Act of God

On the BBC News this morning they were interviewing people who were getting off a ferry in Dover at the end of incredibly long journeys back to the UK. One of them was asked if his travel insurance would reimburse him for the extra costs he had incurred and he said that the costs weren’t covered as the volcano was seen as an “act of god”.

That got me thinking. Three points sprang to mind.
  1. Is it still reasonable for insurance companies to use medieval language like “act of god”? I mean, insurance policies are very carefully composed. Does language like that really have a place in a legal document in the twenty-first century?
  2. Given that some (many? most?) insurance companies apparently think it’s ok to use this nonsensical language in policies, is there a business opportunity for an insurance company that specialises in rational policies? I’d be more inclined to buy a policy that didn’t expect me to accept the existence of mythical creatures from the bronze age.
  3. The “act of god” clause is used to get out of paying for things that the insurance company don’t want to pay for. It’s effectively shorthand for “something that we couldn’t have predicted” (but isn’t that pretty much the whole point of insurance anyway?) But, of course, nothing is an act of god. Things like the volcanic ash cloud are simply natural processes. So if an insurance company tried to get out of paying for something by saying that it’s an act of god, would it be possible to take them to court and expose this claim as the nonsense that it is? Has anyone tried that?

Nothing is an act of god. So surely nothing should be excluded from insurance cover because of that clause. So I don’t understand why it’s still included in policies.

Any insurance experts out there who would like to explain it to me?

Guerrilla vs Gorilla

On the train home I was pondering the difference between guerrilla marketing and gorilla marketing.

Antonio points out that the Cadbury’s Phil Collins advert might be an example of gorilla marketing, but I think it’s probably deeper than that.

According to Wikpedia:

Guerrilla marketing is an unconventional system of promotions that relies on time, energy and imagination rather than a big marketing budget. Typically, guerrilla marketing tactics are unexpected and unconventional; consumers are targeted in unexpected places, which can make the idea that’s being marketed memorable, generate buzz, and even spread virally.

In comparison, gorilla marketing is probably all about alpha males beating their chests and flinging faeces.

I know which type of marketing I’d rather use.


Literacy and Professionalism

I remember a time, not very long ago, when people assumed a link between literacy and professionalism. When producing text for public consumption people would always take the time to ensure that their spelling and grammar were correct. Obvious errors in copy would be seen as a lack of attention to detail and would throw grave doubts on your level of professionalism.

Those days are long over. Here are a couple of good examples from today.

Firstly, I got an email from an agent who was asking if I’d be interested in a requirement that she was trying to fill. Her email began like this:

I hope your well?

That is, of course, a perfectly reasonable sentiment to start an email with. It’s just a shame that her grammar let her down so badly. As well as confusing “you’re” and “your”, she has also tried to turn a sentence into a question. All in all it gives a bad impression of her company. If they can’t be bothered to spend the time getting the grammar right in an email, then can they be trusted to check a contract carefully?

Then, this afternoon, on Twitter, Chris Applegate made this observation:

My, there are a *lot* of “gorilla marketing” experts on LinkedIn

Would you consider taking marketing advice from someone who didn’t know the difference between “gorilla” and “guerilla”? I suspect that gorillas have a rather different marketing style to guerillas.

LinkedIn acts as a combination of a CV and an advertising hoarding. Seeing how you describe yourself there will often be the first impression that people have of your work. Making fundamental errors in your description can’t be a good idea. Are there really so many people out there looking for marketing people that they don’t care if you’re a gorilla or a guerilla? Or are the gorilla marketing experts aiming their services at clients who don’t know the difference either.

I strongly suspect that it’s the latter option that is closer to the truth. There are so many people out there who have a no real understanding of how the English language works that it really doesn’t matter whether or not you use it correctly. It’s only a rapidly shrinking group of curmudgeons like me who will ever notice.

I suppose that before I publish this, I should really go over my LinkedIn profile with a fine-toothed comb. I don’t think there are any errors, but I’m sure that my eagle-eyed readers will be able to spot one or two.


R U Avail?

An SMS that I have received twice today:

Hello. R U Avail & Looking 4 work? I have a 3 mnth contract at the BBC – £310 P/Day 4 a good Perl Dev? If yes pls call ASAP at [removed] – Rgrds Kathe @ PCR

Even if I was available and looking “4” work, I’d almost certainly be hoping to work with an agent who gives off an air of professionalism. Not one who thinks it’s appropriate to use “txtspk” when talking to potential clients.

Or am I being too old-fashioned?


