“More than 10”

My wife bought a new variety of muesli, which promises “more than 10 delicious ingredients” (not “over 10”!). So how many is “more than 10”? The back of the package shows and names 12. So why say “more than 10” instead of “12”? I suspect it’s to give them some wriggle room if they ever want to tweak the ingredients. They can remove one or add any number, and still have “more than 10”. 

I’m not sure that oats by themselves are “delicious”, which is why so many varieties of porridge and muesli exist. 

Speaking of which, one student yesterday said he “drank porridge” for breakfast. I just couldn’t, either by words or actions, explain the difference between “drink porridge” (from a cup or possibly a bowl raised to the mouth) and “eat porridge” (from bowl, with a spoon). Maybe, in a beginner class, I should have left well enough alone.


How much more?

In Australia, a standard bottle of wine contains 750 millilitres. Today I bought a bottle containing 1 litre. The label proclaims “OVER 33% THAN A 750 ML BOTTLE”.

This is true. 250 ml is 33 point 33 recurring percent more than a 750 ml bottle, which is indeed over 33 percent (or more than, if that’s what your style guide says). To be fair, the winery may not legally be able to claim “33 percent more” when there’s actually “33 point 33 recurring more”. But is anyone going to complain that they got 2.5 ml more than promised, which is what the difference between 33 point 33 recurring percent and 33 percent actually comes down to?

I’ve just got to remember not to drink 33 point 33 recurring percent more of it.

You never know what you’re gonna get

The free sample today was a product of mini jelly beans in 10 colours and 20 flavours, each colour being either a delicious one or an utterly disgusting one. There’s no way of telling which is which. Before Forrest Gump’s mother’s box of chocolates, Excalibur’s  Merlin said “Looking at the cake is like looking at the future, until you’ve tasted it what do you really know? And then, of course, it’s too late.“

The pairs are:
Caramel Corn and Mouldy Cheese
Strawberry Banana Smoothie and Dead Fish
Ba-na-na and Pencil Shavings
Juicy Pear and Booger
Buttered Popcorn and Rotten Eggs
Chocolate Pudding and Canned Dog Food
Futti-Frutti and Stinky Socks
Coconut and Baby Wipes
Green Apple and Minion Fart
Peach and Barf

(You decide which are meant to be the delicious ones and which ones the utterly disgusting.) Continue reading

Made from advertising

One of the free samples last week was an ‘oven-baked fruit cake’. I remarked on Facebook that this seemed redundant – all cakes are baked and all baking is done in ovens. Several Facebook friends pointed out that this was not true: some varieties of cake are not baked, and some varieties of baking is not in ovens. Fair enough, but certainly most are/is, and the default are/is. So why advertise the default? It’s like advertising a ‘four-wheeled car’. Surely companies should advertise their products on some point of difference?

Maybe not. Some years ago, an Australian beer manufacturer came up with a slogan “Made from beer”. One of the posters had a picture of a brew kettle with the caption “Made in a big copper thing”. The tv ad had a lot of people in a large field forming the outline of a person drinking a glass of beer while singing “It’s a big ad” to the tune of Carl Orff’s O fortuna. (I don’t like giving free publicity to commercial entities, but in this case I just have to.) Continue reading

Grammar checkers and passive voice

Most (maybe all) of the videos on Youtube are preceded by an advertisement. One assiduous advertiser is a well-known grammar checker for computers and mobile phones. One ad starts with a women typing a term paper. She types “Women are often portrayed as if they are powerless”. A red line appears under “are portrayed” with the warning “passive voice”. There is no way to pause the ad, so I don’t know which rewording it suggests. I can easily reword this in active voice, but none of the possibilities is an improvement.

Firstly, this is an example of a “short passive”, which omits the actor/agent from a phrase beginning with “by”. This construction is often derided as “vague on agency”, which may or may not be true. Who often portrays women as if they are powerless? People who portray women – writers, directors, actors, artists, photographers, politicians and other public commentators. So can we say or write, most simply, “People often portray women as if they are powerless”? Of course we can. Is it an improvement? No. Among other things, we are not talking about “people”; we are talking about “women”, which means we want them to be the subject of the sentence. Passive voice allows us to do that. It also allows us to omit the actor/agent if the actor/agent is unknown, irrelevant or obvious: “The seriously injured driver was rushed to hospital and underwent emergency surgery”. “Was rushed”, who by? An ambulance driver. “Underwent” … hang on, that’s actually active voice, but equally vague on agency. Who by? A surgical team. “An ambulance driver rushed the seriously injured driver to hospital and a surgical team performed emergency surgery”. That’s better. Not. Continue reading