Monthly Archives: August 2017

Troublesome words – refusenik

Troublesome words – refusenik

I try not to be an over-prescriptive fuss-pot when it comes to language,* believing the important thing is clarity and accepting things change with them, while obviously, as I do here, trying to share examples where, say, there are two different words that mean subtly different things and thus should be retained and used. I know people get very cross about the use of words like “decimate”, and when I get a little bit cross about things, as with swathe or swath a while ago, I try to remember to make a point of looking them up and finding out whether our big dictionary sources back me up, or not!

Here is a (perhaps more obscure) case in point. I keep hearing the word refusenik being used to describe someone who is actively refusing to do something, usually to prove a point or in some form of protest. School uniform refuseniks and the like. I knew the term in its original meaning, which is the highly specific one describing Jewish people in the former Soviet Union who were refused to be allowed to emigrate to Israel. I kind of expanded this in my mind to incorporate all people whose exit from a place is refused. The emphasis here is on the fact that they are being refused exit – someone else is doing the refusing and they are the passive objects of the refusal (grammatically speaking).

But I checked my sources, and there we are: a refusenik is perfectly able to simultaneously be someone who refuses to do something out of principle and someone who is refused exit.

** Did you notice the at least three rules I have broken in this post to prove my point about not being fussy?



Posted by on August 31, 2017 in Be careful, Language use, Writing


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Exciting news – a new publication!

Some long-term readers of this blog will already know that one of my side-projects (apart from running the odd marathon) has been a seven-year research project on Iris Murdoch. I finally got it finished over the summer, had it read by a couple of lovely people from the Iris Murdoch Society and a good friend who is also a senior academic, and I’ve had it printed up and made it available via Amazon worldwide in both print and e-book versions. Any of my book groups which are still in existence have been offered and have received e-book versions, copies of the print version will be available to buy at the upcoming Iris Murdoch Society Conference, and I’m very relieved it’s done and dusted.

“Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader” looks at reading groups in the UK and US and whether one of Murdoch’s mid-20th-century novels would make a good reading book read. Based on Reception Theory and Death of the Author, I reclaim Murdoch from the academy and the critics and return her squarely into the domain of what my reading groups preferred to call the ‘ordinary’ reader.

Buy from Amazon UK Buy from Amazon US Buy from Amazon CA Buy from Amazon AU Buy from Amazon FR Buy from Amazon ES


Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Iris Murdoch



irrupt or erupt?

irrupt or erupt?


This one was suggested by my husband, a keen birdwatcher (see below for why that’s relevant) and adder of troublesome pairs to my list.

Erupt is perhaps the better-known of the two. To erupt is to forcefully throw out rocks, lava, gas and ash, if you’re a volcano. The next meaning is to break out suddenly, usually used of something like a fight, and similarly, you can erupt into laughter, meaning it happens suddenly and forcefully. Finally, a spot or rash erupts when it appears suddenly on the skin, and a tooth erupts through a gum when it grows in your mouth and becomes visible.

To irrupt, also a verb, means to burst into somewhere, to enter suddenly or even forcibly. The kind of thing people do when they break down a door. Interestingly, I’ve seen people being described as “erupting” in this sense, but let’s use irrupt here if we can, to preserve those two senses, yes? The second (and husband-relevant) meaning is to migrate into an area in large – that’s abnormally large – numbers, and it’s especially used of birds. So when an awful lot of waxwings descended on some trees with berries in a Birmingham car park, that was them irrupting. Or an irruption.

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all!


Posted by on August 16, 2017 in Errors, Language use



How do customers get in touch?

How do customers get in touch?

How do your customers get in touch with you? What should you do to help them get in contact? Where should you be visible and how are people likely to message you? You might be surprised …

Be where your customers are

There’s a good general rule that you should be where your customers are. That means physically as well as virtually.

  • If people buy your type of thing at craft fairs and in shops, go to craft fairs and establish a presence in a few shops (many crafty shops will rent shelf space and/or take a commission. Take advice from other crafters on tips for choosing fairs – I have no idea about this myself)
  • If your clients hang out in Pinterest or Instagram, make sure you have an account there, you use it on-brand and wisely, and you put your contact details on your profile
  • Most people will do a web search when they’re looking for what you sell or provide – make sure you have a website, even if it’s just a landing page with contact, product and service details.
  • I strongly suggest you add a contact form to your website. Most blogging platforms and website services like WordPress will have contact form templates for you to use.
  • Many people will look on Facebook so make sure you have a Facebook page even if you don’t interact with it very much.
  • If you have a Twitter profile, again, get those contact details on it.
  • If you can’t help someone, try to pass them to someone who can.

