March 18, 2013
January 23, 2013
My articles for Emphasis this month:
OK, okay, every self-respecting sub has to tackle this chestnut at some point. OK, ok, okay. How do you write OK?
The French government has added hashtag to its list of banned words. Sense or silliness? France bans the word ‘hashtag‘
March 6, 2012
When you meet a reporter out and about and reveal that you’re a sub-editor, you might just catch a flash of fury in their eye, quickly subdued under frosty politeness. (After all, you write their headlines, and there was ‘that one time’ when one of your kin saved them from widespread mockery.) But that flash of fury? It’s justified. Because once upon a time, a sub messed up and made them look bad.
Further down in the article, the writer did spell it wrong, once. Or, possibly, they spelt it wrong three times and the sub corrected it twice and missed the third one. Either way, the sub then went on and wrote ‘hygeine’ in nice big letters in the caption… twice.
I nearly did this, fairly recently. In subbing my colleague’s article about prepositions, I added a sub-head that read: “So is it ever okay to end a sentence with a proposition?” Answers on a postcard. Luckily, we (okay, she) caught it before we published it.
Whenever I do something like that, I make myself go away and read that odious email by Giles Coren again. Because, over-the-top and petty though much of it is, it reminds me to be afraid, be very afraid. And when your job is striving for perfection, fear is a valuable tool.
Edit: a couple of people have said they hadn’t seen the Giles Coren thing before, so here’s the response from the Sunday Times sub-editors, too.
October 8, 2011
Well, I guess there’s nothing like demonstrating how much you need the prospective employee.
Link (soon to be updated, one would hope) here.
April 27, 2011
I do feel sorry for poor Hayden Panettiere. Lovely tattoo, shame about the spelling.
Well, in so far as someone stupidly rich and pretty can be felt sorry for, anyway. But a misspelling forever attached to the body? That’d make me pretty sad.
Perhaps I will suggest she employs me as a kind of anti-bad-spelling bodyguard. I’d have to brush up on my Italian by a few thousand percent, but I believe I have potential.
And as my erstwhile (boom!) colleague Charlie points out, she probably needs someone spell-friendly on hand to help with that crazy surname anyway.
April 20, 2011
One of my colleagues just asked me how my blog was going, and I breezily replied that I hadn’t written much recently because I hadn’t found any interesting tidbits. This was, I then reflected, a BIG FAT LIE. The truth is merely that I’ve been a bit lazy. So I have now gone back to him and confessed such.
I have no huge rants at present, but I do have the following small offerings:
- This morning in the Metro, my star sign (Capricorn, should you care) said that if I didn’t stop setting one standard for myself and another for everyone else, I’d “end up with the short end of the straw”. Or the wrong stick, perhaps.
- Also this morning, I was prompted, again by the Metro, to look up ‘strait-laced’. I had a hunch that it should be ‘straight-laced’, which just goes to show that my hunches should be treated with suspicion. It is indeed ‘strait-laced’, referring to being tightly laced into a stay or bodice, in the manner of a strait – a narrow, confined space or place, specifically a body of water. I can imagine that would indeed make one feel uptight. Whereas having lovely straight laces on your shoes (I can only assume that was what my hunch was suggesting) would simply be inconvenient. Thanks to the Online Etymology Dictionary for setting me straight.
December 15, 2010
Sometimes the smallest things can cause surprising amounts of controversy.
Last week, I replied by text message to an offer of a lift with “I’m quite collectible.” And so it began. “Shouldn’t it be -able?” asked the collector. No, said I, absolutely not. And may I advise you that it is unwise to argue with me on the topic of spelling because I have an annoying habit of being correct. I am entirely sure, one hundred per cent, that it is spelt with an i.
Admittedly, I should have learnt by now that it’s a long way down from such lofty claims.
The conversation reared its head again in the pub, leading one lady, who shall remain nameless, to call me a dunce, finger-draw a capital D on my forehead and suggest that I should stand in the corner. Everyone except me thought it was “-able”. Hmph. Strangely enough, this pub yielded two Collins dictionaries of different sizes – but to my great annoyance, neither collectible nor collectable was listed in either.
