Do you know about Bowler Hat?

February 10, 2014 § 2 Comments

Actually I don’t mean do you know about Bowler Hat Media, the agency, but do you know about bowler hat, the hat? I confess I didn’t until just now when I was looking though a new book I bought the other day, Bloomers, Biros & Wellington Boots – How the Names Became the Words.

It talks about the famous one we all know, for example – Hoover – which is a word many of us tend to use for a vacuum cleaner but was in fact handed down by Henry Hoover who invented a contraption to suck up dirt so should really only be applied to that specific brand.

Bloomers, biros and wellington boots are similarly named after their inventors and, I was surprised, to see, so is the bowler hat. Well, sort of – I’m not sure how convinced I am about this one. I thought the hat got its name from being bowl-shaped but the book maintains that bowler is a derivative of Beaulieu, the surname of feltmakers Thomas and William who were involved in its production.

This book by Andrew Sholl is full of gems and some others I liked  were:

  • mentor – in Greek mythology Mentor was an old friend of Odysseus who acted as an adviser to his son;
  • plimsolls – English politician Samuel Plimsoll (late 19th century) campaigned against unsafe conditions at sea. He became known as the sailor’s friend and gave his name to new rubber-soled footwear introduced on boats;
  • mesmerise – Austrian physician Frank Mesmer used hypnosis as a therapy back in the 18th century and gave his name to the word;
  • galvanise – Luigi Galvani, a professor of anatomy in Italy discovered that frogs’ legs would move and twitch when they came into contact with metal during a thunderstorm;
  • biro – it was Lazlo Biro, a Hungarian journalist, who hit upon the idea of a pen with a steel ball to control the ink flow and he registered his first patent in 1943;
  • bloomers – womens rights campaigner Amelia Jenks Bloomer (1818-94) saw the baggy knickers as good, comfy wear for women;
  • wellington boots – it was the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) who made them popular and gave them his name.

It got me thinking, what legacy have I left that should be named after me in years to come? But, you see, there’s a major flaw in that thought, nobody can pronounce the name, Lefebve and that includes some of my own family…..

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FRESH FISH SOLD HERE

June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

We live in a world where we use far too many words in the hope that the more we say, the more likely it is some of our message will ‘stick’.

Quite the opposite is true, in fact. The more succinct we can be, the more chance we have of being remembered.

The plain truth is, so many words are unnecessary our consciousness filters them all out so it’s an entire waste of time to throw a lot of words at a subject.

I was taught this ‘back in the day’ at journalism school when a tutor scratched a headline on the blackboard and asked us which word (or words) was (or were) superfluous. He told us it came from a sign outside a fishmonger and read:

FRESH

FISH

SOLD

HERE 

Ok, here we go:

  1. You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
  2. You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
  3. You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
  4. Oh – and you don’t need the word ‘fish’ because you can smell it a mile off…

I know, in the real world, shop signs much like the ‘fresh fish’ one will always exist in the hope of hooking in some extra consumer interest.  But marketing wasn’t the object of the exercise we were given in this instance.

We were forced to examine which words really served a purpose – and out of just four words not one actually did a good job. The exercise certainly made an impact on me and I’ve never written anything since without checking for ‘superfluous frills’ that aren’t going to help my message.

Why don’t you do it for yourself – by having a look at your company website, maybe. Are your words really working for you or could the site be a lot sharper and smarter if you threw out those that are just, frankly, wasting space, clogging up your message and putting some people off from even reading it?

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Apostrophe Protection Society!

February 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The  wham-bam, willy-nilly use and abuse of apostrophes drives me bonkers. It seems every day I see another way in which the poor little mite is mangled: either unnecessarily heaved into a made-up word (like RT’s or CD’s) or left out of ‘your’ or ‘its’ just at thewrong moment. The apostrophe must be the most badly taught and misunderstood piece of punctuation in the English language – or don’t people care?

Well, I’ve just found someone who does. He runs the Apostrophe Protection Society (I can sleep better at night now knowing there is one) and the good man dedicates his life to teachingapostrophe good practice. After a lifetime in journalism, John Richards decided in retirement to set up a website on the subject of his pet peeve, the apostrophe and, more specifically, the abuse of it. He thought a few like-minded people might respond but within a month had more than 500 letters of support from folk all over the globe. Eleven years later, the APS is still going strong.

Which brings me to the rules. Is it because they’re so simple that some people try to over-complicate them?

Apostrophes are used to denote:

  1. A contraction or missing letter: don’t, haven’t, won’t, it’s.
  2. Possession: Bowler Hat’s website, a month’s rent

And that’s it!

Apostrophes have nothing to do with plurals so CD’s, RT’s, GP’s, sofa’s, for example, are all wrong because those words were intended to denote more than one of the items. I saw those particular mistakes recently in a variety of places (one is obviously Twitter) but there are also many good apostrophe-catastophes on the APS website. I would have thought they’d all come from cheap and cheerful street vendors or retail outlets but you’d be surprised: check out the errors from the BBC, Facebook and several district councils.

Some of the mistakes you see there are really cringeworthy: not so much the ‘Honk if your Horny’ handwritten notice which can easily be corrected with a flick of the pen but more the ‘ALL BLACK’S’ printed tee-shirt – how much would it have cost to recall that run? And, of course, if those on Twitter remove the apostrophe from their RT’s it gives them one more character to play with in their tweets. That’s never a bad thing when you have a limit of 140 characters but it makes perfect sense if it’s actually correct.

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