Subbing for sense

From a truck-related feature that one of my colleagues was subbing today:

Only use the air-con for a few minutes to cool the cab. Once you’re on the move, don’t run the air-con if either the doors or windows are open.

Er, why would anyone "on the move" in a 44-tonner have the doors open? And if they did, the question of whether or not to use the air conditioning should be the least of their concerns.

To demagogue

A while back my colleague Sue emailed me to say:

Pres Obama referred to "demagoging" in his interview on the Today programme this morning - I haven't looked it up but surely there's no verb 'to demagogue'?

Well, I've just looked it up and not only is such a verb in fairly widespread use, but according to the OED Online, it dates back to at least 1656 (in the sense of "to play the demagogue"). It has been used as a transitive verb, meaning "to deal with (a matter) after the fashion of a demagogue", since at least 1890.

The OED does say "chiefly US", but then Obama is the US president so I'll let him off.

Regarding 'demagoging', Google suggests that 'demagoguing' is the more widely used spelling (32,000 results as opposed to just over 4,000).

And rather bizarrely, searching Google for "to demagogue" with results limited to "pages from the UK" brings up something called JD's World as the first result. Nothing to do with me, I promise...

A MAPMe map of South London's best pubs

I've been experimenting with the website, which enables users to create personal or community maps and then embed them on to their website or blog. Yes, I know, Google Maps lets you do that too, but seems to offer more functionality.

Today my girlfriend and I put together a map showing some of our favourite pubs and bars in South London. It's a bit basic at the moment (with only 12 'hotspots' and only a few photos), but we're hoping to add to it over time. It's a personal map rather than a community one, I'm afraid, so you won't be able to contribute. Sorry!

Download: KML RSS | Edit this map

Pub photos courtesy of Ewan-M and Kake Pugh

Onward communicate

From a corporate email I received recently:

Please feel free to onward communicate to your teams.

I'm not sure what I like less - the verb 'onward communicate' or the lack of subject (onward communicate what?).

Googling "onward communicate"
only gives 61 results so perhaps it won't catch on.

What's wrong with cow paté?

So yesterday I read this in English for Journalists (Second Edition), by Wynford Hicks:

If your house style includes accents, make sure that you use them consistently. For example 'paté' and 'emigré' are howlers; they should be pâté and émigré.

And then today I saw this Rick Brookes cartoon in Metro (click on the image for a larger version):

This Life cartoon, by Rick Brookes
(Incidentally, the picture above is actually a screenshot from the free electronic edition of Metro. For me, the main advantage of the e-edition over the print edition is that the text is searchable.)

Shill and squelette

A couple of recent finds:

First, a BBC News Magazine article on 'shill reviewing'. I've never come across the AmE word 'shill' before but I have encountered a few shill (or false) customer reviews in my time. The article also lists some other striking terms such as 'Amazon bombing' and 'Astroturfing'.

Second, the word 'squelette' (as in French for 'skeleton'), meaning a 'ruined' building that was never actually completed. Stan Carey from the blog Sentence first drew my attention to this on Twitter; thanks, Stan.

Squelettes in EgyptSquelettes in Egypt

A lion? In a taxi van?

The website for delivery company displays emails and letters from satisfied customers. That's a good idea, but I'd love to know the story behind this one:

Screengrab from regarding the successful delivery of a lion
And I'm not surprised the son had "taken himself off" if a lion was about to turn up in a taxi van!

Disabilism and Ian Macrae

Over the last 20 years I've been blind, I've been visually handicapped, I've been visually impaired, I'm now sight impaired and you know what it hasn't made a ha'p'orth of difference to my life and the way people regard me.

That quote, by Ian Macrae, is taken from the transcript of a Radio 4 interview dating from 2004. I'm not sure whether it says more about language change or about life with a disability, or whether in this instance it's even wise to try to separate the two.

Anyway, the whole transcript is worth reading, not least for the discussion it contains on the word 'disabilism'.

Thanks to my colleague Emily for pointing this one out to me.

Tastes in your mouth will last beyond your journey

Turkish Airlines menuWhen I went on holiday to Turkey earlier this year, I flew with Turkish Airlines.

The in-flight meal was good, and I was pleasantly surprised (as I was flying economy) to be offered a choice of dishes, but the catering company did need to work on the wording of its menu. I'm thinking especially of this bit:

"We hope that tastes in your mouth will last beyond your journey."

Not really what I'm looking for from airline food - or any food, for that matter...

Word of the day: Māori sidestep

I came across an interesting rugby-related word (or phrase, if you prefer) in conversation the other day: 'Māori sidestep'. I suppose it could also be written as 'Māori side step', Maori sidestep', or 'Maori side step'...

