Saturday, 21 December 2013

Do They Think We're Stupid?

These are genuine instructions:

On Boot's Children Cough Medicine:
'Do not drive a car or operate machinery after taking this medication'

On packaging for a clothes iron:
'Do not iron clothes on body'.

On a Myer hairdryer:
'Do not use while sleeping'.

And here are some bad translations:

On a Taiwanese shampoo
'Use repeatedly for severe damage.'

On a Korean kitchen knife
'WARNING: Keep out of children.'

And then there are just the plain stupid:

On a frozen Chow Mein from China

On a New Zealand insect spray
'This product not tested on animals.'

On the BOTTOM of a Tesco's Tiramisu dessert
'Do not turn upside down'

Warning: Peanuts - May contain nuts.

Puma shoe box - Average Contents: 2

International Yacht Varnish - Not suitable for marine use. 

Birthday Card for a 2-year old - Not suitable for children under 3.

Superman outfit - Does not enable wearer to fly.

Child's Scooter - This product moves when used.

Sleeping Pills - Warning, may cause drowsiness.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Presenting the word "present"

There’s so much shopping and giving and receiving of presents – or gifts – at Christmas that it makes you wonder why English uses both these words. Lately, I've been making use of (we don't really need those huge reference books any longer, do we?) and found some really interesting musings on word origins.

Personally, I wouldn't say,"I have to wrap up the Christmas gifts now" – would you? But I might say, "That was a beautiful gift." Somehow the word "gift" conjures up the image of something formal or gracious, whereas the word "present" seems to have a more general meaning.

Why then do we have two words in common usage? "Gift" is an Old English word that only arrived at its current definition: "something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favour toward someone, honour an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance" in the 1930s. Prior to that, it denoted payment for a wife and was used in connection with dowries!

Unsurprisingly, "present" is associated with the present moment. Originating from Old Norman or Old French, it bore the same meaning as the adjective "present" being there and was used, as in the French phrase "mettre en present" to convey the sense of "offering something in the presence of". It was not until the 1500s that the word "present" began to signify the object being offered.

Both words have different original meanings but these days they are fairly interchangeable. We are indeed fortunate (or lucky!) to have such a rich and varied language as English. However, I doubt that many of us make conscious choices regarding the words we commonly use. But that is a whole new subject . . .

Author gets wired while writing, for the cause of science

Dutch novelist Arnon Grunberg has been literally wired recently as he writes his latest novella in his small apartment in Midtown Manhattan.

This is his most recent of a dozen books that have promoted him to one of the most celebrated novelists in his country.

He wears a piece of headgear, while he’s writing this novella, with 28 electrodes to monitor his heart rate, brain waves, galvanic skin response (a measure of emotional arousal) and his facial expressions.

Come next autumn, when the book is published, there will be 50 Dutch volunteers who will read the book under similar monitored circumstances.

The data will be used to see if there is any link in the way the book is written and the way it is read.

Ysbrand van der Werf, researcher at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and the VU Medical Center in Amsterdam said: “Will readers of Arnon’s text feel they understand or embody the same emotions he had while writing it, or is reading a completely different process?” Ysbrand designed the experiment with Jan van Erp from the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research.

This experiment is part of the field of neuroaesthetics, which has been trying to identify what underpins our experience of music and art, and is now turning its attention to reading.

Mr Grunberg said of the headgear: “After about a half-hour, your head starts to hurt.”

He’s also getting a bit spooked by the process. “I find myself having all these fantasies,” he said, “like that I was part of an experiment supposedly looking at my brain while I was writing, but the real point was something else entirely.”

Good plot for a novel!

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Paperbacks still a hit after all these years

This year many of us will give and receive paperback books for Christmas.

Despite the onset of e-book readers, such as the Kindle, I am sure that paperbacks have plenty of mileage left in them.

But did you know that paperbacks are only about 80 years old?

Although there were paperbacks prior to the 1930s, it was German publisher Albatross Books which pushed the format in 1931, but the onset of the Second World War prevented true progress. However, Penguin Books in the UK followed Albatross’s lead and printed ten different titles in the format in 1935.
Initially slow to catch on, Woolworths then placed a large order, which sold well, and other booksellers also began to stock paperbacks.

In the US the format was called a “pocket book” and the first big success in the US was The Good Earth by Pearl Buck, in 1938.

Most paperbacks were reprints of hardbacks, but in 1950 Fawcett Publications started printing originals in paperback.

Hardback books have a higher profit margin than paperbacks and the former usually precede the latter on the bookstalls by several months. The paperback format is very popular in the mass market as the books are cheaper than hardbacks, of course.

