Archive for Language

What’s in a name?

Oh dear.

A library in North America is using automatic voicemails to alert borrowers when their loans are overdue. The software (not from my firm!) translates codes and abbreviations to generate the messages. It’s like the opposite of voice-recognition software that changes your speech into text.

Compared to sending letters, it’s a neat way to save time and money for the library, and give library users prompt warning so they can avoid fines. So far so good.

Except that this library reports that customers called Mia Jones get addressed as “Missing in Action” Jones. Readers with the surname of Pow get called “prisoner of war”.

As one librarian comments, “We just hope we never have someone register with the name of Doa!”

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“Ideas won’t go to jail”

That’s just one of many great anti-censorship quotes listed here.

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Subtitles strike again

Watching the Politics Show, there’s an item on the EU with Nigel Farage of UKIP.

The BBC persist in taunting him by pronouncing his name continental-style as Faraarge instead of the robustly British Farridge, but he takes it in good part.

I disagree totally with UKIP on the Euro: leaving politics aside, I know my firm would find it much harder and more expensive to trade as we do in France, Spain, the Netherlands and Ireland, if we had to deal with four currencies instead of one.

Anyway, while Nigel was ranting about the Euro, the subtitles described it as urea. Of course, that could be what he meant.

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Cheque, mate?

I got out my cheque book this morning to pay a couple of bills.

Cheques are a bit of a rarity now, although it’s still how I pay the milkman. And many of the small voluntary groups I support prefer payment by cheque. But for most payments, cheques are a thing of the past. Sainsburys is just one example; they stopped taking cheques last year. After all with the ease of debit cards and online banking, why not?

In the days when computers had their own room, I started university not with a laptop but a typewriter. Now typewriters are museum pieces; my colleague Neil was telling us the other day how he had to explain typewriters to his young nieces when they saw some in an exhibition. As a language student, I remember we had recordings of spoken French to transcribe from a cassette tape which would be passed round the group. Much easier to download the relevant mp3.

I think cheques will survive a little longer, if only for sending birthday money. When they do disappear, I’ll miss the old linguists’ joke: in the US you pay your check with a bill, but in the UK you pay your bill with a cheque.

And they’ll be missed from political rhetoric too. We like to remind people that Gordon Brown ‘signed the cheques’ for the Iraq war. Somehow saying he ‘swiped his card’ doesn’t have the same ring to it.

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The grass is always greener….

Percy and I have just been through what seems to be a new morning routine.

His meat bowl is empty, his biscuit bowl is not. He looks at me hungrily. I give him a new helping of meat. He then starts eating the biscuits.

My friend Turhan told me the other day that the Turkish equivalent of “the grass is always greener” is “my neighbour’s chicken tastes like duck”.

I sense Percy would approve.

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A place by any other name…

Hazellville Road N19 is in the news – because new signs have spelled the street’s name wrong, as Hazelville. Nearby Warltersville Road is often misspelled as Waltersville too. The roads were named after the Mr Hazell and Mr Warlters who built them, so although Hazel and Walter may look more natural, they’re wrong.

Hazellville isn’t the only street to suffer. Hemingford Road (one m) in Barnsbury is often spelled wrongly as Hemmingford. The name is nothing to do with sewing but comes from the village of Hemingford Grey where the Thornhill family, who developed much of Barnsbury, were landowners. When I lived in Hemingford Road and was a local councillor for Barnsbury ward, I had to complain to TfL about the bus signs for the 153 route. They not only spelled Hemingford Road wrong, but also signposted ‘Barnesbury’ on the bus stop at Finsbury Park – both now corrected.

It’s hard to spell Islington wrong, but what about our neighbours to the north? The borough name is Haringey. The railway station is Harringay. There’s a Harringey Dental Care centre in Stroud Green Road. And the Grauniad calls it Haringay. Hazellville Road should be relieved to be this side of the borough boundary….

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What the donkey saw

I led the prayers in church today and decided to open with this poem by U. A. Fanthorpe:

What the donkey saw

No room in the inn, of course,
And not that much in the stable
What with the shepherds, Magi, Mary,
Joseph, the heavenly host –
Not to mention the baby
Using our manger as a cot.
You couldn’t have squeezed another cherub in
For love or money.

Still, in spite of the overcrowding,
I did my best to make them feel wanted.
I could see the baby and I
Would be going places together.

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Women’s work

A great line from Sean Lock heard the other day: “A woman’s work is never done. I guess that’s why they get paid less than men.”

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London Borough of Weymouth

The first venue for the London 2012 Olympics has been completed – and it’s not actually in London.

The Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy will host the sailing events.

The Today programme has just reported that it’s designed to provide a “lasting legacy”. Much better than the other kind….

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What’s in a name?

Quite a lot it seems.

Residents in another Islington - the one in New South Wales – have successfully lobbied to get their street name changed.

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