Word of the day: hack

I'm currently reading the anthology London: City of Disappearances, edited by Iain Sinclair. One of the essays in the collection, Alan Wall's 'Grub Street', has a lot of interest to say on the word 'hack' (as in hack writer or journalist).

If I could, I'd share the entire essay with you, but here are a couple of extracts:

Deriving as it does from a hackney horse, as in hackney carriage, and therefore something put out to hire, the term [hack] is used throughout the eighteenth century to mean a sorry creature, raddled and worn-out, a jade.

Johnson's Dictionary doesn't refer to writing at all under his entry for Hack; it is merely a matter of putting oneself out for hire. But the next meaning of the word listed, and one that was current at the time, is prostitute, for the hack sold his brain and his lexicon in exactly the same way that a drab sold her body.

AdSense, the NHS and Camel cigarettes

Google's AdSense can be slightly strange. I write a post about camels, and AdSense serves up the following advertisement on the blog:

AdSense advert for the NHS targeting Camel smokers
I can understand the confusion between camel the animal and Camel the cigarette, but is the National Health Service only helping Camel smokers to quit now? Do the other brands no longer kill you?

Beavers! Introduced to the wild!

A story in today's Daily Mail begins:

They have not been introduced to the wild for more than 400 years.

But yesterday two families of beavers were released in Britain – to the anguish of anglers and the delight of environmentalists.

This implies that beavers were "introduced to the wild" more than 400 years ago, when I'm pretty sure that they just happened to live there.

The Mail Online version of the story uses different wording, although the page title reads: "Beavers released into the wild for the first time in 500 years". Again, that suggests they were released into the wild 500 years ago.

I'm not even going to make a joke here.

Where do I get my news from?

Where do I get my news from? That's the question I've answered today.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a fan of reality TV show The Apprentice (the UK version). I missed last night's episode but plan to watch it tonight via Tiscali TV's catch-up service; so as not to spoil the surprise I've spent the entire day trying not to find out which candidate was 'fired' by Sir Alan.

It's been harder than you might imagine. I couldn't watch breakfast TV this morning; I couldn't read the free papers on the train to and from work; and I had to ask three of my colleagues (all Apprentice fans) not to discuss the programme with me.

I've also had to avoid using Twitter and turn off the Firefox add-on Twitterfox just in case one of the people I follow tweeted about the show. Over lunch I couldn't read the BBC News website. I can't even link this post to the official Apprentice website for fear of finding something out.

So there you have it: I get my (Apprentice-related) news from a mixture of new media, old media, and good old-fashioned talking to people. It's been an interesting experiment, but not one I'd like to repeat in a hurry. And no, I still don't know which candidate got the sack. Ask me again in an hour!

Here are a couple of my other Apprentice-related posts:

Google: 'Results 1-5 of about 0'

So Googling "tasked with a role" (don't ask!) and limiting the search to 'pages from the UK' gives five results.

As you can see from the unexciting screengrab below, Google rather bizarrely calls them "results 1 -5 of about 0".

But then I suppose five is "about" zero. It's certainly closer to zero than, say, seven million is.

X marks the spot

While reading a 1960s science fiction anthology this afternoon I came across the adjective papuliferous. It stopped me dead in my tracks but my OED Concise revealed that a papula is a pimple. A quick check via Google took me to wordsmith.org which had selected papuliferous (or papilliferous) as a word of the day and confirmed that it simply means "having pimples".

The author had used it to describe insolent teenagers; I plan to do likewise at the first opportunity.

Ryan Adams twice?

About a year ago I wrote about how the film title Alvin and the Chipmunks implied that Alvin wasn't a chipmunk.

On a similar theme: I recently bought an album, Cardinology, by Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. (I know; don't judge me.)

The CD packaging states: "The Cardinals are Ryan Adams, Neal Casal, Chris Feinstein, Jon Graboff and Brad Pemberton".

So if Ryan Adams is a member of The Cardinals, surely it's redundant to say Ryan Adams & The Cardinals?

Admittedly, saying that the album is by The Cardinals (including Ryan Adams) sounds a little odd.

You can't hear a hyphen

Mrs A's favourite property programme is a constant source of delight. Referring to removal of flowery wallpaper one over-excited presenter gushed: "The kitchen's been de-flowered!"

However one exhausted self-builder in the show coined a portmanteau word that I rather like. At the end of a two-year project he was asked if he would consider selling his newly completed magnum opus. "Never," he replied. "This is my deathnest."

Indigo Jones the Doom Raider

St Paul's in Covent GardenSo yesterday I visited St Paul's Church in Covent Garden (pictured) with three people who shall remain nameless.

I remarked that the church had been designed by the influental architect Inigo Jones.

"I've never heard of him - but I have heard of Indigo Jones," said one of my companions.

"Indigo Jones - who's he, then?" I asked.

"You know that film, Indigo Jones the Doom Raider."

That's a movie I'd like to see: a mashup between Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider with some Inigo Jones thrown in for good measure...

Word of the day: pre-loading (in its alcoholic sense)

Pre-loading: "drinking cheap booze at home or in streets before going on to pubs and clubs"; "drinking heavily discounted alcohol before going out" (both definitions from the Addaction website)

I came across today's word of the day, 'pre-loading', in an article in thelondonpaper on Friday. The standfirst was Crackdown on 'pre-loading' drinkers and the body copy began:

A crackdown is being planned on 'pre-loaders' who get drunk on cheap alcohol at home before heading to the West End

The inverted commas suggest, of course, that thelondonpaper expects many of its readers to be unfamiliar with the word. Unfortunately I can't find a web version of the article to share with you.

Although 'pre-loading' (the word, not the activity!) is new to me, it has evidently been around for at least a couple of years as I've found a reference to it in a 4NI.co.uk article dating from August 2007.

Judging by that article, I wouldn't be surprised if the word 'pre-loading' (as it relates to drinking alcohol at home) was coined by UK-based drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction.

Pre-loading: a new meaning to 'homebrew'

However, 'pre-loading' isn't just found on this side of the Atlantic. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website states in the brilliantly titled 'Pre-Gaming: An Exploratory Study of Strategic Drinking by College Students in Pennsylvania':

We defined pre-loading/pre-gaming as “the practice of drinking alcohol in a private setting prior to attending an organized event/social activity where alcohol might or might not be served."

So perhaps 'pre-loading' originated in American English and was then picked up and popularised by Addaction.

Incidentally, 'preloading' (without a hyphen) is also included in Urban Dictionary - although the entry only dates from January 2009. The entry for 'pregaming', in comparison, dates from February 2004.

It's also worth mentioning that the OED Online does include entries for 'preload' (noun and verb), 'preloaded' and 'preloading', but none of them (as far as I can tell) relate to alcohol consumption.

Anyone out there familiar with 'pre-loading' (or indeed, 'pre-gaming') in its alcohol-related sense? And again - I mean the word, not the activity...

Hot news from South Island

Mrs A and I enjoy a relaxed lifestyle in our seaside retreat, but there's no shortage of blues-and-twos action in the local weekly to keep our pulses racing. These examples were culled from the two latest issues:

Firefighters were called to a chimney fire in Porchfield last Friday morning. The fire was out by the time they arrived at the scene.

A bonfire in a driveway on Monday evening resulted in an emergency call to firefighters. One pump was called after receiving a report the bonfire was close to parked cars.

Firefighters used a bucket of water to extinguish a small rubbish fire in a bath during the small hours of Saturday morning.

The IW Fire and Rescue Service was called out to rescue a ten-year-old boy stuck up a tree in Ryde on Saturday evening. Firefighters used an extension ladder to rescue the boy, who was stuck 16ft from the ground. They had previously freed a teenage girl from a child's swing at the play area in Park Road, Cowes.

A box containing paper on fire in Regent Street, Shanklin, was put out by firefighters on Tuesday. It happened at around 2.15am.

A fire in a skip at Somerton Industrial Park on Thursday was extinguished within 20 minutes of being reported at 8.20am.

