Between The Covers: 30/01/2011

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The Independent Culture

From the founders of Smoke magazine comes a new board game – Soho! – which sounds like just the way to while away a long lunch.

"Each player is the editor of a small literary magazine," it explains. "Before the next issue can be printed, six pieces of rashly commissioned copy need to be retrieved from a somewhat motley bunch of recalcitrant writers [who] are currently holed up in six Soho pubs....The noble editor's thankless task is to contact all six writers and extricate their beer/sauvignon-stained prose...." Taxis, walking and Boris Bikes may be used. Though it has a nostalgic view of the literary editor's lot (Pubs? If only!) the game is a bargain at £15, plus p&p. Further details can be found at http://tinyurl.com/33yxaz8

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The English language is a beautiful and constantly evolving thing, but it's not evolving fast enough for the poor journalists having to write about the Sky TV football pundits and the "female linesman". Forget for a minute about whether women can understand the offside rule and let's get to grips instead with the basic rules of semantics: clearly a linesman cannot be female, any more than any other type of man can be; so is Sian Massey a lineswoman, a linesperson or – a bit like the "chair" of a meeting – is she just some sort of line?

The IoS's house style guide provides no rigid instructions in this case, though journalists are advised that we quote spokesmen and spokeswomen in our articles, and never spokespeople ("unless it is the known preference of the person concerned") or spokes. Our Sports Editor allows that "lineswoman is acceptable", but prefers the canny way out: "assistant referee".

The Oxford English Dictionary contains an entry for "linesman" and its variant, "linesmen", but nothing under "lineswoman" or indeed "line". Fortunately, an educated spokeswoman is on hand to settle the debate. "'Linesman' will have been entered quite a while ago; there is potential for revision," says Fiona McPherson, a senior editor at the OED. "But 'lineswoman' would have to have its own entry; 'woman' is not a variant of 'man'." McPherson's research in newspaper databases shows the word "lineswoman" as far back as 1977, but it is predominantly used in reference to tennis. It also shows "female assistant referee", which is no more a job title than "lady doctor". "I'm glad to say that there are not many examples of 'female linesman'," she says, "but most of those have been in the last few days."

And the definitive wisdom on the female linesman paradox? How about "line judge", suggests McPherson. "I do in fact understand the offside rule, too," she adds, "and I am a fervent St Johnstone supporter." All this, and literate, too. Get this woman a job on Sky TV!

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The Richard & Judy effect is not confined to shows presented by the great TV couple, the latest book charts show. Last Sunday saw the launch of More 4's TV Book Club, in which a panel including Jo Brand and Meera Syal championed Emma Donoghue's wonderful, Booker-shortlisted novel, Room. The novel instantly jumped to the top of the bestseller chart, with a 20 per cent (4,500 copies) rise on the previous week's sales.

Not to take all the credit, meanwhile, but perhaps Jo Nesbo's interview in these pages a fortnight ago contributed a little to his new entry at No 1 in the Top 20 Original Fiction list, from Nielsen BookScan. His new Harry Hole thriller, The Leopard, is only the second translated novel to top the chart since records began in 1998. The first, of course, was The Girl Who Played With Fire. But please remember not to call Nesbo the new Stieg Larsson – OK?

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