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Tuesday, May 11, 2004
Another sortie to the States – both sides, this time – yielding an odd range of educational insights.

First and foremost, never mind Easy Rider and The Wild Bunch, we saw potholes the size of asparagus trenches on every major highway.

Anyone who dares to ride any kind of motorbike on the New Jersey Turnpike or most of the other roads we drove on is dicing with death at anything more than 20 mph. We may moan about the state of the M1 or the M4, but at least the road surface is not pitted and cratered like that.

Next came the dramatic realisation that America's beloved baseball could be every bit as dull to watch as cricket.

We'd seen highlights on TV, but they'd always consisted largely of people with oddly-spelled names (Andruw, Jaret, Derrek and Daryle) nonchalantly biffing and belting the ball over distant fences and high up into the crowd.

What we hadn't seen were the tense, finely balanced matches where the triumphant 1-0 winners manage no home runs in the full nine innings. That is about as exciting as one-nil to the Arsenal was in the bad old pre-French days.

But the third revelation was that it was really true that Americans don't understand the word "fortnight".

We'd been dimly, editorially aware of this for some time. But the stunned, blank incomprehension when we mentioned that we'd be in the US for a fortnight was a wonder to behold.

The assembled audience could not have been more baffled if we'd lapsed into full Shakespearean mode and said that we'd return a sennight hence.

Even the pedant's plodding explanation – fortnight, fourteen nights, sennight, a week – hardly seemed to help. The clear implication was that we were dredging up some archaic English term just to confuse them and hide the fact that we'd really be there for two weeks.

So, an interesting trip. And proof, once again, that travel's mind-broadening influence works in mysterious and ambiguous ways. For once, after half a month on the road, home seemed quite a good place to live and work.  
The live blog for everybody who lives and dies by the word. The UK's top guide to editing better and getting more respect for it is at www.e-editor.co.uk.

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