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.


20 October 2015

More Russian editing required!

Just editing a text written by a Russian who appears to be suffering from locigal constipation brought on by ABS (Aquired Bureaucractificatory Syndrome).
It occurred to me just now that an accurate precis of the main thought in the passage I have been sweating over for at least a minute would be: "...the clarification of the simplifcation of the redaction of the abstraction..."

Why Russian businesses should use my editing services

This is why Russian businesses should use my editing services:
"Growing the actions on the aria of quality improvement for the human resources involving into performing of IT and Telecom services through the developing of a join programs of collaboration between State and Business which help to teach yang specialists including they are improvement of a foregone languages knowledge."
Is it any wonder that "the West" does not, according to many Russians, understand this country?
Since the time of Ivan the Great, the obligation has been on the subject to understand the state, not on the state to make its meaning clear to the subject. Business today has the burden of 500 years of top-down communication to overcome. It is not ONLY a question of linguistic competence, in my opinion, but a cultural problem associated with the arrogance of command.

13 July 2015

Business English

An email from a business-like chappy just now, saying that he is "solutions orientated", started me thinking. I, too, am solutions-orientated, my favourite one being malted barley in water drawn from the Dubh Lochan up the hill behind Ardbeg, on the isle of Islay, Scotland.

Can any reader tell me by what name that "solution" is more commonly known?

10 July 2015

Useful English expression, no. 37

When you see something as hopeless as this advertisement, you say, "They're really scraping the barrel now!"


That means they have totally run out of resources - in this case imagination about ways of utilising Russian cliches (nothing inherently wrong with that if done with a bit of humour) to sell a product.

20 June 2015

New word of the day: "factological" !

From the Website Politico:

The news comes after the Russian Federation failed to meet a Monday deadline set by the  European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which it was supposed to present with a distribution plan for the €1.9 billion it owes to some 55,000 shareholders of Yukos Oil Company. No such plan was produced.
Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov told Interfax that Russia was unlikely to honor the ruling.We have no certainty that Russia will be able to comply with this decision because, in our view, it runs counter to the case-law practice of the court itself and is not based on real, factological circumstances,” he said. “We will write to them that we have not drawn up the plan.”
What, one wonders, might real circumstances be which are not "factological"?

And what sort of circumstances might be "factologocal" but not "real"?

17 June 2015

A beautiful and inspiring example of how to write English simply, clearly therefore interestingly

Here is a totally fascinating programme that is, on the surface, about Stephen Hawking, a most interesting man, even if you are not involved with science. 

However, to readers of this blog it has a deeper significance. Much of it is narrated by Hawking himself and, possibly because it takes him so long to write, or perhaps because he thinks so clearly, he has learned the precious art of writing SIMPLY. 

Anyone wanting to understand how to write English properly should listen to Hawking's text in this film. Every sentence is simple, but all the thoughts are crystal clear. This is how all Russians should strive to write English, as I never tire of telling my students and the people whose prose I correct. It is not the only way to write, but it is the best if English is not your native language

Now at last, I have a reference that is contemporary and I will be scattering this link in all directions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxEtofitkuE

14 June 2015

Another useful English expression

Good English expression:
"You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

Click on the link and, if you can guess what the original was like, you have understood the meaning of "sow's ear" and hopefully, by extension the inference behind "silk purse".

22 May 2015

An interesting link for all book-buyers


That is the article. This is the site itself:


06 May 2015

Useful English expressions explained for Russian-speakers - no. 36

I hope Russian speaking readers will understand what I mean when I say that I think "on a wing and a prayer" is the correct English expression to describe this way of investigating the causes of accidents to spacecraft (see picture) 

27 April 2015

Never "shoot" your rifle

Polite grey man not shooting rifle,
or indeed anything else
"I shot my G-98 rifle with live ammunition for the first time. I thought it would have more kick, but it was still awesome," says Franz Koberger on Facebook this morning.

Herr Koberger should be careful. A man in the United States was recently arrested for shooting his computer because it consistently failed to respond to the  Cntrl-Alt-Del command. (See story here, complete with picture of the six bullet holes in the системный блок.

