Why such fuss over Jacqui Smith's expenses claim?

I'm sorry to blog about Jacqui Smith two days in row, but I'm a little baffled by the whole situation.

Has the Home Secretary come under such criticism because she claimed a "TV package" on expenses, or because that package included two pornographic films?

The BBC says
: "MPs can claim for subscription television services but they have to be used wholly, exclusively and necessarily to perform their duties."

Obviously, the blue porn movies didn't help Smith perform her duties (so to speak), but neither, presumably, did Surf's Up or Ocean's 13 – the other films covered by the claim.

Had Smith only claimed for the latter films, I'm sure she wouldn't now be facing quite such criticism and anger – but what, really, would be the difference? The same rule would have been broken.

This suggests that the anger aimed at Smith is fuelled in part by people's feelings towards (legal) pornography, and not solely by misuse of the expenses system.

Anyone care to agree or disagree with me?

Channel 4 News: 'Blue movies' and 'roughed up'

This evening's Channel 4 News made me laugh twice with its choices of words.

Firstly, it referred to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's husband Richard Timney as having claimed two "blue movies" on expenses. Pornographic movies (or films) possibly, even adult movies at a pinch - but blue movies? Very tabloidese.

Secondly, it said that one of the militants involved in the siege of the police academy in Lahore had been "roughed up" by police after they captured him. Rather euphemistic, I feel.

Admittedly, Channel 4 News isn't the only source to use the phrase 'blue movies' in relation to the Jacqui Smith farce. I can't find any other examples of 'roughed up' relating to the police academy siege, though.

So iTunes thinks Turkish is 'easy listening'...

Whenever I have a foreign holiday coming up, I try to learn a little of the language of the country I'll be visiting. Last year I persevered with Portuguese; the year before, I struggled with Spanish.

This year, partly thanks to the strong euro, I'm heading out of the eurozone to Turkey - so I'm to tackle Turkish.

In fact, my 'Teach Yourself Beginner's Turkish' book and CD set arrived in the post this weekend, and I've just copied the contents of the CDs over to my iPod so I can listen during my daily commute.

Which leads me to the point of this post: I was highly amused to see that iTunes identified the tracks as falling into the genre of 'easy listening'. I really hope that's accurate...

Flickr group: 'Sub editors untie!'

I've been using Flickr for a while now to store The Engine Room's photos, and I've just created my own Flickr group, 'Sub editors untie!', for people to share any photos that might be of interest to sub editors, copy editors, proofreaders and other editorial staff (as well as language fans of all professions).

I suppose that means the type of thing I blog about: headlines, interesting points of language use, typography, editing mistakes. But I don't want to be too prescriptive.

If you are a Flickr user, please consider joining this group and adding a few photos to it. I might feature some of them on this blog.

And in case you were wondering: the name of the group is 'Sub editors untie!' rather than 'Sub editors, untie!' because it's as much a statement as it is an instruction.

Flickr group: 'Sub editors untie!'

Sub deaths caused by 'failures'

It's dangerous work being a sub editor, at least according to the third story in this BBC News widget:

(Actually, the story was about submariners...)

The eponymous bus (Priscilla)

Andrew Orange sent me the following scan from the Daily Mail; it's an opinion piece by Baz Bamigboye on the Priscilla Queen of the Desert musical.

Andrew comments: "Lovely self-doubt regarding the use of the word 'eponymous'." Check out the final paragraph to see what he's referring to. (You may have to click on the image to see a larger version. Alternatively, a web version is available on the Mail Online website; scroll about halfway down the page.)

Click to see a larger version
And if you are a theatre fan then do check out the West End Whingers website.

Missing chef 'has come to harm' (maybe)

Here's a recent BBC News story where the headline and the body copy fail to agree:

The headline says the missing chef has come to harm, whereas the body copy says she "may have" and (in the quote) "has probably" come to harm. That's a big difference, especially for Claudia Lawrence and anyone close to her.

BBC News: Missing chef 'has come to harm'

Jade Goody still lives

Something topical for a change on The Engine Room. Gareth wrote in this morning with the following:

Spotted an interesting headline on the front page of the London Lite last night.

The headline, under a big picture of Jade Goody, was "JADE: FEARS JACK IS ABOUT TO BE JAILED".

To which the obvious answer is: "I bet she doesn't, she's been dead for two days."

I know what they were trying to do with this, but I can't help thinking it backfired a bit!

Ah yes, but you forget that Jade Goody still lives – "in the hearts of the people".

Apologies to anyone reading this who has never heard of Jade Goody.

Two premises, one premise

From recent raw copy (I've taken out the name of the manufacturer and its location):

On 12 February, 17 HGV trailers were seized at the site of a materials-handling equipment manufacturer and another nearby premise

It's probably just a typo but I really like that 'premise'. Two premises, one premise; it makes a sort of sense.

Investigative journalism, council jargon

A couple of things worth mentioning.

On Thursday I went along to a Q&A session with Computer Weekly's Tony Collins on investigative journalism. I was going to blog about it, but my colleague Adam Tinworth pipped me to the post. And if you look at the photo accompanying Adam's post, you can see me - just about - on the very far left. I know it doesn't look like it from the photo, but there were quite a lot of people at the Q&A.

Also during the week, Sarah drew my attention to a fun little BBC News Magazine quiz on council jargon. She managed 2/7; I managed 4/7.

Funnily enough, these two tie together nicely as Tony Collins has just written a piece for ComputerWeekly.com on the IT industry's reaction to the Local Government Association's 'jargon ban'.

Nora Batty comes from Iffyton. Eeh ba gum!

My girlfriend is from the East Midlands so no doubt finds it hilarious whenever I talk about her 'northern accent' and pretend she says such things as 'eeh ba gum'.

She got her own back on me recently, however. FuelMyBlog gave me the chance to review online t-shirt retailer Iffyton High Street and in an unprecedented fit of generosity I said she could pick a t-shirt of her choice. Here's the design she opted for:

British readers of this blog you will probably recognise this formidable lady as the character Nora Batty from the long-running TV sitcom Last of the Summer Wine. As Wikipedia says, Nora "is proudly devoted to strict housework, and stands as a monument to classic northern women".

Not only that, but my girlfriend modelled the t-shirt in the style of a stereotypical northern housewife, complete with rollers, broom and scowl:

So I should say something about Iffyton now. The website is quite funky - it's a virtual high street (AmE: main street) where each 'shop' offers a different type or theme of t-shirt. The Nora Batty shirt, appropriately, came from the 'It's Grim Up North' shop.

Ordering was simple and delivery was remarkably quick (a couple of days). Being a skinflint I normally buy plain tees in packs of three from Primark but my girlfriend assures me that the Iffyton prices are "in the upper end of reasonable" (£12.99 plus P&P for Nora).

Iffyton is a new venture from Totally Original T-Shirts, an established retailer that I believe makes tees for rock bands. There are certainly a lot of music t-shirts available through Iffyton, for bands from The Smiths to Slipknot.

The Nora t-shirt seems to be of good quality but my only concern is how well it will wash; the design looks as if it might start to flake off after not too long. It's too early to say, though, so I'll give an update after Nora has been through the machine a couple of times.

My girlfriend would like to add that the range of t-shirts for women is "not massive" but that she liked the virtual high street concept. Oh, and there's something I'd like to say to her. All together now:

Eeh ba gum!

Entourage dialogue box conundrum

Black rectangle aside, the wording on this Microsoft Entourage dialogue box is rather confusing.

Confusing Entourage dialogue box

By clicking 'OK', am I agreeing to 'Do you want to turn off Out of Office messages?' or 'Out of Office messages are currently being sent from the account'?

And if the former, why am I given the options 'Cancel' and 'OK' to answer a question? Wouldn't 'Yes' and 'No' be clearer?

Too many Washingtons

I had to change a live web story today because it described a certain UK-based company as being "US-based". The writer had seen on the company's website that its headquarters were in Washington and he assumed that meant Washington DC (or Washington state, I suppose).

In fact, the company is based in - you guessed it - Washington, Tyne and Wear, right here in England.

I can't really criticise the writer, though, because I was the sub who worked on the story before it went live and let the blunder past. Oops.

Daily Mail: 'British Babel'

I'd like to write briefly about the lead story that the Daily Mail ran on its front page today. Here's the web version:

English is a second language for one in seven school pupils

The article seems to use the terms 'foreign language' and 'second language' almost interchangeably. This leads me to wonder how many school pupils there are in the United Kingdom who speak Welsh as a first language, for example, or Scottish Gaelic. After all, these aren't foreign languages to the UK.

I also spotted that one of the captions in the article distorts what is said in the body copy. The caption in question reads:

Schools Minister Jim Knight acknowledges there can be problems with high numbers of students whose English is not up to scratch

Whereas the body copy reads:

Schools minister Jim Knight has admitted that 'undoubtedly there can be problems' for schools with large numbers of non-English speakers.

There is, I should think, a great difference between being a non-English speaker and speaking English that is "not up to scratch".

Oh, and this made me smile:

Nelson Primary in East London faces daunting problems.

Only a quarter of its pupils are native English speakers and the rest use some 56 different languages.

I think that any student who can use 56 languages would be an asset to his or her school.

