The Writer’s Dilemma – In search of Janus

16 04 2013

As often happens, I sought one thing and found another.

I was looking for an image of Janus.

I found one, but better… I also found this:

The Writer’s Dilemma: Content Writing Tips for Using an Inward and an Outward Gaze – GWHQ Productions.





The Things We Say – Your journey has molded you for your greater good

26 03 2013

I’d never heard of Asha Tyson until I stumbled upon “The Things We Say”, and this quote: The Things We Say – Your journey has molded you for your greater good.

Turns out she’s a motivational speaker. “Homeless at 17, retired at 26”. Asha Tyson Dynamics (her corporate self’s website) claims “Upgrade and Supercharge Your Life in 1 Week”. Hmmhmm…

As I recently counselled a Ugandan friend whose brother had been offered a job at a Toronto hotel via email… (All flights included for free(!). Salary paid in $US(?). “Hotel Manager” of a major chain with a yahoo email address (!?!!)): If it seems too good to be true… it likely is!

Actually this quote caught my eye for a very different reason: “molded”. Now Noah Webster was a very smart gentleman, but it didn’t stop him butchering the written English language in North America. Shades of Ministry of Truth in my view. Double plus bad.

He tried to bring rationalisation and a quest for simplicity to English. Trouble is, as we learned from Google’s recent foray into dictating Swedish word usage… language refuses to be fettered like that. English is a pig to learn, and even native speakers frequently get bits of it wrong when forced to commit it to writing. (Self being an extremely prime example!)

The thing I put on a wheel and what happens when I’m sleepy may sound the same, but they have different meanings. Spelling them as tyre and tire avoids any confusion: a sensible stance taken by the entire English-speaking world… well – at least outside North America. Unlike many cases where Canada “could go either way” and use English or American spelling, this one is definite. Canada sticks firmly with the US variant. I cringe every time I enter Canada’s version of Halfords: Canadian Tire.

Even things you might consider important like weights and measures are negotiable in Canada. Here, a pint can be 16oz  (US) or 20oz (rest of world). All the more confusing because technically we’re metric anyway!! For the most important use – measuring beer – conflict is avoided by selling it in measures of “a sleeve” which is generally accepted to be in the approximate region of a pint (for a given value of “pint”), plus or minus. It neatly side-steps the entire issue and allows us Canadians to continue peaceably drinking together whilst (I love that word) watching the blood and mayhem on the TV as we follow the ice hockey. We’re violent by proxy. In fact we often import Finns, Swedes and various other folk of Viking lineage to do it on our behalf.

Confusion is true of linear measures too. I was shocked the other day to see in large letters across the back of a fire-engine: “Stay back 150 meters”. Voltmeters? Ammeters? Water meters perhaps? Surely a meter is something that measures (or meters out) some quantity. A metre on the other hand is a unit of length. C’est un mot français, n’est pas? Comme “centre” ou “theatre”. OK… so the difference in these last couple is historic. Despite the fact that the revolutionary Americans relied on the French military for their gaining independence, they didn’t follow England in adopting trendy French words like autumn (Shakespeare used “fall”) and theatre (common in England from ~1700).

All that to bring me back to mold. I was taught in school that a mold is a fungus. A mould on the other hand is something that shapes something… like a personality.

To be molded by a journey smacks ever so vaguely of contracting athlete’s foot! Hardly inspirational, now, is it?!





On Compromise

26 03 2013

The last week or so we’ve been joined at work by a couple of colleagues from Timisoara in Romania. As is so often the case, I’ve been stunned by the level of English our visitors command. I speak not one word of Romanian, but they are entirely comfortable conversing and writing in English. Their entire support infrastructure (which they linked through to in Romania via the Internet to demonstrate to us) was in English. Every specification and document used by the entire development team is in English. Their command of my language is so good that they were freely laughing at subtle word play and making jokes themselves.

Yesterday though, I was reminded that language is not just the words, but the idioms used by native speakers. In Romanian, it seems, a compromise is described as “keeping both the goat and the cabbage happy”. It struck me how pastoral the image was, and I struggled to think of the English equivalent. The best I could come up with was “squaring the circle”.

In looking for an illustration, I discovered that the French have a similar phrase: Ménager la chèvre et le chou… Managing the goat and the cabbage. It would seem it comes from the old puzzle about crossing the river with (in this case) a wolf, a goat and a cabbage. In English, it’s more usual to puzzle over a fox, a chicken and a sack of corn.





The Yorkshire Accent | AlyBongo – YouTube

13 01 2013

No idea, before you ask.

I clicked here, I pressed there. Read something about “accent tag”, clicked on “South Yorkshire accent” which seemed to start off with a L’Oriel shampoo commercial, then I saw “AlyBongo” which reminded me of a very sad old UK comic magician Ali Bongo I used to watch as a kid in the early ’70s… then Nirvana!

This girl is a little cocky, for sure. But then she’s from Leeds, so I’ll let her off. (I do wonder if the hair colouring is deliberate or whether perhaps she’s afflicted with colour-blindness… though I recall that’s a male thing.)

This seems to be the result of a project to get people to say particular words in their own accent and answer a few questions to determine their local dialect word for things like pop/soda; trainers/sneakers; etc. Glad she corrected “Aluminum” into “Aluminium” 🙂

One word which threw her was the pill-bug/woodlouse question, but I suspect being an urban girl wood lice weren’t high on her list of familiar things in Leeds. By the end, I was feeling a little home-sick. This folks, is exactly how I used to speak before my accent softened with 20 years of “living down South” in Milton Keynes and then ultimately transplanted my ear and attendant accent to White Rock, BC.

I apologise in advance for any American readers who choose to click on the link: for her merely OK-ish rendition of your own accent as well as her bad language regarding it. If on the other hand you’re from Lancashire, I’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t feel obliged to offer the same apology for her initial comments. Nothing personal you understand – just 500+ years of rose-colour preference. 🙂

I did smile when she struggled with the question “What do you call it when the rain falls while the sun is shining?” She points out that ” ‘ sun never shines in Yorkshire” and beautifully illustrates the glottal stop I so dearly miss. (That’s the opening apostrophe… it marks the passing of entire word “The”).

And the US prank of throwing toilet paper over a house is still largely unknown in the UK I believe. In Yorkshire, it’d just be considered wasteful, probably!

So, in answer to “How do you greet a group of people”: Eh-up!

The Yorkshire Accent | AlyBongo – YouTube.





How To Kill A Mustache – DesignTAXI.com

8 12 2012

OK, so let’s forget that the creators can’t spell moustache for a second. (Even WordPress is trying to tell me I’ve spelt it wrong (and doesn’t recognise spelt as the past participle of spell either, it seems! (Or “recognise” as a legitimate spelling. Jeez – I feel like I’m in Inception, I’ve recursed that deep!)), but I’m used to ignoring its insistent Websterisms). [Being an ex-programmer helps me keep track of all the brackets! 🙂 ]

Instead, enjoy this witty video piece on how to deal with the end of Movember 2012!

How To Kill A Mustache – DesignTAXI.com.

DesignTAXI: Valhalla awaits





Cellulite and You

29 11 2012

OK, so those of you paying attention will recall that First Born is currently on a co-op placement in Leysin, Switzerland. She’s there as the librarian for the American School (they recruit co-op students from Waterloo, Ontario – go figure!) Anyway, she was asked to write an article for their blog, and being the proud pachyderm parent that I am, I bring you, here for the first time in North America (drum-roll please…)

Tales from the StacksShort Stories from LAS Library, about LAS Library

(Don’t laugh – someone spent ages thinking of that!)

I look forward to comments from “proper” North Americans identifying the words/sentence constructs that give away that she’s (i) educated in Canada as opposed to America or (ii) she is essentially still English.

I give you, as a starting point, the suggestion that “whence” isn’t so common in these parts… Am I wrong?





It seems Americans are starting to chat up gingers more and more…

28 09 2012

So according to the venerable Aunty Beeb, British terms are invading common American English usage just as much as English English is being influenced the other way! Darwinism at work?  😉

BBC News – Britishisms and the Britishisation of American English.

Even President Obama has used “the long game” – which comes from the game of whist.

The article has some interesting little graphs of how terms like “ginger” for a red-head, “chat up” for hit on and “sell-by date” for expiration have steadily made headway into the American usage.

Interesting stuff!

Check out fellow blogger Ben Yagoda‘s contribution at Not One-Off Britishisms





The Future of English in Canada

14 05 2012

So, regular readers will have little argument with my assertion that my English (despite being born with that label myself) is not perfect. However, that is largely a feature of my own inattention at school, rather than some failure on behalf of those fine individuals dispatched to teach me said language.

Having seen the delight I have taken from writing down little things of interest in my Moleskine, my daughter began recording the little “oddities” that her English teacher occasionally utters. Here are a few of the more amusing, which she assures me are literal transcriptions:

  • One out of every homosexual men was killed (in reference to the holocaust)
  • Silhouette – I like that word, but I don’t know how to spell it
  • Spelling doesn’t count (talking about doing a crossword!)
  • What is so responsible for the noise?
  • I think in that fat stomach there’s a lot of wisdom
  • I like depressing myself by watching the news
  • When adults are angry, they shoot each other
  • How do we tell a character?
  • How does it look like?




Mrs Malaprop and the Aussie birds

24 03 2012

So I recently finished reading Sheridan’s “The Rivals“. That snippet of information has only tangential relevance to anything that follows, but I did tell kathryningrid I was about to read it, and I just wanted to show I was sincere.

We just got back from walking the dog around Campbell Valley Park, and she was pretty well knackered. We had a good friend coming round for dinner, so I suggested a quick diversion to the local Murchie’s to see if they sold Russian Caravan – a favourite morning beverage – to enjoy the calm before the storm. Unfortunately they did not sell it for consumption at this branch, and it turns out that “Queen Victoria” (though smoked) was not in the same ballpark at all. Anyway, whilst walking up to the shopping centre, Mrs Elephant suddenly said I should look out for the Galahs.

Having travelled to Australia several times on business, I am familiar with these birds which fly free – rather like starlings do in the UK or crows in BC. The first time one sees them in the wild it’s a bit weird, as previously they’re strictly the things of aviaries and zoos. To see them lined up on a fence is pretty jaw-dropping.

Wikipedia: Galah

OK, so the more astute amongst you will have gathered that galahs are not in fact native to BC, and so this statement had me stopping dead and searching the trees for swooping parrots. Presumably escaped from some nearby condo. It took a few more seconds to join the dots and realise my long suffering other ‘arf was in fact referring to the broken bottle lying on the pavement ahead of us.

You see, in Yorkshire, “glass” rhymes with “ass”, whereas in the South of the UK, from whence she originally hails, “glass” rhymes instead with “arse”. Ignoring for a moment that a UK arse is the same as a North American ass, you perhaps begin to see the issue. The galahs were in fact glass. Not Dale Chihuly organic works, but a plain old vandalised bottle.

Lydia Languish would be amused…





Be yourself « coaching dreams

26 02 2012

Wilde! Can’t go wrong… even if on the back of a dodgy looking van!

Be yourself. Seen on coaching dreams.