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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, , , , , .

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, .

Moving on from photo-a-day

Happy new year to everyone reading this!

Yesterday, I finished my year-long photo-a-day project, and promised to come up with something new for 2013.

Several people – Wendy among them – have been strongly encouraging me to continue with photo-a-day, but I feel like I’ve run out of things to feature! So, we’ve come up with a somewhat vain compromise – a photo of me every day!

I don’t know if I’ll manage to keep this one up for the whole year, and I don’t think I’ll be quite as assiduous about making up the numbers if I forget on any given day, but I’ll try my best to do it as often as I can. The first photo will come later today, when I’ve finished designing a new template for the posts… I’m calling it my “scrapbook”!

This post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Notes, Photo-a-day 2012, Site Updates.

Summer Books: Returns Next Week

Due to unforeseen circumstances, there’s no book review this week: The Summer Books series will continue next Sunday.

This post was filed under: Notes, Summer Books.

Light blogging

This post was filed under: Blogging, Notes, .

Site restructuring

Over the past week or so, along with some simple design tweaks, much of sjhoward.co.uk has been restructured. The old design of the archive, for example, was appropriate for when the blog had 250 posts, but not for the 1,300+ posts of today. The new structure shouldn’t feel like too much of a change (I’m hoping most visitors won’t have noticed), and should be a more future-proof solution. Here’s hoping.

This post was filed under: Notes, Site Updates.

Firing on all cylinders

After some serious hardcore maintenance, including the slightly traumatic step-up to WordPress 2.5 some hard and fast recoding of parts of the site, and even a few tweaks to the graphics, I think I’m right in saying that everything is finally back to normal – if not better than ever.

Yet Sod’s Law says that as soon as I post this, something is certain to go wrong… I’d really rather like to get back to writing rather than coding!  🙂

This post was filed under: Notes, Site Updates.


Large parts of the site aren’t working at the moment, and are unlikely to be for much of the day. It’s all part of ongoing maintenance to improve the site’s efficiency and hence secure its long-term future. Apologies for any inconvenience.

This post was filed under: Notes, Site Updates.

Too Late!

The Instant Opinion promotion has now ended. Thank you to all those who took part.

This post was filed under: Notes.

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