A Quiet Belief in Sandwiches

I'm currently reading - and enjoying - A Quiet Belief in Angels, by RJ Ellory. Here's a nice ambiguity from chapter 10 of the novel:

My mother said nothing of consequence. She asked if I'd left the sandwiches she'd made in Reilly Hawkins' truck. She asked if the doctor was going to make her headaches disappear.

So were the sandwiches made in Reilly Hawkins' truck, or left there? The latter, presumably, because making sandwiches in a truck is neither a common nor a simple operation...

And the results are in...

Yes, the results are in from bab.la and Lexiophiles' 'Top 100 Language Blogs 2009' competition, and The Engine Room placed eighth in the 'Language Professionals' category (as well as 45th overall). I'm pretty pleased with that.

Ooh, and we've even been given a pretty badge:

Top 100 Language Blogs 2009

The category was won by Separated by a Common Language, a great blog about British and American English (and one that I'm sure I've mentioned before). It's a well earned victory.

For further information text REDUNDANT

I was handed this leaflet in the street earlier in the week:
Redundancy leaflet from South London Business
What I really like is the sentence in bold: "For further information text REDUNDANT to 60777". Talk about salt in the wound!

Why not ask people to text in something more positive such as 'TRAINING' or 'SKILLS'?

Word of the day: leave-behinds

So I was on a course recently and one of the speakers had prepared handouts for everyone.

Except he didn't hand them out - he left them behind. And he didn't call them handouts, he called them 'leave-behinds'.

I'd never come across this word before (although it makes sense). Googling 'leave-behinds' throws up a few definitions, including:

  • A part or sampling of a portfolio that is left with a potential employer or exhibitor after a meeting or interview (Wikia)
  • Things other than your resume that can be left behind with potential employers (About.com)
  • Something you leave behind, compelling your audience to take a closer look at who you are and what you offer (Go-to-Market Strategies)
  • A creative reminder of your particular style. Even if you don't get the job but your leave-behind is considered a "keeper," the designer or creative director will hang onto it in case they need a freelancer in the future (The Graphic Designer's Guide to Better Business Writing)

So this word seems to be most often used in the contexts of design and recruitment (and especially design recruitment). Perhaps these are fields in which the speaker had experience?

Why 'quite' can be quite confusing

I've just finished reading a novel called The Fire Worm, by Ian Watson, and this passage brought back a memory:

In the end, Brenda had settled on her green tartan skirt and boots, accompanied by a high-necked, long-sleeved, Chinese-style blouse in white silk, with a white woollen shawl in case of chills.

John seemed to approve of her outfit. He had just admitted Tony to the Volvo. Scanning Brenda up and down, he nodded.

"You look quite elegant, my dear."

Quite? Perhaps he was using the word in some old-fashioned sense. Absolutely elegant. Her own parents had thought so. And he had said 'my dear'.

When I was teaching English as a foreign language in Russia, I remember explaining how 'quite' could mean either 'fairly' or 'absolutely', depending on the type of adjective it was modifying. Compare 'quite interesting' and 'quite fascinating', for example.

I think the textbook I used talked of 'weak' and 'strong' adjectives, but a quick Google search suggests these are more commonly called 'gradable' and 'non-gradable' respectively.

However, I wouldn't class 'elegant' as a non-gradable adjective (and neither would 1.4 million Google results for "very elegant"), so what's going on here?

The OED says that the use of 'quite' "as an emphasizer: actually, really, truly, positively; definitely; very much, considerably" isn't confined to non-gradable adjectives, so I think that accounts for 'quite elegant'.

It adds that some of the senses of 'quite' can be difficult to distinguish "except when used with non-gradable adjectives", which is what the character of Brenda picks up on in the extract from The Fire Worm.

Alexis Cohen, former American Idol contestant

I was saddened today by this news story on Mail.com (click on the image to see a larger version):

News story about the death of Alexis Cohen

Saddened that the defining fact about this woman's life (at least according to a news organisation) is that she auditioned for American Idol twice.

APP.com: 'Ex-'Idol' contestant died after being struck by car'


Gareth emailed in to say:

I picked up a free paper on the Tube the other day and was surprised to see it had been rebranded. However I think the new name more accurately reflects its contents - see attached. (Of course, it could always be a really unfortunate page layout.)

And here's the paper in question:

Partially obscured masthead for thelondonpaper

Brilliant - thanks, Gareth.

What's an 's' between friends?

Looking through the company's email address book today, I was surprised to see a colleague of mine down as having the job title of 'new editor'.

Either there have been some big changes at the top, or someone mistyped 'news editor'...

Four blogs you might be interested in

Here are a few blogs I've discovered recently. Rather US-centric, I'm afraid:

Charles Apple - Charles is "a freelance visual journalist and instructor". I think there's an increasing need for every journalist to be, to some extent, a visual journalist. And I'm not just talking about page layouts.

Grammar Monkeys - language podcasts from the copy desk on the Wichita Eagle.

The Blood-Red Pencil - fiction-writing tips from a whole host of writers. A lot of the advice is relevant to other forms of writing.

Behind the Grammar - posts about "business, marketing, podcasting, writing, and life" from Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty.

The last two are in my blogroll and I might put Charles Apple there too, if he behaves.

Win a copy of Uglier Than a Monkey's Armpit

Uglier Than a Monkey's ArmpitSo recently I've been dipping into Uglier Than a Monkey's Armpit, a collection of insults and curses from around the world.

For some reason I've found the African-language insults the most entertaining, such as the Afrikaans "jy was uit jou ma se gat gebore want sy so besig was om te naai". I can't really give you the translation as my mother reads this blog, but trust me, it's crass. Perhaps Google can help you out if you're curious.

It's difficult for me to vouch for the accuracy of the book, as to my shame I'm only fluent in English. I do remember some Russian from my time in Moscow, including a phrase that translates literally as 'hanging a noodle on someone's ears' (and is, perhaps, equivalent to the English 'pulling the wool over someone's eyes') - and that's in the book, at least.

Unfortunately Uglier gives a transliteration of the phrase and a guide to pronunciation but no Cyrillic version - less than ideal for the serious language student. For the record, I think it's something like 'лапшу на уши вешать кому-нибудь'. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong!

Anyway, Uglier Than a Monket's Armpit is well written and certainly informative, if more from a cultural viewpoint than a linguistic one. And as luck would have it, I have a (non-tatty) copy to give away. All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is come up with an original curse or insult and add it to the comments following this post. I'll give the book to the person whose insult I like the most.

Please note, the emphasis should be on creativity and rather than profanity. Extra kudos for writing your curse or insult in a language other than English (and providing an English language translation). Good luck!

Tom Watson and a dangling modifier

Here's a nice golf-related dangling modifier from a recent BBC Sport story:

Screengrab from BBC Sport showing dangling modifier

The paragraph in question is this one:

Having won five Opens and three Senior British Opens, including the 2003 tournament at Turnberry, the adoring British crowd had roared on Watson from the moment he carded an opening 65.

Obviously it is (Tom) Watson who has won five Opens and three Senior British Opens, not "the adoring British crowd".

Credit crunch or recession?

Today's Metro includes the following news headline:

Bag snatches
rise as credit
crunch bites

Perhaps someone should let the paper know that 'credit crunch' isn't a synonym for 'recession'.

Tellingly, the body copy doesn't mention 'credit crunch' once but does refer to "rising unemployment... caused by the recession".

However I suppose that neither 'recession' nor 'unemployment' would have fit quite so easily in that three-deck headline.

(I would scan in the article but the scanner seems to be on the blink.)

A margarita and a margherita and a...

One of the bars near my flat runs a two-for-one offer on pizzas from Mondays to Thursdays. It also runs a two-for-one offer on cocktails before 7pm.

So if you were to go at 6pm on a Thursday, for example, you could order a margarita and a margherita, and get a margarita and a margherita free.

That's the spirit! (Photo from Flickr)

You know it's a slow news day when...

Sarah has emailed in to draw my attention to a story on the Telegraph website entitled Ghostly image of Michael Jackson appears on car bonnet.

She writes:

What on earth were The Telegraph thinking when they decided to put this on the website? I can only imagine that it was a slow news day. My favourite bit is at the end where they quote Gary Sloggett on what he did when he saw the photo [of his car]: "I immediately turned to my wife and said: 'What is Michael Jackson doing on my car bonnet?'"

This is my favourite part of the article:

"It's quite extraordinary," said Gary, of Stafford. "The obvious explanation is that it seems to be some sort of cloud formation that just happened at the time."

Yes, it's the reflection of a cloud. How extraordinary!

Photo special: 'NO LOCALS'

Many places in the UK are unwelcoming to strangers and outsiders, and I've been to my fair share of them. However, before this weekend, I'd never seen anything like this:

Sign saying NO LOCALS

Yes, the signs says "NO LOCALS". It adds: "Any locals found playing on our machines will be ask to leave immediately!!" Red capitals and multiple exclamation marks, no less.

Spotted in Caister Holiday Park (near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk). Thanks to Paul for taking the photo for me.

A pint of numbers

Down the pub this evening, one of my colleagues referred to the beer Kronenbourg as 'numbers' - presumably because its full name is 'Kronenbourg 1664'. That's a new one on me.

And Googling 'Kronenbourg' and 'pint of numbers' threw up this nice little anecdote (which I have very gently subbed):

I once worked as a barman and this lad ordered a pint of "numbers" with a male colleague of mine. The barman who was working with me didn't respond to this chap's request. The customer, thinking he had a cool way of ordering his preferred tipple, said: "Haven't you heard of a pint numbers before, pal, what sort of barman are you?" The barman replied: "Yes I have, but we sell 80 Bob as well." Needless to say, the smile was wiped right off his face.

Apparently, 80 Bob a Scottish beer also called 80 Shilling, or sometimes 'Caley 80'. There you go.

A search for subs

Susan Keith, a former newspaper copy editor who now teaches journalism at Rutgers University in New Jersey, is conducting a research project into "the ongoing evolution of newspaper sub editing/copy editing jobs in the English-speaking world".

However Keith appears to be having some difficulty finding subs in the UK, Ireland and South Africa to interview. If you're a current or former newspaper sub in one of these countries, please consider helping her.

Here's a description of the research project, and Susan Keith's contact details.

Keith's search for subs has already been mentioned on John McIntyre's blog You Don't Say, but I thought it bore repeating. And thanks to R Mason for bringing it to my attention.

'Stand up or lay down'

Sunbed sign in CroydonHere's a good example of lie/lay confusion.

I don't want to be too prescriptivist or anything, but most people would agree that the sign should read 'Stand up or lie down...'

I'm not going to go into too much detail about 'lie' and 'lay' because doing so would probably give me flashbacks to my teaching days, but there's some useful information about them on the British Council website.

I took this photo in Croydon last year, as I recall.

Incidentally, I think the rhyme would scan better if the second line read 'Come in and get brown'.

Oh dear, I've just had a flashback to my performance poetry days...

Word of the day: mumpreneur

Here's the front cover of the summer issue of Mums in Control magazine (Sutton, Cheam and Belmont edition).

I'm sharing it with you because one of the coverlines includes the portmanteau 'mumpreneurs'. A mumpreneur is, I'm assuming, someone who is both a mum and an entrepreneur.

(Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Mums in Control magazine, summer 2009
Googling 'mumpreneur' gives more than 16,000 results, some of which date back to at least 2007 - so this word is both older and more widely used than I had imagined.

It's also showing little sign of falling out of fashion, as at least two books being published this year have 'mumpreneur' in their title. Exhibit A is The Mumpreneur Diaries: Business, Babies or Bust - One Mother of a Year, by Mosey Jones.

The Mumpreneur Diaries, by Mosey Jones

Thanks to our (soon to be former) web editor for bringing Mums in Control and the word 'mumpreneur' to my attention. Incidentally, I agree with him that 'mumtrepreneur' works better as a portmanteau, but sadly it only gets 700 results on Google. It looks like 'mumpreneur' has won the day.

A large fruit drink supplier

I noticed that one of our recent stories made reference to a "large fruit drink supplier". Obviously that's a large supplier of fruit drinks, but wouldn't it be nice if the company only supplied large fruit drinks, or drinks made from large fruit? I'm thinking of something like this:

Using the word 'major' rather than 'large' would have been advisable - suppliers and fruit can both be 'large', but fruit is very rarely described as 'major'. And a hyphen between 'fruit' and 'drink' would have ruled out the 'large fruit' interpretation.

Vote for us in 'Top 100 Language Blogs 2009'

Please consider voting for The Engine Room in the 'Top 100 Language Blogs 2009' competition, which is run by bab.la and the Lexiophiles blog. We've been nominated in the 'Language Professionals' category, which is a little ironic given my previous post - but never mind.

All you have to do is click on the following icon, choose 'The Engine Room', and click 'vote':

Even if you don't vote for The Engine Room (and I won't be offended!), you may want to check out some of the other bogs nominated for the category.

Oh, and here are the links to all the other categories.

The future is not guaranteed

Today was quite a big day for me: my last press day, at least for the foreseeable. After working on a weekly magazine for 180 issues or so, I'm about to start a new role as web production editor.

For the past six months my time has been fairly evenly divided between print and web, so it will be good to focus on just one of them for a change. But I'll no longer be a sub, and I'll no longer be subbing much copy, so should I still be running a subbing blog?

Perhaps it's time for The Engine Room to change its focus a little. Or perhaps it's time for me to start a new blog, where my posts about interactive maps, feed management and search engines will fit in better. I'd love to know what you think. Especially you, Apus, if you're reading this!

A shiver down the backbone of business

One of our news stories today included the following quote:

News of massive cuts in much-needed road and rail infrastructure projects will send a shiver down the spine of an industry that forms the backbone of business in the country

A shiver down the spine... the backbone of business... is this an extended metaphor or just a mixed one?

Simile: 'Oozing charm like a runny sore'

Here's a short extract from the novel No Time For Goodbye, by Linwood Barclay:

Paula Malloy was there and she greeted Cynthia like an old friend, oozing charm like a runny sore.

Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the second simile works. After all, a runny sore doesn't ooze charm. Something along the lines of 'oozing charm like a sore oozes pus' might have been better.

Trivia: Google PageRank

A bit of Saturday morning trivia: Google's PageRank algorithm, which scores web pages on their importance from zero to 10, is actually named after the chap who developed it: Larry Page.

It's a good job he wasn't called Larry Bottomley, as I'm not sure the name 'BottomleyRank' would have worked quite as well.

Denise 'White Van' Outen

At work, we often use stock photography from online image libraries. Recently I was searching one of these libraries for a picture to illustrate a news story about the 'white van man' stereotype.

What did the image library give me when I entered the search term 'white van'? Dozens of photos of TV presenter Denise Van Outen, dressed in white.

Click on the image to see a larger version

Tube 'too hot for cattle'

According to today's Evening Standard, the London Underground is currently "too hot for cattle":

Evening Standard billboard

That's a shame, because cows love travelling on the Tube.

Incidentally, a couple of the broadsheets ran a similar story back in 2002. At least The Guardian took the unusual approach of putting commuters in a cattle truck.

I'd still rather see cows on the Tube, though.

Old story about tea is one of BBC's 'most popular'

Here's the BBC News website's 'most popular stories now' widget from the start of the week:

BBC News Most Popular Stories Now widget
What's interesting is that story eight, "Tea 'healthier' drink than water", actually dates from August 2006:

BBC News article on the health benefits of tea

For it to resurface as one of the Beeb's most popular stories three years after it was written shows the longevity that web content can have.

The story has been flying around on Twitter quite a lot recently, so I wonder if the micro-blogging site is responsible?