This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Advise - a rant. By Liz Bankes.

Today I am delighted to announce The Word Den's first-ever
Guest Rant

This one is by Liz Bankes, who not only is one of the brains behind Armadillo Magazine, but also works for NATURE magazine.

Quite often on my train to work the guard will make an announcement like this:
I would like to advise you that the train is running 15 minutes late.
Cue lots of grumpy tutting and exhaling. Now I don’t mind the lateness at all (more sleeping time), but I just sit there thinking
                How is that advice?
                Surely you are just telling me this?
The announcement is repeated at every station and soon I’ve built up visions of bursting into the guard box (I don’t know if that is a thing) and shouting
                WHAT IF I DON’T TAKE YOUR ADVICE??
But I remember the sign at the station that advises me not to verbally abuse train staff, and so I stay in my seat.

And obviously I realise that the man would just have been reading from the train company’s list of approved announcements or ‘list of things you wouldn’t actually say in real life’ (Anyone noticed the inclement weather today?) So really I should direct my anger towards the train company, or just all companies that use needless, overly formal language.

And I know that the word advise, along with the definition ‘to give advice’, has a formal definition of ‘to inform/notify’, but outside of a legal context (the client was advised of her rights) and in situations when it should just be people talking normally to other people, it sounds pretentious and annoying.

In my old job working for a Business2Business building magazine (oh yes) I’d frequently get this sort of email:

Dear Miss Bankes,
I do not know whether you got my last email. Please advise.
Regards, Hector

Dear Hector,
I advise that I did not get your email. I advise you send it again and then I can advise you whether I get it. Actually, I can’t be sure that you will get this email… Please advise.
Regards, Liz

Dear Liz,
I am writing to advise that we have recently been chosen to represent a market-leading provider of roofing solutions.

Now, don’t get me started on roofing solutions…

Word to use today: advise. This word seems to be from the Vulgar Latin word advīsāre, which means to consider, which is itself possibly from vidēre, to see.

No one, though, seems to have been interested enough in the poor word to do the research to make certain.


  1. Interesting rant but if I were ranting with a railway theme I would fume and rage against the INCESSANT ANNOUNCEMENTS that go on all the time. Over and over again and most of them strictly not necessary. Do we really need to be told to take our things with us when we leave the train? Aren't most adults able to think of doing that all by themselves? Grrr. Impossible to sit in silence on a train any longer, even in the so called Quiet Coach. I'd swap a bit of silence for a few legalistic 'advises' any day!

  2. I hate the announcements for 'passengers on Platform 4 concerning the 17.47 service'.

    If I go to a member of staff and make a complaint about the lateness of the train, my complaint is 'concerning' the 17.47 service' but if all I am doing is standing on a platform, I really think all I'm doing is 'awaiting' it.

    In Cardiff, they announce every train about five times, in both Welsh and English. So that's ten identical announcements. Once in each language seems like enough to me!