A tree is something resembling a tree

Unlikely as it sounds, I recently got involved in a drunken discussion on the difference between a tree, a bush and a plant.

I Googled 'tree' on my smartphone and one of the first definitions I came across was:

Something constructed in the form of, or considered as resembling, a tree, consisting of a stem, or stock, and branches; as, a genealogical tree.

That's from the 1913 edition of Webster's.

Now I'm sober, I understand what the definition is driving at - that 'tree' is sometimes used metaphorically (or perhaps I mean analogously?).

But I have to say that defining a tree as something "in the form of... a tree" does not help resolve drunken arguments. And really, what else are dictionary definitions for?

I demand a recount

The Engine Room didn't make it into bab.la and Lexiophiles' list of the 'Top 100 Language Blogs 2010', but if you voted for us then thank you.

Although the list is dominated by teaching and translation blogs (which usually hold no great interest for me), a few of my favourite blogs are present - including Fritinancy and Sentence first. Well done!

I'm going to propose to Sentence first that we form a coalition and introduce the alternative vote system. In the meantime, do check out this year's top 100.

What do you call it when... someone's visual identity is unknown?

This query has been emailed into The Engine Room:

Is there a word which means that a person's visual identity is unknown? For example, the West End Whingers are often referred to as "anonymous" as people don't know what they look like. However, they are not anonymous as they really are called Phil and Andrew [the names given on the WEW website]. Is there a word for use in these circumstances?

Well, 'anonymous' comes from the Greek for 'nameless', whereas Phil and Andrew, I suppose, are faceless rather than nameless. However the OED defines faceless as "remote and impersonal", which isn't really what we're driving at. And whether it's true of the West End Whingers I wouldn't like to say!

Lots of other 'in-' or 'un-' words also spring to mind, such as 'incognito' or 'undisclosed', but none of them seem quite right. I imagine we're looking for another 'a-' word.

Any suggestions?

The bomb was placed in a taxi... twice

Nothing very exciting today - just a bit of image and caption duplication I spotted on BBC News a while back:

I like capturing mistakes like these, not so I can feel smug, but because they are often corrected so quickly (especially on the BBC website).

Somehow their ephemeral nature makes me want to preserve them for posterity.

Word of the day: crashworthiness

During my time working on B2B transport mags and now websites, I've come across some interesting transport-related words. 'Crashworthiness' is one of my favourites.

According to Wikipedia:

Crashworthiness is the ability of a structure to protect its occupants during an impact. This is commonly tested when investigating the safety of vehicles.

The OED online gives:

The quality in an aircraft or motor-vehicle that makes it safer in the event of a crash. So crashworthy a.

Its first quotation is from the Journal of the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1948. Interesting that three of the OED's four quotations put crashworthiness in inverted commas.

A quick Google search brings up a publication called the International Journal of Crashworthiness - what a great title. It dates back to 1996.

'50 odd people are being killed every single day'

According to BBC News (or more accurately, Pretoria News crime reporter Graeme Hosken), 50 odd people are killed every day in South Africa.

Sometimes it pays to be normal.

BBC News story about murder rate in South Africa

Absinthe friends

Through Fuelmyblog I've had the chance to sample some absinthe from Absinthe-Shop. What's that got to do with language use and journalism? Well, I could mention the (tired) stereotype of hard-drinking journalists, or talk about the connection between absinthe and writers such as Arthur Rimbaud and Guy de Maupassant. But really, I just wanted to try the absinthe.

What I got to sample was La Clandestine, a Swiss 'la bleue' absinthe (which is neither blue, nor indeed green, but clear). It also came with a metal absinthe spoon:

Absinthe spoon

Absinthe-Shop has this to say on the "traditional method" of preparing absinthe:

A 1 ounce / 30 ml measure (also known as a ‘dose’) of absinthe is poured into a glass. A flat, slotted spoon is placed across the rim of the glass and a sugar cube added on top of the spoon. Add — slowly — 3 to 5 parts iced water to the drink, pouring directly onto the sugar cube.

It emerges that in our modern society it is now harder to obtain sugar cubes than absinthe, so I had to use granulated sugar instead - which didn't work particularly well with the slotted absinthe spoon. (Talking of spoons, the next time you are in a greasy one, pocket a few sugar cubes. You never know when you might need them.)

Despite this hitch, the best part about drinking absinthe is the ritual. It's up there with making a pot of tea or brewing coffee with a French press - except more boozy.

For my girlfriend Sarah, who also took part in this madcap endeavour, the best part is watching the absinthe change colour. It starts off clear:

Clear absinthe before louche

Then, when the water is poured in, the drink turns opaque (and yes, magically transforms one glass into two):

Opaque absinthe after louche

This process is called the louche.

So I'd better talk about the taste. We tried the absinthe both with and without sugar because bleue absinthes often have a natural sweetness (I was told in the tasting notes). And actually, that turned out to be true - the absinthe was not at all bitter unsweetened. Sarah did find that "the sugar took away the alcoholic hit at the back of your throat".

