We’ve all got our own lists of business buzzwords that set our teeth on edge. Synergy, bandwidth, actionable items, scalable, leverage — and the more recent and ubiquitous “circle back”: these are just a few of my personal bugbears in the boardroom, and I know you’ve got more. (You can get your fill of them from an earlier Glossophilia post on The ubiquity of buzzwords and business speak.) But there’s another category of business-lingo that’s getting some of our backs up: it’s the common misuse in emails of certain standard English words or phrases, which just never will sound or be right, however often they’re typed and no matter how good the intention. They’re not just icky words and phrases: they’re just plain wrong. Continue reading
“The owner of East Village dive bar Continental seems to have had enough: A prominent notice now hangs outside warning what will happen if customers let [the word literally] slip once inside: ‘You must leave.'” New York magazine’s “Grub Street” has the story.
Here’s the last exchange of letters (unpublished) between my late father and The Guardian:
To the Guardian Letters Editor from Sir Brian Barder
I submit the following letter for publication.
I’m intrigued by your description of Brendan Cox as the late MP Jo Cox’s “widow” (caption, National, p15, 23 June). Has “widower” been banned from the Guardian’s pages as offensively gender-specific, and “widow” promoted to gender-neutral status, like “actor”? Or is it a typo?
24 June 2017
Dear Brian,Thank you for your letter which was passed on to us by the Letters desk. In this case widow was a typo. There is no entry in the Guardian and Observer’s style guide for widow/widower; widowers are male and widows are female.Best regards,J.A.Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Dear J.A.Of course. My enquiry had its tongue deep in its cheek. Someone in your letters department has a sense of humour in need of a refill. I just thought that some Graundia readers might enjoy my letter if it were to be chosen for publication.Anyway, thanks for taking the trouble to reply.Best,Brian
Fancy trying your hand at a bit of proofreading, on National Proofreading Day? See if you can catch all the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors in the five sentences below. A clean copy will be posted tomorrow. (Clue: you should be able to spot at least 10 errors, and a few more.) Good luck! Continue reading
In usage and grammar news this past month: how and why we curse (or swear, if you’re a profane Brit); a new app for grammar snobs; a celebrity scolds Siri for mispronouncing her name; names that parents regret giving their babies; the true nature of the word gypsy; and a grammar rule that we all use without knowing it. Continue reading
In a section called “Euphony” in their book The King’s English, H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler give the following advice to writers, under a rather bizarre subheading: Continue reading
Are we now safe to boldly go where we weren’t allowed to before? Glossophilia tackles the dastardly split infinitive: here’s most of what you hoped possibly to know — or hoped to possibly know — about grammar’s favorite villain.
Lord Byron’s poem Solitude, written in the early 19th century, opens with these lines:
“To sit on rocks, to muse o’er flood and fell,
To slowly trace the forest’s shady scene” Continue reading
That Gerund Is Funky: words, grammar, usage and language in the news this month.
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As cartoonists and demonstrators around the world raise and wield their pens in protest against the recent atrocities in France, the BBC asks the question: who first wrote or uttered the phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword”? Continue reading
Celebrating its 70,000th visitor earlier today, Glossophilia brings you its 21 most popular posts so far. Subjects include Cockney Rhyming Slang and other quirky Englishisms; contranyms and homophones; when to use which and when to use that; British tea – when is it low and when is it high? and British school – when is it public and when is it private?; some modern words like yolo and like, and a not-so-modern one: dildo. And, of course, some American-British differences that we can never get enough of — this time in the kitchen pantry …
Enjoy (them)! Continue reading
TGIF. In language, grammar and usage news this week: does how we write tell others how smart we are? Do punctuation and grammar matter when we’re flirting digitally? Does the language of a restaurant’s menu tell us how expensive the restaurant is? Plus some spelling challenges presented to U.S. foreign policy reporters; movie titles that make us cringe; and the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks …
How you write can affect how smart others perceive you to be. According to a piece in the Atlantic, “Typing … in the Comic Sans font … could ruin the whole thing: a Princeton researcher found that a hard-to-read font made an author seem dumber, while a clean, simple typeface (Times New Roman, in the study) made him or her seem more intelligent. The same researcher also looked at how using big words (a classic strategy for impressing others) affects perceived intelligence. Counterintuitively, grandiose vocabulary diminished participants’ impressions of authors’ cerebral capacity. Put another way: simpler writing seems smarter.”
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“The dash is the Kim Kardashian of punctuation marks: misplaced, over-exposed, shamelessly self-promoting, always eager to elbow out her jealous sisters the comma, colon, and semicolon.” So Roy Peter Clark maintains on Poynter.
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The Huffington Post has identified 18 movies whose titles make every grammar geek cringe. It’s mostly a case of missing hyphens (“40 Year-Old Virgin” has a slightly pedophiliac quality to it) and apostrophes (“Two Weeks Notice” cries out for one); but when it comes to Zach Braff’s new movie, he’s
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“Funky or very informal spelling” is the biggest turnoff for both men and women when it comes to digital flirting, according to the results of a digital flirting rules survey done by Omlet, a chat app. …For women, the second biggest turnoff was the lack of punctuation and grammar.” Delaware’s News Journal has the story.
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The Hill has published an article on the spelling challenges of U.S. foreign policy. Is it ISIS or ISIL?
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Does the language of a restaurant’s menu indicate how expensive it is? Dan Jurafsky has found that it does, as reported in the Atlantic. “Fancy restaurants, not surprisingly, use fancier—and longer—words than cheaper restaurants do (think accompaniments and decaffeinated coffee, not sides and decaf)…. Lower-priced restaurants, meanwhile, rely on “linguistic fillers”: subjective words like delicious, flaky, and fluffy. These are the empty calories of menus, less indicative of flavor than of low prices. Cheaper establishments also use terms like ripe and fresh, which Jurafsky calls “status anxiety” words.” Does that mean I get a bargain when “steak frites” is on the menu?
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