clarity and conciseness

As if punctuation, spelling and grammar weren’t enough, Microsoft Word is now flagging ‘clarity and conciseness’. Unfortunately, it gets many ideas wrong. Fortunately, my particular editing task means that I can ignore it all anyway, and I must find out how to turn it off. But then I’d have less to blog about.

Some of its rules are questionable at the best of times, and some take a reasonable rule beyond its useful extreme by not looking at the context. 

It flags ‘all of’, suggesting a change to ‘all’, eg ‘all of the time’ to ‘all the time’. Fair enough, ‘of’ is not essential, but ‘all of the N’ is an established if less-used variation of ‘all the N’, perhaps slightly informal. Crucially, it sometimes occurs in the longer phrase ‘some or all of the time’. Close to no-one says or writes ‘some or all the time’ or even the possible ‘some of or all the time’.

It flags ‘similar to’ and suggests ‘like’, but the context was that ‘N1 is likely to be similar to N2’. ‘N1 is likely to be like N2’ is used, but is awkward.

It doesn’t like the word ‘particular’, suggesting changing ‘a particular school’ to ‘a school’. But the issue was not whether a child should go to ‘a school’, but rather whether s/he should go to that specific school. ‘Particular(s)’ can also be used as a noun. ‘When asked to provide more particulars, he stated …’ cannot be changed to ‘When asked to provide more, he stated …’.

Finally, ‘sufficient’ is not interchangeable with ‘enough’ when used attributively: ‘an acceptable or sufficient record’ cannot be changed to ‘an acceptable or enough record’.

Certainly, some speakers or writers fall into habits of unclarity and/or unconciseness, but these words are not unclear or unconcise in and of themselves (< I would expect it to flag ‘in and of’). 

PS 4 August. Yesterday, I noticed that it suggested changing ‘make a decision’ to ‘decide’. Today, just before I turned it off, I noticed ‘make a decision favourable to the plaintiff’, which cannot be ‘decide favourable to the plaintiff’, but might be ‘decide in favour of the plaintiff’.


England and the United Arab Emirates

A document stated that someone had studied in England, but his application said the United Arab Emirates. The writer of the document accepted this a typo, but on the face of it, it’s the world’s weirdest typographical error. Absolutely no-one goes to type ‘England’ and instead accidentally types ‘The United Arab Emirates’. My confident guess is that the application was submitted online, and various pieces of information, in this case the country of education, were selected from drop-down lists. The applicant didn’t study in ‘England’ but rather in ‘United Kingdom’, which is next below ‘United Arab Emirates’ in standard drop-down lists of the countries of the world. We don’t yet have a name for a mistake made by selecting the wrong item from a drop-down list – maybe a ‘droppo’. (In fact, the applicant did study in England, rather than any other part of the UK, but that’s not my point.) (Very possibly, people might mix Australia and Austria.)

Some years ago I worked for a company which was part of a worldwide group of companies. The email address list had everyone in all those companies, and there was a employee with the same name as me in the international head office. But my suburb of Sydney started with the letter before his city the USA, so I got various emails and text messages for him, which people had obviously scrolled down and clicked the first person with that name they saw, which happened to me. Thinking about it now, I’m slightly puzzled that there was only one other person with the same name in a world-wide group of companies, including every major English-speaking country, and my name is not uncommon.


An advertising screen in the city included Satday 13 June in the corner. If there isn’t enough space for Saturday, then surely the solution is to use Sat. Sunday, Monday and Friday have six letters and would fit, but Tueday, Wedday and Thuday look varying degrees of weird. I’ll have to go back there on those days to find out what they do.

Saturday is already truncated from Old English Saternesdæg and Latin Sāturnī diēs. Many people pronounce it as or close to Satday or Satdi.

Pun me

In an online video/chat session with an international social group I typed that I have a colleague who can outpun me. The autocorrect in that software changed that to outrun, which is probably true but it isn’t what I meant to say. I saw the autocorrect in action and changed it back to what I meant to say in the first place. Pages for Mac and WordPress don’t autocorrect it, but red underline it.

Pun can be a verb, but it is usually used intransitively: He can pun on any topic you name. But we can imagine Shakespeare writing: Jest me no jests, pun me no puns. Actually, we can’t, because the word wasn’t used at all until after Shakespeare’s time. 

There is a website called Pun me and an Instagram thread titled Pun me as hard a possible.

For most of my life I’ve been the chief punster in most situations, so it’s taken some getting used to.

How is YouTube today?

YouTube is asking me the question above with the five possible answers: Absolutely outstanding, Extremely good, Very good, Good, Not good.

What is the difference between the first four choices, really? Either I can access the site, find the video I want and play it, and there is an appropriate selection of related videos down the side of the screen; or I can’t or there isn’t. If I can’t access the site, it might be because of my computer, browser, internet connection or some other circumstance not related to YouTube, and I can’t see the question and answers anyway.

