Mid-Holidays Drive By Update

Busy busy – always with the busy. And yet, better busy than bored I say so I won’t apologize for the busy. I can only say that I am hoping to be better in 2014 at finding time to blog.

Been doing a lot of interesting freelance work, including

  • editing a super novel (which though not my particular genre of choice) was nonetheless utterly engaging and enjoyable and I cannot wait to visit the alternate version of New York created as the backdrop for the stories.
  • several stints working on food and lifestyle websites of a major supermarket chain for London content marketing agency. A week in London here and there is always fun. Also useful from a shopping point of view. Also enjoyed seeing some of the “behind the scenes” logistics of these types of sites nowadays. Things haven’t changed much since earlier my web management days. In some cases that’s good – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But in some ways … well, suffice to say that the relationship between techies and client management remains as it largely always has been.

Doing a lot of reading and yet, the “to be read” (TBR) pile grows and grows. I am currently reading “Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat” by Bee Wilson. VERY interesting and well written. Much food for thought (it was an obvious line – you would have taken it too) about everything from gadgets to forks, cooking methods and containers. The culinary list (one of the more robust sections of the TBR pile) contains:

  • A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright (who isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and sometimes, if I am honest, isn’t mine but she has a VIEW and I’m interested in finding out more about it)
  • Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking by Kate Colquhoun which was recommended to me, not by a foodie reader, but by a lover of language who said it was worth it just to delve into the impact of food on language. The word nerd in me snapped it up.
  • Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky – between this and Spice, I’ve got the spice cupboard covered 🙂 But having THOROUGHLY enjoyed Kurlansky’s Food of a Younger Land (winner of the longest subtitle in history *), I had to grab this when I saw it.

I’ve got a non-culinary TBR pile as well – full of mostly memoirs at the moment. I go through phases and looking at things via the lives of notable individuals is one that crops up from time to time.
And finally – a bit of site seeing. As you know, I like to share links of interest when I find them and as I have been SO remiss in keeping you updated, I have quite a few this time.

  • 38 Wonderful Foreign Words We Could Use in English – via mental_floss, one of the great sources for my word nerding needs. I mean, they also provided the very interesting 7 Common Words With Little-Known Relatives
  • Came across a description for Write-A-House, a different kind of writer’s residency program – and of course, popped over to the Write House site to see what it was all about. Not that I am planning a move to Detroit. After the last move, I’m moving NO WHERE anytime soon. But it’s an idea with scope, I’ll give them that. Be interesting to see how it evolves long term. Basic idea? Help fix up a house and live there rent free so that you can work on writing. The house will be 80 percent habitable and the writer-in-residence will be required to fix up the rest.”
  • Everyone seemed to be taking the “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk” quiz at some point – and I did as well. But I think I broke it. The truth is, my speech pattern is all over the board – not because we moved all over the place but because I grew up speech pattern, was raised in that place by two people with speech patterns from somewhere else and was surrounded by people all the time with patterns from even more places. Rubber ear and brain engaged and the result is – I use regionalisms of all kinds with no rhyme or reason.
  • I saw this and I knew I had to have it. The Book Map

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

*The Food of a Younger Land: A portrait of American food – before the national highway system, before chain restaurants, and before frozen food, when the nation’s food was seasonal, regional and traditional – from the lost WPA files

Grammar Matters. Deal With It.

The BBC News site recently had an article talking about people who get grumpy at other people’s bad grammar. I confess – I get grumpy when confronted with appalling grammar (and typos) in professional situations. I gladly forgive the occasional typo – I make them myself, who doesn’t – but I confess to judging, rather harshly, those who fail to ‘grasp the grammatical’ on an ongoing basis.

But this wasn’t the thing what caught my attention about their article. What had me banging my head on my desk was this:

“A new grammar and spelling test arrives in primary schools in England this week. It is the first time in a while that such emphasis has been put on grammar.”

The FIRST TIME??????????? They are only NOW deciding that grammar is something to be learned and tested upon? No wonder I keep encountering people who seem to have only a passing relationship with their mother tongue. I’ve addressed these people before – the ones who seem to have gotten through life without learning about verb tenses, about the casual acceptance of this bottom rung standard of communicating and the laziness on the part of not only the speakers and those who failed to teach them but the public for treating it as if grammar and spelling made little or no difference – or as I put it previously, ‘Ignoring the Incorrectness’ of it all.

