The B2B, B2C and A2B markets

Despite their occasional slip-ups, the writers on the publication I work for are capable of great wit and subtlety. Take this sentence from a recent feature:

Sometimes it's easy to forget that vans are in the A2B market

This left me briefly baffled. I knew what B2B was (business to business), and I knew what B2C was (business to consumer). But A2B?

And then it dawned on me – vans are in the A2B market because they, er, take things from A to B. Very nice.

'Chaos Defrost' function on microwave

Never mind the Large Hadron Collider and the hunt for the Higgs boson – I've just spotted that the microwave in our employee restaurant office canteen has a setting with the rather wonderful name of 'Chaos Defrost'.

It's good to see, finally, a useful application for chaos theory.

No, I'm not joking...

Now this is what I call a microwave

Cumulative grammar poetry time!

I was going through my notebooks from a few years ago and I came across this snippet of (for want of a better word) poetry which I thought I would share with you:

A phrasal verb did me in.
A phrase verb and his mate,
who was a non-defining relative clause,
did me in.

(In case you don't get the joke: 'to do someone in' is a phrasal verb, and the third line of the poem is itself a non-defining relative clause.)

Presumably I had intended to continue the poem, introducing more grammatical terms as I went. And presumably it would have almost followed the form of (what I've just discovered is called) a cumulative song.

Don't judge me, OK?

Portmanteau: chat + banter = chanter?

Gingerous – who in the past has asked us such questions as 'can you really have an all-day breakfast?' and 'how heavy is the Apple MacBook Air?' – has emailed us in the following:

In our flat we were frequently using the words 'chat' and 'banter' for similar situations and so to save time we created the portmanteau 'chanter'.

There is a Facebook group we created to try to promote it, just for a bit of fun and to prove to couple of friends that this new word could take off.

We are aware that there are other uses for the word 'chanter'; see the definitions at

I'm not sure, Gingerous, but I suspect that your 'chanter' has a slightly different pronunciation to the other types of 'chanter', at least in our home counties accents.

I assume the first syllable of your 'chanter' rhymes with 'ant' (following 'banter'), whereas the first syllables of the other types of 'chanter' rhyme with 'aunt' – again, at least in our accents. In many other British accents, however, all those 'chanters' would be pronounced identically.

Actually, I don't know about the pronunciation of the chanter that is "that pipe of a bagpipe with finger holes on which the melody is played" as it's a new one on me. And is this where I should mention the Great Vowel Shift?

My question to the floor is: have you coined a word and tried to get it into wider circulation?

Awkward verbs: to rota

A while back I blogged about how 'pro rata' makes an awkward verb as there seems to be no consensus on how the past participle should be written.

I've just thought of another, similar-sounding verb that poses the same problem: 'rota'. Although the Concise OED lists 'rota' as a noun only ("Chiefly Brit. A list showing times and names for people to take their turn to undertake certain duties"), I have heard it used as a verb to mean something along the lines of 'to put into a rota'.

And no, I'm not imagining it: after quite some searching I managed to find a Personnel Today question-and-answer page in which a respondent ('BKay') writes:

Because we work a 7 day week if anyone is rotad to work a b/hol they get the day back in lieu

This writer has chosen 'rotad' as the past participle of 'rota' but I can see arguments for 'rotaed' or even 'rota'd'. What do you reckon?

And are there any other English verbs out there (apart from 'pro rata' and 'rota') whose spelling ends in a consonant and then the letter 'a'?

The longest paragraph

Here on The Engine Room we love superlatives. We've already discussed the longest URL; what about the longest paragraph?

I ask this because some copy was filed recently that contained a 175-word whopper – doubtless not a record-breaker but still rather hefty for a magazine article.

"This writer really hates paragraphs," commented one of my colleagues, also a sub.

"No, he loves them – that's why he makes them as big as possible," I replied.

Any other huge pars out there?

So you want to be an editorial assistant...

I recently wrote a knol with the title 'How to Get into Publishing', and in it I suggested that one common way to gain industry experience was to become an editorial assistant.

Personally, I didn't go down that path – but what does it take to be an editorial assistant? A clue can be found in the 'About me' section of the Editorial Ass blog, which reads as follows:

I'm a recovering editorial assistant. I'm like most of my kind: impoverished coffee-and-gin survivalists, underpaid but ambitious, bitter but hopeful. Painfully self-conscious, woefully self-congratulatory, willfully self-indulgent.

I like that, even though it reminds me of Alanis Morissette lyrics. And so my question to you is: how would you characterise the people that do your job do the same sort of job as you?

Editorial assistant: job description and activities
Knol: how to get into publishing

Headlines: celery eating paramedic

Here's an unintentionally amusing recent headline from the BBC News site - and one that demonstrates the importance of hyphens:

Celery eating paramedic suspended

So eating a paramedic is presumably not acceptable behaviour for celery.

Quite a shocking story, though - and here it is in full. Hopefully the BBC hasn't added a hyphen by the time you look...

Word of the day: Bankenstein

Just a quick portmanteau today as I'm off on an html course in a few minutes.

I spotted the word in question in the free City AM newspaper this morning in an article on the merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS. I quote:

The marriage of the pair sees the combination of expertise in several specialist areas, creating a superbank, or "Bankenstein", as one analyst put it.

Obviously 'Bankenstein' is a portmanteau of 'bank' and 'Frankenstein' (Frankenstein's monster is pictured below, gesticulating in what appears to be some kind of shop).

UPDATE: I've found a web version of the City AM print story – the 'Bankenstein' quote can be found in the third par down.

Dangling modifier: 'lorry drivers in Suffolk'

It must be the season for dangling modifiers (after yesterday's example). Again from copy:

Despite being the location of the largest deep sea container terminal in the UK, with major plans to expand its operations over the next few years, lorry drivers in Suffolk are no better off than in much of the rest of the UK.

So lorry drivers in Suffolk are the location of the UK's largest deep sea container terminal. If they move, does it move with them? Or have they been crushed?

Dangling modifier: 'powder coat finish'

Here's a blatant dangling modifier I came across in copy recently:

Available in a powder coat finish, the company claims to be the world’s largest supplier of truck roll top covers.

So the company is available in a powder coat finish? How does that work?

Tautologies: 'close proximity'

I've just realised that the common phrase 'close proximity' is actually a tautology. After all, 'proximity' means "nearness in space, time or relationship" (Concise OED), so 'close proximity' is akin to 'close nearness'.

Should I, as a sub, remove 'close proximity' from copy? On the one hand, it is tautological and more verbose than 'proximity', 'nearness' and 'closeness'; on the other, it is in common use and probably offends few people.

Friday roundup: odd book titles, scary comments

First thing in this week's roundup: a photo-feature on some of the oddest book titles of the past 30 years. The feature itself is titled 'Oddest book title prize'; is it really the book titles that are odd, or just the prize? Either way, thanks for the link, Sarah.

And when did the Guardian website stop calling itself Guardian Unlimited? Missed that one completely.


Second, my new favourite website: spEak You're bRanes, otherwise known as It's "a collection of ignorance, narcissism, stupidity, hypocrisy and bad grammar" found amongst the comments made on the BBC's 'Have Your Say' site. Hilarious, yet highly worrying.

Thanks for this one, Gareth.


Last but not least, another good linguistics blog find: Literal-Minded. I'm going to add it to the blogroll.

Photo special: toilets & disabled toilet

This sign - spotted in the Green Dragon pub in Croydon, London - amuses me greatly, but no one else I've pointed it out to has had the same reaction:

An internal door, signed toilets and disabled toilet

The disabled toilet is itself a toilet (I presume), so this door should be signed simply 'toilets' or 'all toilets'. However one of my friends pointed out that such a sign would not indicate that there was a disabled toilet on the premises, and I fear he has a point.

So a correct sign would have to read 'toilets (including disabled toilet)', which is just ridiculous. I can understand why the Green Dragon has opted for the wording shown in the photo.

And as I recall, the Green Dragon's toilets are through the door and then down a flight of stairs - not so handy for disabled people.

Photo special: premuim ale

Having said yesterday that I'm not that keen on run-of-the-mill typos, I do find it amusing that one of the employees of my local Sainsbury's supermarket consistently spells 'premium' as 'premuim':

A supermarket price sign for Bombardier Premuim Ale

I did say consistently:

A supermarket price sign for Spitfire Premuim Ale

I have to admit that I always struggle to spell 'privelige' and 'sacrelige' correctly. Or do I mean 'privilege' and 'sacrilege'? I think I'm misled by the 'elig' part of 'religious'.

So now I want to ask: which words do you have consistent difficulty spelling?

Photo special: downstairs dinning area

It can get very loud in Burger King:

A Burger King sign reading Downstairs Dinning Area Now Open

I took this snap in London a while back. Again, I don't get excited over run-of-the-mill typos or spelling mistakes, but unintentionally amusing ones like this are right up my street...

Photo special: whats' happening

As I'm on holiday (again), I've written some posts in advance (again). As before, each post is based around a photo or photos I've taken recently. And once more, please forgive me for any cock-ups on my part, as I won't be around to fix them sneakily before anyone notices.

Here's today's photo:

A supermarket noticeboard reading Whats apostrophe happening

I'm not really one for misplaced apostrophes (if you are, I recommend visiting Apostrophism or Apostrophe Catastrophes), but what we have here is a rather special case.

I took this shot in my local Sainsbury's supermarket. It appears the sign was printed with a misplaced apostrophe, which was subsequently partially erased - either by the supermarket or by a passing grammar fan, I know not. However what makes me laugh is that whoever tried (badly) to erase the errant apostrophe did not also insert an apostrophe in the correct position.

Shock horror: DJs occasionally mention alcohol

Today's edition of the free paper Metro contains a story entitled 'DJs 'encouraging drinking'' which states:

Radio presenters widely encourage drinking, a study warns today. DJs use language that celebrates excessive drinking with research into 1,200 hours of radio output showing 703 references to alcohol.

So - 1,200 hours of radio and 703 references to alcohol. Maths isn't my strong point, but I make that one reference to alcohol about every hour and three quarters, on average. And that's any reference to alcohol, not necessarily celebrations of "excessive drinking". Hardly a shocking statistic.

To be fair, the online version of the story includes far more detail and is the better for it. However it baffles me for a different reason, stating as it does:

Research into 1,200 hours of radio output uncovered 703 extracts containing references to alcohol.

Of these, 179 involved comments made by presenters and another 45 were comments initiated by co-presenters, studio guests and members of the audience.

So who or what made the remaining 479 references to alcohol if not presenters, co-presenters, studio guests and audience members? Jingles, maybe?

It's worth noting that the study was funded by "the Department of Health and the Home Office as part of the Know Your Limits campaign". So not biased at all, then.

And sorry if this blog post is slightly less clear than it might be. I've been conducting some research of my own this evening...

Pronunciation: regular Tory!

Here's an email that Sarah sent to the blog today. As Sarah is from the Midlands, please read it with a non-rhotic accent:

I overheard a conversation one of my colleagues was having on the phone this morning that made me giggle. She was ordering a book and getting a bit stroppy because the person on the other end didn't quite understand what she was asking for.

She kept saying what sounded like 'regular Tory, regular Tory!' and the guy thought she wanted a book about Tories. She felt a bit daft when she realised she was pronouncing 'regulatory' wrong!

Although I personally pronounce 'regulatory' with the stress on the third syllable (reg-yoo-LAY-tor-ee), I believe the 'regular Tory' pronunciation is quite common. Is this a British English / American English difference?

Sadly my Concise OED is too concise to provide me with an answer and the jumbo office Webster's is buried in a cupboard somewhere. Can anyone help?

Eagle-eared listeners – and BraveStarr

A while back Gareth spotted:

an article in The Observer about Radio 4 that managed to describe keen listeners of the Today programme as "eagle-eared". Eagles, naturally, being well-known for their large and splendid ears.

If you check out the web version of the article (which I've just linked to), you'll see that the phrase in question occurs in the third par.

Googling "eagle-eared" leads to 2,810 results, a surprisingly high figure. Take out "eagle-eared bat", however, and you are left with only 329. So perhaps the phrase should be "eagle-eared-bat-eared"...

And does anyone remember the 1980s cartoon BraveStarr? The eponymous hero had, among other attributes, "eyes of the hawk" and "ears of the wolf" – or was it the other way round? Perhaps this YouTube video of the intro will refresh my memory...

'10 items or less' becomes 'Up to 10 items'

I'm sorry to bring up 'less vs fewer' so soon after the last time we discussed it, but I must share with you a news story about supermarket chain Tesco altering its '10 items or less' signs to read 'Up to 10 items' in an attempt to avoid 'less' and 'fewer' altogether.

As the story mentions, and as you may have realised, the new wording is amusingly ambiguous:

A Plain English Campaign spokesman said: 'There is a debate about whether the word should be "less" or "fewer".

'Saying "Up to ten items" is easy to understand and avoids any debate.'

That may prove to be wishful thinking, as some would argue 'Up to ten items' could be taken to mean 'ten items and no more' or 'nine items or fewer'.

Thanks for this one, Ro.

Preposition nonsense up with which I will not put

Spotted in a recent corporate missive (the names have been changed to protect the guilty):

There are lots of good things happening at Company A of which we can be proud. Initiative X is one I personally feel particularly proud of.

Obviously written by someone who doesn't waste too much time worrying about where to put prepositions...

Churchill on prepositions