Despite being promised an array of herbal flavours, all I could taste was anise - probably because of my undeveloped absinthe palate. Having said that, Sarah and I both found the absinthe surprisingly smooth, and we agreed that we would rather drink La Clandestine than ouzo, say, or Pernod.

Plus, you don't get to use a slotted spoon with any of those lesser anise-flavoured drinks.

And no, it didn't send me crazy.

Engine Room readers who want to buy absinthe or absinthe accessories get 10% off at Absinthe-Shop until 30 June. The offer excludes items already on sale or discounted. Input this voucher code into the box on the My Cart page to apply: FMBLUV10


Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson is a man of few words. One word, in fact - and that word is 'gravadlax'.

Anthony Worrall Thompson says 'gravadlax' on BBC homepage

I spotted this on the BBC homepage a few days ago.

Yet more voting

Last year The Engine Room took part in bab.la and Lexiophiles' 'Top 100 Language Blogs' competition, coming eighth in the 'Language Professionals' category and 45th overall.

The 2010 competition is now under way and the blog is competing in the same category as before. User votes count for 50% of the final score so please vote for us (well, me) using this button:

Vote the Top 100 Language Professionals Blogs 2010

I'm not sure whether I'm even a "language professional" any more - probably not. But it's just a bit of fun - and a good way to discover some blogs.

Gordon Brown's legacy

BBC News has been running a story titled 'What is Gordon Brown's legacy?':

Nothing, apparently.

Sparse but beautiful, like a good decaf

Recently I bought a jar of Percol decaffeinated instant coffee (pictured below). On the back of the jar there's some blurb about Columbia Colombia, where the coffee is grown. I'm somewhat bemused by this sentence:

This landscape is sparse but beautiful in it's own way, like a good decaf.

Never mind the apostrophe - how can a coffee be "sparse but beautiful"? Sparse in flavour?

The coffee isn't bad, by the way, as instant decafs go.

Percol decaffeinated coffee

'Both the good and decent people'

This is what Labour MP Margaret Hodge had to say after BNP leader Nick Griffin came third in her constituency:

"This is really a great moment in our history, a never-to-be forgotten moment for both the good and decent people of Barking and Dagenham."

So there are only two good and decent people in Barking and Dagenham?

Why The Engine Room is a little quiet at the moment

For the past few months I've had an idea brewing for a new site/blog (sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between the two), and I'm just starting to turn it into reality using WordPress. This is my first experience with WordPress, so even if my idea turns out to be a stinker at least I'll have learned something new.

I don't want to go into too many details just yet, but when I have something halfway complete then I'll share it here. In the meantime, I might blog a little less frequently - but that doesn't mean I'll appreciate your comments and contributions any less.

Cameron cocks up

This picture of Conservative leader David Cameron went viral last week, but with election day on Thursday I think it's worth sharing:

Picture of David Cameron copyright Michael Schofield

Thanks to Gareth for sending me the photo, and Michael Schofield for taking it in the first place.

Only party X can stop party Y

Yesterday a booklet came through the post titled "Election addresses by candidates for Mayor of Lewisham".

The election address by Conservative candidate Simon Nundy says: "Only the Conservatives can stop Labour on May 6th." (From context it is clear that he is referring to the mayoral election, not the general election.)

The election address by Liberal Democrat candidate Chris Maines says: "At the last Mayoral election, it was a close finish between the Lib Dems and Labour. This time, the Lib Dems are set to win."

So - only the Conservatives can stop Labour, but the Lib Dems are set to win? How does that work?

I feel strongly that political parties shouldn't be allowed to make statements such as 'only party X can stop party Y here' or, in effect, 'a vote for party Z is a wasted vote'. Such statements only serve to reinforce the status quo - they are self-fulfulling prophecies, not statements of fact.

Terms & conditions: Lorem ipsum

So yesterday's Metro carried this advert for 'social music store' mflow. Have a look at the terms and conditions (and click on the image if you want to see a larger version):

Advert for mflow with lorem ipsum text instead of terms and conditions

Whoops! Terms and conditions are usually there because they have to be, so missing them off is worse than you might think.

An area equivalent to the size of Greece

A recent BBC News article mentions "the discovery of a vast 'microbial mat', covering an area equivalent to the size of Greece".

It's unusual to see Greece used as a unit of comparison or measurement. I find it harder to gauge the area of Greece than, say, France, because of Greece's irregular shape and large number of islands. Or are we only talking about mainland Greece?

Interestingly, the country closest in size to Greece is England, with an area of 130,395km2 as opposed to Greece's 131,957km2.

So why didn't BBC News use England as a unit of comparison rather than Greece? I'm fairly sure that a) more British people will read the article in question than Greek people, and b) British people have a better idea of the area of England than the area of Greece.

Or would using England as a unit of comparison be more confusing to readers who are neither Greek nor British? When I taught English as a foreign language in Russia, many of my students were hazy on the difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom.

