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Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Charity fund raisers: doncha just hate 'em!

The other day I phone a friend in Australia from London. She hung up before I had a chance to say a word. So I rang her again. This time she answered and when she realised who I was, she explained that she had initially thought she was the recipient of yet another begging call from a professional charity fund raiser.

This happens to me quite often when I ring friends and relatives in Australia or New Zealand, usually in the early evening, their time. It is becoming a serious irritation. More and more Aussies and Kiwis are installing call monitors. As a result, calls from abroad show up as "private number", "number withheld" or "number unobtainable". The person being called assumes -- with some justification, sadly -- that they are in danger or being pestered by a smooth-talking telesales person or criminal displaying all sorts of inventive ways or relieving that person of some or all or their hard-earned cash.

My mother, who died aged 95, was a particular target in her later years for charity beggars. Being a polite woman, she would always hear the callers out and would try to explain that she was an old woman and already gave significant sums of money to charity. As I tried to explain to my mother, this information encouraged, not discouraged, the fund raisers who were almost all working on a commission of one sort or another. It was quite shameful the way they tried to exploit her good nature.

In a related matter, I have recently been receiving calls from a particular UK number that is almost certainly using auto-call phone software.I tracked it down to a charity I have supported for many years. I have now withdrawn my support in protest.

Words that are misused or unnecessary

Some German friends recently asked me to edit a letter they were writing to their neighbours about a matter of mutual concern. Their spoken English is excellent, but they were worried that their grasp of the written word was not so good. As I suggested changes, I realised that some of them would have been made were I editing a similar document written by a person with English as a first language. This took me back to when I was a journalism lecturer and produced for my students a simple guide to some of the errors that irritated me. You may find it of use:


Calm but tense (and tense but calm)
A nonsense. It can’t be both.
Tiny little village
Villages are, by definition, tiny and little.
Personal friend
Friends are, by definition, personal. But close friend is okay.
…given birth to a baby boy/girl
What else could they be but a baby?
At this moment in time
What’s wrong with “now”?
Head up
Light up
Meet up with
…in two years time
In two years.
Consult with
He/she refuted the allegation
Refute means disprove by argument, not reject/dismiss.
Completely destroyed/wrecked/flooded
Destroyed/wrecked/flooded are self-standing. But partly is okay.
War/flood/fire/conflict situation
Passed away/passed on
Collateral damage. Neutralise. Take out.
Military euphemisms aimed at hiding the brutal reality of war.
High-speed police chase
“Why high-speed? This is implied by it being a chase.
Rushed to hospital by ambulance
What’s wrong with “taken to hospital”?
Outside of
Razed to the ground [by fire]
“Razed” means levelled. A brick/stone building is unlikely to be razed.
You imply in a statement; those listening to/reading it will infer.
Less for quantities; fewer for numbers
Amount of people/houses etc
Number of…
Try and…
Try to…
Assisting police with their enquiries
An unnecessary euphemism for “being questioned by police”
Why “pre-”? Planning is always in advance of an event.
Fierce fighting
Fighting usually is fierce.
Very unique
I’ve got
I have.  Got is an ugly word that usually isn’t needed in a sentence.
Closed off
Closed is usually sufficient

For more thoughts on the use of words, visit the Guardian style guide:
and the BBC guide:

Ian Richardson’s website: