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Going live today

15/02/2012

Okay, so it’s time to stop dithering and get this thing started.

I put the original post up in October as a way of testing the water by gauging reactions, to provoke hostile or helpful comments. I have since conducted a campaign of detailed and exhaustive market research – that is to say, I have tentatively raised the topic with friends, of both the flesh-and-blood and online variety – and from their responses now believe that there is real interest in, and potential for, this approach. It’s certainly not going to be a daily blog, but from time to time I will post commentary and examples of small errors of spelling or punctuation which have had costly and/or embarrassing consequences.

Accuracy matters, not only in legal documents, and it’s a courtesy to people, also. Just as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ smoothes our daily transactions with others, so clear and precise written language makes mutual comprehension easier and more pleasant for all.

Whether you like it or not, English is the lingua franca of the online world.  It’s going to stay that way, at least until we are all speaking Mandarin in a few centuries. For the time being, however, if you are an Estonian or Korean selling goods or services to Zambia or Central America, chances are that you will be doing so in English. Let’s face it, if you are an Estonian selling to anyone other than a Finn, you’ll be doing it in English! If you want to describe your product, and if you want to avoid any disputes arising from the transaction, there must be no room for disagreement in the language used.

Of course, the dominance of English as a second language means that we British have become lazy and complacent about speaking other languages. Americans are generally worse, of course, but they do have the excuse of living on a continent, whereas we live on a tiny island. There’s an old joke which I first heard in Norway, but which is popular throughout the Nordic countries:

What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

Bilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

Trilingual.

What do you call someone who speaks just one language?

British.

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