Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Etymologicon

I've just started reading The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language and can't recommend it too highly to anyone who has an interest in, or a love of, words. The author, Mark Forsyth, says his family forced him into writing it as all other avenues of self- or psychiatric help couldn't cure him of his insistence in not only taking a single simple word and tracing its roots, and their roots, and their roots, but then talking about it to anyone with the temerity to ask and the patience to listen.

The first chapter takes us from books to bookmakers to turn-ups; the second from medieval French gambling to the gene-pool - honestly, there are links - and all written with a wryly self-deprecatory style that I can only envy. You'll find it on Amazon and in your Christmas stocking if you're lucky.

And I don't know the author.

Patronisingly, he said . . .

Just heard a 'social commentator' say, rather patronisingly, that the Duchess of Devonshire (she called her Kate, so I assume she knows her well) doesn't do a good job of patronising British designers. Personally, I think it's very easy to patronise the designers of some of the catwalk creations trotted out each year. Little dears. But, of course, the 'social commentator' didn't mean that. She meant it in terms of 'being a patron' and purchasing their wares. (The D of D is apparently rather more sensible in her, rather stylish, buying habits. She even wears some of her outfits more than once!) That aside, however, the comment illustrated how one word can mean two very different things and how careful a speaker/writer should be when using them. Or perhaps it was her new word of the day - he said, patronisingly.
Just noticed that the Blog editor keeps wanting to put a 'z' in the word. No.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Mea culpa

Just received an e-mail pointing out a grammatical error in my first post. Don't look, I've corrected it now. I'd like to say something along the lines of 'even the best of us', but that seems a moot point now, not to mention an obviously unwarranted claim.
The error was a missing apostrophe, one of my personal betes noir, so there is no excuse. It does help prove one point, though - spell cheque is knot enough.
Thank to Alicia Helman, self-described would-be proof reader, for putting me right. Not so much of the 'would-be', Alicia.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

At last

At last, the new website is up. Proofamatics On-line users can log in from the home page, new users can purchase an on-line workshop and devotees of the Proofamatics guide to grammar, punctuation, spelling and capitalisation can purchase directly or download an interactive copy.

Friday, 30 September 2011

In case of fire

Wandering around Asia and staying in high-rise and high-star hotels, I keep being told not to use the lifts. On nearly every lift there is a notice 'In case of fire do not use lift'. Does the management really mean that we shouldn't use the lift in case a fire breaks out? This would inconvenience a lot of people in high-rise hotels in high-humidity regions.

What the notice is trying to say is 'When there a fire, don't use the lift'. The insertion of 'the' would solve the problem. 'In the case of fire do not use lift.' OK, it sounds a little clumsy but it is English.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cheap downturns - get yours here

Just received an e-mail that refers to the 'economical downturn'. As opposed to an expensive downturn? Or a value-for-money one? Or did he mean the 'economic downturn'? Hmm. A strokey beardy moment, methinks.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

£13,00.00 vat

I recently received a quote from a European Management School of high repute indicating the cost of a course as £13,00.00 vat. What did the writer mean and what was the effect of the error?
Apart from being  puzzled (and amused, I'll admit) I lost a teeny bit of faith in the organisation. Maybe they don't run mundane letter- and proposal-writing courses, but that's no excuse. They are offering to teach senior management how to run companies, darn it.
We all know that e-mails are often sent off in a hurry and not checked as thoroughly as we check 'proper' letters, and we all use the immediacy of e-mails as an excuse: 'it's only an e-mail so they'll understand'. Well, chummy, if you can't be bothered to grant me the courtesy of checking what you write to me, I'll not be bothered with the courtesy of replying. And there's a quick way for you to lose business.
On this occasion it was difficult to reply, as anything I said would point out the error to a then embarrassed writer. So I spent MY time searching through the attached literature to find the real cost. Neither productive nor pleasing.
It was £13,000 + vat, by the way.

Friday, 29 July 2011


Just heard a reporter on Radio4 refer to 'Attorney Generals'. Should have been 'Attorneys General'. Unless, of course there is an army rank no-one but the reporter knows about. An easy mistake, but not one he should have made.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011


In recognition of all those people who can't get to a Proofamatics workshop we have launched Proofamatics On-line, an eight module e-learning workshop available to individuals or in-company groups. Go to to find out all about it. You can get a FREE week's trial of the workshop by getting in contact with us.


The letters, documents, proposals and marketing materials a company produces are a measure of the organisation. If they contain spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and incorrect punctuation, then the wrong message is being sent. If written communications are faulty, what does that say about the quality of the products, services and people?

Proofreading errors can affect every letter, proposal, invoice and purchase order an organisation produces. They are noticed and remembered by customers, suppliers and colleagues. They can even result in lost business. They reduce the effectiveness of Quality and Customer Service programmes; they damage the company’s image and reputation. And they are remembered...

There are three levels of errors:
-       -  the highest level is those that leave the company and end up on a business associate’s desk. They can have a simple, negative impact on the way people think about you. Worse, they can be returned, usually to senior management, causing mayhem and retribution inside the company
-     - the second level is those errors which are noticed inside the company before they leave the premises. Their negative impact is minimised, but the responsible department is thought the less of and Quality programmes come into disrepute
-        - the level that no-one ever sees is those errors which are ‘self-corrected’ by the person who made them. This is the most frequent and, whilst no damage is done, the reduction in productivity is both immense and hidden

How does an organisation overcome this problem?
You could: 
-        - rely on spell check: most pea sees have won, but you can knot bee shore that it will c every miss take. It certainly will not notice if not is not there
-       -  check each other’s documents: a splendid way of reducing productivity and a rule that will fall into disrepute within days
-        - teach secretarial, administrative and customer service staff a system of proofreading that works.

Everyone responsible for producing any document that reflects on the organisation should be able to proofread their own documents quickly and efficiently. They should have good grammar, punctuation and spelling skills. They should, in other words, be trained to do the job that is expected of them.

Proofamatics, available from Sindall Jackson Associates Ltd (go to meets these training requirements. Widely used by commercial, financial and government organisations, in a one-day or two-day workshop it teaches a system of proofreading that measurably reduces errors by 30%. It is designed to be run in-house by the client's staff, or trainers can be supplied.

As business gets tougher, no-one can afford to give the edge to the competition.