Tuesday, 7 June 2016

a singular advertisement

It nice of the writer of this sign to set a puzzle to entertain us as we shop.

If it's about one umbrella, we're left wondering what the umbrella possesses.

Perhaps the umbrella's handle was $19.99. Or maybe its spokes.

On the other hand, if there's a 'typo' and the sign is advertising umbrellas, we're left wondering what other single item used to be $19.99 and is now $9.99.

What a mystery.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Dickens and the origin of the word boredom

One of the many problems with the internet is that we can inadvertently perpetuate myths. It seems I've done this myself, in my post about the origin of the word boredom.

I'd been watching an episode of QI in which Stephen Fry said Charles Dickens coined the word.

I'm glad that I make no pretence about being an expert on language. I'm just a person who's interested in words. So I guess I don't have to be too embarrassed about my lack of proper research. (Of course, I'm a teensy bit red in the face.)

Paul Vargas has gone to original sources, having read texts where the word was in print in 1838, 1847 and 1844, amongst others. Those texts predate the supposed first use of it by Dickens in 1852. Vargas' blog post is well worth a read.

Dictionary.com has similar information. The writer says:
Charles Dickens is often given credit for inventing words that he was not the first to use. This is not surprising, if only because he was much more widely read than some of the people who had used these words before him. Dickens was also far more attuned to the language of the streets than were most of his contemporaries, and so his writing contains many examples of recently-invented terms. Writing in the Quarterly Review in 1839, Richard Ford refers to Dickens as the "regius professor of slang."

I'm grateful to Paul Vargas for alerting me to my error.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Using punctuation to mislead

When a new pharmacy opened in my local shopping centre, I was interested to see the sign saying it was Australia's Cheapest Chemist.

But wait a minute...

There's some tiny print on the sign - Is this?

So, the sign might say, 'Is this Australia's cheapest chemist?'

Horrible punctuation, though - 'Is this? Australia's cheapest chemist.'

Who knows? I'm not going to find out, because I think a shop that indulges in such deplorable punctuation is best avoided.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

noisome cryptics

I was working my way through edition 121 of The Puzzle People's Cryptic Crosswords magazine. In puzzle number 60 one of the clues was:
'Small number is nothing to me, just offensive.' 


Small number could be 'no' - as in the shortened form of numero. Next, 'is'. Okay, getting there... what about 'nothing'. Well, that's usually a letter O, as used to represent 'zero'. Then 'me'.

Okay, I knew the answer would mean offensive, and I knew noisesome would fit the bill. Yet I had too many letters. But what if I took it exactly as the clue said: no-is-o-me.

At this stage I realised I've probably been mispronouncing noisome all my adult life. (But only in my head, when reading, because I can't recall ever actually using it in conversation.)

A look in the dictionary told me it's not noise-some, as I always thought. So, what's the etymology of this strange word I thought I knew but didn't?

According to this article in The Interpreter Magazine, I'm not alone in my confusion. (At least I did know the meaning, even if I didn't know how to spell it.)

I like the definition on this page, because it places the word noisome in its family of negatively weighted words, looking back to the earlier Latin origin:
1. Offensive, especially to the senses, as to arouse feelings of disgust or repulsion.
2. Extremely harmful or dangerous.
3. Etymology: from Middle English, noysome, "harmful, noxious", from noye, "harm, misfortune"; a shortened form of anoi, "annoyance"; from Old French anoier + -some. The meaning of "bad-smelling" was first recorded in 1577.

And I think I'll remember how to spell it now, because I'll think of it as an annoyance.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Discrete apartments in Ivanhoe

Yesterday must have been my day for stopping in my tracks when I saw horrible English on real estate advertisements. I've already posted about one in Heidelberg.

Here's a photo of a sign on a new development in the Ivanhoe shopping strip:

And a closeup so you can read some of it:

The residences will be discretely set behind a facade.

The Australian Macquarie Dictionary defines discrete as

adjective 1. detached from others; separate; distinct               2. consisting of or characterised by distinct or individual parts; discontinuous.
Given that it's a multi-storey development, it's amusing to visualise a series of disconnected residences. Sounds as if it will have to defy gravity. Maybe a development for the twenty-second century?
Did the writer perhaps mean the development will be discreetly set behind a facade of shops at ground level?

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

this is NOT English

Here's a sign in Heidelberg. The terrible prose doesn't fill the reader with confidence that the development will be of a high quality.

If you're going to spend money on a fancy sign, why not pay someone to edit your prose?

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

organic or pretend organic?

Have a look at these bags of planting mix. Organic or just pretending to be organic?

My understanding of quotation marks around a noun means to be wary of the genuineness of the thing named. It implies irony in the use of the marked word.

Cambridge Dictionaries Online says:
 We also use single quotation marks to draw attention to a word. We can use quotation marks in this way when we want to question the exact meaning of the word:
I am very disappointed by his 'apology'. I don't think he means it.  
This Washington State University site on American usage discusses the same sort of thing I've noticed on the bag of planting mix:
There are many ways to go wrong with quotation marks. They are often used ironically: 
She ran around with a bunch of "intellectuals." 
The quotation marks around "intellectuals" indicate that the writer believes that these are in fact so-called intellectuals, not really intellectuals at all. The ironic use of quotation marks is very much overdone, and is usually a sign of laziness indicating that the writer has not bothered to find the precise word or expression necessary.  
Advertisers unfortunately tend to use quotation marks merely for emphasis: 
The influence of the more common ironic usage tends to make the reader question whether these tomatoes are really fresh. Underlining, bold lettering, all caps - there are several less ambiguous ways to emphasise words than placing them between quotation marks. 
I managed to overcome my initial reaction to this strange punctuation, and bought the product to plant my nice new Jonathan apple in enriched soil.