Archives for posts with tag: Meaning

Speed camera warning sign in Ireland

I passed a scruffy truck the other day and as I passed I saw a notice on the back, which said: ‘This truck is equipped with visual recording technology’, presumably to ward off would be thieves or stowaways.

Next to the words was a symbol of a camera, and it was exactly the same type of image you see on signs all over Irish roads, warning you against speeding by the presence of speed cameras. Except there aren’t any speed cameras generally, except mobile ones housed in a vehicle. So the sign has come to me to be considered a fake symbol. Whenever I see the speed camera sign my reaction is, ‘oh, no speed cameras here, but probably a well known speedy stretch – or potentially dangerous stretch, or both – is coming up’.

And so it was with this truck. My first thought was, ‘no it’s not equipped with that technology’. It’s like the visual equivalent of fake news, or at least reverse news. A sports club announces it’s fully behind their beleaguered manager, they’re on the way out.

Call it middle aged suspicion, but since the advent of April Fools’ Day in my childhood years I’ve become conditioned to look out for fake news, and fake symbols are no different.

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In the last of this week’s cluster of posts on the spelling and meaning of a couple of words in this glorious language, I want to touch on the application called Grammarly, about which I profess to know very little.

I often see ads for Grammarly playing before I watch a video on the BBC international website, and by the American accents on the ad and the American base of the company, I assume the application helps with US-English phrasings, spelling, meanings, syntax and so on. There may well be a UK-English version too, though I doubt there’s an Irish-English version, or a Scottish-English, Welsh-English or any other variant that blurs the edges between language and dialect.

Two lads from the Ukraine founded the application, so perhaps its real benefit is for those for whom English is a second language. For many of us, however, we already have a lot of this functionality built into our office productivity applications and our browsing applications. For instance, if you erroneously search for ‘Grammerly’ – presumably an easy mistake to make if you’re the person who might need and want to use the correctly spelled version – on Chrome, you get returned suggestions for Grammarly.

Those of us who already get help from our everyday software and have a decent command of the language are using our skill and judgement on the grammar and phrasing side of things anyway. We use the tools to correct typos and omissions, and we use ourselves to correct the other more subtle areas of the language.

Which possibly explains why the application is probably very successfully catering to the vast numbers of people who need to converse in the dominant language which is not their dominant language.

Hmm, discrete os discreet? Tough one.

Just when you thought there wasn’t a difference – or should I say just when I thought there wasn’t a difference, lo and behold there is. The root Latin word is the same, but the spelling and the meaning has diverged. I’m not sure why.

Discrete spelled this way means separate, as in the map can be split into discrete parts. In that sense, ironically, it’s the opposite of concrete.

Discreet spelled with the double e means careful, circumspect, delicate almost. It means something completely different to discrete. You could say they have discrete meanings :-).

And then, to further confuse, there is the abstract noun discretion, which is not connected to discrete as would make sense, but to the double e version. I must exercise proper discretion with these two words in future…

‘Always learning’, or so they say. Well I am, anyway.

Do you know the difference between cache, caché and cachet? I thought I did. I was quite confident in fact.

Cache – pronounced cash – is a hiding place, most commonly known these days as the place where your cookies, Internet and browsing history files reside until or if you clear it out.

Caché – pronounced cashay – is the past tense of cacher, to hide in French, so it means hidden. OK so far I think. It is not the correct spelling for the next meaning, however.

Cachet has a bunch of different meanings. It originally refers to an official seal or stamp on something, like a document, but lately is most commonly used to denote prestige, as in ‘her job carries a certain cachet’, or ‘this food has a cachet within the fitness community’. In this sense, it is not, as I thought it was, spelled caché. D’oh!

Speaking of which, who decided that d’oh! should have an apostrophe? What’s missing or owned there do denote such a mark?

Mothercare store front

I was at my mother’s house in England the other day, casting an eye over all the toys we had as kids, which she has saved of course, and which her grandkids now enjoy.

I came across the edge of a toy package from Mothercare. This company has been around for ages and is clearly a highly respected name in anything to do with children. I love the identity – which I think the company has now moved away from – with the little child image literally under the protection of the m of mother.

What struck me for the first time that I can remember was how outdated the name was; the actual words mother and care put together to make a new name, as many company and product brands do. Back when Mothercare came into being, parenthood was possibly the almost exclusive preserve of the female parent, and that’s simply not the case any more.

The funny thing is, and I feel this about many household names and brands, we never question the name. We see the word mothercare and we equate it with a parenting brand for children. This is what a brand does to us. We rarely take the name out of context, deconstruct it, before realising that it’s perhaps not as appropriate as it used to be.

I think there are lots of examples of this, brands that we take for granted because they’re much more than the sum of their words. Lots of them, hiding in plain sight.

In this sophisticated world that we live in, communication has become equally sophisticated. Technology is of corse front and centre in this.

But as the communication industry becomes more and mature, you tend to see quote a bit of the ‘opposite is true’ phenomenon. I define this as the situation where people say one thing but everyone else knows that they mean the 180-degree opposite. It’s pretty common in political situations, with both a small p and a large P.

Here’s a couple of examples:

  • ‘Asking for a friend’. We all know that they’re not asking for a friend, they’re asking for themselves. This has become a standard joke these days in potentially embarrassing ‘Agony Aunt’-type situations
  • ‘Such-and-such has the full support of the board.’ Whether they’re a sports manager or a political leader, this can only mean one thing: they don’t have the full support of the board and their days are numbered

Note that I don’t include Fake News in this category. That’s the type of communication designed to dupe us all into believing that the opposite of the opposite is true.

I’ve always prided myself on being honest and saying what’s on my mind. Not necessarily framed in a hurtful or undiplomatic manner, but one that leaves no room for misunderstanding. After all, people, especially customers, need to know what you’re thinking. They also need to be advised what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.

It turns out, of course, that the Brits have long been guilty of not exactly saying what they mean, as the table here will testify. I’m indebted to James Trezona of Rooster Punk for drawing my attention to this table, though the version I’ve shown is borrowed from here. In this sense it would seem that the Brits are similar to other peoples, like the Japanese for example, in eschewing direct feedback.

Anglo-EU Translation Guide

Anglo-EU Translation Guide

 

I do think, though, that this British habit of hiding behind the nuances of the mother tongue is gradually dying out. You could put this down to a bunch of mega trends I guess: globalisation, American cultural influences, the erosion of the British class system, our increasing inclination not to waste precious free time, to name but a few.

If it’s not dying out, then it’s certainly lessening from a bracing wind to a gentle breeze.

Or maybe something else is at work here? Maybe we’re not very good at delivering bad news. Maybe we’re too willing to soften the blow for our audience and ourselves. Either way, I think we’re getting better at that too.

There is, however, still sufficient truth in the table, and sufficient difference between what Brits say and what they mean – and differences between two situations is of course the root of humour – for it to be seriously funny.