, suggesting the former label is the more well known or widely used.

Anyway, I won't go into two much detail because I would just be ripping off Wikipedia - but I thought I would share the word with you all. And here's a picture of something suitably Tudorbethan:

Lower developed countries

I came across this phrase in copy recently:

lower developed countries

Typing it into Google gives around 1,200 results so it is in occasional use (less common is 'lower developed economies'). But the phrase seems ugly to me. After all, you wouldn't refer to 'low developed countries' (unless you meant the Netherlands, perhaps, which is both low and developed). Even with a hyphen, I don't like it.

But then, I've never really been keen on the phrase 'developing countries' either, which is what the OED gives. It seems arrogant to assume that countries such as the US and the UK aren't still developing. Unless, of course, they're moving backwards...

So what's the alternative – less-developed countries? At least that shares its acronym – LDCs – with 'lower developed countries'. Any other ideas?

Neighbourhood Swim Centre

Spotted this on the Argos website (click the image for a larger version):

It's not a paddling pool, it's a "Neighbourhood Swim Centre". But bearing in mind that it's only 60cm deep, I have to wonder how much swimming a neighbourhood could actually do in it.

Project Platypus and Project Prometheus

Last week I wrote about Platypus, a new web platform that we've been promised at work. Now it turns out that Platypus isn't the name of the web platform itself, but the project that is putting the platform into place. That's right: Project Platypus. Well, I think it's cute.

One of the other projects we have going on here is Project Prometheus. I don't know anything about this project other than the name, but I have my concerns. After all, as our web editor pointed out to me, the mythical figure of Prometheus ended up being chained to a rock and having his liver eaten daily by an eagle (or a vulture, in some versions).

Good omen? I think not.

I couldn't find a nice copyright-free
representation of Prometheus, so here
is a vulture instead

Friday roundup: roadmap, bottom out, architect

This week's Friday roundup is all about office jargon, inspired by an excellent BBC News Magazine article on '50 office-speak phrases you love to hate' (thanks for spotting this one, Sarah).

In addition to the 50 in the list, our web editor at work has reported overhearing the following recently:

  • "We're roadmapping it"
  • "I'll bottom that out with the guys"

I'm not even sure what the second of those means. Perhaps something akin to 'I'll get to the bottom of it' – or perhaps it's related to the bottom line?

Not this type of roadmap

And a new one on me, although it's listed in the Concise OED, is the use of 'architect' as a verb. In a meeting today I heard:

  • "It's important to architect your systems from the bottom up"

According to the OED, 'architect' in this context means (perhaps obviously): "design and make (a program or system)."

Incidentally, in that same meeting I also heard 'granularity' (number 41 on the Beeb's list)...

Traffic warden, parking attendant, CEO

I'm amused to learn that parking attendants (formerly known as 'traffic wardens'*) now go by the official name of 'civil enforcement officers'. There are two reasons that this amuses me:

  • The acronym for civil enforcement officer is CEO, which obviously is already used for 'chief executive officer'. Are parking attendants trying to sneak themselves some kudos?
  • Parking attendants are, in my limited experience, sometimes less than civil. But then they are often given a less than civil reception by members of the public...
More on CEOs in Westminster

* Apparently the difference between a traffic warden (pictured) and a parking attendant is that the former is employed by the police whereas the latter is employed by a local authority. I did not know that!

JD hülstas with a furniture compendium

Here's a scan of part of a letter I received from furniture manufacturer hülsta. I love the way it refers to 'furniture compendium' as opposed to 'furniture catalogue' – sounds much more inviting, don't you think?

I'm not sure about the second half of the highlighted sentence, though – am I being invited to hülsta? In other words, is the company using its own name as an intransitive verb?

And I must say I'm not keen on company names that don't take an initial cap. It doesn't offend me personally, but professionally it can be irritating. I worked on a monthly craft magazine for a little while and so many of the product and company names that we referred to either didn't take an initial cap or took random caps in the miDdle of worDs, which could be hard to keep track of.

(Oh, meant to say – click on the photo if you want to see a larger version.)

