Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Latin Prefixes

Et tu, Boris?
Nobody speaks Latin any more, apart from a few Conservative politicians. But a little knowledge helps when it comes to distinguishing word pairs like affect and effect; emigrant and immigrant; accept and except. Here's a quick guide.

against (antipathy, antibiotic)
co: together (costar, co-operate)
contra: against (contradict, contraception)
de: away (defrost, debunk)
dis: not, none (disbelief, disabled)
equi: same, equivalent (equilibrium, equidistant)
extra: outside (extravagant, extramural)
inter: between, among (international, interfere, interweave)
non: not (nonviolence, nonstop)
per: through (permeate, pervasive)
post: after (postdate, postwar)
pre: before (prepay, predict)
pro: for (project, propose)
re: again, or backward (rearrange, rebuild, recall)
retro: backward (retrospectively)
sub: under (submarine, subway, substandard)
super: over, above (superfluous, supersonic)
trans: across, beyond, through (transatlantic, transalpine)

-ject: throw (reject, project)
-cept: taken (concept, inception)
-dict: say (contradict, dictate)
-duc: lead, bring, take (deduce, produce, reduce)
-gress: walk (digress, progress)
-ject: throw (eject, inject, project)
-pel: drive (compel, repel)
-pend: hang (depend, pendant)
-port: carry (transport, deport, export, import)
-scrib, -script: write (describe, prescribe)
-struct: build (construct, instruct)
-tract: pull, drag, draw (attract, contract, extract)
-vert: turn (convert, divert)

Or you can always pick an Anglo-Saxon twin.

predict: foretell
contradict: gainsay
reduce: shrink
deduce: work out
progress: growth, headway
dispel: scatter
attract: charm

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Clichés 4

Are anything other than marches ever "inexorable"?

Climate change will stir “unimaginable” refugee crisis, says military. (Guardian Dec 2016, "cause")

I just lost my phone on a 253 bus in Hackney, if anyone wants to restore my faith in humanity.
(And his phone.)

blaming others for your own inadequacies (This 60s “joke” seems to be experiencing a revival, as is “bleeding heart” as an adjective.)

In motor racing, a driver doesn’t “win”, he “claims poll”. Or is it “pole”? Nobody knows what “pole position” means.

Today has so far been the kind of day whose news headline concludes "before turning the gun on herself" or "spree". (@lucyfishwife)

It's like a tic: anyone writing about @RichardDawkins has to call 'New Atheism' a 'fundamentalist sect'. So so dull. (‏@StuartJRitchie)

It’s OK to claim you or your company have won an award or prize, but avoid calling it “the prestigious Prix Femina” etc.

In dating profiles people claim to like “nights out, curling up on the sofa with Netflix, long walks on beaches”. (They used to claim to have a GSOH and like fine dining, concerts, the theatre and walks in the country.)

We think marketers should be able to target at a highly granular level, not simply in aggregate. (Turn Inc. ‏@TurnPlatform)

I don’t think it’s necessarily bad criticism but i lose interest SO FAST when a writer describes things as “utterly hateful”. (Jack ‏@notquitereal)

Scientists dim sunlight, suck up carbon dioxide to cool planet ( Try "extract".)

Priests are defrocked, lawyers disbarred, the titled are stripped of a knighthood, doctors are struck off, and kitchens are ripped out.

shark-infested waters
ravaged by drought 
In crime-ridden districts, local government is riddled with corruption.
Opera singers are “trained”, bureaucrats "faceless" and old movies "creaky".

For reasons nobody understands, terrorists in the Middle East are always killed by the dozen. (Karl Sharro ‏@KarlreMarks)

Menopausal women “suffer in silence” – or rather they’re always being told they “don’t have to suffer in silence any more”. (Any year for the past 30.)

convulsed by revelations
diffusing tension (Defuse, if you must.)
world-class university (Mary Beard asks "Can we retire this one?")
wading through treacle
Our staff has worked round the clock.
all the way back in 2006 (
thin veneer of civilization
One day buildings, parks etc will just be “restored”, instead of “restored to their former glory”.

 What people do as they perpetrate a cruel, unfunny practical joke.
grin: What people in books do instead of talking (“That’ll be the day!” he grinned.)
cackle: evil old women
guffaw: evil old men
snicker: the Eternal Butler holds your coat
snigger: laughing at something rude, or at somebody’s embarrassment
giggle: what girls do
Titter ye not, madam!

If you are looking for a celebrity to endorse a beauty product, they don’t come much bigger than Cleopatra (pictured). (NS July 2015, "more celebrated".)

Some of history’s biggest historians answer some of history’s biggest questions. (Dan Snow, "most important")

The largest burglary in British legal history/Britain’s biggest burglary (BBC)
The UK wants to "deepen" joint naval exercises with #AUS (increase, step up)
I'm for spending more on deeper affordability. (greater)

Thousands of documents were put in the post run yesterday as part of the deepening battle against plans for the state to offer more electronic benefits through banks. (Belfast Telegraph, "escalating, worsening")

Noah Horowitz... has been appointed director of the Americas for Art Basel. It’s a new role largely aimed at “deepening” the fair’s network of museum directors, biennial curators and private collectors across the US and Latin America, according to [Art Basel's director]. (Art Newspaper)

Can China fix its mammoth water crisis before it’s too late? (serious, acute)

a major step (large)

The author of Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World, says that the ailments treated with bubbling spring waters constituted a “ludicrously big list”. (
The list of suspects is large. (long)

After three years of painstaking work with historians and curators from English Heritage, a virtual reality model of significant parts of the Abbey has been created. (

They clamber through muddy fields to find churches, take rural buses to remote farming towns, stand outside houses they’ve never seen before but have sought out with years of painstaking research. (Atlas Obscura)

They have a pompous language all their own, full of banalities and contorted proverbs. Hunting creatures “fill their bellies”, all kinds of things “are beginning to stir”, and the turtle is “a prized delicacy for the cooking pot”. 

The language is overcooked: "elemental forces", "time of plenty", "spectacle", “formidable”, the monsoon has reached the “peak of its power”, the “mighty Amazon river” – you get the picture. (Times)

held at bay
reaping the rewards
escape unscathed
Deer roam the streets looking for succulent grass.
A single strong gust has proved an ill wind for Daisy.
All kinds of places are a “natural amphitheatre”.

Wolves slink, but puppies scamper, lambs gambol and bees blunder.

Daniel Finkelstein points out that the Camerons “swept” out of Downing Street, “swept” to Buckingham Palace, “swept” out again, while Theresa May is “sweeping” into No. 10 etc etc.

Police scoured the countryside for clues.

In books they always talk of “braving” a journey, as inevitably as they speak of the “good ship Twaddle ploughing the main”.
 (Mr Bazalgette's Agent, Leonard Merrick)

A mansion sits in ruins in Virginia (Lies in ruins. Before that, it stood on the banks of the river X/in acres of parkland etc.)
This abandoned Antarctic base sits nearly unchanged since it was forsaken in the 1950s. (remains)

The lost mushroom masterpiece unearthed in a dusty drawer. (Atlas Obscura)

The world's oldest-known formula for toothpaste... has been discovered on a piece of dusty papyrus in the basement of a Viennese museum. (Daily Telegraph)

Why is the press obsessed with presaging all museum news with 'It was hidden away in a cupboard for years'? Drives me loopy. That dusty stores thing drives me nuts - do they know how hard we work to keep the dust at bay? (Catriona ‏@catrionacurator)

BUILDINGSDon’t call your project Somethingland (it will end up as a few walls in a jungle covered in creepers). Same for utopian community Somebodyville. And don’t tempt fate by calling your nation-state the United Anything.

I'm at a symposium of architects: so far we've had a few "specificities", several "interrogates" and lots of "engages".

Curves are neither feminine nor masculine, skyscrapers are not phallic, and art with right angles isn’t 'architectural'. (AdamNathanielFurman ‏@Furmadamadam Planting tall green things isn’t “architectural” either.)

The proposals for Thamesmead are very very standard: 'sense of place', 'active frontages', 'residential mix', 'affordable', lots of brick… 'human scale', 'civic', 'streets and squares', 'high quality public realm' blah blah blah, oh, and Crossrail is coming so prices will [rocket]. (Douglas Murphy ‏@entschwindet)

The first phase of controversial architect Will Alsop’s plan to transform Barnsley into a Tuscan hill town has collapsed, it emerged today. (Guardian Sept 2015)

We wanted to create a family environment with a bit of a wow factor. (Homes under the Hammer It means open-plan, with down-lighters and granite counter-tops.)

Walking from one side to the other is like tackling a red-brick maze. “You can see why we call it Alcatraz,” says a local councillor. (All brutalist estates end up being called Alcatraz, says archaeology writer Owen Hatherley.)

Don't want to read a novel that's zany, magical, lyrical, heartbreaking, fun, masterly, accomplished, bravura, hip, streetwise or humane. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

"Lyrical" is always the biggest turn-off for me. It means there'll be lots of descriptions of fruit and nothing will happen. (‏@Lord_Steerforth)

What is it with 'mediated' & 'contingent' cropping up all over MA & Phd writing? (‏@Amanda_Vickery)
Also lots of 'mapping onto' and looking at things 'through the prism of'. (Corrina Connor ‏@corrinacellist)
Top 3 UCAS Personal Statement words of the day: zeal, relished, and using inept instead of adept. (‏@adamcreen)

The Romance Writers’ Phrase Book may be responsible for a lot. (She replied with complacent buoyancy, her body ached for his touch etc. "The authors seem fond of the word 'tapered'. Everything 'tapers' in this book: fingers, hair, shoulders, legs, waists... taperitis", says a reviewer.)

The end, when it came, was swift.
More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Upsides to Being Old 3

Old ladies lay down the law – perhaps because people will listen to them for the first time in their lives.

There are more single women in my age group. Being an old dear is much better than being a spare part.

It’s a bit like the first year of university – you keep joining things in the hope of making friends.

People really do become more tolerant – perhaps because there’s nothing to conform for any more.

Total strangers don't tease me. (Was it flirtation?)

I don't have to get tanned and fit. I never have to go camping again.

People don’t nag me to be adventurous – Go wild! Let your hair down! Do a bungee jump! Go to a bar and pick up a stranger!

And they don't give me terrible contradictory advice.

Nobody can expect me to frame my own pictures, put up shelves or do my own DIY.

Nobody tries to make me like cucumber, or melon, or spicy food. Nobody tries to force me to drink. And I never have to eat Parma ham again.

I don’t have to wear vintage clothes. I don’t even want to wear vintage clothes.

I don't have to discuss everybody's love life. I can talk about politics and philosophy.

I’ll never have to go on a date again.

It’s safe to be surprised and enthusiastic. There's no need to be cool.

You know you're getting old when you start pointing out lovely views. (@SummerRay)

And I can look at my surroundings and say “Ah! This is nice!”. I can call things “pretty”.

I can be pleased when anybody has a baby.

I don’t have to keep up with the latest jokes and catchphrases.

Doctors apologise for keeping me waiting, even if they haven’t.

I can get interested in local history. And my family tree.

I've seen silly ideas shown up for the tosh they are, dropped and utterly forgotten.

It really is too late for a lot of things.

And everyone is so friendly!

I hope I live to see the US vote in a Democratic president, Scotland secede, Ireland reunify, England rejoin the EU and wolves return to Scotland. 

Old people can be permanently grumpy, and fail to keep up with current events and popular culture. When these do come to our notice we can complain about them at length. We can raise our blood pressure over erroneous punctuation. We can blame young people and the working classes for all society’s ills. We can become really, really interested in rubbish disposal. And compost.

You know you’re old when you start complaining that there’s no news in the newspapers any more, and why don’t they tell us the positive stories?

We have to become adroit at heading off racism from contemporaries.

People I haven’t seen for years may have aged beyond recognition. Or I may have forgotten them!

New comedians come along faster than new pop stars – and none of them are funny.

I have to remember that people may expect me to be difficult, disapproving – and right-wing.

I have to take care not to be edged out of expensive shops because I look like a bag lady. Or am I just too old to be there?

It’s still OK to make snide jokes about “Aunt” anybody. And Grans. And little old ladies. And the BBC puts on a special “twinkly” voice for centenarians.

Bands who were much younger than me are now old men.

People apologise to me when they haven’t done anything. Or say “thank you” when they’ve held the door open for me.

You know you’re old when that house you commissioned is listed. (Janet Street Porter)

People wring their hands about "lonely old people" and wonder what "we" can do about "them".

