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The Engine Room

The Engine Room
A blog about language use, journalism, and media old and new.
Articles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7


Daily Mail and Liz Goddard's 10-year-old baby
2008-05-21 14:12:00
A rather unfortunate choice of pullquote and photograph in a Daily Mail anti-abortion story today. As you can hopefully see from the scan below, the photograph is of a mother with a baby; the adjacent pullquote reads:'Doctors said he'd die in ten minutes. Now he's ten years old.'So that baby's 10 years old. Huh? Such a severe case of arrested development doesn't exactly strengthen the anti-abortion argument. Admittedly, the caption below the photograph then explains:Liz Goddard and Will, at seven months. Today he is a healthy ten-year-oldHowever not only is this page element much smaller than the photo or the pullquote (and therefore less likely to draw the eye), but it implies that Liz Goddard was seven months old when the photo was taken...(Click on the image below to see a larger version.)
More About: Baby , Daily Mail , Year
Typo of the week: allow wheels
2008-05-20 15:10:00
Great typo in a vehicle specification submitted to the subs' desk:Optional extra – allow wheels £2,900Um, I would have thought that for a vehicle to be allowed wheels was more of a necessity than an optional extra.It should of course read 'alloy wheels £2,900'...
More About: Week , Wheels , Typo
Iron Man uses moderate language
2008-05-19 14:17:00
We recently received the following email from Neil:The Iron Man film trailer – which seems to give away WAY too much plot and is too long – says at the end in usual disclaimer-fashion: "Contains moderate violence and moderate language.”All I have is visions of the so-called Iron Man talking in moderate English language like a Conservative politician: “Sorry to blow you up old chap”, “Get me out of this bloody suit!” etc...Neil, the warning I saw actually read: "Contains moderate violence and one use of moderate language". So I am assuming that, apart from that one use, all of the dialogue in Iron Man is thoroughly immoderate...
More About: Language , Moderate
Friday roundup: blogs and Dilbert
2008-05-16 17:01:00
You may or may not have noticed, but this week I've divided up my blogroll (over on the right) into 'editingish blogs' and 'lingy/langy blogs'. The first category comprises blogs that are written by or for sub editors, and those with a slightly more prescriptive feel generally; the second category comprises linguistics, language-learning blogs, and those that are more descriptive.Some blogs didn't fall neatly into either camp but I've done the best I can. If you feel I've wrongly classified your blog, let me know and I can move it over to 'the other side'.Additions to the blogroll include Editrix, "a blog for editors, editors at heart, and anyone else who thinks grammar is hot". Apart from its disturbing fascination with American Idol, it's all good. I've also added The Russian Way, which looks at culture more than language but which is interesting for me as I spent some time in Russia teaching English as a foreign language.Lastly, I hope I won't get sued if I reproduce...
More About: Roundup , Blogs , Friday , Dilbert
'The most miserable, put-upon job in media'
2008-05-15 17:07:00
Yesterday my line manager forwarded me on a link to a Guardian Unlimited blog post by Roy Greenslade regarding the future of subs ('copy editors', for those Americans out there). In it, Greenslade says: "I can see that they will be the first journalistic victims of the digital revolution."Although I was a little disturbed that my line manager sent this on to me – is he trying to tell me something? – I was also amused by the comments that the blog post had attracted, many of them written by reporters or subs. Among my favourites:The reason people become reporters is because they want to find out things and see their byline on important stories. This rarely goes in hand-in-hand with being an enormous pedant who loves words, has a dirty mind and suspects that everyone else constantly makes mistakes, which is what makes a great sub.and:Subs, if you want to persist in the most miserable, put-upon, unappreciated and least perks-laden job in media, start coming up with ideas. You are...
More About: Media
In which JD was right about stagflation
2008-05-14 15:11:00
Has anyone read The Independent today – or even just seen the cover? I'm not known for my predictive powers but in a 'Word of the Day' post back in February I wrote:I think 'stagflation' is a word we'll be hearing more of in the next 12 monthsAnd this afternoon I spotted this:Tune in tomorrow for more glimpses of the future...
