'Dialogue' as a noun. Or possibly not

Spotted in a recent piece of corporate communication:

I have already made a personal commitment to dialogue with the union about the changing environment we face

Is this an example of 'dialogue' as a verb or just an example of 'commitment to' + noun?

I've never come across the former before, although it is listed in my Concise OED: "v. chiefly N Amer. take part in dialogue."

Thursday roundup: MasterChef, NUJ, old words

A Thursday roundup rather than the usual Friday one.

It's the final of cookery gameshow MasterChef tonight here in the UK, and anyone who's a fan of both the programme and language use might briefly enjoy the 'MasterChef: the best lyrics' gizmo on guardian.co.uk. Thanks for that one, Sarah.

Why would the chair of the National Union of Journalists' professional training committee write that "bloggers rejoice in low standards"? I'm still not sure, but you can track the discussion leading up to this comment on my colleague Adam Tinworth's blog, One Man and His Blog, or read the guardian.co.uk account. As an NUJ member and a fan of new and social media, I've been engrossed by the whole affair.

Lastly, another of my colleagues drew my attention to a BBC News article on the 'oldest English words'. All the talk of Indo-European languages made me flash back to my university days. Thanks, Ro!

Stan Still, Annette Curtain, Dick Trickle...

Regular readers of The Engine Room will know that we're fans of unusual or amusing personal names. Recently, for example, I've written about a hangman called Ed Roper while Apus has told us of a certain SM Allcock.

If you're of a similar bent, you may enjoy a current BBC News article, 'Most unfortunate names' revealed, which includes such gems as Stan Still and Annette Curtain.

It's also worth reading the comments following the article, especially the fourth (and currently final).

While I'm on the subject, I should mention that my colleague Clutchslip once met American racing driver Dick Trickle...

Nissan NV200: guess what 'NV' stands for

Nissan NV200 concept vanNissan's new van is called the NV200. One of our news editors pointed out to me that the 'NV' part of the name stands for, er, 'new van'. Brilliant, huh?

I suppose it could equally stand for 'Nissan van' or even 'Nissan vehicle'.

In Nissan's defence, it would appear that 'NV200' was the codename the manufacturer gave to the van when it was still a concept vehicle. That's the thing with names – sometimes they stick when you don't mean them to.

(Picture courtesy of Roadtransport.com: 'Nissan to create new segment with NV200')

Six-yearly, bi-monthly, every two months

Working on a magazine supplement this evening, I was surprised to read in the small print at the bottom of the flannel panel: "This supplement is published six-yearly."

The writer meant 'six times a year', but of course his turn of phrase could be taken to mean 'every six years'. So I changed the wording to 'every two months'. (It helped that I knew the supplement was published at regular intervals...)

One of my colleagues did suggest 'bi-monthly', but I decided not to use this as there seems to be some disagreement over whether it means 'twice a month' or 'every two months'. The OED Online concurs, saying "the ambiguous usage is confusing".

On reflection, 'every other month' might have been my best option. Not that it matters much, anyway - who reads the flannel panel?

Spendthrift: not what I thought it was

A confession: until very recently I thought a spendthrift was someone who was careful (thrifty) with money.

In reality, as I'm sure you know, a spendthrift is the very opposite - "one who spends money profusely or wastefully; one who wastes his patrimony by foolish or lavish expenditure; an improvident or extravagantly wasteful person" (OED Online).

World Wide Words: Spendthrift

What words have you misunderstood (or if you prefer, reinterpreted)?

A pint and a half, or a pint in a half

I was in a busy pub in central London last night and went up to the bar to buy a couple of drinks.

"A pint and a half of Coors*, please," I said to the barman.

He went off to start pouring the drinks and then came back to ask me: "Was that a pint and a half, or a pint in a half?"

A pint in a half? A half in a pint (glass), possibly, but not the other way round. I would have liked to see him try, though.

*Just to clarify - I don't normally drink this watery, bland lager.

Words of the day, 1755

Here's a challenge – see how many of these word's from Dr Johnson's dictionary you can work into conversation this weekend...

bedpresser a heavy, lazy fellow
fopdoodle a fool
kicksy-wicksy a word in disdain or ridicule of a wife (but not Mrs Apus, obviously)
fleshquake a tremor of the body
dandiprat an urchin
jobbernowl a blockhead
giglet a wanton

Come to think of it, when was the last time you heard anyone say "fellow" (in the sense of chap), "urchin" (in the sense of scamp), "blockhead" (in the sense of dunderhead) or, more's the pity, "wanton"?

Odd AdSense advert for Bupa

I spotted an odd AdSense advert (say that 10 times quickly!) on this very blog a while back:

Bupa AdSense banner gone wrong
Is it just me, or has something gone very wrong with this banner for Bupa? It looks like a Mac user – possibly called A Haydn Jones – is responsible...