A small gorse fire was put out near Ventnor Golf Club at around 9pm on Sunday. The incident, which involved around a three metre-square* area, was over by 9.30pm.

* Following JD's recent Orwellian post, I can't resist suggesting "one hyphen good – two hyphens better".

Typo: lime of communication

This is from recent raw copy:

They kept an open lime of communication all the way through the process.

What a brilliant fruit-based typo! Obviously, the writer meant "open line of communication".

Photo of a lime, courtesy of Scott Liddell scott.m.liddell@gmail.comLimes: Now we're talkin'

BERR - with a comma or without?

Here in the UK we have a government department called BERR. Its full title is either the 'Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform' (with comma) or the 'Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform' (without comma), only I'm not sure which.

In its logo, BERR plumps for 'Business Enterprise' rather than 'Business, Enterprise':

BERR logo, without comma in name
(Granted, this may be simply to avoid having an ungainly comma at the end of a line.)

But in some places on BERR's website, as well as in its Google listing, you'll find the 'Business, Enterprise' version instead:

BERR Google listing, with comma in name
It comes to something when government departments can't even write their own name consistently. At least BERR seems consistent in its use of the ampersand (although I'm sure someone out there can prove otherwise).

Chocs and cigs and ripping and topping

I blogged about Books v. Cigarettes, a collection of essays by George Orwell, a few weeks ago - but there's one more passage I'd like to share with you. Here he's writing about the years immediately preceding the First World War:

It was the age when crazy millionaires in curly top-hats and lavender waistcoats gave champagne parties in rococo house-boats on the Thames, the age of diabolo and hobble skirts, the age of the 'knut' in his grey bowler and cut-away coat, the age of The Merry Widow, Saki's novels, Peter Pan and Where the Rainbow Ends, the age when people talked about chocs and cigs and ripping and topping and heavenly, when they went for divvy week-ends at Brighton and had scrumptious teas at the Troc.

I just love how Orwell captures the spirit of the period primarily through its vocabulary.

And does anyone know what a 'knut' is in this context?

Get your free poster of world languages

The nice folk at translation website bab.la have created a "world languages map", showing the most-spoken first languages on each continent.

Here's the map in its online, interactive form. Zoom in or out using your mouse wheel:

If you would like a free copy of the map in poster form, visit the 'world languages' page of the bab.la website.

Should you have any problems requesting your poster from bab.la, let me know (via email) as I have a spare copy and am more than happy to send it on to anyone who wants it.

Bab.la also has a blog, Lexiophiles, which is worth checking out.

Kebab good? Lovely jubbly!

Del Boy - picture taken from the BBC websiteSo I'm back from my holiday in Turkey.

One of my favourite moments took place in the bazaar in Manavgat. My girlfriend and I stopped at a cafe for something to eat; when we finished, the waiter asked us (in English): "Kebab good?"

"Çok güzel," I replied - Turkish for 'very nice' (at least according to my 'Teach Yourself Beginner's Turkish' book).

"Lovely jubbly!" the waiter then said, to my great amusement.

A few days earlier, a different waiter in a different town had asked us to "take a shufty" at his menu. Is it possible that Turkish waiters all learn their English from the BBC sitcom Only Fools and Horses?

Wikipedia has this to say on Only Fools and one of its main characters, Del Boy (the chap pictured at the top of this post, in case you were wondering):

Only Fools and Horses – and consequently [its creator and writer] John Sullivan – is credited with the popularisation in Britain of several words and phrases used by Del Boy regularly, particularly "Plonker",[58] meaning a fool or an idiot, and two expressions of delight or approval: "Cushty"[58] and "Lovely jubbly". The latter was borrowed from an advertising slogan for an obscure 1960s orange juice drink, called Jubbly, which was packaged in a pyramid shaped, waxed paper carton. Sullivan remembered it and thought it was an expression Del Boy would use; in 2003, the phrase was incorporated into the new Oxford English Dictionary.[59] Other British slang words commonly used and popularised in the series include "dipstick", "wally" and "twonk", all mild ways of calling someone an idiot.

And if you search Wikipedia for 'loverly jubbly' (note spelling!), you are redirected to the page on Del Boy.

