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24 February 2012

Confusing words #2: efficient/effective in British drinking culture

On 21 February, the Voice of Russia website published an article entitled “Drinking as Hallmark of Today’s Britain”. The author, Sergei Sayenko, focused on Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent announcement of measures aimed at reducing the level of alcohol consumption, especially amongst the young. Apparently there are going to be American-style “drying-out cells” and new laws on the minimum price for alcohol in shops.
     “The second measure would make alcoholic (sic) practically unaffordable for younger people,” comments Mr Sayenko, who appears to have advance knowledge of the new pricing levels. Leaving aside the amusingly appropriate misuse of the word “alcoholic” (presumably he meant “alcohol”, but the word kinda fits in a tipsy, poetic sort of way), Mr Sayenko goes on to make a real mistake: “I doubt that either of these measures would be efficient enough to help solve the problem of alcoholism in the UK.”
     The word “efficient” is wrongly used here. Efficiency is a measure of output relative to input, so that a worker can be efficient by producing more in a shift than other, less-efficient workers with similar equipment, or one engine can be more “fuel efficient” than another if it gives more power for the same amount of fuel consumed.
     What Mr Sayenko undoubtedly wanted to say was that “neither measure would be effective”, which means it would (not) work well.
     He repeats the mistake twice in his piece, writing, “Increasing alcohol price at retail outlets are (sic) unlikely to be efficient either. An alcoholic could always go to a pub and buy a glass of beer or something stronger at the old price…. One of the measures which could prove to be efficient would be a properly organized public awareness campaign.”
     The small mistake here is that in the first of those two sentences, Mr Sayenko seems to think the subject governing his verb is “outlets” (plural) rather than “price” (singular). But more importantly, he has used “efficient” when “effective” would have been correct in both cases.
     There is also a larger give-away. Where did Mr Sayenko get the idea that in Britain alcoholics go into pubs and—even weirder thought—buy glasses of beer! Some of my best friends are alcoholics, and they all either sit at home in their conservatories or book-lined studies drinking whisky, brandy or super-accelerated crème de menthe, or they huddle behind the skip on the pavement opposite the pub drinking Buckfast or White Lightning. Either class of drinker would feel vaguely insulted to be thought of the as the sort of person who sits on a bar stool making fatuous conversation about football, politics and house prices.
     I assume from this that Mr Sayenko has not had much experience of British pubs. But I hope he is still able to enjoy a drink himself occasionally. Putting on the old deer-stalker, Sherlock Holmes-style, I would guess that he is not an alcoholic because alcoholics generally make mistakes inconsistently, and he uses the word “efficient” wrongly every time in his piece.
     He has not made efficient use of the editing services at the Voice of Russia, and thereby reduced the effectiveness of his argument. This is not the first time I have had occasion to make this point about his organisation. Much more of it and I will be compelled to initiate a “properly organised public awareness campaign”, which will kick off with a post on this blog entitled: “Sloppy Editing as Hallmark of Today’s Voice of Russia.”

1 comment:

  1. looks like a response to the offensive fact of Britain's alcoholism :)