There are a great many people coming out of school who will be unable to find a job because there aren’t enough of them. But there are also a lot of people coming out of school who won’t be able to find a job because:

  • they are not equipped to write a cover letter, much less hold an actual position;
  • they will be unable to find an employer who is comfortable being represented by someone who can’t speak or write properly;
  • they will be unable to find a recruiter willing to put their own reputation at risk by sending in a candidate who speaks like badly educated 12 year old for an interview;
  • they will be unable to do basic maths after being told that it 5 might not be the answer to 2 + 2 but it was unique and they got an A for creativity;

People judge other people. We accept this as an given in regards to looks but you know what? They also judge people on how they speak, how they write. You can whinge about judging people being wrong but it happens all the same. Denying it, pretending they don’t or trying to pretending that it doesn’t matter is not only stupidly naive, but does the individual and society a massive disservice; The individual because they will be ill-prepared to deal with it effectively, and society because sticking our collective heads in the ground means we won’t bother doing anything about it.

Grammar matters. Deal with it.

Bardish Bargain

Since it’s more or less Shakespeare’s birthday and of course the day he died, it is worth taking a moment to note that he lives on in our everyday speech, even now.


20 Words We Owe to William Shakespeare

Phrases Shakespeare Created That We Still Use Today. These include, but are not anywhere NEAR limited to

  • As dead as a doornail (Henry VI)
  • Eaten out of house and home (Henry V, Part 2)
  • Fair play (The Tempest)
  • In stitches (Twelfth Night)
  • In the twinkling of an eye (The Merchant Of Venice)
  • Mum’s the word (Henry VI, Part 2)
  • Neither here nor there (Othello)
  • Vanish into thin air (Othello)

And lest we forget to mention (and did you really think we would?), even comments ABOUT Shakespeare echo across the sands of time. In Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays, William Hazlitt had quite a lot to say about Shakespeare and much of it echoed by comments made by modern critics and audiences today. Now we have a special fondness for the Modern Parlance Illustrated edition (for obvious reasons) and we think it’s a real bardish bargain at only $0.99 (on Amazon) and only £0.77 (on Amazon UK)

Son of Dear Recruiter, The Hunt Continues

Despite having other projects on hand (and really enjoying them by the way so expect to see my burbling about those soon), the job hunt continues and so do the horrific spelling and logistical hiccups in the job advertisements. So, I present the sequel to my very popular Dear Recruiter… All in the Details

  • Dear Recruiter: I wish to bring two items to your attention. 1) One can have a ‘sales background’, not a ‘sale background’ and 2) using nine exclamation points exceeds normal standards. Considerably.
  • Dear Recruiter: Not quite sure how to take “Wealth” being included under “Desired Skills & Experience”
  • Dear Recruiter: The only thing under “key skills” for the Content Manager role is “Strong reading ability essential.” That’s one LOW set bar
  • Dear Recruiter: The answer to ‘job location’ really SHOULD be more specific than ‘England.”
  • Dear {Company Redacted} Digital Delight Manager? Oh really!
  • Dear {Company Redacted}: You can certainly have “an up & coming asocial media manager” if you want but that sounds like trouble to me.
  • Dear Recruiter: £250000000 – £350000000 per annum + benefits? I’ll take it! No, no YOU said £250000000 – £350000000. Typos are YOUR fault.
  • THREAT MANAGER! At last, the job of my dreams! Yes? It means what? Oh… never mind.
  • Dear Recruiter: Before I commit to being “flexable,” I would need you to tell me what it means.
  • Dear {Company Redacted}: No, sorry – I have yet to find a bank that will take deposits of “sweat equity.”
  • Read Company Redacted: If you have to explain your hipsterism (Your ‘t-shaped specialism’ is social AKA social is the thing you are passionate about that you will contribute to make this team better, stronger, more interesting, etc. ) – consider using English instead. Oh and try using it properly. SHEESH!
  • Dear Recruiter: Project Manager & Account Director? Then I trust there are two salaries as well. ‘Cause that one you list? Sufficient for one of those positions
  • Dear {Company Redacted} You clearly need help with either the Internet or your Intranet. But I can’t tell which if you spell it Intrenet.
  • Dear Recruiter: Blogger Manager? You want someone to manage bloggers? If they’re like the bloggers I know – I wish you all the best. Oy!
  • Dear {Company Redacted}: I can accept that “fast-paced” may be an accurate description of your workplace but surely “exciting” is subjective
  • Dear Recruiter: Head of People might be something I’d consider taking on – provided the scope was broad enough and I was given authority to institute REAL changes across the board. And by across the board, I mean WORLD DOMINATION, obviously.
  • Dear {Company Redacted} – if you really want your “innovative work showcased in the best way possible” stop bleating on about PowerPoint
  • Dear Recruiter: You want a ‘professional looking to develop their carer’ but don’t say develop their carer into what? Or rather whom?
  • Dear {Company Redacted} Bespoke Copywriter? As opposed to … ?
  • Dear Recruiter: I’m not sure “Ability to complete duties as assigned” belongs under ‘secondary functions.’
  • Dear Recruiter: Hope your top law firm client doesn’t see “Developing good working relations with individuals in order that you can advice.”
  • Dear Recruiter, I present (w/o comment) your wrap up from your Writer Wanted post: Onlyaplicants with the relevent experinece need apply.
  • Dear Recruiter: I’m interested in the “Employee Branding Manager” role. I’m sure you meant “Employer Branding” but that’s not nearly as fun.
  • Dear Recruiter: You list “rapport building with senor management” as desired skill but make no mention of ability to spell. Projecting much?