Finally, do read the comments that follow the Daily Mail's web version of the story. Scary, or what?

Quick and dirty with Grammar Girl

R Mason kindly pointed out that yesterday I'd been quoted in Grammar Girl's 'tip of the day' email. Here's the proof (and you may have to click on the screengrab to bring up a more legible version):

Click to see a larger version

I'm no longer a sub editor with a nickname, I'm a copy editor with a handle. Excellent.

I should add that the best way to find out whether 'the' (or rather, 'The') is part of the publication name is to look at the masthead.

And I don't know whether anyone reading this wants to sign up for Grammar Girl's tips (disclaimer: they do have a bias towards American English).

Blikey, a gikey!

A couple of weeks back I spotted the word 'blikey' (a portmanteau of 'blimey' and 'crikey') being used on Twitter. Quite taken with the word, I tweeted about it myself – remarking that it was probably rather confusing to users of American English.

Neil, a regular reader of this blog, saw my tweet and emailed me the following:

Ha ha, your Twitter of 'blikey' reminded me of a derogatory term we'd use when younger... 'gikey' or 'gykey' (never wrote it down, just verbal) which was a portmanteau of 'gypsy' and 'pikey'!

Not the most politically correct of words, and not one I've come across before either. But it does allow for the great exclamation: "Blikey, a gikey!"

(I'm assuming 'gikey' has a 'soft' g sound, as in 'gypsy', but I may be wrong. Any further information on the word would be gratefully received. Oh, I should probably add that Neil – like me – comes from the south of England.)

Let me through – I'm a proofreader!

One of the adverts that adorned the Engine Room this evening read: Make £500pwk Proofreading For 100's Of UK Publishers.

Ok, per week or pw, but pwk? Why is every word capped? Why is there an apostrophe in 100's?

So the ad should read: Make £500 per week proofreading for hundreds of UK publishers.

May I have my £500 now, please?

And on the subject of ads, I just heard a TV ad for a nappy cream which promises to "protect... and care". An inanimate object "caring"? Does no-one at ad agencies read the code of conduct nowadays?

Advanced word course

Here's something from The Engine Room email archive (rather shockingly, dating back to 2007). It highlights the importance of capitalisation:

I got involved in an email chat today. One of my friends apologised for a late response, saying: "I've been on an advanced word course." Another friend of mine replied: "Advanced words... what kind of words and what on earth for?!"

It rather tickled me - obviously friend one was talking about Microsoft Word.

Keep them coming - I don't sit on all our emails for two years. Promise.

And I think I'd rather like to go on an advanced word (as opposed to an advanced Word) course.

Eggcorn: shoring up problems for the future

I came across this in raw copy recently. I'm not sure whether it's a typo or an eggcorn (and I still hate that term), but it made me laugh:

this strategy is shoring up problems for the future

It should, obviously, be 'storing' rather than 'shoring'. I quite like it this way though.

Sending in corrs by text file

'Knol'... that's another neologism that's passed me by (along with the bloggish use of twitter) JD, but a smashing list, to which you might like to add this portmanteau word, culled from a late-night re-run of that seminal Stateside TV cop show Hill Street Blues:

cremains – the ashes that are collected after human remains have been cremated.

Now then, felicitations to all you hard-working subs and copy editors toiling in engine rooms around the planet, and a suggestion for you. I've just finished proofreading the pdf of a 36-page prospectus for which which the client has told me to send corrs and revises via a text file (she who pays the piper...).

Fortunately the copy was pretty clean, but I soon stopped making any but the most essential typographical and spelling changes.

Here's an example:
PG 16
Intro para 3 line 2 delete apostrophe to read presents its medieval
Course title line 2 replace long dash with hyphen and delete spaces to read 1066-1290
Course title line 3 delete spaces either side of hyphen to read 4 May-18 June
Course description line 8 replace phenomenum with phenomenon
Opening times
Line 3 amend to read Fri 10.00am-4.00pm

The document I'm about to email back to the client, I'm horrified to discover, runs to 3,604 words. Pity the poor secretary who will have to tap in the corrs. Next time, I predict, they'll listen to sage advice (mine) and come up with a less cumbersome method of working. But I find myself harking back to those pre-historic days when I subbed copy with a pen and sent the result to typesetters via a messenger, waiting at least 24 hours for every galley proof to return for checking.

My questions, colleagues, are these: do subs/copy editors make more changes to copy simply because it's so easy to get stuck in with modern technology? Can writers get away with sloppy copy because their employers no longer have to pay typesetters for every amendment?

As an almost retired sub I'd be interested to see what you think.

Enough wordsmithing for now; my next task is to sew some elastic into the back of my hat to cope with the Channel gales that are rocking our caravan.

