Sunday, February 27, 2011

Caps Lock jammed on?

Notice in our local shopping centre car park. I'm trying to imagine the stylesheets they used to design this:
Important stuff
Really important stuff
Vital safety stuff
Important vital stuff

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ship graphics

Yesterday's papers carried a story about giant new container ships which have been ordered. Obviously an opportunity for a useful graphic. Well, a graphic, anyway, in the case of The Times.

A few questions: What's the colour coded cargo represent? Can these two larger ships really be more than twice the length of the other big ships shown in grey below? Is the 18,000 container ship really the same size as the 12,000 container ship (the figures supplied suggest they are almost exactly the same size, so how come the apparently smaller one appears to have as many containers on it)?

The Guardian made a better fist of it, although much less ambitious.

The only problem with this one is that the correct unit of account to impress about the size of ships is surely the football pitch (105m) not the London bus. It's got to be something that you think is very big, that the impressive object is much bigger than. Most ships are longer than a London bus.

The greater error, of course, would be to compare it with something much bigger - for example, this ship might be big, but it's nothing like the size of Wales (or Belgium, if you want to go metric). Odd thing is, I can't think of  a unit of measurement that comes between a football pitch and Wales. The Isle of Wight, possibly.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

They know where you live

Universities are doing their best to raise funds from alumni and Reading Uni boast internally about their success in this.

Now I've seen them in action and they're formidable. They've tracked down my 91 year old mum to her retirement home in Cornwall. She did part-time art classes in 1938.

I'd thought they were using student helpers, but now I reckon it's Pinkertons.

Sansible choice

Perfect typeface choice for this shop. Thanks to Martin Evans who spotted this.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Surprise apple tarts

Readers of digital newspapers will have noticed that proof-reading's gone out of style along with paper. I love today's recipe in The Times iPad edition.

PS.  I wish I'd thought of the title of this post myself, but I've just changed it following Paul E's brilliant comment.

Dunces and Derrida

About to buy a book on graphic design and reading (I feel the author's identity needs protection) when I noticed this customer review on Amazon:
"In this book, a number of dunces show that they've heard of Derrida, who 'showed that truth is an illusion'. Gosh it's ghastly."
That's what I call deconstruction.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Plain English - does it translate?

The European Union is making a welcome effort to introduce plain language principles, and last year produced a plain language guide, How to write clearly. A recent newsletter 'Languages and translation' refers to the rise of not just English but 'bad English as the Commission’s lingua franca'. It asked a number of translators to reflect on how they adapted the guide to various different EU languages.

We know that the rules of plain English don't directly translate into other languages – for example, English has many expressions for which there are latin and anglo-saxon alternatives - the latter are seen as plainer ('get' instead of 'receive'), but the equivalent vocabulary choice is not an issue in other languages. And we can use noun clusters in a way that just doesn't work in French, so our sentences can often be shorter.

But I found myself wondering if some of the translators' comments were actually about real grammatical differences between languages, or whether they didn't hint at an earlier stage of plain language evolution in those cultures.

It was very noticeable that the recommendation, common in plain English, to use the active voice, met with resistance:

"A chapter on the use of the passive voice was modified as the use of the passive voice in Latvian is not always a bad choice."
"Hint 8 (‘Prefer active verbs to passive’) could well be valid for conversational Lithuanian, but not for legal texts. In fact, the passive often takes precedence over the active here, especially when there is an inanimate subject."
"The over-use of the passive voice may be more of a problem in English than in Portuguese, as the latter favours the impersonal active."
But Plain English also involves the introduction of a more conversational style into legal texts, and met with similar objections many years ago. The point about active sentences is that they specify the doer, and so someone has to take responsibility for an action. Passive sentences avoid commitment. I wonder if that's not the same in Latvian, Lithuanian and Portuguese.

And again:
"The most difficult bit to get around had to do with addressing the reader directly. The English guide suggested using the personal pronoun ‘you’ more often in documents — something which is certainly to be avoided in formal Portuguese. Direct address is acceptable in advertising or in direct information to the public, but in other areas it may be wiser to use impersonal constructions."
Plain English, too, is nearer to an advertising style than was once acceptable. Isn't plain Portuguese also bound to appear less formal than is traditional in official documents?

I'd love to be corrected by someone who knows what they're talking about.