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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 I have now withdrawn my support in protest.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
Up for sale
For sale
Rising up
…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.
Finishing/finished off
Centred around
Centred on.
It means soon, not currently. Or it used to.
Mitigate against
No. Don’t confuse mitigate with militate.
Trained up
Must off
Must have.
Comprised/comprising of
Concensus of opinion
Bored of
Bored by
A lazy comment. Use only when someone/something really is awesome.
Loved ones
Family and friends is more neutral and accurate.
[I feel] humble
Are you sure you don’t mean proud?
Hiding out

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

Ian Richardson’s website and email address: