Saturday, August 21, 2010
They say it better than I ever could:
(A bit violent perhaps, but quite funny. I've hardly ever shot anyone for saying 'expresso'.)
Sunday, February 17, 2008
An advertising campaign has appeared in which apparently illiterate celebrities begin stories involving their Golfish™ credit card.
Me was going to the pub? Me went for a stroll? What me finds particularly offensive about this is the assumed down-to-earth chumminess, the complicity in a bit of everyday speech that may not be exactly grammatical but who cares, because that's how us all talk when us are not trying to sound posh - when at the same time it claims to celebrate language, because each poster begins a short story and then invites you to visit the website to read the rest. It's a credit card poster campaign that is all about storytelling. Isn't that lovely?
The ‘Me and My Goldfish’ stories explore relationships between people and their Goldfish. No doubt, many of you will have your own stories about your experiences with your Goldfish card. From the mundane to the spectacular, these stories tell us more and more about the relationships we have built with our cardholders over the last 12 years. That’s why we are keen to do all we can to encourage the art of storytelling, and are delighted to associate Goldfish with National Storytelling Week. Look out for a whole range of exciting events taking place in the months to come.
Not all of the celebrities are literate, of course. In Rik Mayall's page he is quoted as saying,
I think it's pompous to call myself a comedian, I prefer to think of myself as a phenomena.
"A phenomena"? The word is of course phenomenon. In any case, shouldn't that be Me thinks it's pompous?
Thursday, January 04, 2007
Eddie Awad recently mentioned the Southern US Y'all (or You-all) in a piece about coming to America as an English speaker some years ago and not recognising some of the expressions he heard (You have Egg On Your Chin.)
I like y'all, and the Northern British equivalent, youse (pronounced like booze). Y'all and youse are plural forms of you, like the archaic ye that we don't seem to need any more ("O ye of little faith"; "Ye Gods") and in my experience people are careful to use them only when addressing more than one person. It's nice to see a dialect form that makes a finer distinction than Standard English.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I was pleased to discover today that there is a way to profit from other people's typos. The idea is that misspelled items on eBay attract fewer bids because searches for "Canon Powershot" or "Handbag" don't find "Cannon Powersot", "Hambag" and so on. These items end up selling for less money. As the fatfingers.com website says, "Other people's typos can save you money."
Sunday, August 27, 2006
My local bathroom showroom tells me that a new bathroom can be in place in "as little as 6-8 weeks". A little Googling produces several pages of similar claims:
The good news is that you can slim down and shape up in as little as four to eight weeks.
A person can be in contact with one of these viruses and come down with the illness in as little as one to three days.
In many cases, recovery time can be as little as one to two weeks.
Frog eggs laid in warm water may develop in as little as one to two days.
Now surely these are rather odd statements. Each one states a minimum time in which something can be achieved, but then in the same breath mentions another time that is slightly longer. If you can slim down and shape up in four weeks, why mention eight?
My feeling is that the writers have confused two things. They want to impress us with a statistic about a surprisingly short time, so they start confidently with as little as. (A new bathroom in just six short weeks? That's amazing!) Then they remember the realistic distribution pattern, and think maybe they should indicate a range, perhaps because they are used to quoting one (delivery times can vary, you know what plumbers can be like, etc). The result doesn't make any sense.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
From: Bank of America
Subject: Last Notice
Verify Your Account Details
As part of mesures of ensuring a safer and more secure Banking environment,We have re-structured our Banking servers .
Hence, we have decided to put an extra verification process to ensure your identity and account information is protected.
Please click on continue, to the verification process and ensure your Account information is entered correctly to get verified.
It is all about your security.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Twice during today's FIFA World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia, the commentators described star player Ronaldo Nazário de Lima as appearing "disinterested".
"Disinterested" means that he stood to gain or lose nothing from the situation and was therefore impartial and unbiased, which, for an international player representing his country live on TV around the world, seems unlikely. What they probably meant was that he appeared, to them, rather unenthusiastic, and that his attention seemed elsewhere.
Once you look it up, however, you find a more complex history. In the seventeenth century, disinterested used to mean not interested: that is, the same as uninterested. Then it developed its distinct meaning as impartial, which held for two hundred years, only faltering in the early twentieth century as people, perhaps appropriately, decided they weren't really bothered what it meant. Now it still officially means impartial, but it is so widely used in the sense of uninterested that most people probably expect that meaning, which I feel is a shame. A word for without a stake in the outcome and therefore impartial, though not a word you might need every day, is one that might occasionally be useful. Two words for not bothered are surely less useful. If you care about these things, that is.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
Perhaps nitpicking French is a new departure for me, but I could not let this pass without comment. As reported in Business Week (my emphasis):
What's next in easy-to-use business intelligence? Gartner has a concept it calls "Biggle" -- the intersection of BI and Google. The idea is that the data warehousing software will be so sophisticated that it understands when different people use different words to describe the same concepts or products. It creates an index of related information -- á là Google -- and dishes relevant results out in response to queries.
Now much as I welcome a new era of Biggling, in which super-advanced Business Intelligence software will interpret the vague mumblings of datawarehouse users and return intelligently structured trend analysis reports in a manner reminiscent of the ship's computer in Star Trek, you cannot just make up accents at random and expect them to give an authentic cosmopolitan feel to a dreary IT analysis report. "A la Google," the writer must have thought, "not bad, but it could do with a bit more Frenchifying. Hmm, 'Â lã Gøögle' I wonder? No, too Swedish..."
Perhaps an analysis company that can't even bother to research or proofread an everyday phrase like À la... does not deserve to be taken seriously.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
Here is Fabian Pascal in fine grumpy form as usual, berating the IT industry for its inability to think straight:
As I keep saying: the abysmal failure of the US (and increasingly whole Western) educational system is not only that it produces arrogant ignorance, but also inability to reason.
While we're bemoaning the state of Western education, perhaps it's worth pointing out that the sentence doesn't quite make sense.
Notice that it mentions two particular aspects of the US (and increasingly whole Western) educational system, in the form "not only x, but also y". In other words, one failure of the system is that "it produces arrogant ignorance". Another failure of the system is "inability to reason". However, he probably didn't mean that the system has an inability to reason. What he probably meant was that it produced an inability to reason, or to construct coherent sentences while bemoaning the state of Western education. In other words,
As I keep saying: the abysmal failure of the US (and increasingly whole Western) educational system is that it produces not only arrogant ignorance, but also inability to reason.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
I recently received the following e-mail message:
Dear Valued HSBC Customer
We believe that, as in everything else, you deserve the best in banking too. Therefore protective measures is been applied to satisfy our striving customer needs. Our technical service department is currently upgrading our SSL servers to enhance adequate banking security,to give our customers a better, fast and secure online banking service this YEAR 2006. Due to the recent update of the servers, you are kindly requested to please confirm your banking details by following the link below. .
HSBC Bank Plc
HSBC Bank PLC.
Dear Valued HSBC Customer doesn't quite ring true, and even if the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation wanted to use such a cheesy greeting, they surely wouldn't capitalize valued and customer.
The word too is redundant, in as in everything else, the best in banking too.
Protective measures is been applied speaks for itself, but striving customer needs doesn't make sense, and neither does to enhance adequate banking security, which is also missing a space after its comma.
A better, fast and secure online banking service is just confusing, as is this YEAR 2006.
Nobody says you are kindly requested.
There are two full stops after by following the link below.
The signature says HSBC Bank PLC twice, but with two different capitalizations for PLC. The first one appears to be intended as the name of the sender.
If you are going to set up a scam in which you pretend to be a prestigious international bank, in English, my advice is to have an English speaker read the message back before pressing "send".
Saturday, May 13, 2006
I am grateful to a Mr Allan Mothersill for a number of insights regarding the Dualit 84009 Chrome Espresso Coffee Maker, which he generously reviewed on Amazon UK.
Im mostly a drinker off tea, but one off my mates tempted me to buy this, tellign me that it would make me look at coffee in a diferent light.
