Thursday, 19 March 2009

Spelling Thursday: Wrap and rap.

Wrap: put a covering on; or wind or coil round. At the end of filming a director says 'that's a wrap'; and people talking about wrapping up a project; or wrapping up loose ends.

Rap: to knock sharply or perform a rhythmic speech with a musical backing. It's also a legal charge -- a murder rap (probably only for headlines in punchier papers). You can also take the rap for somebody else's crimes -- meaning you take their punishment for them.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number nine

A parish council and a church warden declare that they have grave concerns about youths congregating in a cemetary to drink cider and make a noise.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Spelling Thursday: wrrrowl -- reek, wreck, wreak, rack and wrack

Reek: to smell strongly and unpleasantly of.

Wreck: to destroy or smash up, as in a shipwreck, or if you are American, a car wreck. It can also refer to something that has already been broken up. 'It's an old wreck.' It can also refer to items brought ashore after a shipwreck.

Wreak: cause a lot of damage. Pronounced 'reek'. 'Page planning have wreaked havoc on page three.' 'The damage wreaked by that woman ruined my wedding'. NOTE: Every time you write 'wrecked havoc', your chief sub kills a kitten.

Rack: this is a framework for supporting things, as in a luggage rack. You can rack up points in a game -- or rack up trade deals or successes. It is also an instrument of torture -- so someone who is on the rack is probably being dragged over the coals as they receive a bollocking.

Wrack: Seaweed; or thin high cloud.

Here's where it gets complicated. A rack for holding things is never spelled 'wrack'; The seaweed is never spelled 'rack'; however, you can rack, or wrack, your brains when thinking hard; and be racked, or wracked, with guilt. Something falling into disrepair can go to 'rack and ruin' or 'wrack and ruin'. And a diaphanous wrack, or rack, of cloud can cover the gibbous moon.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number eight

I am very disappointed that I have never had a story about an evil Scout group.

We had a story here about a youth band that received poison pen letters from an anti-fan; but they were simply loud and tuneless (if the letters were to be believed), rather than deliberately evil.

I think the evil Scout group activities would include:
  • stealing unripe fruit from people's gardens -- but they'd do it in quite an obvious way, probably leaving a few caps and woggles behind to show it was them
  • chalking words like 'bum' and 'fart' on the pavement outside the Post Office
  • running sticks along newly painted railings
  • leaning over a fence to shout 'yah' at passers-by
  • making posies for their mums using flowers stolen from municipal flower beds
  • something unmentionable (involving marbles) to the toilets in the church hall

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Spelling Thursday: Ring and wring

The bell ringer ran rings around us, and the experience made me feel as if I'd been put through the wringer. I could have wrung his neck.

To ring something is to either make a circle round it; or to make it chime like a bell.

To wring something is to twist it -- either to squeeze water out of it by twisting (hence, a wringer as another word for a mangle; and also 'wringing wet'); or to kill something by twisting its neck.

Handwringing describes a gesture of powerless distress where the hands are clasped and twisted.
Wring someone's heart: hurt them emotionally.
Ring down (or up) the curtain on: To begin or end an enterprise (don't let those mean old subs make you change it to 'bring down (or up)').
Ring fence: This is a fence surrounding and sealing in a piece of land; but it is used in talk about funding and finance: "About £10m has been ring-fenced for research into HIV."
Ring the changes: This creeps into stories about... well change of any sort really. A writer who does this is wearing down the real meaning. To 'ring the changes' means to ring bells in a specific sequence which changes with every repetition. Be amazed -- check the Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number seven

While stealing some lead from a church roof, a fishmonger is struck by a portion of frozen white fish (possibly battered and with chips) that has fallen from an aeroplane. I would write the headline 'Hand of cod'.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Spelling Thursday: discreet and discrete

I hate these words. I never know which one to use; and they both sound like feminine hygiene products that I didn't know I needed until an advertisement made me paranoid.

Discreet: an adjective meaning something or someone that avoids social embarrassment or distress by secretiveness.

Discrete: this adjective means distinct in form or concept. If the sentence involves data, this is probably the word.

Discrete data has values that are not infinitesimally close. So the number of Asbos given out in a patch in a year might be 2008: 4; 2009: 6; 2010; 3. These data are discrete, because you can't have 3.43245 Asbos. But if you have a list of heights of wrong-doers, that data set would read: 187.445cm; 134.567cm; 140.356cm; 189.001cm; 181.222cm. This is continuous data (and police are hunting high and low).

