If there is one phrase that I loathe more than any other in business correspondence, it is
Could you perhaps revert?
I've said this before, I know.
But there's such a huge gap between the question that the writer is trying to ask, and the question that they're actually asking that I just want to write back oozing sarcasm.
Update: I sent this to my staff.
I'm sorry guys, I just need to get this off my chest. It doesn't actually relate to anything you've done.
"revert" is a word that is often misused in correspondence.
The main meaning of the word is to return to a former condition, practice, subject, or belief.
So you can try something, and if it doesn't work then you can revert to a previous option.
There's also a secondary meaning is to return to a former owner (of money or property).
What it does not mean, under any circumstance, is "respond".
The phrase "Please revert to me by such & such a date" is, essentially meaningless.
Of course, lots of people use that phrase, all the time. And most of the time, people read it and understand what was intended. But there are anally retentive idiots like me out there who will read it and think that the person who wrote it is simply showing off their ignorance. So, try to avoid it. The English language is rich and varied and includes a good word to mean respond. That word is "respond".
Part of my job involves giving small amounts of money to people when they complain loud enough. As a consequence of this, the world is often a fairer place, and the giant multinational for which I work makes lower profits, which they then pass on in the way of reduced dividends to their major shareholders, who are predominantly pensioners. In this way, I make the lives of our elderly friends a slightly worse place, but make the lives of the people who complain a little better. There is no karma in this. There is a moral here, which is either that one should always complain, or that one should never complain, but I am not certain which.
Every day I receive somewhere between five and fifteen begging letters from people asking me to do them favours. If I think they've got a good case, I say okay. If they are clearly taking the piss, I tell them where to go. If I think they've maybe got a case, maybe not, then I probably make them happy because that's the kind of guy that I am. Anything for an easy life.
I've had a couple of doozies recently. I think my favourite was the one from someone else in the company asking me to give away £1,000 each to four different people (total cost to pensioners, about £4,000 - don't ask why, because there is no good reason for this). The justification for this wasn't that they deserved it, or that we'd cocked up, or any of the usual stuff that would have made me say "yes, here is some of my corporation's profits". It was "because if we do it, we'll get another 60 cases just like this". So that's a potential cost of £60,000 over and above the £4,000 that you're asking for.
I asked him to go 50:50 on it out of his own pocket.
I'm particularly amused by the fact that the Dublin Jack in Hong Kong is to become the most authentic Irish Pub in Asia by following the Irish ban on smoking in the workplace and becoming the first pub in Hong Kong to ban smoking inside.
The Dublin Jack is nestled under the escalator on Cochrane Street, at the bottom of a building that houses a gentleman's sauna and (in my day) a gentleman's late night hostelry. On the bottom two floors of this building, the Dublin Jack does a roaring trade, with many of the customers blissfully unaware of the shenanigans going on upstairs.
It was, coincidentally, a five minute walk from where we used to live. It was a good place to meet people, easy to describe the location of, and it had the great advantage of spilling out in to the street in an area that was predominantly commercial, so nobody really complained about noise. Although if they had, their complaints would have probably drown out the noise of the pub.
We went there quite a lot, and it's one of the places in Hong Kong that I particularly miss. And now their smoking ban just makes me feel warm inside.
It was - and not many people know this - Howard Edwards, a 43-year old postal worker from Illinois - who wrote the first deliberately fictitious estimated time of delivery. Indeed, he wrote so many of them, that by the time he retired then number of promises of "yes, Mr So&So, we will deliver between twelve and four" letters that he had written would have made a moderately interesting work of fiction. However, by then the practice had become so widespread that to publish the book would have seemed like bandwagoneering.
The setting, manipulation, and deletion of delivery times is an arcane art. It is now such a standard of contemporary life that actually trying to turn up when you say you will is considered to be such a unique selling feature that some companies see fit to advertise it.
I dare say before the innovation of Mr Edwards, there were some occasions when deliveries were late, or tradesmen failed to arrive at their specified hour, but these were generally few and far between, and met with cries of "compensate me". In those days it was less of an inconvenience, as the master of the house would be able to leave for work as usual in the morning, knowing that his wife or domestic servant would be able to cope.
These days, it's not that simple.
For example, today.
I took half a day off work, to wait for a guy who was supposed to arrive between 9 and 1. When he arrives, he'll be running over an hour beyond that.
What do I do when he leaves? If I go in to the office, I'm hardly getting any time at all there. So I'll probably try to rush him out of the door. This will suit him, as it means I'm less likely to find any problems with what he's done, or even to test it.
If I take the rest of the day off work, then I'm going to be Mr Unpopular even more than I am at the moment for taking half a day off. I'm wasting holidays by sharing them with deliveries.
This is the cunning wisdom of fictional delivery times. They tire people out, wear them down, make them acceptant of shoddy workmanship or service. I'm impressed at the same time as I'm angry. Hurrah for Howard Edwards.
Why does anyone care about the coach of the English national soccer team's private life ?
The clue there, by the way, is in the word "private".
Mr Eriksson is a painfully unattractive man, forced in to a position where he has become a celebrity. He's probably got some magnetism, some charisma, but he comes across as being deeply uninteresting and oddly media-shy.
And yet, I cannot illuminate my electric television without being reminded where he has allegedly put his genitals.
I don't care where he's put his genitals. But more than that, beyond those who he's actually been putting his genitals into, I don't understand why anyone in the world should care where they've been.
If Eriksson had been a politician, I could understand how the press could possibly make out that this was a matter of national interest. The old "if he can lie to his wife, what is to stop him lying to the nation" routine that's ultimately equivalent to "if he can walk across a road, what's to stop him walking across the Pacific?"