The best definition I could find online is as follows:

The "Maori sidestep" was first used by the New Zealanders, and occurs when a player doesn't try to avoid the tackler, but charges him head-on, bumps off the defender, and generally tramples him as he runs over the top.

A couple of warnings, however - the first regarding usage, the second regarding the manoeuvre itself.

On the topic 'Rugby clichés you would like to hear', one member of The Silver forums comments: "Maybe im wrong here but i don't think [the term 'Māori sidestep' is] culturally insensitive or racist. it's kinda cool."

That suggests, of course, that the term is sometimes perceived to be "culturally insensitive or racist"...

And here are a couple of extracts from a letter published in Volume 296 of the British Medical Journal:

The Maori side step, known hereabouts as "bursting the tackle," is a highly dangerous manoeuvre where the runner aims himself directly at his tackler.
[It] is more dangerous than the high tackle and should be banned from schoolboy rugby immediately. Adult rugger could also do without it.

You have been warned!

Edible oil tanker operator

Today I subbed a story that mentioned an "edible oil tanker operator". That could be:

  • An operator of oil tankers that are edible
  • An edible operator of oil tankers
  • An operator of tankers of edible oil

I presumed it was the last...

Whites searched 'for race balance'. Did they find it?

My first thought on seeing Metro's main front page headline today was: 'So did they find it?'

Metro headline: Whites searched for race balance

As it turns out, 'whites' is the object, not the subject, of the headline (which is written in the passive voice).

(UPDATE 19/07/09: As Garik points out in the comments following this post, 'whites' is actually the subject of this passive sentence.)

The first paragraph of the story clarifies the matter:
Police are searching white people under terror laws simply to provide 'racial balance' to statistics, it was revealed yesterday.

Last year I blogged about police stopping and searching commuters and schoolgirls at my local station...

Wednesday woundup: Apgar, backronyms, U2

This morning, the weather presenter on BBC1's Breakfast said a particular weather front would be moving towards London "during the course of the overnight period".

Um, shouldn't that be "during the night" – or possibly just "overnight"?


Neil has pointed me in the direction of an interesting article on the backronym 'Apgar'.

A backronym is a pre-existing word that has been "turned into an acronym by the choice of appropriate words to fit each of its letters"; you'll have to read the article to find out what 'Apgar' means.


I know I've tweeted this already, but it's too good to miss: a letter from the Daily Mail concerning U2. "Genuine, or a spoof that snuck in? Don't know, don't care," says @mattkirschen, who uploaded a scan of the letter.

Minatory? It's elementary

We all know that English is constantly changing. Chaucer (14th century) is all but indecipherable without specialist knowledge; many of Shakespeare’s words and phrases (16th century) need explanation to 21st century readers. But reading some of my favourite Sherlock Holmes yarns the other evening I was surprised by the number of words that have dropped out of common usage since Arthur Conan Doyle penned them little more than a century ago.

For example, in a single page of the first Holmes and Watson tale, A Study in Scarlet, a house is described as minatory (menacing, the OED revealed), and its windows are bleared (dull, filmy). Apartment is used as a simple synonym for room and simious, rather than simian, is used in the phrase “simious and ape-like”. And while that seems to be a tautology, it would need a braver man than I to criticise the great man.

But while usage may change, wonderful writing remains wonderful writing. I can’t resist sharing this evocative passage:

The latter [house] looked out with three tiers of vacant, melancholy windows which were black and dreary, save that here and there a ‘To Let’ card had developed like a cataract upon the bleared panes.

To paraphrase what Satchamo famously said about music, there are only two types of writing – good and bad.

For all your moroting magazine needs...

My colleague Clutchslip took this photo in WH Smith (sorry, I mean WHSmith):

Magazines in WHSmith with misspelt sign

The particular moroting magazines I work for aren't on display here. Wait, there's one of them in the rocner...

Communal cabbing: apples and oranges

During the recent Tube strike here in London, BBC News Magazine ran an interesting article on 'communal cabbing'. But I wasn't sure about this paragraph:

The black cabs are taking up to five passengers per trip - compared with the average of 1.5 - and the more efficient use of capacity means more efficient queues.

To me, this seems a case of apples and oranges. After all, don't black cabs take "up to five passengers per trip" even when people aren't cab-sharing? And while the cabs ordinarily take an average of 1.5 passengers per trip, how has this figure changed a result of cab-sharing? The article doesn't say, so it's rather difficult to gauge the true impact of TfL's 'Fixed Fare Taxi Share Scheme'.

Publications: Practical Reptile Keeping

Today's specialist magazine is Practical Reptile Keeping:

Front cover of Practical Reptile Keeping

I spotted it in my local Morrisons supermarket last week. Amusingly, it wasn't at the back on the magazine aisle, but up front with the newspapers, gossip mags and sandwiches. But then, I suppose it has just been launched (June 2009, pictured above, is the first issue).

