What's a European accent then?

Yesterday's thelondonpaper included a story headlined "An army of squatters moves into MoD flats". This par particularly struck me:

The squatters, who are mostly aged from their early 20s to mid 30s, milled about the site today, several of them speaking with European accents.

What on earth is a European accent? Birmingham is part of Europe, so perhaps all the squatters came from Birmingham.

But according to The Guardian's version:

Marcin, a 28-year-old from Poland, said: "There are people here from all over the world, Italians, Spaniards, South Africans, Portuguese."

There you go – detail. Much better.

Cultural references and coverlines

Cultural references are funny things. The subs wanted to use 'Shock and Awe' for a coverline on a story about electric vehicles, but the editor didn't get the reference.

On a different occasion the editor suggested 'Muddy Mavis!' for a coverline on a test of a 4x4 pickup, but the subs didn't get the reference.

Of course, the 'Muddy Mavis!' coverline got used and the 'Shock and Awe' one didn't. I suppose that's one advantage of being the editor.

(For those who don't know, a coverline in this context is a sentence or phrase on a magazine's cover, usually flagging up one of the stories inside that issue. There's a good glossary of journalism terms on Journalism.co.uk.)

Quotes: 'considerable time to remedy'

Here's a brilliantly ambiguous quote from a Kent Police spokesman regarding the problem of illegal parking in a particular business park:

It’s something we are taking considerable time to remedy

So are Kent Police dedicating a lot of time to fixing this problem, or are they just slow in getting round to it?

I can't remember whether I left the quote in the story. Probably did.

Debaucher versus debauchee

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, a "person given to debauchery" is a debauchee, not (as I might have thought) a debaucher. Debaucher isn't listed.

But it makes sense. If debauch means "destroy the moral purity of", then someone who has had their moral purity destroyed (and as a result is given to debauchery) could indeed be a debauchee (object, not subject).

By the way, the Google test on this one is close, with debauchee throwing up 78,200 results and debaucher pipping it with 104,000. Brilliantly, limiting the search to pages from the UK leads to a dead heat with 2,340 results for each word.

PS. Email me photos of your own debauchery (nothing NSFW please) and I will choose the best one to illustrate this post...

Photo special: our business is exploding

Seeing as it's a bank holiday today I thought I would run another 'photo special'.

This business card was pushed through my door recently:

A business card reading HELP! Our organic healthcare business is exploding and we need help

I don't know about you, but if my business was exploding I would probably call the emergency services rather than seek help via the rather slower medium of the business card...

Friday roundup: LexioPhiles and Journalism.me

A few things in this week's roundup:

According to LexioPhiles, the Engine Room is the 118th best language blog out there. Unfortunately we didn't manage to break into the top 100, but it's nice to see some of my favourite blogs doing so, including:

However, apart from The Engine Room, there aren't many blogs by copy editors or sub editors in the LexioPhiles list. Scandalously, no Mighty Red Pen or Editrix!


I don't know if this is anyone's bag, but I quite like the SEO analysis tool SEOSiteCheckup.com. And no, I'm not being paid to say that.


Another find I'm pleased with this week is Journalism.me, which aggregates feeds from dozens of journalism blogs (or perhaps it is more accurate to say blogs by journalists). The Engine Room is, happily, one of those blogs.

It might be good to do ('put together'?) an aggregation of sub editing (copy editing) blogs. What do you reckon? On second thoughts, I'm not sure I have the technical nouse – or the time. An idea for someone else to pick up, perhaps.

Alan Eaglesfield and The Joy of Motoring

Do you know Alan Eaglesfield? Are you Alan Eaglesfield?

A little less than a year ago I wrote a post on this blog about how Alan coined the phrase 'Spaghetti Junction' when he was a sub on the Birmingham Evening Mail. As I recall, I took the information from Wikipedia (naughty, I know).

Then, earlier this week, I received an email from Paola Rezzilli, an assistant producer for a TV company currently making a programme for BBC4 called The Joy of Motoring.

Paola is hoping to speak to Alan about coming up with the phrase 'Spaghetti Junction' but doesn't know his whereabouts or a way of contacting him. I told her I would put a request for information on this blog – and here it is.

So if you know Alan Eaglesfield, or if you are Alan Eaglesfield (and want to contribute to a TV show called The Joy of Motoring), please email The Engine Room or leave a comment on this post.

How to deter debt collectors

A recent news story submitted to the subs' desk began:

Westminster City Council says motorists who occasionally park illegally will no longer get visits from debt collectors.

So if you are being hassled by debt collectors, all you need to do is occasionally park illegally (presumably somewhere in Westminster) and they will leave you alone. Brilliant!

However, I can't promise that you will be safe from CEOs...

Olympics: asymmetric bars vs uneven bars

It's about time we had an Olympics-related post.

