The Economist exporting British English


The Economist sells nearly four times as many copies in North America as it does in the UK. But it continues to be leery of what it calls “Americanisms”. Much as I like reading the Economist, isn’t it somewhat old-fashioned to insist:

“Avoid affirmative action, rookies, end runs, stand-offs, point men, ball games and almost all other American sporting terms”?

The Economist style guide is a stickler for British English and so it says:

“Put adverbs where you would put them in normal speech, which is usually after the verb (not before it, which usually is where Americans put them). Choose tenses according to British usage, too. In particular, do not fight shy—as Americans often do—of the perfect tense, especially where no date or time is given. Thus Mr Bush has woken up to the danger is preferable to Mr Bush woke up to the danger, unless you can add last week or when he heard the explosion.”

But how about this?

“Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style sheets, host parties, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, trial programmes or loan money. Gunned down means shot. And though it is sometimes necessary to use nouns as adjectives, there is no need to call an attempted coup a coup attempt or the Californian legislature the California legislature.

The Economist's circulation

The graphic here is from the Economist media kit, which shows the magazine sold nearly 1.4 million copies a week between June and December last year. More than half the sales were in North America (nearly 787,000 copies a week), and just over 13 percent in the UK (about 187,000). Even Continental Europe bought more copies (nearly 240,000). About 134,000 copies were sold every week in Asia Pacific, with five-figure sales in:

  • Australia (20.897)
  • India (19,491)
  • Hong Kong (18,411)
  • Singapore (16,965).

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Grin and bear it — for a long time

In the current recession, here's a sunny classic that's depression-proof: Dean Martin singing King of the Road, written by Roger Miller and a hit for him in 1965. One needs such tonics with the US headed into its worst recession since 1982, according to the Financial Times, and sagging Asian economies not very likely to get any lift from China.The Economist says:

According to the Asian Development Bank, 60 percent of Asia’s exports (not including Japan’s) still go to America, the European Union and Japan. A decline of one percentage point in America’s growth rate, the bank calculates, knocks 0.3 percentage points off Asia’s. That may be optimistic.

This could be the Big Bear, which prowls into the market maybe once in a generation and hangs around for a long time, says the Economist's Buttonwood column:

It is beginning to look as if we are in the middle of another of those great phases, what commentators call a secular, as opposed to a cyclical, bear market. Broadly speaking, the 20th century can be divided into six phases; bear markets from 1901-21, 1929-49 and 1965-82 and bull runs from 1921-29, 1949-65 and 1982-2000.

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This is writing, from The Economist

Here’s the Economist at its best, wittily explaining why America has a two-house Congress and tying it in with the scandal surrounding Senator Ted Stevens (Republican, Alaska), who denies accepting improper gifts from an oil company:

Thomas Jefferson once asked George Washington why he had agreed to a two-house Congress. Washington, noting that Jefferson had poured his tea into his saucer in order to cool it, said that he had answered his own question. “We pour House legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.” But the father of the nation never imagined that the inhabitants of his cooling chamber might try to pocket the silverware and run off with the teapot.

A song for the Economist

The Who singing Won’t Get Fooled Again. This should be the theme song of the Economist. I was reminded how wrong it can be in its own opinion by a column mocking “Overconfident India“.

The writer jokes about Indians being the only people on earth having a high opinion of President Bush. But the joke is really on the Economist. If the Economist now takes a dim view of President Bush, surely it betrayed a serious lack of judgment when it supported the Iraq war and President Bush’s policies in the past? How can a magazine which makes it its business to dispense wisdom to the world be so dumb?

It’s remarkable how uninformed the writer is about Indian public opinion.

The article says Indians think highly of President Bush and expect the Indo-US nuclear energy agreement to be approved in no time at all.

How on earth did the writer miss the ruckus in India itself? The communists have no love for President Bush and the nationalists too hate the deal.

And, contrary to what the writer claims, Indians do know the agreement is yet to be approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the US Congress.

But then the Economist has been wrong before. That’s what makes it entertaining. Inevitably, sometimes it gets it right. That’s what makes it a cross between a twit and a Shakespearean fool.

GQ beats Wired and The Economist

GQ beats the Economist and Wired! Style beats substance. It's happening in politics.

The New Yorker and the National Geographic are winners too in the 2008 National Magazine Awards. The National Geographic beat Time, which I prefer myself, but the Geographic is more popular and timeless.

The National Geographic also won the prize for Best Reporting with an article on China's Instant Cities.

Vanity Fair won the prize for Profile Writing for Pat Dollard's War on Hollywood.

The Rolling Stone won the prize for Columns and Commentary for three columns: Worse Than Bush, My Favorite Nut Job, and Obama's Moment.