One of my colleagues bought a copy, so I'll ask him what he thought.

Google Maps wants me to swim to Glasgow

So I wanted to get from London Victoria to London Charing Cross, and asked Google Maps for "walking" directions. This is what it gave me:

Google Map showing journey from London to Glasgow, mostly by sea
Yes, my destination is now Charing Cross in Glasgow – slightly out of the way (but arguably my fault). It also appears that I have to swim there. At least I get a stopover in Belgium!

To be fair, Google Maps did provide me with the following warning:

Walking directions are in beta.
Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.

How true – there aren't many sidewalks or pedestrian paths in the North Sea...

Blogger Bognor!

Beach huts at Bognor RegisI've tried to cut down on the product reviews on this blog, but when FuelMyBlog gave me and my girlfriend the opportunity to visit the Butlins resort in the seaside town of Bognor Regis, I couldn't say no.

Admittedly, the one and only time I'd been to a Butlins was on a school trip to Minehead about 15 years ago. I got caught up in a disagreement between some kids from my school and some rather older kids from another school, and was either headbutted or punched in the face (eye-witness reports varied, and I was left in no fit state to remember).

Room in the Butlins Shoreline hotel, BognorSo this time round, as you can imagine, I was relieved that my girlfriend and I would be going on an adults-only weekend (no, not that kind of adults-only) and staying in a hotel rather than a chalet: the ship-shaped Shoreline.

It was a pleasant surprise: clean, spacious, well equipped. We didn't make much use of the room's "separate kids’ area with junior bunk beds and TV", but we appreciated little touches such as the Fairtrade teabags and the nice toiletries; the friendly hotel bar staff also offered to bring drinks up to the room at no extra cost. And the buffet breakfast was mighty fine, with a spectrum of hot and cold options.

Oh, here's the room's very accurately named "partial sea view":

Partial sea view from Shoreline hotel

The entertainment laid on as part of the Butlins 'Big Weekend' was a little boisterous for us (although we approved of the on-site cinema and shops), so we used the hotel more as a base to explore Bognor and the surrounds.

Highlights included Hotham House, in Hotham Park, just a stroll from Butlins. This was once the residence of Sir Richard Hotham, the chap who turned Bognor into a resort at the tail end of the 18th century. The house is now flats, but the Georgian exterior remains intact:

Hotham House, Bognor Regis

The nearby village of Felpham was also notable, especially for its fine pubs - one of which, the Fox Inn, was once the scene of an unfortunate altercation between the poet William Blake and a drunken sailor. But really, what can you do with a drunken sailor?

Blake ended up before the crown court charged with sedition - which I suppose puts my teenage scrape at Butlins into perspective. Not that I had any trouble this time round, I must add.


It's good to see the operators of the ferries that ply the Solent take safety seriously, even at the risk of stating the bleedin' obvious (although if the ferry took on a list the warning might become inaccurate).

By the way, Douglas Adams' excellent Meaning of Liff offers a rather sweet definition of 'insolent': 'Fallen off the Isle of Wight Ferry'.

And on the subject of my beloved island, this very morning Mrs A spotted a car sticker proclaiming the driver as Wight trash. Fair enough; we are, after all, living in the Deep South!

Vorsprung durch cockup

Audi, to the best of my knowledge, produces a fine range of cars, but the skill of the company's engineers is not matched by the skill of the copywriters in its advertising agency.

In its current TV ad campaign much is made of the technology that diverts otherwise wasted braking energy into charging the vehicle's battery. Capturing braking energy is not a new idea; some years ago, when still an inhabitant of JD's Engine Room, I was subbing technical reports of similar technology (regular Engine Room correspondent Clutchslip knows much more about it than I do).

It was described as a regenerative system, which my ageing OED Concise defines as "...breathe new and more vigorous life into". But in their search for an alternative word Audi's men in red braces have come up with recuperative, which the OED defines as "...recover from exhaustion, illness, loss etc". I wonder how much they were paid for describing their clients' products as exhausted and ailing?

A tale of two neologisms

Son of Apus (who coincidentally plies his trade at a computer adjacent to JD's Engine Room) recently celebrated his quarter century, so it must be some 15 years ago that I heard him using the word 'fasety' for 'aggressive in a non-violent way'. Friends and colleagues I tried it on had not heard of it and it might well have been no more than a short-lived expression used by schoolkids in our neighbourhood.

Now a pal down here at the seaside has come up with another neologism, courtesy of his 14-year-old son who, upon beating his dad at a computer game, gleefully exclaimed: 'I owned you!'. When questioned, the lad confirmed that 'own' means 'beat' and, just like my son all those years ago, was surprised his dad didn't know the word.

