The Bristol Channel is funnel-shaped and has the second highest rise and fall of tides in the world. Bristol’s origins as a key trading port in the XVIII century were developed against these environmental factors, and an enviable reputation for standards of equipment and service for long voyages was founded. The Royal Naval ships, in particular, were sturdy and stout, and robust enough to avoid damage from being “beached” or “keeled over”. In turn, their on-board paraphernalia had to be stowed neatly, orderly and safely before setting sail.
The term “shipshape” refers to the neat order; “Bristol fashion” refers to the critical specifications that ships had to meet before entering Bristol Harbour. The phrase in its entirety means “neat, tidy and well-stowed”… lovely!
Wind forward three hundred years, and we have to ask ourselves what Bristol’s seafaring captains might have done before their blogs, newsletters and various marketing collateral were ready to set sail on the internet. Would our business and marketing materials have stood up to their pre-launch inspections? Would they have “signed-off” our grammar, spelling, punctuation, format and style as orderly stowed prior to departure?
Like Bristol’s naval captains, the proofreader arrives at the end of the writing process to check that the copy is robust, reliable and “ready to go”. The proofreader wears a different hat to the writer, and brings a different set of skills; he reads what he actually sees on the materials, making corrections where necessary, thereby giving the writer the confidence that the copy really “glistens”.
The term, “Shipshape and Bristol Fashion” is due a revival. With the current proliferation of blogs, reports, e-shots and newsletters being shared on the internet, presentation is everything. Let’s polish it up and use this phrase as a byword for proofreading our written copy prior to publication. The naval captains of old would have expected nothing less!
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