Only at King’s Cross?

As my train pulled into King’s Cross, I spotted a serious-looking sign bearing the edict:

Electric Trains Only To Access Platform 0

A couple of questions struck me:

  1. Is King’s Cross the only station with a Platform 0?
  2. Why was my electric train (like many others) NOT pulling into Platform 0, disobeying the serious-looking sign?

It turns out there are other UK stations with a Platform 0: Edinburgh Haymarket and Cardiff Central at least.  But I’m fairly sure King’s Cross is the only station with a Platform 0 AND a sign for Platform 9 3/4.

As for disobeying the serious-looking sign, I reckon the train driver was right to ignore the Ministry of Signs’ half-baked wording.  Since Platform 0 is more enclosed than the other platforms, station management probably want to avoid pollution/fumes (e.g. from diesel trains) building up in the confined space.  So, they want to restrict Platform 0 for use by electric trains only, but not prevent electric trains from using the other platforms.  Sadly, the Ministry’s carelessly placed “only” fluffs both intentions.

A simple “Platform 0: Electric Trains Only” would have sufficed.  But the Ministry ambiguated, consigning the poor placard to an enigmatic existence.

Today’s wordsmithing lesson inspired by the Ministry of Signs:

Say what you mean, then check you mean what you say!

Update 29/06/2010: Stockport also has a Platform 0 (thanks Oli!)

I could care less

Why do some people online write “I could care less” when seemingly meaning “I really don’t care” or, in fact, “I couldn’t care less” – the opposite of their written meaning? Is this some kind of “bad means good” or “sick means great” meaning inversion, or are the users oblivious to the fact that they’re saying the opposite of what they mean? I guess by writing this I’ve proved that literally I could care less. D’oh!

Will iPhone 4 speak English?

My iPhone 3GS doesn’t speak English as I know it.  The “Favorites”, “Airplane Mode” and “Carrier” menu items to my mind should be “Favourites”, “Flight-safe Mode” and “Network”.  Odd that my iPhone knows how to space UK telephone numbers correctly (I know few people who do), and how to correct my spelling in text messages, but lets itself down with its own menu terminology.  Ho hum.  At least the upgrade to iOS4 is free – bring on 21st June. When my third-party apps can multitask, I’m bound to get more done 🙂

Consumers: What OEM really stands for

If you’ve ever bought any computer components, you might have come across the term “OEM”.  Typically this identifies bare-bones products that are intended for system builders to build into their systems, and therefore these products usually lack the refinements that would be present in a consumer-orientated retail package.

So I reckon from a consumer perspective OEM really stands for “Optional Extras Missing”, which surely makes more sense than the confusing proper term “Original Equipment Manufacturer“.

Fully overused

It struck me that the word “fully” has become overused to the extent that it’s often meaningless.  Some examples:

  • Fully comprehensive (isn’t that just ‘comprehensive’ then?)
  • Fully air conditioned (really?  by what measure do we judge the fullness of air conditioning?)

This post is now fully complete.  Or is it?

Stop: “Station Calling Point”?

In pursuit of unambiguous on-train announcements, train crews seem to have coined the cumbersome expression “Station Calling Point” or “Scheduled Station Stop”. As in, “Stevenage is the next Station Calling Point for this service”.

I understand that plain old “Stop” just won’t do, because trains can (and frequently do) stop at places other than stations. I’m sure train staff got sick of people saying “Ha, you said the next stop was Peterborough – but look, we’re not in Peterborough and we’ve stopped”. So, “Station Stop” is safer for on-train announcers, but there’s still the chance that your train glides to a halt whilst in an intermediate station at which you can’t alight. Which brings us to “Station Calling Point” or “Scheduled Station Stop”, both of which pretty much nail the intended meaning – albeit at the expense of brevity. Thank heavens lucky travellers, just because the instantaneous speed of your journey may at some points be zero, your obliging train staff have enhanced their terminology to reflect this transitory discontinuity.

But hang on a minute, isn’t there already a perfectly good word they could use instead? One that predates the train and has stood the test of time: “Port”. The same length as the word “Stop”, with all the right embark/alight meaning, but without the oh-so-confusing speed-related ambiguity. “Stevenage is the next Port for this service” – you never know, brevity might just win out. Pass the Port…

Update 7/7/2010: My train has stopped at Alexandra Palace. A stop. A station stop. But not a scheduled station stop. Phew!

Bon mot: “gravillons”

On the way to a week of snowboarding in Courchevel with J, Tim and S, I spotted a French road sign for loose chippings – or “gravillons” in French apparently.  I sense some common etymology with our word “gravel” – or perhaps it’s just co-incidence.  Made me smile anyway.

“On behalf of myself…”

Increasingly I hear people saying “on behalf of myself”, as in “on behalf of myself, I would like to thank you…”.  Are these people schizophrenic, or having some kind of out-of-body experience?  Hopefully not, because the worst offenders seem to be pilots!

Less vs Fewer

I used to be oblivious to this, but now I know, misuse increasingly sticks out like a sore thumb:

  • “Less” is for an amount of bulk stuff you’re not counting in discrete units – less water, less food, less stock
  • “Fewer” is for discrete, countable things – fewer drinks, fewer meals, fewer items at a checkout

So if the sign at your checkout says “10 items or less”, it’s just wrong.  Silly sign.

The Epoxy Ballad

After an inspiring rendition of The Ballad of Mini Cooper (sung by Peter McAlister), and much talk about the utility of epoxy resin for all manner of boat repairs, I penned The Epoxy Ballad:

From time to time all boats end up needing the odd repair,
for out at sea they do attract a deal of wear & tear.
When bits break, it always seems you’ve not got very long,
to patch them up and get them back to being good & strong.

So, you empty out your toolbox and somehow it is true,
that the best way to do the job will always involve glue.
Yet again you find yourself inexorably headin’,
for those wee magic tubes containing epoxy resin.

In a flash you’re overcome with such wave of pride,
at the thought you’ll make a bond that nought will override.
Just a few more minutes and the ills will be put right,
once you’ve finished dosing out and mixing Araldite.

But careful now, for too much glueing isn’t very clever –
first this bit here, then that bit there – you’ll go on forever.
Your addiction to adhesion will be plain for all to see –
you’ll end up with a boat that’s made entirely of epoxy.