I went to the hair salon with pictures of Princess Diana – stylist turned me out as Mrs Thatcher – “Very ladylike”!

If I ask you to repeat something, repeat it louder, or wait until I turn and face you. If you repeat what you said at the same volume, I won’t be able to hear you all over again.

Drivers at traffic lights, please don’t courteously stop for me when you’ve got the green light. The driver next to you will probably keep on going.

We are ladies and gentlemen, madam and sir, or else we're “dear”, and treated like dim children.

More here, and links to the rest.

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Friday, 21 July 2017

You Can't Stand in the Way of Progress

You CHARGE!!! into the future and then realise nobody’s following you, so you sheepishly go home. A group of high-minded idealists builds a Utopia without hedges or clothes, practising free love and bringing up children in common, but 
conformity to the outside world creeps back.

The Light that FailedA woman who changed her name to Margaret Sandra was stuck explaining to employers and bank managers that surnames are patriarchal.

In the 60s and 70s some “dropped out of society” while living on the dole/their parents. They dropped back in again. (And the lookers-on, who thought the dropouts had done something rather marvellous, forgot all about it.) Others, after 20 years touring the country with an agit-prop theatre group trying to smash capitalism, got jobs in further education and acquired mortgages and pension schemes.

In the 60s and 70s lefties abolished boyfriends and girlfriends and experimented with alternative living arrangements. People went right on pairing off and getting married, and we can even say “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” again. (There was a long gap before “partner” when we experimented with terms like Significant Other, or POSSLQ: Person of the Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. I wonder why that never caught on?)

Topless beaches
were popular in 70s France, but now the French cover up.

In the 70s, liberals simplified weddings. Now couples want a wildly over-the-top theatrical display.

(See also British Communists who lived as if the Revolution would happen any day now, and the Christians who thought the Second Coming was just around the corner. The Age of Aquarius never dawned.)

A member of the Oxford committee of the Prayer Book Society, said [the popularity of Evensong] reflected a wider interest in older styles of worship, including greater interest in the Prayer Book among trainee clergy. “The era of jaded folk worship is coming to an end. Indeed I think the people who want that sort of thing are the older generation now and the young are coming back to traditional worship and the choral tradition [of the Church of England]. (Daily Telegraph, 2016)

In 2007 Pope Benedict gave permission to all priests to use Latin and the Tridentine Mass. (After Vatican II in the 60s, the Tridentine rite was only allowed a few times a year, and special permission had to be obtained from a Bishop – each time). Benedict had the vernacular mass “retranslated” to bring it nearer to the original Latin (and adherents are outraged because they’d got used to the new one). But the most unpopular aspects of the “New Mass” were quickly dropped (“Happy are those who are called to his supper”, “Fruit of the vine and work of human hands”), and the “kiss of peace” quickly became a “sign”, ie a handshake – even though Catholics were told there was NO appeal. Now the Church wants new music to incorporate more plainsong (2009). Mass from St Peter’s at Christmas 2014 was almost entirely in Latin.

Early American settlers didn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s a pagan festival), but it slowly came back into favour.

In the 1810s reformers in Hamburg brought Jewish worship practices up to date. In the following decades, most of their radical liturgical reforms were undone, as practices they had cut as unnecessary, superstitious, repetitious, old-fashioned or un-European crept back because people liked them. Confirmations became bar mitzvahs again. (“Secular” kibbutzim are building their own synagogues, says The Jewish Chronicle in 2011. And they no longer make children live in dormitories and see their parents for only two hours a day.)

A half-century ago, the Liberal haggadah (Passover service book) omitted most of the traditional passages relating to the flight from Egypt, including the Ten Plagues. These were restored in 1981. (Jewish Chronicle)

Pharaoh Akhnaten abolished all Egyptian gods but one: the sun-disk or Aten. After he died, around 1335 BC, the priests of the other gods reopened their temples and it was business as usual.

In the 20s, architect Le Corbusier planned to demolish the whole of central Paris and replace it with skyscrapers.

In New York, some suggest digging up Times Square’s pedestrian precinct and putting it “back the way it was”, with cars. (It has become infested with topless dancers and costumed characters who harass tourists.) American urban highway removals are increasing, and streets depedestrianising. Buffalo is reopening Main Street to cars. (According to Buffalo News, cities have been removing their malfunctioning pedestrian malls for roughly 15 years.)

The Pedway was a “boldly stupid” idea to connect London with walkways. (They have almost all gone and now we miss them. But for a long time there were areas where you couldn't walk at street level – you were supposed to take a walkway that hadn't been built yet, or was impossible to find, or had been shut. And once you were on the walkway, you had no idea where you were going because you couldn’t see any landmarks, signposts or maps.)

Try Googling for “empty business park” – it gets lots of hits. Try “dam removal”, too.

Made-up months like Pluviose and Thermidor, brought in by the French Revolution, were as popular as the movement’s temples to atheism. The Revolutionaries also introduced a ten-hour clock, and a 20-hour day. This regime lasted two years. Russia tried a five-day-week calendar in the communist area with a complex days-off system that caused people to be quite detached from their family and friends. In the end it made them less productive, and it was abandoned after three years.

Sign language was banned in the 19th century, but returned to schools for the deaf in the 1960s and 70s. The Whole Language method of teaching reading, in which the child is encouraged to memorise EACH WORD as if it was a pictogram, is fighting a desperate rearguard action against Synthetic Phonics, which actually teaches children how to read.

Open-Plan “Learning Pods” Fail in Bexhill: After a £38m investment in open-plan learning was completed in 2010, another £4m is now being invested to revert the classrooms back. Business is booming for Portable Partitions, a company that manufactures and supplies mobile room dividers to Australian businesses and schools. (Nov 2015)

In the 60s home-owners boarded up Victorian doors, replaced brass knobs with plastic handles, and covered plaster ceilings with polystyrene tiles. In the 70s people put the olde worlde details back. (But now they’re ripping out Arts and Crafts details.)

Lenin, after his collective farming plans caused a famine in which three million died, backtracked and allowed 20% of the Soviet economy to be market-run. Collective farms set up by the Vietnamese communist government were unproductive, and there was a lot of corruption. In 1986 the government abolished the farms, and many private coffee plantations sprang up and flourished.