I rarely answer questions like this online or on telephone calls to call centres. They are welcome to assume that they are doing an acceptable job until I tell them otherwise.

The really important king of Korea

I assure you that I don’t set out looking for typos in my personal reading, but sometimes they’re just too obvious. I borrowed a book from my local library on world languages. It is a full-scale production, with two pages on the biggest languages, one on the medium-sized ones and a quarter of a page on a selection of smaller ones. There are many photos and examples of words or phrases. 

Unfortunately, there are two errors on the page about Korean. One is the name of esteemed originator of hangeul, King Sejeul. Say … what? Do they mean King Sejong, the most important Korean in history? So important that most of the time he’s not just King Sejong, but rather King Sejeong the Great.

The other is that the one-syllable block of Korean it provides as an example is completely not Korean and instead one of those random things you get when the software you use doesn’t recognise the script you are trying to use. To make matters worse, it is immediately followed by an explanation of the letters which make up the syllable block. Even a reader who doesn’t know hangeul would figure that the explanation simply doesn’t match up with the random thing immediately before it.

I mentioned this to some colleagues at work, then on the way home on the train spotted two more typos on consecutive pages, both a correctly spelled word, just the wrong one in the context: lightening instead of lightning and each instead of ear.

No names, no blames, but it they’re going to put that much effort into a full-scale production, they could at least get a native speaker to proofread it.

(If there are any mistakes in the preceding, bear in mind that this is not a full-scale production, and I don’t have a team of proofreaders.)

Keystroke patterns

By placing my left hand incorrectly on my computer keyboard, I accidentally discovered that ‘dry’ has the same has the same keystroke pattern as ‘set’, simply shifted one key to the right. I’ve since found ‘hit’ and ‘joy’, ‘view’ and ‘bore’, and ‘our’ and ‘pit’. I don’t know how many such pairs there are, but I suspect not many, and that it’s probably not a very important discovery.

Sunni and Shia

A document was discussing Islam and rendered Shia as sheer, Shias as shares and she is, and Sunni as SUNY, which in any other context is the State University of New York. There were a number of other clangers as well. I guess that it was produced by automated voice to text, but didn’t anyone proofread it before it was released?

I mentioned this to my colleagues and one of them responded with:

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When I press the button at the bottom of my mobile phone, the first screen has the time and date at the top and the instruction ‘Swipe screen to unlock’ at the bottom. In the middle are various bits of information, including notifications of missed calls or voice messages, and news from Google. Earlier today, the new was “New LPA to boost rains from habagat”. I have no idea what that means and equally no idea why Google would think I was interested. Some research was necessary.

Searching Google found the article on, the headline of which had one extra, even more baffling word “New LPA to boost rains from habagat, ‘Falcon’”. The first paragraph makes almost everything clear:

MANILA, Philippines — A new low pressure area west of the Philippines will further enhance the southwest monsoon and Tropical Storm “Falcon” (international name: Danas).

So an LPA is a low pressure area (is this really commonly used in Filipino news headlines?), a/the/- habagat is the south-west monsoon (“characterized by hot and humid weather, frequent heavy rainfall, and a prevailing wind from the west” and lasting May/June to Nov/Dec – Wikipedia), and “Falcon” is an officially named tropical storm. (For the rest of the year, the prevailing weather is the amihan – “moderate temperatures, little or no rainfall, and a prevailing wind from the east”.)

What it doesn’t make clear is why Google thinks I would be interested.

PS I can imagine an Australian news source using “low” and “high” in a headline, but not LPA or HPA.

Epistolary Sesquipedalian Lexiphanicism

While I was researching for my previous post, I stumbled across an extraordinary book titled Frontier Experience or Epistolary Sesquipedalian Lexiphanicism from the Occident, by J.E.L. Seneker. The first paragraph gives a taste of its style:

Most Sophomorical Sir:–

Your Græco-Latin epistolet or cabalistical abracabra, lies before me, deciphered and eclaircised to the best of my linguistic, pasigraphical, and exegetical ability. As merited castigation therefor, and to test your wonted longanimity, I shall recalictrate by effunding upon you, in epistolic form, my scaturient cornucopia of lexiphanic sesquipedalities, Johnsonian archaisms, exoticisms, neologianisms, patavinities, et id genus omne.

A little is explained in the front matter to the book. In the Prefatory Remarks by the Author, he states that after some study, he spent:

several years in the far west, Mexico, California, British Columbia, Alaska, Ontario, &c., &c. These fustian letters, a few copies of which I have, at the request of many of my friends, printed, give, to a limited extent, that part of my varied experience in Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico:– at that time wild west frontiers … I have greatly amplified the original text, and incorporated many lexiphanic words.

In other words, as I understand it, he wrote the letters as a young man, and published them in an expanded form later. 

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