Category Archives: General

Another Quiet Blog

There are plenty of blogs which are like abandoned houses. No sign of life, no posts for ages. The quiet blogs.

When I started this blog as My English Lab I saw it as a place where I could pursue my interest in how the English language is used. At the time I was looking at using it to help promote a program of English language learning online. I did not pursue that business project.

Neither, as is clear from even a cursory glance, did I pursue the development of this blog.

That raises the question of what to do.

With various other blogs going, I simply don’t have the time, or at least the determination, to keep this going, at least for the foreseeable future.

Also, although I’d purchased the domain, I had not ‘turned it on’ so to speak. When I had an offer recently for the domain, I accepted it, so I no longer own the domain.

So I’m wondering which of the following options to implement:

  • delete it
  • put on ice and possibly return to it one day
  • change the name and re-purpose it

The historian in me doesn’t like the idea of deleting it. I can’t see what I would do with it at a later date, but it may have some curiosity value to someone who stumbles across it.

Now that I’ve sold the domain,, it seems a bit pointless, and perhaps just not good form, to keep using the name My English Lab.

I’ll sleep on it.

Why Automated Translations Are Risky

When someone wants a translation into English and feel they cannot afford to hire a translator, it could be tempting to use an online service like Babelfish.

That might help in getting a bit of an idea, but it is risky.

Back in the 19th century, a couple of Portuguese translators produced an English phrasebook which was so bad it was reproduced for ages as a bit of a joke, under the title “English as She is Spoke”.

Someone has now gone one better and compared some Portuguese phrases with the translations in the original phrasebook and translations from the online Babelfish service.

Here is an example:

Portuguese: Vamos mais depressa. Nunca vi pior besta. Não quer andar, nem para diante, nem para trás.
Accurate translation: Let’s go faster. I never saw a worse animal. It doesn’t want to go either forward or backward.
That phrasebook: Go us more fast never i was seen a so much bad beast; she will not nor to bring forward neither put back.
Babelfish: We go more fast. Never vi worse crossbow. It does not want to walk, nor forward, nor stops backwards.

So be careful about relying on those online services!

Real Estate and the Roaming Apostrophe

The real estate liftout in the weekend newspapers is always a treasure trove of grammatical errors.

* Located in one of the most highly sort after areas of Tallebudgera Valley, you will be drawn into the peace and privacy of this large renovated family home.

Well, maybe you will be drawn in if you do decide to be located etc, but they really mean that the large, renovated family home is located there. And we have a by no means rare appearance of “sort after? instead of “sought after?. From years of reading the Sydney Morning Herald property pages I can attest that this error is not just a Gold Coast usage.

The roaming apostrophe has a field day and although my previous post here was on the apostrophe, I just have to list some of my finds from last Saturday’s Gold Coast Bulletin (?the Bully?) real estate section.

* The Seller’s have moved on, creating a great opportunity for astute investors.

* Having it’s own direct private access to the beach, ‘Breakers North’ is situated in a much sought after location.

Hmmmm, ‘Breakers North’: that’s one of the other amusing features of the real estate pages. Not content with letting apostrophes roam around to turn up where they don’t belong (?it’s own direct private access?), evidently the people who write this stuff don’t know that when you use quotation marks like that, either in the single or double formation, you are saying in effect that the item referenced is not real or is fake, or that this is the nickname of the entity (as in the previous paragraph here, “the Bully?) or quoting a word or phrase.

There is an extensive collection of erroneous uses of quotation marks, with some quite humorous comments, at The Gallery of “Misused? Quotation Marks.

More on these lines from the Bully:

* ‘Palm Springs Residence’ is a stunning Beachfront building that oozes style and sophistication (now there’s an original expression!) …

* Offered ‘For Sale’ by extremely motivated vendor’s apartment XXX is stunning… (so it’s not really for sale – and slipped a superfluous apostrophe in there too, as well as leaving out a comma before “apartment?)

* The Magnificence of ‘Marquis on Main’ (well, let us in on the secret, what’s its real name?)

English can be such a rich and expressive language. It’s a great pity that people understand it so little they have to hang little decorations on words in this way, no doubt expecting that this will make their copy more interesting, little realising that it just makes some people either laugh or feel sorry for them. 

There has to be a market for a basic guide to using English in real estate advertisements, doesn’t there? Maybe not.

And I acknowledge I may be fighting a losing battle on the use of “sort after? in place of “sought after?. A quick google on “real estate sort after? (without the quotation marks) gave me 13.2 million results! It was clear from reading a handful of them that the authors were deadly serious.

Apostrophe Madness

At the local farmers’ market the other day I saw a sign which showed that the owner had no clue about when to use the apostrophe, or rather when not to use it.

On the sign, everything that had a plural had an apostrophe, not the way I used it in the previous paragraph, as an indication of the ‘possessive’, i.e. “farmers’ market” (market of the farmers) but in the form of a totally superfluous indication of the plural – thus, vegetable’s, cake’s, biscuit’s, jam’s.

There’s a good summary of when to use and not use the apostrophe at the Apostrophe Protection Society website. 


Pour encourager les autres

Hang on, this is my English lab isn’t it? So what am I doing with a post title in French? Well, it’s mainly because the English translation – ‘in order to encourage the others’ – doesn’t convey the meaning, or the nuance (another bit of French now Englished)of the French phrase.

By the way, nuance is a great word. It means a subtle difference in meaning, or opinion or attitude.

The original quote ‘pour encourager les autres’ is in Voltaire’s Candide, as quoted here by Alex Moffatt:

Dans ce pay-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres.
In this country it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others.

So ‘to encourage’ or ‘encourager’ is of course used ironically, to mean that you ‘make an example of’ someone in a prominent position, with the implication that they might not personally deserve such treatment, so that others who have prominent positions, and indeed people further down the line, will be put on their mettle, or put on their toes.

As the nightly tv news shows pictures of the riots in Paris and even the President’s intervention seems less than successful, I’ve been wondering whether the French Government might take the route so often taken in the past by kings and queens and now by governments, in various countries, and sacrifice some high ranking minister, police chief or other prominent person to mollify the mob and also pour encourager les autres. Will Be Better With Domain Hosting

As the platform for this blog,, is in beta and supplied free of charge, it’s might seem churlish to complain of lack of features. Nevertheless, and allowing for the fine features it has, I can’t help feeling that the WordPress people are letting the side down by not having set up an arrangement for domain hosting.

I’ve actually registered the domain and, all other things being equal, would like to be able to link it to this blog. The other day I started to spell out to a friend the current web address (url), – I was half way through when he said, “too long”. I agree – it would have been so much easier to say “myenglishlab (all one word) dot com”.

There is a related limitation in not having your own domain from the outset, when your domain name is tied to a third party web hosting service, such as (or in the case of this blog That’s the problem of losing readers and search engine recognition. Darren Rowse has posted about that on his ProBlogger blog and the moral of that piece seems to be that the sooner you get your own domain and stick to it, the better. 

One option for this site would be to use the downloadable version of WordPress and install it on my own server, then use my own domain name. I’ve been more than a bit frustrated about the challenges that offers to me as a non-technical person in setting up my site, but I may be close to having figured out enough what needs to be done for this to be a realistic option for My English Lab. And the deal I’m on with my web hosting service, HostingBay, means that making that move will only cost me about AU$20 (US$15).

English Use and Usage

This is the first of a series of posts on English use and usage. My intention is that, over time, the collection of posts – under the category ‘Words & Phrases’ – will be helpful for people wanting to extend their knowledge and appreciation of the English language.

My preliminary intention was to write about ‘difficult’ words and phrases. On reflection, I decided that in doing so I would be helping to perpetuate the idea of English being a ‘difficult’ language. My belief is rather that English is an ‘interesting’ language. It is a living language and as long as it is living, it will be constantly changing and adapting, taking on new words and forms: it will never be able to be pinned down.

It’s not that I don’t recognise that people coming new to English can find it a challenging language. I do recognise that. By the same token, I found Latin, Greek, French and German ‘difficult’ when I first attempted them. I would be hard put to express myself in any of them these days, but I don’t see them any more as intrinsically ‘difficult’. My view now is that that learning any language can be challenging and if you decide that it is going to be an ‘interesting’ journey you will inevitably learn more, and more enjoyably and effectively, than if you embed in your subconscious mind the conviction that the language is ‘difficult’.

So my aim in this series of posts is to write about words and phrases that I find interesting. I hope my readers will also find them so.

Some of the posts, like this one, will seek to shine a light on distinctions between similar words and between words which have quite different meanings but are sometimes used, inappropriately, as if they meant the same thing.

Use and usage

It seems a good idea to start this series with a fundamental distinction, between use and usage.

What is the difference between ‘use’ and usage’? Both come from the same Latin word usus (noun), which in turn is from the verb uti – to use. So how do they differ?

The difference is subtle but useful.

The noun ‘use’ comes from the verb ‘use’, meaning to employ for a given purpose or put into action, and larger dictionaries will list many variations and adaptations of that basic meaning. Examples are: ‘I use a keyboard to type in these words’ ‘I use a knife and fork to eat my dinner’, ‘I use short words in speaking with small children, because they probably won’t understand long words’. So the noun ‘use’ (with the ‘s’ as in ‘goose’, not, as for the verb, as in ‘cruise’) means a given purpose or application. Examples would be: ‘The English language is in common use around the world’ , ‘I put my keyboard to good use’.

For the noun ‘usage’ the basic dictionary definition can look pretty much the same as that for ‘use’, but with ‘usage’ there is a sense of ‘continued’ or ‘common’ use. And with language, the distinction is that ‘usage’ is the way the language is actually used, as distinct from what might look correct if you try to construct a sentence or phrase from a dictionary and grammar book. Examples would be: ‘Although old-fashioned grammarians say you should never split an infinitive, that is done every day in common usage.’ and ‘I was taught at school that every sentence must have a verb, but actual usage shows that many excellent writers include in their work ‘sentences’ without verbs, such as ‘His arrival at any gathering was always a dramatic event. Bold. Arresting.’

How useful is this distinction? Well, in everyday life it probably doesn’t have a lot of application, but for me it is an interesting distinction, partly because of the origin of the words. As indicated above, both use and usage come to us from the Latin usus, but usage has arrived via Old French, from the 14th century AD.

But there is a very practical consideration here.

Anyone who wants to be a highly confident, fluent speaker of English would do well to develop an insatiable curiosity to know the appropriate usage, which is a way of employing language at a higher level than technically correct use.

For those who want to have a ready reference on this subject, I recommend The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage.