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

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30 December 2014

Nice literary joke from Facebook this morning...

Joyce drank only white wine and disdained red, saying it reminded him of blood. Beckett was a red-wine stalwart, with no time for white because of its supposed resemblance to lymphatic fluid (only Beckett....). But they drank together often, in Beckett's apprentice years. In silence, mostly, but for the occasional "Another...?"
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26 December 2014

Putin makes a fool of himself commenting on the French language

Ha! Ha! Another ignorant politician spouts off saloon bar style.
Putin wants more "language nationalism" but gets it all a bit mixed up...
"The French won't change 'bistro' to 'cafe' just like that. There are some words that are just settled," Putin was cited as saying.
The fact is that "cafe" was the original French word, which was replaced by "bistro" in 1814 when Russian officers sat in them shouting "Бистро! бистро!" at the waitresses who seemed to be working too slowly for their superior tastes. So the French changed. But Russians are to prevented from having free choice about their language.
Older readers will remember that George W. Bush made a similar idiot of himself when he said, "The French don't even have a word for 'entrepreneur'!"

18 December 2014

How the English (not all English-speakers) say one thing when they mean another. Very accurate, I'd say


10 December 2014

Merciful spell-checker

I was sending an important message to someone and did not notice, until my beloved spell-checker did, that I had misplaced a space - a simple mistake which had potentially unpleasant consequences.
     Where I had meant to write "an album", I had in fact written "anal bum" -- as in "I have received your photos and will put them up in anal bum".
     Thank you for your errand of grammatical mercy, Mr Gates.

09 December 2014

A nose for language: the difference between dung and crap, and one important similarity

Yesterday, my dear friend Andy Wightman published an angry article on his blog with this headline:
BLOG A Dung Heap of Unadulterated, Fabricated Crap
This morning, I commented as follows:
You can't "fabricate" crap, any more than you can "assemble" a turd. They do not have components, only materials. And a dung heap is composed of dung, not crap which, I think most people would consider a different substance as crap is produced by humans and dung by vegetarian animals. Meant-eating animals produce "excrement".
May I suggest a better, though less pungent, headline: "Extremely inaccurate article by extremely ill-informed journalist on extremely important subject"?

06 December 2014

A nice email from a distinguished lawyer

Interesting email about my book, The Justice Factory, from Lord Hope, ex-Lord President of the Court of Session in Edinburgh, and until recently Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 

At the end of a long series of largely complimentary comments, including some about my references to him (which are numerous), he wrote: “All in all a very interesting, although rather mischievous, book.  Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

I must say I feel rather chuffed, and hope that it will help draw the attention of more people in Scotland who think, especially in the light of the on-going constitutional debate, that it is important that we understand what sort of people we have as judges, and how they think, including about the constitutional question.

It is, OF COURSE, a perfect Christmas present for the thoughtful, discerning reader!

More details here:


How write like Winston Churchill...

Here is a fascinating clip describing Winston Churchill’s approach to language on paper, which should be noted by all who want to write clear, simple English – note also that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the book under discussion.

Listen from minute 23.00 to 25.00 – two minutes which will change your writing life!