They may not last forever, with e-books becoming ever more popular, but I reckon the paperback has a few years left to run. It certainly does for this reader.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Plebgate: the latest of so many -gate scandals

There was more news about “Plebgate” in various sources this week, for example: 'Plebgate' affair: Police officer to sue Andrew Mitchell on the BBC.

The origin of the suffix “gate” is obvious to anyone except the very young or dark-cave dwellers. But just in case … it came from the Watergate scandal involving President Nixon in the US in the early 1970s.

But seeing the suffix “gate” in such prevalent use made me wonder about its wide-spread use.

The Concise OED has the following description:
“-gate: in nouns denoting a scandal, especially one involving a cover-up.”

If you Google “suffix gate” you can quickly find a Wikipedia list of scandals that have been conferred with the suffix. Well over a hundred are listed, and that cannot be a definitive list.

Personally, I think the term is overused, and the media have got lazy and overexcited by its use.

Nevertheless, as Plebgate rolls on, here are some of my favourites:

Bloodgate – an English Rugby Union player used fake blood to feign an injury and later had his lip deliberately cut to back up the story. Added pain to injury.

Rubygate – Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi was convicted of paying nightclub dancer Ruby Rubacuori for sexual services when she was under age. Ah, good old Silvio.

Porngate – Members of an Indian legislative assembly resigned after being accused of watching porn during government proceedings. Anything to beat the boredom!

Camillagate – Scandal erupted in the House of Windsor as tapes were released of telephone conversations between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles when Charles was married to Diana. It seems tame now, but at the time…

Nipplegate – Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the half-time interval of the Super Bowl in 2004. This is my favourite as it’s an UNcover-up!

See for more articles on writing topics.

Friday, 29 November 2013


Lately, I've been reading (not hearing though) a new word which has intrigued me a  great deal. When an online friend said at the end of our conversation, ‘laters’ I thought WHAT IS THAT?  'later' with a plural 's'? How does that happen?

I've now found out exactly what it means ‘see you later!’ It’s interesting that Professor David Crystal also comments on the unusual plural. I like David Crystal – he is a linguist but not a stuffy one – and he delivers great information.

Anyway, Professor Crystal comments that the plural 's' is often added on to pet names such as mums for mum or pops for dad or gramps for grandpa. It also, he adds, happens to proper names such as Wills for Prince William. The 's', he says, is sometimes added to a word to 'make it nice and friendly'. That is why then we have ‘laters’– it is a nice, friendly term, an up-to-date colloquialism  something like ciao or ta ta for now. The professor also makes the interesting observation that if you say ‘laters’ instead of ‘goodbye’ you will probably begin the conversation with ‘hey’ or ‘hi’ .

I’m not intrigued any more – thanks, Professor Crystal for making it all crystal clear to me, and I can start to use the term myself – as I inevitably will at some point! 

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

PD James gives ten tips for writing a novel

Novelist PD James (PD stands for Phyllis Dorothy) has written over 20 books, including the Adam Dalgleish series, which has been made into a TV series.
Now 93, she says she wants to write one more detective novel. Hers has been a successful career, but she didn't get her first novel published until she was 42. (There's still time for many of us!)
Recently, in an article on the BBC website, she gave her top ten tips for novelists. In summary, these are:
1. You must be born to write.
2. Write about what you know.
3. Find your own routine.
4. Be aware that the business is changing.
5. Read, write and don't daydream!
6. Enjoy your own company.
7. Choose a good setting.
8. Never go anywhere without a notebook.
9. Never talk about a book before it is finished.
10. Know when to stop.
We would add an eleventh: Get your book properly proofread and edited at!
Read the full article here.

Friday, 22 November 2013

English for immigrants – and foreign languages for the English

Two recent news articles have caught my eye and set me thinking. One is on the new plans by community secretary Eric Pickles to promote effective learning of English as a second language by those settling in this country. The other is on recommendations for schools to introduce a range of new languages, and for language learning to take more priority than it presently does.

Eric Pickles has outlined a plan to help immigrants with their English. His idea is quite innovative really as it involves special supermarket checkout staff at Asda and the Co-op to be sympathetic listeners ready to help immigrant shoppers with their English skills. Apparently, the new members of staff are to wear badges to make them easily identifiable to people learning English as a second language.

Mr Pickles rightly points out that that those who don’t learn English will have limited opportunities, and will not be able to engage in everyday conversation with neighbours, nor engage with their children’s schools, hospitals or other public services. Six million pounds will be spent on this project, which will also involve setting up English lessons in places of worship such as mosques and temples.

Meanwhile, there is also a drive to encourage a lot more foreign language learning in our schools, and to introduce languages other than the usual French and German offerings. John Warne of the British Council warns that the UK will lose out economically and culturally if young people are not encouraged to take up more language learning. He recommends that languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Japanese should be made available as well as European languages.

The emphasis is not on fluency, which takes years to attain, but on functionalism, so that people can make themselves understood and be able to communicate with those of other cultures. However, a recent YouGov poll found that only a very small percentage of the UK population could hold a conversation in a European language.

To conclude: immigrants to this country need encouragement to learn English so as to communicate well, and our young people need more encouragement to learn languages other than English! The result should be an interesting one if the plans are carried out and the recommendations followed.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Selfie is word of the year

The English language is changing all the time, with new words being added. Oxford Dictionaries likes to recognise inventiveness and the changing language.

Oxford Dictionaries has just named the word “selfie” as the word of the year. The word means to take a picture of yourself, and has evolved from the practice which came from people taking self-portraits with their mobile phones, often for use on social media platforms. Apparently its frequency of use has increased by 17,000% in the last year.

Another word on the shortlist was “twerk” – a dance recently made notorious by the US actress Miley Cyrus, which really brought the word to the fore.

“Binge-watch” is a new one and means watching lots of TV.

Another one in the frame was “schmeat”, which means a form of meat synthetically produced from biological tissue.

Previous winners of this title have been “chav” in 2004, “credit crunch” in 2008 and “omnishambles” in 2012.

It seems that Oxford Dictionaries run a research programme which collects English words currently in use on the web each month. Hmmm, I hope they delete words that are unquestionably errors.

Selfie’s use can be traced back to 2002, when it was first used on an Australian forum, describing the picture he posted of himself as a “selfie”.

Selfie has not yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary printed edition.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Who Could Ever Take the Place of the Great Doris Lessing (1919 – 2013)?

Doris Lessing, Nobel Prize winner and great literary icon of the 20th century died in the early hours of 17 November 2013 at the age of 94. Such a great prolific and successful author is both an inspiration and a mentor to new writers. Now she has gone, the world will be much the poorer, as she was quite unique and there is no one likely to take her place.

Raised on a farm in Rhodesia and turning to books as she grew up, Doris Lessing is a model for all those with a non-literary background who want to make their name in the writing world. Most  famed for her feminist, seminal work The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing always wrote with great daring, warmth and intellectual vigour. In 1988, she was informed that she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature – to which her famous response was, “Oh, Christ!” She neither expected nor aspired to win such an accolade, which gave her the freedom to write whatever she wanted to write and to say whatever she wanted to say. Margaret Attwood in The Guardian says that “Doris did everything with all her heart, all her soul and all her might…” which just about sums her up as a sincere, prolific and far-reaching writer.

If you are an aspiring writer and have something you really want to say just go on and say it. If your skills in spelling, punctuation and grammar are fine, that’s good too – but if not, don’t worry – send us your document and we will proofread it for you. Together we can make a good team and get your work published and recognised.

Oldies are Goodies

So now Christmas is well and truly upon us: we know this because the eagerly-awaited John Lewis advert has been screened. Hence, it’s Christmas. The visual impact of that particular ad is amazing but when we think about some of the iconic ads that have been aired over the years, perhaps we better remember the words that accompany them. “Beanz Meanz Heinz” was conceived over a pub lunch in 1967. "Snap! Crackle! Pop!" was first thought up in 1932. “Does Exactly What It Says On the Tin” is 19 years old and is still going strong.

Of course, there are others that are also memorable, possibly for being horrendously annoying a very long time. “Waaaasssuuupppp?” is the obvious one that springs to mind. The ad featured a lot of men shouting the phrase down the phone to each other: but it became a worldwide phenomenon with millions of people copying it. Out of interest, do you remember the product?*

My point is that a memorable or catchy tagline is a major selling point for products and services but not many of us can afford a TV ad campaign (or, for that matter, a highly-trained, possibly overpaid ad executive from a top agency). Most of us can, however, afford a website to advertise and publicise what we have to offer. A well-written, carefully-worded webpage is one of the cheapest and most effective ways to get your message across and to move up the rankings on Google. If you aren’t too good with words, then let someone else do it. Why? “Because You’re Worth It” (1971).


Thursday, 14 November 2013

Agatha Christie voted as top crime writer

The Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) has celebrated its sixtieth year in 2013 and held a poll to find the greatest crime writer, crime series and crime novel to mark the anniversary.

The CWA supports and promotes the work of crime writers, undeniably a hugely popular genre.

The winner of the Best Ever Crime Author was Agatha Christie, who wrote a staggering 66 detective novels (I wonder if anyone has ever counted up the murders!). Evidently she remains as popular as ever, with the Poirot series on ITV finishing last night with his final case Curtain.

