Category Archives: Corporate communications

A what?

In a Guardian profile of Labour’s heir apparent, Keir Starmer, the writer’s ‘heart sinks’ when she asks for a sample of Labour’s big vision, only to receive: ‘An economy that works for everybody.’ But then, apparently, he ‘conjures up a glimpse of his vision of a Labour party that people might actually want to vote for.’ To whit:

‘an absolute skills agenda’? What in God’s name is that supposed to mean? And is this really ‘a glimpse of a vision people might want to vote for’?

Why can’t Decca Aitkenhead – generally one of The Guardian’s most perceptive and thoughtful journos – see that this is precisely the kind of constipated language that has helped drive a wedge between Labour and voters? That’s not a headline for an ambitious, bold project. That’s not even a headline. A political headline has to be something people might say to one another; something that touches a nerve, that has people thinking: “That’s right! That’s what I’ve always said!” Who has ever said, would ever say, “You know, what we need is an absolute skills agenda”?


That’s a headline. It may not be a great headline, but I only spent 10 or 11 seconds on it. I’m sure I could come up with better. But it is at least a headline.

Rule #1 of political messaging: if you can’t imagine a couple of punters swapping it over a pint, it’s valueless – at best.  Why doesn’t she understand this? Why doesn’t he? Maybe because he’s an ex-QC and she’s a lifelong Guardianista. And maybe that’s Labour’s problem in a nutshell.

Not that I’m a politico. But I am a communicator. And unless Labour high-fliers start grasping some of the basics, we might just as well read the last rites now and have done with it.

The Oxford comma: the story that rolls on, and on, and on, and…

Following recent undeniably somewhat anal discussion of the OC, a hot-off-the-press story illustrating how it’s not just a matter of aesthetics. No indeed – real cash money can be at stake.

As the piece summarizes:

Exemption F….lists which work activities do not count for overtime pay:

The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of:

Agricultural produce;

Meat and fish product; and

Perishable foods

If there was an Oxford comma after “packing for shipment” then neither “packing” not “distribution” would be covered by overtime pay. However, without it, “packing for shipment or distribution” count as one activity: packing. Distribution is not covered in the list of overtime exemptions. So they should get paid for it.

So there you have it: take care with your Ps & Qs…and your Oxford commas.

(For the full story:

Apples, pears, and bananas

Editing some copy written in American recently, I grumbled to myself about all the Oxford commas – the ones like those in the subject line, that appear entirely redundantly in sentences involving lists. As though ‘Apples, pears and bananas’ is somehow wrong. It’s all a hangover from a pompous and smug notion of the language that allows the supposedly educated to sneer at their supposed educational inferiors, and I loath it.

Then what should turn up in my inbox but this, from a friend:

Illustrating, amusingly, that while often redundant, and certainly not to be used invariably, the OC has its place.

I say!

Can’t recall what I was googling, but somehow I found myself at a glossary of terms which will prove invaluable to my many readers who have expressed an interest in gaining entry to the upper echelons of society. I pass it on as a public service:

Always — most “correct” pronunciations are unguessable from the spelling, so the uninitiated will give themselves away. Thus it is with “always”, as Kingsley Amis explains in The King’s English: “AWLwhizz is the thing to say if you can manage it. I never really can.”

Beaulieu — home to Lord and Lady Montagu, and pronounced (naturally) “Byoo–lee”. Any attempt to speak a name of French origin in a French manner betrays one as an outsider who strives to seem sophisticated.

Belvoir — as per the previous rule, this castle is pronounced “beaver”. Other rural retreats for the wellbred include those pronounced “badger” and “bugger”.

Cecil — pronounced Sissle.

Cholmondeley — pronounced “Chumley”. Best said while affecting a weary aristocratic ennui that is so overpowering one simply can’t be bothered to enunciate all the syllables of a long word.

clothes — Kingsley Amis: “I admit that I should rather like to be able to say close but from fear of being misunderstood do not dare.”

forehead — rhymes with “horrid”.

golf — in the good old days, was always pronounced “goff”.

hoi polloi
— Greek for “the plebs”. To say “the hoi polloi”, which means “the the plebs”, instantly identifies you as a pleb.

how d’you do — what to say when you meet the Queen. Do not follow the example of Kate Middleton’s mother, who said “Pleased to meet you”. Of course you are pleased to meet the Queen. She is the Queen.

infra dig — Latin, short for infra dignitatem, “beneath one’s dignity” or demeaning, as it would be to say “settee”.

jolly — means “very”, as in Boris Johnson’s memory of smoking cannabis: “It was jolly nice.” (If one must say “very”, one pronounces it “vair”.)

loo — or perhaps “lavatory”, but never “toilet” or “WC” or “bathroom”.

Magdalen College, Oxford — pronounced “maudlin”.

Magdalene College, Cambridge — also pronounced “maudlin”, in order to fuel the oik’s superstitious awe of the homogeneous “Oxbridge” class conspiracy.

marvellous — quite good. Only two syllables: “marvlous”.

napkin — not “serviette”, unless you are literally in France.

non–U — often attributed to Nancy Mitford, the terms “U” (upperclass) and “non–U” were first coined by the British linguist Alan Ross in his 1954 paper “Linguistic class-indicators in present-day English”. As well as noting the correct ways to address knights and baronets, and matters of pronunciation and vocabulary, it featured useful social observations: “When drunk, gentlemen often become amorous or maudlin or vomit in public, but they never become truculent.”

orf — the right way to say “off”.

Orff — German composer most famous for his 1970s Old Spice adverts.

posh — the Non–U way to say “smart”.

rarely — means “really”.