Love grammar? Love Persian cats

The Engine Room has been included on a list of the '50 Best Blogs for Grammar Geeks' on Universityreviewsonline.com.

For some reason the list falls into the website's archive for October 2005 - perhaps it is an old list that has just been updated?

Other entries on the same page of the archive include 'The Top 50 Wedding Planner Blogs' and '15 Tips on Caring for Persian Cats', which makes October 2005 a great month for engaged cat-owning grammarians looking for an online university.

Temporary waiting area

Clutchslip spotted this sign to a "temporary waiting area":

Temporary waiting area
What, as opposed to a permanent waiting area?

Show business

So last week as part of my job I spent three days at a trade show - something of a novelty for me because I am usually office-based.

Another novelty was using Twitpic to share a few photos of the show on Twitter. Here's one of Bibendum - Michelin Man as he's more often known.

I also tried out TwitPict, an iPhone Twitpic client, which works well but adds '#TwitPict' to any tweets you send with it.

We had agreed on a hashtag to use before the show, but in the end it was only used by a few people on our team and maybe three non-journalists too. Not a total success. Incidentally, Hashtags.org is a useful website for tracking the popularity of individual hashtags.

What else? We produced a video news round-up of each day of the show, although my role there was limited to uploading it to the website (and appearing in the background of one of the videos for a minute or so). We also put the videos one our YouTube channel for good measure - oh, and embedded them in one of our blogs.

I even wrote a bit of copy - well, a few paragraphs - and subbed a couple of stories for good measure. I felt like a proper journalist for almost the first time since leaving the production desk.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoy my current role, but it has a bit too much of the technical (and increasingly, the commercial) to feel much like journalism.

Still, the show must go on.

What is happening to email?

Something strange is happening to the way I use email.

Last week I sent someone a long, information-packed email that they had been expecting. I immediately followed this up with a direct message on Twitter letting them know that I had just sent the email.

Later on that evening I received a reply on Twitter thanking me for the information. There was no email reply.

Look at this another way. I have three email accounts that I use regularly: my work account, the Engine Room's own account, and a personal account I've held for about a decade. I now check the last of these around once a week, down from every day a few years back.

If I want to send a quick, casual message, I'll use Twitter; if I want to share a link, I'll use Delicious; if I want to pose an open question to some work colleagues, I'll use Yammer; if it's work-related but not pressing, I'll use LinkedIn; and so on. Email's role is becoming much more niche.

And that's strange, because email is ubiquitous: pretty much everyone who has uses the internet has an email address. Not everyone uses Twitter, or Delicious, or Google Wave, or any of these other fun forms of communication.


Body lotion is like hand cream, but not

At the weekend I met some friends in a slightly upmarket pub and was startled to see bottles of "body lotion" in the unisex toilet cubicles:

Handwash and body lotion as spotted in a London pub

Handwash I could understand. You need to wash your hands; you use the handwash. But body lotion? Who would want to apply lotion to their bodies in a pub toilet? (Rhetorical question.)

I returned to my friends and said as much; the girls in the group laughed at me, and not for the right reasons. Apparently the body lotion is to apply to your hands after washing them, to moisturise them.

Surely that would be hand cream, I pointed out. But no - hand cream is more expensive than body lotion and has a different consistency.

So are there such things as hand lotion and body cream? Are they all types of moisturiser, or is moisturiser something else again? I think I'm going to stick to soap and water...

Sophie Dahl will make your candle fizz

Visual metaphor of the week goes to the fizzing, spurting candles on TV cooking programme The Delicious Miss Dahl:

spurtinng candles on Sophie Dahl cooking show

(The candles appear at about 15 minutes, 10 seconds in on episode two, 'Romance', which is available to watch on the BBC's iPlayer for the next month.)

Thousands 'to miss out on university degree'

I thought this was a strange BBC News headline:

BBC News article and headline

First, there are two orders of magnitude between "thousands" (headline) and "hundreds of thousands" (body copy). A quick play with Firebug suggests that "Hundreds of thousands 'to miss out on university degree'" would fit - just - as a headline, although I grant you that it's not particularly catchy.

Second, the story isn't that people will miss out on degrees - it's that they will miss out on university places altogether (although one tends to follow the other). To me, the headline as stands suggests that thousands of people currently at university will miss out on a degree. And while that's probably true, it's not reflective of the story.

Jobless recovery

I spotted this on the Conservative Party website recently:

Theresa May warns of a jobless recovery

The phrase "jobless recovery" was new to me. At first I thought it was just a synonym for "return to high unemployment", but it turns out that a jobless recovery is something more specific. Wikipedia defines it as:

Recovery from a recession, where "recovery" is defined as growth in gross domestic product (GDP), which does not produce strong growth in employment

Wikipedia also points out that the phrase is "used by economists, especially in the United States" - I'm not sure whether it has entered common use in British English (although here's a Times Online article from February that uses it prominently).