House style: job titles, positions and ranks

We're currently overhauling our house style so that it is consistent across two print publications and one online publication, and the issue of job titles has come up. Currently, on one of the print publications at least, we use lower case for job titles but initial caps for "positions of public office and police ranks", for example:

  • senior reporter John Doe
  • Prime Minister John Doe
  • Police Constable John Doe

(I know, that John Doe has had a very checkered career...)

This approach has several drawbacks, notably a) it can look inconsistent to readers who don't understand the rules behind it, and b) it leads to interminable discussions as to whether local councillors really should get initial caps.

So we're thinking of taking the lead of The Guardian and using lower case for all job titles and positions of public office. However The Guardian does use initial caps for police ranks (I don't know how it treats military ranks, but I imagine it also gives them initial caps).

What do you think? And if you work for a publication, what approach does it take?

Incidentally, I really like The Guardian for putting its style guide online and making it so clear and easy to use. The guide also displays both wit and grumpiness, which I think are necessary components of any style guide (or sub)...

Word of the day: hubodometer

Just wanted to share a word with you: hubodometer.

Wikipedia seems to favour 'hubometer' but I prefer the longer version simply for the way it sounds. My Concise OED doesn't give either.

So where does the stress fall in 'hubodometer'? Probably on the third syllable (following the pattern of 'odometer') but possibly on the first. And possibly either, as with 'necessarily'. At least, I hope that's the case.

And what does 'hubodometer' mean? Well, when a word amuses me this much, I don't really care. But if you must know, it's an odometer (mileometer) fitted to a semi-trailer axle (for example) to measure the distance travelled.

Line breaks and Blogger

Hmm. Spotted something odd with Blogger.

If you leave one blank line after a blockquote in a Blogger post (ie two line breaks), that one blank line isn't displayed when you 'Show Original Post' in the Comments section for that post. In other words, the bottom (but not the top) of the blockquote butts up against the rest of the copy, as this picture shows:

However if you leave two blank lines after a blockquote (three line breaks), the 'Show Original Post' option shows one blank line between the blockquote and the rest of the copy, and everything is dandy. Admittedly, you now have two blank lines under the pullquote in the post itself, but that isn't as confusing as having no blank lines at all in 'Show Original Post'.

The same holds true for a [Photo].

Is this just my blog/template/setup? And is it worth going back and adding an extra line break to all my posts?

Platypus: a good name for a web platform?

The company I work for has just announced that we will be moving to a platform called 'Platypus' for our community websites.

According to Wikipedia, the platypus (pictured above) baffled naturalists when it was first encountered, was considered by some to be an elaborate fraud, was poorly understood for many years, is "capable of causing extreme pain to humans" with its venom, and is sometimes referred to as "proof that God has a sense of humour".

Can't wait!

Verbs: mandate

One of the news stories in our publication today used a familiar verb in an unfamiliar way (unfamiliar to me, at least). The clause that included the verb in question went something like this:

The EU directive mandated ongoing training

I was familiar with 'mandate' meaning "give (someone) authority to act in a certain way" (Concise OED, first sense given); I wasn't familiar with it meaning "make mandatory" (Concise OED, second sense given), which is obviously how it applies in the clause above.

Assuming that others might be thrown by this use of 'mandate', I recast the sentence along the lines of "The EU directive made ongoing training mandatory". But was that necessary or advisable? What do you think?

Can you really have an all-day breakfast?

Gingerous has emailed in with an interesting question:

Can you really have an 'all-day breakfast'? After all, as far as I'm aware, the word 'breakfast' means the first meal of the day or a meal eaten in the morning. So is an 'all-day breakfast' not just a fry-up or scrambled eggs on toast etc?

This is probably just me being pedantic, but it's something that bothered me the other day. I'm guessing that the reason they use 'all-day breakfast' is that it groups certain types of food together – although I still think if they advertised an 'all-day fry-up' it may be a little clearer.

Thanks, Gingerous – I've never really thought about this one before. The Oxford English Dictionary does indeed define 'breakfast' as "a meal eaten in the morning, the first of the day", so in that sense an 'all-day breakfast' is contradictory. I also agree with you that the word 'breakfast' in the term 'all-day breakfast' refers to the types of food included rather than the timing of the meal.

