I Do

soupI do becomes increasingly popular, but not in the good old traditional sense of wedding promises. It is often heard in cookery shows in the form of I’ll do you a baked cod, or I do a blackberry cheesecake. All Bar One informs us with a blackboard on the pavement that they thought it best if we do lunch.

How sad.

The English language is much richer, rich of terms for fine-tuned means of expression. I’ll prepare a baked code, and I’ll create a cheesecake. Invent, make, cook, bake, fry. Attempt, construct, present. Delight in, impress with, make.

We don’t do lunch either. We have lunch, take lunch, eat lunch. We enjoy, sit down for, retire to, relax for, replenish with, delight in.

We do a lot of things, but we don’t do do.

Restraining Orders

DSC_0079I’ve got this wonderful Turkish strained yoghurt. I buy it by the 1kg bucket for use in Muesli, or with fruit, for making fresh cheese, yoghurt ice creams, Tzatziki – it’s versatile, cheap, refreshing, and delicious.

When I started a batch of fresh cheese for our Saturday supper just not long ago, I noticed that the strained yoghurt collected quite a large amount of whey. I strained it again and wonder if thus now is officially known as restraint yoghurt?

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It’s a Long One

DSC_1424We went to a fund raising event a few days ago. A small local affair, not one where diamond rings and pearl necklaces feature in the light of the press’ photographers. Ours was a simple locally organised affair, a quiz night with supper included, organised by and for friends. T-Shirts and sturdy boots all around.

As we walked to the venue, we marvelled at the unparalleled ability of the German language to daisy-chain words such that they still make sense. The charitable event is eine Wohltätigkeitsveranstaltung. I explained to one of the organisers that she’s now known as die Wohltätigkeitsveranstaltungsorganisatorin.

And these are just the ones which wouldn’t cause a raised eyebrow!

The Wohltätigkeitsveranstaltungseintrittsgebühr (the entrance fee to the aforementioned charitable event) might, though, and so might the official Wohltätigkeitsveranstaltungseintrittsgebührenverordnung (the legislation governing the aforementioned fees), or ….

Wonderful stuff. Almost beats supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.


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The Rhein River

DSC_0986British Airways’ in-flight map shows the Rhein River although every child knows it is the River Rhein. It’s also the River Thames but it is the Colorado River to you and me.  The Murray River runs through South Australia, and we never managed a paddle in the River Ouse yet. If anything, it’s the River Severn but the Mississippi River, I think.

Is there a right and a wrong at all?

Is it convention? Grammatical rule? My own free spirit and habit?

Help, please!


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Does This Look Kosher to You?

horseLast week, Liz Lui described a Korean BBQ-inspired marinade, listing a quarter of a spoon of Kosher salt as one ingredient. Kosher Salt? I have seen this mentioned a few times, so I finally made my way over to Wikipedia.  Allow me to quote:

“The term "kosher salt" derives from Germany and not from its being made in accordance with the guidelines for kosher foods as written in the Torah (nearly all salt is kosher, including ordinary table salt), but rather due to its use in making meats kosher. ” [^]

I can’t be sure, but believe Kosher Salt is what the Germans call Pökelsalz, salt for use in food preservation. The reference to the German expression of making meats kosher is an amusing linguistic round-trip though. Surely, the word Kosher originates in Yiddish, and probably once meant exactly that: in accordance to the rules detailed in the Torah. Used in colloquial German, the word now has the wider meaning of “OK,” “good,” “eatable.” A crook isn’t a kosher person either.

Kosher Salt. I learn something every day.


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More Fog and White Smoke

sunglassesI am fascinated by software that I never knew existed. Either this software provides a solution to a problem I never knew existed, or solve a known problem in a way I never new to me. The grammar and style analysers fall into the second category, potentially useful tools.

Earlier, I reported on my journey through several tools, namely White Smoke, Ginger and Grammarly, and dismissed all of them. Just when I had finished writing my report, I stumbled across more tools in the same category: the offline tools Editor Software’s StyleWriter and Serenity Software’s Editor.

As offline tools, neither StyleWriter nor Editor need an Internet connection to work. This speeds up analysis, and eliminates most security and privacy concerns (concerns the online competition seem little concerned about, judging by their half-baked statements and assurances about privacy and security).

Editor has some positive reviews. Serenity Software’s claim to fame also includes quotations from StyleWriter’s website, displaying where the competition’s marketing material fails to use good, clear English.

Frankly, I do not know how good Editor works. The tool has an archaic user interface and workflow, both unintuitive and unappealing. The general opinion gives this tool good marks on its findings, but I don’t even want to get there. It’s ugly and no fun. Dismissed.

StyleWriter has a cluttered user interface of questionable appeal, and offers half-baked integration into Microsoft Word. Their makers confirmed that they “don’t have any plans to integrate StyleWriter into other applications than Word,” and commented that “all other applications can paste text to Word for interactive editing or use the clipboard.” This fails to meet my requirements, but I am glad if this business plan works for Editor Software. Henry Ford also produced only black cars.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get StyleWriter’s Word integration to work reliably. Sometimes it worked, but in almost half the cases, the tool didn’t show the Word document‘s content, or didn’t list the work document among those available.

No matter how you present your text to StyleWriter, by copy and paste or using the Word Add-in, you’ll face a user interface suitable only for a few paragraphs. All formatting is removed, making correlation to the original document difficult. My display jumped about on some occasions, making me think they are trying to scroll both Word and StyleWriter views in sync, but this didn’t work at all. Reviewing a whole document in this manner is not workable. I feel the only reasonable user interface includes true integration with the word processor, just like Word’s built-in red and green wiggly lines.

StyleWriter fascinates me nevertheless, because the tool identified several errors and weaknesses in my writing. The most common offence is unnecessary fill words, and overuse of the  passive voice. Most comments were unspecific, and repetitive: “Shorten this sentence,” “remove fill words,” or “try using active voice,” again and again, with practical suggestions few, and far between. Only few other comments were offered, although I am certain that my writing has room for improvement in many ways.

Experimenting with these tools heightened my awareness for grammar and style. Given the unappealing and largely impracticable user interface, I fear the software would become a disused item on my hard disc, once the novelty has worn off.

I can not recommend buying any of these tools, but I can recommend experimenting with them. If you can’t decide which tool to experiment with, try StyleWriter. This is the only reasonable contestant as far as I can see, although I struggle to understand how anyone would think this user interface good enough for the 21st century.

(Click here for the first part of this article.)

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A Lot of Fog and White Smoke

fog-in-sicilyI was searching for a software solution the other day, when stumbling over Whitesmoke and Ginger. Neither was what I sought, but once intrigued, I loaded their trial versions.

Both products claim to be a better version of Microsoft Word’s spellchecker and grammar tool. These tools provide spellchecking, and claim strong validation engines for grammar and style, and producing high-quality suggestions. Various language dictionaries, translation, thesaurus, … This post is too short for the impressive list of features, so you may understand my reasons for a closer inspection.

In a nutshell: it’s a joke. Try the free trial for a good laugh, just do not spend a penny on it.

I offered the same test to both tools:

First, I gave a simple and correct sentence, which a reference to a 3.3V voltage. Incomplete sentence was the verdict when facing the decimal point.

Second, I gave a 10-page Word document. This document (none of mine ;-) sports poor grammar, many spelling and upper case errors, poor style, use of jargon, missing articles or false word choice (e.g. weather vs. whether). The analyser tools should have shone with  long lists of findings. However, notes were mostly on missing articles and words missing from the dictionary.

Third, I gave a half-page long and reasonably well-written document, with more reasonable results. One repetition was reported, and no inappropriate advise was given.

Last not least, I found Grammarly, an online tool serving the same purpose – a pure online tool, given that their Microsoft Office Add-in crashed within minutes. Grammarly’s results and suggestions were better than Whitesmoke or Ginger’s. I used Grammarly for a while in a real (technical) document. It gave plenty of advise about my use of passive voice, thank you very much, and made me conscious of my writing style. A cross-check with the poorly written document showed no overwhelming success for Grammarly though. I also found many aspects of their online tool not practical or unacceptable on various accounts.

Grammarly found more issues and provide better guidance, compared with Whitesmoke and Ginger, but is far from being useful and worth a paid subscription.

An interesting journey. The journey soon continues with the more capable contestants, StyleWriter and Editor; stay tuned.

(The second part is right here.)

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Online Fun

I don't believe in war (graffiti) Did you ever notice that LEO, the brilliant and free online dictionary, also sports voice output? I wasn’t sure about the correct pronunciation of a word, and the tool came to my rescue. Brilliant.

This appears to be based on the Linguatec Voice Reader, an impressive piece of kit that reads text out aloud, supporting a great number of languages. Most impressive.

I have no need for the Linguatec Voice Reader, but it can still make my day. You’ve got to try this: Go to the voice reader demo site (it’s right here), then enter a text of your choice. I chose this from last Friday’s post: Talking on the mobile phone while sitting in a toilet cubicle with the trousers round the ankles is, I find, hugely borderline and a sign of disrespect for the party called.

I am sure you’d be impressed by the tool. I am also sure you’d be hugely amused having it read text of one language using the language setting for another language. For example, have an English text read in French.

Cheap, harmless yet highly effective amusement. Thanks, Linguatec!

Sex in German Waters

Norfolk Broads No wonder some find German a pretty difficult language to learn. Just think about it: The ocean is male – Der Ozean –, but you can also call it das Meer,  which is neutral. The sea is die See, female, unless you are referring to a lake, in which case it becomes male: Der See.

The river is male –Der Fluß-, and so is the stream: Der Bach. Ignore for a moment that my home dialect also allows for the female stream: Die Bach. A small creak is neutral –Das Bächlein-.

It’s only logical, and perhaps the only thing logical here, that water itself, given its multi-gender deployment, is neutral: Das Wasser.

None of this holds when you switch to the plural of course.

Phew! I’m glad I don’t need to learn it.

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Care with Praise and Approval

arch One of my American colleagues often tells me that something was “AOK” (also “A-OK“). Now, I am OK with “OK”, but “AOK” really only has meaning as one of the public German health care insurers to me.

So, I wiki it. Turns out it means “spot on, fine, OK” to Americans, but the corresponding hand gesture is is considered offensive in many countries, including most European countries (but not in Spain), Brazil, Turkey, Venezuela, and many others.

So, instead of giving him an A-OK, I give him a thumbs up. Well…. better be careful with that in Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Thailand and India, though. Risky business.

My colleague provides the data I had asked for, and assures me that Okie Dokie is offensive in Yemen.

Maybe we should simply communicate with obscene gestures and explicit swearwords only. Chances of misinterpreting unfriendly words are small.


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