Anyway, perhaps the Conservative Party article should have clarified what Theresa May meant by "jobless recovery". I certainly didn't know.

'Donate second hand clothes for food items'

"Donate second hand clothes for men and women and food items"? I didn't realise that food items needed second hand clothes...

A very gluggable red whine

Apologies for the lack of posts recently - I've been really busy at work.

On the plus side I now own an iPhone, which makes it much easier for me to take and upload photos. Here's the first:

This bottle of wine (sorry: whine) has been sitting on my kitchen worktop for the past month, waiting to be blogged. I can't remember whether it had "boiled sweet characters", and if so, whether they were a good thing. Somehow I doubt it.

Roger Boyes byline goes viral on Twitter

Yesterday morning our head of content pointed out to me a Times Online story titled Vienna Boys’ Choir Caught up in Sex Abuse Scandals - written by Roger Boyes:

Roger Boyes story in The Times

Not exactly a case of nominative determinism (Roger Boyes doesn't himself roger boys, as far as I know), but pretty good nonetheless.

Later in the day - and before I'd had a chance to blog - I spotted #timesbylines as a trending topic on Twitter. Tweets included '"It Was Stephen Gately's Lifestyle That Killed Him" by Gabe Asher' - thanks to @TheLakePoets for that one.

Apparently #RogerBoyes trended as well.

Oh, and Boyes'
Wikipedia entry has already been updated to read:

In March 2010, an article he wrote for The Times about paedophile priests became a viral hit on Twitter because of the apparent appropriateness of his name for the subject matter; "to roger" being a British slang term for having sexual intercourse.

So The Engine Room is slower than both Twitter and Wikipedia. Sorry about that.

Spoof letter in the Daily Mail?

Gareth has sent in this scan of a letter that was recently published in the Daily Mail:

Daily Mail letter about 6 Music

Gareth writes:

Even disregarding the letter's content, the name at the bottom clearly shows this up as a spoof letter – although I fear this may be lost on many of the newspaper's readers.

The question is: is this letter something that the Mail has made up themselves, or is it a parody that someone has sent in that has been mistakenly published as genuine?

In fact, working as you do in the publishing industry, can you confirm my long-held suspicion that the majority of printed letters in newspapers and magazines are simply made up by bored staff members?

Thanks, Gareth - what a brilliant letter. However, Googling "Derek Hartopp" suggests that it is not a spoof, as unlikely as that seems.

From my experience on consumer and business magazines, I can say that a minority of letters are made up.

I certainly haven't met many journalists with moral qualms about faking readers' letters.

That said, the primary reason for making up letters is need rather than boredom. Magazines often commit to running a letters page every week or month and then fail to receive enough suitable letters before the next issue goes to press. Of the letters received, some will be incomprehensible, some irrelevant, some libellous, some unoriginal, and some simply unprintable.

The present inebriated

Carl Jackson has written in to say:

I just thought your readers might appreciate this passage on grammar and usage from an SAT parody book called The BSAT: http://www.bsatworld.com/lookInside/grammarUsage

Thanks, Carl. I especially liked this par:

Compare "I drank too much" to "I have drunk too much." Drank is the simple past tense; drunk is the past participle. Don't confuse the two. (Also don't confuse with "I am drunk too much," the present inebriated.)

What Apus did next: Motorcycling Memories

I began this blog back in April 2007 with Apus, who was then chief sub to my sub editor. In February 2008 Apus retired, although he continued to contribute to the blog until the summer of 2009. So what has Apus been doing since then?

Apart from sitting on the beach and eating bacon sandwiches, he has put together a website called Motorcycling Memories, "a miscellany of motor cycling musings, milestones and memorabilia". Apus used to work on Motor Cycle Weekly, you see, and motorcycling remains one of his great passions.

Just thought some of you might be interested to know.

To be kept locked when not in actual use

What, as opposed to metaphorical use?

I also love how the text is left-aligned (ragged right, if you prefer to call it that) rather than centred. It gives the sign a certain poetical quality.

Daily Mail columnist resents her online readership

Columnist Bel Mooney had this to say in yesterday's Daily Mail and Mail Online:

To be honest, there are times I faintly resent the fact that people read newspapers for free online, instead of buying a real paper. [...]

If you're reading this online and you live in the UK, tell me why you can't be bothered to fork out a measly 50p for a proper paper you can take with you, cut things out of, etc? I don't see why people should expect something for nothing.

That's great, Bel. A lot of respect for your web audience there. And it's not as if Mail Online is a charitable endeavour...

Word of the day: copyleft

I first came across the word 'copyleft' in a Computer Weekly article called The World of Wikinomics just over a year ago.

Here's the par in question:

Projects under that [WikiMedia Foundation] umbrella include Wikipedia (contributed to and edited by millions of people, and the fourth most visited website in the world) Wikibooks and Wikisource (out-of-copyright or "copyleft" texts) Wikimedia Commons (royalty-free multimedia files) Wikinews (which, like "microblogging" site Twitter, often breaks news globally), and Wikiversity (free-to-use courses and educational materials).

I'm not sure whether CW is saying here that Wikisource includes both out-of-copyright and copyleft texts, or whether it is saying that 'copyleft' means 'out of copyright'. I'm veering towards the latter.

So is copyleft a synonym for 'out of copyright'? Not according to Wikipedia:

Copyleft is a play on the word copyright to describe the practice of using copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies and modified versions of a work and requiring that the same rights be preserved in modified versions of the work.

Copyleft is a form of licensing and can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works such as computer software, documents, music and art.

Whatever its exact definition (if it has one), the word 'copyleft' originated in the 1970s and now has fairly widespread use: over seven million results in Google, although some of those are company names and so on. I'm surprised I only encountered it for the first time in 2009.

Oh, and just because I like it, here's a copyleft symbol:

Usually fish are in the water now they are falling out of the sky

Here's an extract from a recent Telegraph.co.uk article called Australian town, 326 miles from river, hit by raining fish. Check out the quote from Joe Ashley, 55:

Extract from Telegraph article about raining fish

Harry Campbell sent this one in to The Engine Room, and he asks: "Is punctuation now rationed at the Daily Telegraph?"

If anything, I think the lack of punctuation conveys a rather appropriate sense of panic on the part of Joe Ashley. I'd be panicked if I thought crocodiles might start dropping out of the sky...

A balls-up from iTunes Genius

So iTunes' Genius feature is not such a genius (click on the image to see a larger version):

iTune's Genius gets its Balls in a muddle

I selected a song from my collection by North London singer-songwriter Edward Ball, and Genius suggested an album of easy-listening piano music by Peter Triggvi and Edward Ballantyne.

If Duncan Bannatyne and Johnny Ball ever take up singing and release a duet, I shall have to disable Genius entirely.

Update 9.30pm - so here's a video from Ed Ball (not Edward Ballantyne) complete with Anna Friel guest appearance:

Most every country

Here's something else that cropped up in the online training course on data privacy that I took recently (click on the image to see a larger version):

"Most every country"? As well as appearing twice in print (as shown), it was also used once in the audio track that accompanied the visuals.

On this usage of 'most', the OED Online says:

Chiefly N. Amer. Modifying certain universal and non-assertive determiners and pronouns, as all, any, every, anyone, everything, etc., and corresponding adverbs of time and place, as always, anywhere, everywhere.

This adverbial usage of 'most' seems rather colloquial to me, and not appropriate for a company training course - but then I'm a British English speaker.

Any American English speakers out there want to comment?

I used your pic with my article

Yesterday The Engine Room received this email:

Hi, I used your pic with my article at suite101.com. - see it at http://personalbudgeting.suite101.com/article.cfm/executors-need-information

That's the entire email, and I'm not sure what to think about it.

On the one hand, I'm pleased to see one of my photos being used elsewhere - and it was nice that the author of the article got in touch to let me know. On the other hand, it would have been nicer if he had asked first - and where's the thank you?

Orange you glad I'm a banana?

Bananas, looking suspiciously round and orangey
Thanks to my colleague Adam Tinworth, firstly for taking this photo and secondly for letting me publish it here on The Engine Room.

The blogroll: it lives! On a page!

So I've finally reinstated The Engine Room's blogroll. You can access it using via the navigation bar at the top of the blog.

The blogroll is just the same as before, except that I've removed a few blogs that are in disuse. I have a lot of new discoveries to add to the blogroll, but that will have to wait for another day. I'd also like to display it in a more interesting way - again, that will have to wait.

Anyway, the blogroll lives on a 'page' rather than a post entry - I'm very glad that Blogger has finally added this feature. If you want to know more, see Blogger Buzz: Creating Pages in Blogger.

I've also added a little widget at the top of the sidebar on the right so you can easily find me elsewhere on the Internet.

Expiry date is one one one two

So I've just paid my electricity bill over the phone. My electricity company has a voice recognition system in place, so instead of speaking to a real person I just followed the cues and read out my account number, card number and so on as required.

All was going swimmingly until I was asked to read out my debit card's expiry date. On the card itself this is given as '11/12' (in that format) so after a moment's hesitation I said "eleven, twelve". No dice! I then tried "November two thousand and twelve". The system grudgingly accepted this, replying with: "Your card expiry date is one one one two. Is this correct?"

Note to companies using voice recognition systems: when you ask customers for information, please tell them how to give that information.

(And note to potential fraudsters: my card's expiry date isn't actually 11/12. Probably.)

Where's rougher than Walford? Balham

EastEnders is set in the fictional East London borough of Walford.

Walford is hardly the most affluent place in the world, but sometimes the scriptwriters need the action to take place in an even rougher, more dangerous part of London - and for that they look south.

One current plotline has several scenes set in the South London neighbourhood of Balham. It is portayed as a wasteland of council flats, dark alleys, and menacing gangs:

EastEnders gang scene set in Balham

I lived in Balham for a year not so long ago, and saw more yummy mummies than hoodies. Wikipedia notes: "Property prices have risen as middle class professionals have moved in, causing the district to lose some of the working class feel it had up till the 1990s."

There are plenty of places in South London that make Walford look like Knightsbridge, but Balham isn't one of them.

Goodyear Dunlop restores full shits

Goodyear Dunlop restores full shits, at least according to the latest email newsletter from The Business Desk:

The Business Desk email newsletter
This one was spotted by my colleague Jo.

(Incidentally, I had a bit of a mishap with the last email newsletter I put together - I'll tell you about it when the embarrassment has gone down...)

Layout sub vacancy on our production desk

There's a vacancy for a layout sub on our production desk. The salary's competitive, the work is interesting and varied, and you'll get to be a colleague of mine. But don't let that last point put you off.

(So it's no secret that I work for RBI. The best way to find out about editorial vacancies with us is probably to follow RBIJobs on Twitter.)

Is it always wrong to wear your trousers too high?

I seem to be going through another BBC News phase. Here's something I spotted on the site a little while back:

Is it always wrong to wear your trousers too high?
Is it always wrong to wear your trousers too high? Yes, by definition - the word too means "to a higher degree than is desirable, permissible, or possible" (Concise OED). 'Possible' isn't applicable here but 'desirable' and 'permissible' both could be.

A fairer question would be 'Is it always wrong to wear your trousers high?'.

'Powerful intimate relationship with a co-worker'

From a recent BBC News article called Sex at work: weapon or repression?:

Sex at work: weapon or repression?
The first par: "Research... shows that 60% of all workers have had a powerful intimate relationship with a co-worker."

The fourth par: "[Kakabadse] realises that it might be hard to believe that six out of 10 colleagues are involved in an intimate relationship"

There's a world of difference between "have had" and "are involved in"!

(I'm also not keen on swapping between "60%" and "six out of 10", but that's a different issue...)

Schumacher to 'quickly surpass' Mansell's age

Gingerous has written in with some interesting comments on a recent BBC Sport article called 'Michael Schumacher targets F1 title with Mercedes team'. Here's the particular par he refers to:

Schumacher is the oldest driver to compete in F1 since Nigel Mansell made a brief comeback in 1994, also at the age of 41 - and the German will quickly surpass the Englishman's age as the year progresses.

And here's what Gingerous has to say:

Two things popped into my head when I read this - firstly, can you quickly surpass an age? Surely we all age at the same rate.

Secondly, technically he won't surpass Nigel Mansell's age since at the time of writing this Nigel Mansell is still alive and with us and currently 56.

Obviously this is just me being pedantic and the article does make sense.

As everyone ages at the same rate, I agree that the word 'quickly' is a bit of a strange choice. Perhaps the writer means 'soon'? And 'as the year progresses' also sounds odd to me. Perhaps it would be better to tell us exactly when Schumacher will become the oldest driver ever to compete in F1.

'Time for cupid to get pratical'

Here's the start of a recent email newsletter from DIY Kyoto:

Time for cupid to get pratical


As part of my job, I sign off a weekly e-newsletter that gets sent out to around 20,000 people. The thought of missing a typo in the headline brings me out in a cold sweat.

(It'll probably happen next week now I've said that.)

'Never reply to unexpected emails'

As part of my job I've recently had to take an online training course on data privacy and security. The section 'Best practices for combating pretexting and phishing attempts' contained this useful piece of advice:

Never reply to unexpected emails

Many of the work-related emails I receive, particularly those from our customers or users, are "unexpected". If I never replied to them, my data would be safe but my job wouldn't...

£10 eye test voucher

When I went shopping in Morrisons recently I was given a "£10 eye test voucher":

£10 eye test voucher for Specsavers
That's nice - but I don't know whether the voucher gets me an eye test for £10 or just £10 off an eye test.

Of course, if a Specsavers eye test ordinarily costs £20, then it makes no difference.

Leyland's 'Titanic' Six-Wheeler

My colleague Clutchslip spotted this old Leyland Motors advert in a recent volume of Historic Commercial News (click to see a larger version):

Leyland Titanic bus from Historic Commercial News
Leyland's Titanic bus was introduced in 1927, a good 15 years after the sinking of the RMS Titanic.

I'm not sure that many manufacturers would name one of their vehicles 'Titanic' nowadays...

1 double bed or 2 double beds or 2 twin beds

So I've managed to book my summer holiday:

Unclear holiday booking screengrab
Yes, that's "1 double bed or 2 double beds or 2 twin beds". And "City view and/or Courtyard view and/or Garden view".

I definitely get a clock radio, though.


Excuse the title of this post, but I've been enjoying the Daily Mail-o-matic headline generator recently.

And through that site, I've also discovered the Daily Mail Oncological Ontology Project - "an ongoing quest to track the Daily Mail's classification of inanimate objects into two types: those that cause cancer, and those that cure it".

My holiday was £999. Now it's 10,000

I haven't posted for a couple of days because I've been trying to find - and then book - a nice holiday for this summer. But I keep hitting obstacles. Here's one, from a holiday website that shall remain nameless:

Holiday quote engine not working
So my holiday that was £999 (not true!) now costs 10,000 (currency unknown). I don't think I'll be booking that one.

'We've got a sub for that'

Introducing the great 'I've just been humiliated in front of 1,200 people' sub. You choose the bread, the filling, the salad and the sauce. However you feel, whatever you want - we've got a sub for that.

And I've got a term for that: comfort eating.

The BBC and Tim Berner's Lee

Here's some of the worst subbing I've seen on the BBC News website for quite a while:

BBC News article extract on the rise of the web's digital elites

The first par shown needs to be broken up - it took me three reads to get the sense of it. Then there's the apostrophe in Tim Berners Lee's name. And of course the stray 'his' in the third par.

The rest of the article is little better - particularly this short par:

Despite this, people like former US Vice-President Al Gore is an online optimist.

To be honest, I'm not shocked or offended at all - it's just nice to be reminded that nobody's perfect.

Clutchslip's shocking iPhone app

My colleague Clutchslip writes:

Having recently succumbed to an iPhone, I’ve inevitably being looking for apps to load. I feel utter disgrace at having considered this shocker, as reviewed on the iTunes App Store. The review warns -

“Rated 12+ for the following:

Infrequent/mild alcohol, tobacco, drug use or reference to these.”

And the product? AA – Best of Britain, a hotel, restaurant and pub guide!

'Receive Quid From the Government'

I just logged into StatCounter to see how The Engine Room was doing when I spotted this ad:

Receive Quid from the Government
'Get a few quid' perhaps, but never 'receive quid'. I think I'm safe in saying that this copy wasn't written by a native British English speaker.

In fact, Google gives only 576 results for "Receive Quid" (and almost all of those follow their 'quid' with a 'pro quo').

Unfortunately, the ad changed before I thought to click on it - and no matter how many times I refresh StatCounter it won't come back. So I'll probably never find out how to receive quid from the government.

I wouldn't know what to do with 11,286 quids anyway.

'Sleep starts at the beginning of the night'

By now you have probably heard or read about hotel chain Holiday Inn offering a human bed-warming service.

This is obviously a daft (if effective) PR stunt so I won't dwell on it too much, but I would like to look at a particular quote that has appeared in a lot of the coverage around this story. The quote, attributed to Dr Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre, is as follows:

There's plenty of scientific evidence to show that sleep starts at the beginning of the night when body temperature starts to drop. A warm bed - approximately 20 to 24 Celsius - is a good way to start this process whereas a cold bed would inhibit sleep.

"There's plenty of scientific evidence to show that sleep starts at the beginning of the night" - what exactly does this mean? If by 'night' we generally mean the time that we are asleep, then yes, sleep does usually start at the beginning of the night.

Here are a selection of sites using the quote or a version of it:

'I am out of the office now for the rest of my life'

My publishing director retired last week after 41 years with the company. I forgot to remove him from a particular mailing list and this morning emailed him by accident, only to get a great automated reply back. It began:

I am out of the office now for the rest of my life.

Did you mean: dicks?

My girlfriend is currently writing an academic essay about the 'DIKW hierarchy', a model which distinguishes between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom.

She searched for 'DIKW' on her university library website and got this:

Did you mean: dicks?
I could hear her laughing from two rooms away.

Worst Case & Michael Ledwidge

This morning, on the way in to work, I saw an advert for the novel Worst Case by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. Here's the book's front cover:

It seems strange to me that the title is placed between the authors' names. The novel could almost be called 'Worst Case & Michael Ledwidge'.

Juxtaposition: 'I can make you thin'

Here's a rather unfortunate juxtaposition from yesterday's Metro:

Unfortunate juxtaposition in Metro
Good spot, Gareth.

'Not suitable for children under 3 years old'

My colleague Clutchslip has forwarded on this extract from the latest edition of Transport News Brief, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' email newsletter:

Transport News Brief reader Owen Ryder of Cummins recently bought a birthday card for his baby daughter. On the front it read "Happy Birthday To A Special Girl On Your First Birthday". On the back it said, in small print "Not suitable for children under 3 years old". He's now not sure for whom this card is suitable.

Nursey nurse

The camera on my mobile phone is broken, so you'll have to take my word for it when I say that a recruitment agency near my office is currently advertising for a "NURSEY NURSE".

At first I assumed this was a typo, but Googling 'Nursey Nurse' throws up the following vacancy on guardianjobs:

Nursey Nurse
And Nursery World Jobs is carrying an advert for a "passionate nursey nurse":

Passionate nursey nurse
I could go on, but it's past my beddy-byes.

Gang 'jailed for a total of 94 years'

This evening's 8pm news summary on BBC One mentioned the sentencing of a drug-smuggling gang. The newsreader said:

Patrick Walsh and his accomplices were jailed for a total of 94 years

However she did not say how many accomplices there were.