Just another local fashion, or has anyone out there encountered this usage?

'Pokey' as in strong or alcoholic

I realised recently that sometimes I use the word 'pokey' to describe a beer (or other alcoholic drink) that is especially strong-tasting or alcoholic.

The thing is, I don't know when and where I picked up this word. My brother doesn't use it; my girlfriend, who grew up not too far from the town where I went to university, doesn't either. They both seemed surprised when I used 'pokey' in conversation to describe a particular beer, although they understood my intended meaning from the context of the sentence.

I would suspect that this usage of 'pokey' was unique to me, except that I've found on the internet a few instances of other people also using the word to mean strong or alcoholic. One poster on a British discussion board refers to Singha as having been "a very full flavoured pokey beer", for example.

So my question is: do you use 'pokey' to mean (or are you familiar with it being used to mean) strong and/or alcoholic? If so, can you shed some light on its usage?

NB 'Pokey' is also more commonly used to mean small or cramped, which means I could drink a pokey beer in a pokey pub... Oh, and it's worth mentioning that 'pokey' could easily be spelt 'poky'.

Please maintain the cleansiness of the toilets

Here's another photo taken by Clutchslip, this time in France:

French sign with questionable English translation

(As you may have guessed, I'm away this weekend – normal service will be resumed tomorrow. And for the record, I really like the word 'cleansiness'.)

Police seize nipple clamps in council offices

Clutchslip has very kindly sent us the following photo. He says: "Seen in Horsham – I'd love to know the original story."

Newspaper billboard with adjusted copy

I've had a quick look on the West Sussex County Times (Horsham Today) website but to no avail...

And are there any other shots of 'personalised' newspaper billboards out there?

Yao Guai Bear!

I've been playing the game Fallout 3 on my Xbox 360 for a while now, and I've recently started encountering a deadly bear-like creature called the Yao Guai. Here's one:

That's a strange name, I thought - but as the game's back story involves a war between China and America, I assumed 'Yao Guai' either meant something in Chinese or was chosen as a meaningless 'Chinese-sounding' name.

It wasn't until a couple of days later, when I was thinking about the likely pronunciation of 'Yao Guai', that I realised the name was probably a humorous reference to the much friendlier Yogi Bear. Oh, the wit of those game developers!

By the way, my Xbox 360 gamer tag is jdlondon, if anyone wants to add me as a friend.

You say 'teat', I say 'peat'...

Recently I was subbing a news story about a major drugs bust, in which 684kg of cocaine was discovered on a truck headed from Spain to England. The raw copy contained the following paragraph:

The drugs were found in plastic bags packed around cash registers and under piles of teat. A regional customs spokesman says: “It’s the biggest haul of cocaine ever seized in mainland France.”

I asked the writer of the story what 'teat' was. She said it was like soil. I asked her if she meant 'peat'. She said, no, 'teat'. She then looked up 'teat' in the dictionary just to check. It turned out she had meant 'peat'.

If 'teat' had made it into press, we would have both looked like tits.

Headlines: 'Blears jumps ship as Labour sinks'

Today's thelondonpaper has an interesting front page headline:

Blears jumps ship as Labour sinks

This is, of course, referring to Hazel Blears' resignation as communities secretary.

However I've always thought that someone who 'jumps ship' doesn't just leave one ship but joins another (metaphorically speaking).

To an extent, the Cambridge Idioms Dictionary (2nd Edition) agrees with me, saying:

if you jump ship, you leave a job or activity suddenly before it is finished, especially to go and work for someone else

So before reading the full story, I took thelondonpaper's headline to mean that Blears had jumped one ship (the Labour Party) to join another (probably the Conservative Party). I was, obviously, wrong.

And if you consider the literal meaning of 'to jump ship' - "to leave a ship without permission while it is temporarily in a port in the middle of a trip" (Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms) - there's no reason to involve a second 'ship'.

So why do I feel like it was a bad choice of headline?

Sinking Ship, Harwich

Headines: 'Pilot recycling scheme under way'

A colleague of mine, Sue, has pointed out this great BBC News headline:

"What do you do with recycled pilots, I wonder?" Sue asks.

Which reminds me of that old saying: "Old pilots never die, they just go to a higher plane..."

Style guide changes

Where I work, we recently agreed a few minor changes to our style guide. We're now using:

  • cashflow instead of the Oxford English Dictionary's 'cash flow'
  • seatbelt instead of the OED's 'seat belt' or our previous 'seat-belt'
  • T-shirt instead of our previous 'teeshirt'

So we're moving away from the OED when it comes to compound nouns. At least we're now in agreement with the dictionary over 'T-shirt'.