Monthly archive - December 2009

To capitalize or not?

To capitalize or not?

I’ve just had a very peculiar response to an English proofread I completed for a German speaker.

She had written a letter thus:

Dear James,

it was lovely to see you at the weekend….

Naturally I corrected the ‘it’ to read ‘It’; she responded ardently stating that this should not be capitalized; I checked around to confirm I was correct, looking at business letter templates and so forth and found no version that wasn’t capitalized.
But in fact grammatically speaking it’s right, isn’t it? There is no other time we’d capitalize after a comma, so why do we in a letter?

What do you think? Has anyone ever seen the rule that states the beginning of a letter should be capitalized?

Planner perfection?

Planner perfection?

Before visiting the gym this morning, I popped into the paper-shop downstairs to have a quick flick through their planner options again … and at the bottom of the pile I found this incredibly little innovation.

You get a week view planner with times for appointments across bottom/top half of a double page AND day planner on the opposite half sheet on the same page. So you have plan your day and see the week at once. Believe me, describing this little beauty is not easy!

It’s an A5 stroke of genius and completely fits the bill. I stood and flicked through it for a few moments because it really is difficult to get your head around, but when I’d decided how it would work I couldn’t get enough of it. It’s snuggled up next to me here now and I can’t wait to get filling it in!

Get it ‘write’

Get it ‘write’

Wasn’t it easy at school? You wrote a first draft, your teacher corrected it and told you how to make it better and that was that — you got a good grade, (or you didn’t!) but ultimately it didn’t really matter … not in the great scheme of things.

Now your words stand for you, they represent you in this massive cyber world that houses an infinite number of potential clients. It can be incredibly daunting to sit down and write, can’t it? Have you written your website yet or is it lingering around awaiting the words to fall into the right place? Are you happy that your website’s words create the image you want to project?

The wonder of words is that they can be shunted around, introduced to other words and make happy families; there’s always a way to do it well, but it’s not always an easy journey to get there.

One thing I learnt as a teacher was that working together on something (both with colleagues and with student) is a wonderful experience that often reaps rewards and enables you to thrash out ideas which may not even have occurred to you working alone.

Maybe it’s writers’ block that’s hampering you, maybe you can write but the words aren’t playing ball and are all barging in in the wrong order. There’s always a way around it.

How do you write? Do you ‘compose’ or do you dash something off and make changes when you see them – do you even care about mistakes?

Choosing rhymes

Choosing rhymes

OK, whose turn is it? Playground laws dictate you have to have some sort of rhyme to choose who’s ‘it’, who’s hiding or who’s in the middle. Given that my brain recognised about 20 years ago that I no longer needed these rhymes, these once a daily requirements of my life shuffled off to somewhere in the back of my brain and I seem to have lost the key. Which rhymes did you use as a child and/or what do your children use today?

The only one I remember is:

Eeney meeney miney moe,
Catch a tiger* by its toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeney meeney miney moe.

[The rest of this post has been removed as it caused offence to one visitor. While the discussion focussed on language and its changing use over time based on society’s expectations, it contained words that are considered as offensive. Upsetting people is not part of my agenda.]

Ooooh fudge!

Ooooh fudge!

I just spent the last couple of hours making a massive batch of fudge. And it’s glorious. Here’s the recipe

This is a simple fudge recipe using condensed milk, a can of Carnation condensed milk is 397g, but other brands can vary.

  • 350-400g canned condensed milk
  • 150ml (5fl oz) milk
  • 450g (1lb) Demerara sugar
  • 115g (4oz) butter

1. Grease and line an 18cm square baking tin. (I skip this step and just lay a sheet of baking paper out and push the fudge into shape (I tripled the ingredients though!))

2. Place all the ingredients in a large, heavy based, saucepan and using a low heat stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. It is very important to make sure all the sugar has dissolved.

3. Once all the sugar is dissolved bring to the boil, stirring continuously. Turn the heat down slightly and stir while it keep bubbling. The fudge mixture is ready when it reaches the soft ball stage. (This takes a good 40 mins or so)

4. Either take off the heat and beat the mixture OR leave it in a very cold place (winter balcony for example) until it thickens (it will have a grainy consistency). Pour mixture into your greased tin and allow to cool.

5. When cool, cut into pieces and serve.

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Tea break English

Tea break English

I was flicking through an old school book of mine earlier and stumbled across this little poem, the original was written by Cecil Hartley in 1818. I have a feeling I now know where this insane idea of having a comma when the reader should take a ‘breath’ has come from:

The stops point out the length of pause

A reader needs between each clause:

For every comma, a count of one;

The count for two at a semicolon;

Each colon prefers a count of three;

A full stop, four we all agree.

Marvellous. With that kind of received intelligence it’s no wonder there are generations of confused writers! This dubious guide reminded me of another, slightly more useful poem (much of which I remembered all on my own *gold star).


Every name is called a NOUN,
field and fountain, street and town;

In place of noun the

PRONOUN stands
he and she can clap their hands;


ADJECTIVE describes a thing,
magic wand and bridal ring;


VERB means action, something done –
read, to write, to jump, to run;

How things are done, the

quickly, slowly, badly, well;


PREPOSITION shows relation,
in the street, or at the station;

CONJUNCTIONS join, in many ways,
Sentences, words,
or phrase and phrase;


INTERJECTION cries out, ‘Hark!
I need an exclamation mark

Through Poetry, we learn how each
Of these make up

Here are some other little mnemonics that may actually help you remember some of those fiddly little rules:

  1. Another way to think of a colon (:) is to call it an explanation mark: you add more information that clarifies the point.
  2. A semi-colon’s handy when and has been banned.
  3. Hyphens hang words together – dashes divide them.
  4. Apostrophes show possession and omission.

What the ~*^%!?

What the ~*^%!?

It’s undeniable, things happen every day that can drive you to distraction. However, should venting frustration, annoyance or pain not be coloured in shades other than blue? I was always told that swearing merely displayed one’s limited vocabulary or ability to manipulate language.

Oh deary me!

Between being a teacher and a mum to 2 little people, my relationship with expletives ended quite some time ago. I have an affection for the far quainter ‘Grandma’ versions of cursing: Crikey! Oh lorkes! By jiminy! Oh fudge cake!; and to hear a glorious insult, like this one by Henry James on Oscar Wilde, is something of a treat:

‘”Hosscar” Wilde is a fatuous fool, a tenth-rate cad, an unclean beast.”

Personally I think Oscar is/was fab, but you can’t deny the insult, while deeply insulting, is beautifully lyrical, showing a far better grasp of language than anything we get to revel in these days where swearing litters most spoken sentences. Some movie plots are impossible to follow riddled as they are with swearing that does little to explain what’s actually happening. With the official millionth word added to the English language in 2009, there are plenty of other words to draw on to replace those over-used, multi-meaning mini-words.

What of the worldwide ‘texplitives’: OMG, WTF/H, PITA, FFS, and so forth? By not actually ‘saying’ the word, can you get away with it? After all, ‘Jiminy Cricket’, ‘Oh lorkes’ and ‘Crikey’ are all derivatives of blasphemous curses, which were far from acceptable back in the day.

Expletives seem to be losing the power they once had: they’re now catch-alls used to express a rainbow of emotions that are met in myriad moments of the day when an expletive is the natural reaction. What would you say if you slammed your finger in a drawer/ hit the send button on an email half way through composing it? Should four-letter words have the stigma removed maybe? Has it already been removed and only a few dinosaurs like me find them uncomfortable to say and hear? I’m not saying get rid — far from it! A well-placed swear in a genuine rant that has purpose and structure adds power and punch, but in a professional setting this kind of rant really shouldn’t rear it’s head.

In a moment of extraordinary coincidence, halfway though writing this an email appeared in my inbox from Outshine Consulting regarding professionalism in the workplace. Faye Hollands’ words perfectly sum up my feelings about swearing and the impression it gives:

“…The way you communicate has a huge impact on how professional you’re perceived to be.  It doesn’t matter what job you do, swearing will never be a prerequisite on a position description, nor will it help you in the professionalism stakes.  Similarly, slang and inappropriate phrases along with general rambling and poor communication will do nothing other than damage your image.  On the flip side, being able to communicate your ideas and opinions clearly, and with respect, will serve you much more positively.  Again, it doesn’t matter whether you sit behind a desk, or work on a building site, being able to communicate appropriately is an important ingredient in the professionalism-mix!”

Hear, hear!

For more thoughts about expletives see: