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

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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,

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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

29 October 2016

From "Brexit" to "hexit": my Hallowe'en gift to the English language

Neologisms are new words, those created where none suitable to a particular situation exists in English. Anyone can do it. This was mine this morning (and why):

Looking at a particularly elegant couple standing near the bus-stop as I walked over the road to get the hallal chicken to put in my cauldron for the sacred feast, it occurred to me that if "Brexit" has now become the word for "going out with a bang", perhaps "hexit" should be the word for "going out with a witch."

This is my small contribution to the celebration of Hallowe'en this year.

07 October 2016

The subtle art of English humour

Any Russian who wants to understand what тонкий английский юмор is all about has TOTALLY, TOTALLY, TOTALLY got to listen to this documentary programme, possibly the funniest I have ever heard, about the Portsmouth Sinfonia, which was known in the 1970s as "the world's worst orchestra"....

05 October 2016

Donald Trump, Harry Truman and the right way to talk about history

This is how history ought to be described. At the same time, in the early part, the speaker describes Harry Truman as an early version of Donald Trump, only less respectable. Well worth listening to in the current context - but above all: this is how the stories should be told (click on picture to be redirected to the lecture):

David Pietrusza recounts the presidential campaign and election of 1948 that pitted Democratic President Harry Truman against Republican challenger Governor Thomas Dewey.

12 September 2016

The importance of language etiquette

I saw this picture on Facebook yesterday, and it carried with it this commentary which I thought sensible:

I don't judge people based on race, creed, color or gender. I judge people based on spelling, grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure

I wrote this in reply to the caption in the picture:

Surely, it is "wrong" spelling (not "bad" spelling), since that is a binary choice? A word is either correctly spelled or incorrectly spelled. It is not a question of taste where quality comes in (as in "good", "bad" or "indifferent"). Grammar can be incorrect, but can also simply be a different style, or foreign, and still be expressive. Incorrect spelling is just confusing - unless of course you are that semi-literate Irish gent in Goodbye to All That, whose name I forget, who used to write things like "the bluddy Bishop" - which I thought rather nice.

Curiously, a "grammar socialist" (if that's the opposite of a "grammar nazi") responded by saying rather curtly that I should "Get a life." I took that to mean that one should not criticise those who criticise misuse of English. But what is life if it is without communications? And how does communication work if we do not have accepted conventions for it?

31 August 2016

Lawrence of Arabia: language, romance and marketing a political cause

Here a totally fascinating programme about Lawrence of Arabia. It has many echoes in connection with the chaos in the Middle East today - though I mention that simply to encourage "modern" people to listen to it since these days it seems that an interest in history for its own sake is rarely considered a good reason for withdrawing one's gaze from financial information, shopping offers, sporting trivia or the inanity of contemporary politics.
The programme is about a genius who fell in love with a culture that was not his own, achieved amazing things when his country needed him to in connection with that culture, and then was semi-betrayed by his own people who were in thrall to the version of "modernity" that was all the go in 1919 (at Versailles).
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his book about his role in the Arab Revolt in Palestine in the First World War, is written in extremely "romantic" language, which was designed to sell a cause - partly himself, and partly the rights of Arabs to be taken seriously in the partition of Palestine. The first worked, and the second didn't. But in making the attempt, Lawrence left behind an extraordinary work of factual literature. It is one of the English language's many "must reads". 

13 August 2016

Life, love and philosophy

It occurred to me listening to this programme just now, that I could never enjoy life "over the piece" with someone who did not enjoy listening to this sort of programme: