Archives for category: General

It seems odd to me that we European English speakers diverge from our US counterparts in our use of the words over and again.

When we on the eastern side of the Atlantic have to repeat something we start again. Sometimes we might have to do it over again. In the US and perhaps Canada they simply start over, never starting again or over again.

It’s a bit like the John Lennon song, no doubt crafted for an American audience while he was living over there with Yoko Ono, I think, called Starting Over. Perhaps he too was hedging his bets when he said It’s like Starting Over, with the ‘like’ seeming to soften the statement somewhat, as if he wasn’t sure.

Speaking of idiom, I was talking with an Iranian friend of my mother’s the other day. He said, after almost a lifetime of living here, “I can’t understand why you English people say ‘Would you like to come in for a nice cup of tea?’ Whoever would ask for a horrible cup of tea?”

Good point, well made. I was careful to ask for a horrible cup of tea the next time I was visiting.

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As I write this post it’s 10 years to the week since the great financial crash of 2008, followed by years of turmoil and hardship, certainly in Ireland at any rate, before the provinces – by which I mean, in the English sense, the areas outside of the capital – started to recover, slowly and not so surely.

Not so Dublin, which probably recovered 5 years ago and is once again in the throes of a giddy period of boom. I’ve blogged before about the amount of construction going on in the city. The hotels are full – and I don’t mean some of them, I mean the city’s hotel capacity is maxed out – during the summer; you can’t get a room for anything reasonable. The roads are gorged with traffic all year round. You can’t get anywhere quickly, except by a fast walking.

I’m regularly in Dublin, but on my last visit I couldn’t help but marvel at the divide between the capital and the provinces, some of which are only just getting back on their feet. After fighting through town in a taxi – yes, even the bus lane was a car park – to make my train, I saw that, as usual, the train for Galway was departing from the group of 3 platforms that are two hundred-plus yardss further than the rest of the platforms. Not only that, but the train sits beyond an empty redundant train at the very top of the platform, a hundred and fifty yards further.

It brought it home to me, as provincial people in any country probably feel, that there’s Dublin, and then there’s outside Dublin, which doesn’t really matter much.

I’ve blogged before about how a preposition can make an enormous amount of difference. None more so, I don’t think, than in this example.

‘I believe you’ seeks to assure someone that you think they’re telling the truth. It’s almost like letting them off the hook if their story or defence is flimsy and they’re clutching at straws. It’s hardly a glowing endorsement.

Contrast this with ‘I believe in you.’ This has an altogether more committed, almost spiritual tone of endorsement about it. You’re placing your trust and faith in another person, and perhaps this is the greatest compliment or statement of togetherness that you can pay  them.

It changes the verb, the sentence structure and the meaning completely.

When my brothers and I were kids, our parents were teachers and we had a special way of answering the  house phone and dealing with phone calls.

We’d say hello. We’d never say ‘hello this is London 123456’, giving away our number, and we’d never say our name. If someone said is this 123456, we’d either say, no it’s not, what number were you looking for, or else we’d ask who they were looking for. If someone asked to speak to a person in the house, we’d ask their name before we checked if our parents or our brothers were in.

As teachers, my parent’s were ex-directory, that is to say that they chose not to list their phone number in the big book. We would occasionally get crank or abusive calls and this escalation protocol was a useful process for getting rid of them.

Nowadays, people just say hello, which is fine of course, but in business it’s not particularly helpful. This is because it forces many callers to say ‘is this Paul?’ to which we would have to say yes before the call had even started.

I used to date an American girl a long time ago. When she was at work she wouldn’t answer with hello, she’d say ‘this is Susan’. Susan wasn’t actually her name, but you get the point. I liked it. It was helpful, personal and sounded more customer focused. I adopted it immediately.

So don’t be surprised if you call me on business and I say ‘this is Paul’, or it’s even friendlier version ‘hello, this is Paul’.

Biannual, biennial, it’s tough to remember which one means which, what timespan we’re talking about, isn’t it?

The prefix bi generally means 2, as in biped or bipolar, so one means 2 times a year and the other means every 2 years, so not much help there.

Taking a look at the suffix, annual means yearly, and -ennial is, well, quite similar. A perennial plant is one which lasts a while, rather than something that shows up every year, so again we’re slightly in the dark.

As it turns out, biannual means twice a year, and biennial means every 2 years. I suppose you could say biennial is like triennial, which is once every 3 years, as long as you don’t think it means 3 times a year…hmmm.

I haven’t found a good way to remember which is which, other than the raw facts themselves, which is harder to do the older you get. Us older folk tend to learn via patterns rather than by rote these days.

