Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Archive for the ‘Neologisms – new words and phrases’ Category

The sound of serendipity

with 5 comments

Horace Walpole: word coiner and frill fan

Where was I? Oh, yes: serendipity.

The Wordwatch Towers inbox has recently been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of an email asking me to explain the origins of this lovely word (which means making a happy and unexpected accidental discovery).

The butler (at a loose end since my reader Gladys went to Devon to help celebrate her sister’s 86th) immediately dusted down Oxford Dictionaries online and discovered a rather lovely snippet.

walpole horace gothic B20114 47The word was coined in 1754 by the English writer and politician Horace Walpole, well known in his day as the author of The Castle of Otranto, widely regarded as the first Gothic novel.

Walpole used the word serendipity in his correspondence, having based it on The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian fairy tale (Horace called it ‘silly’) in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’. You can read more about this on the Oxford Dictionaries blog.

Hmm …

Here comes the hmm … as you know, I am not one to nitpick (ahem), but there’s a first time for everything. The Oxford Dictionaries blog post referred to above describes the word serendipity as ‘wonderfully onomatopoeic’. Is it?

Doesn’t ‘onomatopoeic’ mean words like ‘buzz’ and ‘bang’ and hiss’ – words based on the sound they describe? Does serendipity sound like the – er – sound of happy chance discoveries? I don’t fink so.

Written by Wordwatch

21/07/2016 at 9:50 pm

In the line of fire: advertising copy

with 7 comments

Newcastle Brown Ale

Image by NorthwestBeerGuide via Flickr

Today, I have in my sights:

  • The line of fire (and clichés)
  • Advertising copy (again)

First up: the line of fire. Enter Guy Keleny of The Independent who recently pointed this out in his newspaper’s corrections column:

Cliché of the week: We have here one of those over-familiar usages that people get wrong because they don’t know its original meaning:

Anyone with a heart is going to side with, say, hungry African children rather than Barclays’ well-paid traders – or the billionaires at Glencore, also in the firing line in recent days.

A firing line is found on a rifle range. It is the line where the shooters line up to fire. Someone who is in a position to be hit by gunfire — the metaphorical plight of the Glencore people — is not in the firing line but in the line of fire.

Which brings me to (it doesn’t really, but I can’t think of a link):

Ale and cidre

Yes, cidre. That’s French for cider. I know; you knew that.

Stella Artois’ advertising copywriters of choice came up with the following copy for its latest product, cider. Sorry, cidre:


Here’s the online ad. (Note the incorrect use of ‘complimented’ as opposed to ‘complemented’.)

But, um, the product is clearly labelled ‘Belgian cider’. (Nobody spotted that?)

Can I come up with anything better, I hear you ask? Well, *chews pencil for two seconds* why not:

Cidre: Cider re-invented.

Not brilliant, but that’s the idea they’re trying to get across. Those arty people could fancy up the ‘re’ bits in ‘cidre’ and ‘re-invented’ to underline the play on words — you get the picture.

There’s more:

Here’s the latest advertising copy being used to entice ‘urban-dwelling males’ to drink Newcastle Brown Ale (look away now if you’re feeling fragile):

The one and only drink that delivers refreshmentaste

The one and only drink that delivers flavourefreshment

‘Refreshmentaste’ is too horrible to talk about. I studied the second one for about ten minutes before I worked it out, not helped by the fact that the ad’s written in capital letters (shield your eyes): FLAVOUREFRESHMENT. I kept reading it as ‘flavour freshment’. (Maybe that’s just me.)

The aim, as quoted in The Grocer magazine, is tohighlight the drink’s win:win ability to refresh like a lager while delivering the satisfying flavours and taste of an ale’.

It’s enough to drive you to drink. Oh, wait …


Here’s some amusement to take your mind off the fact that someone trousered a considerable amount of dosh (while admiring an eminent person’s new clothes) to come up with the word ‘refreshmentaste’:

A menu translation noted in The Times a while back:

Our wines leave you nothing to hope for.

Crisp copy




AstroTurf v. grass roots

with 9 comments

astroturf shadow bailey 2

Image by zen via Flickr

I am the first to admit that I don’t have my finger on the pulse when it comes to neologisms. However, I’m sure my reader (Gladys) and her cat will forgive me if they have already heard this one. I recently came across it in the Guardian online:

The Tea Party movement is remarkable in two respects. It is one of the biggest exercises in false consciousness the world has seen – and the biggest Astroturf operation in history.

Interestingly, the writer, George Monbiot, finds it necessary to explain his use of the word ‘Astroturf’ (so I don’t have to):

An Astroturf campaign is a fake grassroots movement: it purports to be a spontaneous uprising of concerned citizens, but in reality it is founded and funded by élite interests. Some Astroturf campaigns have no grassroots component at all. Others catalyse and direct real mobilisations. The Tea Party belongs in the second category.

The inclusion of this explanation in the article raises an interesting question: is there any point in using an expression that your readers might not understand? I’d say no. And while we’re at it, what does ‘false consciousness’ actually mean? I don’t know why, but part of a Macbeth speech just popped into my mind: …full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Nothing new and trademarks

I’ve discovered that this use of the word ‘AstroTurf’ isn’t new, because it’s been listed on Urban Dictionary since 2004.

You’ll note that in the Guardian piece, ‘Astroturf’ is capitalised. This is a less than careful acknowledgement that the term is, in fact, a trademark. I say less than careful, because it should actually be written: ‘AstroTurf’.

Also (you can see I’m at a loose end today), ‘grassroots’ is listed as ‘grass roots’ in the Oxford Dictionary of English, or hyphenated when used as a modifier in such phrases as: ‘getting involved at grass-roots level’.  I’ll go and get a life now.

Neologisms – more new words and phrases


%d bloggers like this: