About me

Get new posts by email.

About me

An ‘enquiry’ inquiry

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I suffered a moment of pernicketiness yesterday. Reading this BBC News article, I came across the following quote from Mr Justice Fancourt:

This trial is not an enquiry.

‘Harrumph,’ I thought, ‘they’ve misquoted him—he surely said “inquiry”.’

The website has since invisibly corrected the mistake, or what I thought of as a mistake.

You see, I operate in a world where ‘enquiry’ and ‘inquiry’ are entirely different words, connected to different bits of my brain. I deal with ‘enquiries’ all the time—indeed, that’s how our record system at work labels calls and emails from people outside of the team. I deal much less often with ‘inquiries’—or even sometimes inquests—which are slightly scary legal or quasi-legal processes. I’d stopped noticing how similar the two words are.

And so to the Oxford English Dictionary—where the two words share a combined entry. The word ‘enquiry’ came into Middle English from the Old French ‘enquerre’—’to ask’. Some English pedants in the 14th century noted that the original root was the Latin ‘inquīrō’—’I seek’—and started spelling it with an ‘i’ instead. The two words co-existed for a long while.

Only in the 19th century did a distinction between the two develop: ‘enquiry’ came to be commonly associated with everyday questions, and ‘inquiry’ with formal investigations. But this has never been rigorously or consistently applied, and the two are still often interchanged in common usage.

In the USA, they use ‘inquiry’ for everything, which feels to me like it must be awfully confusing. I’m sure they’d say the same about the distinction.

So, as it turns out, my pernicketiness was nothing but misguided pedantry—and no one likes a pedant. I’ll try harder next time.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. I’m not sure what’s going on with his fingers.

This post was filed under: Notes, , .

Different conversations

In the second issue of Tom Rowley’s Backstory magazine, he features an article by one of the booksellers in his shop, Amy Strong. Strong interview Isabel Wall, the editor who has worked on some of my favourite books by Alice Winn, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Elif Shafak and many others.

I was fascinated to learn more about the role of a novel’s editor. The paragraph that stuck in my mind was this:

Wall tries to go to her authors’ events as often as possible. ‘It is really interesting how you can go to events with the same author, but depending on who’s interviewing them… that generates such different conversations and makes me think about their work in different ways.’

This made me reflect on how observing friends and colleagues in different social situations shapes our perception of them. Last week, a colleague and I were pondering whether promotions change people or whether it’s just our perceptions that change: it’s much the same question.

Wall’s observation also felt appropriately literary: after all, we come to understand characters in novels by watching their actions and conversations in different circumstances.

This post was filed under: Notes, , , , , .

Miniature bonsai

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the time Wendy and I visited the spectacular Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego, which—among many other attributes—boasted an incredible collection of bonsai trees.

By sheer coincidence, as I tidied a wardrobe yesterday, this 10cm miniature plastic bonsai from IKEA fell out and hit my head. It’s not quite the same, is it?

This post was filed under: Travel, , .

Do it like this

I’m currently reading Everything I Know about Life I Learned from PowerPoint by Russell Davies. More on that when I’ve finished it—but these facing pages summed up so much that I couldn’t help but share them early:

This post was filed under: Notes, .

You put your whole self in, your whole self out

Last year, I reflected a little on Civil Servants being encouraged to bring their ‘whole self’ to work. I wouldn’t have guessed that the very next year, under the same political leadership, the same workforce would be told to ensure that ‘your beliefs remain at the front door’ (because heaven forfend that someone should wear a non-standard lanyard).

Yesterday, I was interested to read Zoë Schiffer’s piece on Platformer about a similar—but altogether more thoughtful—change in the culture of technology firms.

It’s intriguing to watch the pendulum swing.

This post was filed under: Politics, Technology.


This post was filed under: Travel, .


This post was filed under: Photos, Travel.

‘Racing Ahead’

When I lived in Stockton, this life-sized sculpture by Irene Brown stood outside M&S. The sculpture was removed in 2013, when the High Street was being spruced up. M&S closed in 2018.

The sculpture isn’t really my sort of thing, but it is enormously popular with Stocktonites. There was great fanfare when the refurbished sculpture was repositioned outside the library in 2016, and where I took this photo yesterday.

This post was filed under: Art, Photos, , .

‘User-friendly front door’

I recently read a corporate document that promised the creation of ‘a user-friendly front door.’

I’m part of the intended audience, but I can’t explain what the sentence was trying to communicate. I don’t know whether the ‘front door’ is a website, a phone line, a physical location, a team of people, some combination of the above, or something different altogether. It is, apparently, to be an automatic door: it will be ‘using automation to make processes more efficient’.

I enjoyed the delicious irony of the authors failing to communicate while, at the same time, promising to be ‘user-friendly.’ I enjoyed the mixed metaphor of ‘automation’ making ‘a door’ ‘more efficient’. And, most of all, I enjoyed the fundamental absurdity of a ‘user-friendly’ ‘door’.

I was reminded—as I often am—of this from Jeanette Winterson’s 12 Bytes:

When institutional content tries to be more user-friendly, we get marketing-speak clichés like: stakeholders, bad actors, road maps, blue-sky thinking, low-hanging fruit, facilitators, roll-out … Conferences are the worst. I have been to some of them. By the afternoon I am sweating under the mental pressure of translating non-language. We need writers involved – and we need language that speaks to people. This isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about doing what writers do well – finding a clear, precise, everyday language that goes beyond utility, without jargon, with beauty.

The image at the top of this post was generated by DALL·E 3. I note with wry amusement that the AI conception of a ‘user-friendly front door’ has a knob on the left and a handle on the right, making it entirely unclear as to which way the door opens.

This post was filed under: Technology, .

Which plan? What’s working?

In The Times last week, Matt Chorley wrote about a focus group’s reaction to the Government’s oft-repeated plea:

In the meantime, Sunak presses on, vowing to listen to voters while refusing to change. “Stick with the plan that’s working.” On our most recent Times Radio focus group of swing voters, we asked about that slogan. “Which plan’s that?” scoffed one. “And what’s working?” said another, before they all descended into guffaws.

This was still ratting around my mind when I saw this laminated sign above a hospital bed—not in deepest mid-winter, but on a glorious spring afternoon:

This isn’t a one-off: it has become the norm in many NHS hospitals these days. It’s this graph of the relative collapse capital spending in the NHS made photographic:

‘Which plan? What’s working?’ might be the most apposite piece of political commentary in years.

This post was filed under: Health, Politics, , .

The content of this site is copyright protected by a Creative Commons License, with some rights reserved. All trademarks, images and logos remain the property of their respective owners. The accuracy of information on this site is in no way guaranteed. Opinions expressed are solely those of the author. No responsibility can be accepted for any loss or damage caused by reliance on the information provided by this site. Information about cookies and the handling of emails submitted for the 'new posts by email' service can be found in the privacy policy. This site uses affiliate links: if you buy something via a link on this site, I might get a small percentage in commission. Here's hoping.