Wordwatch Towers

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

Posts Tagged ‘plain language

Kerching, ker-ching, ka-ching and, er… ur

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We love him

We love him

The loyal reader of this blog (Hi, Gladys – how’s the arthritis?) will know that Guy Keleny, The Independent‘s grammar maven, refuses to marry me. Yet somehow fate brings us together: I got interested in the expression that people sometimes use when they want to suggest that something is a money-spinner. It’s kerching, or ker-ching, or ka-ching. But which is correct?

Googling found Guy. *sigh*. He’d picked up on this very issue in one of his columns (scroll down to the end). A journo on the paper had used the spelling ‘kerching’ which, as Guy points out, sounds like a verb. The spelling, he says, should be ker-ching.

But Oxford Dictionaries apparently disagrees. Its spelling is ‘ka-ching’ (follow the link to hear how it’s pronounced.). The entry explains that the word is a noun. It’s also onomatopoeic in derivation – mimicking the sound of a cash register.

Ker-ching it is then. Not that I’m biased.

Er… ur??

untendertitledNo, not the ancient Mesopotamian (from the Greek meaning ‘between two rivers’, by the way) city of Ur, or textspeak for ‘you are’, but this, from the introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, Wordsworth Classics edition:

‘Scholars describe various ur-versions of Tender is the Night…’

I kind of guessed what it meant, but had to consult Oxford Dictionaries for the exact meaning (translation: I didn’t know what it meant). It’s from German and means ‘primitive’, ‘original’ or ‘earliest’.

Interestingly, Oxford Dictionaries uses it without the hyphen, its example being ‘urtext’. Horrible, isn’t it? Looks horrible, sounds horrible – with or without the hyphen. And as unnecessary as something very unnecessary indeed. Here’s my rewrite, Wordsworth Classics:

‘Scholars describe various earlier versions of Tender is the Night…’

You’re welcome.

Couldn’t resist…


I had some more stuff to share, but this post is already too long. Watch this space! The butler’s fine, thanks. He’s writing a novel. Don’t ask.


This is just to say…

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Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom

… that ‘ensorcelled’ means ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’. See Oxford Dictionaries. You can see from the word that its derivation is linked to the word ‘sorcerer’ (which I just had to check how to spell). I kind of like all of that, but is it a good choice in this article in the Guardian? The first paragraph includes the following sentence:

I was immediately ensorcelled by the singularity of the Shrigley worldview: here were pictures that had a bewilderingly complex naivete about them – it was as if a preternaturally intelligent child were rendering the attempts of a smart-aleck adult to draw like a kid.

Ensorcelled? Really? Why send your readers away (probably never to return) to consult a dictionary when ‘enchanted’ or ‘fascinated’ would work just as well (probably better) there? Yes, I learnt a new word, no, I didn’t go back to read the rest of the article (I wrote this post instead). And is the writer just showing off? Oh, I don’t know. Sunday morning tea and toast calls.

Veni, vidi, venti — or something

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Do you suffer from coffee confusion?  No, not a condition brought on by drinking too much of the stuff, but a type of head-spinning malady apparently afflicting coffee shop customers who don’t understand what ‘latte’ or ‘mocha’ means or that ‘tall’ (in coffee world) means ‘small’. (Does it? I’m a tea drinker.)

English: Coffee cup with cappuccino with coffe...In response, a UK store chain, Debenhams, is trying out a simplified menu in one of its London shops. A recent press release explains that anyone wanting a caffe latte will now have to ask for a ‘really really milky coffee’. But won’t that make me sound a bit like an eight-year-old?

Cappuccino and caffe mocha are also off the menu, replaced by ‘frothy coffee’ (try saying that in a hurry) and ‘chocolate flavoured coffee’ respectively.

Oh, and those ‘confusing’ size choices have also been dropped in favour of a ‘cup’ or ‘mug’.

I’m conflicted. Not only because I have no idea why someone would want to drink a venti espresso (that’s wrong, isn’t it?) instead of a non-tall tea, but because I’m usually all in favour of plain language. But I’m not sure about all of this. Isn’t the language part of the pleasure of visiting a coffee shop? I know we Brits are notoriously averse to learning Johnny Foreigner’s lingo, but if I have to pay £28.30 for a tall grande I’ll be happier if it at least sounds slightly more exotic than the mug of something I brewed in my kitchen at breakfast.

And the words aren’t that hard, are they?

Debenhams has also managed to complicate in its efforts to simplify. A black coffee is now a ‘simple coffee, with or without milk’. But isn’t a black coffee with milk a white coffee?

Perhaps a better solution would have been to keep the original names on the menu, but add a description in brackets. A winning blend (see what I did there) for both the cappuccino-challenged and the coffee cognoscenti.

Eclogues and shivering sizars

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Philip Larkin

Why do writers use words that many, if not most, readers won’t understand? And, more importantly, did you know that a sizar can shiver? I’ll come back to that.

Here’s the first word: eclogue

And here’s where I stubbed my toe against it (from Robert Macfarlane’s review of  the Edward Thomas biography, Now All Roads Lead to France, published in the Guardian):

Even as the plains of Belgium were being scorched … the poets were still living out their eclogue, with conversation the labour and poetry the harvest.

And the definition of ‘eclogue’? It simply means a short poem, especially, apparently, a ‘pastoral dialogue’ (whatever that is; I did google it, but got distracted by some shiny things). See Oxford Dictionaries. So, there you have it. Tempted to use it? No, nor me.

Next up, also in the Guardian: sizar. John Banville, writing a review of The Complete Poems by Philip Larkin, suddenly and bizarrely asserts:

 …yet the wealth and profusion of detail within it would purblind Larkin’s own shivering sizar.

Here’s a quick quiz for you:

A sizar is:

a) Always cold, that’s why it shivers
b) A ration of bread or beer
c) An undergraduate at Cambridge University or at Trinity College, Dublin, receiving financial help from the college and formerly having certain menial duties

The answer is c, but the word derives from b which is an obsolete meaning of the word ‘size’. See Oxford Dictionaries.

Larkin went to Oxford University. He couldn’t have been a sizar, shivering or otherwise.

 Oh, and don’t get me started on ‘purblind’, which is an adjective. Not a verb.

More on journalistic writing 

Written by Wordwatch

01/02/2012 at 3:23 pm

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