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With a professional background in publishing and investment research, I know the vital importance of clarity and accuracy in written language. Now I translate and edit for money. This blog highlights cases where errors cost embarrassment, ridicule or cash. The motto is, in the wise words of Robert Townsend: \"If you don\'t do it with excellence, don\'t do it at all! Because if it\'s not excellent, it won\'t be profitable or fun, and if you\'re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing there?\" Email: webwrights [at]

Times two

As you can see, in the quest to bring you examples of egregious English, the range of our reading material is wide. Today’s example comes from The Times of India, and echoes the previous post in its abuse of ‘times’.


No, the service is not thirteen times cheaper. It is one thirteenth of the cost!

Incidentally, I left the photo there in case (as the paper appears to believe) anybody doesn’t know what a phone looks like.


O Tempora. O morons

This extract is from an article in yesterday’s Times, on the increasing use of digital technology in the Civil Service. It’s by Rachel Sylvester, who should know better; as should the Daily Murdoch‘s sub-editors:

“As if to prove the point, the computers at the Government Digital Service cost two-thirds less than those in other departments. At the same time, the average cost of a digital transaction is 20 times less than using the phone, 30 times lower than the post and 50 times lower than a face-to-face arrangement.”

No. It’s not “x times less than”. In the first sentence, the GDS computers cost a third, or 33%, of the others. In the second, the cost is a twentieth, thirtieth or fiftieth of. It could, alternatively, be five, three or two per cent of. “X times less than” is sloppy, illogical, meaningless drivel.


In the quotidian corruption of English English, one example is the progressive abuse of the word ‘charge’ in the reporting of criminal matters. Over here, people have customarily been charged with a criminal offence. Increasingly, however, the papers are reporting people as being charged for an offence.

On page 9 of today’s Times, for example, you can read that “a French photographer suspected of taking topless pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge has been charged for allegedly breaching her right to privacy”.

I wonder just how much she thought it was appropriate to charge him for getting an extended eye- and lens-ful of her (frankly unexceptional) breasts. The Middletons are, after all, portrayed as being relentlessly commercial. Did she demand cash up-front, or did she hand the paparazzo a pro-forma invoice on the customary 30-day terms?

To me, being charged for something means being presented with a bill requiring payment for a service or purchase supplied. Thus ‘charged for’ reads as if someone is required to pay for permission to do something criminal. This usage becomes especially perverse and revolting, of course, when they are ‘charged for’ rape or other forms of assault. It sounds analogous to the freedoms provided by, say, a fishing or hunting licence.

* Anyway, it’s Friday so we all need a laugh. The word ‘charge’ sometimes brings to mind John Alexander as bonkers Cousin Teddy in the exquisite  black comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. Cousin Teddy is firmly convinced that he is President Teddy Roosevelt. Whenever he goes upstairs, he imagines himself at The Battle of San Juan Hill, draws his imaginary cutlass, and

Oh, you don’t get me. I’m part of the onion

… as Strawbs (born 1964, and amazingly still extant) did NOT sing 40 years ago!

The Unite trade union has been in the news lately for (allegedly) fixing the constituency elections for Labour parliamentary candidates, to (allegedly) manipulate its own (allegedly) hardline members – and (allegedly) friends and lovers of the union’s own upper echelon – into safe seats at the next General Election; allegedly. The union’s General Secretary appears to feel that, since it bankrolls the Labour Party, it should have a dominant hand in dictating party policy. It is, perversely, anathema for those who bankroll any other party to share that proprietorial opinion; allegedly.

Previously, the Deputy General Secretary, Jack Dromey (husband of the risible Harriet Harman) had miraculously managed to get onto the supposedly all-women shortlist for a safe seat, and was elected to Parliament in 2010. This was after Unite had failed in its attempt to ‘buy’ him a seat (Wolverhampton North East) for £1m, ahead of the 2007 ‘election that never was’, as revealed by the Labour Party’s then General Secretary; no need for a libel-conscious ‘allegedly’ there!

What a pity that the mighty union – a final amalgamation in 2007 of many smaller unions, which began in the late 1980s – does not appear to count a single proof-reader among its vast membership. This sign is proudly displayed outside union headquarters:


Unions once had a place. There was a real need to organise at one time, but it is too bad some things live on after they have served their purpose. Unions still have a place; it just hasn’t been dug yet. [Lucas Howerter]


Although “Woman has baby” should be about as startling a headline as “Sun rises in East”, the entire world seems to have gone soppy about a particular episode of parturition in London yesterday. Certainly the rigorous quality control of the BBC has gone AWOL, as can be seen from this screen-grab:

ruddDon’t worry about the world coming to an end today.  It’s already tomorrow in Australia.  [Charles M. Schulz]

EDIT: The following day, Private Eye‘s front cover read simply (and hyoooogely): “WOMAN HAS BABY”. Bloody right, too!

Through thick and thin. Threw thick and thicker

This man is a British MP. Ye gods!


Weekend reminder. We provide:

Anglais clair et précis pour le monde en ligne

Klare und präzise Englisch für die Online-Welt

η σαφής και ακριβής αγγλική γλώσσα για τον κόσμο σε απευθείας σύνδεση

Clara y precisa Inglés para el mundo en línea

Clara i precisa Anglès per al món en línia


Klar och exakt Engelska för den digitala världen

Claras e precisas Inglês para o mundo on-line

Saesneg clir a chywir ar gyfer y byd ar-lein

Duidelijk en precies Engels voor de online wereld

Duidelike en akkurate Engels vir die aanlyn wêreld

Kirkas ja tarkka Englanti verkkomaailmaan

Четкий и точный английский язык для мира онлайн

Inglese chiaro e preciso per il mondo on-line

Wazi na sahihi ya Kiingereza kwa ajili ya dunia online

オンラインの世界のために明確かつ正確な英 語

Hreinsa og nákvæm Enska fyrir online heiminum

Bahasa Inggris yang jelas dan tepat untuk dunia online

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”

My other paper is The Financial Times. The reason that it never features in these columns is that, by contrast with the (quite possibly non-existent) sub-editors of The Times, the FT‘s subbies are excellent. The FT is a paper of record for finance and business, and mistakes are therefore rare.

When a mistake is made, however, it is likely to be a lulu. It will be something as blindingly obvious as the (possibly apocryphal) architect who forgot to include a staircase in his design.

And so it was this very morning, top-right in the masthead on the front page. Janan Ganesh is the paper’s established and very readable political correspondent and, incidentally, author of a fine biography of George Osborne.

Janan Ganesh, that is, and not …


Sorry about the distributor’s sticker.  The whole thing reads: “Memo to Osborne: time for flinty candour”. The FT awaits the revenge of the elephant god.

Thanks to George Eaton and Guido Fawkes for this.

Getting all Poe-faced

There is a danger that ‘corrective’ blogs such as this could deteriorate into extended, self-righteous sneers at the perceived faults of others. So, just for a refreshing change, here without any finger-wagging is a neat piece of literary allusion from the University of Virginia:



Is that a piece of the peace, or the whole peace?