peroquial and ineaningfrrl

I have written several blog posts with the tag ‘lost in autosubtitling’, most recently three days ago, so you may think I have a dim view of technological approaches to language. But sometimes technology gets it right, even when humans have made the mistake in the first place.

Yesterday morning I read a Facebook post in which someone complained about the “peroquialism” in a certain book sometimes considered an Australian classic. My first thought was that it was related to colloquialism – that is, “characteristic of or appropriate to ordinary or familiar conversation rather than formal speech or writing”, but the lack of a first l made that unlikely. (All the speech-related words have loqu– or loc-, from Latin loquī to speak.) When I searched for it, a well-known search engine suggested “Did you mean: parochialism” – that is “excessive narrowness of interests or view” Continue reading


What part don’t you understand?

In August 2015, when I went to Korea for the second time, my working visa was delayed, so I had to do the ‘visa run’ to Fukuoka, Japan. While I was wandering around a suburb of that city, I saw a modern building devoted to the study and performance of traditional Noh theatre.  I thought that their slogan could be “What part of Noh don’t you understand?”. Unfortunately, on searching the internet, I found that Pat Byrnes, a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine, had beaten me to it. I thought I mentioned this in my blog post of the time, but apparently not. Certainly I mentioned it on Facebook.

The reason I’m mentioning it now is that a few days ago I was watching some of the Crash Course series on the history of theatre, one of which is about Noh. I’ve written before about the variable quality of their autosubtitles — usually perfect, but sometimes, inexplicably, very wrong. Maybe the fault is Youtube’s, not Crash Course’s, but the same principle applies Continue reading


In the last week I have learned, via social media, of the deaths of three older men who I met earlier in my life through my involvement in music in two different cities as I moved around – a cathedral organist/choir director/university lecturer, a pipe organ builder and a stalwart of the local music theatre company. I knew them well enough to remember them and to want to express my condolences, but not well enough to keep in contact with them as I moved around (though I did bump into one on one visit to that city). I left messages on the Facebook pages of their closest family member (two of whom I knew as well or better, and one of whom I only saw around and never actually spoke to, so I explained who I was). One replied briefly and the other two “hearted” my comment

The English phrase Rest in peace is often used in this context. This conveniently shares initials with the Latin phrase Requiescat in pace, but there’s a difference. Requiescat is subjunctive, and is better (and sometimes, maybe often or even usually) translated May (s/he) rest in piece. Rest by itself is imperative, so Rest in peace is Requiesce in pace (singular) or Requiescite in pace (plural). The plural of Requiescat in pace is Requiescant in pace. All of these are derived from the noun requies, which is best known in its accusative form requiem (as in Requiem aeternum dona eis, Domine, Grant them eternal rest, Lord. Requies, in turn, means re + quies, or quiet again.

So, Requiescite in pace David, Peter and Peter, though I’m not sure if “quiet” is an appropriate wish for an organist, organ builder and singer. I like to imagine them getting together somewhere and making a joyful noise.

In fact, rechecking those three Facebook pages, I have just learned of the death a few months ago of another musical acquaintance, so Requiesce in pace Mary as well. I may have to stop reading Facebook.

(Most of the Latin from Wikitionary.)


I just watched a video in another language, subtitled in English by someone who isn’t a native English speaker. S/he spelled beautiful as beautifle several times. The word is beauty  + full, so I could cope with beautyfull (with beautifull and beautyful as other possibilities). The subtitler obvious has access to technology and the correct spelling is only ever a few clicks away.

No English word ends –tifle and only three – rifle, stifle and trifle – end in -ifle, and all have the long sound. If we wanted the short i pronunciation, we’d have to write beautiffle.

Can I spell any better in that other language? No, but if I had to put something in that other language on the internet, I’d get someone who can, to check it.

PS As spelling mistakes go, it’s at the less serious end of the scale. It’s perfectly clear what it means, it doesn’t change the meaning and it’s not accidentally funny or rude.


Nerdview pt 3

I needed to do things on official websites. I tried one about a week ago. I had to set up an account to access the whole of the Australian government’s public functions, then link to one particular department’s website. The first step was to enter my email address, then ‘If you have been issued with a linking code by [this department], enter it here’. I hadn’t been issued with a linking code, so obviously I couldn’t enter it.


The website simply wouldn’t let me proceed without entering it.

I tried again this morning and it took me through another process which did work.

Also this morning I created a user account with a financial institution. Part of verifying my identity was entering the postcode they had for me. Right then … exactly which postcode they have for me depends on exactly when I last dealt with them, and I’ve moved around – there are four possibilities. I tried one postcode, then another, then got a message saying that I had made too many attempts; please try again later. I tried again later with the third and it worked.


There’s more. The first part of updating my contact details was entering my email address twice (‘enter email’ and ‘confirm email’). After I’d entered it the first time and pressed tab, a message box came up saying that because I’d provided my email address, future statements would be emailed instead of mailed, but if I wanted mailed paper statements, I could change that preference below. Fine – click OK (I prefer getting paper statements). Under that was another message box saying that the email addresses didn’t match. At this point there was no way of either dismissing the message box or entering the email address the second time. The only way out was to click the back arrow on my browser and start again, which I did without providing them with my email address, which obviously reduces the whole point of having an online user account.

Oh – and another way of verifying my identity was to enter the phone number they had for me. If I can’t remember when I last dealt with them and where I was living at the time, I probably can’t remember my phone number at the time. When I finally got to the ‘my details’ section, I found that my phone number was 456456456. Yeah, right.

Write on queue

A few days ago I had to ring a government department. I hate ringing government departments, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about this particular issue. The call took an hour and 44 minutes in total, being about one minute talking to the first person, about one minute talking to the second person who the first person put me through to, about three minutes talking to the third person who the second person put me through to, and about an hour and 39 minutes listening to ‘on hold’ music, announcements about the information I could find on the website, and automated recordings telling me that I was now the [number]th caller in the queue, starting from 59th between the first person and the second person, and 68th between the second and the third  and gradually counting down.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and one online friend who lives in another English-speaking country commented, using the spelling que three times in an otherwise perfectly written comment. I sent her a private message asking whether that was her usual spelling, or was widely used in her English-speaking country. 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