And what did Herr Kozberger shoot his rifle with? His pistol, perhaps? Or the old howitzer he keeps in his garage? If he had "live ammunition" for that, he could well pose a threat to local public safety. I think we should be told.

The problem, though, is really one of language. 

What Herr Koberger really meant to say was "I FIRED my rifle..." - if, that is, he meant to say that he shot it AT something (even a target). If he "shot his rifle" then it means that the rifle was the target.

20 April 2015

150,000 readers !

This blog has now, as of this evening, had over 150,000 "pageviews" (whatever they are!) since it started.

Thank you all, and I hope you enjoy, and are interested in, what you find here.

I will be posting more soon, now that my recent spate of literary work has been completed.

It's a beautiful world!

17 April 2015

Rogozin and the reintroduction of the death penalty for economic crimes

Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who must surely, in the course of a long career at the top in Russian politics, have made some friends that have earned a bob or two by slightly less than legal means, now proposes shooting people for economic sabotage at the new, much-delayed, Far East cosmodrome. 

First useful English expression here: "It takes a thief to spot one."

Second useful English expression here: "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

Рогозин предложил расстреливать за растраты на Восточном

Дмитрий Рогозин
Дмитрий Рогозин
Растраты зарплатного фонда на дорогостоящие покупки, которые допустил бывший субподрядчик строительства космодрома Восточный — «Тихоокеанская мостостроительная компания» (ТМК), — достойны самого сурового наказания. «За такое надо не сажать, а расстреливать», — написал по этому поводу в четверг, 16 апреля, на своей страничке в Twitter вице-премьер Дмитрий Рогозин.

10 April 2015

Nicola Sturgeon admires Jim Murphy's "nuclear missile" - or does she?

Middle five!
"Darling, you look gorgeous tonight. That red really suits you!"
"Don't patronise me, you great big cloud of Unionist
aftershave. But tell me, is that a nuclear missile you've
got throbbing down there, or are you just pleased to see me?" 

Is the "middle way" between being overwhelmed and underwhelmed, simply being whelmed?

And if so (or in any case) what is the "middle way" between high five and low five? And why are these two being so whelmed with each other?

See the off-mike dialogue between them that was caught by a rogue bootlegger at the Great Debate, and which is reproduced beneath the photograph.

Now, decide for yourself. Who's getting cocky with whom?

09 April 2015

Frank from Manchester heads to the pub (the alternative title of a true story about Crimea Day)