Caption: Cops ... investigating

Given the photo it goes alongside, is this the least informative picture caption ever? A colleague of mine spotted it on the Sun website. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Just in case you can't see the screengrab, here's a link to the original article.
The Sun: Shooting on quiet street

You know you've been subbing too hard...

...when you start hallucinating a giant glass of beer whenever you walk past a pub.

I saw this one lunchtime in the street near my office. I was with one of my colleagues at the time, and he told the beer: "I've drunk your babies."

Journalists can be strange.

I say majority, you say plurality

A sentence in recent raw copy perfectly illustrates the difficulty of using the word 'majority':

There were 203 recorded crimes; the majority (28) occurred in the Metropolitan constabulary.

To many people, a majority must consist of more than half the total – which in this case, would be at least 102 crimes. I believe that in American English this is called a 'simple majority'. I've also heard it referred to as an 'absolute majority' (though I'm not sure whether there's a difference between 'simple' and 'absolute' majorities).

However in British English at least, as this writer demonstrates, 'majority' often means only "the greater number or part" (OED Online). More crimes occurred in the Metropolitan constabulary than in any other; therefore this is where the 'majority' of crimes occurred. I must admit, this usage strikes me as a little odd, and I'm English.

As regards elections, it's worth contrasting 'majority' with 'plurality'. The OED Online describes this as "orig. and chiefly US, the fact of having the largest share of the votes cast, when this is less than an absolute majority".

Thieves shoot truck driver with Taser

This week one of our publications is running a story about a truck driver who was attacked by thieves. They shot him with a Taser, bundled him into a car, dumped him nearby and stole his truck.

In its original form, the story concluded: "The driver was shocked but otherwise unhurt." This was perfectly accurate, but I had to change the wording to avoid the unintentional pun. Otherwise our readers might have thought we had no sensitivity or tact at all...

Photo special: this week special large beer

I spotted this sign outside a cafe in Funchal, Madeira last year. Down by the harbour, as I recall.

Sign in Funchal reading 'THIS WEEK SPECIAL  LARGE BEER'
(If you can't see the photo, the sign reads: "THIS WEEK SPECIAL LARGE BEER".)

It makes me wonder. Is the large beer special because it is being offered at a special low price, or because it is something that the cafe doesn't normally offer? Or perhaps there's another explanation entirely - suggestions welcome.

Compendium of Curious Words

Here in The Engine Room, Apus and I have written about all manner of unusual and intriguing words, from 'applipac' to 'zero'.

I've just put together a Compendium of Curious Words, which lists them all - and links them back to the original blog posts. It's a knol, but don't be scared.

Headline: Overturned lorry driver arrested

Thanks to my colleague Ro for pointing out this BBC News headline:

BBC News, 'Overturned lorry driver arrested'

This suggests that it is the driver that overturned, not the lorry (although the driver probably did overturn with his vehicle).

GraphJam, it's vs its, Ralph Wiggum

I'm quite a fan of the GraphJam website, so was pleased when R Mason sent me the link to the following chart a while back:

R Mason wrote:

Just found this and posted it to my cubicle wall.

I love that it's is spelled correctly for the green piece and not in the red piece. I'm going to assume that the spelling of 'inpossible' was intentional.

Reminds me of my favourite Simpsons quote (by the character Ralph Wiggum): "Me fail English? That's unpossible!"

Queue here for tickets for future travel

Gingerous has emailed us with the following:

At London Euston station this weekend I noticed a sign at the ticket booths that read "Queue here for tickets for future travel". Which made me ask the question: why would you buy tickets for past travel? Surely all travel is in the future, even if only five minutes in the future.

Well, er, yes – but can you think of better wording? I assume that 'future travel' means travel on any day apart from the current one, only I don't know how to express that concisely and unambiguously on a sign...

BBC News and attack on Sri Lankan cricketers

The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team is a big story, but big enough to occupy two of the three tabs in both the BBC News 'news' widget and the BBC News 'sport' widget – at the same time?

BBC News news and sport widgets

Press release: stop next generation dying

One of my colleagues recently passed me a press release from road safety charity Brake with the following headline:

Local education project to stop next generation dying

Quite an ambitious – and worrying – aim!

Agricultural Travel Bureau advert

I love trade/B2B magazines, I really do - and not just because I work on a couple. Where else would you find adverts like this? (Click on the image to see a larger version; I know it's a bit small.)

Click on the image to see a larger version
My favourite bit: "Visit the 'Lost City of the Incas' and the ancient Sacred Valley, as well as some interesting farms."

Talk about bathos...

(I believe I scanned this advert from Farmers Weekly.)