But he's not. He's the coach of a national soccer team. He's not affecting the quality of his training by putting his genitals into a diverse range of people, and he's not bringing the game in to disrepute, or at least not in the same way that Britney Spears made a mockery of marriage. He's not really done anything, as far as I can tell. Certainly none of the "journalism" I've seen on the subject has said that there's anything wrong with what he's done, but the FA are in 'crisis talks' and his ex is selling her story to the press.
Someone's making a lot of money out of this. And it's not even interesting.
Why is this news?
Our enemies are innovative and resourceful - and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people - and neither do we.
She's sitting in a corner, but not a dark one. It's the one where she can watch the door, see who's coming in to the pub. She's got a glass of water, maybe, and she grips it with both hands. It's a small barrier, but it's not her only one. She's hunched up, almost in to a ball. She wants the world to keep away. The world doesn't disappoint her.
She's made an effort, though, that much is clear. She's got lipstick on, and her hair is brushed in to shape, although it wouldn't be fair to call it styled. Her mouth is small, her lips tight, and her nose turns up slightly at the end. She's wearing a blouse, tight over her breasts. It's a flimsy lacy thing and the dark shapes of her nipples are visible through it. Her skirt is cut above the knee, in a simple black cotton. Below it, her legs are bare, and her shoes are red.
She is not pretty. Her legs are bruised, her hands are calloused. She looks exhausted, and her face only breaks into something that might be a smile when someone new enters the pub. For a moment, perhaps, it could be him. But it never is.
We watch her. We're trying not to, of course, because we don't want her to notice us. We want to be wallpaper. She doesn't see us, because we're not important to her. Her nail varnish is applied patchily, on bitten fingernails and bitten toenails. She has a bruise on her knee. The plastic bag on the floor beside her is stuffed with clothing.
Suddenly, I realise that she can't be older than fifteen.
She's not waiting for her boyfriend.
She's not waiting for a blind date.
She's not a working girl.
She's alone, though, she's definitely lost herself somewhere along the way.
She finishes her drink, picks up her bag, and strides out, storm clouds around her. Out of the pub, out of my life. Her future is not good.
I finish my beer and turn back to my friends.
I've recently been reading Richard Dawkins' "A Devil's Chaplain", a selection of essays from one of the foremost popular scientific writers of current times. Always highly readable, Dawkins is a biologist, a proponent of the theories of Evolution, and a debunker of pseudo-scientific tosh. While I agree with a significant amount of what Dawkins has to say, I do find some of his views on religion to be a little rabid. I was recently reading "The Great Convergence", in which he attacks the suggestion that religion and science are, in some sense, coming together.
The argument of those who posit convergence is straightforward. Science is a bunch of theories, and although it's a pretty consistent bunch of theories, there are gaps in it, places where it doesn't tie together. Theories are just that - theories. And many of them are proven to be wrong, or incomplete, and Science acknowledges that. Science is therefore a matter of faith. Add to that the fact that Science doesn't (yet) answer the question "why is there something instead of nothing" and you've still got scope for a creator in there. Hurrah.
This has huge implications for the concept of free will, I reckon. But I'm not a Christian Scientist, never will be, and ultimately don't really care.
Dawkins' counter-argument is perfectly fair – and again I'm paraphrasing here. Science allows no scope for there to be an interventionist deity. If there's a God, he just set up the universe, and he can't intervene. What sort of a God is that? In most religions that I can think of offhand - and certainly the big ones - the whole point is that God is not just the creator, but that he can intercede on behalf of his creations. Any argument that Science and Religion are convergent therefore only really works if you jettison half of the definition of religion.
I'm going to paraphrase the point in "The Great Convergence" that I disagreed with most. Interestingly (for me at least) it's a clearer statement of his straightforward attack on New-Age concepts in "Crystalline Truth and Crystal Balls".
One of the particularly noteworthy signs of an irrational belief is the assertion that simply because something appears impossible it is automatically more valid than something that can be explained.
This rankled. And it rankled partly because I agree with it, and partly because I think it's wrong. Let me explain.
It's ludicrous to believe that because something is unknowable it must be right. Consider the belief that there's a diamond buried eighteen miles under Jupiter's Red Spot that is the exact shape of Jeremy Paxman's willy. Is it knowable? Nope. Is it possible? Yup. Is it likely? Nope. Is it, therefore, a mystery? Absolutely. Is it a "good thing" to believe in? Of course not. And it's definitely not worth forming a religion over, although I dare say that there are people out there who do.
It's also ludicrous to believe that just because someone has faith in something that appears irrational, they embrace that irrationality and automatically want to defend it. I won't deny that it happens. The world is full of fundamentalists and missionaries, spreading beliefs solely through the power of evangelism and using their beliefs to justify the promotion of bigotry, hatred, miseducation and disease. But for many people, their faith isn't based around an irrational fervour, and it isn't based around rational logic. Many people just don't think like that.
Indeed, for many people, faith is almost scientific - on a small scale, on a personal scale. Consider a faith, a belief system, as a theory about how the universe works. If it fits the facts, or appears to fit the facts, it'll be accepted. True, you may not have considered all of the alternatives, but you probably don't have access to all the alternatives. You haven't sat down with a list of religions, ticked the ones you liked, crossed off the ones you don't, found one that fits the way you see the world. It's not a scientific process, but it's the beginnings of one. Faith isn't necessarily a statement that because something is unknowable it must be right. It's a statement that because something isn't explained doesn't mean that it can't be explained, and doesn't mean that it can't be right.
That's a much stronger position. It's a defensible position. Now go away and get on with the rest of your life. I'm off to form a religion based around Jeremy Paxman's willy.