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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31 August 2016

Lawrence of Arabia: language, romance and marketing a political cause

Here a totally fascinating programme about Lawrence of Arabia. It has many echoes in connection with the chaos in the Middle East today - though I mention that simply to encourage "modern" people to listen to it since these days it seems that an interest in history for its own sake is rarely considered a good reason for withdrawing one's gaze from financial information, shopping offers, sporting trivia or the inanity of contemporary politics.
The programme is about a genius who fell in love with a culture that was not his own, achieved amazing things when his country needed him to in connection with that culture, and then was semi-betrayed by his own people who were in thrall to the version of "modernity" that was all the go in 1919 (at Versailles).
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his book about his role in the Arab Revolt in Palestine in the First World War, is written in extremely "romantic" language, which was designed to sell a cause - partly himself, and partly the rights of Arabs to be taken seriously in the partition of Palestine. The first worked, and the second didn't. But in making the attempt, Lawrence left behind an extraordinary work of factual literature. It is one of the English language's many "must reads". 

13 August 2016

Life, love and philosophy

It occurred to me listening to this programme just now, that I could never enjoy life "over the piece" with someone who did not enjoy listening to this sort of programme:


12 August 2016

The Unabomber - a study in technological insight

One man and his hut
Today's "must listen" is a fascinating programme about the Unabomber - remember him?
It focuses on the psychology of someone who was unable to relate on a calm basis with people round about him. Even his mother recognised that. Yet he was a mathematics professor at Berkeley and undoubtedly understood some fundamental truths about technology, the main one being that it is likely to destroy society and nature as we know it. 

I must say I largely agree with him there. 
However, the Unabomber's solution reflected Churchill's judgement on Lenin, of whom he said: "His aim to save the world; his method, to blow it up." 

In this case the targets were individuals who were advancing technology. He, by contrast, lived a completely reclusive life in an almost entirely natural situation. He was the ultimate sustainable individual. He was a conservationist. His was a virtuous life. His ideals were unimpeachable. The only problem was that he thought, like Sir David Attenborough, that people are the problem.
We know so much about him because he wrote diaries and letters obsessively. He did so because he did not communicate verbally. 

If you are interested in the psychological problem of people who are forced to live alone, both literally and metaphorically, because they can only broadcast and not receive, you will not be disappointed. The interesting language angle on this is how boringly he wrote. That is what egomaniacs are left with. They are not thinking of the reader. They are like Professor Zorkin - see entry below: 6 December 2013 - the Chairman of the Russian Constitutional Court. However, at least he does not blow people up. Her merely allows the state to act freely, which in some circumstances comes to the same thing.

10 August 2016

EU use of English, compared with US use - a warning about bureuacratic language

Definition of an online platform:

'The European Commission defines an online platform as a business that employs "information and communication technologies to facilitate interactions (including commercial transactions) between users, collection and use of data about these interactions, and network effects which make the use of the platforms with most users most valuable to other users." In their book, "Modern Monopolies: What It Takes to Dominate the 21st Century Economy," Moazed and Johnson have a punchier definition: "a business that connects two or more mutually dependent groups in a way that benefits all sides."'

If you prefer the first definition, from the EU, to the second one, then you must be someone who wishes to speak and not be understood. As a bureaucrat, you will have "targets" for the number of words emitted, but none for the amount of understanding you have generated. The reason is simple. It is easy to count words but impossible to quantify understanding. Bureaucrats only do the easy stuff, however meaningless. The reason for that is simple, too. They get pad anyway - by you and me. Parasites!

See the content of this quote, and the full and very interesting article it comes from, about why Amazon, Google etc. are succeeding due to their clearer understanding of how to think about the market they are in, here: http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-08-09/the-greatest-tech-businesses-aren-t-really-tech 

05 August 2016

Business English by the Beatles: Ringo talks about Brexit

"I voted for Brexit, because I thought the European Union was a great idea, but I didn’t see it going anywhere lately. It’s in shambles, and we’re all stuck with people who want to make arrangements for their own country and don’t think for the other countries. Britain should be out and get back on its own feet."

Ringo had no education to speak of - not just higher education, but also ordinary schooling as he spent so much of his childhood in bed as an invalid. YET, he understands how to use English - and the key word is SIMPLY. 

Read the interview in the link below, in which he discusses the music business as it affects the Beatles today, and you will see what I mean. But I particularly liked this quote above as it encapsulated a complicated issue in less than 50 words. Like many non-native speakers, he survives a grammatical mistake (see if you can spot it) without worrying. THAT is how to write, or speak, English: