Typo: foul-lane carriageway

Stan from the excellent language blog Sentence first has sent in this scan from the Galway City Tribune, pointing out the typo at the end of the first par (as usual, click on the image to see a larger version):

Click on the image to see a larger version
He writes:

The road in question is a nice little jam-generator, so it's a particularly apt typo. I am a little conflicted, because it's a good newspaper, but amusement trumps politics again.

Thanks, Stan!

Nonsense press release: 'or on the taxpayer'

One of my colleagues has pointed out a good bit of nonsense in a recent government press release. The emphasis is mine:

Business Secretary Lord Mandelson said:

"This is targeted action with a capped budget and for a limited time, designed to boost the whole motor trade. This will ensure that the benefits of a scrappage scheme are balanced with the needs of other sectors of the car industry such as the second hand market, maintenance and repair businesses, and other industries that produce consumer durables or on the taxpayer.

Just what is that final 'or on the taxpayer' doing? Does Mandelson mean 'and with the needs of the taxpayer'?

Mnemonics: licences and licensing

Where I work, a lot of our news stories concern licences and licensing. In British English, as I'm sure you know, the former is spelt with a 'c' after the 'n', while the latter is spelt with an 's' after the 'n'.

(American English simplifies the whole affair by plumping for 'licenses' and 'licensing'.)

Some of our writers were having trouble remembering the spellings of the two words – so, bearing in mind that 'licences' is a concrete noun while 'licensing' is an abstract noun, I came up with a mnemonic for them:

If it's something you can see, then you spell it with a 'c'.

Of course, while this works with 'licences' and 'licensing', it doesn't apply to other things that our writers might see around them, such as calami candwiches. Still, one step at a time.

Reporter wins Nobel Prize. Sorry, I mean Pulitzer

A bit of confusion in this Wired PR News story between a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize (as usual, click to see a larger image):

Click to see a larger image

To be fair, Wired PR News spotted its mistake and offered a correction the following day, although the story with its original headline is still up on the site.

(I can't take any credit for this one – I came across it via a tweet by @andybechtel.)

Just for the record, I've never won a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer Prize. On the other hand, I haven't been laid off yet either.

How to write headlines that make headlines

Today we have a guest post contributed by Katie Wilson, who writes about accreditation for online universities. She welcomes your feedback at KatieWilson06 at gmail.com. Thanks, Katie!

One thing I’ve learned in all my years as a writer is that you either have the flair for the job or you don’t; there are no in-between measures when it comes to weaving magic with words alone.

There are different kinds of writers – some are word perfect at both their grammar and their style, others have a way with words and analogies but are not too concerned with the nitty-gritty of grammar, and yet others are masters of the short and catchy texts – they’re able to write the perfect headlines and great captions for pictures.

The art of writing headlines differs according to the kind of articles you’re writing and the audience you’re writing for.

Earlier, when there were only newspapers to worry about, most headlines focused on news items, so they were pretty straightforward. All they had to do was be concise and encapsulate the news item in a few words. Catchy headlines were sought after for feature stories and pictures, one-liners that were witty, used double meanings, a clever play on words, and which enticed the reader to go through the article. A write-up about exercise could have the headline “Fighting Fat For Fitness”, an alliteration on the letter F adding to the appeal factor here.

So if you’re writing for a newspaper, that’s what you need to be able to do when you write headlines – play it straight and to the point when it’s a news item and go all out with your creativity when it’s a feature item.

Today, the focus is more on blogs and web copy where the emphasis is on search engine optimization, links, and rankings on Google and company. So good headlines need to have one or more of the following characteristics:

  • The keywords that are important to your article
  • A “How-To” list that offers advice
  • A teaser headline that ends with a question, like “What’s so Great about the new iPod?”
  • A “Reasons-Why” list that tells you why you must do this and that
  • A list in general, because lists seem to be doing really well in the rankings on sites like Digg

You don’t have to come up with a headline before you begin the article; in fact, instead of wasting time thinking of a line that would make great copy, start putting down the words in your head and you’ll feel a suitable headline popping in at an opportune moment.

Word of the day: Panamax

Although the word 'Panamax' does occasionally crop up in the publications I work for, I've chosen it as a word of the day mainly because I like the way it sounds.