Dear Recruiter… All in the Details

I have recently had reason to peruse many online job listing websites and I don’t mind telling you, I have a few POINTED things to say to the recruiters and HR posters. First – spelling and grammar matter. Second – proofreading isn’t (or shouldn’t be) optional.

  • Dear Recruiter: You are NOT e.e. cummings (at least, I presume you aren’t as he has been dead since ’62) so USE YOUR DAMNED CAP KEY
  • Sorry, {Company Redcated} Gap but there’s a limit to online hoops I’ll jump thru to register with a company’s site simply for privilege of applying for a job. You reached it. I wish you well in finding that Marketing and Social Media guru you are looking for.
  • Dear Recruiter: Stop with the “salary is competitive” bullsh*t. Give me a number & I’ll decide that myself. It’s like the job hunt equivalent of when house listings don’t include floorplans.
  • Dear Recruiter: I’m sure you really meant to say “Experienced” but I wish there was a job called “Experience Dispenser” – cause here are some experiences that I’d like to dispense to a few folks…
  • This is a Public Service Announcement – yesterday’s childish thread and sniggering over innuendo-laden job postings is likely to continue today. It is, after all, Friday and the first that I saw on the list was “Penetration Specialist”
  • Hmmm, ‘Liaison Executive’ you say. At the same firm that was advertising for a ‘Penetration Specialist’ this morning. I can only hope the office is half as fun as the job titles. They aren’t, but I can hope.
  • Dear Recruiter: Before posting that your client is “seeking Head of Quality” – say it out loud. Go on. Did you laugh? So did I. Just saying.
  • Dear Recruiter: Content Improvement Manager? Oh right – we used to call that an Editor. *eye roll*
  • Dear Recruiter: Your client isn’t ‘focusssed’ or if they are, they aren’t focused too closely on the quality of their recruitment provider.
  • Dear {Company Redacted}, you get what you pay for. As a result, you cannot have me & will end up with someone significantly less fabulous.
  • Dear Recruiter: I’m no expert but I am pretty sure accountants are CHARTERED not CHARTED.
  • Dear Recruiter: You can’t just list “Group Head” as the title of a job listing and expect me NOT to ROTFLMAO
  • Dear Recruiter: my commucation skills aren’t so good but my communication skills are spot on. Will that suffice?
  • Seriously {Company Redacted}? You quote your Wikipedia entry in your job listings? I don’t even know what to say to that… well, other than “Seriously {Company Redacted}?”
  • Whoever is writing the job listings for {Company Redacted} must be getting paid by the word.
  • Dear UK Cabinet Office: I see that you have several project management positions available. I considered briefly applying but conclude that you – and most of your departmental colleagues – are not ready to be managed by the likes of me. So I have decided to spare you. For now. You’re welcome — Me.
  • How does any recruiter or any keyword algorithm get to my CV & decide “Hey, this is the physics teacher applicant I’ve been waiting for!” Seriously?
  • Oral. Care. Manager. *BWHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA*
  • Dear Recruiter, reflect for a moment on the difference between “Intelligence Officer” and “Intelligent Officer.” Take your time. I’ll wait.
  • Dear Recruiter: Use all caps all you want but no matter how FUNKY and EDGY you think your agency is, the salaries you offer scream CHEAP just as loudly.

