Archive for February, 2013

Entertaining – but is it real? (Why I love the internet)

February 22, 2013

Entertaining – but is it real?  This image was doing the geek facebook links:

ship shipping

Thanks to tineye and the net, the ship (Blue Marlin) and some of its other cargoes can be seen at .   Other sites confirm that it has carried other ships, including submarines and the ISS Cole.

The image is:

Thanks to Google Translate, I can say it carries

22 barges, each of which weighs in at 3 thousand tons

It is real.

It is, truly,  a ship shipping ship shipping shipping ships.

And, oh my, it is immense: it is hard for one’s  mind to grasp the vast scale of its design.

Just knowing it is there, and  that it is a ship shipping ship shipping shipping ships, improves my day.

Decimate and exit linked to impoverished vocabularies

February 17, 2013

“Exiting” has joined  “decimated”  in the list of abused words.

Introduction: Postmodernism free zone

Before someone comments that it is now common usage to use “decimate” and “exit” in weird ways, and  that it is  therefore acceptable, I will argue that that approach is a sad combination of cultural relativism and postmodernism.  The end result of that approach I heard from a furious 16 year-old:

“The teacher used the wrong word, so I told her the right one, and she said it was “just semantics”.  What is good English without semantics?  I don’t think  she knows what that word means, either!”

I have seen an official Education Department document which said that students should understand texts which “infer” … the context made it clear that the students should infer.   What hope do the students have, if the Education Department’s proof readers don’t care about correct usage?

This is leading to difficulties in education.  Where teachers used to feel that  light romances were better than reading nothing, and that the newspapers were good reading practice, they now use these as sources for examples of errors to avoid.    It is much harder now for the weak reader, even with the teacher’s assistance, to develop from the sparse and faulty vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation allowed by modern editors to understanding complex texts :  the multitude of bad examples tends to outweigh the good, and leaves the reader confused when the language is used correctly.

Yes,  English is a living language, and like a garden will have new growths and mutations.

I believe that it is wise to weed and prune the garden, so that we can continue to be able to understand the patterns between words, as well as to read writings of people from all countries and eras with as little translation work as possible.  Some changes are welcome; changes which impoverish the language or confuse meanings are to be abhorred – and weeded out most enthusiastically.

What is wrong with the way they use “decimated” and “exited”?


Recently and increasingly used  to mean “almost annihilate”

“Decimated” is a vivid word for those who have read descriptions of the formal execution of one in each group of ten soldiers in a mutinous legion. The calculated brutality of having the one who draws the fatal lot clubbed  to death by their nine group-mates   is worth remembering.   Semi-iterate editors have permitted it to be used for killed half of,  almost exterminated,  ravaged …. check a thesaurus, perhaps.

One author (whose blushes I shall spare) used “decimate” incorrectly about ten times in 100 pages – and did not use other forms to give more precise descriptions of the depredations of an invading army.  “Decimate”‘ every time.

Another to-remain-nameless author had a character describe the situation of a group in a battle as like cattle in a corral. then described them as “decimated” .  Surely  “slaughtered” was the obvious word.

If people want a pseudo-latin term so that they can look clever, why not invent “Nonamate”?

Alas, no, just as they abuse the poetic “transpire” (the truth filters out slowly over time,  a metaphor from plant transpiration) to mean “happen, occur, take place, be seen, be reported”,  they abuse “decimate” and forget the other ways of expressing the concept.


This word is being used more and more often in light-weight writing, and is shifting from “a door” or “leave an area”  to mean “go out through”.


Sharon Latham “Miss Darcy falls in love”.

This book, like so much Austen fan-fic, fails the Austen benchmark both in style and in historical/social/emotional affect.  The repeated use of “exited” is one small part of this.  For example, I would prefer “descend from” a carriage to “exit” a carriage.

C J Cherryh 2012

New York: Daw Books

Page 296 2nd para
“He ordered a pot of tea and simply sat in his office, in the more comfortable chair, listening, after a time, to the mild disturbance of Lord Geigi and his bodyguard exiting the front door on their way to the dowager’s apartment.”

Ms Cherryh usually shows interesting and sound choices, which are well worth discussing to illuminate the range of ways one may use words and punctuation to describe emotions, situations, and events.  In this case, however, I am haunted by the image of Lord Geigi and his bodyguard being in the front door for such a time as to make that the thing they exit (as opposed to exiting the house).

At least she makes use of many synonyms.

I have even seen a newspaper article (P33 “Home” liftout, The Sunday Times, Western Australia, 17.02.2013)which warns against “letting your dog exit doorways before you”.  Why not  “letting your dog go through …”?  That even obeys Hemingway’s dubious rule for journalists.

Over the past few months I have done a lot of light reading and have noticed that, since  the 1990s, “exit” has become the Kudzu of departure words.  (For Australians, read  Carp or Water Hyacinth for Kudzu.)

“It’s just light literature”

Georgette Heyer’s early works were just light literature, published by Mills & Boon,but were well crafted.  Thurber’s “Further Fables for Our Time” were the lightest of literature, but used words correctly.   EVERY work, no matter its weight,  if it is worth hardcopy is worth attention to detail.  If the reader has to correct your English, the reader is doing the job for which you are paid and has a right to feel cheated.

Furthermore, the book full of impoverished and incorrect  vocabulary leads the inexperienced reader also to have a reduced usable vocabulary, limiting their ability to enjoy or create serious literature, rich poetry, and carefully accurate and comprehensible  explanations of that-which-is.

Conclusion: A request to editors.

In any one book or article, please restrict your authors to one use of “exited / exiting / etc” and one (unless correct) use of “decimated” – and only allow those after a strong defence of the need to use other words.  Our children need your support of their vocabulary.

Let’s revive Corrigenda – but do it online

February 13, 2013

I remember getting a new book and finding inside a piece of paper titled “Corrigenda”:  a list of corrections, in page order, so the user could update the book.  I have also seen one with a sheet titled “Errata”, but I prefer the former term: corrigenda (corrections) include changes required to meet changes in the world since the work was published, while the word errata (errors) holds connotations of fault in original form.

In modern publishing, this service has been abandoned.  I would like to see new books have, near the ISBN, the  net address of a site where readers can question word choice and grammar,  report typos and errors in fact,  and see a list of  reported and “confirmed” corrigenda .  The site should also have an address for snailmail contact by those with no email.

This feedback would be valuable for the publishers  as quality-control for editors and proof-readers,  as feedback on reader interest, and as a guide for changes to subsequent editions.  It might be even more valuable for authors, as many modern editors seem to have very poor grasp of the rules and guidelines of formal language. (Well, the English language editors- I have no experience other languages’ puublishing.)