What this blog is for and about

I also offer personally-tailored, individualized English conversation practice (including etiquette) and coaching in writing techniques. Finally, I edit texts such as magazines, business proposals, memorandums, emails so they are presented in English which does not embarrass you or your organization. For further details, please mail me at: language.etiquette@gmail.com

Remember: all pictures can be expanded to full page size by clicking on them.


15 November 2017

Editing today: spot the wrong word!

Editing today and came across this unconsciously amusing sentence. Can you spot the wrongly used word?
"...in the Doing Business ranking of the World Bank, which assesses the regulations that enhance business activity and those that constrain it, Russia has been steadily climbing upstairs and was placed in 2017 the 35th among 190 countries...." 

05 October 2017

Reading for profit or for pleasure?

I have been blessed with the opportunity to earn my living by editing documents which include passages like this:
'Over the past two decades the field of social sciences has been enriched with newly-emerging disciplines and terms such as ‘development studies’ and ‘development economics’, ‘social capitalism’ and ‘sustainable development’, ‘venture philanthropy’ and ‘impact investment’. All these terms are positioned within a large space defined as ‘development’ which we define as “a holistic and multi-disciplinary concept concerning sustainable growth and processes leading to enhancements in human development, quality of life and subjective well-being”.'
The thing is, I prefer to read stories which begin like this: "The shades of night were falling fairly fast as I latch-keyed self and suitcase into the Wooster GHQ..."

Or this: "It was about eleven o'clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills..."

In these two cases, I feel the writer is talking to me. In the first one, I wonder if he is not talking to himself, or to the wall, or to his mother's bottom. In each case, I feel like an intruder rather than a member of an enthralled audience. 

Should reading be for profit or for pleasure? And is it possible to combine the two purposes? What do readers think?

15 September 2017

Spelling mistake of the day: Reasons for editing, № 1

Reasons to have your Russian texts closely scruitinised by a native-speaking editor like me, № 1

Today I had to change a word written thus: "significunt".

'Nuff said!

24 May 2017

When is жадность not разумная – when putting Russian thoughts into English prose, if you don’t want to seem провинциальный

I am a writer, but I earn my daily bread by editing texts which Russians have written and putting them into smooth, idiomatic and clear English. I have recently tried to explain to some potential customers why this is so important. It occurs to me that I should maybe try to make my point to a wider audience.
     The main reason is the difference between verbal and written communication. Face-to-face you communicate as much by body language as by the words you use. If your listener does not understand you, he or she will ask what you mean, and you can correct what you have just said. Likewise, if you say something offensive, or obviously stupid or wrong, you will see by your listener’s reaction and have an opportunity to correct what you said, or to elaborate on it to make your meaning clear.
     None of this applies when texts are in writing only. That has to be absolutely correct, or you will risk creating all sorts of communication difficulties. 
     In addition, there is something attractive about a Russian accent, and interesting about the unusual ways in which Russians misuse English when speaking. But accents do not come across on the printed page, and mistakes on paper are not interesting; they simply look провинциальные.
     Editing is much cheaper than looking a fool. The best example I have ever come across is the sign (pictured above) on the Kazan railway station which I saw when travelling to Siberia some years ago. РЖД had previously spent billions of roubles modernising and beautifying the station for some international football competition or other. Yet they put that sign up. The idea of giving instructions in English was a good one. But to do so in the way it was done looks idiotic. There are four mistakes in the six English words used.
     I usually charge 4 roubles a word for style-editing and correcting texts. So it would have cost the Russian Railways 24 roubles to have had me correct that sign. The fancy modern new station would not have cost billions of roubles and looked naff, but would have costs billions and 24 roubles and looked smart, modern (as the rest of it does) and, due to the use of English, welcoming to visitors from abroad.
     Which is more sensible? Why is meanness considered sensible in matters like these? Always get important text checked by a native speaker. 
     Send an email to me at language.etiquette@gmail.com
and I will send you back my sheet describing what I do and why.
     I'll give a discount to every customer who can give me the correct translation of the sign!


