"Indians of all races - Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs"

On Friday, foreign secretary David Miliband was quoted by Metro as saying: "The majority of people killed [in the Mumbai attacks] were Indian – Indians of all races – Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs."

"And I thought those were religions," says Jason, who alerted The Engine Room to the quote.

David Miliband with Indian minister of external affairs Pranab MukherjeeMiliband, right, with an Indian (race unknown)

Metro: World condemns Mumbai terror attacks

Friday roundup: watching me watching you

The Engine Room may only be the 118th best language blog out there, but it's the 53rd most clipped Blogspot blog - at least according to UKNetMonitor.

Who is it that has such an interest in what I write? Perhaps the London Lite, thelondonpaper and Metro are planning their revenge...

In other news, The Engine Room has been chosen as one of blogs.com's '10 Great Blogs about Grammar, Writing & Language'.

Most of the others blogs in this list are already in my blogroll but two new ones on me are Talk Wordy to Me, by a young* copy editor on a US paper, and Regret the Error, which "reports on media corrections, retractions, apologies, clarifications and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the press".

Actually, I'm going to add both of these to the blogroll.

*By which I mean younger than me, of course.

Time for a terrible magazine-related pun

After my post earlier in the month, the burning question is: who would like their Asphalt Now?

Asphalt Now, winter 2008

And no, it's not one of our publications!

(Thanks to our web editor for this truly awful pun.)

Help! Multiple meanings to 'milking parlour'?

Can anyone out there help an Engine Room regular? Roz has written in with the following query:

Recently my work supervisor asked me whether I knew what 'milking parlour' meant. She thinks it could be a euphemism for some sort of tax dodge or other criminal activity. We don't even use the term 'milking parlour/parlor' in Australia – it's a cow shed! I was wondering whether you and/or your readers would have any idea.

I haven't been unable to unearth anything except the obvious "shed or building specially equipped for milking cows" (OED Online). Nothing about tax dodges or criminal activities, anyway.

Cow's udder, pic from MorguefileUdderly stuck...

'Objective' opinion on Strictly Come Dancing

There was a brilliant letter in yesterday's Metro newspaper regarding the recent John Sergeant / Strictly Come Dancing fiasco. I say brilliant, because it ended:

And before anyone comments, I don't watch the show so my opinion is objective – neither am I a dance purist.

Objective? That's like saying your opinion on a novel is objective because you've never read it, or your opinion on a political party is objective because you don't know what its policies are.

Palin as president of Campaign for Better Transport

One of our news stories today mentioned Campaign for Better Transport, an organisation that speaks out against "excessive flying" and encourages individuals to reduce their carbon footprints.

I was amused to read that the president of Campaign for Better Transport is travel presenter (and comedian) Michael Palin.

Although Palin is a supporter of 'greener' forms of transport, especially rail, he must have one of the largest carbon footprints in the history of humanity – having travelled around the world, from the North to the South Pole, around the rim of the Pacific Ocean, and through the Sahara and the Himalayas – to name just some of his adventures.

Website: Palin's Travels

Product review: Azor from King of Shaves

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about blogging and product reviews, and how through Fuelmyblog I've been given the chance to review some slightly more mainstream products than pinhole glasses and e-books about facial tics.

Hopefully I can use this opportunity to find out more about the whole 'blogger review' business, as well as get some goodies to give away to Engine Room readers.


I can reveal that the first product I've been sent for review is an Azor razor (as pictured on the right) from King of Shaves. It came in a nice little media/presentation pack with shaving gel and a CD of logos and images - plus-points for KOS there, as it means I don't have to inflict my photography on anyone today.

I have to admit that I already use King of Shaves tea tree shaving gel (although the company didn't know that). Being tea tree, it's quite tingly, and it doesn't foam much, so I can see what I'm doing when I'm shaving. That's all I have to say about shaving gel.

As for the razor itself, it looks like something from a 1970s vision of the future - a good thing in my book. It's light, and being smooth plastic it doesn't get grubby. Most importantly, I've not managed to cut myself with it once in three weeks of use. This might be down to its rather odd 'tuning fork' shape, which means I have to hold the razor quite far down the handle. Makes shaving my top lip a bit tricky, though.

Moving on to the marketing side of things, I'd like to mention one of the slogans KOS is using to promote the Azor: "Prepare to shave closer, longer, for less." Shave closer: well, yes, great, as long as I don't cut myself more. For less: less money or less effort, either is good. But shave longer? Why on earth would I want to do that?

(I can only assume that it means the blades and/or handle last longer than the competitors'.)

