Yesterday I excitedly typed on Facebook to the effect of “I’ve just found this amazing travel blog by some foreigners living in South Korea”, then forgot to link to it. Soon after, a friend replied to the effect of “Well, aren’t you going to tell us which blog?”.

In some contexts this can be used as an informal and emphatic alternative to a/an: “I’ve just found an amazing travel blog” v “I’ve just found this amazing travel blog”. In others, it is definitely demonstrative; I am pointing to or showing or linking to ‘this one here’. Without spoken tone, it would have been impossible for my friend to understand which meaning I meant, but either way, he would have expected a link, or at least more information. 

But sometimes the demonstrative use isn’t possible. If I say “I ate this amazing pizza for lunch”, I am certainly not pointing to or showing you the pizza. “I ate this amazing pizza for lunch” can only be informal emphatic; compare “I ate an amazing pizza for lunch”.

The blog was this one, which, having explored further, I’m not quite so excited about, but it’s still definitely in the top 5.



I got a general email from a colleague I don’t personally know, which talked about something going ‘skew if’. The most common spelling is skew-whiff, but given that Wikitionary marks the word as ‘Britain, Australia, New Zealand, colloquial’, I’d better explain it for everyone else. 

It means askew, lopsided, not straight, not going to plan or not working properly, as in the computer systems which were the subject of the email. Wikipedia explains the origin: “The expression ‘skew weft’ dates at least from the 18th century as a term used by handloom weavers, typically in northern England. It was used originally to describe fabric which was out of alignment, and the term survives today in the manufacture of glass fiber cloth.”

I was originally sceptical of that explanation, but Google shows about 296 occurrences of ‘skew weft’ in the context of weaving. I am still moderately sceptical of that explanation.

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exemplary English

A document referred to someone speaking exemplary English. I started wondering what other adjectives are used to describe people’s English. Google Ngrams’ result vary depending on what form of speak is used:

speak only good much fluent perfect little standard excellent plain correct English
speaks good fluent excellent perfect little standard bad beautiful plain tolerable English
speaking only perfect good broken standard excellent fluent little plain bad English
spoke good little perfect excellent fluent enough fair beautiful tolerable bad English

The results for spoken *_ADJ English are more mixed, using spoken primarily as an adjective

spoken British American standard only perfect plain faulty Australian Old good English

I was surprised that there aren’t more negative words used to describe people’s English. And pleased – I would rather accentuate the positive. I also wondered how many of these we would use to describe the speech of native speakers. I’d be perplexed if someone told me that I speak good or excellent or perfect English. In fact I don’t speak perfect English – my brain works faster than my tongue and I very often trip over my words. Drafting blog posts allows me to organise my thoughts. I don’t type perfect English, either. Sometimes I re-read posts and spot glaring errors which people are generally too nice to point out. 

The person referred to in the document was a second-language speaker of English. Surprisingly, Google Ngrams doesn’t record any instances of speak/speaks/speaking/spoke/spoken exemplary English. A general Google search shows 114 results for speak exemplary English, 163 for speaks (the first of which refers to Jeb Bush, who “uses English in a good old-fashioned way”), 2 for speaking, 168 for spoke and none for spoken. So it’s not a common thing to say about someone. 

right speech

I have just been editing an article which refers to “The negative and discriminatory rhetoric of the current same-sex marriage debate [in Australia]”. For the target readership, I wanted to change “rhetoric” to something simpler. But what? lists as synonyms for “rhetoric”: hyperbole, oratory, address, balderdash, bombast, composition, discourse, elocution, eloquence, fustian, grandiloquence, magniloquence, oration, pomposity, verbosity, big talk, flowery language, hot air. Most of these have moderately or extremely negative connotations. Even rhetoric, which includes “the art of prose in general as opposed to verse”, “the ability to use language effectively”, “the art of making persuasive speeches” and “the art or science of all specialized literary uses of languages in prose or verse” has as its number one definition (according to “the undue use of exaggeration or display; bombast”.

Because the passage already has the adjectives “negative and discriminatory”, I don’t need a noun with negative connotations, so I simply changed it to “negative and discriminatory language”.

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grammar, meaning, style

Quick brown fox jumps over lazy dog.
The quick brown dream jumps over a lazy nightmare.
A lazy dog was involved in a jumping-related incident with a quick brown fox.

The problem in the first sentence is grammar. While it is acceptable headlinese, it is not standard English, which requires every singular countable noun to be preceded by a determiner: a/the/this/that/one/another/my/your etc fox and dog. It is, however, almost perfectly understandable.

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