London’s Barbican Arts Centre, designed in the Brutalist 70s, was later “humanised” by a pink and green carpet and a huge impressionist mural in pastel colours. Both have thankfully disappeared. (The grand entrance is now for pedestrians rather than cars only, but they keep “improving” the interior layout.)

A Dutch conservator ordered to destroy paintings hid them instead. Now they're back in the Rijksmuseum. (During periods of iconoclasm, medieval locals hid statues in walls.)

British Airways is reinstating its company crest on airliners – marking the final reversal of the “groovier” rebranding that so offended Baroness Thatcher in 1997.

German spelling: The Rechtschreibreform abolished the umlaut and the esszett, but the prohibition quickly softened, and only hung on in schools. The government brought court actions, but the courts decided it had no legal power to tell anybody how to spell. Now Germans are confused between several systems. (RI)

John Lewis’s haberdashery department used to cover a large part of the ground floor. It was banished to the fourth and given a quarter of the space, with a fabric selection restricted to bridesmaids’ dresses. Gradually over the past 20 years it has grown and is now as big as it ever was, with the full range of old-fashioned staples like dress patterns, shoulder pads, suspenders, hooks and eyes, and bra elastic.

In the 1930s, speed limits in the UK were abolished as it was assumed that the British would drive like gentlemen. They were swiftly brought back.

In 2014 the Secretary of State for Transport said that the Euston Arch should never have been knocked down, and that he’d like to see it rebuilt. (After it was demolished, despite protests, it was “lost” – most of it was eventually found at the bottom of the River Lea. In 2015 a few of the original stones are on display at Euston.)

After spending years covered in grime and graffiti, in 2009 the modernist concrete Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee was restored and listed Grade II*.

Leningrad went back to being St. Petersburg. Stalingrad has been Volgograd since 1961. But in 2013 50,000 Volgograd citizens signed a petition to have the name changed back to Stalingrad.

And why don't we just reinvent...

Protest Never Changed Anything

We can’t stand in the way of progress, we can’t turn back the clock, as the Powers That Be told us in the 60s and 70s, when they were trying to demolish our cities and streets and replace them with estates, malls and motorways. Or can we? There was a lot of protest about Dr Beeching’s railway line closures, and the destruction of communities (“slum clearance”) to make way for tower blocks. But we were patronisingly told that our protests wouldn’t be acted on, and that fewer railways, more tower blocks and the disappearance of whole districts was somehow good for us. 
Ian Nairn’s Outrage was published in 1956. He coined the word “subtopia”. Nobody ever told us that there’d been a protest movement against modern architecture and the destruction of old buildings and communities for 20 years.

So, does protest ever change things? 

The “new Routemaster”, with its conductor and open back platform, is losing its open back and its conductor and turning into an ordinary London bus.

800 “Roasting” Routemasters to Get Window Refit at £2m Cost to Londoners. 
Work has begun fitting new Routemaster buses with opening windows & will be completed by September June 2016. ( They’ve got windows that open, 2017. And they’re the sliding kind that actually admit air.)

A package of laws seeking to force the homeless into shelters by such methods as seizing their belongings acknowledged as a failure after less than a year. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s scheme included a “sit-lie” law – a tactic used in other US cities – that banned sitting or lying on city pavements. It also allowed the belongings of homeless people to be confiscated in a bid to force them into shelters. Critics argued that, effectively, it criminalised homelessness. (Guardian June 18 2016)

In 1855 rector T. Jackson made a determined effort to pull down old St. Mary's but the local inhabitants regarded the building.... with affection and showed such hostility to the idea that it proved impossible... (A. J. Shirren, 1950 @HistoryOfStokey)

The Ringways awoke a great level of protest. People campaigned heavily against the destruction of their neighbourhoods, and the plans were abandoned in 1973. (Douglas Murphy, G April 2015 on a misbegotten plan to surround London with motorways.)

Reprieve for oak tree after public pressure on Burger King plans. (June 2017)

Demolished Maida Vale Carlton Tavern must be rebuilt 'brick by brick', inquiry rules. (July 2016-07-09)

After mass protests, Romania withdraws decree decriminalising some corruption offences. (2017)

Gary Neville pulls plan for twin Manchester towers after backlash. (March 2017)

Badger cull: Government decides to cull badgers – protests – condemnation – “It will never work” – marksmen shoot fewer than expected – end of badger cull. For the moment.

BBC cancels Sky at Night; Sky at Night continues by popular request.

Bendy buses: Introduced, loathed, withdrawn. (And in 2017 people are looking back on them nostalgically.)

Bridge tolls: After nine years of protests, tolls on the Skye Bridge were abolished. (And Welsh and English bridge tolls have been dropped, July 2017.)

Cabvision: The infuriating in-taxi screens that you couldn’t mute or turn off had gone by 2011, as have talking signs and bins. And muzak! And Tesco has dropped its “unexpected item in bagging area” message.

Clippy: Word’s patronising assistant “Clippy” (a talking paperclip) was removed after furious complaints.
Coco Pops: the name was changed to Coco Krispies to bring our cereal in line with the Continent. It was changed back within the year.

Communal changing rooms: London Fields Lido intended to make changing rooms unisex, but plans were changed after protests. Communal changing rooms in shops were introduced as modern in the late 60s, were universally loathed and became cubicles again sharpish.

Consignia: Around 2000, the UK Post Office group adopted the label Consignia. After widespread derision, it quietly became Royal Mail Holdings.

County names: New names like Cleveland, Humberside and Avon were created in 1974, and abolished in 1996 (bringing back Rutland).

Exploiting jobseekers: The government’s “back to work” schemes, in which benefit claimants worked for nothing at Poundland, were vilified and swiftly withdrawn.

Garden Bridge: After millions were spent on this unpopular white elephant (a “garden bridge” across the Thames that would have cleared existing trees and blocked the view), the project was dropped.

Government wants to close down Lewisham A&E; people of Lewisham protest; Lewisham A&E stays open.

Mixed-sex hospital wards: introduced, loathed, phased out. (Unfortunately they're back again, 2017.)

Modern classical music: Radio 3 pushed it relentlessly, telling us that everybody would like it one day. Harmony and melody came back.

Museum charges: Brought in with great fanfare in the 70s, loathed, dropped.