And so, the next day, to the trusty OED I went – and it slapped me in the face. Both spellings are listed, but collectable comes first and collectible is a variant, with no distinction made for nouns and adjectives. (I had been considering that perhaps the noun was collectible and the adjective was collectable.) Hmph once more.
So I tried the old Google trick (meaningless, but satisfying nevertheless): collectible gets 24,900,000 results; collectable gets 6,060,000. Ooh, ooh, ooh, so maybe it’s not just me… And then I checked it in the Guardian and The Times style guides. Success!
The Guardian entry merely says “collectible”. The Times says: collectibles (not -ables), items sought by collectors.
My next port of call was Twitter. Considering that my twitterings usually get one or two responses maximum (and usually deafening silence), the reaction was huge. Every bugger has an opinion on this one, it seems.
And in response to my “the Guardian and The Times do it” defence…
Any more for any more? Cast your votes now! I’d be interested to know whether it is indeed a US/UK thing, and also whether there’s a distinction between the noun and the adjective. And if the OED prefers collectable, how come our most respected newspapers use collectible? Anyone?
November 16, 2010
Yes, that’s correct, according to the OED, anyway. I’d always assumed it was “spic and span”, but it seems I’ve been getting my Hispanic racial slurs mixed up with… well, apparently, the parallels between spikiness and cleanliness.
Anyone know where the phrase comes from? The most informative explanation I’ve found comes from The Phrase Finder. It says:
The alliteration in the phrase suggests the possibility that that one of the two words alluded to cleanliness and freshness and that the other just followed along. Which one is most associated with the qualities of spick and span? The suggestions most frequently made are that spick is a variant of spike or nail. In the 16th century nails were made of iron and soon tarnished. It is quite plausible that new nails would have become synonymous with cleanliness. We have the phrase as neat as a new pin, which has just that meaning.
Anyway, anyway, this post is mostly an excuse to share an unexpectedly saucy discovery that I made this morning, in the name of research. While Googling both spellings, I came across a magazine called Spick and Span. I assumed, understandably, that this would be a magazine on cleaning, or housekeeping, or somesuch (kudos to me for clicking on it anyway). Wrong! It’s a glamour mag from the 1950s, specialising (from what I can tell while in the office) in cheeky pictures of young ladies with their stockings and suspenders on show. Well I never.
However, flash their knickers as they will, the ladies of Spick and Span don’t quite have the whole subject covered. They have competition from a cleaning brand, Spic and Span. That’s right, no “k”.
But do we care? Personally, I’m going with the leggy ladies. They look as if they know what they’re talking about.
October 2, 2010
Now I thought I knew all about blond and blonde. And so did an acquaintance, which was why he triumphantly emailed me this link to an article on Guardian.co.uk. It’s about the guitar-wielding Alice Gold, who is described as having “a mane of blond hair” (the cliché police must have been sleeping that day).
Yeah, yeah, I thought, so they’ve left off an “e”. It’s not the end of the world. But as I was frittering around at the time, I looked it up anyway – and I got a bit of a surprise. Now I have always thought it was a simple rule: blond for men, blonde for women, whether as an adjective or a noun. Not that you’d often have cause to refer to a man as “a blond”.
But lo! What is this, in the Guardian’s style guide?
adjective and male noun; blonde female noun: the woman is a blonde, because she has blond hair; the man has blond hair and is, if you insist, a blond
Goodness. So they would call Marilyn Monroe a “blond bombshell” rather than a “blonde bombshell”? This shook my world a little, so I checked The Times’s style guide too. It said, simply:
blond for men, blonde for women
This made me feel a little better, but I still wasn’t completely satisfied. I looked it up in my Oxford Shorter Dictionary at home, which has never let me down before, but the explanation was so incomprehensible (even after three readings and a second opinion) that it didn’t help at all.
Collins is clearer. It accepts both blond and blonde as adjectives and nouns, but specifies that blond is masculine:
blonde or (masc) blond adj 1 (of hair) of a light colour; fair 2 (of a people or a race) having fair hair, a light complexion, and, typically, blue or grey eyes noun 3 a person having light-coloured hair and skin [c15 from OF blond (fem blonde), prob. of Gmc origin]
So… I failed to find confirmation for my own understanding that there was a strict gender divide between the two. But I also failed to find any reason for the entry in the Guardian’s style guide. Is it connected to the avoidance of feminine designations (the Guardian uses “actor” for both actors and actresses, and so on)? But that doesn’t quite explain it – surely they would then use blond for the noun too. I am most confused. Does anyone else know (or care)?