Christie’s novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was voted the Best Ever Novel. It was one of her earliest novels (published in 1926) and features her most famous sleuth, Hercule Poirot. It has, as ever, a magnificent twist at the end.

The winner of the CWA Best Ever Crime Series was Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. And again I wonder, how many murders . . .?

Crime novels are as popular as ever, but it is good to see that older novels have stood the test of time and are still being read by today’s audience.

Get your crime novel proofread by

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Do Children Prefer Tablets and e-Readers Over Traditional Books?

Last month, as she presented author Joanne Harris with an MBE for services to literature at Buckingham Palace, the Queen expressed her concern regarding children’s preferences for e-Readers and tablets over the traditional physical book.

This is obviously something close to the monarch’s heart – even though in her regal capacity she rarely voices such sentiments, she spoke, on this occasion, as a mother, grandmother and now great grandmother.

Joanne Harris is most famed for her best-selling novel Chocolat in 1999, published in 50 countries. After the ceremony she said: “She asked me what I thought about e-books and computer games and said that she feared that children were playing with those more than they were reading books. So I told her that we start them on e-books and computer games and TV and then try to get them on to books later.

The author added that the shape of books may change but that “people always need stories and the shape of those stories may alter”. It is her opinion that traditional books will be with us for a long time and it is great that both adults and children have a wide variety of reading choices.

Earlier this year, the National Literacy Trust published research showing that “a majority of children preferred to read on screens rather than books”, and 50 per cent of the nation’s two and three-year-olds use a tablet. More worryingly, children’s literacy skills seem to be taking a downturn, with the popularity of new technology.

So, is the book as we know it dying out in favour of e-Readers and tablets?  One solution may be to expose children to both worlds – e-Readers and traditional story books and let them make their own choices. 

For proofreading and editing of any type of book, see

Play Scrabble to improve your vocabulary

The board game Scrabble must be excellent for improving one’s vocabulary. But I guess that’s only true if you consult a dictionary and try new words.

Paul Allan has just become Britain’s national Scrabble champion, so he knows how to get the best from his own vocabulary, reported the Daily Telegraph. “The whole dictionary is there,” he said, “and it is a rich dictionary. There are no good or bad words. You’re looking for strategic advantage.

“You can use swear words and nobody bats an eye. You would do that in the small church hall tournament playing against a 90-year-old nun. You just play it as if it’s an ordinary word.”

Competitive spirit indeed!

His winning round against Allan Simmons, however, contained more mundane than exotic words, with “conlines” scoring the highest with 98. (It’s a poison found in hemlock.) Simple words used to clinch victory were: “ugh”, “be”, “zed”, “vet”, “yeah”, “dorm”.

Other words in Mr Allan’s winning round that might have you scrabbling for the dictionary were: “fy”, “litu”, “bandura”, “swarf”.

Christmas is just around the corner. If you haven’t got Scrabble in your house, why not treat the family and improve your vocabulary with a few games?

In the meantime, come to for the best in writing.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Is the FutureBook Conference a little elitist?

I saw a notice about "The Bookseller's FutureBook 2013 Conference". I was intrigued and went to the website to have a look at what it was all about.

It is described thus: "The Bookseller's FutureBook Conference on 21st November is Europe's biggest publishing conference - a must-attend event, packed with fantastic speakers who will challenge your thinking and help shape your strategy for 2014. A great opportunity to network and connect with over 600 industry leaders, there will be 40+ speakers, 9 sessions, 7 big ideas pitched and stimulating discussion and debate."

Sounds interesting.

I looked for where this is being held: QEII Conference Centre, Westminster. No problem.

I looked for the cost of attendance: £399 for non-subscribers (to The Bookseller). (It's £368 for subscribers.) And these prices EXclude VAT.

Now that seems a lot to me. I'm not denying that setting up the conference, paying for the venue, and presumably paying at least some of the speakers will cost a bit of money. But £478.80 to attend?

As a (very often underpaid!) small business, I don't think so.

Is it rather elitist?

Find out more about

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The curse of being able to read accurately

I see that Lynne Truss is giving up on lecturing people about punctuation. She’s not giving up on punctuation, just on lecturing people about it.

It’s a shame. It is ten years since her book on the subject, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, came out and of course she cannot be expected to carry the torch for punctuation single handed.

The book cannot maintain its currency for ever, even though its contents will certainly hold good for many years (we could hope for ever!). Shops stock other books; people move on and buy other books.

In her weekly article recently in the Sunday Telegraph ( Ms Truss cites several examples where missing or incorrect punctuation could have led to misunderstandings.

The trouble, she says, is that people expect you to be able to understand what they’re trying to say. The keywords is trying. People like Ms Truss who understand punctuation understand what people have written, not what they’re trying to write. It is a curse.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why Use A Professional Proofreading Service?

Most international and overseas students are proficient in understanding the subject that they are studying: however, expressing their ideas in clear written English can cause problems. English as a language is complex even for some natives and some spellings are rarely as they sound. Punctuation makes a profound difference, articles used incorrectly can alter the meaning of a sentence and tenses can be very confusing.
The grammatical nuances of the English language can be bewildering. We are experts in perfecting your individual work, regardless of the subject matter so by letting us take care of the grammar and spelling, all you have to worry about is the quality of the content.

If you want to gain extra marks and make your dissertation and essay flow coherently, then you need a native English proofreader to spot mistakes that could potentially lose you vital marks.
What we can offer is a professional, experienced service incorporating grammar, spelling and referencing that will makes your concepts and ideas clear and concise.
Contact us now to see how we can help you perfect your document.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Greengrocer's apostrophe gets an outing

Oh my, the greengrocer's apostrophe was alive and well in a south-coast seaside town recently.

In this first example, we have a perfectly used apostrophe for Kelly's of Cornwall, but a naughty apostrophe has crept into chips (also with a superfluous dot above the H!).

In addition, I do hate dots over capital Is, as in chips and pies.

In this second example the greengrocer's apostrophe gets a real good outing.
Two portions of chips and a portion of chicken nuggets get the treatment. Interestingly, judging from the spaces, three portions of chips appear to have sacrificed their apostrophes!

Incidentally, the apostrophes had no bearing on the quality of food available.

Friday, 19 July 2013

BBC - use a proofreader, please

Oh dear, oh dear BBC!

This appeared on our screens on the South East local news programme following the Ten o'clock News on earlier this week:

This error, using "then" rather than "than", is sometimes found of people who do not use English as their first language, and sometimes of youngsters who are not widely experienced in writing.

It is not an error we expect from the BBC.

As we all know, errors can easily creep into our writing, but ... maybe the BBC is too lazy to use a decent proofreader.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

OUGH - there's a thoroughly rough thought!

The English language has many interesting facets. It is this that makes it fascinating.

One area of interest is pronunciation and one simple sequence of four letters has an amazing range of pronunciations, depending on the word they are in.

The sequence is O-U-G-H.

Here are a number of words that use this sequence and you'll know how to say them:

thorough (as in UK English: e.g. thurra)
thorough (as in US English: e.g. thurro)

That's eight. Have I missed any?

What a great language. It must be terrible to learn!

See our website at

Monday, 28 January 2013

Girl Spots McDonald's Errors

A ten-year-old aspiring writer was astonished to find errors on a poster while enjoying a meal at McDonald’s with her family.

Emily Cox read the poster which advertises face painting sessions for children. The first error which she spotted was a superfluous apostrophe in the word Saturdays. She then realised that there was an apostrophe missing from “children’s holidays”, and noticed various other mistakes.

The budding proofreader commented: “I was quite surprised because they are a big company and there were a lot of mistakes. I like to read stories and would like to be an author when I’m older but I haven’t made up my mind completely yet.”

Emily’s mother Angela expressed her surprise that a company such as McDonald’s had made such mistakes on a corporate poster. She said that she and Emily had enjoyed “a very interesting and funny conversation” after the clever girl had explained why the poster was incorrect.

A spokesman for McDonald’s confirmed that the company would be withdrawing the poster and that it would be sending Emily books as a reward for her grammatical astuteness.

She said: “We apologise for the grammatical errors on one of our posters and congratulate the clever, eagle-eyed girl who spotted them.”

Thursday, 17 January 2013

-IZE or -ISE, which is the suffix?

When we proofread documents to UK English, we always change the suffix -ize to -ise. I decided to look into the history of this.

'Oxford spelling' uses -ize as a suffix in preference to -ise. Example words are organize, privatization, realize. There are, apparently, about 200 verbs that are affected. The basis for the use of -ize comes from the Greek origins of words, the root being -izo for -ize words.

Nevertheless, -ise has become the preferred usage in UK English, from sometime in the 1990s. Now, -ize is often thought to be US English and incorrect UK English, though this is not technically true.

Words that use the suffix -yse are not affected by this argument as they come from a different Greek root. Thus, -yse IS UK English, and -yze is US English.

It's enlightening stuff.

So, although it is not necessary to change -ize to -ise for UK English, the key (as always, in proofreading) is consistency.

There's a good full article about Oxford spelling to be found here on Wikipedia.