This is post number 783. I was going to write about the number 777 in blog post number 777, but I forgot. This post is 6 posts too late, but I’d still like to make a point and hold your attention for another minute.

The significance of seven seven seven relates to luck, the bible and my past. Seven is considered a lucky number in some societies, so 3 sevens must be very lucky. A missed opportunity for this blog, therefore.

Also, seven is a biblically important number, at least in Christianity, with seven cows and all that kind of stuff.

Finally, I always associate the number seven and 3 sevens with fruit machines. You can still see them on fruit machines today, and 3 sevens usually means the jackpot. Back in my youth, before the advent of devices and gaming, the fruit machine was the only visually interesting machine to hold the attention of kids. We weren’t yet in the era of Space Invaders and Pacman. The cherries (small payout), oranges (slight larger but still small payout), bells (medium payout) and red sevens (large payout) were what ruled our spare time as we watched other people spend their money for their – and our – entertainment. A significant symbol of my youth.

Not significant enough for me to remember it on the right day, however.

 

They say that three’s a crowd, but for me there’s something elegant, memorable and succinct about groups of 3.

I like the grouping of that particular number. We seem to be locked into the number 3 in a way that 1, 2 or a number greater than 3 can’t really get to. Maybe that’s why we feel so comfortable with TLAs, those handy ways of summarising a sometimes difficult concept in  3 easy letters. NGO, PVC, and of course TLA; each industry or milieu has a gazillion of them, serving as shorthand, occasionally inclusive but also sometimes excluding.

Business seems to be fond of the number 3 as well. Getting 3 quotes is always advisable, 3 key metrics is a good management starting point, and a good presentation slide starts with 3 bullet points. I know I’m easy with it, and many times in my writing, from this blog to reports and even books, I find myself grouping my phrases into 3’s. You can see an example in the first line of this post. Another example might be ‘let’s make sure we have a good session tomorrow, keeping it simple, focusing on the basics, and staying on track.’

So I shall continue my attachment to groups of 3. I like it, it works for me, and I think it resonates with my audience.

I was in France on a family holiday recently and I was reminded how many men of all sizes in that great country use a man bag – really a glorified purse the size of a very thick smartphone – to keep their keys, cash, bits and bobs handy.

It reminded me of previous family holidays in France, a thousand years ago, when I was the child instead of the parent.

Back then my father – who was way ahead of his time in terms of progressiveness, equal rights and being comfortable in one’s own skin and sexuality – commented on the same thing.

I remember his words. “I’ve always thought the small handbag French men use to be an eminently sensible idea.” This was back in the macho, chauvinist 70’s when a heterosexual British male wouldn’t be seen dead carrying anything remotely resembling a purse or handbag.

I agree with him. And I think that smartphone cases that come with a couple of pockets to hold credit cards and cash are going that way too.

One area that highlights the division between American English and English English, as opposed to other versions of English, is the different pronunciations and accentuations on words.

Take the words laboratory and controversy for example. Our US friends prefer to accent the first syllable and the English prefer to accent the second, and continue to do so, despite the huge influence of American English on our daily European lives.

One difference I can’t get my head around is munging the last syllable of words that end in ‘-ile’. I remember watching an eipsode of the 6 Million Dollar Man back in the mid-seventies and they talked about a dangerous ‘missle’. What the heck’s a missle? In English English we put the accent on the first syllable but still give the second syllable a bit of a dance as well.

Futile is another one. Or Fyewtle as the Americans would say. Now that’s a futile pronunciation if ever there was one.

There are plenty of laudable examples of American English changing the spelling of words for simplicity’s sake. I offer you color, realize, maneuver and celiac for that argument.

But futile, missile, versatile, agile? Why not change the spelling on those too?

Time, as I’m fond of boring you over the last nearly 5 years, is a most precious resource. Which is why we should, in my opinion, be really good at managing it. Yet we’re not, really, compared to other precious resources like money, water, temperature, sales, sales pipeline, marketing leads, fuel and so on, which we’re really good at measuring.

That’s because most have a monetary value easily attached to them. Time does as well, or should, but tends not to, unless you charge by the hour.

Some Irish folk have a fairly relaxed approach to measuring time, or at least estimating its duration. That’s why in our house we have a joke about Irish minutes and English minutes. I’m English and when I say I’ll be about 5 minutes, I’ll be about 5 minutes. When her ladyship and others say they’ll ‘just be 2 minutes’, or ‘I’ll be back in 15 minutes’, I ask if that’s Irish minutes or English minutes.

Then I know what’s going on. It’s like saying you’ll ‘just be 2 ticks‘. How you can ever be close to 2 seconds? Drives me mad.