If Walsh had 20 accomplices, that figure of 94 years would seem on the low side; conversely, if he had only two, it would seem rather high.

So it's almost meaningless to be told the number of years without also being told the number of accomplices.

(According to the East London Advertiser, Walsh had five accomplices.)

Incidentally, I was amused to hear the gang referred to as "international drug smugglers". Unless told otherwise, I assume that drug smugglers smuggle drugs from one country to another, making them by default "international".

But that's just my interpretation.

Word of the day: waitperson

This evening my girlfriend and I had a meal out at a restaurant in Crystal Palace. The food was excellent but the menu suggested we ask "our waitperson" about the soup and terrine of the day.

'Waitperson' - is this a common word? I'd been under the impression that 'waiter', like 'actor', was increasingly being used gender-neutrally. Or can I expect to come across 'actperson' soon?

The Oxford English Dictionary does list 'waitperson' (as an American English term) - the first quotation is as follows:

1980 N.Y. Times 3 Aug. (Long Island Weekly section) 13/1 The young waiters and waitresses (referred to as ‘waitpersons’ on the menu),..wear a preppy uniform.

Redemial racehorsing and real-play

I was on a training course yesterday with a chap who littered his speech with spoonerisms. Two particularly good ones he came out with were racehorsing (for 'horseracing') and redemial (for 'remedial').

And I'd also like to share this snippet from the pre-course information:

We will be using real-life situations in skills practice. There will be no role-play, only real-play!

Make Your Own Web Site for the Older Generation

At work, when I moved over to the web side of operations full time, I inherited lots of bits and bobs from our departing web editor.

One of these was a book titled How to Make Your Own Web Site for the Older Generation.

Unfortunately, the "for the older generation" part of the title refers to the book itself, not to any websites that might be built using it. In other words, it doesn't tell me how to build a website that appeals to OAPs.

(The cover of my copy is identical to the one pictured, except that mine has "Web Site" in the title instead of "Website".)

'Food photography for visual purposes only'

My colleague Clutchslip has sent me this:

Food photography for visual purposes only

It's very difficult to make out, but the small text underneath the coffee mug reads: "Food photography for visual purposes only."

So there you go - you're not allowed to sniff or eat the photo.

Headlines: 'Bizarre cricket caught on camera'

The sixth headline in this BBC News 'Most Popular Stories Now' widget confused me briefly:

BBC News widget with bizarre cricket story
Bizarre cricket? Could the Beeb mean Twenty20?

(OK, here's the real story.)

Tools to tile images and create PDFs

Here are a couple of really handy web-based tools that I discovered recently and now use regularly at work:

Upload a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document and this tool will convert it into a PDF and email it back to you. It's free - you don't even have to sign up. Much easier than firing up Acrobat.

This tool is designed to help you "create any size wall posters from any size images", but I use it to print off screengrabs of websites when they won't fit on to one sheet of paper. Basically, Block Posters 'slices' your image up into page-sized tiles and then turns these into a PDF for you to download and print. My only criticism is that it doesn't accept .PNG files.

Icy playground shortages

From a BBC News article today:

Icy playground and staff shortages
I didn't know the UK was suffering from icy playground shortages!

'Indicative of fecal contamination'

Have a look at this (particularly unpleasant) headline and standfirst, and then have a look at the full story on WESH.com.

Human waste found in soda fountains

First, the headline: "Human waste found in soda fountains". Well, the body copy says the fountains "contained coliform bacteria, which is a group indicative of fecal contamination". But it doesn't say anything about actual human waste being found.

And then the standfirst: "Virginia researchers find 70 percent of drinks contaminated". The body copy says "nearly half of all beverages" contained the bacteria - so where does this figure of 70% fit in?

Incidentally, the story refers to "a study" carried out by "experts" and "researchers", and also indirectly quotes "microbiologists". Names and details, please!

AP headline unleashes emotions

I saw this Associated Press headline on the New York Times website today, and I'm not that keen:

Civilian deaths unleash emotions in Afghanistan

"Civilian deaths unleash emotions in Afghanistan" - which emotions? Awe? Lust? Joy?

Of course not, but it wouldn't hurt to be a bit more specific.

Twitter + wine = Witter?

I saw this on Twitter and it confused me somewhat:

Twitter promoting Fledgling wine
"A Twitter winemaking project for literacy around the world"? I couldn't see the connection between winemaking and literacy, or indeed winemaking and Twitter.

But according to the Fledgling Wine website:

The Fledgling Initiative aims to make awesome wine for the benefit of Room to Read, a non-profit organization extending literacy and educational opportunities to children worldwide. Every case sold will provide approximately 60 local language children’s books and promote education in the world’s poorest regions.

So that's the connection between literacy and winemaking. I'm not entirely sure where Twitter fits in, but the introduction on the Fledgling Wine website is written by Biz Stone and Evan Williams, two of the co-founders of Twitter, so I'm guessing there's a very close link.