And in the promotional material I was sent there's a quote that includes a nice portmanteau. "'Wilkinette' have a brilliant future behind them'," says the designer's dad.

Lessons learnt:
  • Companies with good products are indeed willing to send them out to blogs for review.
  • Those companies should include media packs with information and photos.
  • Portmanteaux are good. Ambiguous promotional slogans, less so.
  • It's OK to quote your dad sometimes.
Overall, I have to say the Azor is a winner. Hopefully I'll be sent something bad to review next time so I can really slate it and see whether that effects my chances of getting further products.

One last thing. I know I said I would try to give away any review copies of products to readers of the blog, but I doubt anyone would want a used razor. And if anyone did want a used razor, that would suggest they were exactly the sort of person not to be trusted with a used razor. So I'm keeping this one for myself.

The Engine Room, eLearning and the apostrophe

Just a quick one today. One of the photos from The Engine Room's Flickr account has just been used (with permission) in an "eLearning module on the apostrophe".

The module is actually quite fun, if you like answering multiple-choice questions on apostrophe use. OK, maybe not for everyone but I think it's snazzy.

To see it, go to www.writing-kit.com and click on 'Apostrophe Review'. The Engine Room's photo is on slide number 15 (and originally featured on this post).

I feel strangely proud, seeing as I took the snap with my cameraphone and I'm certainly no photographer.

Alphabet fun with MAN

In the course of my job this week I found out that German truck manufacturer MAN offers 'driver behaviour analysis' in which it rates HGV drivers from A (the best) to G (the worst). Not so interesting, perhaps. But I'm tickled by what the ratings stand for:

A – absolute stars
B – benchmark performers
C – competent and could do better
D – development required
E – economically and environmentally expensive
F – frightening
G – goodbye!

Obviously someone at MAN likes playing with language. And is it GCSEs or A-levels that have a grade of 'N' for 'nearly a pass'?

I'm half a headline, get me out of here...

Right. After today I'm going to stop picking on the freesheets for a while.

Spotted this on page three of yesterday's London Lite (and sorry about my wonky cutting and scanning):

Scan from the London Lite, 18 November 2008

Yes, there's part of the headline missing. Is this an honest mistake (and we've all made them) or the result of a sub trying to suggest that the celebrities in reality show I'm a Celebrity... are actually nonentities?

(For those who can't see the scan, the headline reads: "Deadly storms threat to the I'm A ".)

McCain makes high-profile apostrophe error

I don't want The Engine Room to become one of those blogs that is fixated on misplaced, missing or inappropriate apostrophes (not that there is anything wrong with that in itself, of course; it's just that other blogs do it so much better).

However, this one is a real cracker (click for a larger image):

McCain advert scanned from the back of the London Lite, 17 November 2008 issue

So this is an ad by multi-billion-dollar food company McCain. A full-page ad, on the outside back cover of the London Lite newspaper – which has a readership of 1.1 million. And look at that apostrophe.

I suddenly feel much better about my own mistakes. And can anyone come up with a higher-profile apostrophe error?

I do quite like 'caressive', though.

(For those who can't see the image, the copy in the advert reads: "Stop! Stop! I lied, as I bit into the pert roundness of the goose fat smothered potato, instantly sending caressive plumes of steam gushing from it's soft, fluffy centre like a hot breath on my lips.")

Text messaging: Gingerous makes 60 sounds while martial arts drinking

We've had an email from Gingerous regarding a couple of unintentionally amusing mobile phone text messages (SMSs) that he wrote recently. Fortunately he remembered to check them before sending them.

Gingerous says:

The first was a simple grammatical error. When describing my plan for a particular evening I wrote “martial arts drinking”. As exciting as this sounds, it should have read “martial arts, drinking”. Still, it amused me.

The second one was a predictive text error. Instead of “Today was a good day, I made 60 pounds whilst off work”, I ended up saying “Today was a good day, I made 60 sounds whilst off work”.

I think both of these highlight the importance of checking your texts.

When I was at university I used to frequent a club called 'The Rig'; more than once I texted people to tell them that I was 'going to the pig', or more worryingly, 'already in the pig'. Predictive texting, eh?

'More people living in Britain'

An unintentionally ambiguous start to a story in today's Metro (under the headline 'We are, in fact, proud to be British'):

More people living in Britain see themselves as British first and foremost - whatever their background.

Is that 'more' as in the majority, or 'more' as in more than before?

The former, according to the rest of the story, although I would have assumed the latter.