But what does it mean? As Wikipedia says:

"Panamax" ships are of the maximum dimensions that will fit through the locks of the Panama Canal. This size is determined by the dimensions of the lock chambers, and the depth of the water in the canal. An increasing number of ships are built precisely to the Panamax limit, in order to transport the maximum amount of cargo in a single vessel.

So Panamax is a portmanteau of 'Panama' and 'maximum'.

Ships larger than 'Panamax' are often known as 'post-Panamax', which I also think has a nice ring to it.

Micro-organisms vs micro-organists

Clutchslip forwarded on this amusing screengrab from the thisiscrawley.co.uk website ("brought to you by Crawley News").

As ever, click on the image to see a larger, more legible version.

"Must be a very small church," says Clutchslip.

Slightly more seriously, confusing micro-organisms with micro-organists is a rather strange error. An example of the Cupertino effect, perhaps?

Oh, and here's the offending article:
Council's rubbish decision leaves Crawley pensioner fuming

Eggcorns: power phrasing

In recent copy, one of our reporters wrote:

While I have power phrased Mr Wood somewhat, the system's benefits have already been seen

Even without the full context, it should be pretty obvious that 'power phrased' is an eggcorn for 'paraphrased'.

It was almost a shame to change it...

Shadow climate change and Jim Fitzpatrick MP

A bit of a strange one here, from the Department for Transport website (you may have to click on the image to see a larger version):

Click on the image to see a larger version
Why does Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, have responsibility for "shadow climate change"? As a Labour MP he is a member of the government, not the shadow government.

Is this just a daft mistake, or am I missing something? Perhaps it is Fitzpatrick's responsibility to keep tabs on the shadow climate change secretary, Greg Clark.

Whatever, there's definitely something shadowy going on.

I'm not here today...

...I'm guesting over at my colleague Adam Tinworth's blog. So if you are interested in hearing my ramblings about content management systems, or are just missing me, pop on by.

Camel case

I'd heard of 'upper case' and 'lower case', obviously, but not of 'camel case' until our web editor enlightened me recently.

It's one of a number of names for the practice of using capital letters in the middle of (usually compound) words – 'iPod', for example. The capital letter is said to resemble the hump of a camel.

As you can imagine, camel case is popular in brand names and unpopular in subbing circles. In fact, you could say that having to remember or constantly check strange capitalisations gives subs the hump!

The Wikipedia article on camel case (or more appropriately, CamelCase) is rather good, so I'll just point you over there today.

A camel, courtesy of MorguefileWhat are you looking at?

Muesli for the mathematically challenged

I spotted this in my local Sainsbury's supermarket:

So one packet of Dorset Simply Delicious Muesli costs £2.09, but if you buy two (at £4.50) then the unit price rises to £2.25.

Is Sainsbury's trying to discourage shoppers from buying in bulk? Perhaps this is a green initiative to penalise people who use their car to do their shopping...

Bone and horn idle

I'm currently reading Books v. Cigarettes, a collection of essays by George Orwell. In the final essay, 'Such, Such Were the Joys', Orwell writes about his schooldays and recalls his old headmaster saying:

Go on, you little slacker! Go on, you idle, worthless little boy! The whole trouble with you is that you're bone and horn idle. You eat too much, that's why.

'Bone idle' I know, but I've never come across 'bone and horn idle' before. Googling it brings up only three results, one of which is 'Such, Such Were the Joys'!

However one of the other Google results suggests that 'bone and horn' (usually shortened to 'bone') is rhyming slang for 'born'.

That's plausible, but I have one reservation: 'bone' and 'born' are only one vowel sound apart (at least in my non-rhotic accent), so using one to stand in for the other seems a little... pointless.

In all the other examples of rhyming slang that I've come across, the original word and the replacement word are not at all similar-sounding. It must make for a more effective cryptolect, if nothing else.

What do you think?

Nicolae Ceausescu and the newspaper sub

Back in 1989 (when I'd already been in the engine room for a year or two) I took no more than passing note of the popular uprising that led to the overthrow and execution of Romanian Communist head of state Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena.

It's universally accepted that he wasn't what you'd call easy going in his later years. Which would be of no relevance to the Engine Room, were it not for a factoid I picked up from a wee-small-hours cable TV documentary.

A former sub on a Romanian national newspaper recounted finding herself in horribly hot water when she missed a typo in the great man's name. He took it as a personal slight and she came close to being arrested by the secret police – an experience which was often fatal.

