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Organic or Conventional? WT*?

I was intrigued to read about research into what fruit flies think of organic food. Apparently they like it:

“By nearly every measure, including fertility, stress resistance and longevity, flies that fed on organic bananas and potatoes fared better than those who dined on conventionally raised produce.”

“Conventionally raised produce?” I beg your pardon? For thousands of years mankind has grown plants and raised animals organically, that is to say naturally or as close to naturally as makes no difference. In my naivety I would call that “conventional”. The mere fact that for the past century or so we’ve contaminated our soils with fertilizers, polluted our produce with pesticides and abused our animals with pharmaceuticals to grow ever more and more at greater and greater profit does not mean that the practices of millennia suddenly become “unconventional”.

But it’s a neat trick. You see how it’s done? You just call whatever you want by something else. Suddenly industrial agriculture and factory farming are “conventional”. As if by magic, stuffing patients with billions of dollars of pills becomes “mainstream”. Clever isn’t it? Notice how the other, less profitable practices are given those strange, weirdo labels like “alternative” and “organic”. It’s what happens when we let interested parties hijack the language and stand it on its head. Some 2,500 years before 1984 a Chinese philosopher warned of this danger:

“When words lose their meaning people lose their freedom.” (Confucius)

How many “slugs” do you see here?


How many uses of the word “slug” do you see above? Can you write one sentence for each in the comment box below?

illustration courtesy Andy Singer

How many “scales” can you see here?


How many uses of the word “scale” do you see (more…)

How many waves do you know?


Can you make one sentence for each of the four (more…)

One down, two to go

One down, two to go — Sarkozy, the first of the three war criminals is down and out

Nicolas Paul Stéphane Sarközy de Nagy-Bocsa, soon-to-be former President Sarkozy of France, is the first of the three principal war criminals responsible for launching a massive NATO bombing campaign on Libya in 2011 that maimed and killed thousands of civilians to be kicked out of office by his own electorate - and beyond presidential immunity. (more…)

Footer versus footnote

A reader writes: “Is the word ‘footer’, now used in documents and written on one of your pages, a correct English word? I think it was created by Microsoft, and I believe the word ‘footnote’ would be more appropriate.”

Let’s try to clear this up. I’m not sure whether the word “footer” was coined by Microsoft or not, but if it was it made it into my 1995 edition of Concise Oxford Dictionary. For the context that we are discussing, the two words can be defined as:

  • footnote (noun): a note at the bottom of a specific page usually about something on that page.
  • footer (noun): a piece of text or programming code repeated at the bottom of every page.

Footnote: the word “footer” can also be used in combinations such as “six-footer” (a man who is six feet tall) and “right-footer” (a specific kick in football etc).

Specially or especially?

Many people wonder if there is a difference between the adverbs “specially” and “especially”. Even native speakers aren’t always sure how to use them. In some cases they can actually mean the same thing, especially in informal speech. However, for the sake of simplicity, here are the basic differences between the two words.

specially: for a particular purpose:

  • I made this cake specially for Mary.


1. particularly, above all:

  • I hate my teachers, especially Mr Cain.

2. very:

  • That was an especially good meal.

Cannot or can not?

People often ask me whether they should write cannot (1 word) or can not (2 words). (more…)


Irony is a situation or state of affairs that seems deliberately opposite to what you expect.

As an example, there are several ironies in the video below. One example of irony is when the police claim that the children cannot be photographed without parental consent and yet those very same children are cadets in an organization that prepares them to kill and be killed. That irony seems to have been lost on the police, who apparently made their claim with a straight face.

(Transcript below) (more…)

Saying of the Day

A saying is a short, clever expression that usually contains advice or expresses some obvious truth. Many traditional sayings are still in general use today. (more…)

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