Saturday, 20 February 2016

Adjectives 11

Coalition Mediocre


Don't kill your darlings, nail your target.
bats, utterly bats
self-serving
woeful
debased
(classicism etc)

Coalition Mediocre tall buildings for the wealthy
(@brentcross)
fumbling, bleak and unromantic (observer.com on the Assange case)

drippy '70s footnote Paul Davis (Paul Whitelaw) (Christgau called him a “humourless singer-songwriter)

The musical numbers are spectacularly dull. (imdb on Hieronymus Merkin)

complacent leftist critiques (Fortean Times)

heavy hitter books (Moira Redmond)

the suffocating high-mindedness of church communiques (Guardian Jan 2016-01-17)

stunningly outré (Adam Nathaniel Furman)

Typical Moffat - almost unbearable winky cleverness. (BR)

blazing contradictions (Mike Savage, Social Class in the 21st Century, on interviewees who claimed “I’m not a snob” and then sneered at the naff taste of the lower classes)

Utter blithering incompetence is probably hip now. (Stef of Ing ‏@Stefing)

Without exaggeration, Morrissey’s fictional debut is the worst novel I can remember reading. It is gibberish, from beginning to end. Pretentious but sub-literate, it reads as if it has been translated, perhaps from Hungarian, using an internet translation engine. (Theo Tait, Sunday Times Oct 2015)

the Incredible String Band's world of music hall whimsy and sweetshop wackiness (Wildly arcane, literary and genre-defying Celtic/psychedelic/world music... forever changed the musical landscape before the magic somehow leaked away in the harsher light of the mid-seventies. BBC)

overblown oppressive vanity architecture (Darran Anderson on totalitarian buildings)

She smiles too much, in the manner of a profoundly alarming yoga teacher. (Hugo Rifkind on one of Lord Bath’s wifelets, Times Sept 2015)

crooning in a sort of affected, witchy pixie voice (Ditto on Lord B’s 1970 hippy folk LP)

Who does not dislike a 'boneless' hand extended as though it were a spray of sea-weed, or a miniature boiled pudding? (Emily Post on limp handshakes)

The carefully repopulated Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has issued a witheringly polite letter to the present home secretary, warning that her bill proposing a blanket ban on psychoactive substances is, to put it mildly, unenforceable. (New Scientist July 2015)

All those thoroughly forgotten books by them all. (Hugh Pearman on the Sitwells)

The horrific, scything pain of Rupert Pupkin's laughs. (Paul Whitelaw)
One of those sad, later Peter Sellers films. (Paul Whitelaw)
Truly dire knockabout panto Shameless, which did more to promote the offensive stereotype of the so-called underclass as a bunch of hedonistic, work-shy scroungers than a dozen Katie Hopkins columns. (Paul Whitelaw He also calls Sherlock "self-indulgent". No sh*it!)

Nowadays girls are obliged to apply for the job [of head girl] by writing a toadying letter. There are even templates and tips online. You are supposed to talk about life skills and challenges. Sample head girl manifestos smack of business plans, packed with public relations terminology. (Guardian May 2015)

Simenon makes the self-conscious avant-gardism of his time seem so much hysteria. (Irish Times)

the astonishingly trivial rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (Owen Hatherley, Guardian April 2015)

“I just can't account for the hostility that's been directed at our state,” he said, revealing himself to be either wildly disingenuous or unbelievably oblivious. “I've been taken aback by the mischaracterizations from outside the state of Indiana about what is in this bill.” (Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence March 2015 Update: He’s going to tinker with the religious freedom act so that businesses can use it as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.)

overwrought beseeching lovey dovey scenes (TD on Dr Who)

I have a surprisingly high tolerance threshold for wry inconsequential newspaper columns, meaningless filler though they be. (Hugh Pearman)

interminable slow trippy bollocks (GC on 2001)

They always turn up at auction in pristine condition, for the simple reason that they are completely and utterly useless. (Bargain Hunt auctioneer on a set of silver/gold spoons in a presentation box.)

weird orchestrated trolling (James O’Brien)