Numeracy and literacy is...

So this is the last photo post before I return from holiday. Tomorrow it's back to the opinionated ramblings and bizarre product reviews!

Anyway, I took this snap in Sutton, rather furtively in case the nice men promoting the courses took exception.

"Numeracy and literacy is..."? Is that the sort of numeracy that enables you to count the number of subjects in a clause, and the sort of literacy that enables you to achieve subject-verb agreement?

Well, it made me laugh.

Win Jimmy Carr!

Strange packaging on this soft drink. From a distance it looks like Britvic is offering customers a chance to 'WIN JIMMY CARR' - all the other words are so small they might as well not be there.

I quite like the comedian myself but I'm not sure what I'd do with him if I won him in a competition. Get him to tell me jokes, I suppose.

A pack of the soft drink J20

Anyway, is this 'WIN JIMMY CARR' thing intentional or just a design blunder? What do you reckon?

All bags and coats cannot be reclaimed

Yes, I'm still on holiday. Here's something else I found down the back of my hard drive:

Strangely worded cloakroom sign spotted in Battersea Evolution

So I lose my ticket, and nobody can reclaim any bags and coats until the end of the night? That doesn't seem fair... and what a strange shift from the active to the passive voice in that sentence.

(I actually remember where I took this photo: on a work social in Battersea Evolution late last year. And I didn't lose my ticket.)

Live Italian singer

Yet another out-of-focus photo taken in a pub, although this time there's a difference - the pub was in Huntington.

Anyway: this place has a "live Italian singer" in on Monday. I suppose that's better than getting a dead one in.

Customer refreshment logistics technicians

Yes, I'm still on holiday, so here's another picture from my collection. There's no mistake to spot this time, just some amusing language use:

Sign reading customer refreshment logistics technicians required

If you haven't worked it out yet, this is an advert for bar staff. And yes, I took the photo in a pub using my camera phone. And no, I can't remember which pub it was. One in London, I can tell you that much...

Subbing and how it impacts you

I took this shot in my workplace (using my camera phone, hence the poor picture quality).

The message to take away from this is: be careful what signs and posters you put up around subs. And no, those corrections aren't mine!

A poster on secure shredding with handwritten corrections

'Impact' is, however, one of my bugbears. I'm convinced that people only use it so that they don't have to worry about writing 'effect' when they mean 'affect' (or vice versa).

No hats, hoods, proof of age or alcohol

I'm still on holiday so here's another photo from my collection:

So this bar has banned hats and hoods... but has also banned proof of age and alcohol? Time to rethink the sign, perhaps.

(I can't actually remember where I took this snap - sorry!)

Pseudo-indecent photographs

Today's picture is again a BBC News screengrab, this time from an article. I've highlighted the phrase of interest.

I'm sure that's supposed to read 'indecent pseudo-photographs'...

So you know Kevin Bacon too?

Right, I'm on holiday at the moment so I've queued up some picture posts for your delight and delectation.

The first is a screengrab from the BBC News website. As I hope you can see, it reads: "Six degrees: Is the theory we all know Kevin Bacon actually true?"

Kevin Bacon mugshot plus teaser

As as I understand it, 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' doesn't suggest that everyone on the planet knows the actor...

In which JD orders a takeaway over the internet

OK, this is the last product review for a while. I promise!

Last weekend, FuelMyBlog gave me the opportunity to test out Just-Eat.co.uk gratis. In a nutshell, it's a website that lets you order takeaways over the internet. Handy if you're stuck subbing a supplement until late in the evening.

Tap in your postcode and Just-Eat lists a selection of takeaways that will deliver to you. Refine your search by selecting a 'Type of Food' (we went for Chinese), pick a restaurant, read customer reviews, browse the menu and then place your order. That's pretty much it, apart from this good things/bad things list:

Good things about Just-Eat.co.uk

  • You can order a takeaway without having to speak to anyone. Handy if you are antisocial, have a sore throat, or always argue with your partner about whose turn it is to phone.
  • You can pay for your takeaway with your debit or credit card when you order it. But if you want to pay with cash when the food turns up, that's fine too.
  • As you select your dishes from the menu, the website provides you with a running total so you know how much you're spending. No more maths!
  • Just-Eat has a loyalty scheme: eat food, earn points. Mind you, who needs another reason to scoff more prawn crackers?
  • The menu you're looking at is up to date. That's better than spending 20 minutes picking a dish only to phone up the takeaway and be told it's not on available any more.

Bad things about Just-Eat.co.uk
  • Not every local takeaway is signed up. I'm guessing the service might not be so great in rural areas - but I live in London so can't say for sure.
  • After you place your order, there's a nerve-racking wait as Just-Eat contacts the takeaway. We had no problems, but it was a pretty scary 60 seconds or so.
  • It's trickier to browse an online menu than it is to browse a printed one. Those slow web reading speeds get me every time!
  • Not much use if you live in the States...

Love, Death, Madness, and an American Biography

I've recently finished reading The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus, a biography of Mark Roget by the Boston-based writer Joshua Kendall. You have to love that title.

The book made for a pacy read - partly because of Kendall's writing, partly because of Roget's surprisingly eventful life.

In his twenties, for example, Roget was staying in French-occupied Geneva when war broke out between France and England; Napoleon ordered the imprisonment of British nationals, turning Roget into a détenu. Only by first declaring himself a citizen of Geneva and then... oh, but I won't spoil it for you.

Instead, what I'd like to blog about is the experience of being an Englishman reading the biography of a famous Englishman written by a writer who is (I assume) an American writing primarily for an American readership. Phew!

For example, Kendall has to explain some things that the average Brit would know, such as the meaning of 'Mancunians':

Perhaps that’s why so many Mancunians (the Latin-derived term for Manchester citizens) gravitated towards the teachings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism

Of course, I can't criticise him for this. I did, however (and perhaps unaccountably) find some of his Americanisms jarring - especially this use of 'write':

From Cornwall, she wrote Mrs. Reid, “We three get on capitally together. I am sure Kate is already better and enjoying all enthusiastically."

Kendall also uses the least formal style I've ever come across in a biography. For example:

On Saturday, July 16, 1803, Roget learned that the French weren’t kidding. After several weeks of issuing threats, they had finally stepped up their aggression toward all foreign nationals.


Roget was also overwhelmed with anger. He couldn’t believe that a Frenchman was forcing him out of the city where his father had been born. A Frenchman was kicking him out of Switzerland!

I don't know if this is how American biographers usually write, but I found it surprising. To be fair, Kendall does admit in his acknowledgements:

This book is not meant to be a scholarly biography. Though all the scenes are based on actual events, in several instances, where primary source material was lacking, I offered my best approximation of specific details.

So The Man Who Made Lists is, if you like, the TV re-enactment of the biography world: Crimewatch with added classification.

I might even send it on to Apus to see what he makes of it.

Alan Carr is spamming me

I've written about junk/spam email before, including one offering me an "Israel GPS Navigation System".

I had another belter this week: an email informing me that I'd won half a million pounds in a Google promotion. What made it so great was that it was sent to me by 'Alan Carr' (you might have to click on the image to see a larger version):

Spam email from Alan Carr; click to see a larger version

British readers of this blog will probably know Alan Carr as the camp comedian who presents Alan Carr's Celebrity Ding Dong and The Sunday Night Project. I'm very flattered that he took time out of his busy schedule to send me a spam email...

Any other celebrity spammers out there?

Blogging about Alan Carr also gives me the perfect excuse to try out a photo service called PicApp, which one of my colleagues recommended to me. Here's a snap of Carr from PicApp:

The British Academy Television Awards 2009

So my blog was loading slowly: blame FeedBurner

Anyone visiting this blog in the past couple of days will have noticed it loading incredibly slowly. Everything's back to normal now, but I thought I'd just explain what the problem was and how I fixed it.

(I realise this won't be of interest to most of The Engine Room's regular readers; I'm just hoping I can help one or two other bloggers out there.)