How do customers contact me?

I’ve been observing how people have contacted me about genuine paid work opportunities over the past few months. Here are the ways they’ve done it:

  • Contact form on my website – this is the main way in which people contact me. It comes straight through to my email, with the person’s email, so I can reply straight back to them
  • Email – my email address is on my website, so I assume people pick it up from there, if they’re not a recommendation who has been given my email address by someone else
  • Twitter – a public @ message – so make sure your Twitter account is open and allows messages
  • Facebook – a question on my business page – make sure you enable alerts so you can see when these come through to you!
  • Facebook – a Facebook Messenger request – these can get lost in “Other” messages – check that folder regularly
  • Twitter – a direct message. This can only be sent by someone you mutually follow on Twitter but they still happen – watch out for alerts
  • Phone – I have a dedicated mobile phone with its number on my website. I receive very few phone calls and because I leave my phone on voicemail most of the time (because I do a lot of work where I really have to concentrate), people who leave messages tend to email me as well anyway.

Other ways people might contact you:

  • At networking events
  • Through any messaging facilities on other social media sites
  • By text message

The golden rules of social media contact

I’ve covered this in depth in an article about reciprocity but in general:

  • Always respond to people who contact you – it’s only polite
  • Take the conversation out of the public eye if it’s about prices and services
  • Always be super-polite, even if it seems like someone is trying to get at you
  • Do set expectations – if you’re not going to work weekends / late nights, maybe don’t reply to messages so quickly at the weekend or late at night, to set an expectation of office hours only (be prepared to make exceptions for a real jewel of a prospect, however!)

Summary: make yourself as available as you can; you never know where that lead will come from

Create yourself a website with a contact form as well as a list of contact details

Establish a presence on the very popular social media sites

Establish a presence on any social media sites that are relevant to your area of work

Always answer queries, taking them privately as soon as you can

Set expectations

If you can’t do a job for someone, try to recommend someone who can

In this article I’ve reminded you to keep as many avenues open as possible for people to contact you, and to follow that up by being responsive.

Other relevant articles on this blog

Reciprocity and social media

Coopetition versus competition


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Posted by on August 9, 2017 in Business, Social media


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Surfeit or surplus?

Surfeit or surplus?

This Troublesome Pair was suggested to me by my husband. He’s good at coming up with these; I’m not sure how many have been suggested  by him over the years. Both of these words mean an excess, but one just means “more” while the other means “too much!” There are some interesting archaic terms, too. For example, I always ‘knew’ that “King John died of a surfeit of lampreys” but I didn’t know exactly what that word meant, thinking it was standing for just “too much of” rather than a more specific meaning.*

A surplus is the amount that’s left over when you’ve met all your requirements. So if you have a bag of broad beans to cover every week for the next year and you will carry on with your next harvest once those are used up, anything over 52 bags is your surplus. In accounting terms, it means the positive difference between income/assets and expenditure over a period, so if I earn £100 from selling broad beans but spend £30 on bags to sell them in, my surplus is £70. And in even more specific accounting terms, it means the amount by which a company’s assets are worth more than the face value of its stock.

So a surplus doesn’t really carry the idea of TOO MUCH, whereas a surfeit is the “too much” one. It just really means an excess, but it isn’t really used in a positive sense (unless you’ve found examples – do share if you have). And in archaic terms, it was an illness that was caused by excessive drinking or eating – so King John’s “surfeit” wasn’t an excess of lampreys but the illness brought on by having eaten the excess of lampreys. If we go back to our broad beans, although it’s subjective, I’d say that having, for example, 104 bags of broad beans when you only need 52 would count as having a surfeit.

I do love these small distinctions. Interestingly, surfeit and surplus both come from Latin via Middle English (thank you, OED), so it’s not one of those cases where we have one Germanic and one Latinate word for the same thing.

And the obsession with vegetable produce? Blame the people who presumably have allotments and keep leaving courgettes out on walls and the pavement for people to take and runners to trip over / jump.

*Edited to add: Oh, deary me. I have been informed by reader Ian Johnston that “It was Henry I that died from a surfeit of lampreys, John fined the City of Gloucester for failing to deliver him a lamprey pie at Christmas; a dearth not a surfeit of lampreys”. Thank you to Ian for pointing that out and I stand corrected!

You can find more troublesome pairs here, and here’s the index to them all! The index is finally UP TO DATE so go and have a look and tell me which is your favourite so far!


Posted by on August 3, 2017 in Errors, Language use