More About: Stagflation
Word blindness: H2Origin
2008-05-13 14:11:00
I had a momentary attack of word blindness recently when subbing a news story about a Peugeot hydrogen fuel-cell van called the H2Origin. Obviously the name of this vehicle is a combination of 'H20' and 'Origin'; however looking it I could only think: "I know what H20 is, but what on earth's a rigin?'The H20 rigin. I mean H2Origin.
More About: Word , Blindness
These cops don't play bagpipes!
2008-05-12 08:16:00
Mistakes inevitably creep into even the best run publications but few corrections have the whimsical charm of the following, spotted in the latest edition of the local paper that serves my seaside hideaway:A fundraising concert by the band of Hampshire Constabulary, at Cowes Yacht Haven, did not feature bagpipes, as was stated in last week's Weekender.No doubt the error was beyond the control of the sub who penned the correction, unlike the superfluous commas at either end of the yacht haven.
More About: Play , Cops , Bagpipes
A Ten Hut!
2008-05-10 01:08:00
When you live at the seaside you expect to find beach huts (in the UK at least, where small sheds on some exclusive beaches change hands for many thousands of pounds). But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in sunny Sandown a breed of hutter has evolved with a yen for hut-related punning.F'rinstance: Broken Hutted, next door to Romeo and Juliehut; It Ain't Half Hut Mum; Some Like it Hut; M'hut M' Sandy; Mad Hutters; Chalet Shan't I?; Hutterly Fabulous; Hut Tricks; Cornhutto; Home Is Where The Hut Is; Fly Emir Huts; Pos Hut Tive; Hutty Jaques; and (my favourite) Pier Huts of the Caribbean.As well as names the huts are numbered, which might explain: Phawphawza, Arfafirty, FreeFreeza and, right next door, Sir Len [Hut Ten].Not to be left out, the alleys between the huts are named too: Rhonddav; Don't Dileed; Sir Walter; and (in suitably shaped nameplates), Vertic, Diagon and Horizont. For a little variety I also spotted White Hut Lane and, inevitably, And Fine Alley, lea...
Friday roundup: typos, typos, typos
2008-05-09 14:52:00
This week's Friday roundup is all about typos.Copy editor Tim Stewart has been commenting on this blog recently, and his own blog, Typos in Print, might be one to watch – although it's too soon to say. Anyway, it's good to see another sub blogging.One of our regulars, Garik, emailed in to point out this post on Language Log. Not quite the Log's usual bag, but there are some interesting comments about if and when it is acceptable to "make fun of people who make spelling mistakes".Oh, and if you want to play 'spot the typo', check out the Priden Engineering website – but you'll have to be quick.
More About: Roundup
Word of the day: rifty
2008-05-08 17:24:00
A strange word of the day today, in that I'm not sure who uses it, what it means or where it comes from. This copy was submitted to the subs' desk earlier this year by an English journalist based in the States:It’s mid-morning on a bleak January Sunday in Detroit, Michigan, a city much favoured by producers of disaster films because they don’t need to spend much on dressing the set. It’s a rifty old place, boasting an ambient temperature somewhere south of very freezingThe context seems to suggest that rifty means 'cold', but I haven't come across it elsewhere before or since. My Concise OED and Google aren't much help either. Anyone out there use 'rifty' at all? Or did our writer just make a typo?Detroit in winter is, apparently, rifty
More About: Word , Word of the Day
Boris Johnson versus the travellers
2008-05-07 18:03:00
So here in London we have a new mayor, the floppy-haired Conservative Boris Johnson (pictured below). I didn't vote for him. And yesterday's London Lite gave a good reason why I was right not to do so:The Mayor has already announced plans to ban travellers from drinking alcohol on the Tube and to begin installing airport-style scanners in stationsI dunno, he's only been mayor two minutes and he's already picking on the Pavees...
More About: Versus
I can't shake off Embarrassing Illnesses
2008-05-06 17:38:00
I mentioned on Friday that last week was the most popular in the blog's history for an 'embarrassing' reason. Here's why.Back in January one of our regular contributors emailed us about an advert she had spotted on her work intranet regarding an upcoming Channel 4 TV show called 'Embarrassing Illnesses '. I then wrote about this on the blog – and as well as mocking the central premise of the show, I also pointed out that the intranet advert at one point spelt the word 'embarrassing' with one 'r'. As I wrote at the time, everyone makes spelling mistakes, but come on – the word 'embarrassing' was in the name of the show...So far, so ordinary. But on Monday last week, Channel 4 aired the first episode in the series (now going by the title 'Embarrassing Bodies') and the blog started receiving hundreds of hits from people Googling 'embarassing illnesses channel 4'. Note the single 'r'.How ironic – by blogging about misspellings I attract people to the blog who can...