Consequentely I bort it and how glad I am! Get yorself some desent beans from the super market and prepared with this mashine, you will find coffee that tasts as good as Starr Bucks. Iff you think thats being genrous, it just shows how impressed i am with this mashine. It has certainly embiggened my appreshiation off the brown bean!
Why not 5 stars? Well its not as quick as instant unles you use the capsules though it tastes so much better so if your in a rush you have to fall back on instant.
I notice that he is not a lazy speller, as his spellings of of, if, consequently, supermarket, Starbucks and appreciation are all longer than the conventional versions, although his apostrophe key does appear to be broken.
The word embiggened (which he spells perfectly) is from The Simpsons, where the Springfield town motto is "A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man". Thanks to Mr Mothersill, I came across the Wikipedia entry on Simpsons neologisms, which includes such indispensible terms as Debigulator, Financial Panther and Karmaceuticals.
I do think he might have rather missed the point of the rating system though, by deducting a star when using the Dualit 84009 Chrome Espresso Coffee Maker turned out to be slower than making instant coffee.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
Sunday, November 13, 2005
The computing term "Thin Client" arose during the 1990s, when it referred to a mythical "network computer" that had no disk drive, to be used in a configuration where the bulk of the processing took place on the server. The idea was that we would all have cheap, slinky "net computers" that accessed online services, while we rode hoverbikes and spent weekends on the Moon. In practice few were built and none were sold, probably because they seemed to cost about as much as regular computers, networks were slow and unreliable, there were no office applications available and people liked having their own stuff.
Later, with the growth of the Web, a new "thin client" model arose, and nowadays the term has come to mean an application that you use through your web browser.
The opposite of a thin client is the configuration where a big old application has to be installed on each machine, and this naturally became known as a "fat client".
The problem is that in management circles, you can't say the word "Fat". "Downsizing", certainly. "Leveraging", of course. "De-scoping", "White Box", "Blue Sky" and "Results-driven goal-oriented win-win synergies", no problem, but you can't stand up at the weekly Heads Of Department meeting and say "Fat", and so we started to hear the term "thick client". Well, it's the opposite of thin, right?
Well, no. The entire point of "thin client" is that it's slimmed down, not anything to do with its depth. It's skinny. It's light. It's lo-cal. It's slender, svelte, lean, trim and nimble. It has not, in short, eaten all the pies. The opposite of that is not "thick". In any case, as a good friend (who it must be said, likes her pies) remarked, what about people who are a bit thick? How must they feel?
The configuration in which a big old application has to be installed on each machine is called "fat client". Get used to it. Or, if human life is directly at risk, "rich client". Or if you must, "smart client". But let's leave those thickies out of it.
Saturday, October 29, 2005
In Big Macs vs. The Naked Chef, Joel Spolsky writes:
Why is it that the cool upstart consulting companies start out with a string of spectacular successes, meteoric growth, and rapidly degenerate into mediocrity?
This is a rather old article, but I came across it recently while reading his excellent book, "Joel on Software" (Apress, ISBN 1590593898), and it's an example of something I keep seeing.
At first glance, it's a straightforward list. The cool upstart consulting companies start out with x, y, and z.
Or do they? Actually, they only start out with x and y. Then, later on, they do z. Therefore it should be
Why is it that the cool upstart consulting companies start out with a string of spectacular successes and meteoric growth, and rapidly degenerate into mediocrity?
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Tom Kyte makes an excellent point about writing in clear, plain, conversational English - but then spoils it for me by summing it up as "write like you talk".
Or is it?
For one thing, what should the corrected version be? "Write as you talk" would be ambiguous, because it might mean "write while you talk". "Write the way you talk" is better, but I have to admit that it is longer and loses some of its immediacy. And nobody would want to correct The Smiths' "I am human and I need to be loved, just like anybody else does", let alone Elvis when he sings "I guess I'll never know the reason why you love me like you do." Hell, when you're the King, you can mix prepositions and conjunctions whenever you damn well please.
