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.