I use FeedBurner to manage the blog's feed. As a result of Google buying FeedBurner way back in 2007, all FeedBurner users have recently had to move their feed from a feeds.feedburner.com address to a new feeds2.feedburner.com address.

For me, this happened without incident and I thought no more of it. Google promised that anyone going to the old address would be automatically redirected to the new one, and for a few months this was the case.

Then last week, I noticed that the blog was loading incredibly slowly - at least 10 seconds per post. The feed itself seemed fine, and FeedBurner's FeedBulletin reported no problems.

After trying lots of measures such as pinging FeedBurner, resynching the feed and even changing the blog template, all to no avail, I finally discovered that my old FeedBurner feed address was no longer working. Could this be connected?

In short, yes. I was using FeedBurner's FeedFlare service to add functionality to my feed - it's what puts the links such as 'Share on Facebook' at the bottom of each post. The FeedFlare html code I'd added to my blog template ages back was referencing my old FeedBurner feed, not the new one, and so as soon as the old feed address stopped working, it brought my whole blog grinding to a halt.

The solution was simple: log back into FeedBurner, get the new FeedFlare html code, and place this in the blog template instead of the old code. I just wish I hadn't had to work it out for myself. And for anyone out there suffering the same problem: it isn't enough just to disable FeedFlare. You have to change the code in your template.

I don't know whether the old feed address is permanently dead, and if so, whether it has cost me any subscribers, but I do know that the Google/Blogger/FeedBurner technical support is rubbish. You can't email anyone for an answer: instead, you have to post a message on the relevant help group and hope for the best. Bah.

Beware the escalator of death

Click on the image to see a larger version
Having spent the past week in Spain I could pass on examples of silly solecisms but I won't because it's hardly fair to sneer at our multi-lingual Continental cousins when so few Brits are prepared to learn foreign languages (my droog JD is an exception to that rule).

In any case this sign, which confronts travellers arriving at Gatwick airport by train, puts Spanish menu typos in the shade. In case you can't read it through the lens of my £25 Tesco camera, it warns: "Keep safe. Use the lifts. A lift is located further along the platform."

The spelling's OK, so maybe this is outside The Engine Room's self-imposed remit, but it's such a fine example of 21st century health and safety that I wanted to share it with you. I wonder if the escalator manufacturer could claim damages from the airport operator for malicious falsehood?

'The best heated smoking area in Whetstone...'

This sign made me laugh. So the pub in question, The Griffin, has "the best heated smoking area in Whetstone with a big screen"...

Whetstone isn't exactly the largest area of London - so how many pubs there have a heated smoking area with a big screen? I am guessing just the one. And if there is more than one, what makes the Griffin's HSAWABS the best?

In other words: isn't it enough for the pub to boast that it has a HSAWABS at all? Especially as the Griffin also offers "the biggest beer garden in North London"...

King's Cliffe, King's Cliff, Kings Cliff, Kingscliffe

I've had another serendipitous Wikipedia discovery: the entry on Kings Cliffe, Northamptonshire.

As the entry says, this village is "variously King's Cliffe, King's Cliff, Kings Cliff, Kingscliffe".

I don't have my gazetteer to hand, but both Google Maps and the AA Route Planner opt for Kings Cliffe. I wonder whether the other spellings remain in much use.

The village used to have a railway station; Wikipedia refers to this as both Kingscliffe and King's Cliffe station.

Our taxonomy, a stun gun and PPE

Where I work, the reporters now have an additional task: classifying their news stories according to our website taxonomy.

So, for example, if a story was about Mercedes launching a new vehicle, the reporter would select the taxonomy items 'product launch' and 'Mercedes-Benz' before filing the copy. You get the idea.

Anyway, one of our staffers wrote a story about a truck driver who was caught in possession of a stun gun. Unsurprisingly, we don't have a 'stun gun' taxonomy item, so the writer used her ingenuity and classified the story under 'PPE – personal protective equipment'.

PPE can be defined as "protective clothing and other devices designed to protect an individual while in potentially hazardous areas or performing potentially hazardous operations", so I suppose a stun gun might qualify...