Tag Archives: Dictionary

How to not mess up your tattoo: 7 top tips

As a big fan of tattoos (14 and counting), I always wince when I see one with a typo. It’s awful – not only does it make the person look stupid, it’s also a permanent mistake (unless you sue the tattooist for laser removal… but even that doesn’t take away the shame). Out of the hundreds of examples of bad tattoo grammar, a few common mistakes emerge. Here are my seven top tips, inspired by some of the worst offenders.

1. Your vs. you’re Do you mean ‘you are’? Then you need an apostrophe. Otherwise, you don’t. (In this guy’s defence, we can’t see his thumb, so it might not be a total disaster… there’s still room to add an apostrophe…) Your Your2

2. To vs. too If you mean ‘too much of something’ you need two ‘o’s. If you’re addressing someone it’s just one. Too Too2

3. Judgment is a tragedy This one’s interesting (and brilliantly ironic). The English language can be cruel, and although it sounds like there’s a second ‘d’ hiding in words like tragedy, there isn’t. In other cases, it’s easy to miss one that should be there. Best to check if you’re not sure.

Tragedy Judge

4. Apostrophe’s and plural’s Seriously. Making something plural does not require an apostrophe. This has got to be one of the most commonly committed crimes against grammar.

Ones Sin's

5. Then/than In a nutshell, ‘then’ indicates time (I looked at his tattoo and then shuddered), and ‘than’ is for comparison (her tattoo is worse than the others I’ve seen).

Then Then2

6. Life, live, belief, believe I have a feeling this one’s going to get more common when millions of Beliebers reach the legal age for tattooing… so listen up. Belief is important in life; you have to believe if you want to live. If there’s a ‘v’, it’s a verb. And don’t forget there’s an ‘e’ after the ‘i’ in believe and belief.

Belive Life

7. If in doubt, check it (or at least correct it) Come on, it takes one minute to Google a word.

Awsome Corrected

Got any examples of your own? Or want to check before you ink? Leave a comment!

Sunday book review: English Pronouncing Dictionary

Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary
Daniel Jones (revised by A.C. Gimson)


The other day Joeri asked me a question: “am I pronouncing ‘either’ properly?” Yes, I said, because he was. He was saying ‘eether’. Then he followed up with a second question: “so it’s not ‘either’ then?” Yes, I said, because it is. He was saying ‘eyether’. He looked confused and I couldn’t explain it to him.

So when I saw an old edition (1977) of Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary at my new favourite second hand English bookshop, I couldn’t resist.

This is the first pronouncing dictionary I’ve ever owned and, I have to say, it makes me feel super clever. Open it up on any page, and you find yourself looking at a bunch of semi-recognizable letters that make absolutely no sense. I took a deep breath, wondering if it was just a bit too complicated for me. But after reading the very interesting and nicely written introduction, I was ready to tackle some of the trickiest words around: moustache was my first stop, controversy my second.

Written in 1917, the first edition of the English Pronouncing Dictionary ‘described the type of pronunciation recorded as “that most usually heard in everyday speech. In the families of Southern English persons whose menfolk have been educated at the great public boarding-schools.”‘ This led to the name Public School Pronunciation (PSP), which was updated to Received Pronunciation (RP) in the 1937 edition.

The editor of the Fourteenth edition notes that society – and pronunciation – has moved on since these terms were created and, with no clear separation between classes, education and accent, PSP is certainly a thing of the past. The RP, the standard pronunciation used by BBC newsreaders at the time the book was written (1979), is applied in the book, with less common pronunciations indicated throughout.

After reading about the history of standard pronunciation and earlier editions of the book, I studied the notation. The characters are all familiar, but many are oddly positioned – an upside-down e here, a strangely wide u there. Even a brief look at the grid of notations equipped me to flick through a few pages and recognize the pronunciation of some recognizable, simple words. And what about either?

According to this 1977 edition of the Dictionary, either is pronounced ‘eyether’ (although not written like this… My keyboard is not equipped to show you how it really looks). A second, perfectly acceptable but less often used pronunciation appears in square brackets: [‘eether’].


Both are correct. And I do use both, depending on how the word sounds within a sentence and how much empasis I want to put on it.

So far, I’ve managed to waste at least 90 minutes flicking through this lovely book and testing my pronunciation against the norm. Endless entertainment, if slightly outdated in its context. I would say this is a great addition to any bookshelf. It’s now sitting neatly next to my OED.


Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary, Fourteenth Edition
Daniel Jones
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1977

Sunday book review: The Deeper Meaning of Liff

The Deeper Meaning of Liff
Douglas Adams and John Lloyd

Pan-32220 Adams & Lloyd Deeper Meaning of Liff

Liff (n.)
A common object or experience for which no word yet exists.

This year, the wonderful Meaning of Liff and I share a milestone birthday. Imagine my excitement at the prospect of a sequel to this masterpiece 30 years after the first edition. So it seemed like a good time to read the version on my bookshelf again in anticipation.

Written by the unstoppable duo Douglas Adams (if you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s Guide trilogy of five, you are missing out on some magic) and John Lloyd (QI creator), The Deeper Meaning of Liff is a hilarious dictionary-style book that assigns meanings to place names.

In the preface of the original book, The Meaning of Liff (1983), Adams and Lloyd explain: ‘Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep…’

In the extended 1990 version I read, this leads to a brilliantly funny back-and-forth between the two authors, played out through each edition of the book released between 1983 and 1990. Undoubtedly the best preface I’ve had the pleasure of reading, it is a wonderful indication of their great partnership – one that results in unstoppable giggling.

The book begins with a series of maps – one for each letter of the alphabet. At first it seems that they intend to show the locations of the place names featured in the book. But the more you turn pages, the more you see they are comically skewed, squashed and manipulated, reflecting some of the ridiculous diagrammatic representations of simple things we see on a daily basis. My personal favourite is P – a grid of one square wide by three tall, with coordinates A1, B1 and C1. In A1 is an image of the UK, B1 shows the whole planet, and C1 Australia. Place names starting with P are assigned grid coordinates.

The main part of the book is set out like a dictionary – alphabetically, with recognizable abbreviations describing the words. All the words are place names (mostly in the UK but some further afield) and have been assigned meanings that do not yet have a word. The meanings give a wonderful insight into every day life and personal experiences we don’t often discuss.

Here are a few that I think we should try to get into the OED:

Abilene (adj.)
Descriptive of the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow.

Albacete (n.)
A single surprisingly long hair growing in the middle of nowhere.

Lingle (vb.)
To touch battery terminals with one’s tongue.

The meanings sometimes come from the feeling you get from a word, or its sound or to the place itself. It’s fun to find places you know whose meanings really reflect your experience:

Bude (n.)
A polite joke reserved for use in the presence of vicars.

Farnham (n.)
The feeling that you get at about four o’clock in the afternoon when you haven’t got enough done.

The Deeper Meaning of Liff is packed full of toilet humour:

Riber (n.)
The barely soiled sheet of toilet paper which signals the end of the bottom-wiping process.

There are many ways to read a book like this. You could dip in and out, use the maps as a guide, look up the places you’ve visited, or search by subject in the index. I read it cover to cover. I think that makes the illustrations even more delightful – springing up every now and again to add more description to a few selected words.


Glenwhilly (n.)
(Scots) A small tartan pouch worn beneath the kilt during the thistle-harvest.

(Incidentally, the illustrator, Bert Kitchen, is responsible for a brilliant appendix. It’s a drawing of the internal organs, pointing out the appendix. Funny, clever and educational.)

When I say I read the book cover to cover, that includes the index. I’m pretty sure it’s the only index I’ve read in its entirety. This entry for legs explains why:

extremely unwelcome things up. Scrabster
false, improvised: Ludlow
things not underneath: High Limerigg
things underneath: Hucknall
unwelcome things down: Wimbledon
unwelcome things on: Pollock
unwelcome things up: Affpuddle
useless: Clun
welcome things up: Burwash

This book is inspired and inspiring. It’s funny, witty, extremely well planned and beautifully executed. 30 years after the first edition, it remains relevant and original. This wasn’t the first time I’d read the book, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Now. As of today, there are 109 days until August, when the next iteration of this masterpiece is set to be published. According to The Guardian, ‘Over the last decade, QI founder John Lloyd has been “patiently squirrelling away” new examples to create Afterliff, which will also include contributions from Adams’s daughter Polly Adams and his old friend novelist Jon Canter.’

Needless to say I can’t wait!


The Deeper Meaning of Liff
Pan Books, London, 1990; ISBN 0-330-31606-0