Tesco Improves its English

From the BBC:

Tesco is to change the wording of signs on its fast-track checkouts to avoid any linguistic dispute.

The supermarket giant is to replace its current “10 items or less” notices with signs saying “Up to 10 items”.

Tesco’s move follows uncertainty over whether the current notices should use “fewer” instead of “less”

It’s good, of course, that they’re finally going to change it to something that is grammatically correct. But what’s this “uncertainty” over the current phrase? “10 items or less” is obviously incorrect. There’s no uncertainty about that at all.



You don’t have to be stupid to work for Radio 1. But it often helps.

Someone called Dom, writes on the Chris Moyles show blog:

Now then – the BBC has its own in-house magazine called Ariel. This
name is very clever as it can relate to a TV ariel or a radio ariel.

Two basic mistakes here. Firstly if you’re talking about a TV or radio antenna, then the correct spelling of “ariel” is “aerial”. Secondly, the BBC magazine is called “Ariel” after the Eric Gill statue of Shakespeare’s Prospero and Ariel on the front of Broadcasting House.

Makes you wonder what they teach them at school these days.


Quoting Illiterates (Update)

An email has flooded in about my previous post confirming that I was being too harsh. My correspondent points out that the mother was illiterate, she was just using “txtspk” which, whilst not being a dialect that many people enjoy reading, is still becoming an acceptable language amongst the young.

I don’t agree with this for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, I accept that txtspk is a very common language amongst the young. But I think that an important part of being literate is knowing the appropriate language to use in different circumstances. And, in my opinion, using txtspk when talking about her son like that is inappropriate. To me it shows a lack of respect. I accept that not everyone will agree with me.

But secondly, let’s look more closely at what she wrote. The quotation I used was “RIP my lil angel mummy knows your still here love u always and foreva”. Some of those errors (“lil”, “u”, and maybe even “foreva”) are clearly txtspk so we’ll ignore them. But “your” isn’t txtspk (that would be “ur”, as I understand it) and it’s not good English. She means to say “you’re”. Mixing up homonyms like “you’re” and “your” is what marks her out as illiterate.

Maybe she isn’t illiterate. Maybe she’s just sloppy. But when all you know about someone is their writing, then you’ll obviously judge their level of literacy by what they have written. To me, it’s important that my writing gives as good an impression of me as possible. It seems that other people aren’t as bothered about first impressions as I am.

By the way, I enjoy getting feedback on my blog in any form. But the best way is to add a comment. That way all of the conversation takes place in public.


Quoting Illiterates

The BBC have an interesting report on the baby who was mauled to death by the family rottweiler. The story talks about the child’s mother’s reaction to the death. It’s interesting because of the way that they report what she says.

The quotations from the mother in the story obviously come from two sources – one is is probably a spoken interview and the other is things that she has written on her Bebo profile.

In the spoken interview, the BBC reporter has translated what she has says into standard English. So she’s quoted as saying “My boy was my world. He is loved by many. He will always be in our hearts, never to be forgotten”. But the Bebo page is quoted verbatim, so we suffer the full force of the mother’s illiteracy – “RIP my lil angel mummy knows your still here love u always and foreva”.

Oh, I know what you’re all thinking (the less cynical of you, at least). You’re thinking that I’m being too harsh. That people should be allowed to be illiterate in their grief or that this kind of language is raw or even poetic. I say nonsense. If there’s one time in you’re life when you want to hang onto whatever dignity that you can, then surely it’s when you’re in mourning. Going through something like the loss of a child is bad enough at any time. It can only be worse when you’re going through it in the public eye as this family are.

Which makes the way that the BBC has reported this seem a bit strange to me. I’m not sure that “woman writes about her dead son on social web site” is really newsworthy anyway, but if you’re going to report it you could at least spare the poor woman the embarrassment of her obviously tenuous grasp on the English language.

Or perhaps I am just being too harsh.


Double Negatives

If there’s one time in your life when it pays to be very careful about what you’re saying, then it’s when you’re answering questions about crimes that you have been accused of. You know, there’s that whole “anything you say will be taken down and can be used in evidence against you” thing going on.

So it’s depressing to read what Yasemin Vatansever (one of the girls who has been caught smuggling drugs out of Ghana) has to say for herself. At the end of a barely literate phone conversation, the BBC quotes her as saying:

We don’t know nothing about this drugs and stuff.

Which, when you think about it, is about as good a confession as you can hope for.



Did I miss a memo about English spelling reform? More and more people seem to be spelling ridiculous as “rediculous”. Have they all been infected by the same typo? Or is it some street-talk that I’m unacquainted with?