February 13, 2020 § Leave a comment
A woman slammed the phone down on my friend yesterday – or did she. They were talking – on mobile phones – she got angry and she abruptly and angrily ended the call. But did she actually, literally, physically, slam down the phone on him? Probably not – unless she was also intent on wrecking her mobile.
So that’s one phrase in the English language whose days are numbered. There are others:
- Carbon copy. When I was a young journalist using a manual typewriter I used carbon paper to make a copy of the story I was writing. Carbon paper isn’t necessary now that we all use computers. However…we’re using ‘carbon copy’ often without knowing it. When we cc somebody on an email, we all know that we’re copying them in. We don’t all know (I didn’t) that cc stands for carbon copy.
- Winding down the window (of a car). We don’t do that anymore. In place of the winder-type apparatus that was fitted in old cars, we use a button and the window shoots down.
- Kodak moment. In the days of camera film, we were careful about capturing the moment we wanted to cherish on film – frankly because we had to pay for it to be developed and, in the first place, make the effort to go to the developer. So a Kodak moment, named after popular photographic film, was a special picture moment. These days billions of pictures are taken every minute on Smart Phones, special or not. We just snap away.
- Nothing to write home about – meaning it’s not big news. Back in the day, before mobile phones, people actually wrote letters to family when they had news – even sent postcards when they were on holiday! But if they didn’t have news or weren’t on holiday they had ‘nothing to write home about’.
- Put somebody through the wringer – to give them a hard time. Several generations back wringers were used to squeeze every last drop of water from just-washed clothes. Now machines do the hard work but we’ve carried on using the expression to suggest someone’s been drained of everything they’ve got! eg. the lawyer really put him through the wringer.
- Snapping a photograph. I just used the ‘snap a picture’ expression in Point 3 – where did we get that from? Simple – old cameras used to make a snapping sound when they took the shot.
- And, is a newspaper still a newspaper when it’s published online – no paper involved!
There must be many more phrases that don’t really make sense any more. Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard please – well, not literally. We don’t need to send postcards when we can whizz over a suggestion via the comments box.
November 20, 2018 § Leave a comment
I was trained by a fierce, scary editor and now I’m a fierce, scary editor. These are my Top Ten writing howlers and when I see them in print, I want to scream.
- You’re and your. This easily makes the number one slot because the words are not interchangeable and the mistake is made so many times by so many people. ‘You’re’ is the shortened version of ‘you are’ and ‘your’ means belonging to you. Most people know that but many still get it wrong when they write it.
- Apostrophes. An apostrophe is used to indicate either possession (e.g. Harry‘s book; boys’ coats) or the omission of letters (e.g. can‘t; he’s). An apostrophe is never, ever, ever used to suggest a plural (e.g. 1960’s; BBQ’s). Let those words be and write them like this: 1960s and BBQs. I’m not the only one to get heated about the misuse of apostrophes, the Apostrophe Protection Society was formed ‘with the specific aim of preserving the correct use of this currently much abused punctuation mark.’
- So. There are times that ‘so’ is a useful word and times that it serves no purpose whatsoever. This seems to be a modern invention, as in: ‘So I went down the road.’ Read that sentence without the word ‘so’ and it makes perfect sense.
- Capital letters. We all learned the rule for capital letters in school: proper nouns and the beginning of sentences. And then we grew up and many of us threw it away. For example, you may have only one mother but there are many mothers so mother does not take a capital letter. It is not a proper noun. Your mother’s name, however, does.
- Thing. I put this down to my fierce and scary training. I was told that there’s always a better word than ‘thing’ and using it is lazy.
- Hey. This is American. We’re British, writing for a British audience.
- Who’s and whose. This is like you’re and your. Think of who’s as ‘who is’ and you’ve got it.
- Could of and could have. This can also be ‘would have’, ‘must have’ ‘should have’ and becomes a mistake because people write it as they say it. Drives me crazy.
- Commas. ‘I like cooking dogs and kids.’ Don’t be a psycho – use commas!
- Bingo. B4 and U2, for example – write English not bingo.
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…..
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:
Ok, here we go:
- You don’t need the word ‘fresh’ because a fishmonger selling rotten fish wouldn’t be in business.
- You don’t need the word ‘sold’ because a fishmonger who gave away fish would soon go out of business.
- You don’t need the word ‘here’ because the sign’s right outside the shop – where else would the fish be!
- 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?
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:
- A contraction or missing letter: don’t, haven’t, won’t, it’s.
- 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.