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.


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15 September 2017

Spelling mistake of the day: Reasons for editing, № 1

Reasons to have your Russian texts closely scruitinised by a native-speaking editor like me, № 1

Today I had to change a word written thus: "significunt".

'Nuff said!

24 May 2017

When is жадность not разумная – when putting Russian thoughts into English prose, if you don’t want to seem провинциальный

I am a writer, but I earn my daily bread by editing texts which Russians have written and putting them into smooth, idiomatic and clear English. I have recently tried to explain to some potential customers why this is so important. It occurs to me that I should maybe try to make my point to a wider audience.
     The main reason is the difference between verbal and written communication. Face-to-face you communicate as much by body language as by the words you use. If your listener does not understand you, he or she will ask what you mean, and you can correct what you have just said. Likewise, if you say something offensive, or obviously stupid or wrong, you will see by your listener’s reaction and have an opportunity to correct what you said, or to elaborate on it to make your meaning clear.
     None of this applies when texts are in writing only. That has to be absolutely correct, or you will risk creating all sorts of communication difficulties. 
     In addition, there is something attractive about a Russian accent, and interesting about the unusual ways in which Russians misuse English when speaking. But accents do not come across on the printed page, and mistakes on paper are not interesting; they simply look провинциальные.
     Editing is much cheaper than looking a fool. The best example I have ever come across is the sign (pictured above) on the Kazan railway station which I saw when travelling to Siberia some years ago. РЖД had previously spent billions of roubles modernising and beautifying the station for some international football competition or other. Yet they put that sign up. The idea of giving instructions in English was a good one. But to do so in the way it was done looks idiotic. There are four mistakes in the six English words used.
     I usually charge 4 roubles a word for style-editing and correcting texts. So it would have cost the Russian Railways 24 roubles to have had me correct that sign. The fancy modern new station would not have cost billions of roubles and looked naff, but would have costs billions and 24 roubles and looked smart, modern (as the rest of it does) and, due to the use of English, welcoming to visitors from abroad.
     Which is more sensible? Why is meanness considered sensible in matters like these? Always get important text checked by a native speaker. 
     Send an email to me at language.etiquette@gmail.com
and I will send you back my sheet describing what I do and why.
     I'll give a discount to every customer who can give me the correct translation of the sign!

  

09 March 2017

"Sanctions" - a word much misused in Russia today: иногда "бойкот" лучше

It is high time that Russians who wish to be thought of as speaking correct English (like the Foreign Ministry) stopped misusing the word "sanctions".
     The West has imposed "sanctions" on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and support for the "separatists" in the eastern Ukraine. By way of retaliation, Russia said it was imposing "sanctions" on the West, by making some types of food illegal to import and so on. These are not sanctions. They are a boycott. The difference is crucial if the English language is to be used correctly and therefore clearly.
     Sanctions, in essence, are restrictions which are intended to prevent OTHERS from doing this or that, including buying things you sell. A boycott happens when a group of people, which can include a country, decides to restrict its OWN actions in the hope of harming someone else by, in most cases, refusing to deal with that other person or entity (which can also be a country or group of countries).
     The word "boycott" - in Russian: бойкот or бойкотировать - comes from the name of an English land agent in Ireland in the nineteenth century with whom many native Irish refused to deal, due to his unpopular way of dealing with them. There is a good entry in Wikipedia which will give you the whole story.
     The man concerned is pictured above. His name was Captain Charles Boycott, and it is his surname which has come down to us as the word for causing self-harm by mass action in the name of public policy or morality. Causing harm to others by preventing them taking advantage of what you would normally offer them is something else entirely. The distinction can be illustrated with reference to the picture.
     Due to the size of Captain Boycott's beard, you could draw one or other of two logical conclusions. Either he decided to boycott the makers of razors, or the razor-makers imposed sanctions on him, by refusing the supply him with their products. Those are two different situations, described in correct, and therefore precise, English by two different words. Do not mix them up!

05 March 2017

A grammatical mistake spotted in a Facebook post


One for Simon Green a 1993 Riguardo Brunello di Montalcino from the cellar :)
Like
Comment
Comments
Simon Green Outstanding wine- hope you said a small prayer in appreciaton of its venerability, Alex?!! A votre sante with jealousy!!
LikeReply215 hrs
Michael Stensh-Brown For en English teacher, Simon, I am surprised at your invention of the word "venerability". A word with the suffix "-ability", or similar, implies that the noun it refers to may have that quality, or it may not. An old wine may be venerable (though that is debatable), but its age is a matter of fact, no possibility.

24 January 2017

Grammar police and a delinquent politician

The picture Pete posted
(see third quote)
A passionately mediocre politician in Scotland, called Margaret Mitchell MSP (Conservative), recently posted an advertisement for her compassion on Facebook - something to do with the cost to the public authorities of vandalism in Scotland - which ended with her saying we should "address the problem." I posted an objection to this phrase, under one of my many assumed names:

Dear Mrs Mitchell,
You "address" an issue, but you "solve" a problem.
Do you have any figures about how much vandalism to the English language costs the Scottish tax-payer?
Your sincerely,
Hamilton Ursqhuattle, M.A. (Kint.)

Within five minutes (literally) the whole comment was taken down from Her Marggieness's page and I blocked from it. I then posted this:

I commented on Margaret Mitchell MSP's ropey grammar about five minutes ago. ALREADY the whole comment has been removed or blocked. She really must have a complex about her lack of education - which starts with speaking your own language correctly and, if possible, elegantly - how sad for a grown-up woman in public life!

A friend from Australia, then accused me pictorially of acting like the grammar police, to which I answered as follows: 

No, no, no, Pete! I am happy for ordinary people to use the language any way they like. I am NOT happy that PUBLIC FIGURES (like members of the Scottish parliament) who continually try to control public behaviour get away with language which the more literate among us would not understand correctly. Since language in a law-abiding society is the chief weapon of control, then it behoves our wannabe controllers to use it precisely, clearly and correctly.

That remains my position.