What an absolute shower of utter tossers >> Tory plotted with race thugs to stage fake EDL demo in bid for votes (‏@bat020)

If we're going to regulate stuff every time Giles Coren gets all petulant and entitled, then the world is f****d. (@JonnElledge)

Johnny Dankworth provides just the right kind of smirky jazzy score. (imdb commenter on 1967 film)

urbane drama notes and condescending gardening advice (Peter Wildeblood on an imaginary newspaper, West End People, 1958)

I remember 'All things bright and beautiful...' as particularly infuriating in its simpering idiocy. (WUR)

Bleak, unsympathetic, and bloated; or deep, poignant, and spellbinding, depending on your taste. (Anon on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections)

self-important, preachy and full of platitudes (Anon on Paulo Coelho)

young people were notoriously fish-brained (Anon on Rock ‘n’ Roll Britannia)

self-indulgent bollocks (Anon on art house movies)

Sinatra’s rat pack: “A collection of narcissistic show-offs.” (Philip French, Observer, February 13 2011

Stephen Fry: “Can we say he’s gratingly arch?” (@LadyofMisrule)

the excitement that every few years a new Doctor can run around CGI sets on unbearably sentimental scripts (@owenhatherley on Dr Who)

Grim, po-faced contemporary dance groups, who did things like depict the Jarrow Crusade through the medium of movement. (Age of Uncertainty on dance in the 70s)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Misunderstandings 4


Why is a "plummy voice" posh? Because posh people speak as if they had a plum in their mouth. They may speak with "cut glass" tones because they are grand enough to use genuine Waterford facted crystal, cut with a wheel.
This doesn’t mean speaking with the purple plumminess of the late, great Brian Sewell. Clare Foges, Times October 2015

Margo played wonderfully by Penelope Keith with a mouthful of plum stones. (Daily Mail May 4 2012)

Not the suave chain-smoker who drinks whiskey from die-cut glasses... (Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan)

A smooth-talking debating society graduate with bone-china vowels... (Lauren Laverne Dec 2014)

Regional and working class accents are more commonly found, and the tone and timbre of  ‘higher-class’ accents (also known as the Queen’s English) are less desired. (societypages.org “The Queen’s English” is just an ironic way of referring to the language. It doesn’t refer to an accent or to a dialect.)


the tin-hat brigade for the tin-foil hat brigade (Soldiers wore “tin hats” – metal helmets with brims – in WWI; those living in fear of infrared mind control by the Illuminati protect their skulls with tinfoil hats, reportedly.)

They’ve become a minority – often a majority! (Amanda Platell on Andrew Marr on young men committing suicide, October 2015. She used to be Conservative politician William Hague's press secretary.)

There's not a 180 degree difference between our Islam and ISIS's, there's a 360 degree difference. (Davutoğlu)

How can £27,990 be the UK average annual salary? That's fantasy money for most people. (@AlexPaknadel)

Sign of how far UKIPs star has waned that we've heard nothing from them on Greece. (Matt W ‏@Clavdivs1 Stars rise or fall; only moons wax and wane.)

Edinburgh was known as Auld Reekie because its smog was particularly smelly. (Reek is smoke in Scots – it just meant “Old Smokey”. Like calling London “the Smoke”.)

Commenters on Dear Jeremy read a snide comment that someone “needs a Bath chair” as “needs a bath”, and give advice on personal hygiene. (A Bath chair was a kind of Victorian wheelchair with a hood – originally used by invalids in Bath.)

“His nickname was “Sticky”, don’t you know!” A man on Heir Hunters comments on his uncle’s army nickname as if it was somehow posh. In the British Army, it was privates who had nicknames  like Nobby, Chalky or Dusty.

Goody Two-Shoes was not particularly good, or excessively pious. In her day, “Goody”, meant something like “Mrs”.

Agatha Christie was very much alive, striding over the world of British mystery like a cozy Colossus. (Passing Tramp blog The Colossus – a huge statue – straddles a harbour, one foot on each side. And a cosy Colossus? The mind boggles. From Shakespeare: "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus." Bestriding means one foot on one bank, one foot on the other. It doesn’t mean “striding”.)

The Victorians weren’t great at expressing themselves, so the dress code was how they did it. (Cash in the Attic on mourning. The poetry-writing Victorians would be mortified.)

They’re in a win-win situation and you’re in a lose-lose situation. (Rip-Off Britain So that’s a win-lose situation?)

Arts and Crafts is the period between the wars, the transition between Art Deco and Art Nouveau. (Dickinson’s Real Deal It was a self-consciously handmade style from the 1880s-1900s, though it lingered on in the 30s in half-timbered suburbs, Jacobethan furniture, brass and copper.)

Why does pol-media complex still talk about women as some kind of weird species like a rarely spotted wombat? Hands up I've done it too. (Laura Kuenssberg The lesser spotted woodpecker is a smaller version of the spotted woodpecker. It doesn't mean "rarely seen".)

In December 2013, the curriculum and diversity manager of the Institute of Physics was quoted by the BBC: “Nearly half of the co-educational state-funded schools we looked at are actually doing worse than average”. The IoP’s director of education and science responded: “[This was] taken out of context, rather unfortunately, by the BBC.”

Did Richard Dawkins really complain that 50% of people are of below-average intelligence?

Yet, to a remarkable degree, these events have mostly passed over the radar of even educated Britons. (Independent April 2014 ("The range of radar is greater than the altitude that any airplane is capable of obtaining", says answers.com)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Murder Must Advertise

Office life

In response to the Past Offences blog challenge (a Golden Age mystery from 1933), here are some random thoughts on Dorothy Sayers' Murder Must Advertise.

I love this book, which I first read in my teens. Amateur sleuth Lord Peter goes undercover at the advertising agency Pym's Publicity after a member of staff falls down an iron spiral staircase, hits his head and dies. But it's not just the dodgy death - Mr Pym has received a mysterious anonymous letter about possibly criminal goings-on at the agency.

So Lord P disguises himself as "Mr Bredon", with horn-rimmed specs and goes to work in the office as a copy writer. The plot concerns some Bright Young People and drugs. After the First World War, the Bright Young People were determined to party till dawn and beyond, racing around dressed as babies, destroying other people's property and themselves. They were always thinking up new "amusing stunts" and spoke a slang all their own. But by 1933 surely they were getting a bit old hat?

However, for me the best parts of the novel take place in the office. Adverts of the time were very wordy, with punning headlines, and Oxford graduates with a silly sense of humour were the best people to write them.

"I've been trying to get out a name for Twentyman's shilling tea. As far as I can make Hankin out, it has no qualities except cheapness to recommend it, and is chiefly made of odds and ends of other teas. The name must suggest solid worth and respectability.”

“Why not call it 'Domestic Blend'? Nothing could sound more reliable and obviously nothing could suggest so much dreary economy.”
Sayers has fun with the awful products the staff have to push: tinned porridge, useless nerve cures, non-alcoholic beverages. In one of my favourite passages, the prim Mr Copley, working late, is phoned by the printer, who has spotted a double entendre in a headline. Mr C thinks on his feet and comes up with a new headline that fits the space.

Hurriedly he jotted down ideas and crossed them out. “WORK AND WORRY SAP NERVE-STRENGTH”—that was on the right lines, but was a few letters short. It was rather flat, too; and besides, it wasn't quite true. Not work—over-work was what the copy was talking about, “WORRY AND OVER-WORK”—no good, it lacked rhythm, “OVER-WORK AND OVER-WORRY”—far better, but too long. As it stood, the headline filled three lines (too much, thought Mr. Copley, for a half-double), being spaced thus:

Are you Taking
TOO MUCH OUT
OF YOURSELF?

He scribbled desperately, trying to save a letter here and there, “NERVOUS FORCE”? “NERVE-FORCE”? “NERVE-POWER”? The minutes were flying. Ah? how about this?

OVER-WORK &
OVER-WORRY—
waste Nerve-Power!


It sounded such fun! And Sayers described office life as friendly and chatty, like being back at university, where "essays mysteriously wrote themselves" in the intervals of tennis and punting. I got there in the end and became a sub editor. I can still remember my first headline (False Dawn or New Order?). And publishing offices are still just as matey. We didn't have to call each other "Miss" and "Mr", though, and we didn't have 14-year-old office boys (they raised the school-leaving age).

The classes mix in Pym's offices, leading to a rather painful conversation between Bredon and Ingleby and the likeable Mr Smayle. Mr Tallboy has been rude to Smayle:

"I suppose Tallboy thinks I'm not worth speaking to, just because he's been to a public school and I haven't.”

“Public school,” said Mr. Bredon, “first I've heard of it. What public school?”

“He was at Dumbleton,” said Mr. Smayle, “but what I say is, I went to a Council School and I'm not ashamed of it.”

“Where's Dumbleton?” demanded Ingleby. “I shouldn't worry, Smayle. Dumbleton isn't a public school, within the meaning of the act.”

“Isn't it?” said Mr. Smayle, hopefully. “Well, you and Mr. Bredon have had college educations, so you know all about it. What schools do you call public schools?”

“Eton,” said Mr. Bredon, promptly, “—and Harrow,” he added, magnanimously, for he was an Eton man.

“Rugby,” suggested Mr. Ingleby.

“No, no,” protested Bredon, “that's a railway junction... And I've heard that there's a decentish sort of place at Winchester, if you're not too particular.”

“I once met a man who'd been to Marlborough,” suggested Ingleby.

“I'm sorry to hear that,” said Bredon.

They try to soothe Mr Smayle, while the author reveals a reason for the chip on Tallboy's shoulder.

To continue from my post on misunderstandings in Strong Poison, here are a couple from the (excellent) BBC Radio Drama version of Murder Must Advertise:

"If I give you twopence, and the waitress twopence, we can settle up at the desk." The two typists (Miss Rossiter and Miss Parton) are having tea, cakes and gossip. (The actress meant "If I give you twopence, and the waitress twopence..." At least she pronounced it "tuppence". Later, when Dian de Momerie meets Lord Peter for the first (?) time, she murmurs "That was the name..." She means "That was the name" (that she'd heard mentioned and forgotten).

The plot, when revealed, is ingenious. There's also an excellent audio version narrated by Ian Carmichael.

More misunderstandings here.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Received Ideas 12



More that didn't get into the book.

GARGOYLES Have downspouts. All the rest are “grotesques”.

GENDER PAY GAP There's no such thing.

GHOSTS Invisible below the knee because the floor has been moved since the 15th century/the road has risen since Roman times.

GOATS Can only see in blue and green.

GOLDEN AGE MYSTERY WRITERS All struggled to break free from the conventions of the puzzle genre and write proper novels.

GOTHIC FAN VAULTING The pinnacle of human achievement.

HISTORY In the past, everybody was posh. Women wore long skirts and were terribly proper.

IQ TESTS Only test the ability to pass IQ tests.

JAMES DEAN’S PORSCHE Is hanging on a wall as a piece of art. Is in Japan. Was buried in a swamp. (Latest is “hidden inside a wall in Bellingham, WA”.)

JOHN DORY From jaune d’or or yellow gold. (Wouldn’t that mean “golden yellow”?)

LIP BALM, MOISTURISER Once you start using them, you can’t stop.

LONDON Its 8.4 million trees means it qualifies as a “forest”.

MAKEUP Once you start using it, you have to go on. (True in the days of white lead makeup – it scarred the skin, so you applied more to cover the scars.)

MARIJUANA Outlawed because the cotton industry wanted to remove hemp as a competitor.

MEN Can’t fight their sexual urges. Women should not tempt them. (Thought this one had died out circa 1970, but it was still going in 2013.)

MOLES To get rid of these pests, plant toy windmills on their hills.

MONA LISA “She had high cholesterol, goitre and a squint.” (Art expert on BBC Breakfast.) The squint – that’s why the eyes follow you around the room. The expert also says Leonardo employed musicians and jesters to try to make her smile (according to Vasari). Some say she's a disguised portrait of one of Leonardo’s male lovers.

MOSQUITOES Eating garlic keeps them away.

