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.


05 June 2018

An interesting and unconventional turn of phrase from a Ukrainian lady

"Willingly lured into an extra-marital affair with Russian oligarch and living cliché Akbar Gromov, she is thrust deeper into the world of the super-rich: private jets, designer clothes and exclusive parties."

This is the intriguing second paragraph of a friend of mine's  new novel, "Snow Job: the Great Game". The author is Ukrainian and used to live in Moscow. I recommend her blend of fun, finance, and femininity....

There are two words, used together, in the quoted sentence that say an awful lot: can you spot them? I have often said, and repeat here, that the way Russian speakers misuse the English language can be illuminating and attractive. Same even more so, when they use it correctly but in a striking illustration of a basically different thought pattern. 

So don't be ashamed; don't try to imitate; and always be clear, concise and conscious of the person you are talking to (i.e. writing for). And check out Ms Ferchenko's previous book on Amazon, "Confessions of a Female Banker".

See: http://jenniferchenko.com/ 

15 April 2018

Useful tips about the "нуансы" of English - number 23

Read this carefully. It is correct, well=-expressed and important if you want to sound natural speaking English:

05 April 2018

BBC language mistakes No. 37

This headline implies that North Korean missiles travel about about 200 miles a day, which is about
the speed of the Cutty Sark, a tea-clipper from the 1870s (before steam-ships speeded things up).

If you assume "months" is 2 months (it cannot be less if it is plural), and that North Korea is about 12,000 miles from Britain, then by simple arithmetic, you will get 200 miles a day. That is about 18 miles an hour.

I've heard of "slow food", "slow living" and "slow communities". But not of "slow missiles" before. Another first for Kim Who-Un.

04 April 2018

Book reviews - latest RECOMMENDATIONS !

Justice Factory: click here for link to Amazon
I have not been posting much recently as I have been too busy working on my books, Russia and the Rule of Law and The Justice Factory (see right - subtitle: "Show me the Judge and I'll Tell you the Law").

The first is still not quite complete (volume 1), but the second is about to go into a second edition, with an extended Afterword on the threats to the rule of law in Scotland today (bigger than you might imagine, and part of a global trend).

What I have been doing is writing brief, user-friendly reviews of books I have been reading, but only those which I would RECOMMEND to others.

You can see all of them to date on this website:  https://www.moffatrussianconferences.com/ian-mitchell-s-russia 

Other websites are starting to carry some of them too, for example: http://www.russiaknowledge.com/ (see "Books" tab)

Anyone else with a site which might like to utilise this content, please mail me with details.

In the meantime, here is one just to show you how they look. It is about the new book "Trotsky in New York". Enjoy!

04 January 2018

Brilliant Russian way of describing the consequences of allowing too many Chinese to buy shares in your birthright

The sad fact is that most of the younger residents of modern England
will not know what a goat is, much less
how voraciously they eat, or how indiscriminately.
So the Russian insight is lost on them.
Luckily English is now a world language, not a local one,
so we can ignore the limitations of all those sad cases
 glued to their smartphones,  consuming e-crap 
as indiscriminately as the hungriest goat in the herd. 
Today's Financial Times (see "China land grab on lake Baikal raises Russian ire") about the number of Chinese buying land around Lake Baikal includes a sentence which ought to go into the English stock of expressions for describing something that is not exactly "an elephant in the room", nor a "Trojan horse", nor a "guest who overstays his welcome" - but is a part of all three, and something more.

Commenting on the consequences of allowing the Chinese to buy property in Siberia, one Yulia Ivanets from Angarsk wrote on Vkontyakte: "We have let the goat into the garden."

Brilliant! Nothing describes the situation better. And I can think of a hundred other situations to which that saying would apply. This should become the English language's first new popular expression of 2018. Well done Angarsk!

27 December 2017

A brilliant collection of silly modern business cliches, explained by the man from the Financial Times (in today's paper)

Embrace failure and shoot for the moon — tech cliché bingo
A good conference always contains a good goosebump moment


This year I have been lucky enough to attend several tech events. Lucky because I love nothing more than to hear improbable tales of plucky individuals defying the odds, fulfilling their dreams and launching successful businesses. A conference is not a conference unless it contains a good goosebump moment.

But, it has to be said, tech events seem to generate a disproportionate amount of thoughtless guff. During such lulls, I have taken to playing tech cliché bingo.

Here are some of my favourites:

So . . .

Apparently, it is obligatory to start every tech talk with this superfluous verbal tic. I blame Mark Zuckerberg.

We are the Uber for . . .

It is often helpful to give the audience a snapshot of what you do. But it is probably not so helpful to associate yourself with a massively lossmaking, ethically warped, and reputationally challenged business.

We are the Airbnb for . . .

One step better in terms of reputation, but not much better in terms of originality.

We celebrate failure.

This phrase is only ever said by highly successful people little acquainted with the true meaning of the word. It should be obvious to everyone: failure sucks. It kills relationships, drains money, and destroys lives. The alternative is always preferable.

We champion diversity.

Invariably said by one of four white men sitting on a panel (or manel).

We are going to disrupt industry x, y, z.

Disrupting an industry is good for the disrupter and may be good for consumers. Then again it may not. Disruption can result in the erosion of employee rights and mass job losses, one of the causes of populist outrage. Not many people want to live in a disrupted society. Probably not such a good meme for 2018.

We don’t want to boil the ocean.

It is surprising how many people who use this phrase then go on to outline business models that aim to do precisely that.

We believe in a sharing economy.

This one is often said by companies proposing to rip data out of unsuspecting users and exploit them for blatant profit extraction.

This is a moon shot project.

This really means: we don’t know what we’re doing and our technology doesn’t work. What’s more, this phrase is often used by extreme libertarian types seemingly unfamiliar with history. For the record, a much-derided public sector organisation — Nasa — was the first to achieve a real moon shot.

We aim to become a unicorn.

A unicorn is a mythical creature. The financial success of many of the companies who use this term may also remain mythical.

One other common feature of tech events is the opportunity it gives for big company bosses to come onstage to tell the audience how much they love millennials. But these corporate types have their fair share of clichés too:

We believe in open innovation . . .

Our company has run out of ideas. Does anyone else have any — please?

As Bill Gates said, “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”

Great quote but almost always misattributed. One minute on Google shows that this quotation came from Roy Amara, a former president of The Institute for the Future. That’s why it’s known as Amara’s Law.

Here’s to the misfits.

This one is sometimes uttered by a chief executive whose suit costs more than the money raised in a start-up’s “friends and family” financing round. They are to hip what the former Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer is to dancing (check it out on YouTube).

All that said, it’s time for a small confession. I have moderated a few sessions at tech events this year and may — perhaps — have used one of or two of these clichés myself.


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!