New English Bible (1960/70): It was deliberately translated into “modern English”, thought-for-thought rather than word-for-word (periphrasis rather than translation). We were told we’d better learn to like it. It vanished within a few years, to reappear in 1989 looking somewhat different as the Revised English Bible, says Wikipedia. “The New English Bible astonishes in its combination of the vulgar, the trivial and the pedantic.” (TS Eliot)

No picnic: A San Francisco plan to make people reserve space on the grass in parks for picnics and parties lasted 24 HOURS.

Paddington tower: Plans for a ridiculous cylindrical tower were withdrawn 2016-01-30 ...but be prepared, says Nicholas Boyes Smith of Create Streets. They’re now coming back with the shorter version they planned all along.

Pathfinder: In 2010, this “controversial” housing regeneration scheme ended four years earlier than planned, said the BBC. (As usual, “regeneration” involved tearing down terraces that could have been renovated.)

Preston Bus Station was threatened with demolition. It was listed in 2013.

Pruitt-Igoe: The Pruitt-Igoe urban housing project in St. Louis, Missouri was built in 1955, demolished 1972-76.

Shark-fin soup: Fewer and fewer sharks are being slaughtered for their fins, and shark-fin soup restaurants are closing down in Japan.

Southbank undercroft: The Southbank Centre threatened to turn its undercroft, used by skateboarders for decades, into retail space. Everybody: “You can’t do that!” SBC: “Oh yes we can!” In 2014 the Centre agreed to leave its skatepark and undercroft as they are.

Spiegelhalters, a Victorian shop in the middle of an ostentatious Edwardian department store façade, was threatened with replacement by a rusted steel sculpture. After widespread protest, it’s staying where it is.

The Strand: 18th century houses threatened with demolition by a Kings College rebuilding scheme have been granted a stay of execution.

Tower blocks: Their destruction began in the mid-70s, about ten years after most of them went up. Unfortunately they are being replaced by a whole lot of new tower blocks, or ugly “traditional” housing with tiny windows. All 12 tower blocks in Cumbernauld have gone or are going, as have Glasgow’s Red Road flats. In Killingworth, north of Newcastle, 27 slab blocks known as Killingworth Towers were built and demolished in under 15 years. Much the same happened to the Nursery Farm Estate in Gateshead, consisting of four 17-storey blocks: approved 1966, completed 1968, demolished 1987 due to “deterioration and unpopularity”. ( Birmingham’s torrid love affair with high-rise was ending by the late sixties. (

UK companies move call centres to India, customers complain, firms move call centres back home. (Something similar happened to companies who thought they could do without IT departments, and comms companies who thought they could do without helplines. But publications still think they can do without sub editors.)

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Received Ideas (in Quotes) 5

‘You mean,’ went on Wimsey, ‘that women think in clichés... Formulae. “There’s nothing like a mother’s instinct.” “Dogs and children always know.” “Kind hearts are more than coronets.” “Suffering refines the character” – that sort of guff, despite all evidence to the contrary.’
(Lord Peter Wimsey in Have His Carcase, 1932)

An attempt was made to throw some light on [the name “foxglove”] by Dr Prior, an authority on the origin of popular names, in the 1866 book English Botany: Its Norwegian name, Revielde, foxbell, is the only foreign one that alludes to that animal… In France it is called Gants de Notre Dame; in Germany Fingerhut. It seems most probable that the name was, in the first place, foxes’ glew, or music, in reference to that favourite instrument of an earlier time, a ring of bells hung on an arched support… The “folks” of our ancestors were the “fairies”, and nothing was more likely than that the pretty coloured bells of the plants would be designated “Folksgloves”, afterwards “Foxglove”. (Quoted in A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie by Kathryn Harkup)

More than 20 Armada ships ran aground on the west coast of Ireland in 1588. I, with my olive skin and dark hair, am just one of the many so-called back Irish who are believed to be descendants of Spanish sailors. (Anna Murphy Times July 2017 The Spanish sailors wrecked on the Irish coast found themselves in a friendly country, and some stayed for a while. In England and Scotland they were prisoners of war. This site suggests earlier Spanish links.)

The use of any kind of powder to the face is foolish and injurious, and is sure to be rejected at a future time, as it makes the skin coarse. (Girls' Own advice‏ @GirlsOwn)

In rural Madagascar, men are prized for kabary: flowery, indirect speech that avoids putting others on spot, mode thought to be beyond women. (@Amanda_Vickery)

Magna Carta was a compromise born of necessity between the monarch and the barons. It did b****r all for the average working peasant. (@AndyGilder)

A trainee chef, instructed to make jam, egg and almond tarts, mistook his orders and mashed them all up together. (Letter to Times about Bakewell Pudding)

A cloth divided into squares was once used to help count revenues – "Exchequer" derives from an old French word for a chessboard. (@HaggardHawks)

A Redditor claims to have had a job spraying mud onto potatoes for sale in supermarkets. But the Waitrose potatoes were sprayed with peat... and he/she was known as “Factory Worker No. 84”.

When you're a kid, you eat an apple core and think an apple tree will grow inside you. And you swim after eating and think you’ll drown. (Angela Hartnett on Saturday Kitchen)

Joseph Connolly, the novelist, has warned about the pitfalls of book signings. At the launch of his latest, This Is 64, Connolly recalled one mortifying incident. After the first hundred punters he got so bored he stopped looking up as people came up for a scribble. “To whom am I inscribing it?” he asked one man, who identified himself as Ian. “Is that one ‘i’ or two?” There was a stony silence, until eventually Connolly looked up. “The guy only had one eye,” he said. (Times May 11 2017 Although there exist many thousand subjects for elegant conversation, there are persons who cannot meet a cripple without talking about feet. Chinese proverb)

And I was once told the story that military toilet paper ("Army Form Blank") was rough on one side and smooth on the other so the officers could use the smooth side and the enlisted men the other, but I've also heard that it was once rough on both sides until female personnel complained, so it was made smooth on both sides, to which the male personnel objected. So it was made rough on one side and smooth on the other. I suspect both stories are apocryphal. (MH)

Several phrases are said to relate to [the history of the Tyburn gallows], including “one for the road” (the last pint before the prisoner starts his journey) and “hangover”. Hanging days were raucous, boozy affairs so the day after you wouldn’t feel great! (Look Up London)

