Archives » Linguistic Annoyances


An epicentre is not some sort of super centre, not the very centre of an event or a circle. (That would be …. the centre.) The word, derived from ancient Greek through Latin, actually means “situated on a centre” and so is not in fact a centre at all.

Similarly, an epicycle such as Ptolemy used in his system of explaining astronomical observations is a cycle on a cycle and not the main circle of rotation.

As far as an earthquake is concerned – where the word can be used in its strict sense – the epicentre is the point on the Earth’s surface nearest to the earthquake’s hypocentre, which is the real “centre.”

To hear reporters on the news talking about the epicentre of the recent E Coli outbreak in Germany is annoying as they quite clearly are talking about the point from which the outbreak radiated, which would be its centre. There is no need to qualify or heighten the term in any way.


Yes, that is how you spell it.

It is not derived from the Latin for smallest, minimus, and hence should not be rendered as miniscule.

In my Shorter Oxford Dictionary its first definition is as a small letter in a 7th century cursive script. Secondarily it means lower case in general, then extremely small.

Its derivation is from French, after the Latin minuscula (littera), meaning minor letter.

Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken utilises Miéville’€™s common setting of London, albeit a strange London. This otherness beside the familiar is a strand in his work evident from King Rat and Un Lun Dun through to THE CITY AND YTIC EHT.

This one started out as if it may have been written with a film or TV adaptation in mind – one with a potentially light-hearted take – but soon veers off down strange Miévillean byways which may be unfilmable. For these are the end times and cultists worshipping all manner of weird gods abound.

It begins with a kind of locked room mystery as a giant squid, Architeuthis, has been stolen – formalin, tank and all – from its stance in the Darwin Centre, a natural history museum where Billy Harrow is a curator. He helped to prepare the squid for show and is thought to hold the knowledge that might allow all those interested in its recovery to find it. The police fundamentalist and cult squad, the FSRC, is called in to help investigate the disappearance which becomes more involved when Billy discovers a body pickled (in too small a jar) in the museum’s basement. And these are merely the first strangenesses to be encountered in this book. We also have the consciousness of a man embedded within a tattoo, a tattoo which moves and speaks. Then there is the double act of Goss and Subby – two shapeshifting baddies from out of time (they shift other people’€™s shapes) – and weird sects, cults and mancers of all sorts.

Never short of incident and brimming with plot the novel is probably a bit too convoluted, with too many characters for its own good, and its one-damn-strange-thing-after-another-ness can verge on overkill. But this is an unashamed fantasy, a form to which I am antipathetic when it is taken to extremes; and Miéville is not one for restraint.

While Kraken sometimes skirts along the edge of comedy it never fully embraces it. There are too many killings and acts of violence for comedy to sit comfortably. I might have liked the novel better if it had. Its main fault is that it never manages to settle on which sort of book it is meant to be, straddling various narrative stools such as police procedural, one man against the odds, woman in search of the truth about her vanished lover, etc.

This may be a reason why it failed to make the award ballot for this year’€™s BSFA Awards.

Pedantic asides:- Miéville did make me think what the plural of quid pro quo might be. (To my British mind Miéville’€™s anglicised formulation “quids pro quo”€ would mean getting money for something rather than a mutual back-scratching.) Taking the phrase as meaning “€œthis for that”€ then the English plural, for the phrase as a whole, would be quid pro quos. For the Latin plural you would have quae pro quibus (these for those.) There are two other semantic possibilities; quid pro quibus (this for those) and quae pro quo (these for that.) Miéville also seems to think that “law”€ and “lore”€ are homophones. Not where I come from they aren’€™t. And the establishment is a dry cleaner’s, not a dry cleaners.

I believe Miéville’€™s next is to be set in space. It’€™ll be interesting to see his take on that.

Open Mic

An open what?

When did the abbreviation for microphone change?

I always remember it being rendered as mike. Now it seems mic is the option du jour.

I read mic as “mick” and so wonder what on Earth an “open mick” could be. On the other hand an open mike would give me no problems at all.