Our website editor asks why the 'asymmetric bars' women's gymnastics event is now being called the 'uneven bars', and when the change happened. The International Olympic Committee website refers to 'uneven bars' not 'asymmetric bars'. Wikipedia mentions both terms but prefers 'uneven bars'.

The Concise OED gives 'uneven bars' as the "North American term for asymmetric bars". So it's interesting to see guardian.co.uk using 'uneven bars' (albeit not exclusively). Perhaps its writers – or most of them – are simply following the International Olympic Committee preference?

Our website editor also feels that 'asymmetric' is a more accurate description of the apparatus than 'uneven', as the bars are both perfectly horizontal and regular.

So here's my argument for the bars being 'uneven'. The OED defines 'uneven' as "not level or smooth", and while the bars are certainly smooth, they are arguably not level. Not in the sense of being "at the same height as someone or something else", anyway. So each bar is in itself even, but together they are uneven.

Perhaps we should just call them the 'bars at different heights' and have done with it. Any other suggestions?

Percy Pig sweets contain real pig

A packet of Percy Pig sweetsSupermarket Marks & Spencer sells some very nice pig-shaped sweets called Percy Pigs (or possibly just Percy Pig, as the pictured packet suggests).

I was highly amused to notice last week that one of the major ingredients of Percy Pig(s), along with glucose syrup and sugar, is pork gelatine. Pork – pig – Percy Pig. Get it?

However, according to Wikipedia, pig-shaped sweets are "a traditional sweet in the United Kingdom and have been around for many years".

I don't recall there being many pig-shaped sweets in my youth, and if there were, I don't know whether they contained pork gelatine. But I imagine they probably did, so I can't give M&S staff too much credit for their wit.

History's greatest sub editors: Mothman

The Mothman Prophecies, by John A KeelNo, this post isn't about a sub editor called Mothman. Let me explain...

I'm currently reading John A Keel's book The Mothman Prophecies, originally published as Visitors From Space. You may have seen the film that was (somewhat loosely) based on this book. The film's rather good, by the way.

As Wikipedia says, Keel's book "mostly concerns events in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, during 1966 and 1967, focusing on sightings of a creature dubbed Mothman".

But how did Mothman get its name? Keel tells us that, following an incident in which four teenagers in a car are followed by a giant "bird":

Sheriff George Johnson called a press conference. Local reporters interviewd the four witnesses. Mrs Mary Hyre sent the story out on the AP wire and that evening the 'Bird' was the chief topic at supper tables throughout the Ohio valley. Some anonymous copy editor gavie it a name, spun off from the Batman comic character who was then the subject of a popular TV series. He tagged the creature Mothman.

Some anonymous copy editor, I salute you. Not quite as good as coining the name 'Spaghetti Junction', but still quite an achievement.

A confused reader writes

The Engine Room gets some interesting emails, but this one – from Ms Idowu Opeyemi – has to be my favourite so far:

I'm a Nigerian and a lover of railway system of transportation which is not so effective here in Nigeria. As a result of my passion for it, I decided going on net for information on railway (like I just did today) and stumbled on your blogspot – it was really amazing.

Please, I would like you to do me a favour by updating my mailbox anytime with any information you know/have on railway system of transportation.

To start with, could you please solve this riddle for me? What does a railway uses in running its engine? petrol, diesel or what?

I will be very happy and grateful if you can always be there for me in answering this question and any other one that I may come across later.

Looking forward to a good learning relationship with you.

Ms Opeyemi – I'm sorry if the title of the blog confused you, but here at The Engine Room we are not very knowledgeable about trains. Apus is quite good with motorbikes, we both know a little about trucks and vans, and we'll even try to help you with any language or editing-related queries – but trains, no. Sorry.

If any railway experts out there would like to help Ms Opeyemi, please let me know and I'll put you in touch.

Job titles: heavyweight journalism

No one can accuse my colleagues of lightweight journalism.

As well as recently gaining an 'editor at large' (which appears to be publishing's equivalent of a 'minister without portfolio'), we now have - thanks to recent job title changes - a 'heavy commercial reporter'.

I believe that's a reference to the journalist's specialist field of heavy commercial vehicles rather than to any penchant he may have for pies.

While we're on the theme of fashion...

I was going to buy one of these but thought it might be tempting fate:

T-shirt with the slogan 'journalists get laid (off)'With thanks to the AngryJournalist.com t-shirt store.


Yesterday one of my colleagues ironically referred to cheapo clothing chain Primark as 'Primani'.

I don't know how widely this portmanteau of Primark and Armani is used, or how long it has been around for, but it does appear on the Urban Dictionary site.

I've also found a story on The Scotsman's website which claims that Primani is the phenomenon of "mixing high street staples such as Primark with high-end fashion like Armani".

Oh, and here's a Digital Spy thread on derogatory or funny names for companies.

Kangaroo is 'not unlike venison'. Sort of

I came across a puzzling quote in a BBC News story about how switching from beef to kangaroo meat could help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the story, Australian scientist Dr George Wilson says of kangaroo meat:

It tastes excellent, not unlike venison - only a different flavour.

If kangaroo meat has "a different flavour" to venison, how is it "not unlike" venison? Are we talking about texture here? Colour? Juiciness? Or is the similarity simply that Dr Wilson thinks they are both "excellent"? I demand to know!

On a similar note, perhaps Australian scientists could genetically cross a kangaroo with a cow to create a low-methane bovine. Of course, it would then be a kangamoo...

BBC News: Eat kangaroo to 'save the planet'

Knol: 'How to get into publishing'

I was going to write a Friday roundup but really I only have one thing to tell you about.

Recently my father asked me to give some advice to an acquaintance of his who was interested in getting into publishing. So I wrote her a long email (probably too long) detailing how I started in magazine publishing and what I thought were some key points to bear in mind.

For the previous few weeks I'd been meaning to play around with Blogger's new "web authoring tool", called Knol, but hadn't been able to decide on a theme for my first knol (a knol supposedly being "an authoritative article on a single topic").

Then it struck me: why not turn the email I'd written into a knol on how to get into publishing? So I did.

How to get into publishing

I hope it's helpful to a few people. If you feel so inclined, please do rate the knol and leave comments. But be kind: it's my first attempt. And no sniggering at the photo of me, either.

Job titles: Head of Spatial Policy

A regular reader of this blog sent me the following local government job advert a while back:

Head of Spatial Policy

Due to promotion we are now looking for a first class planning professional with the drive and innovation to help build on our success.

With the ability to manage a cutting edge and high performing team, you'll have the opportunity for personal development within an integrated planning and transport section.

So - something in planning? But what's the difference between town planning and spatial policy?

What is interesting, though, is that while Googling 'Head of Spatial Policy' throws up only 173 Google hits, limiting the search to 'pages from the UK' increases that number to 185. Very unusual to see that happen!

And I don't know about you, but I think that public sector job titles should be chosen so that they make sense to most members of the public. I'm not sure this one is very easily understood.

Stick to the day job, JD

Our website was a bit quiet this morning so I politely asked our newly formed 'content team' (pool of writers) for some, um, content.

Our newest reporter told me she had a story I could use but then asked if I could wait until this afternoon for the copy because – and I paraphrase – it hadn't been subbed and there wasn't a sub available to go through it.

Obviously I'm spending too much time flouncing around as Web Champion and not enough time doing any real work!

PS Apologies to anyone who has been having problems leaving comments on this blog – it seems it's a Blogger issue and not an Engine Room one. I'm sure it will be fixed soon.

I think you've got the wrong word...

Here are some sentences taken from copy submitted to the subs' desk over the past few months. The theme is 'wrong words', whether they are malapropisms or simply the result of poor typing.

“The form details who collect it, where it was collected and who pre-treated it,” Allen bemuses.

Episodes of curtain slashing are ripe in the motorway service area.

Rampley inserts that the problem is occurring all over the UK.

The vehicle specifications have the ruining costs worked out.

OED: Chinky

The Concise Oxford English Dictionary entry for 'Chinky' is a little odd. It reads:

Chinky n. (pl. -ies) informal 1 offensive, a Chinese person. 2 a Chinese restaurant.

So usage 2 isn't offensive then? I'm fairly confident that anyone who was offended at being called a Chinky would be similarly offended if their restaurant was described in the same way.

Friday roundup: Batman, Goofy, TYWKIWDBI

Firstly, I should explain that I didn't post yesterday because I was on a 'Writing for the Web' refresher course all day (and then went to see the new Batman film in the evening). I took notes on the course and should have them up on this blog within the next couple of days.


Secondly, are you having trouble viewing the comments in the 'Recent comments' widget on this blog? The comments should appear in the sidebar on the right but I have a sneaking suspicion that some firewalls prevent them showing. Could you let me know? And apologies if they aren't working for you.


Thirdly, I meant to mention this in last week's Friday roundup but simply ran out of time - I've added Goofy's blog bradshaw of the future to the 'lingy/langy blogs' section of the blogroll. You may have noticed Goofy expressing some strong opinions here on The Engine Room (most recently concerning the use of less and fewer) but don't let that put you off as his blog is informative without being too strident.


Finally, Chris Frumplington has drawn my attention to a blog called TYWKIWDBI, or Things You Wouldn't Know If We Didn't Blog It. Yes, you're right - it should be 'Them' not 'It'.

Chris says:
As ever, one should always be careful when choosing blog names. I wonder if TYWKIWDBT is still available. Must go see...