August 21, 2010
My linguistic week began when Richard Dixon, @Linguagroover, replied to an email I had sent him in which I had said I was “suffering from itchy feet borne of watching my friends come back from holiday with tattoos and suntans while I work six days a week”. He responded to my whining kindly, before adding at the end, with his customary delicacy, that I had meant “born”. The shame!
So here, for any other born/borne miscreants, is the definition:
the past participle of bear in the sense of give birth to
the past participle of bear in the sense of carry, support, accept responsibility for, tolerate, endure
When I tweeted this, @almostidealist responded that she had recently confirmed her long-held suspicion about the difference between loath and loathe. I challenged her to define the difference in 140 characters or less – and she did. “You can be loath to do something or you can loathe doing it. C’est tout.” Super.
Oh, and while we’re at it, does anyone else have a blind spot with gauge? I missed a guage and was picked up on it by another sub. Having consulted the dictionary, I can assure anyone else who thinks they both look wrong that yes, indeed, it should be gauge, for both the noun and the verb, when you are talking about measuring or determining. Guage doesn’t exist (although there is a paint called guache). And it’s gouge for when you gouge someone’s eyes out. Please excuse the example.
Then on Tuesday evening, lounging outside a pub, I was ambushed by “sartorial”. A friend and I were admiring another drinker’s dress when from stage right appeared a lady in a baggy playsuit. We were less impressed with this outfit. When our gentleman escort returned from the bar and asked what we were talking about, my companion replied that we were having a sartorial discussion. It’s a word that I read occasionally and have never until now had cause to write – yet I have always assumed, as I am wont to do, that I know what it means. Something along the lines of “witty” or “ironic”, perhaps related to “sarcastic”. NOPE! As she uttered the words, I realised I had no idea what it meant. I owned up, and was informed that it related to fashion in some way. The next morning, to the dictionary I went.
of or relating to a tailor or tailoring (from the Latin sartor, meaning tailor or patcher)
My favourite Which?ism of the week was the following: “the home phone is the domestic workhorse”. Don’t worry, it won’t be appearing in the magazine!
My favourite headline of the week (or was it a standfirst?) was spotted by our production editor. The Evening Standard treated us to: “Londoners warned of divebombing by seagulls”. Damn considerate of those seagulls, I say. In response, @jowadsworth provided the picture that graces this blog post.
On Wednesday, my blog passed the 10,000-hit mark. Hurrah! Who knew there were so many word nerds in the world? Not me, that’s for sure. I was pretty certain when I started out that this blog would only be read by my mother (under duress) and my boss (then the lovely Kit Davies). So thank you everyone for reading.
On Friday, I had a little train-related trouble. Well, to be specific, the trouble began the night before when, through no fault or action of my own, I got caught up in a Stella and drug-fuelled bottle-wielding fight on the train. I am beginning to really hate taking that train late at night. As a result, I was a bit shaken up and couldn’t sleep. But OH, I could sleep the next morning alright! Zzzzzz all the way from Brighton to… St Albans – which, considering that I work in Marylebone, was not where I wanted to be.
When I eventually got to work, following my detour and extended nap, I got stuck in to the party conference brochure I’m currently pegging my way through. I reached the section on the iPad and stared. The iPad can register 11 simultaneous touches. What? Now I have no reason to believe that this is not true. In fact I am confident that it is true. But… why? We only have 10 fingers, right? Now if I still worked at The Grocer and Vince was sitting there chortling away, I might make some cheeky comment about the 11th digit. But I don’t and he isn’t and I can only innocently throw the question wide open. Why the 11th touch?
I leave you with this, a little comment I overheard last night on the train, which has been making me chortle ever since. Man earnestly reassuring his friend that he is doing a good job at work (and very well and nicely, I should add): “Look mate, you don’t have to fit into a round hole just because you’re a square peg.”