Friday roundup: Damp Squid and Adam Smith

Damp Squid: the English language laid bare, by Jeremy ButterfieldSpotted this week:


1. A widely reported story on the 10 most irritating expressions in English. It's another book tie-in, the book in question being Damp Squid (pictured) by Jeremy Butterfield.

There's a related quick quiz on the OUP blog and it's also worth checking out the Underwire coverage (thanks, Harry) simply for all the comments.


2. An even more widely reported story concerning Adam Smith, a reporter for the Birmingham Mail (that's Birmingham in England!). While in Miami, Smith got drunk celebrating Barack Obama's election victory and was filmed:
  • jokingly admitting to cutting and pasting from the BBC website – while filing copy
  • swearing at the camera
  • resigning from his job to set up his own magazine
  • referring to himself as 'Steve Zacharanda' (I'm not sure why... he may have had a reason)
We've all had nights like that.

UPDATE 18:30 - Yes, I know it's not a Friday. But it certainly feels like one...

'Average credit card interest rates have surged'

Spotted on the front page of yesterday's thelondonpaper:

Average credit card interest rates have surged from 17.2 to 17.6 per cent since May, according to banking research experts Defaqto.

My Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines a surge as "as a sudden powerful forward or upward movement... a sudden large temporary increase".

I'm not sure that an increase from 17.2 to 17.6% over a six-month period is either large or sudden. In short, not what I would call a surge.

Following on from that, I think 'surge' is one of those words that is massively overused by newspapers, not just in headlines (because it is shorter and sexier than 'increase') but also in body copy.

UPDATE 14/11/08: Our web editor points out that a key attribute of a surge is its temporariness. So does thelondonpaper believe that interest rates will soon decrease? I'm sure the writer didn't give it that much thought when he chose the word 'surge'.

Hed, dek, graf, lede and so on

It's a custom on some publications to write 'hed' instead of 'head' or 'headline', 'graf' instead of 'paragraph', 'dek' instead of 'deck', and so on. Not in the copy itself, of course, but in notes for the production staff and when labelling up copy.

I've read that the deliberate misspellings are to make sure that these words don't get mistaken for copy and accidentally printed.

We don't use 'hed', 'graf' and so forth on our publications – perhaps it's only a US custom and not a UK one. (Having said that, I've never worked for one of the big papers here in the UK, so I can't really say either way.)

Instead, what we do when labelling up copy or introducing notes into copy is to use [SQUARE BRACKETS AND ALL CAPS]. For example:


This is the headline

And this is the slightly longer standfirst...

These [SQUARE BRACKETS AND CAPS] really jump out at you and are very unlikely to sneak into print. It hasn't happened in the three years I've worked for the company, anyway.

And yes – we use 'standfirst' rather than 'deck'. I assume they are similar. I've also heard them referred to by freelancers as an 'intro'.

On our publications, we don't have an equivalent term for another common journalise misspelling: 'lede' (the leading sentence in a story). And we use 'lead' to refer to the main story on a page or spread.

If anyone could shed any more light on the 'hed, dek, graf, lede' practice I would be grateful. I'd also like to hear what production staff do on other publications.

And here are some interesting links I've found:

'Acronym' in Simon Spurrier's novel The Culled

Since my discussion with 'Anonymous' over the meaning of 'acronym', I keep finding examples of writers using 'acronym' when others would prefer 'initialism'.

The latest example comes from Simon Spurrier's post-apocalyptic novel The Culled. I quote:

We reached the front of the queue and caused something of a commotion. For a start, Nate's branding could hardly be covered with a simple piece of rag – unless he was prepared to submit to blindfolding, which he wasn't – but it was the nature of the mark itself that really got them riled. They kept exchanging looks, clenching their jaws, wondering out loud if they should fetch the 'Em-Bee'.

More f***ing acronyms.

Obviously, this novel is written in the first person so it could be that the narrator's understanding of 'acronym' differs from the author's. MB (or 'Em-Bee') here stands for 'master of bids'. Oh, and the stars are mine – I try to keep the blog reasonably safe for work.

The Culled, by Simon Spurrier

UPDATE 23/11/08: Thanks, Harry, for lending me this book in the first place!

The serendipity of Wikipedia

The serendipity of Wikipedia. Today, while carrying out my subbing duties, I accidentally learned the following:

  • The king of Georgia from 1089 to 1125 was David the Builder, otherwise known as David IV, David III or David II. Great with cement, not so hot at counting (or so I assume).
  • In the 17th century, the landlord of the Ostrich Inn in Berkshire killed 60 of his customers by dropping them through a trapdoor into a vat of boiling beer.
(I haven't verified either of these with other sources. This is just for fun.)

