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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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13 July 2013

Another rule of literary etiquette: respect the meaning of words

You don’t “cut” with an axe, you “chop”.
You could certainly shatter bone like this,
but the careful removal of fat would be impossible.
Better to use a tiny adze for that, or a knife,
neither of which would “cut into bone”.
On 26 June the Financial Times, normally a relatively literate newspaper, published an article about the approach to economic management of the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. The FT commented that the depth of the cuts the Chancellor was making was arguably excessive. “This may now be cutting not only through fat but into the bone.”
     So you go from fat to bone without anything in between? What about muscle? And cutting into bone? Surely not? You can saw bone, or shatter it with something like an axe (see right). But I think cutting such a hard substance with the same instrument—economic austerity—that you cut fat with is physically impossible.
     The problem with clichés, especially sloppily used ones, is that they very often have comic or unintended effects. Best to avoid them and respect the literal meaning of words if you want your reader to be informed rather than confused or, in some cases, amused.

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