"From Hell, Hull and Halifax, may the Good Lord deliver us..." These words form part of the so-called Thieves' Litany, uttered in Mediaeval Yorkshire as a leave-taking "prayer" between two thieves as they parted. Hell was to be feared, course, as was Hull Gaol (in Yorkshire) with its evil reputation. Halifax - also in Yorkshire - was one of those towns granted the right to a gibbet, a particular savage form of early guillotine, and was notorious for its quick use against suspected villains. (FF)

In 1579, It was rumoured that Queen Margot of France had to use a spoon with a handle 2ft long to eat soup over her ruff. (@WhoresofYore)

Rumours have long persisted that the square of Lincoln’s Inn Fields was laid out by Inigo Jones to be exactly the size of the base of the Great Pyramid (debunked in 1878). (Fortean Times April 2017)

In the 1820s William Cobbett argued tea was a "corrosive & gnawing poison" that led women into prostitution and killed pigs. (Anna Mazzola @Anna_Mazz)

Daniel Dennett also apparently blames a nebulously defined "postmodernism" for some social ills, such as Donald J. Trump and people spending too much time on their computers. (Rationalwiki)

The modern child has many faults: a lack of initiative & a demand that all his leisure be planned. (M. Saville, 1950)

East Germany's Palast der Republik, in Berlin, was demolished in 2008. Some say its steel was recycled into the Burj Dubai. (Hugh Pearman)

Given that 85%  of communication is non-verbal, the impression you make is far less about what comes out of your mouth than how you look. (Professor Heather McGregor exec dean of Edinburgh Business School)

More here, and links to the rest.

More here, and links to the rest.

A is for Arsenic

A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie

Kathryn Harkup

Kathryn Harkup is a chemist and science communicator, lecturing on “the quirky side of science”.
A is for Arsenic covers the poisons used by Agatha Christie in her detective novels. She gives you the science, and also real-life cases. It’s a gripping read, but the Christie fan will notice a few slips.

In Sparkling Cyanide, George Barton dies from drinking poisoned champagne. A folded paper, like the kind then used for headache powders, is found under the table. It tests positive for cyanide. Or could the poison have been transported in a Cachet Faivre? Harkup confuses paper and cachet – medicinal cachets were rice paper cases, like Flying Saucers (full of innocuous sherbet).

Harkup repeats the fanciful Victorian explanation that foxgloves (containing poisonous digitalis) were originally “folks’ gloves”, or fairy gloves. (Fairies were sometimes known as the “good folk”.)

In her discussion of The Pale Horse (spoiler alert), she wonders why the conspirators don’t even ask the test victim’s name – but they’ve been told she’s Mrs Easterbrook, and she’s taken a flat under that alias. The fake Mrs Easterbrook mysteriously falls ill, but how? Then narrator Mark Easterbrook “sees the vicar’s wife treating her dog for ringworm”. It’s his cousin, Rhoda Despard, who is doctoring her dogs.

Digitalis poisoning may make a person view everything with a yellow cast, and see haloes around lights. A portrait of Van Gogh's doctor shows him surrounded by foxgloves. A hint that he prescribed digitalis to his famous patient? Does this explain the famous sunflowers and Starry Night, Harkup asks? She concludes it may just be a coincidence.

Christie’s short story The World’s End takes place in Corsica. Elderly, snobbish Mr Satterthwaite has been hauled off to the island by an aristocratic friend. She’s a Duchess, how could he refuse? Glittering with antique diamonds, the titled lady insists on roughing it. In their rather shabby (cheap!) hotel they meet a young painter, Naomi Carlton-Smith. She’s from a “good” family, so the Duchess is keen to make friends. Naomi shows some of her work.

"Good gracious, child, there was never a sky that color — or a sea either." 
"That's the way I see em," said Naomi...
"I've no patience with that sort of thing. Give me — " 
"A nice picture of a dog and a horse, by Edward Landseer." 
"And why not?" demanded the Duchess. "What's wrong with Landseer?" 
"Nothing," said Naomi. "He's all right. And you're all right." (The Mysterious Mr Quin)

Beware trying to explain away modern art as mere anomalies of vision. Dr Patrick Trevor-Roper did it better in The World through Blunted Sight.

More on Christie here.

Saturday, 8 July 2017


Let's invent:

Recipes for American crayfish with Japanese knotweed
24-hour tube trains (happening)
Trousers for schoolgirls
Wheelchairs and pushers for guided walks
Wall plugs at desk height

Tower houses as in Greece or Italy
Pencil blocks (more of them)
Turn redundant malls into housing – happening in America. Shops become flats.
Investment flat owners must rent them out.

Oscar Mendez's recycled plastic houses can be assembled in four hours.

Muzak-free zones
Busker-free zones
Really random shuffle
Pictures and subtitles for radio
Cheaper downloadable audio books
Pubs sell barista coffee and food, and provide more seats
Nicotine patches that look like tattoos
Three-day weekends (suggests the Green Party)
Train tickets to have OUT and BACK printed in HUGE letters.
Use fire engines to clean the pavements.
No-fault divorce.

Mobile phone recharging stations everywhere. (At some railway stations, apparently, and you can use hoover sockets at airports. And there are charging plugs in MacDonald’s.)

Open a zoo with lynx and wolves in the West Country. One day several breeding pairs escape onto Dartmoor...

Send couples, parents and families on the same customer care courses that have transformed shops, offices and transport. It’s easy: be nice, kind and polite instead of grumpy and miserable.

Rename register office marriages as civil partnerships and change wording to “I now pronounce you partner and partner”.

Print 3D models of the Elgin Marbles and return the originals to Greece.

Replace pubs with continental style cafes also selling coffee, chocolate, tea, soft drinks and food – on campuses and at Westminster. And refuse to serve drunk people.

Drain Doggerland and rejoin Britain to Europe. (Richard Littler)

Feed cows seaweed, to use up the seaweed and reduce methane emissions.

Teach all children evolution and sex ed. NO exemptions. (Teach them to touchtype properly as well.)

Racism roadshow: lecture, video, display and café for discussions. Teach some history. (You could do the same with critical thinking.)

Grids on the back of wrapping paper – what took so long? Like wheeled suitcases, very late improvement. Next, loops on towels for hooks. (@WillWiles)

More here, and links to the rest.