So what have you found out today?

Everyone is out to protect their own ass

A scanned letter from thelondonliteI spotted this letter in thelondonpaper the day before yesterday (click the image for a larger version).

The letter-writer may have been North American, but I suspect this is an example of the creeping ass-isation of British English.

For those who don't know, 'ass' in British English usually refers to the animal, whereas 'arse' (not 'ass') is used to refer to "a person's buttocks or anus" (Concise OED).

Whenever I see the word 'ass', I think first of all of the animal. Which leaves me wondering why everyone in the City is out to protect their own ass. Perhaps they need it to cart their stuff away after they've been made redundant?

(If you can't see the image, the letter reads in part: "At least there are people like you in the City who really care about the welfare of your colleagues. From what I've found, everyone is just out to protect their own ass. ALICIA")

UPDATE 8.10PM: On reflection, I realise that the letter-writer may have chosen 'ass' because it is less offensive in British English than 'arse', and therefore more likely to make it into print. It's even possible that thelondonpaper made the change for the same reason.

Jeffrey Archer: the ultimate storyteller

In the advertising for his latest novel, A Prisoner of Birth, Jeffrey Archer is described as "the ultimate storyteller". Does this mean that once you read one of his books, you'll never want to read another novel?

The advertising also makes reference to "the ultimate crime". Writing A Prisoner of Birth, perhaps?

Screengrab from Jeffrey Archer's website

(Sorry; this is a screengrab from Archer's website. I wanted to take a photo of a poster I saw at my local station but it came down before I got round to it. And I have to say that I haven't actually read A Prisoner of Birth; I was just amused by the advertising.)

The Engine Room and product reviews

One consequence of writing an even slightly popular blog (and trust me, The Engine Room is only slightly popular) is that manufacturers ask you to review their products in the hope of a favourable write-up and some cheap publicity. In return, you get to keep the copies or samples of whatever it is you review, and – hopefully – give your readers some valuable information.

In my time with this blog, I've been asked to review a few unusual things, including a pair of pinhole glasses and an e-book about facial tics.

I did say yes to reviewing the pinhole glasses – not least because they were said to help with eyestrain, which is something that subs can suffer from – but when they arrived, I so utterly failed to get on with them that I could only attribute it to my short-sightedness (literal, not metaphorical). As a result, I felt it unfair to review the product.

I said no to the e-book about facial tics because I've never had a facial tic and know no one with a facial tic. Unsurprisingly, I felt unqualified to review the book.

I've also said no a couple of times to manufacturers asking me to review their products in return for a payment. This seems to me tantamount to bribery.


Recently, however, I was given the opportunity to review some bigger-name products through Fuelmyblog. I said yes to this, and received my first sample late last week (more on that in another post).

I'd like to take a moment to explain why I said yes to reviewing products that will often have no direct connection to language use, publishing or the media.

Firstly, I like free stuff. There, I admit it. And it's not like I get paid for writing this blog. However I'm sure you like free stuff too, so I'm hoping to give away as many of my product samples as possible to readers of The Engine Room – and I'm thinking of possible competitions as I write this.

Editrix gives away mugs to readers who spot mistakes on her blog, but I'm not brave enough to do that...

Secondly, I'm fascinated by this whole 'blogger product review' business and want to find out more about it. What's the best thing I can be sent for review? What's the strangest? And if I write negative reviews, will I be sent fewer products? In short, can blog reviews be trusted?

Thirdly, most products come with packaging and that means marketing. Could be some fun there.

The only thing left to say is that I'll try to review products fairly, if somewhat idiosyncratically. And I'll never take cash for a product review (cheques are fine).

Monday roundup: inline comments, chicken foetus

Too many bits and bobs to wait for a Friday roundup, so here's a Monday roundup instead.

  • I've just enabled inline comments on this blog, so you'll no longer be taken to a non-blog page when you comment on one of the posts. Please let me know if it causes you any problems. I found it a bit fiddly to implement, so if you want the same functionality on your Blogger blog, I strongly recommend the Blogger Buster guide to inline comments.
  • A good British spoof news website I've only just come across is The Daily Mash. Current lead story: 'Hamilton wins world car pointing championship'.
  • One recent story that isn't a Daily Mash spoof but sounds like it should be concerns a chicken foetus found in a Liverpool alleyway. "Stop grieving, it's only a chicken," the Metropolitan Police tells the people of Liverpool in what could be the quote of the year. Thanks for this one, Harry.