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.


14 January 2014

The Moscow Times gets in on the act: who gave who the potatoes?

Not to be outdone by the Financial Times (see previous post) the Moscow Times today has a go at confusing its readers by having two conflicting facts in one reader view. Did Lavrov give the potatoes to Kerry (and if so, why were they not Tula potatoes?) or did Kerry give them to Lavrov?
     Since this was the lead story in the News section of the web edition of the paper, it is amazing that no-one checked the wording of the, plainly wrong, headline.
     Why was I not involved? Why do newspapers prefer to make a laughing-stock of themselves rather than spend the few million roubles it would cost to have someone like me proof-read their output on a daily basis? In organisations of the size of these two newspapers, a few sacks of spendable specie are, as the saying goes, small potatoes, whether they come from  Idaho, Youdaho or Nadaho, or even from Tula.


13 January 2014

The Financial Times needs me (or some competent proof-reader)

What is going on? Is this Dave’s bank or has Dave devised a slogan for use as the name of a bank he has started (quite a good idea, I think)? I honestly do not know. Yet this is one of the headlines on the home page of today’s edition of the Financial Times. It is not some sleep-inducing story about economic theory in the back of the paper, or a piece of life-style flannel designed solely to bring in advertising without being read by anyone able to tell the difference between a name and a command. It is in the shop window of an important international word vendor. So the words should have been carefully checked. Clearly they weren’t.
     It is a sad reflection of modern times that so prestigious a paper as the Financial Times makes so many mistakes (see previous posts passim, including 5 January 2014). There is nothing which lets a publication, be it newspaper or company report or business proposal, down so much as illiteracy, comically inept phrasing or serious “typos” like the one pictured. Yet I am available to help at the mere click of an email Send button! 

11 January 2014

Should I have laughed? Or am I suffering from LAUGHS?

Rabbi Charles with Prince Ephraim. Once bitten, twice rabid.
While editing a prestigious lifestyle magazine recently, I was in the middle of an article about the rules for pet transport across national borders when I came upon the following sentence:
“Your pet’s international veterinary certificate, issued by its country of origin, will confirm that your pet is clinically healthy and has been vaccinated against rabbis.”
     Full disclosure: I have to confess that I—well, it must be said—laughed
     I never blame Russian writers for making mistakes in English, as they are impossible to avoid (hence my master-classes in the written language, etc.). I only blame myself for occasionally allowing myself to find some of these honest errors funny. 
     In a politically correct world, I should perhaps be punished for my inability to avoid mirth at the expense of the printed word. The words, qua words, have done nothing wrong. They are blameless. That is why some people think laughter is a sign of cruelty, arrogance, insensitivity, unjustifiable lightness of heart given all the pain in the world or, in extreme cases like mine, a telltale symptom indicating the onset of what is becoming known in the psychoanalytical profession as “Love of Any Unexpected Gaiety in Humans Syndrome”—or LAUGHS.
     Laughter these days is a serious matter. How do readers think I should be punished for having been amused?

05 January 2014

What the dickens was money worth in Dickens's day?

The inventor of Scrooge became the richest writer on the planet.
One of the fundamental courtesies of all good writing—so obvious that it is never stated in any of the how-to
manuals—is to get your important facts right. Obviously everyone makes minor mistakes from time to time, but facts which are central to the argument being put must be right. That is basic.
     So I was surprised to read a glaring error in today’s Financial Times, a paper I regard highly for its informational value—a term which includes accuracy. The article was an extremely interesting one about the attitude to money of novelists in the past, from Dostoeyvsky to Dickens. 
     George Eliot, we learn, was offered an advance for Romola of “£10,000 – about £6 million in our money”. Cool! Or “cool” until we read that in Jane Austen’s time—she was not interested in money because she did not need to earn it to live, unlike Dickens, Eliot and the others—the sum of £20,000 was “£1 million in our money”.
     This would mean that in about 1810 the pound was worth one twelfth of what it was worth  in the mid-nineteenth century. That is deflation on the grand scale. But the fact is that there was only a slight weakening in prices (due to the fact that the economy was growing faster than the money supply—because the pound was pegged to gold).
     So when the author of the piece says Dickens left £100,000 at his death, we do not know if this was £60 million in “our money” (on the George Eliot computation) or a mere £3 million (on the Jane Austen one). Since the Financial Times is a paper about money if it about anything, this is a serious mistake. It is a discourtesy to the reader since it assumes that we are too inattentive, or innumerate, to notice such glaring discrepancies in a relatively short piece.
    If “manners maketh man” then perhaps it could be said, at least in the journalistic world, that “accuracy maketh authors”.