Making Sense of TLAs

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Ah, how technology loves an acronym, preferably a three-letter abbreviation. Of course, it makes things easier for those in the know. It’s a short-hand which speeds up communication and tips its hat to the reader or listener’s knowledge.

When it works, acronym use recognises a shared understanding and builds a sense of togetherness. But it can leave people out and, when it doesn’t work, outsiders can think they’ve understood, but actually the acronym means something else to them. Does, “We will target this offering at SMEs” mean Small & Medium-sized Enterprises, or Subject Matter Experts? Read More

Proudman vs Carter-Silk: a linguistic view

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Louise Proudman and Alexander Carter-Silk sound like they have been named by Dickens for this very fracas. They came to the notice of the Words Nerds because of his comments on Linked In and and because we’re reading Culpeper’s Using Language to Cause Offence. In the case of Carter-Silk it seems that he’s misunderstood the social (and linguistic) norms of Linked In, a professional, networking site. Over on Facebook, with your mates, other rules may apply. The social norms of the group will be different. Read More

When did you last consider your language choices?

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  1. Extreme Exposure to CO may rapidly be fatal without producing significant warning symptoms.
  2. Using a generator indoors CAN KILL YOU IN MINUTES

We have a choice in the language we use in business, but sometimes our efforts to be convincing and credible can end up verbose and confusing. Harvard Psychology Professor, Stephen Pinker uses these example from two warning notices on portable generators to explain this curse of knowledge and how it can affect communication.

The first warning is correct, but rather more difficult to understand than the second. It relies on the reader understanding the abbreviation of carbon monoxide and it includes a zombie noun, ‘Extreme Exposure’. A zombie noun is the unnecessary creation of a noun which hides the agent of the action. Sometimes they can be useful, but often, as in this example, they sound abstract. It’s a choice. Read More

Is your language disabled?

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Blue Badge Style is on a mission to improve the social life of people with disabilities by rating bars, restaurants and hotels for their style, accessibility and facilities. The founder, Fiona Jarvis, says the key to getting out is knowing what to expect before you arrive somewhere; knowing you can not only have a drink, but use the loo too.

Unfortunately, too often Fiona arrives to find the so-called ‘disabled toilet’ is being used as an extra storage room. It’s full of boxes of beer, spare chairs or signage. This is probably just thoughtlessness; restaurants and bars are always pressed for space and if the loo doesn’t get used very much, the space is likely to be requisitioned.

But our words nerds think that behind the thoughtlessness may be a language problem. There’s something about ‘disabled toilet’ which sounds broken and not something a guest would use. Read More

Singular They? Thou Art Welcome!

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It all started with a piece of slightly odd graffiti in Lisbon featuring ‘themselfs’ and then we overheard someone in the office saying ‘we prefer to do it ourself’. Since then Words Nerd has been on the look-out for comments on singular they. We reckon you do it, even if you don’t think you do. It often crops up in phrases like this: ‘Everyone had finished their work’. Pendants would say this should be ‘his work’ or ‘his or her work’, because ‘everyone’ is singular. But ‘his or her’ is cumbersome and the ‘their’ slides easily into the phrase.

It can also help to gloss over a lack of knowledge, when the gender of the subject isn’t clear: ‘Can you make sure the new teacher has their laptop set up’? Recently, we came across a journalist request which used singular they even though the gender was obvious:

‘Looking for an older female to discuss their thoughts and attitude towards their alcohol consumption following news today that over 50s are drinking themselves into an early grave’. Read More

Google, Goose Barnacles & translation

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Words Nerd has just happened upon a piece by Michael Skapinker in the FT reviewing Google Translate’s version for signs and whether it is good enough for business use? (paywall)

We might suggest it’s not even good enough for menus. Back in March, in Lisbon, we read Goose Barnacles on a seafood menu. The Portuguese is percebas, but this had been translated into English by a human being as goose barnacles’’. Google gives us ‘barnacles’, which didn’t get us much further. Can there really be such thing as a goose barnacle? Must be a mistake we told ourselves. They’re probably clams. Anyway, how often do you get to order something you’ve never heard of? Turns out they’re not clams. They are barnacles, which look like little goose feet. Before migration was understood, they thought this is where the geese went in winter. Taste good though; salty and a bit meaty. Read More

Empty chairing and the ‘fewtch’

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Word Savvy has been having a bit of a word fest recently. First there was Kanye’s abbreviation of ‘future’ to ‘fewtch’. Brilliant! And then there’s all the controversy about ‘empty chairing’. Not the will he/won’t he about Cameron debating Milliband, but the irritation caused by making a verb from a noun. We say love it while it lasts. Come 7 May it’ll go the same way as ‘to podium’ did in 2012. Who says that these days? Then ‘fracas’ has a little moment in the sun courtesy of the BBC and the Clarkson suspension. Cue discussions about how to pronounce it on @stancarey’s twitter feed; frak-ass, frak-arse (eh?), frak-ah, or like the Americans fray-kus?  And now, our print-on-demand clothing client has started talking about ‘merch’. Love it! How is it that ‘merch’ sounds like an amazingly cool hipster t-shirt, but ‘merchandising’ is some old Compaq polo shirt? We do love a good word.

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