There's nothing funny about an experience so traumatic that its memory almost reduced the sub to tears as she recounted it years later. But I couldn't help but smile at the way her treatment threw into perspective the deserved bollockings I received over the years for missing typos. Would the threat of imprisonment and torture improve proofreading standards in the world's engine rooms?

Here's a challenge for you: without looking at this blog, write down the name of the short-fused Romanian leader. Did you get it right first time? I just googled the image you see here and got the Ceausescu right, but I put an h in the middle of Nicolae. Whoops.

Word of the day: pixelation/pixilation

My version of Microsoft Word automatically changes 'pixelation' to 'pixilation'. That's annoying, but it's also interesting – for three reasons.

1. Word doesn't automatically correct 'pixelate' to 'pixilate'. Why the inconsistency?

2. In contrast to Word, the OED Concise prefers the 'e' spellings; that is, it gives 'pixilate' as a variant of 'pixelate' rather than the other way round. (It gives 'pixellate' as another variant, but doesn't suggest 'pixillate' at all. Shame.)

3. My OED also defines 'pixilated' as "crazy; confused" and "drunk (informal, dated)". It adds: "Origin C19: var. of pixie-led, lit. 'led astry by pixies', or from PIXIE, on the pattern of words such as elated."

So does Microsoft Word change my 'pixelation' because it assumes that I'm writing about pixies rather than pixels? I think the programmers must have been away with the fairies...

JD's work update

I didn't write a blog post yesterday because I was tied up at work till late – in the afternoon we relaunched our website's homepage on a new platform that allows us to drag and drop configurable elements (or 'controls', as they are being called) into position. A rich text box here, an RSS feed there, that sort of thing.

It should mean much less time spent battling with html and our ever so slightly creaky 'editorial administration system'.

The launch was delayed by a few days which meant that when it finally did happen, our web editor happened to be on (a well deserved) holiday – but it went ahead with relatively few problems and I even managed to tinker with the homepage today without breaking it.

I try to keep my work and personal/blogging identities a little bit separate so I won't point you in the direction of the website (although I don't mind if you go looking), but here's another site that's using the same platform if you want to check it out.

Green shoots of recovery

Here's a rather apposite typo or spelling mistake from recent raw copy:

However, those looking for green shoots of recovery should be weary

Of course, that final word should be 'wary' – probably.

The Apprentice and Lorraine Tighe's eyes

As you probably know if you read this blog regularly, I love the reality TV show The Apprentice. What I don't love is when one of the contestants candidates wears glasses and a columnist for a national paper writes tosh such as this:

The rival team's amazing Body Rocka - a slab of plastic with no discernible purpose - romped to victory thanks to four-eyed Lorraine Tighe's impressive business pitch.

Kevin O'Sullivan of the Mirror: describing bespectacled individuals as 'four-eyed' is hackneyed, lazy writing. It's also insulting without being clever. Just stop it.

Lorraine Tighe, courtesy of http://www.bbc.co.uk/apprentice/candidates.shtmlLorraine 'two eyes' Tighe

On a brighter note, if you're a Twitter-using Apprentice fan, then I recommend you follow @NotSirAlanSugar. That's how I came across O'Sullivan's piece in the first place.

DFC: Daily Fried Chicken

I spotted this unappealingly named take-away in Cheltenham:

It's a fair assumption that the chicken at Daily Fried Chicken is fried only once a day - would that be in the morning or the afternoon?

Timothy Taylor steak and ale pie

This afternoon I found myself in one of my favourite London pubs, the Black Friar in Blackfriars.

On the menu was 'Timothy Taylor steak and ale pie'. Very tasty, no doubt, but as Timothy Taylor referred to the ale (Timothy Taylor Landlord) rather than to the steak, surely 'steak and Timothy Taylor ale pie' would have been more accurate?

On the other hand, 'steak and ale pie' is such a well known phrase (and dish) that I can see why the menu-writer chose not to shoehorn a 'Timothy Taylor' into the middle of it.

Another option would have been something along the lines of 'steak and ale pie made with Timothy Taylor Landlord', but then that's a little unwieldy.


I spotted this picture caption in thelondonpaper a week or so ago:

Caption reads: There are more than 1.4 million freelanceres in the UK
When I leave my current job, I think I'd like to become a freelancere.