The Activism of a Passive People

This is NOT Frank, but it IS a pub 

Feeling like a wee hair-of-the-wolfhound after a good hit of the Old Bushmills at the Irish Embassy on St Patrick’s Night, I headed for Papa’s Place, the bar just off Red Square in which a group of expats gather at 7 on Wednesday nights for two hours of free beer. Just out of Revolutionary Square Metro station, I see Frank from Manchester, one of the regulars, hurrying down the street towards me—that is, away from the pub! This is a surprise.
“There’s no beer till 9 o’clock,” he says shaking his head despairingly. “No alcohol at all. I’ve no idea why. All you can get is soft drinks.”
He tells me he has some shopping to do in GUM, which is right on Red Square, so he will go there and come back for 9 o’clock. As it is 7.30, I hesitate. Can I be bothered to wait, or should I    just abandon ship and go home, thirsty?
Curiosity gets the better of me, not least as I am only 50 yards from the pub. I am even more curious when I notice groups of Russians walking slowly up from Red Square, some of them with red, white and blue balloons in their hands, most looking as it they want to find a place to dispose of them.
Inside the bar, things are just as Frank said. No alcohol of any sort is being served. A few of the regulars are there, drinking colas with their Cajun chicken wings.
Then Doug Steele, the genial owner, appears and says that the police came in a 6.30, waving a paper ordering all catering establishments within the Garden Ring—which encompasses the whole of central Moscow—to stop serving alcohol until 9 p.m. tonight.
“Something to do with Crimea Day,” he says, shaking his head. “That was the first I knew about it, at 6.30. I could not put anything up on the internet to warn you guys. So there’ll be free beer from 9-11 and also from 7-9 tomorrow.”
It is not hard to understand why we all like Doug, a friendly Canadian who has been in Moscow for twenty years or more and run some spectacularly entertaining pubs in the past. He usually sits in the corner of his bar, keeping an eye on the staff and patrons while smoking a substance that smells like carbolic soap in a huge hookah.
Rumour has it that there is a demonstration in progress on Red Square in favour of the annexation of the Crimea. Putin is addressing the allegedly enraptured multitudes. In order to avoid trouble, the police have banned all alcohol sales until it is over. Nobody knew about this, but we all mutter about the usual lack of planning in Moscow, or rather the way in which the authorities do not feel they need to give notice of things like alcohol bans, or closed roads or suspended bus services. They simply stop them without explanation and then stand around watching while people sort themselves out.
“They did the same at the time of the Nemtsov funeral,” one of our group says.
We fall to discussing that event, and I say how different it was from the first big protest in Moscow, held at Bolotny Square just south of the Kremlin, three years ago when the prospect of another term with Putin as President was beginning to alarm the “intelligentsia”.
I went to both events, and was struck how much more serious and sombre the atmosphere was at the Nemtsov march. People were not ranting about the government but quietly waving Russian flags en masse.
Then somebody comes into the bar and tells us that the demonstration is a bit of a joke, and that the people he spoke to all seem to have been ordered by their employers to attend. He saw people trailing Russian flags along the ground. That would explain my bored-looking balloon holders.
The curious thing is that Putin publicly accused the Bolotny crowd of having been paid to attend—by “the Americans”. That was complete nonsense. I could see the sort of folk that were there. However, it was true that people were paid to attend the pro-Putin rally which was held two months later on the huge, hideous, Albert Speer-ish plaza where the World War Two memorial stands, bleak, windy, massive and cold.
I went to that too, with a Russian friend, just to see what was going on. The first lady we met complained to us that this was her only day off in the week from the Post Office, but she had been ordered to attend, and was getting double pay for doing so. Another person told us that he had been flown from Novosibirsk by his factory for the demonstration. The price was attending a couple of lectures, but he was happy to put up with that as it gave him an opportunity to visit his brother.
Everyone had to go to a registering tent and sign a form to attest to their presence. Then they had to go to a coffee shop a hundred yards away to collect their money. As we left, a rumour ran through the smallish crowd that the money had run out and no-one was being paid. Everybody shrugged their shoulders in the usual patient Russian way and left. There was no hint of a mood for going and smashing up the coffee shop, as I hope there would have been in Britain.
We discussed this and a lot more until 9 o’clock when the free beer started. A few minutes later, Frank re-appeared. Where have you been, we asked?
“I was in the café at the top of GUM having a beer,” he said with a grin. “No alcohol ban there!”
We could only conclude that the police had been too lazy to walk up the three flights of stairs, which illustrates one reason why life in Russia is still tolerable, despite Mr Putin’s political ugliness. Though ubiquitous and well-equipped, the police are usually almost as passive as the people they are policing.

Ian Mitchell

07 April 2015

Illiterate, or just "linguistically challenged"?

  • Below is an edited exchange from Facebook recently about the letter above which was written by a prominent Scottish Nationalist who appears not to understand the difference between two ordinary English words: "extraction" and "retraction". 
  • It is pretty shocking, really, though not to at least one supporter - see below.

  • You "extract the mickey", but you "retract an allegation". It is staggering just how ill-educated the "cluvvr" folk so often turn out to be. I have no "issue" with ill-educated people, but anyone who gets on their high horse and takes snooty line with others ought to be able to say what they want to say without embarrassing themselves by lapsing into unintentional humour.5 April at 22:35 · Like · 2олег волконский Extraction has the unfortunate association with teeth.
    5 April at 22:40 · Like · 1Ian Mitchell "Ex" is a Latin prefix which can mean to take or go out, as in exit, exfiltrate, or excommunicate. "Re" in this context can mean take or go back, as in return, resume, or retrieve.
    5 April at 22:51 · Edited · Like · 3
    Brian Macfarlane
    One mistake from a man in his seventies makes him "not literate? FFS I got that shit from another asshole on the Torygraph bloody snobs GTF
    18 hrs · Like