Mother Jones was the winner in the 100,000-250,000 circulation category, beating another heavyweight, Foreign Policy.

  • GQ won in the 500,000 to 1 million circulation category;
  • The New Yorker in the 1 million to 2 million category; and
  • The National Geographic in the over 2 million category, beating Time, People, Glamour and Martha Stewart Living. A pretty eclectic list.

For the full list of winners and finalists, visit the American Society of Magazine Editors site or the Huffington Post.

Question: Is HuffPo getting to be the Fox News of the left? Daily Kos may be more to the left, but HuffPo is more foxy, the glitterati playing chatterati.

The Economist likes Buddha

West Bengal’s Marxist Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (picture from has received a glowing encomium from the Economist magazine. Check the Business section of the latest issue. He may not like the headline, "The capitalist communist",  but he will certainly love the subhead, "How a poetic Marxist has transformed business prospects in West Bengal". And it’s absolutely right.  I enjoyed the article so much I must quote it:

Until a few years ago foreign capitalists were unlikely to look for
investment opportunities in the Indian state of West Bengal, seat of
the world’s longest-serving democratically elected communist
government. They were about as likely to ask for the novels of Gabriel
Garcia Marquez in Bengali, the local language. That both are now
readily available is largely down to one man. He is Buddhadeb
Bhattacharjee, the state’s chief minister, a poet and playwright, the
translator of the great Colombian-born novelist—and a life-long

Since taking charge of West Bengal in 2000, Mr Bhattacharjee has
embraced business with apostate zeal. The results have been little
short of revolutionary. Under a coalition of leftists led by his own
Communist Party of India (Marxist), which has won seven consecutive
elections, West Bengal was previously best known for industrial action,
capital flight and the immiseration of its capital, Calcutta, recently
renamed Kolkata. Things improved slightly in the mid-1990s, after
investors were officially invited to the state. But only in recent
years, after Mr Bhattacharjee began travelling the world and wooing
foreign companies, have many actually come. They have joined an influx
of Indian firms in computer services, manufacturing and steelmaking.
Tata Motors says that next year it will start producing a new low-cost
car—expected to sell for less than $3,000—at a factory it is building
at Singur, near Kolkata.

Bhattacharjee, who has a reputation for probity unusual in an Indian
politician, has been credited with this success. In person, he is
modest and engaging. With shining eyes and a breathy chain-smoker’s
voice, he enthuses on topics from agri-business to consumerism and
Indian poetry, which he often quotes. In private life his tastes are
Gandhian in their austerity: he has lived with his librarian wife and
environmentalist daughter in the same two-bedroom flat for two decades.
Azim Premji, the chairman of Wipro, a big computer-services company,
has called Mr Bhattacharjee India’s best chief minister. The prime
minister, Manmohan Singh, agrees.

Some Indian commentators have likened Mr Bhattacharjee to China’s great
moderniser, Deng Xiaoping. He laughs off this suggestion, and notes
that communist ideology is practically extinct in China. Yet his own
“Marxist principles”, which he says he has discussed at length with
Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, do not sound terribly radical.
They are, he says, to “protect the poorest of the poor, protect
un-organised workers, protect womenfolk who have no income.”

The Economist does not give him a perfect score, however.

Peasants are being uprooted by his land acquisition policy to help develop industries and the fallout has been "disastrous", it says, referring to the violence in Nandigram: People have been killed in clashes between the ruling Marxists and their opponents protesting against the land being given to the Salim Group of Indonesia to set up petrochemical plants.

The Economist adds:

The dispossessed are not alone in their protests. India’s urban classes
retain a sentimental fondness for village life, poor and squalid as it
may be. This is especially true in West Bengal, where peasants are
officially considered the vanguard of a proletarian revolution.

The chief minister is certainly to blame, in part, for the crisis. And
with a general election expected next year, in which the Communists are
expected to do badly, there is talk that party bosses, wedded to the
outworn ideology that he has so sensibly forsaken, might force Mr
Bhattacharjee to quit. That would be a pity. India needs more leaders like Mr Bhattacharjee, who is a talented administrator, even if his political views remain enigmatic.

It’s remarkable for the Economist to show such a soft soft for a Marxist. But that may be because in its view he isn’t a typical Marxist but a "capitalist communist". Unconsciously, the cultured, literary chief minister, who graduated from prestigious Presidency College in Calcutta (Kolkata), betrays a certain elitism. It’s there in the last sentence of the Economist article:

Quoting Vladimir Mayakovsky—a Russian poet whose verse he has also
translated into Bengali—he says: “Proletarians arrive at communism from
below, but I from poetry’s sky plunge into communism, because without
it, I feel no love.”

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee may love communism, but this incorruptible, cultured, literary, middle-class Bengali gentleman is no prole.