Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Moving to a new website

This will be the last post here as I have migrated this blog over to a new website - www.havingaword.com.

Do click on the link and check it out. I will continue to blog about words and language on the blog there.

I'd like to thank everyone who has visited this site and look forward to continuing the conversation either on my new blog/website, or on twitter (feel free to follow me on @suewalder), or even by connecting with you on LinkedIn (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/suewalder).

As Groucho Marx once said: "Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana".

May your time be fruitful!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Getting personal: the curse of Downing Street

Everyone appreciates the personal touch, especially when dealing with big organisations and government. Nowadays, 'connecting' and 'engaging' with the general public are the guiding principles of communications professionals everywhere.

And yet striking the right personal note is not as easy as you'd think. And regardless of which political party is in power, writing letters from Downing Street seems to be particularly fraught with difficulty.

Much was made by the media recently of the fact that Downing Street had been sending out letters signed by fictional staff with computer-generated names. This had been standard practice since 2005 after a member of staff from Number 10 was threatened outside her home. Clearly, it was assumed that people like to get word-processed letters with a personal, handwritten signature and the decision was made to use false names.

The truth only emerged after Labour MP Gerald Kaufamn, tried to contact a 'Mrs E Adams', who had signed a letter he had received. Staff at the Downing Street office had to admit she didn't exist.

From now on, no more false names will be used by the Downing Street office. I wonder how letters from staff will be signed off in future?

Two years ago, beleaguered Prime Minister Gordon Brown was accused of being disrespectful to the grieving mother of a soldier who had been killed by a bomb in Afghanistan. What had he done? He had sent her a handwritten note to offer his personal condolences.

Unfortunately he had initially misspelled the son's name and corrected it rather than starting afresh. Also, his handwriting was deemed a hastily-scrawled "insult". In all, The Sun found 20 mistakes, including writing the letter "i" incorrectly 18 times.

Gordon Brown was forced onto the defensive and had to apologise to the mother, Jacquie Janes (not James, as Gordon had written), by telephone.

Even allowing for Gordon Brown's poor eyesight, it seems hard to believe that no-one at Number 10 intervened to suggest he should bin his first attempt and try again. As Robert Crampton wrote in The Times, "Gordon Brown screwed up by not screwing it up."

Of course, this would never have happened to fictional President Bartlett, of US TV series The West Wing. Whenever the storyline included the death of a member of the armed forces, President Bartlett always made a personal call to the next of kin - a truly personal touch.

We non-fictional humans are so hard to please.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

LOL! The OED gets all inclusive for initialisms

Last week there was a flurry of interest in the announcement by the OED of the latest list of revisions and new words to be included in the dictionary. 

The main cause of interest was the inclusion of what the OED describes as some 'noteworthy initialisms':
Some of these—such as OMG  [OMG int. (and n.) and adj.]: ‘Oh my God’ (or sometimes ‘gosh’, ‘goodness’, etc.) and LOL  [LOL int. and n./2]: ‘laughing out loud’—are strongly associated with the language of electronic communications (email, texting, social networks, blogs, and so on). They join other entries of this sort: IMHO (‘in my humble opinion’) [IMHO at I n./1], TMI (‘too much information’)  [TMI at T n.], and BFF (‘best friends forever’) [BFF at B n.], among others.
While there were inevitable quibbles from purists who think English is going to hell in a handcart, the OED is surely only reflecting current English usage. Listen to teenagers or engage with people by text or twitter and you'll see it makes sense to include these terms in the dictionary. You won't find it in the OED yet, but my 16-year-old daughter is currently using 'ceebs' as an abbreviation for CBA - 'can't be arsed' (can't be bothered). English is fantastically fluid and versatile. 

Curiously, some of these initialisms are not as new as most of us thought:
As is often the case, OED’s research has revealed some unexpected historical  perspectives: our first quotation for OMG is from a personal letter from 1917; the letters LOL had a previous life, starting in 1960, denoting an elderly woman (or ‘little old lady’; see LOL n./1); and the entry for FYI  [FYI phr., adj., and n.], for example, shows it originated in the language of memoranda in 1941..
The other seemingly contoversial new dictionary entry to grab attention was the verb 'to heart' - based on the use of the symbol  ♥ to represent the word 'love', as in ' I ♥ NY. Fair enough, I say. Apparently it's been with us since 1984. 

My favourite new entry to the OED by far, though, is fnarr fnarr, described by the OED as follows: "a representation of a lecherous snigger popularized in the comic magazine Viz and used adjectivally to denote crude sexual innuendo." It's the noise made by comic character Finbarr Saunders who hears double entendres in every conversation. It's good to see slang and colloquial terms getting the recognition they deserve.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Brace yourself for '11' number plate madness

On the first of March the first 2011 vehicle registration plates will be released in the UK. These will include the year identifier 11, which is significant because, as one of the many websites devoted to selling personalised number plates points out:

the range of meaningful combinations is vast and diverse with some stunning name and word matches. What gives this series the edge over its sisters in the range is the fact that the number '11' can represent, to a very pleasing extent, the following letters / combinations:- LL, L, I, II, IL, LI, H, N and U.

I've never fully understood the desire for personalised or 'vanity' or 'custom' registration plates on a car. But I suppose you can never underestimate people's desire to 'express their individuality' in any way they can.

Last December, the UK's Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) trousered a whopping £12.5 million in just one day auctioning off personalised number plates containing the number 11. The previous year had netted only £3.5 million in total.

A blog at comparenumberplates.co.uk/ reported:
To call it a number plate frenzy is an understatement. I’ve never known anything like it. 100s of people desperately calling every number plate company in the hope of grabbing the perfect private number plate.
Online sales opened on Tuesday 7th December, at 8.30am… and 1,000s of individuals bombarded the DVLA website to grab the number plates they were after.The best number plates were snapped up within seconds… quite literally. Every Singh number plate (such as AS11 NGH) disappeared, along with Smith (such as SM11 THR)… at just £1999 each, these were a total steal! It’s likely many will come back on the market at more than 10 times that.
It's hard to believe that in these cash-strapped times people are prepared to fork out serious money for such a mundane item. Apparently, the minimum price for plates featuring letters relevant to the buyer, or those spelling words such as DULL DAY, sold in the DVLA's online auction in December for prices ranging from £399 to £3,000.

DELL BOY, which has yet to be auctioned, could go for tens of thousands of pounds. Meanwhile, a Swindon Town FC supporter recently purchased the plates SW11 NDN for a mere £400, prompting the Swindon Advertiser to run the headline: "A wheely great plate."

 So what can we expect to see on British roads soon?

The Daily Mail reckons:
there will be gems such as BULL DOG, GALL OPS, WELL BAD and FALL GUY.  Or, if you happen to be an unfortunate motorcyclist, FALL OFF.
However, it will all be good, clean 'fun' as the Mail points out:

A team of official spoilsports is employed to weed out offensive, inadvisable or easily corruptible combinations before they are allowed to join Britain’s 34million registrations. Plates such as BULL ETS, MULL AHS and CALL GRL, therefore, will not be in anyone’s Christmas sack; nor will those that could be changed to look like POLICE, TALIBAN, A KILLER or FILTHY.
And don’t be misled into thinking the DVLA will miss one. Only rarely does it make a bit of a BALL SUP.
So there you go - you have been warned.