Of course, song lyrics have their own rules, and we have to grant some poetic license. Toots and the Maytalls' "Reggae Has Got Soul" just wouldn't be the same. But does that mean we should allow the advertisers of Dove shower gel to claim that it won't dry your skin like soap can?
Dictionary.com's definition includes this:
Usage Note: Writers since Chaucer's time have used like as a conjunction, but 19th-century and 20th-century critics have been so vehement in their condemnations of this usage that a writer who uses the construction in formal style risks being accused of illiteracy or worse.
I also can't help thinking that the French language does not seem to be weakened greatly by having to make do with the same word in Écrire comme on parle and Voler comme un oiseau. Italian is the same.
In the end, my advice is to write the way you talk.
Unless you're Elvis.
Friday, July 29, 2005
In Starbucks this morning for my weapons-grade cappuccino, I had to read the menu item a couple of times. The Caffè Misto was described as:
Half brewed coffee, half steamed milk.
The very fact that I had to read it two or three times while wondering who on Earth would want their coffee half-brewed and their milk not quite steamed suggested that perhaps the language should have been clearer.
But then, thinking about it on my way back, I had to admit that the ubiquitous coffee corporation is grammatically correct. I had been reading it as half-brewed coffee, half-steamed milk. Years of reading about hassle free motoring and low start mortgages had actually got me mentally hyphenating, and here, today, was the reason why that is a bad thing.
Sunday, May 01, 2005
The reputation of British footballer David Beckham sank to a new low when it was reported (by a former nanny, who had previously signed a confidentiality agreement not to reveal details of her employers' private lives, but who nonetheless sold for £300,000 what she claimed to have seen on a cellphone they lent to her) that he had sent a text message to a woman who was not his wife that included the words "I really wish we was in your bed now."
What was he thinking? Is nothing sacred? What is so hard about "I really wish we were in your bed now"?
Has someone in the Beckham family at some point sat down to simplify the language, like Noah Webster, and decided that the whole "was"/"were" thing is just too complicated, and to hell with subjunctives while we're at it? They would probably go on to argue that this not only represents a welcome rationalization, but also saves a letter in text messages. My heart goes out to poor Victoria.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Some eight hours into the visually ravishing yet in all other respects pointless waste of time that is "Hero", the character Broken Sword says to Nameless Warrior, "You are asking Snow and I to trust you."
Now that has to be the final straw, as a dear friend once remarked, on the cake. It is not enough that we are forced to endure long futile fight scenes, in which people fly around irritatingly and to no good purpose, sometimes for several hours at a time, whilst exchanging serene faraway looks through slow-motion raindrops, perhaps not a practical combat technique in a real-world self-defense scenario, or that there is no coherent plot and at least one of the characters appears to die two or three times, or that the same serene faraway expression and monotone delivery is employed by all of the characters all of the time. By this point in the film you may have lost the will to live and all feeling in your legs but at least, you are thinking to yourself, it is not sloppy. Say what you like about the non-characters, their vaguely defined mission and relationships and their serene faraway looks, but at least you can admire their dedication, their discipline, their long years of studying calligraphy and swordsmanship, and their dress sense. Until, that is, BS blows the whole thing by blurting out "You are asking Snow and I to trust you." "I", "Me", it's all the same fing innit?
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Now this, you would think, would not be a difficult subject. The day they explained brackets at school, surely, was a day you could pretty much coast. What you do (they might have patiently explained) is this:
(put some words inside the brackets)
A simple enough rule, then. Almost as simple as how to spell "its". But can we all get it right? No. Can we cock it up? Oh yes.
( some words and some intriguing additional space inside the brackets )
Now what the hell's with that?
One practical problem is that if you leave redundant and unexpected spaces after the opening or before the closing bracket, HTML will feel free to break the line on the space, unless you use the non-breaking space character . Microsoft Word will do the same, unless you use the equivalent Ctrl-Shift-space sequence. But do redundant bracket spacers bother with these niceties? They do not. Do their documents look a bit crap? I think we know the answer.
Saturday, March 12, 2005
From time to time, information needs to be displayed in columns. This is all well and good and we can of course appreciate the many benefits this elegant convention has brought to humanity throughout recorded history.