However, in my experience, an 'all-day breakfast' tends to contain slightly different items to a regular fry-up so it remains a useful term. For example, I wouldn't expect chips with an all-day breakfast (although the photo below, taken from the website of the Royal Cafe Restaurant, Stranraer, clearly shows chips as part of the 'Traditional' all-day breakfast. Note as well the 'Breakfast Brunch' – it's three meals in one, two of which are breakfast. And then there's the 'Early Starter' – if you were such an early starter, why not just have breakfast, as opposed to an all-day breakfast?).

I'd also take issue with your suggestion 'all-day fry-up': why not just use 'fry-up'? After all, it's not as if fry-ups are traditionally only eaten in the morning.

Anyone else have anything to add to this discussion? And do other countries apart from the UK have all-day breakfasts?

Friday roundup: cow poison and The Proclaimers

My adventures with photo-sharing website Flickr are continuing – I've now joined GrammarBlog's Grammar Bloopers group and even added a couple of my pictures to it. If you like "photos of spelling errors, apostrophe abuse, dangling modifiers and malapropisms", I recommend you check out the group.

To be honest, signs with misplaced or missing apostrophes are 10 a penny where I live in south London, so photos of these don't float my boat, but I do like snaps like this:

A bottle of cleaning liquid that's "useful for" poisoning cows and pigs. Brilliant.


I'm also really enjoying the GraphJam website, "song chart memes and pop culture explained in graph form". It must appeal to my stat-crazy brain. Here, for any Proclaimers fans, is the sort of thing it offers:

song chart memes
More graph humour and song chart memes

Running over cyclists with truck = bad thing

Found a news story with a great example of stating the obvious – or rather, quoting the obvious. In the story, the technical manager of a major insurer is quoted as saying:

“Apart from the moral obligation to more vulnerable road users, killing or injuring cyclists can seriously damage truck companies’ reputations.”

So if you mow down cyclists with a truck, people will think less of you. That's good to know.

Think of your reputation!

Really turning on the metaphorical sixpence

Some copy recently submitted to the subs' desk contained a sentence that has been messing with my head:

You really can turn this vehicle on the metaphorical sixpence

As opposed to what, being able to metaphorically turn it on the metaphorical sixpence? But isn't that what the writer actually means? After all, you can't literally turn the vehicle on either a literal or a metaphorical sixpence. Surely?

I think I have been subbing too hard today.

Typo of the week: trading on toes

I'm fairly relaxed about people making spelling mistakes in everyday life – mainly because I do it too – but I have less tolerance for people littering their CV (or résumé, if you prefer) with errors.

After all, you never know whether the person reading it and considering you for a job is a stickler for correct spelling. One prominent typo could cost you that dream position.

And if it is important to ensure an error-free CV, surely that holds especially true for subs (or copy editors, if you prefer).

So imagine my amusement when the production desk here received a CV from a freelance sub that contained the following in its opening sentence:

I don't want to be trading on writers' toes

A brilliant mental image, if nothing else...

Right aim, wrong target

For the best part of 35 years I earned my daily bread as a writer and latterly as a sub so, like JD and his fellow engine room denizens, I take the nuts and bolts of English pretty seriously. But there are limits.

Over the weekend my eyebrows went in search of a rapidly receding hairline as I read, in The Daily Telegraph, the story of a veteran Bournemouth taxi driver who was refused a new licence "because I don't know how to use an apostrophe or where to put a semi-colon".

As is so often the case, the licensing authority had the best of motives: the growing number of professional drivers with English as a second language has significant implications for road safety. Drivers must clearly be able read roadsigns and handle paperwork so it makes sense to include an English test in the licensing procedure.

The functionary charged with introducing the English test no doubt picked a well qualified wordsmith to set the questions. When asked to explain this risible state of affairs another functionary said the test was "designed to check if drivers are suitable to take the BTEC [vocational exam] in transporting passengers by taxi and private hire".

Yes, but what was needed was a test to ensure professional drivers are able to do their jobs safely. Result? A qualified cabbie loses his livelihood and the wordsmith's holy grail of perfectly structured written English is made to look silly.

Solecisms can be irritating, but this incident is infuriating.