Ignoring Incorrectness

“How many is you got?” the shop assistant asked as we headed toward the dressing room. I winced. Not because I’d stubbed my toe or had just been found out in a sad attempt to take more items into the dressing room than was permitted. No, I winced because I’d once again smacked up against the casual inability of the public to speak their native tongue.

And before anyone ramps up into “OMG! American criticizing the way the British public speaks” mode, I shall state that an equal if not greater number and percentage of people in the US show an equal or greater inability to grasp their native tongue as well. I spent decades listening to my fellow Americans – from sea to shining sea – slaughtering the spoken word like they were being paid for each grammar goof. It just happens that I’m in the UK so at the moment, so it is the speakers of this land that have caught my attention. One might attempt to draw a link between both countries being awash in people unable to speak English properly and the English language being especially difficult. One might. But one would be wrong.

It’s pure laziness – on the part of speakers and on the part of those who hear such atrocities (Teachers, parents, bosses, etc. ) and accept them as – well, acceptable. We’ve all heard the sentences constructed around verb tenses doing a cameo from another sentence entirely. We’ve all seen that the vocabulary of the general public is shrinking to a degree that words like “snigger” and “niggardly” are so unknown that they are causing bursts of righteous indignation from folks who imagine they have a racist connotation. In addition to not knowing the parts of speech, the general public has also lost the ability to look things up in the dictionary.

Yes, “How many is you got?” was a small, relatively insignificant moment and yes, it was wrong but why am I so annoyed by it? It wasn’t just that it was wrong. It was the fact that this woman (somewhere in her mid-20s I’d guess) either didn’t know or didn’t care that it was wrong and THAT is a symptom of a larger problem. If she didn’t know, then she was failed by her parents and the educational system. If she didn’t care, she was failed by her parents, the educational system and a world that decided that good enough is good enough and not quite as good as it should be. It goes back to the idea that teaching grammar will turn kids off. As I said before, it’s not about liking it, it’s about knowing it.

I sometimes joke that it all went to hell when they stopped teaching sentence diagramming (because I loved sentence diagramming) but the truth is that it all started to go to hell when people stopped correcting their kids and their students at the point where mistakes were being made. If Little Johnny says 2+2=5 and the parents and/or teachers applaud that as little Johnny “thinking out of the box” then it shouldn’t surprise anyone that little Johnny can’t manage subject/verb agreement in day to day speech. Hell, little Johnny’s reading comprehension these days is so low that he can’t even understand what the word problems in grade school math class are ASKING so there’s no way he could be expected to – you know – solve them. But I suppose turning on the TV is a lot easier than sitting down and ensuring Johnny can actually read**

Sigh. I should have had decaf.

Lest you think I’m just in one of those moods or that I am alone in being annoyed by the fact that there are huge swathes of the English speaking population unable to communicate IN English, a bit of topical “site seeing” is in order.

Think getting into college means Little Johnny must be OK so there’s nothing to worry about? Not so. Plenty of kids get accepted into colleges without actually being prepared to cope with college-level classes.

This is a problem on many levels. For a start – if they aren’t ready for college, why is the college accepting them? But I’ll try and stay with my accepting the unacceptable idea so we’re not here all day. Just because the college will go back and repeat the material Little Johnny should already have learned, doesn’t mean we should all be fine with such a costly waste of time. It takes time and money. Not just Little Johnny’s time but the institution’s time – time that might be better spent on students who arrived prepared. And not just the money those extra courses costs Little Johnny’s parents – that’s their burden to bear if they failed to catch the issue in the previous 12 years of Johnny’s formal education – but the institution’s money, money that is not in abundant supply at the best of times and which should certainly be spent on more advanced issues than teaching Johnny to conjugate the verb “to be.”

The people in a position to make a huge difference in Little Johnny’s future have weighed in as well – and they are no happier than I am.

  • Good Applicants with Bad Grammar: We cannot help associating “bad” grammar with low intelligence, sloppiness and lack of refinement. I personally don’t care about refinement but low intelligence and sloppiness are not something I am looking for in employees. Or friends for that matter.
  • The Advantages of Good Grammar in the Workplace: In today’s highly competitive and global business landscape, being able to communicate quickly and effectively gives employees and entire organizations an edge over less articulate competitors. The job market being what it is (and what is likely to be like for the foreseeable future), you’d better be looking for ways to set yourself apart from hundreds of other applicants. Proofreading your materials and having someone else look at them seems a small enough effort to make. If you think it’s too much trouble, chances are the job itself is going to be an even steeper climb.
  • I Won’t Hire People Who Use Poor Grammar. Here’s Why: On the face of it, my zero tolerance approach to grammar errors might seem a little unfair. After all, grammar has nothing to do with job performance, or creativity, or intelligence, right? Wrong. If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use “it’s,” then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with. So, even in this hyper-competitive market, I will pass on a great programmer who cannot write.

OK, I don’t have a zero tolerance approach – as regular readers can no doubt see for themselves. I blog very much as I speak and as a result, I’m bordering on addiction to parenthetical construction and hyphens. But all that aside, I couldn’t have said it better myself – especially in a job search situation. I cannot tell you how many times I have reviewed an error-riddled CV that lists “attention to detail” as an additional skill or a cover letter from a potential employees whose resume heralded them as “an outstanding communicator” but who wrote “”could of” instead of “could have.” Needless to say, neither of those people got to the interview stage. *

Yes, definitely decaf.

*Though I sent an email acknowledging receipt of their submissions because that is the polite thing to do. The fact that more and more employers don’t bother is another rant for another day.
** I have nothing against television or video games but priorities, people.

It’s Not About Liking It, It’s About KNOWING It

So, they don’t want to “focus on spelling, grammar and punctuation” because they say “such an approach will turn pupils off the subject.” Well, I’m not an English teacher but if I’ve heard school kids on both sides of the Atlantic and you know, some grammar drills, some sentence diagramming – might do them some good. God knows, basic spelling and enunciation seems to be beyond them these days.

What was wrong with “if you want to break the rules, you have to know the rules first.” When did 2+2=5 go from being wrong to being “thinking outside the box?”

Speaking of Which . . .

Just watched BBC2’s ‘Yes, We Can: The Lost Art of Oratory’ – they presented it last year but I’ve only just gotten a hold of it. Glad I did. Great topic, well-handled, illustrated with not only with the wholly expected and obvious clips, sound bites and interviewees but also with quite a wealth of not-at-all expected or obvious ones. If the topic is of any interest to you, grab it if you can. It’s very much worth seeing. And more importantly, hearing.

ABCs and 123s

Have you ever heard of the Simplified Spelling Society? No and up until a couple of years ago, I had either and quite frankly, I wish I never had. I laughed at them at the time. I still laugh but I find it disturbing that no everyone else is laughing as well.

Forget the fact that their solution for raising the literacy level seems to be lowering the bar so that the little darlings don’t have to work so hard. It’s annoying but no more than No Child Left behind seems to strive for in a more sweeping and institutional way. No, what appalls me is that they (or rather, this woman, Ms. Bell) propose that standard English spelling be changed to reflect only pronunciation

Really? Whose pronunciation, Ms Bell?

  • Yours?
  • Mine?
  • Sean Connery’s?
  • P. Diddy’s?

Can you say entrenched regional differences, Ms. Bell? Well, she could say it but being British, when she said it I suspect it would sound vastly different than when I – having grown up in Houston – said it. And then what of the poor people taking notes? How would they spell it? According to her pronunciation or mine?

Ms Bell, on behalf of the society, states – in poorly spelled emails – that current English spelling gives you no clue as to the meaning of the word. Hell-buckets woman! Half the time the word in context isn’t much help either. Again, I point of the vast regional differences of English across the globe. The usage differences between US and UK English alone take up vast amounts of space on the shelves at the neighborhood linguistic society.

What a terrible idea this is! You want to improve the literacy levels and skills of children? How about making them learn rather than changing the answer to suit their TXT MSG abilities. What is wrong with a little memorization? Broaden the range of reading materials or – I can’t stress this enough – bring back sentence diagramming.

This whole thing reminds me – I have similar comments about the multiplication tables. My father, who loves math and all things algebra, has been tutoring junior high math this past year and instead of doing the tables as I recall doing over and over, the kids just now do it on calculators. They can’t do any math in their head. I’m not asking they be able to do advanced calculus with their hands tied behind their backs. But they ought to be able to do 5×5 in their heads.


Sorry to rant – but wow, that got me going this morning.

Wordage of the Day

Came across 100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know from the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries and the Houghton Mifflin Company. Glancing over the list, I’d say that by the time I graduated high school, I knew all but three of them. It’s unlikely I was using the word “tautology” in regular conversation but I was certainly familiar with it. I’d also say with some assurance that if I pulled 20 high school seniors off the streets right now, less than half of them could say the same. This makes me sad. But – never let it be said that I don’t throw stones at my own glass house as well as at glass houses of others. What the heck is ‘moiety’??? – off to look it up.