Friday roundup: bank holidays, Hackney, URLs
2008-05-02 19:02:00
A brief Friday roundup today because I want to go home and start enjoying the bank holiday weekend. After all, everyone on the production desk here has had to do six days' work in just the five days this week so I think we've all earned a rest. And if I haven't been replying to everyone's comments on this here blog with quite my usual alacrity, that's why.The only recent addition to our blogroll is Baroque in Hackney, which one of our regulars recommended. It's written by a London-based poet and touches on all sorts of topics. And through Baroque in Hackney I've discovered Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog, which quite frankly brings back too many memories of school for my liking but is certainly a labour of love. And what a great title.I've also added the Tiny URL service to the Engine Room's list of production desk tools (somewhere down on the bottom right of the blog). You've probably come across it before, but it's a way of converting a long URL into a much shorter one. On...
More About: Holidays , Roundup , Bank
The Apprentice and the apostrophe
2008-05-01 15:06:00
I know that I blogged about The Apprentice only very recently, but today I'm going to do so again – after all, it's not often that you see a debate over the positioning of an apostrophe on prime-time television.For those who had the misfortune not to see yesterday's episode, the teams' task was to design greetings cards based around a new 'special occasion' of their choice. One of the teams decided to designate February 13 as a national day for single people, but had trouble deciding on the correct punctuation to use (see poll on the right).At one point during the three or four hours of apostrophe-related debate (which, fortunately, was edited down for the benefit of viewers), team leader Michael Sophocles even attempted to phone the editor of national paper the Telegraph to ask his opinion. The nice lady at the British Library was a little more helpful but not too authoritative.I've embedded some of the footage here (thanks, YouTube), so you can see what Sophocles finally ...
'Friendly young woman, always sliming'
2008-04-30 18:17:00
Spotted this great typo in free London newspaper thelondonpaper's "personal dating column". I'm assuming that the word is supposed to be 'smiling', although it could possibly be 'slimming'. Or perhaps the young woman in question is indeed "always sliming".And I should point out that I was looking at this column purely for professional purposes. Really!
More About: Young , Woman , Friendly
It's bloody sloppy: carnage and damage
2008-04-29 11:56:00
Heard last night while dozing through yet another fly-on-the-wall cop-doc:Despite the carnage he caused no one was seriously hurtOuch! Carnage , as any working hack should know, means widespread slaughter (indeed the word's roots can be traced back to the Latin for flesh). You can't cause carnage without killing people; the miscreant in this case had merely smashed up a few cars while being chased by the police, so what he caused was damage, not carnage.Is it me, or is this kind of sloppy English becoming the norm as an increasing number of TV stations seek to fill our waking hours with low-rent programming?
More About: Damage , Bloody
Redundancy: long-term personal friend of mine
2008-04-28 15:32:00
The publication I work for recently ran an interview with a certain individual who described his business partner as:a long-term personal friend of mineI love this phrase for being such a great example of redundancy in spoken language. After all, aren't friends usually personal? And can't the 'of mine' be inferred from the context? And why say 'long-term friend' when 'old friend' will do? In fact, you could replace the whole phrase with 'old friend' and be done with it.Not that I did, of course.PS Sorry there was no 'Friday roundup' last week but I was enjoying a long weekend at the seaside...
More About: Personal , Friend , Mine , Long , Term
Half the country hasn't an NHS dentist
2008-04-24 14:25:00
Gareth sent in this scan of a recent Daily Mail front page with a question about the sentence construction used in the headline, but I'd been meaning to blog about this story for a different reason.If you can't see the scan, I should tell you that the headline reads "Half the country hasn't an NHS dentist"; the web version of the same story explicitly states what the headline implies, namely that "Half the country can't get an NHS dentist". And perhaps for some of our foreign readers I should explain that the NHS is the National Health Service – the role of which is to provide health care, often free, to anyone normally resident in England (Scotland and Wales apparently have their own Health Services).In contrast to the headline, the story itself states only that:In total, 23,161,368 people in England - almost half the population - received no dental care on the Health Service in the two years up to last September.To my mind, there's a great deal of difference between someone...
More About: Country , Dentist
The former Eastern Europe
2008-04-23 19:55:00
This sentence recently came up in some copy submitted to the production desk:The former Eastern Europe and Russia is a particular target of current expansionUm, what happened to Eastern Europe – why is it 'former'? Have all the countries been relocated elsewhere – and if so, where? I think the writer has been dazzled and distracted by phrases such as 'the former Soviet Bloc'.Oh, and don't get me started on subject-verb agreement...
Pro rata, pro ratad, prorate
2008-04-22 17:49:00
One of our members of editorial staff wanted to use the adjective 'pro rata' as a verb, and asked the subs' desk how the past participle should be spelt. As far as I could see, there were three contenders:pro ratadpro rata'dpro rataedI considered them all, but they all seemed ugly and potentially jarring, so I advised the staff member to recast the sentence: for example, instead of writing 'the company pro ratad the salary', she should write 'the company paid the salary pro rata' (or, '...on a pro rata basis'). However is this a sufficient reason not to verb something – because it looks 'ugly' when written down?And what would I have done had 'pro ratad' been used as a verb in a direct quote?NB I see in my Oxford English Dictionary that there is a verb 'prorate': "allocate or assess pro rata". However this isn't in common use this side of the Atlantic, as the OED recognises, so isn't much of an option. But it would be a very useful verb to have...
A pensioner writes
2008-04-21 14:27:00
Having been languishing on the Costa Brava (it's a hard life as a pensioner) I missed the Engine Room's anniversary but wanted belatedly to congratulate JD on the way it's developed. While my esteemed colleague let me join him on the blog it's always been his baby and I've really enjoyed catching up on his entries and the comments from our fellow enthusiasts of English as she is writ. Having spent so long in the engine room holding the line against manglers of the mother tongue it's nice to know we're not alone.Enough with the valedictions already; here's a warning spotted at Gatwick Airport on the way back from Spain: "Dogs must be carried on the moving pavement". Which led Mrs Apus to wonder where we could borrow a pooch apiece because clearly we wouldn't be allowed in without one.What a carry on...
Friday roundup 4: AmE, writing blogs, low pay...
2008-04-18 17:11:00
Another Friday roundup:***The first of this week's additions to the blogroll is Separated by a Common Language, "observations on British and American English by an American linguist in the UK". So it addresses some of the issues I look at in The Engine Room, albeit from a different perspective. And the linguist in question is Lynneguist, who you may have noticed commenting here from time to time. I wrote earlier this week about a misunderstanding I had regarding the spelling of the word 'cemetary', and Lynneguist picked up on this for her own blog, so I am glad to see my foolish error making its way round the internet.***If you have an interest in linguistics, you may be familiar with my second addition – Language Log. It's got a crisp new template and sorted out its own blogroll so I thought I would give it a mention. It's quite an academic blog, although not without a sense of humour. I find the lack of a comment facility a little frustrating, though – especially when the...
More About: Writing , Roundup , Blogs
Happy birthday to The Engine Room
2008-04-17 14:17:00
It's exactly a year since I wrote the first post on The Engine Room , so I suppose today is the blog's first birthday. Happy birthday to us!In that time, Apus and I have written 353 posts; we've had 19,477 hits (not including those from our own good selves); and we've made $10.60 in advertising revenue from AdSense. Hey, that's nearly enough to buy ourselves a beer each! I think we've earnt it.Without being too cheesy, thanks to everyone who has helped, commented, made suggestions, sent in articles and emails, linked to us or just acknowledged our existence.Oh, and seeing as it's the blog's birthday, I thought you might be interested to see our current top five Google searches (ie the ones where people actually click through to us). I've linked them to the posts in question:how many is severaldiarisewhat happens if you pick up a penguinsophie ellis bextor nakedenglish collective nouns production quizThe last one seems a bit specific. I'm surprised many people are Googling t...