MOTORWAYS, RAILWAYS Designed for tanks. And new university buildings were all designed to be bomb-proof. (Both sound likely.)

MURANO To preserve trade secrets, the island’s famous glassblowers were executed if they tried to leave.

MUSIC Makes one see pictures in the mind. But everyone sees something different.

NEWSPAPERS None of what they print is what I call news.

NOMADS Rootless illiterates with no history.

More here, and links to the rest.


Monday, 1 February 2016

Received Ideas in Quotes

Stars!
Bored of idea that anything that creates a sense of wonder or delight at existence is "exactly the same as religion & so counts as that". (Robin Ince)

Blacked up Morris dancers reference C16th beggars who used soot to mask their shame. (James O’Brien)

Initially [teacups] were the delicate, handle-less, Chinese porcelain containers known as ‘dishes’, imported from the Orient merely as a sideshow to the business of transporting tea leaves: the crates of china acted as ballast in the tea clippers.

The action of removing the dirty plates from the tables was in French called the desert, the creation of an absence (the same word used for the Sahara). This act of ‘deserting’ the table gave its name to the dessert or sweet course served elsewhere while the entertainers were setting up.

There’s no evidence that spices were used to ‘disguise’ the flavour of bad meat, as you might often read. It seems that people simply liked the taste.

‘Trenchers’ were slices of old bread which acted as throwaway plates. They were formed from the burned and blackened bottoms of loaves. The more desirable top crust was eaten at once by the master and guests, hence the enduring term ‘upper crust’ for something posh.

Like conservative commentators in all periods, he was bemoaning the fact that Englishmen had turned into softies.

In common with their predecessors and successors in practically all other periods, commentators writing during the First World War thought that the morals of young people were in rapid and dangerous decline.
(If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home, Lucy Worsley)

The world's undergone a nice alteration since my time, certainly. (Charles Dickens, Barnaby Rudge)

Absolutely flat shoes do not give the foot sufficient support. (Betty Cornell, Teen-Age Popularity Guide)

[Tudor ceramic] moneyboxes were sometimes used in theatres to collect coins as the audience entered and then stored in a box until they were full, in a room that became known as the Box Office. (spitalfieldslife.com)

Peace must be alive; a vital, intricate, intense, difficult thing. No negation: not the absence of war. (Non-combatants and Others, Rose Macaulay, written during WWI. Peaceniks may have had to choose their words carefully.)

The Avant Garde’s Decline and Fall in the 20th Century (title of Radio4 programme, 2014-08-31. But the avant garde was going to precede us into the future for ever!)

It does remind me of story, famous in Southport, that its arcades inspired Napoleon III in rebuilding of Paris. (@DerekJohnBryant)

So glad I paid my taxes so I can watch food stampers drive away in BMW while I struggle to put food on my table. #MiddleClassProblem (@TallJohnSilver Apr 15 2014 It used to be a “Cadillac” that beggars are spotted “driving away” in. Just don’t forget to mention the make of car.)

Columbusing: A word for when white people claim to discover things. (jezebel.com)

Even the sainted Orwell's rules are a bit rubbish: the final one is, "Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous", which means his advice is really just "Don't write barbarically". (the usually sensible Oliver Burkemann, Guardian June 2014)

"This country is in deadly peril." In 1943, J. Edgar Hoover warned of a new threat — teenagers.

More here, and links to the rest.

Received Ideas 11



Some more that didn't get into the book.

DUBLIN Dutch gables were brought to the city by Huguenots fleeing persecution in 1685.

DEUTSCHLAND UBER ALLES Written for the Nazis. (Written in the late 19th century.)

DOCTORS Always handing out antidepressants “like sweets”.

DRUGS We shouldn’t take them because pharmaceutical companies make too much money. And besides all drugs and natural remedies work as placebos – they work on the mind and the body then heals itself.

EDUCATION The old ways are the best (uniform, prefects, handwriting, regimentation, authority).

EDWARD VIII Weekend visitors to his Scottish country place Balmoral were weighed on arrival and on leaving to check that they had eaten heartily.