But what in Hell's name is going on with the colons in the following example (it's made up, but a familiar layout):
Account : 4321 Name : Smith Job : Agent Date : 2005-01-01
In general there should be no spaces before punctuation marks - so what are the colons doing all the way over there?
If they were doing their normal job of introducing a following item, the listing would look like this:
Account: 4321 Name: Smith Job: Agent Date: 2005-01-01
At first you might think they are there to help the reader match items horizontally by providing a visual reference part way between the columns. But then, all that this column of colons actually achieves is to move the right hand column further away, as well as adding a distracting vertical line. You could achieve exactly the same thing by simply moving the columns closer together:
Account 4321 Name Smith Job Agent Date 2005-01-01Or perhaps we wanted a vertical bar? Well then, use the 'pipe' character:
Account | 4321 Name | Smith Job | Agent Date | 2005-01-01
That is fairly pointless without going the whole hog and making it into a table, like this:
+-------------------+--------------------+ | Account | 4321 | | Name | Smith | | Job | Agent | | Date | 2005-01-01 | +-------------------+--------------------+
- which is itself a bit pointless when simply aligning the text into columns would have done the trick perfectly well in the first place.
So IT guys, we love you, but can you just stop doing the thing with the damn colons?
Saturday, February 19, 2005
I could rant about enormity (not the same thing as enormousness), which has been used a lot by reporters in the wake of the recent devastating, horrific, but not, strictly speaking, evil tsunami; or perhaps disinterested (not the same thing as uninterested), humorous (not the same as funny), or even momentarily (not the same thing as in a moment): but there are shorter, simpler expressions that get mangled all the time, and the fact that there are so many opportunities to get them wrong, when they are so easy to get right, leads to massively more irritation for a nitpicker who is having a bad day.
i.e. stands for id est, which is Latin for that is. It is used to suggest an alternative name or definition.
e.g. stands for exempli gratia, which by a rather less straightforward translation means for example. (Exempli is self-explanatory enough, but gratia means by/with/from a favor, and is sometimes translated as for the sake of.)
They are not the same thing.
If you refer to, for example, menswear (i.e. socks), you are saying, wrongly, that menswear means socks; that is, the Menswear Department is really the Sock Department. Which it isn't.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
The expression "to beg the question" does not refer to a follow-up question that is required given an unsatisfactory reply to the original question. It is a debating term in which the question is the issue under discussion, and you beg it by taking for granted the very thing you are trying to prove, as part of your proof.
That said, no dictionary on Earth appears capable of a decent example of such a construction, and it could be argued that the "follow-up question" usage has the advantage of describing something that actually needs a description.
For example, dictionary.com suggests
Shopping now for a dress to wear to the ceremony is really begging the question - she hasn't been invited yet.Huh?
Collins English Dictionary merely defines the phrase as
(a) to evade the issue. (b) to assume the thing under examination as proved.
Those are neat definitions, but when would you actually assume the thing under examination as proved?
Another example might be the case where someone objects to same-sex relationships, then when asked why, says because it's wrong. There, the question is the wrongness or otherwise of such relationships. To use their wrongness as an argument is begging the question, because it's a circular argument that is only true so long as it's already true.
Saturday, January 15, 2005
It never ceases to amaze me how many supposedly educated, intelligent professionals who presumably once attended some sort of school and are able to hold down a well-paid job and navigate the average room without bumping into the furniture cannot manage to spell the word "its". It is, after all, a word of one syllable. It's spelled exactly as it's spoken. It's clearly related to "his", which nobody but the criminally insane would write as "hi's".
The problem is that in English, as in other languages, we are able to run some common word combinations together for convienience, brevity and fun. In French, for example, "ce est" ("it is") is usually abbreviated to "c'est", which, conveniently for an everyday word, isn't easily confused with anything else. In English, however, shortening "it is" or "it has", leads disastrously to "it's", resulting in a tragic situation in which two different things sound the same.
