Print is dead. Or is it?

Print is dead. Or so everyone says. If you hear something enough times you start to believe it.

Last week I discovered Noble Rot magazine and it made me question whether there’s life in the old dog after all.

Nobel Rot is a food and wine magazine. It’s not the sort of thing I would usually buy (especially for £9) but I was in Noble Rot wine bar in Lamb’s Conduit Street and picked it up. Admittedly, I’d had a few, but it when I flicked through the pages it smelled so good I was hooked. And the thick paper and eye-catching design were equally seductive.

It was pretty much love at first sight, but how would I feel in the morning? If anything, I was even more smitten. This is a brilliant magazine, all 116 pages of it. As well it might be given that it is edited by Dan Keeling, winner of the Louis Roeder Food & Wine Writer of the Year 2017 and Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year 2016.

As a rule, I hate reading about wine. I find all that talk about tannins and hints of raspberry completely off-putting. This is different. The magazine doesn’t take itself or eating and drinking too seriously.

There’s a hilarious column that reviews some mythical cookbooks including Fergus Henderson’s From Bollocks to Arsehole and Delia Smith’s Let’s be ‘Aving Ewe. (I admit that I read this on the train home and only realised in the morning that the article was a spoof when I looked on Amazon for Yotam Ottolenghi’s Actually, I Hate Pomegranates.)

My favorite column is John Niven’s food and wine agony uncle column, in the style of the late, great A.A. Gill’s Esquire column.

Among the magazine’s stellar contributors are Sunday Times restaurant reviewer Marina O’Loughlin, Rowley Leigh, Russell Norman and Simon Hopkinson. There’s even an interview with Baxter Drury, son of Ian, whose bonkers song Miami has been ear-worming through my head since the autumn. (Sample lyric: “I don't think you know who I am, I'm the sausage man, the shadow licker…”)

There are no ads in Noble Rot, which got me wondering. Who publishes it, and why?

It turns out that Dan Keeling was head of A&R at Parlophone Records where he signed Coldplay, Bombay Bicycle Club, and Lily Allen. His co-founder is Mark Andrew, a Master of Wine.

From what I can gather, unusually, the wine bar is a spin off from the magazine rather than the other way round. Dan and Mark have also launched a wine import company that supplies restaurants, bars and independent wine merchants.

Noble Rot is published three times a year. I have no idea if it makes any money. It’s hard to see how it could do given the quality of the print, the writing and the design. Maybe it doesn’t need to and is a labour of love on behalf of its fan base of “rotters”. Either way, long may it, and print magazines, continue.

 

IMG_1520.jpg

Why you need to cut out the jargon and corporate gibberish

furious-2514031_640.jpg

Why you need to cut out the jargon and corporate gibberish

I’m starting the year with a plea to lovers of clichés, jargon and corporate gibberish. Punch the puppy, now.

I saw a brilliant example of jargon a couple of weeks ago. It was in an advert for a head of change at the BBC that seemed to come straight out of the BBC satire W1A. Talk about life imitating art.

One task for the prospective employee was to “Oversee and gain senior stakeholder buy-in for the design and planning of the required change management interventions required to successfully embed the change.”

There was plenty more of this sort of twaddle. One requirement was to “engage senior stakeholders to understand change impacts”. Another was to act as a role model for “good practice change management competences and behaviours”.

The so-called father of advertising, David Ogilvy, was well known for his hatred of jargon. “Our business is infested with idiots who try to impress by using pretentious jargon,” he said. He was talking about advertising but could just as easily been referring to any other industry.

Jargon has infected our language. And, according to research last year by Londonoffices.com, it is driving people nuts. Included in the list of phrases that infuriate co-workers and clients are “blue-sky thinking”, “idea shower” and “singing from the same hymn-sheet”. Thankfully, the American desire to “punch the puppy” has yet to cross the Atlantic. (Apparently, it means to do something inexcusable that is good for business.)

One office worker surveyed by Londonoffices.com said: “I overhear colleagues using some of these phrases because they think it makes them sound clever and important, but mostly they haven’t got a clue what they’re on about.”

Worse even than irritating clichés is corporate gibberish. How about the opening of this letter from Philips Lighting to a customer: “Dear Neil, did you know that technologies and standards are evolving rapidly in the dynamic smart city environment?”

The Plain English Campaign hands out Golden Bull Awards for the worst examples of English each year. In the Article and Blog Writing for Lawyers training course I run, I quote this previous award winner.

“A unique factor of the NHS Cheshire Warrington and Wirral Commissioning support organisation is its systematised methodology for project and programme management of small, medium, large service re-design and implementation…Building in equality and risk impact assessments the options are taken through a process to arrive at the content for an output based specification and benefits foreseen as a result of the implementation.”

This always raises a snigger from lawyers. They soon stop laughing when I point out that much of their own writing is equally impenetrable. Such as this legal humdinger: “The revocation by these Regulations of a saving on the previous revocation of a provision does not affect the operation of the saving in so far as it is not specifically reproduced in these Regulations but remains capable of having effect.”

So, here’s a ‘no-brainer’ for 2018 that doesn’t need an ‘idea shower’. ‘Kick the jargon into the long grass’, ‘circle back’ and you are guaranteed a ‘results-driven’ ‘quick win’. Whatever you do though, please don’t punch that poor puppy.

Happy 2018.

Oxford comma plays dramatic role in $10m lawsuit

grammar-389907_640.jpg

Oxford comma plays dramatic role in $10m lawsuit

At last, a legal case I can get excited about. That hasn't happened since the OJ Simpson trial more than 20 years ago but the decision in this one is even more sensational. A recent court case in Maine turned on something far more dramatic than a bloody glove: a comma. Or, to be pedantic, and if nothing else this blog is about pedantry, the lack of a comma.

I warned you it was exciting. Before we get down to the details though you need to know that this comma (or lack of a comma) wasn't any old comma. It was the mighty Oxford comma, the much-maligned Richard III of the grammar world (and not because it’s a funny shape).

What’s an Oxford comma, you ask? I’ll get to that but first you need a bit of background.

The case was brought in Maine by a group of drivers against their employer, Oakhurst Dairy, for overtime pay. The company argued that no overtime was due because Maine state law says overtime does not apply to certain activities. Specifically, it excludes "the canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of" perishable goods.

This is the bit where you need to concentrate. The case hinged on the last words, "packing for shipment or distribution". The court had to determine if these were two separate activities – "packing for shipping" and "distribution" – or one activity, "packing for shipping or distribution".

The drivers argued the latter and that they were entitled to overtime pay for work that involved "distribution" on the basis that this wasn't an excluded activity. The court agreed (in a 29-page judgement), and 75 drivers have been awarded a share in $10m worth of unpaid overtime.

Now back to the Oxford comma (sometimes called the serial comma). It is a comma used to separate the last item in a list of three or more items in order to avoid ambiguity. It’s an optional comma, though, and its use depends on the context.

In the sentence, "I like cricket, cycling and long walks in the country" you wouldn't use a comma after the word "cycling" as it is unnecessary.

But, there's a world of difference between saying "I want to thank my parents, Justin Bieber, and Helen Mirren" and, "I want to thank my parents, Justin Bieber and Helen Mirren”. The latter sentence, without the Oxford comma, implies that the parents are Justin Bieber and Helen Mirren. Unlikely.

Despite this, some people argue that the Oxford comma is an unnecessary affectation – like James Bond and his shaken, not stirred, martinis.

This argument arouses great passion. American rock band Vampire Weekend released a single called Oxford Comma in 2008, the opening line of which asked: "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?"

Clearly, many people do. There was a furore six years ago when it was reported that Oxford University had committed grammatical infanticide by dropping the Oxford comma from its style guide. This had the grammar stormtroopers goosestepping all the way to the letters pages of the Times and the Telegraph, although it turned out the reports were erroneous. (The Oxford comma had only been banned by Oxford University for press releases and internal memos.)

In the Maine drivers’ case, an Oxford comma after the word "shipment" would have made it clear that the distribution of perishable foods was excluded from overtime. Whoever wrote the clause should have taken heed of the grammar bible The Elements of Style by Struck and White, (the Lennon and McCartney of grammar, or would be if they had had more than one hit).

Despite its catchy title, The Elements of Style isn't much of a read but it is clear about where it stands on the Oxford comma: "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last. Thus … 'red, white, and blue'." 

"That comma would have sunk our ship," said David G. Webbert, the lawyer who represented the drivers. As it was, there was enough uncertainty for the decision to go in his client’s favour.

So what next for the Oxford comma? Who knows, but this decision will have reverberated through the pages of grammar textbooks around the world. I can only imagine the semicolon is seething. Twice the ink of an Oxford comma yet no one ever mentions it except to say they have no idea what it does.

If the OJ trial is anything to go by, in 20 years time we’ll all be glued to the latest Netflix mini-series, Oxford Comma, hopefully starring Justin Bieber and Helen Mirren. I, for one, can’t wait.