09 March 2017

"Sanctions" - a word much misused in Russia today: иногда "бойкот" лучше

It is high time that Russians who wish to be thought of as speaking correct English (like the Foreign Ministry) stopped misusing the word "sanctions".
     The West has imposed "sanctions" on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support for the "separatists" in the eastern Ukraine. By way of retaliation, Russia said it was imposing "sanctions" on the West, by making some types of food illegal to import and so on. These are not sanctions. They are a boycott. The difference is crucial if the English language is to be used correctly and therefore clearly.
     Sanctions, in essence, are restrictions which are intended to prevent OTHERS from doing this or that, including buying things you sell. A boycott happens when a group of people, which can include a country, decides to restrict its OWN actions in the hope of harming someone else by, in most cases, refusing to deal with that other person or entity (which can also be a country or group of countries).
     The word "boycott" - in Russian: бойкот or бойкотировать - comes from the name of an English land agent in Ireland in the nineteenth century with whom many native Irish refused to deal, due to his unpopular way of dealing with them. There is a good entry in Wikipedia which will give you the whole story.
     The man concerned is pictured above. His name was Captain Charles Boycott, and it is his surname which has come down to us as the word for causing self-harm by mass action in the name of public policy or morality. Causing harm to others by preventing them taking advantage of what you would normally offer them is something else entirely. The distinction can be illustrated with reference to the picture.
     Due to the size of Captain Boycott's beard, you could draw one or other of two logical conclusions. Either he decided to boycott the makers of razors, or the razor-makers imposed sanctions on him, by refusing the supply him with their products. Those are two different situations, described in correct, and therefore precise, English by two different words. Do not mix them up!

05 March 2017

A grammatical mistake spotted in a Facebook post

One for Simon Green a 1993 Riguardo Brunello di Montalcino from the cellar :)
Simon Green Outstanding wine- hope you said a small prayer in appreciaton of its venerability, Alex?!! A votre sante with jealousy!!
LikeReply215 hrs
Michael Stensh-Brown For en English teacher, Simon, I am surprised at your invention of the word "venerability". A word with the suffix "-ability", or similar, implies that the noun it refers to may have that quality, or it may not. An old wine may be venerable (though that is debatable), but its age is a matter of fact, no possibility.

24 January 2017

Grammar police and a delinquent politician

The picture Pete posted
(see third quote)
A passionately mediocre politician in Scotland, called Margaret Mitchell MSP (Conservative), recently posted an advertisement for her compassion on Facebook - something to do with the cost to the public authorities of vandalism in Scotland - which ended with her saying we should "address the problem." I posted an objection to this phrase, under one of my many assumed names:

Dear Mrs Mitchell,
You "address" an issue, but you "solve" a problem.
Do you have any figures about how much vandalism to the English language costs the Scottish tax-payer?
Your sincerely,
Hamilton Ursqhuattle, M.A. (Kint.)

Within five minutes (literally) the whole comment was taken down from Her Marggieness's page and I blocked from it. I then posted this:

I commented on Margaret Mitchell MSP's ropey grammar about five minutes ago. ALREADY the whole comment has been removed or blocked. She really must have a complex about her lack of education - which starts with speaking your own language correctly and, if possible, elegantly - how sad for a grown-up woman in public life!

A friend from Australia, then accused me pictorially of acting like the grammar police, to which I answered as follows: 

No, no, no, Pete! I am happy for ordinary people to use the language any way they like. I am NOT happy that PUBLIC FIGURES (like members of the Scottish parliament) who continually try to control public behaviour get away with language which the more literate among us would not understand correctly. Since language in a law-abiding society is the chief weapon of control, then it behoves our wannabe controllers to use it precisely, clearly and correctly.

That remains my position. 

31 December 2016

Vladimir Putin and grammatical redundancy

An article in today's Financial Times discusses Russia's refusal to implement tit-for-tat (as they are called) expulsions of diplomats after Obama announced that 37 Russian diplomats were to be sent home for alleged participation in the alleged plot to compromise the US presidential election last month. But there is a serious redundancy in the quotation from the expert who comments for the FT:
'Simon Saradzhyan, director of the Russia Matters Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School, said Trump’s tweet wasn’t surprising given his past remarks and his stated goal of resetting the U.S. relationship with Russia. 
'“He has grounds to believe this is a smart move,” Saradzhyan said. “Because if Vladimir Putin had reciprocated, which is usually the norm, that would inevitably constrain Trump’s ability to maneuver because, yes, you can blame everything on the past administration.”'
     The phrase "usually the norm" is silly. Something "usual" is, by definition, "the norm". No need to say more. Reciprocation is either "the norm", or it is the "usual" course of action. Either will do; to use both is "over-egging the pudding".

     And with that a Happy New Year to all my valued readers. Enjoy your festive pudding, however many eggs it has been baked with!


04 November 2016

Why the quality of written communication matters: a cautionary example from China. Who could take a company like this seriously?

Dear sir or madam,

We would like to find some suppliers who can supply whisky
if your company is capable of producing or can supply, please send us your quotation. we need a lot of amount.
Hope we will have a good cooperation
Once you get our email ,If you are interested ,please kindly give us a feedback,
Looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards.
Zhao jie
Shan Xi Teng Yu Imp&Exp Co.,Ltd
Adress:No.19 Tenglong Pavilion,Mingguang Road,Xi' An,Shaanxi,China
Zip code:710000
Mobil : +8615686223173