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.

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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'.

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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.

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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'.

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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.

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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.