Farewell, Press Gazette. Hello, the future

I've been meaning to blog for a few days about the closure of Press Gazette. As a business journalist, I'm sad to see the end of any business publication - especially one serving my profession. But I must confess that I've never been a Press Gazette reader.

Anyway, the publication's owner Wilmington Group is planning to turn the PG website into "a resource for the UK journalism community"; its editor, Dominic Ponsford, explains: "The news element of this website will cease - but Wilmington does plan to introduce new community features."

That's interesting, because there's a bit of a debate going on in my company at the moment regarding the "news element" of our community websites. The site I work for provides its particular business sector with around a dozen news stories a day, often more. Some of these are unique to the web, others are repurposed print stories.

If the number of news stories per day was cut to half a dozen, say, it would certainly free up resources to work on new features such as photo galleries, or to improve existing features such as our forums or our blogs (although both forums and blogs can offer alternative forms of news provision). But what effect would cutting the number of news stories have on our site's traffic? On our reputation? On the value of our offering?

If we reduced our news element, our reporters' roles would also change. They would spend less time working on the traditional news story and more time exploring unfamiliar concepts such as live blogging*. The question I have is: do we put so much emphasis on the straight news story because it is what serves our community best, or because it's what we're used to from print? Don't ask me, I'm just a sub.

Incidentally, it's worth reading the comments following the Wilmington statement, if only because one of the commenters tells Roy Greenslade to 'stop waving his willy about'.

*I went to a very interesting discussion on live blogging today led by my colleague Adam Tinworth of One Man and His Blog. Had I live-blogged it, it would - I suppose - have been an example of meta live blogging. Or live meta blogging. Like I said: don't ask me, I'm just a sub.

Terry Pratchett and Peach Pie Street

The novelist – and knight – Terry Pratchett is a former sub, and so here at The Engine Room we follow his career with some interest (as regular readers of the blog will already know).

On Monday I spotted the following in the Metro free paper (click to see a larger version):

Terry Pratchett and a Peach Pie Street sign
The body copy refers to 'Peace Pie Street' when the photo clearly shows 'Peach Pie Street'. Admittedly, they both make nice names.

(The sign pictured above is "another fantasy-inspired street sign" because the full Metro article also included a photo of 'Treacle Mine Road'. I decided not to scan in the entire thing, but you can see the other photo if you like in the web version of the story – which as I write this still includes the Peace/Peach mistake.)

Here are our previous Pratchett ponderings:

'Boarder crossing'

An amusing typo in recent raw copy:

The stop is packed with the kind of facilities that any sane driver and operator would want near one of the major boarder crossings in Europe

Who uses boarder crossings – children travelling back from boarding school, perhaps? Snowboarders on their way to the slopes?

Blogger error: 'Try going back and re-trying'

This Blogger error message made me smile (click to see a larger version):

Blogger duplicate action error

In essence: 'What you want to do has already been done, so try going back and re-trying...'

And I suppose it highlights the difference between 'try' meaning 'test in order to see if it is suitable, effective or pleasant' ("try going back one page in your browser") and 'try' meaning 'make an attempt or effort to do something' ("and re-trying"). At least that was how I read it; I can understand if your reading is different.

Both definitions of 'try' came from my Concise OED, 10th Edition, by the way.

We're going over the top...

I'd like to share a sad experience. On Friday I picked up a used copy of a fantasy trilogy I'd failed to get to grips with when I first encountered it in my teens (no, not Lord of the Rings, although some of JRR's later work was way over my head).

But when I settled down for a read last night I soon encountered the following:

  • "Oh forsooth! I cannot believe you are so anile!"
  • "he waved one penumbral arm"
  • "still he catechized"
  • "immitigable hate"
  • "brandished his carious eyes"
  • "a number of my chattel"
  • "attar-laden voice"
  • "the whole penumbra burst into flame like a skin of green tinder"
  • "you shall have your guerdon"
  • "the forest’s perpetual gloaming"
  • "an exigent need for sleep"

The trilogy's going back to the charity shop – though I have determined to use the word "anile" on the next ageing non-male I meet.

Be polite: call someone a stupid idiot

Recently, I stumbled across an old page on the BBC World Service website that made me laugh. It was within the 'Learning English' section, focusing on "expressing possibility: perhaps/maybe, may/might".

To give the reader "further practice of may and might, maybe and perhaps", the page included the following joke:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go camping and pitch their tent under the stars. In the middle of the night, Holmes wakes his companion up and says: "Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce." Watson says: "I see millions of stars and maybe quite a few planets among them. It may be true that a few of the planets are quite like Earth and there might be life on them." Holmes replies: "Watson, you bloody fool*! Somebody has stolen our tent!"

But it was the footnote to 'bloody fool' that caused me amusement:

*Bloody is a medium-strong swear word, used to give emotional emphasis to something that you are saying. It should not be used in polite situations. For polite conversation, substitute: You stupid idiot!

I'm not sure that 'you stupid idiot!' is very appropriate in polite situations...

You need hands...

British Army officer commenting on his unit's imminent exit from southern Iraq: “I think we can go with our hands on our hearts, holding our heads high.” No doubt the boys will also have their shoulders to the wheel, while keeping their best feet forward, etc.

Word of the day: Uniqulture

I came across this word in issue six of a free publication called Gravity Guide, "your local music and lifestyle guide to South and East London".

According to page 5:

South East London is the home of Uniqulture (multi-culture without divisions); it is at the hub of the thriving, arts powered explosion in creativity.

OK, I admit it, I added that semi-colon myself... I did refrain from putting in a couple of hyphens, though.

Anyway, I'm unable to find very many other clear references to 'Uniqulture' (with or without a cap) on the web.

In January this Music Tourist Board / Artful MySpace blog asked: "What will Uniqulture have achieved in one year, i.e. by October?" - indicating that Uniqulture originated in October 2008.

The Artful website, on "DIY creativity throughout South East London", states that Music Tourist Board is a "social enterprise" which was planning to "give birth to Uniqulture, publicly, in the new year" - that would be the new year just gone.

Whatever Uniqulture is, both the guide and the websites suggest that it is centred around Deptford. Maybe I should pay a visit - it's not too far away...

This one's on the house

Oh the pleasures of daytime TV. Here are some more gems from Mrs Apus's favourite house selling programme:

  • “Have I got to drag you out of there with a coach and horses?”
  • "He’d do the interior and I’d do the... outerior."
  • "There's a downstairs bathroom – as you'd expect in a bungalow."
  • "Neil Armstrong might have said it’s a giant leap for mankind when he landed on the moon, but for Amanda buying this bungalow is certainly a giant leap!"

Senior sustainability officer for air blah blah blah

Just a quick one today, because it's now Friday evening and the pub is calling.

One of my colleagues stumbled across this less-than-pithy job title:

Senior sustainability officer for air quality in Camden Borough

Can anyone beat that?

On the case with case-sensitive URLs

I came across a case-sensitive URL recently while subbing a feature for one of our print publications. Here it is:


If you change any of the upper-case letters in the address to lower-case (or vice versa), the page won't load. How strange.

We wanted to list the URL in the feature, but not only did it break house style, I thought it might confuse some of our readers. We could have put a note explaining that the URL was case-sensitive - but that seemed a bit ridiculous.

In the end we used a URL-shortening service (such as Tiny.cc) to come up with a new, case-insensitive URL, and listed that in the feature instead.

Oh, here's some information about case-sensitive URLs.

This year's best April Fool's Day stories

None of the publications I work on ran an April Fool's Day story today, but here are some others I enjoyed:

Your Local Guardian: 'Croydon to be renamed in £50m scheme'

Guardian.co.uk: 'Twitter switch for Guardian, after 188 years of ink'

Diss Express: 'Obama to visit Diss'

Buyitdirect.co.uk: 'Free funerals from Laptops Direct'

If you have any other favourites from this year, let me know and I'll happily add them to the list. Your contributions so far (thank you!):

EcoAsia: 'Interstellar spacecraft to be TV powered'

Writer's Digest: 'Announcing a Brand-New Market Book!'

The topic of the Writer's Digest story is a (fictitious) book called Plagiarist's Market, and the ISBN given for that book actually belongs to a rhyming picture book called April Foolishness. A nice touch there.

Update 8.40pm: I've spotted another hoax, this time on YouTube. The site has a "new layout" which displays video clips upside down, as per this screengrab:

Click for a larger version of this image

And rather amusingly, all of today's 'Spotlight Videos' on YouTube show things that in some way relate to the theme of upside-downness, from bats to handstands.

I do, however, note that the site isn't displaying its adverts upside down. April Fool's is all very well, unless it upsets the advertisers...

YouTube: 'Your New Viewing Experience'