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 12, 2019 § Leave a comment
Shopping for shoes is serious shopping, as any woman will tell you.
Take that a step higher – shopping for winter boots – and you’re no longer talking about a buying activity but an investment. You’ve got proper important stuff on your hands. Well, feet.
I undertook said winter boots search in my home town of Windsor, Berkshire, the other day and was astounded by the huge variation in customer service which varied from the sublime to the insulting. Let me explain.
First of all, you need to know that I set out with the idea of buying (investing in) long, black boots which had to be leather. Get the right pair and you’ve got friends for life (or, realistically, about three years, until you’re fed up of them).
I started at a little independent store which specialises in leather goods. This didn’t go well. I walked into the shop first, my husband following and the guy behind the till completely ignored me and said “Good morning, sir.” He wasn’t to know I was the primary customer and still doesn’t because I walked straight back out again.
Next was an upmarket womenswear chain which is my ‘go-to’ store for special pieces. I’m not sure that the young woman had worked there long – or in fact had worked anywhere in the retail industry, long. I asked for a size 6, which she found on the shelves. They were too big. She found a size 4 (on the shelves) which I knew would be too small. She found a size 7 (on the shelves) which brought us back to the original problem. I actually voiced the issue to help direct her “We have a size 4, 6 and 7 but they aren’t working for me. What next?” She stood there waiting, as if I was going to provide the answer too. I left.
A concession in the local department store didn’t have the size I needed in a pair of boots I liked. The sales assistant offered to order in the right size. The problem was I’d have to pay upfront and, if they didn’t feel or look right I’d have to go through the faff of getting a refund. That didn’t seem fair and I moved on.
I won’t drag you through the rest of the tiring, very tiring but ultimately worth it, shopping trip except to pay tribute to the outstanding customer service we found in Whistles. It was so good, friendly and unpushy that I’ve already told friends about the exceptional treatment and regret that the boots that I eventually bought weren’t from that store. The young sales assistants were chatty and efficient, offered tea or coffee while we had a think about the boots I was trying on, gave opinions when they were asked but didn’t hover or pressure sell. Thank you, Whistles – you didn’t have the right boots but I’ll be back.
(Oh, I finally found the boots at the department store I’ve already mentioned, at a different concession within it. And they’re black, leather – but not full-length.)
July 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
I used to drink alcohol but I can’t anymore. I don’t know why that suddenly happened, but it did. I’m ok with it – other people aren’t.
If I drink alcohol I get the mother of all hangovers. Not a bad head or a dodgy stomach the next morning but, for three days at least, a searing, horrible, sickening pain in my head and a tummy that repeatedly wants to get rid of anything I put in it, including the water which I think might help the head pain. Alcohol just isn’t worth that torture.
When I’m with a group in a pub or at a party I dread people asking what I want to drink. I have two strategies:
- To ask for a glass of wine and make it last all night. People seem more comfortable if I’m holding a glass of wine when the next round comes and I say “I’m alright for the minute”.
- If I’m actually thirsty, to feel ‘brave’ enough to ask for a soft drink and chance that people won’t judge me for not drinking alcohol.
I don’t drive (which I know is also odd to the majority but is somehow more acceptable) so I can’t use that as an ‘excuse’.
The reaction to my not drinking alcohol falls into two camps:
- That I’m not enjoying myself (which I am).
- That I’m trying to lose weight (which I’m not).
And I can’t even hazard a guess at the number of times people have asked ‘Don’t you want a real drink?’
The other day my husband and I went out for a drink and the pub was selling a rhubarb and ginger tonic. I was excited. Not only was the drink tasty it sounded ‘grown up’ – particularly when my options usually fall into the lemonade division. I could feel good about ordering rhubarb and ginger tonic.
Just now, when I started writing this blog I couldn’t remember the name of the brand so I put ‘rhubarb and ginger tonic’ into the search engine. Pages and pages of rhubarb and ginger gin came up – even though I’d specified ‘tonic’.
And when I finally found the drink, rhubarb and ginger tonic from Twelve Below was only a mention on a site titled Craft Gins. I’ve dug a bit deeper and found the Twelve Below site. It’s using the USP of having less sugar than most tonics, hence its name, (12 calories per serving with natural sweeteners) – and not that it’s a cool adult drink. I think it’s missing out there. But it must know its main audience and has branded itself accordingly.
Anyway, my point is this: I don’t want to drink alcohol because it doesn’t do me any favours. I’m not going to judge those that drink. Sometimes I’d like to join in because it would make my life easier – but please don’t judge me if I don’t.
July 24, 2019 § Leave a comment
No you can’t help me!
When I walk into a shop laid out for browsing I don’t want a sales assistant to rush up to me and gush ‘Can I help you?’. Frankly, If I wanted help, I would ask for it.
Why have a shop layout which encourages customers to have a good look around if sales assistants are going to hound them from the time they walk through the door.
Maybe I sound like a grumpy old woman. I’m not. (Grumpy). But I’m definitely old enough to ask for information/advice when I need it – however I probably won’t know what help I need until I’ve had a look around the shop and realised I can’t find what I’m looking for. Or maybe I’ll want “that one in a different colour/size” when I see one in the wrong colour/size. It’s one of retail’s biggest mistakes in my opinion – to get people into their lair and then turn them off by hassling them like it was a bazaar.
There used to be more counters, definite ‘don’t walk beyond this spot’ barriers, where customers expected attention from sales assistants and wanted, actually needed, their help because they couldn’t get what they wanted it without it. In fact, waiting too long before being served was annoying. In that arrangement ‘Can I help?’ was exactly what you wanted to hear.
Then there’s the complete opposite of all this – the shop where it’s hard to find a sales assistant in the first place and when you do, they don’t want to help.
I was shopping for a bra the other day – one to fit with a new dress because none of the bras I owned did the job. I went to my favourite lingerie department, looked through the rails, couldn’t find what I was looking for and went in search of a sales assistant. I imagined a salesperson would know the stock and be able to help since I was looking for something pretty specific.
When I finally found a sales assistant, which wasn’t easy, she was restocking a fixture. I felt like I was interrupting as opposed to wanting to give the store business! Her response was to trot over to where I had already looked and tell me that the bra I had described used to be there but evidently wasn’t anymore. And that was it. She went back to stocking the fixture, giving no advice as to how I might find the bra or paying me any further attention.
(In case you’re worrying, I found the bra eventually – from the same retailer but online. For the men who are reading this, bras are like shoes – better tried on, even if you know your size, so online isn’t ideal.)
I don’t want to get into the ‘every customer is different’ and ‘every shop is different’ debate. There is a one-size-fits-all solution and it should be used. The clue lies in the job title, sales assistant. ‘Sales’ – that bit’s easy: on behalf of the business, sales assistants will handle transactions. Assistant – their job is to help – when the customer needs help but not to mob or avoid helping by stocking shelves. Problem sorted.
April 29, 2019 § Leave a comment
When you speak to someone they know what you’re saying because they can hear the words and, importantly, how you’re saying them.
When you text someone they can’t always be sure of what you’re saying – or, at least, exactly what you mean – because they can see the words but can’t hear the tone of voice behind them. So your innocent reply can be misread.
The same goes for content on a website. It’s a real craft to write content that’s friendly, appealing and easy-to-understand-in-one-reading.
Going back to text messages, I received one the other day from a friend who was replying to a ‘Happy Birthday’ text I’d sent her. It said: “Many thanks” which I thought was a stilted and corporate reply between two good friends. To be honest, I worried about it over a cup of tea and wondered what could be wrong – I’d got the right date, sent her a card as well (and in time) and my text to her was just the cherry on top.
It turned out, I discovered some days later, that she’d been at the hospital accompanying her mum to an appointment and had just been called in when my message pinged through. Rather than not answer it she dashed a reply to acknowledge it – a message that led me to worry for days because it didn’t sound rushed, just formal.
In the scheme of life, a slightly misunderstood text message is not so damaging because you can put it right quickly. Reality is that if you’re texting, you’ll also have the recipient’s number so that you can call to check out the meaning of something you’ve received, if it doesn’t sound quite right.
Not so simple is the website example. Many, many people will visit your site and it’ll be a long time – if ever- that you find out they’re not responding to it because they don’t understand what you’re saying. You won’t have the telephone number of everybody who visits because you don’t know who they are.
The fact here is that website content is best written by someone who initially doesn’t know your business, has to ask loads and loads of questions to understand it and then can craft good written copy to make it sound friendly, appealing and entirely understandable – without the visitor even having to try to work out what it means. I can help you with that – 07946 450708 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
November 15, 2018 § Leave a comment
There was a lot of fuss about GDPR (the new data act) and it was brought into being for all the right reasons. Data about you and me was too easily found and shared, partly because our details are available on the internet and partly because companies ‘assumed’ the right to share information. The latter resulted in the suicide of the 92-year-old poppy seller who received 3,000 requests in a year for donations from charities to the point where she felt too overwhelmed and distressed.
The new data act – the biggest change to the control of information for 25 years – is governed by rules to ensure individuals aren’t swamped by calls they haven’t asked for or agreed to.
What’s happened since GDPR was introduced?
The very important thing that hasn’t happened is that our lives haven’t suddenly been relieved of those faceless, nameless, numberless calls from companies talking to us about the car accident that we haven’t been involved in!
I was in an antique shop the other day when a dealer was asking another if he was still getting those calls because she’d just had one. I jumped into the conversation to tell her that I still get them.
I got an email yesterday from ‘Retired Millionaire’ who’s ‘super excited’ to introduce me to a crazy cash-making scheme.
Today somebody emailed me to say I’ve been ‘chosen’ to receive £1,500 – but I need to give them a bank of information before I get it, of course…
And this blog post/rant was provoked because I just received a call from someone telling me that they’ve received reports showing that my computer has been giving off dodgy readings – but they can fix it for me thankfully….
So GDPR hasn’t got the chancers
I’m amazed that contact like those I’ve described still goes on (or even did in the first place) but I suppose they’ll eventually hit upon someone who has been in a car accident and will take part in the conversation. Or they’ll phone someone who’ll believe that their computer efficiency can be improved by the person who has phoned them out of the blue. That must be the case otherwise these calls wouldn’t exist.
But sadly, while GDPR has been no deterrent to the chancers, it’s scared some charities silly and one I work with refuses to contact members who haven’t completed a ‘Yes, contact me’ form properly. Charities face fines of up to 4 per cent of their turnover or €20m (£18m), whichever is larger.
What’s it done for me?
I’m annoyed beyond reason when I get a chancer on the other end of the phone and I still get them – so I believe the GDPR hasn’t done much for me at all.
I’m sure GDPR has made legitimate companies more careful in their communication but it’s ‘other’ companies that are the bugbears of most people’s lives and it’s the ‘other’ companies that simply don’t care.
February 9, 2018 § Leave a comment
Over the years I’ve come across many a company which makes it difficult to unsubscribe from their emails but Emirates, I think, takes the biscuit.
I’ve written a blog before about this because it takes us all so much time to unsubscribe. Sometimes I’ve wondered if it’s me being stupid but now I have Twitter to check if I’m alone. When Living Social UK presented me with so many options I really didn’t know exactly how to unsubscribe, I took to the Twittersphere to see if I was the only one with the problem.
@LivingSocialUK Please unsubscribe me from your database. I’ve tried to unsubscribe from your emails but don’t know if I have because you make it too difficult.
Some poor souls had tried six, seven, 10 times but were still receiving emails (before also taking to Twitter and begging to be removed from the database).
What I don’t understand is this: if you’ve decided you don’t want to receive an email from ‘blah’ company, them making it difficult for you to unsubscribe is only going to make you annoyed. You were mildly disinterested in the first place, now you’ve got real raging emotion.
The Emirates course of action is to make you ‘work for it’. I didn’t remember I was a member of its ‘Skywards’ scheme (I can’t even be bothered to tell you what that is – but Emirates told me in detail – in the hope, I suppose, of stopping me from unsubscribing. Of course it didn’t.) I struggled on, trying to log into the site, since at some point I had been a member of the scheme – and then it wanted me to remember the password I had created at the time I signed up for a scheme I couldn’t remember. Noooooooooooo! This is too much.
In the end, guess what I did? You’ve got it….broke my New Year’s resolution and just deleted the email. I’ll tackle it properly next time but I have deadlines and I don’t have time to fight with their unwieldy unsubscribe system. They are, by no means, the only company who makes it hard to unsubscribe but they are the worst I’ve come across this year.
And how will companies like Emirates manage when the new General Data Protection Regulation comes into force on 25 May this year. It’s the biggest change to data protection in more than 25 years.
The new General Data Protection Regulation does NOT allow the tacit or implied consent of their clients to be able to proceed with the processing of their personal data.
I may have signed up for their Skywards scheme at some point in the past. I no longer have any interest in it and the company’s making it difficult for me to untangle myself from it.
The likes of Emirates will surely no longer be able to send us information we don’t want with unsubscription puzzles that beat all but the super-patient with a bit of time on their hands.