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Peter Harvey
I am an English-language teacher, translator and author.
Interests: Language, English language, Europe, history, current affairs,
Recent Activity
In my publicity for Great English Mistakes I list some typical mistakes made by Spanish-speakers. I have been asked for explanations of them. • People is kind. Should be: People are kind. Explanation: In Spanish the word for “people” (gente) is singular. • Which is your phone? Should be: What is your phone number? The Spanish would be: ¿Cuál es tu teléfono? Explanation: 1) “Cuál” conventionally translates as “which” so Spanish-speakers say “which” in questions with unlimited possibilities. 2) The Spanish form does not include the word for number. • I am interesting to know you. Should be: I am... Continue reading
Posted 7 days ago at Lavengro
When is a word a word and when is it two words, or even three? A strange thing about English is its ability to assimilate different words into the same form. bow There are two words with the same spelling. One of these words has two pronunciations but its meanings all relate to the idea of bending. pronounced /b@U/ It is the thing used to shoot an arrow. It is a knot made with two loops, typically used to tie shoelaces or worn by girls in their hair or in a bow tie. The elbow is the joint where the... Continue reading
Posted Nov 27, 2016 at Lavengro
An interesting article by Dr John Gallagher of Cambridge University about the importance of language learning in the UK, especially commenting on Brexit. Continue reading
Posted Nov 1, 2016 at Lavengro
Click to enlarge image Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2016 at Lavengro
You might think that an unpublished book was one that had never been presented to the public. And if so you’d be right, for the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as: adj. (of a work) not published. > (of an author) having no writings published. and the Oxford English Dictionary has: 1.a Not made generally known or accessible, esp. in print. 1.b Of an author: having had no writings published. 2 Not divulged or disclosed. Neither dictionary offers any other meaning. However, Amazon (and possibly other publishers) have given it a new meaning: removal from sale of a... Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2016 at Lavengro
The world of self-publishing has moved on a lot in the last few years. It is not all that long since self-publishing on Kindle was a nightmare; now it is easy. There is one snag, formatting. Most books published for Kindle have plain narrative text; they are novels or text-based non-fiction. Fair enough, that is what works with Kindle’s reflowable text. In my particular case that is no good. There are two reasons: my books have complex formatting of numbers, bullet points, spacing, headers tables etc. and they include phonetic symbols in the Times New Roman Phonetics font, which does... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2016 at Lavengro
At one time I sold my books through Amazon and found it far from satisfactory. In those days did not exist and I was limited to, others being unavailable since I did not have a bank account in France, Germany etc. This mean that I had to pay the extortionate postage rate demanded even between EU countries to send books from Spain the UK, which in turn led to a ridiculous UK price for the books. Some time later I signed a contract with a Spanish company for them to take over Amazon sales. This actually worked out... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2016 at Lavengro
At last I am publishing my books in Kindle format, starting with Pearls of the English Language. It is available worldwide in the Kindle Store. I am able to do this easily through Kindle Direct Publishing. Because of the phonetic symbols, which do not display in Kindle’s converted ‘reflowable text’, I have used Kindle Textbook Creator. This is an application that takes a pdf file and converts it to a format that is an image of the original. In this way, any image, chart, graph etc. can be preserved in the display on the Kindle. This display is only available... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2016 at Lavengro
Ann Curzan's latest Lingua Franca post describes ten common peeves. They have been conveniently summarised as follows by Barrie England, who has blogged extensively on the subject of the negative canon: 1. 'I could care less' 2. Apostrophe used for plurals 3. Hyperbolic use of 'literally' 4. Confusion of 'loose' and 'lose' 5. Confusion of 'your' and 'you're' 6. Confusion of 'their', 'there' and 'they're' 7. Misunderstanding of 'nonplus' 8. Confusion of 'affect' and 'effect' 9. Confusion of it's' and 'its' 10. Claim that 'irregardless' is not a word There is one other that is worth mentioning: the use of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2015 at Lavengro
This is a Spanish sentence that I saw on Facebook with an automatic translation by Bing. Me considero marxista. Digamos que tras(1) los presupuestos(2) teóricos(3) y de comunicación de Podemos(4) hay una lectura muy específica(5) de(6) Gramsci(7). I consider myself Marxist. Let us say that after the budgets theorists and communication of we can there is a reading very specific gramsci. My translation would be: I consider myself to be a Marxist. Let us say that behind the theoretical and communication premises of Podemos there is a very specific reading of Gramsci. 1) Tras often means after, following, in the... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2015 at Lavengro
Returning after a regrettably long absence I would like to mention something that I saw on Trip Adviser. A hotel in Spain was replying to a customer who had complained that the hotel didn’t have irons for hire. The response was that this was the hotel’s policy ‘for security reasons’. Clearly they mean safety, not security; there is an obvious fire risk in hotel guests using irons in their rooms. The root of the problem is that Spanish seguridad covers two concepts that are clearly differentiated in English. As I say in A Guide to English Language Usage: Both of... Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2015 at Lavengro
At Glossophilia Louise asks for comments on these sentences. It’s easy to see which way this is heading but as my comment is there I will say no more here, for now at least. A) “Looking at the three designs, I was most drawn to the round one that bled outside the page border; however, I liked the square one too.” B) “Looking at the three designs, I was most drawn to the round one which bled outside the page border; however, I liked the square one too.” C) “Looking at the three designs, I was most drawn to the... Continue reading
Posted Jan 22, 2015 at Lavengro
One of 17 It is no secret that I dislike apostrophes and would abolish them if I had the power to do so. Hyphens, on the other hand, are a different matter. They have a useful purpose in indicating compound words. A Spanish-English dictionary is one that describes the two languages while a Spanish English teacher is a person of Spanish nationality who teaches the English language. Hyphens seem to be disappearing. I regret this. However, they are commonly used to combine numbers and units: a 20-tonne lorry, a 40-year-old woman. Somehow something went wrong in the Guardian and we... Continue reading
Posted Jan 14, 2015 at Lavengro
The other day I went to a carol concert here in Barcelona. It finished with White Christmas – or it should have, but this is what we got: I'm dreaming of a why Christmas With every Christmas card I wry May your days be merry and brigh And may all your Christmases be why. It’s the final-consonant problem of course. Native English choirs pride themselves on all hitting the sound at the same instant. However, Catalan does have words that end with t, unlike Spanish, which has no words ending with the airway obstructed or the mouth closed. Or so... Continue reading
Posted Dec 24, 2014 at Lavengro
Outstanding is an ambiguous word. Something that stands out is different from the rest. An outstanding result is an extraordinary one, and the word is specifically positive; on its own it implies excellence. But something that is a matter that still has to be dealt with or a debt that has not been paid is also said to be outstanding. A similar word is overlook. A hotel room can overlook the sea or you can overlook (i.e. ignore) a mistake that someone has made. The basic meaning is the same but in one case by looking out the sea you... Continue reading
Posted Dec 2, 2014 at Lavengro
It’s a frightening example of how translation can go wrong.. Willie Ramirez was taken by ambulance to a South Florida hospital in a comatose state. He became quadriplegic as a result of a misdiagnosed intracerebellar hemorrhage that continued to bleed for more than two days as he lay unconscious in the hospital. In the course of the law suit, it was asserted that Willie could have walked out of the hospital had the neurosurgeon been called in earlier. No neuro consult was ordered for two days because the Emergency Room physician and the doctor covering Willie in the ICU erroneously... Continue reading
Posted Nov 18, 2014 at Lavengro
In Great English Mistakes, published in 2008, I write: Firstable A classic mistake is to write this because you have heard a speaker say it at a meeting. But you haven’t. What he actually said was, First of all, I would like to thank … I can’t remember when I first saw it in written work from a student – and I remember being astonished when I did – but it wasn’t by any means new to me when I wrote that. Now the Language Log reports that it is appearing on the internet from native speakers with quotations going... Continue reading
Posted Nov 17, 2014 at Lavengro
Tom Freeman at the Stroppy Editor quotes a YouGov poll that showed 1000 Americans some sentences and asked them to pick which one of each pair or group was grammatically correct. These were the results: My oak tree loses it’s leaves in autumn. – 31% My oak tree loses its leaves in autumn. – 67% The dogs are happily chewing on they’re bones. – 4% The dogs are happily chewing on their bones. – 89% The dogs are happily chewing on there bones. – 4% I think you’re very smart. – 91% I think your very smart. – 6% I... Continue reading
Posted Nov 15, 2014 at Lavengro
Here is an interesting infographic about second language use worldwide from the Business Insider site. It doesn't distinguish between: Official languages used nationally (e.g. Swedish in Finland). Regional languages that are not used throughout the country (e.g. Catalan and Kurdish in Spain and Turkey). Recent immigrant languages (e.g. Polish in the UK). It also shows Belerusian (sic) as a second language in Belarus, which is surprising. According to Wikipedia Belarusian is the national language and Russian has official status. Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2014 at Lavengro
A cup sits on a saucer. That is so obvious that the phrase cup and saucer trips naturally off the tongue without a second thought. So how can Spanish have no word for saucer? The things exist of course but are called platillos, little plates. They have the dimple in the centre to hold a cup, and are used for serving coffee, but they are also used for serving tapas or for returning change in bars. They are usually white, though some coffee brands have their distinctive cups This may be due to the habit of drinking coffee in very... Continue reading
Posted Oct 27, 2014 at Lavengro
This is the first in a series of …has no word for… which will be posted at 06.00 Central European Time on Tuesdays. for an explanation of the title, click here * * * * * - See more at: This is the first in a series of …has no word for… which will be posted at 06.00 Central European Time on Tuesdays. for an explanation of the title, click here * * * * * - See more at: These posts are published at 06.00 CET on Tuesdays. For an explanation of the title and content, click... Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2014 at Lavengro
Victor Mair explains this on the Language Log. Continue reading
Posted Oct 21, 2014 at Lavengro
I am very pleased to say that Grammarist, a blog about usage and style, has published an interview with me about this blog, teaching and my books. Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2014 at Lavengro
I have long known the Spanish expression un brindis al sol as meaning an impressive but empty gesture. The Spanish literally means a toast to the sun, which surely must be a fine example of an impressive gesture that achieves nothing. It was only the other day that I read a Spanish author who used the expression and mentioned that it originates in bullfighting and has no direct connection with the sun as such. A bullring is traditionally divided into two sections, sol and sombra, which are sun and shade respectively. The sol seats are cheaper and were typically occupied... Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2014 at Lavengro
This is the first in a series of …has no word for… which will be posted at 06.00 Central European Time on Tuesdays. for an explanation of the title, click here * * * * * Shallow is a strange word. It is the opposite of deep, having no meaning in itself and only being defined negatively. The OED defines it as: Not deep, having little extension in a downward direction: said e.g. of water, of a dish or tray, of a depression or excavation in the ground. Shallowness cannot be measured; it can only be understood as the opposite... Continue reading
Posted Oct 14, 2014 at Lavengro