Archive for the Uncategorized Category

Why Not?

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on March 6, 2011 by timlafferty

There’s a TV commercial running at the moment for Direct Line Insurance with the sign-off “Why not call Direct Line…” Why not is such a lame call to action; it might as well be followed by “…if you’ve got nothing better to do.” On the other hand, one of the cleverest and bravest ads on tele lately has been the one for Marmite, the strong-tasting yeast extract spread. The ads are based on “love it or hate it” showing clips of people either relishing it, or virtually gagging on it. What’s clever is that they’ve recognised that people who hate it aren’t going to change their minds based on something they’ve seen on TV, so they may as well alienate them. What they want to do is remind the rest of us how much we like it and make us feel special, part of an elite.

The Economist had this down to a fine art with their poster advertising, making people who read it feel that they must be a cut above the average. For example:

You can so tell who doesn’t like read The Economist

They’ve also played on the fear of looking ignorant, for example (approximate headline from memory):

“I never read the Economist.”

Assistant Manager, 49

An Economist TV commercial which ran a few years ago showed a man sitting in business class on an airline, when Henry Kissinger sits down next to him. The voice-over went something like this:

So, you’re going to be spending the next 4 hours talking to Henry Kissinger. Nervous?”

I admired the Economist’s advertising for years and I think it explains why something with such a dull sounding title punched seriously above its weight. For years they continued to invest in advertising, even when times were tough, which is why their circulation sales were the most robust in the industry. But in the last three or four years even they seem to have been hit by the downturn in print media; I don’t see so much of them these days and what they’re doing lacks some of their previous cleverness.

When I was at BusinessWeek I was tempted to run a poster campaign that had the word “Economist” on a red background, and then the word “Pragmatist” below in BusinessWeek colours. Thankfully someone further up the line decided that waging war on The Economist probably wasn’t a good idea.

The FT’s ‘No FT, no comment’ tagline played to similar fears – that if you don’t read it, you won’t have anything to say on important issues. But their advertising has never been quite as clever or consistent as The Economist’s. My favourite moment of schadenfreude (I was working for the competition at the time) was when they used a pink yacht to promote the launch of their Australian edition, but it hit Sydney Opera House and sank. Picture here.

Probably the best advertising that the FT has done involved no copywriting at all – they wrapped the newspaper around Hong Kong’s tallest building, Two IFC. My friend Mary-Frances Bellman was behind that ground-breaking and memorable stunt, which garnered a huge amount of press coverage. Click here for pictures. The moral of those two FT stories is to be memorable, but for the right reasons. And why not?


Are You An Arithmodigmaphile?

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on January 1, 2011 by timlafferty

Happy New Year! Today is 1/1/11; my friend Devesh pointed out that in ten days it will be 11/1/11, in ten months it will be 1/11/11 and ten days after that, my 22nd (11 + 11) wedding anniversary, it will be 11/11/11.

I’ve long had a fascination with the combination of numbers 11:11. As a teenager whenever I looked at my digital alarm clock, either just before nodding off, or, er, just after waking up at weekends, it seemed that the red numbers always glowed 11:11. And no, it hadn’t stopped. Ever since, when I look at a digital clock, on the car dashboard for example, it often seems to be 11:11. I’m not sure if it’s because that pattern of numbers catches my eye, or because I’m now looking for that pattern I tend to see it and forget all the times that the time isn’t 11:11. Or whether it’s some deep, cosmic message. I didn’t deliberately choose 11/11 as a wedding day because of this, (I like to joke that I did it because it’s Remembrance Day and so I’d never forget my anniversary – people in Britain kindly wear poppies to remind me) but with hindsight it’s a curious coincidence. I wonder what 11/11/11 will hold for me.

