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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

First rule of literary etiquette: respect the reader

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This blogger has been not blogging recently as I have been finishing a novel, which will shortly amaze the world. But while working on my manuscript I have been assiduously collecting examples of misused English and am now going to post a lot of short entries describing them. Soon after that I shall be going on holiday to Scotland for five weeks, where the demands of family, friends, fun and frolics will no doubt mean that my entry-per-month rate will drop.
     The first piece comes from the War Museum at Poklonny Gori where I went with some interesting friends on 22 June to mark the date of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941. There were all sorts of explanatory notices around the exhibition, many of them in English. Not for the first time, I remarked to one of the friends I went with (who is Russian but speaks flawless English) how odd it is that Russians spend so much money on displays like that at Poklonny Gori but then skimp on the texts. From a public relations point of view, nothing could be more silly than having badly-written foreign language material. When will Russia start to spend the trivial amounts money needed to have proper foreign language experts, like me(!), check their texts for public consumption?
     I will come to the language in a minute, but the first point to note is that most of the material at Poklonny Gori was also historically inaccurate. The piece pictured above, which I have chosen simply because my photograph of it produced the most legible image, starts with the bizarre assertion (second paragraph) that: “From the very start [of the war “against the axis”] the Soviet Union exerted significant efforts to achieve a wide military and political co-operation with all countries in the state of war against Germany.”
     Huh! From the start? Do Russians not know that the war against Germany started in September 1939, nearly two years before Hitler decided to force the Soviet Union to fight against him rather than help him? Do they not know that Stalin twice asked to join the Axis (in 1940) and speculated in smirking tones about how they would be able to carve up the British Empire “like an estate in bankruptcy” once Britain had been beaten? Do they not know that in the battle of Britain—as much a turning point in the war as the Battle of Stalingrad was—the German air force was flying on fuel largely supplied by the Soviet Union and using rubber, a key material, which it could obtain only buy getting the USSR to buy it from (British) India pretending it was for its own consumption?
     Stalin did everything he could to help Hitler defeat the British Empire (remember the United States w as not in the war until December 1941). To say that “from the very start” the USSR tried to defeat Hitler is such a gross distortion of history that it renders the whole monument at Poklonny Gori decidedly questionable, to me at any rate. Why does Russia feel it needs to lie about its own military history?
     The first rule of etiquette in writing in English, as in any other language, is to respect truth, and therefore the reader by not treating him or her as an idiot, which this kind of historical nonsense does.
     A secondary rule which is rather amusingly broken in the piece is to get names and other obviously checkable material right. Towards the end, reference is made to the Dumbarton Oaks conference in 1944 at which the first proposals were discussed for the establishment of what became the United Nations. This document refers to a “conference in Dumbarton-Ox”, which I thought rather funny.

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