And now I appear to work in IT

I may not have mentioned, but I was promoted a few weeks back from 'senior layout sub editor' to 'assistant web editor'. Fear not: I still spend a goodly proportion of my day subbing, for both print and web.

Anyway, I was stopped at lunchtime today by a couple of middle-aged female market researchers, who wanted to know whether I could help them with their survey.

"Um, maybe," I said.

"First we have to check that you don't work in any of these professions," market researcher A told me, handing me a list.

I looked at the list and there at the top was 'journalist'.

"Sorry, I'm a journalist," I ventured.

"What's your exact job title?" market researcher A asked me.

"Assistant web editor," I replied.

"Oh, that'll be OK, it's only IT," market researcher B told market researcher A.

I didn't stick around to complete the survey...

Did Joe ride a Harley?

As an insular pensioner I'm denied the stream of solecisms that keep JD amused in the engine room we used to share, but now and again new (to me) words do enliven my retirement.

For example, while spending an enjoyable day labouring for a pal who's a plumber last week I learned the true meaning of 'noggin' (which I'd previously known only as archiac slang for head). Noggins, it transpires, are the horizontal strips of wood nailed between the uprights in stud walls. Unless you're a Scot, in which case they're known as 'dwangs'.

From one of Mrs Apus's TV programmes on antiques I learned that a sliding piece of wood that supports a drop-down flap is a 'loper', while a TV panel show revealed that nicotine is named after Monsieur Nicot, who introduced tobacco to France.

And, in a documentary about the invention of the printing press, I learned that 'striking a matrix' is the term that described hammering a hand-carved steel letter into softer metal to make a mould, while these steel originals were held over candle flame to make them sooty and pressed onto scrap paper to make a 'smoke proof'. It's a good thing that the advent of computer technology did away with all those obscure terms...

By the way, while hunting down a pic of Johannes Gutenberg I came across this sculpture of the great man, which seems to prove he rode a Harley.

Nominative determinism: Ed Roper

I've been reading Pierrepoint - A Family of Executioners, by Steve Fielding. This book traces the career of Albert Pierrepoint, "the most prolific and efficient hangman this country has ever known", as well as those of his father and his uncle – who were both hangmen before him.

Albert Pierrepoint carried out a number of executions in Germany in the years immediately following the Second World War, and on several occasions was assisted by a certain Edwin James Roper.

Ed Roper – what an appropriate name for a hangman! A clear example of nominative determinism...

Field Stile Road / Fieldstile Road

While one English city has banned apostrophes from its street names "to avoid confusion", it seems that not everywhere in the UK is so worried about consistency in naming:

Field Stile Road, Southwold, Suffolk

Fieldstile Road, Southwold, Suffolk

Sorry about the awful picture quality, I took the photos in the dark with my camera phone.

The road is in Southwold, Suffolk, by the way.

Gordon Brown sorry over assault arrest. Really?

Headline four in this BBC News widget left me wondering who Prime Minister Gordon Brown might have assaulted:

It turns out that the story was about R&B star Chris Brown... but how was I supposed to know that? I imagine that most UK readers would think of 'Gordon' if they saw the name 'Brown' in a web headline.

I may have to add this to my knol on web print versus headlines to illustrate the point the web headlines are often seen out of context.

Word of the day: bustitution

I've made another serendipitous discovery on Wikipedia!

The noun 'bustitution' is a portmanteau of 'bus' and 'substitution', and can be used to refer to the temporary or permanent replacement of train services with bus services.

It has given rise to a transitive verb, 'to bustitute', and an adjective, 'bustituted'.

While we're on this topic, I have to say that the phrase 'rail replacement bus' annoys me. Why not 'train replacement bus'?

Is it a bus? Is it a train? Er, yes, it's a train

Don't forget to make sure you don't miss...

The BBC's between-programme voice-over man came up with the following a couple of days ago:

Don’t forget to make sure you don’t miss Mistresses on BBC One tomorrow

Whatever happened to a simple 'don't miss' or 'remember to watch'? Or the even more laconic 'catch'?

Caffeine and the production desk

Tea and coffee are big deals on my production desk, and among the editorial staff as a whole. I suspect that this is one of those trends that runs right through journalism.

In my workplace, the coffee drinkers take it in turns to pop downstairs to Starbucks and get the coffee, while the tea drinkers take it in turns to go over to the 'breakout area' and make the tea. Some people take more turns than others, but I'm not going to name names here.

I'm one of the tea crowd - and I have to admit to drinking mostly red (rooibos) tea rather than black tea. This is simply because I can drink six, seven, eight mugs of rooibos with no ill effects whereas too many caffeinated drinks can make me over-excitable. And an over-excitable sub is no fun for anyone.

So while I do sometimes drink coffee (after a meal in a restaurant, or sometimes at home), when Fuelmyblog gave me the opportunity to review some coffee from CoffeeBeanShop.co.uk, I thought I'd better get the opinion of a coffee-loving colleague. And who better than our web editor? After all, much like a caffeine addict (and New York), the internet never sleeps.

Also, he has a cafetiere at work and I don't.

Anyway, I was sent a packet of 'Mocha Guatemala Espresso Blend' coffee beans and we duly put them to the test. My colleague described the coffee as "almost floral" with a "chocolatey aftertaste", and remarked that it didn't exactly match the description provided by CoffeeBeanShop. A little unfair, perhaps, as this talked of "floral and rustic tones" and a "mixed chocolatey and earthy body".

The long coffee we made worked better than the espresso, but we put this down to the coffee-making equipment we were using and our inability to grind the beans fine enough (or something). You can see I've got this product review lark off to a tee!

One thing that did impress my colleague was the fact that the coffee beans arrived in the post two days after they were roasted. The packet even had a 'roasted on' date printed on the side to prove it. Apparently coffee connoisseurs consider this a Very Good Thing - although in the interests of fairness I should point out that CoffeeBeanShop isn't the only retailer to ship freshly roasted beans. Our web editor recommends Has Bean Coffee as an alternative.

Right, I think it's time for a hot drink...

Falling Off A Blog: The Web Production Desk

One of my senior colleagues has written an interesting blog post on the web production desk and how production staff can make the transition from print to web.

This is a transition I've been going through myself in the past 18 months or so, and the post outlines many of the skills I'm having to learn.

Falling Off A Blog: The Web Production Desk

EU gives shark protection teeth

I was very briefly confused by the bottom headline in this 'Other top stories' widget on the Science & Environment section of the BBC News website:

It left me wondering what 'protection teeth' were, and why the EU would give some to a shark. Surely a shark could protect itself?

JD is on Twitter

Just to let you know I'm currently experimenting with Twitter. Feel free to follow me:


My tweets will probably cover a wider range of topics than my blog posts do, although I'm sure some of them will be related to language use and publishing.

If you're a journalist and already use Twitter, I'd love to hear your experiences with it. Is it helpful? Any tips you'd care to share? Want another follower?

Fawley, Fawley, Fawley, Fawley

A serendipitous find: the Wikipedia page on the place name 'Fawley'.

There is a Fawley in Berkshire, another in Buckinghamshire, a third in Hampshire and a fourth in Herefordshire. In each instance, the 'Faw' part of the place name has a different origin/etymology.

Well, I thought it was interesting.

Photo special: way out sign (upside down)

Not strictly an example of interesting language use but I thought it was worth sharing:

I took this photo at London Bridge railway station.

The part of the sign with yellow writing constantly rotates, displaying three different messages in turn.

On the day I took the picture, one of the messages - and as I recall, only one of the messages - was appearing upside down, as shown. Brilliant.

The anti-pigeon spikes on the top of the sign confirm which way is up...

This is now a creative writing blog...


Somewhat to my surprise, The Engine Room has been included in BestCollegesOnline.com's list of the Top 100 Creative Writing Blogs.

The list actually features a dozen 'grammar and editing' blogs, and it's good to see a creative writing resource that pays attention to the nuts and bolts of language use (as Apus might say).

And while I can't vouch for all the other blogs in the list, a few of my favourites do make an appearance – notably GrammarBlog and Headsup. I shall have to check out the others (those in the 'grammar and editing' section, anyway) in due course.

I'm in full agreeance

The hyperactive presenters of Mrs Apus's favourite house programme have been boringly coherent of late but fortunately an inspired contestant on her favourite antiques show came up with two fine malapropisms this morning:


The spirit of George Dubbya lives on – and daytime TV is rotting my brain.

Safety [risks]

A great quote in recent raw copy:

The study is flawed – the environmental and economic benefits it identifies are illusory and ignore the safety and intrusion these massive vehicles would bring.

So the massive vehicles would be intrusive, but safe?

I try to avoid using [square brackets] to clarify quotes, but in this instance I changed "safety" to "safety [risks]".

Due to the bad weather

A letter in today's thelondonpaper begins:

I am very discouraged to see signs up everywhere, both official and unofficial, starting with "Due to the bad weather..." This is as ungrammatical as "Ten items or less", as seen in supermarkets. It doesn't take much to get it right. We seem to be dumbing-down to a woeful degree in this country so as not to make things too difficult for people who can't cope.

I understand the '10 items or less' argument, but what is this letter-writer's problem with 'due to the bad weather'? He doesn't say, and for the life of me I can't work it out.

Can anyone enlighten me?

Euphemisms: 'entertaining prostitutes'

From one of our news stories:

A Worcester county councillor has called for a new truck park in the town after drivers were reported parking up by the side of the road and entertaining prostitutes in their cabs.

It makes me wonder how exactly the truck drivers were entertaining the prostitutes. Singing them songs, perhaps, or doing a little bit of juggling?