What JD did next

So I haven't written anything here on The Engine Room since last summer. That's because I've been working on a new site, Cathedral City Guide.

Why? Well, I was keen to build something in WordPress; my day job had moved almost totally away from subbing; and I wanted a new challenge. Most of all, my partner and I had visited half a dozen of England's medieval cathedral cities and we felt that collectively they deserved a website of their own.

I probably won't be updating The Engine Room in the foreseeable future but equally I'm not going to delete it. Thanks for all your photos, comments and emails - they were much appreciated.

Feel free to visit me at Cathedral City Guide or @cathedralcities on Twitter.

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.