In the wild

He vomited discreetly into the wastepaper basket; wiped his mouth on a silk handkerchief, which he threw likewise into the same receptacle; and continued the interview.

Each volunteer group has a discrete budget for their own projects.

I am going to remember this because the avoiding social humiliation variety of discreet has double letters in it, just like embarrassment.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number six

An anti-speed campaigner declares that she is putting her foot down.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Spelling Thursday: Rain, rein and reign

Seeing 'reigned in' or 'during his short but happy rein...' makes me feel like putting a slight distort on the width of the byline mugshot.

I've yet to see 'rain of terror', however.
Rain falls out of the sky. It can be a verb or a noun.

Rein is what you drive a horse with. If your sentence is about a. horses; or b. giving or taking away freedom, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.

Reign is what kings and queens do. If your sentence is about someone who is in charge, use this word. It can be a verb or a noun.

That particular editor's reign of terror was marked by a full fortnight of rain and only ended when head office decided to rein him in.

Sky falling water rain is the one that has a visual rhyme with pain.

A king's reign is connected with the word 'regal' which means fit for royalty, or dignified. Knowing this might help stick that vital 'g' in your memory.

And the one left over is a horse rein. Reinforce this idea by picturing it in use on a reindeer.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number five

Attractive firefighters and the headline 'Come on baby fight my fire.'

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Spelling Thursday: Stationary and stationery

Stationary -- still, in one place -- has an 'a' for 'adjective' in it.
Stationery -- pens and paper -- doesn't have an 'a' for 'adjective in it.

In the wild:

'He leapt from the stationary car and disappeared into the night.'

'Meet me in the stationery cupboard. I have some pens for you.'

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number four

A waterfowl enthusiast and casino owner is looking for a mate for his rare breed drake. The headline would be: 'Let duck be a lady'.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Spelling Thursday: Complement and Compliment

Complement (v. and n.) -- to enhance or add extra features to make something better. 'That tomato sauces complements my dinner.' Also, as a noun: 'Your new purple hat is the perfect complement to your ball gown.'
Complement (n.) -- the number needed to complete a group: 'We have a full complement at the moment. Couldn't jam another sailor in if you tried.'

Compliment (v.) -- say something nice about someone. And this is the word to use if you're thinking of 'compliment slips'. 'May I compliment you on your choice of purple hat and ball gown?'
Complimentary (adj.) -- free of charge. 'Here's your complimentary moist towelette.'

There's a 'lime' in the middle of the 'saying something nice' and 'free gift' compliment, so perhaps you can fix in your head the idea of praising a small green citrus fruit which someone has given you for free.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number three

A road -- possibly with a tenuous Bob Dylan connection -- gets some new street furniture; and I get to write the headline 'The signs they are a-changin''.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Spelling Thursday: Principle and Principal

There are nouns:

A principal is head of a school (most commonly in America).
'Mr Fitzgibbons was the principal at the time, and he never did like me.'

A principle is a moral rule, or a general truth.
'I understand the principles of chemistry.'
'I object on principle.'

And there are adjectives:
'Principal' describes something that is foremost in importance and value.
'Our principal publication is the newspaper.'

A principled person or action is one guided by moral rules.
'He made a principled objection to eating horsemeat, on the grounds that they carry us and our burdens so mankind should ask no more of them.'
'You can trust the vicar to judge the pumpkin contest fairly. He's a principled man.'

Getting it right
A principled person is led by his principles; and if you suck up, the principal (a person foremost in importance and value) could be your pal.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Some ways of asking readers for input

  • Comment
  • Have your say
  • Do you have a story about...
  • Share your memories of...
  • Write to us
  • What do you think about...
  • Do you have experience of...
  • Tell us about...
  • Where were you when...
  • What's your opinion of...
  • Share your views on...
  • Have you ever...
  • Do you believe...

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number two

A family is told to get rid of their pet penguin or possibly a zebra. A spokesperson from the housing association says that the rules are clear: 'It's written down in black and white.'

Picture from Stock.xchng

Monday, 26 January 2009

On the names of newspapers: Courier and Courant

These are both from the Latin, currere, to run. 'Courier' is a Middle English word meaning a person sent to run with a message. 'Courant' is a heraldic term for something represented as running, e.g. Lion courant. It might also be a pun on on 'current'.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Friday, 23 January 2009

Quote, unquote

If smart quotes ever go bad and you have to do them manually by pulling the wretched things out of character map, a good mnemonic for remembering which sort comes first is 66 99 (or for single quotes, 69, which is, of course, memorable for being the year the Beatles split up).

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Spelling Thursday: Practice (n.) and practise (v.)

If you've spelt the verb correctly and add 'ing', it will sing for you: practising.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Websites of interest: Ouch

The BBC's Ouch site has a lot to say on how disability is reported. Not all of it good. Actually, most of it very critical indeed. This section of the blog is dedicated to patronising and cliched reporting.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Stories I would like to sub: Number one

Firefighters suffer inconvenience and state that they feel 'put out'.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Monday, 19 January 2009

On the names of newspapers: Comet

A comet is a loose bundle of ice and dust and rocks, a few kilometers across, that oribits the Sun. When it's close enough to the Sun, a coma, or atmosphere, tails out behind it.

The word comes from the Greek, komē, meaning head hair, and an old name for a comet was 'hairy star'. This reflects the tail streaming out behind like the hair of a runner.

Some comets appear regularly (although not a weekly or daily basis) and for some cultures, they forewarn of exciting, terrible and unusual happenings. Comets are thought to have delivered much of the Earth's water, and (this is controversial) to have seeded the planet with life.

So we have the idea of a regular phenomenon that forewarns or announces interesting happenings, and which might (according to some) bring life to a community.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Spelling Thursday: Accommodation

To help me get the right number of Cs, Ms and Ds, I think of arriving at a hotel room after a long journey only to find it already occupied by two Cats, two Mice and a Dog.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Websites of interest: Medical roots

If you ever have to decipher doctor speak, Wikipedia's List of medical roots, suffixes and prefixes is what you need.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The horror

My proof is returned from the editor with the word 'teen' circled and marked: 'This is a horrid Americanism.'

Alternative words for young people and the use and unuse of Americanisms aside, the word 'horrid' brought back memories of Latin translations. It's from horrere to tremble or when referring to hair, to stand on end. On its journey round the English language, it has been used to describe rough or hairy things like hair brushes, sea urchins, doormats or bristles on a boar's back.

Another useful derivative is 'horripilation' -- when hairs on the skin stand on end with fear, cold or excitement.

So this large green correction gave me a picture of our editor all a-tremble with outrage, so offended that his hair stood up on end.

Picture from Stock.xchng

Monday, 12 January 2009

On the names of newspapers: Express

This is from the Latin 'ex' (out) and 'premo, pressi, pressum' (to press) -- referring to an olive oil press, rather than a printing press, although of course, a newspaper, like olive oil, comes out of the press.

'Going very fast' is another meaning. This is from 'express train' -- a train that stops at few stations, so called because an old use of express to mean 'for special purpose'.

And express means to convey something in words. This calls the olive press to mind once more: imagine someone squeezing the essence from their thoughts. It can mean 'stated' (as opposed to 'implied'), as in 'It was my express wish that cats should not walk across the dinner table.'

Friday, 9 January 2009

Headline words: Slate

Planners slate tower block
Police chief slated after hit and run

Slate is a smooth blue grey rock used for snooker tables, lab benches and roofing. Another use of slate is for writing on -- that's how it came to mean a record of how much you owe the landlord of your local; and why candidates are 'slated' in an election.

But how did it come to be the useful headline word meaning 'to criticise harshly'?

A slang dictionary offers a clue -- there's a verb 'to slat' which means to throw, beat or move with violence. And slate smashes very satisfactorily -- if you've ever seen the ground under a slate roof after a violent storm, you'll know what I mean. Fans of Anne of Green Gables might remember the red-headed orphan breaking her slate over the head of the handsome Gilbert Blythe when he called her 'Carrots'.

It's a good addition to the headline arsenal, but given the meaning 'list of candidates', perhaps avoid it in connection with politics.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Spelling Thursday: Committee

The committee is having a lunch meeting: you can tell by the sounds through the closed door: Munch, Munch, Talk, Talk, Eat, Eat.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Websites of interest

I Am Dyslexic has memonics to help with spelling, as well as strategies for poor spellers. Go there and slay your demons.

Monday, 5 January 2009

On the names of newspapers: Gazette

This is a very official sounding word for a publication, and is used as a verb to mean 'put something in the official publication for an organisation'. This takes in the military meaning, 'to publish someone's appointment to a post'.

In the early 17th century, a gazetteer was a journalist, a strange new beast.

But what is a gazette really? It comes from the phrase gazeta de la novita -- a ha'pen'worth of news. A gazeta was a small (very small) Venetian coin of little value.