The situation worsens once we consider possessives. "The cat's whiskers", for example, indicates the whiskers belonging to or otherwise closely associated with the cat. By a convenient convention, if we are referring to many cats we shorten "cats's home" to "cats' home".
Now consider the impact of a sentence such as "It's a great car but its handling's let down by its suspension" on the average magazine journalist or IT manager with a limited capacity for philosophical introspection. He or she will have to keep in mind both the it is = it's construction and the my/his/hers/ours/whose one. At the same time. Uh oh.
Friday, January 07, 2005
An odd stutter seems to come over people when they refer to The Thing. Not Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four, with whom they seem to have few if any grammatical problems, especially around Clobberin' Time, but the one in sentences beginning "The thing is".
Not, you might think, the most complex construction. You have a thing. It either is something, or it isn't. If it happens to be a banana, for example, then the thing is a banana. Nothing complicated about that.
So why do we keep hearing "the thing is is the train was late"? Clearly the train being late is identified as the thing. That is what the thing is. One thing is the other. So what in the name of all that's holy is is the second "is" doing there? When people try to write this down, they struggle to rationalise it, resulting in "the thing is, is" and even "the thing-is is". This is because they are twats.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Would you say "Come with I"? No you wouldn't. Would you say "Me am going out"? Not unless you are Tarzan. It doesn't take any grammatical analysis - it just sounds obviously wrong, and it is.
The problems seem to start when the sentence is just slightly more complicated. If instead of "I am going" and "Come with me", it happens to be My husband and I are going" and "Come with Beyoncé and me", suddenly all hell breaks loose. You remember hearing the Queen saying "My husband and I" and sounding a bit posh, so you force yourself to say "and I" in all situations because you think that must be the correct thing - perhaps there is a rule about "and" among posh people, or something, after all the Queen says it and it's her English. Or like David Baddiel you decide that you are fed up with all that pretentious twaddle and resolve to say "and me" in all situations and damn the grammarians. Or perhaps you steer a middle course, saying one or the other but not really being sure which is right, or why.
But actually there is no special rule about "and", and Her Majesty does use the word "me". You just need to use the same word that you would have used without the "blah blah and".
An ellipsis stands for some text that has been omitted, or at the end of a sentence it suggests something trailing off into silence or the reader's imagination. It is written as three dots.
Not bloody eighteen.
Now how hard was that?
Monday, January 03, 2005
Can we get one thing straight. Regard is attention, sometimes esteem or admiration (you may have, for example, a low regard for the Phantom Nitpicker), but it is based on the idea of regarding something, of looking at it and giving it some thought: therefore it makes sense to say "with regard to usage", "regarding usage", or if you must, "as regards usage".
Regards, on the other hand, are greetings. For example, "Give my regards to Lady Davenport", or, famously, to Broadway.
Therefore anyone who says something like "with regards to this morning's meeting" is an idiot. And probably in middle management.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
It is tragic that in these days of increasing written communication, so many people seem to struggle to express simple concepts in plain English (and doubtless also plain French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and any other written form that allows plainness). Either they show themselves up as losers (or as they would no doubt put it themselves, "loosers"), or - and this is the painful part - standards sink, and those of us who care for the language of Milton are banished, condemned to the margins of written society, cursed forever to wander the dark blogs, forums and newsgroups of the Net as pariahs, languishing as a fury doth in Hell.
Well alright, Milton was a bit weird, but you know what I mean.
- Only native or otherwise confident English speakers should be targetted for nitpicking.
- Errors of understanding should be targetted above simple typographical errors. For example, someone who repeatedly writes "with regards to" probably needs to have it pointed out that regards are things one gives to Broadway. If he or she simply misskeyed it as "wtih regard to", The Phantom is less concerned.
- The Phantom corrects English usage. In the words of Michael Biehn's character Reese in The Terminator, "That's what it does. That's all it does! It can't be bargained with! It can't be reasoned with! It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead!" So, in many ways, The Phantom is like The Terminator. Both have names beginning with "The". Neither engage in debate. The Phantom stops before you are dead, though.
- Priority should be given to comedy effect.