More About: Birthday , Happy Birthday
Two chipmunks and an Alvin
2008-04-16 17:36:00
I was in a shop at lunchtime that had a promotion on for the DVD release of the Alvin and the Chipmunks film.It suddenly occurred to me: the title 'Alvin and the Chipmunks' implies that Alvin (unlike Simon and Theodore) isn't actually a chipmunk. Otherwise it would be 'Alvin and the Other Chipmunks' or 'Alvin and Two More Chipmunks'.But if he isn't a chipmunk, what is he? And aren't they all supposed to be siblings?
Shows, crows, and the busiest day of the year
2008-04-15 17:12:00
It's press day in show week – perhaps the busiest day in our magazine's calendar. With twice as many news pages as usual to sub, lay out, proof, correct, send down and approve, all of the production desk has a hectic five or six hours. Not to mention that our technical editor has to do all of his proofing remotely, as he's down at the show too.Actually we've gone to press now, which is why I have a few minutes to write this post. We'll find out tomorrow if there were any major screw-ups, I suppose.I did nearly let an embarrassing one slip through earlier – tapping in a headline for one story, my finger must have slipped, as instead of writing 'New Magnum cab draws crowd' I wrote 'New Magnum cab draws crows'. Quite a surreal image. Fortunately I spotted it before it went out on proof. I'm sure our proofreaders would have picked up on it, though I can only imagine the stick they would have given me...
More About: Year
Pet Sematary. I mean cemetery. Or do I?
2008-04-14 17:33:00
A small admission. For many years, until quite recently, I thought that 'sematary' was just the American English spelling of 'cemetery'.My elder brother's copy of the Stephen King novel Pet Sematary (pictured) was to blame.As I understand, in the novel the sign for the pet cemetery is incorrectly spelt, having been written by children (the sign, that is, not the novel). The title of the novel refers to that incorrectly spelt sign. But how was I supposed to know that?Especially as I would be more inclined to say 'graveyard' anyway...
Friday roundup: Apprentice, blogs, limos, Croydon
2008-04-11 17:37:00
Time for this week's Friday roundup:***I'm a fan of The Apprentice , which is in its third series here in the UK, and watching it this week I was amused to hear one of the contestants referred to (by Voiceover Man) as a "trained barrister". I didn't know that you could become a barrister without training. What's that – you can't? Then surely just 'barrister' would have done. Or maybe he meant "trained as a barrister but not practising as one..."Alan Sugar, silver fox***A couple of additions to our blogroll, both worth checking out: Copy-Editing Corner and Headup: the blog. Seems there are more blogging subs/copy editors than I realised... Talking of which, it might be time that I subdivided my blogroll as it's getting a little unwieldy.***Earlier in the week Apus wrote a post mentioning the origin of the word limousine, and the photo I downloaded from image library Morguefile to accompany the post turned out to have been taken by the author Emily Roesly. I thought it only f...
More About: Roundup , Blogs
Colchester Castle: mind your 'V's and 'U's
2008-04-10 15:09:00
Something a little different today. Gingerous has emailed in this photo of a (20th-century) plaque at Colchester Castle :And he asks: "Why is the letter U is replaced with the letter V in all the text?"I've already sent a brief reply to Gingerous but I wasn't 100% confident in my answer. So, just for a change, I was wondering if anyone out there would like to have a go at giving an explanation...
More About: Mind
Metro: dubious festival fashion advice
2008-04-09 14:46:00
Even though festival season is still months off, free paper Metro yesterday ran a fashion guide to looking "festival-fab" and "Glasto-glam". It included this piece of questionable advice:Crowd pleaser: A big hat is a hit on so many levels: it's a sun visor, you can be spotted from a distance and, if all else fails, it will hide hideous hair.I don't know about you, but whenever I've been in a crowd at a festival, trying to watch a band but having my view restricted by someone in a massive hat, I've been less than pleased.On the plus side, wearing a big hat at festivals makes you an obvious target for projectiles such as mud, beer cans, and bottles of -um- yellow liquid...Don't be a dummy, choose a smaller hatWe've been critiquing Metro a lot recently, notably on its statistics...
More About: Advice , Fashion , Festival
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