Not So Wicked

An incident in the football last night reminded me of the poster advert which WKD vodka is running to coincide with the World Cup.

It’s headed, “The offside rule for girls.”

Below is the punchline.

“If the flag’s up, it’s offside.”


Sorry WKD. Isn’t that the offside rule for boys as well?

Doctor Who Again

Three episodes in and I’m magnificently underwhelmed.

It’s mainly bish-bosh action and rushing on. The dialogue isn’t coming over well, at least to me. Is it the actors’ diction, or too much background noise, or am I going deaf?

And Karen Gillan ought to have refused to utter the line, “Well, I’m still here, aren’t I?”

As a Scot she should have insisted on, “Well, I’m still here, amn’t I?”

The Links Market

Once a year Kirkcaldy Prom gets taken over for just over a week by what is known as the Links Market. It’s a name that’s now inappropriate. While it was once apparently a market, with stalls selling clothes and such, now it’s nothing more than a travelling fair.

"Market" 1

"Market" 2

The locals seem to think it’s a big thing. (Well it does claim the distinction of being Europe’s longest street fair.) Local children apparently save up all year for the opportunity to splurge all their cash within an hour or so. The football authorities also make sure Raith Rovers do not have a home game on the relevant Saturday. (Policing implications, doncha know. And Stark’s Park is only a long stone’s throw from the south end of the Prom.)

It even attracts interest from folks who live in Cowdenbeath and Dunfermline – “Ur ye goin’ tae the Links, sur?” – and probably Methil and Leven for all I know.

It’s actually a bit of a nuisance. Quite apart from the phenomenon known as market weather (or bucketing down as it is also called – mercifully suspended for this year, although it did rain overnight and earlier today) the road along the prom is closed off for the duration – plus a few days either side for setting up and taking down the rides – which leads to congestion on neighbouring streets, not to mention the fact that right now the air outside my house is thick with the amplified sounds of the fairground (even though the Prom is a few hundred metres away and they’re supposed to turn the volume down on Sundays.)

I’ve said before how boring Kirkcaldy prom usually is. This is a picture taken from the south end on a dreich day.

Kirkcaldy prom looking north(ish)

Here’s a photo taken today from near the same spot.

"Market" from south

“The Market” might be a relatively big travelling fair but the fuss the locals make anyone would think no other town ever had a “Shows” (as we used to call them in Dumbarton – two a year, April and August, held on Dumbarton Common) turn up on their doorstep. Hell, Burntisland – only 4 miles from Kirkcaldy – has a permanent fairground site – at least during the summer months.

Still it’s only up and running Wednesday to Monday. Everything’ll be back to normal in a couple of days.


Fulsome does not mean heartfelt – nor even complete.

It means overdone; excessive; fawning; perhaps even insincere – especially when describing a tribute.

Spot The Solecism

Today I received a glossy four page flier (folded A3 size, then) – I think it came with my newspaper – calling itself Holyrood Magazine. Its strapline was, “Are you in the loop? Holyrood Magazine is Scotland’s award winning current affairs magazine.”

The banner headline was “Education in Scotland 2010” about a conference to take place in Edinburgh on Tue 23rd Feb.

The introduction to Session One: Scotland’s Education System started,
“It has now been 10 years since the power to make decisions was handed to Scotland and it’s administration.”

I stopped reading right there.

It was clearly written by someone who needs a bit more education him or herself. It was also not adequately proof-read.

Where’s the brick wall to bang my head against?

Black Holes

I know the description is kind of metaphorical and reflects a Gosh-Wow! attitude to the phenomenon and that light can’t escape from below the event horizon.

But they aren’t!

Black, that is.

Not always, anyway.

Certainly not if they are attracting material from nearby stars. Then they must be the biggest firework displays in the universe.

For example:-

Black hole

The artist’s impression comes from

Here’s another nice one showing material from a nearby star bleeding into the accretion disc.

Accretion disc

That is from

Not at all bad for something that’s described as black.

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