Two other pals of mine, Walt Hopkins and George Simons, have invented a word for this kind of thing – ‘arithmodigmaphilia’ which combines the Greek words for ‘number’, ‘pattern’ and ‘love of’. Each year, when the day, month and year are equal, Walt sends out an arithmodigmaphilia email. On 09/09/09 he pointed out that it sounded like “Oh nein, oh nein, oh nein”. In 10/10/10 he started by telling us that, apparently, “ten, ten, ten” sounds like “yes, yes, yes” in Chinese. Walt is a management guru and all round sage – check out the arithmodigmaphilia section of his website:

Are you an arithmodigmaphile? Tell me what number patterns you like?

I hope 2011 is a good one for you. I’m optimistic.

Countdown Conundrums

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on December 13, 2010 by timlafferty

Now, I wouldn’t want you think I watch a lot of daytime TV, but one of the pleasures of working from home is that I can spend my afternoon tea break watching Countdown. I justify it because it’s a word and numbers game – it’s almost, um, professional development.  For any Brits that have lived in a cave for the last 28 years, and for those of you who live abroad and don’t know about Countdown, each weekday two contestants compete to win a teapot and some other junk. Some of them are very clever indeed.

In the word rounds, they take it in turns to select nine letters, blind, only being able to specify the mix of vowels and consonants. They then both have thirty seconds to create the longest word they can from the chosen letters. It’s a bit like Scrabble except the letters don’t have different values. So it’s a game requiring a great vocabulary, which would take many years to acquire, right? Nope. The winner on Friday, and the number two seed for the entire series because he won eight shows in a row with an average score of 112, is just 14 years old. How can someone as young as Eoin Monaghan know words like ‘viragoes’, ‘prentice’, ‘censure’, ‘imamate’ and ‘rainouts’? In one round Eoin used all nine letters with ‘totalised’. I find it hard enough just to spell his name.

The very end of the show is called the Countdown Conundrum where the contestants race to solve a one word, nine-letter, anagram. The letters on Friday were:


He solved it in one second. Answers on a postcard.

He also scored maximum points on the numbers rounds. Here, they take it in turns to choose six numbers, only able to specify how many ‘large’ numbers (25, 50, 75 or 100) and now many ‘small’ (1 – 10) numbers are chosen. A target number is then randomly generated by a computer and they have thirty seconds using adding, subtracting, dividing and/or multiplying the numbers to get as close to the target as possible. Each number may only be used once and the contestant who’s closest to the target number gets the points. If they can’t solve it, the resident human calculator, Rachel Riley, shows how to do it, if it is indeed possible. Rachel is a maths graduate from Oxford University and is even more attractive than her predecessor (and I never thought I’d say that), the ubiquitous Carol Vorderman who worked on the show for 26 years. (It was the first programme to be screened on Channel 4 when it launched in 1982). Here’s a problem the lovely Rachel solved in under thirty seconds last week:


Target number 299.

Getting 298 or 300 isn’t too hard. But a prize to anyone who can show how Rachel got 299 (and huge respect if you can do it quicker than she did).

To see Eoin in action in Friday’s programme click here:

The series final is this Friday (Dec 17th) at 3.25 p.m but, if you can’t work from home like me, you can watch it later on Channel 4’s on demand service at My guess is Eoin will be in the final against Cambridge student Jack Hurst, who is the grand old age of 18. Older people do take part on the show, they just don’t seem to do so well. I won’t be applying.

Does the Pope Tweet?

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2010 by timlafferty

The Pope has been in Britain this week which started me wondering how he keeps in touch with people back home when he’s on a business trip like this: he doesn’t look like someone who would text or keep his fans posted on Facebook. So I Googled “Does the Pope Tweet?”. Well, there is a Twitter account called Pope Benedict but I’m not sure it’s really him. It only has about 5,000 followers – which seems low – Jesus managed to feed that many with five loaves and a couple of fish (they didn’t get chips). The last Tweet from that account was a year ago, in Latin. One of the people that Twitter account follows is ‘Secularheretic’ whose last Tweet was “Condoms don’t prevent AIDs,” which is perhaps the sort of post that might meet Pope Benedict’s approval.

His Holiness might not have a Twitter account (it’s hard to tell who’s the real deal on Twitter) but he is online. At you can learn all about Pope 2.0, including his iPhone and Facebook Apps. He’s on Youtube and you can see speeches and interviews at Pope2you View.

So he’s a bit more twenty-first century than I thought and maybe he even keeps a mobile phone under those rather flamboyant robes; the vibrations might explain that enigmatic smile.

If Jesus returned now, what would he make of the world? (surely he wouldn’t ride around in a Popemobile). If you got a text from Jesus, what would it say?

We must polish the Polish furniture

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on September 6, 2010 by timlafferty

No wonder my friends overseas tell me English is a difficult language to learn. We have many words which mean different things depending on the context, and others which sound the same but are spelled differently. A few examples below (with thanks to Sylvia Luckman for most of them):

The archer used his bow to fire an arrow over the ship’s bow, hitting the bough before taking a bow.

The bandage was wound around the wound

The farm was used to produce produce

The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse

The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert

Since there is no time like the present, she decided to present the present

A bass was painted on the bass drum

I did not object to the object

The insurance was invalid for the invalid

There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row

They were too close to the door to close it

The buck does funny things when the does are present

The seamstress and a sewer fell down the sewer

To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow

The wind was too strong to wind the sail

Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear

I had to subject the subject to a series of test

How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

The lead soldier liked to be led but one day hoped to lead

Can you come up with some of your own? Please send them to me.

Nemo Sex Change Shock

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 by timlafferty

I achieved a lifetime ambition last week by diving on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. One of the many fish I encountered on my six dives over two days was the Clown Fish, aka the Anenome Fish, made famous by the film ‘Finding Nemo’.

Clown Fish

Talking to the dive guides I learned that the film script has taken liberties with the reproductive cycle of the Clown Fish. Apparently, in a school of these fish, they are all males with the exception of one female. She periodically bites a gland on the neck of each male which releases a hormone that keeps them male, so that she can mate with them. When the female dies, there’s no biting of glands so one of the males turns into a female and then takes up the new biting duties. So, if ‘Finding Nemo’ had been true to the life cycle of the Clown Fish, when Nemo’s Mum died, his Dad should have had a sex change and mated with Nemo. Not very Disney, is it. There are times when we writers don’t want facts to get in the way of a good story.

Marvin and Tim (right!)

This reproductive cycle is in contrast with another fish I encountered, the Napoleon Wrasse (like Marvin, pictured), aka the Maori Wrasse. These fish are mostly female, each male having a harem. The females turn into males when they reach a certain age/size. Wouldn’t it be confusing if, when human girls reached a certain age, they turned into blokes? Good idea for a script, perhaps.

Spoiled or Spoilt?

Posted in Uncategorized, Words on July 16, 2010 by timlafferty

While editing some web content recently I came across the sentence ‘I was spoiled for choice’ and I hesitated for a moment to consider whether the writer might have used ‘spoilt’ instead. I understand that Americans wouldn’t use ‘spoilt’ at all. But in the UK it’s not quite so clear-cut. In my Chambers Dictionary it says ‘spoiled (or only in the sense of damage) spoilt’. That implies that, as ‘spoiled for choice’ isn’t referring to damage, then spoiled is correct. I wondered what people in the ‘cloud’ thought and I came across a discussion forum on the subject at the University of Liverpool, with this post from a member called Sylph:

“I have a grammar book written by S.G.McKaskill titled A Dictionary of Good English, in which I find the comparison of “spoiled” with “spoilt” made by the author:

i. When the meaning is “damaged or impaired to some extent”, “spoiled” is generally preferred. When the sense is “ruined”–that is, when the spoiling is complete–the tendency is to use “spoilt”.

Examples: The cool wind spoiled our swimming carnival.
The cake was burnt so badly that it was completely spoilt.

ii. When the function is adjectival, “spoilt” is generally used, for example, a spoilt child, a spoilt dinner, a spoilt voting form.”

So now we know how, in this instance, spoiled should be spelled. Or spelt.