EELS Slither ashore and milk cows, according to Gunther Grass.

EGYPTIAN PYRAMIDS Were grain stores, not tombs for pharaohs. (The story has been around since the Middle Ages.)

EMOJI Should be pronounced “emoshee” because it’s derived from “emotion”. (It’s derived from Chinese and Japanese words and is pronounced “emodzhee”.)

ETIQUETTE BOOKS Are all 50 years old because we don’t need them any more. (See the Web and its many dating advice sites. Also, etiquette books are all 50 years old because they have just come out of copyright and been reprinted.)

EYES They are the windows of the soul. Widely set eyes are a sign of vulgarity, or beauty. Murderers have a peculiarly penetrating gaze.

FEMINISM Puts all men in the dock. We don’t need it because I’m a man and I treat women right.

FEMINISTS Want men to apologise for being men.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS Are always wrong/right.

FISH Have a memory of seven seconds.

FLU VACCINATIONS Doctors do too many because they get paid.

FOREIGN AID All goes to middlemen. “To buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid.” (Godfrey Bloom, MEP 2013 Aug)

FREAKS A film featuring genuine circus freaks ended director Tod Browning’s career. (He continued to make horror films until 1939, and then retired, says the Fortean Times.)

FRENCH CLOCKS for sale have their hands set at 10 to 10 because that’s the moment Louis XVI was beheaded. (Or is it to frame the maker’s name?)

FRIDAY THE 13TH  Day of the Knights Templar massacre in 1307.

FROGS “Toads and frogs burst if you spit on them.” (Pliny the Elder)

More here, and links to the rest.

Received Ideas 10


A few more clichés that didn't get into the book.


BALLAST The agate factories of Oberstein, Germany used ballast stones from Brazil. (Imported, says Web.)

BEARS Hug their victims to death. Won’t eat a dead man. (Aesop, 7th century BC)

BEEHIVE HAIRDO Always host to mice, spiders, bees’ nests etc – and there was a Victorian woman who found a nest of mice in her bustle. She hadn’t the heart to move the rodents and used to feed them during dinner.

BEGGARS Don’t give them money, it enables them to continue being beggars and they’ll never get a job. (Now applied to migrants – we shouldn’t rescue them.)

BIODYNAMIC FARMING The same as organic farming.

BLACKMAIL Rob Roy used to demand a tithe from every cattle herd that passed over Stirling bridge – the black bulls. Hence “black male”.

BOARDING SCHOOLS Expensive public schools for the privileged – why should we feel sorry for pupils?



BUILDINGS Always being painted the wrong shade of pink. (Hugh Pearman) Most large buildings, including the Maths Tower in Manchester and the Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham. Mumbai’s Victoria Street station was intended for Flinders Street in Melbourne, Australia. The plans were swapped by mistake.

BULLS Charge if they see something red.

BULLYING If you weren’t beaten up, you weren’t bullied.

BURGLARY It’s not the loss of property but the desecration of your home that you mind.

CASA ROSADA The Argentine presidential palace was painted pink by President Domingo Sarmiento “to defuse political tensions by mixing the red and white colours of the country’s opposing political parties”. (Adam Nathaniel Furman)

CELTIC ART Anticipates Art Nouveau by 1,000 years!

CHILDREN’S WRITERS Retain a child-like outlook.

CHRISTIANITY Remained exactly the same from St Paul to the Reformation, apart from the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church. Some “heretics” in the early days were easily dealt with.

CHRISTMAS We can’t say “Christmas” any more! And now it’s a season, not a day! (See The 12 Days of Christmas, Twelfth Night, ’Tis the Season to Be Jolly.)

CIVILISATION Consists of cities, armies, rulers and religion.
CLIMATE CHANGE If the earth is warming why are there still snowballs?

COMMON COLDS Are only contagious for two days after the symptoms appear. (Science says it’s more like five days.)

CORSETS In the 19th century, all women laced their corsets so tightly that their waists measured 16 inches. (Don’t try this at home. Measurements of contemporary costumes reveal waists of 22-28 inches.)

More here, and links to the rest.