Reinventions and Disinventions 9

Let's reinvent windows


Nissen huts
Pin-striped suits
Two-way streets
Seats in shops
Tea shops
Huge porcelain stoves that you sleep on
Deposit on bottles
Sandwiches that don’t have to be toasted
Feather beds
Someone has reinvented the curtained four-poster bed – as the “bed tent”.
German couples sleep on two single mattresses under separate duvets.
Comfortable soft mattresses (Back now.)

Big windows
Mansion blocks (Nicholas Boyes Smith)
Terraced bungalows
Glass porches inside a front door, especially in restaurants (brrrr!).
Libraries – one room in your house where you keep all your books
Built-in seating: padded seats round the walls

The Arts and Crafts Style, Bypass Variegated and Span houses. I’m so sick of Barratt Homes feebly copying Poundbury – with tiny, tiny windows.

Lewisham's PLACE Ladywell is a modular development of 24 homes for homeless families, designed to last 1-4 years. 

A 2008 Cambridge University study concluded that keeping British Summer Time would save £485 million in energy bills and cut 170,000 tonnes in carbon emissions each year. (And if we had Double Summer Time in the summer?)

Refugee resettlement programmes are reviving dying Italian villages.

Put up the price of petrol in the US, and Americans will have to live next door to each other, and near shops, again.

Unlocking small spaces could be the key to solving London’s housing crisis.

Restore medieval cathedrals by removing all later additions – Victorian glass, Elizabethan tombs and that awful kitsch Gothic fan vaulting. And then repaint them in the original colours.

Temperance hotels and alcohol-free holidays at home and abroad (sell it as a “detox” and provide activities).

Schools are reinstating the house system. (The idea that children will work harder if they’re competing with each other refuses to die. “We’ve got the house shield for spelling this year!” I mean, who cares?)

Boar-hunting: The Countryside Alliance have time on their hands since the hunting ban. The UK wild boar population is out of control. Hunters – meet boar. (Reintroducing the wolf and the lynx would help, too.)

Pigeon and rabbit farming for food, stock private lakes with fish to catch and eat. And if people want to eat grouse, why not farm it? 

Mother Goddess worship Suit for breach of promise
Warning girls against cads and bounders – they never went away, but we pretended that all “relationships” were now equal partnerships entered into after mature discussion. 

Teach clerics how to hold up long skirts when going up or down stairs.

Import peat briquettes now everyone’s got a wood-burning stove (or make our own).

In the 1930s, Britain’s Ministry of Transport built an extensive network of bike highways around the country... For decades, it was entirely forgotten... so much so that no one seems to remember that these lanes had existed at all. ( There’s a move to reopen those that still exist.)

Jeans with the waist on the waist – “mom” jeans are the trendiest Spring 2017. (It's still hard to buy them – "mom" fashion is always five years behind.)

A pub in South London is keeping afloat by turning itself into a community centre (baby dance, knitting).

Community singing and sing-alongs of popular songs. But they’ve almost been reinvented by Gareth Malone.

Magazines like Woman’s Own circa 1975: stories, problems, medical advice, knitting patterns, recipes.

Don’t look now, but table service seems to be making a comeback.
And someone’s reinvented folding pince-nez “Your reading glasses are always with you!”

But the government will want all those nuclear bunkers back now.

For the Tories, “Let’s reinvent xxxx” means “Let’s revive some school types that were around when voters were young”. Labour reinvention changes the title, rewrites the history and rubs out the name of the original inventor because it has to be “New X!” to get the funding and the credit.

Improvements that aren't:
The sound quality on mobile phones is worse than on landlines.

Sixty per cent of workers spoken to would choose to work from their own desk... A measly 4% would opt to hot desk. (

Let's disinvent:
Lawns – too much time, trouble and water
Fitted kitchens
Concerts or plays of over an hour without an interval
Illegal religious schools. Make that all faith schools.
Envelopes you have to lick
"Neutering” (castrating) pet animals.

Remakes, because they’re all lame. (Except Maltese Falcon was a masterpiece.)

MEPs moving from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month, and back, with all their paperwork.

Policewomen's bowlers (unchanged since the 60s).

There are tentative suggestions that some train line may abolish first class on some routes at some times. (May 2016)

Can we scrape all the street food, boats, carousels, buskers and yellow paint off the South Bank?

And let’s ban:

The sale of acid and oversized kitchen knives
Mobile phones in class
Grouse shooting
High-stakes betting machines
High-strength alcohol
Balloon and lantern releases
Diesel engines
Puppy farms
Trophy hunting
Most dogs from cities
Very low chairs in restaurants

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Junk Statistics 6

150 people die every year from falling coconuts.

Web stats show that our attention span is now down to 5 seconds.

40% of food is wasted before sale. (Source? asks James Wong.)

A dog’s sense of smell is 1000 times more powerful than ours – a bear’s, 2000 times. Therefore ours is useless.

Britons think 45% of the population are atheists. It's 25%.
We think 25% are immigrants. It's 13%.
We think 43% of young people aged 25-34 live with their parents. It's 14%.
We think our average age is 51. It's 40.
We think 27% of us are under 14. It's 17%.
We think 30% live in rural areas. It's 18%.

Letters to the New Statesman, July 2015: highlight a claim that the average number of sexual partners in a lifetime is 12 for men but only 8 for women. If the average is the arithmetic mean then, if we assume each partnership has one man and one woman, and the number of men and women is roughly equal, this discrepancy is hard to explain. Numbers of reported partners are, however, likely to be different from reality. (Andy Couldwell)

What I find so surprising about these statistics isn’t their absurd impossibility: it is that they are so wholeheartedly believed, defended and repeated. I put this statistic to a number of men and women, who invariably said: “Obviously. Everyone knows men are more immoral than women.” Men concur with a certain amount of pride, whereas women agree with condemnation, while both assert its truth... (John Darlington)

Many women make false rape allegations. (Times Aug 2016 Hardly any, says Leila Segal of Voice of Freedom)

In the olden days nobody lived beyond 40? It's explained here.

Women earn less than men, spend more on caring for others, and are more likely to face poverty in retirement. (AP)

On average, women earn 24% less than men in the same job; Over 52 yrs, that is £298,064 less.

UK Female directors taking home £20,000 less than male counterparts. Up from £13,000 last year! (Architects Journal Feb 2016)

In 2015, a middle-earning woman who worked full-time was paid about 9.4% less each hour than men in the same position. (

12% of QCs are women.

Queen's birthday honours list: knights outnumber dames five to one. (2014)

Books by women don’t get reviewed as often as those by men. (New York Times. And books by men, about men, win more prizes.)

Intimate partner violence tends to be high where gender inequality is high. (

More women than men attempt suicide, say "official statistics". (Times)

In retail, women earn 68 cents for every dollar earned by men. (Demos)

Women make up 46% of Philosophy undergraduates in the UK, and yet are only 24% of Philosophy staff, and only 19% of Professors.

A floral painting by the late US artist Georgia O'Keeffe has sold for $44.4m (£28.8m) at auction, setting a record for an artwork by a female artist... The art auction record is $142.4m (£90.8m) for a Francis Bacon piece.

51% think that “common law marriage” exists. (British Social Attitudes Survey, 2008. It doesn't.)

IKEA is the world's 3rd-largest user of wood and sells 2 billion Swedish meatballs a year.

Solar power in the UK increased 50% in the first six months of 2016. (Springwatch)

13% of UK power is wind-generated.

A study by the Cook Ross Consultancy in the US in 2008, revealed that while less than 15% of American men are over 6ft tall (1.8m), almost 60% of corporate CEOs are over 6ft tall. Furthermore, less than 4% of American men, yet 36% of corporate CEOs are over 6ft2in tall.

One-third of US couples met on the internet last year. (2016)

Just over 55% refugees arriving in Europe currently are women and children. (UNHCR)

UK alcohol consumption rose 40% in the 70s.

In 2010 in the US, a child was injured by a bouncy castle every 46 minutes.

In 100 top grossing films of 2012, only 10.8% of speaking characters were Black, 4.2% Hispanic, 5% Asian, and 3.6% other.

Weekly attendance at Church of England services has fallen below 1 million.

New figures released by the Church show that just 1.4% of England's population attend Sunday services with the Church of England. 980,000 people attend church each week, based on figures from a survey carried out in October 2014, and there has been a 12% decrease in church attendance in the past ten years; equivalent to an average decline of little over 1% a year. 

Roughly 11 adults an hour are raped in England & Wales. (James O’Brien)

A woman or child is raped every 20 seconds in South Africa. (Sky News)

Privately educated people dominate the top echelons of the honours system as much as they did 60 years ago... The figure – 46% – has hardly changed since 1955, when it was 50 per cent, yet only 6.5% of the population goes to private school. (Times)

In Europe, 18% of women live alone, 36% of Londoners live alone. Women from Nordic EU states and Germany are most likely to live alone. Marriage in Europe has dropped from 3.4 million in 1964 to 2.1 million in 2011. Divorce rates have risen by 150 percent in the period. 16% of women in Riga are divorced. 

In the United States, shorter women and men of average height have the most reproductive success.

Finding a potential spouse with a steady job is a high priority for 78% of women. (Pew Research) 

The 59-year-old is somewhat unusual — just 13 percent of men his age had never married by 2012. (

Married people experience lower levels of cancer, heart disease, depression and stress. 

Crime in England & Wales down 31% since 2010-11 according to Crime Survey (and

41,000 Brits are living in Thailand.

Rough sleeping up 16% in London, 25% of Welsh families in poverty, 686,000 sanctions in 2014. (@imajsaclaimant)

My most popular blog post concerns euphemisms for heavy drinking.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Was Ngaio Marsh a Snob? Part 4

Ngaio Marsh
Artists in Crime

This novel was written in the 30s, and comes early in Marsh’s mystery sequence. The action takes place at a country house that has been turned into an art school by a well-known painter, Agatha Troy. The story has many good points, but it is unnecessarily gruesome. The enjoyable satire (is nobody likeable?) is spoiled by Marsh's bizarre obsession with vomiting. OK, people may throw up when someone they know is murdered, but must we all go on and ON about it?

Before term starts, tutor Bostock writes to Troy about the set-up. She has booked Sonia Gluck as a model: “The little swine’s beautiful [but] It’s impossible to keep her in her place... Wat Hatchett’s voice is like the crashing together of old tin cans.” (He's Australian.)

Calling your fellow students by their surnames only was a Slade habit from before World War One. There are some rather posh students (Pilgrim, Seacliff and Malmsey), a couple of rough diamonds (Hatchett and Garcia), a rather ineffectual Frenchman (Ormerin) and a lower middle-class girl, Phyllida Lee.

Phyllida has a squeaky voice with a slight Midlands accent, and her original girlish personality keeps breaking through. She appears for her police interview wearing a deliberately unfashionable dress hand-printed with a pattern in red, and has long hair scraped back into a bun. But she's nice to Wat Hatchett, and despite her affectations and habit of listening at doors is the most sympathetic of the lot. Tutor Katti Bostock reports that Phyllida “was made to feel entirely superfluous” at the Slade. She tries to be detached and modern, but (Bostock again) she “sweats suburbia from every pore”.

The students never even seemed to see one, and if they did they looked as if one smelt. And at first this place was just as bad…

Wat Hatchett is more thick-skinned: “His Sydney accent was so broad as to be almost comic. One wondered if he could be doing it on purpose. It was not the custom at Troy’s for new people to speak until they were spoken to… He was so innocently impossible.

It’s poor Sonia who gets murdered. Roderick Alleyn, Marsh’s series detective, is staying with his mother nearby, so he’s sent to investigate. Lady Alleyn “pressed a bell-push, and when Clibborn came, said: ‘Mr Roderick’s overcoat at once, Clibborn, and tell French to bring the car round quickly.’” (Lady Alleyn also has a butler who seems wheeled on just so that Marsh can point out his flat feet and adenoids.)

To the police, Katti complains that Troy overpaid Sonia because she handed out some “sob story”. Sonia pulls faces while Katti is trying to paint her, and eventually Katti “lets her have it”. Why did Sonia behave so badly, asks Alleyn. “Because I treated her like a model!” says Katti.

Troy is always too easy with the models. She spoils them. I gave the little brute hell because she needed it… I said everything I’d been trying not to say for the past fortnight. I let go.

Katti also sneers at Sonia for living with Garcia, and letting him live off her. Fox and Alleyn disapprove of the students’ attitude to free love. Phyllida talks naively about “body urges”. Basil Pilgrim loves Valmai Seacliff for her “purity”. Troy and Katti decide Valmai is a “nymphomaniac” – but they mean something like “vamp” or “flirt”. Nobody justifies their attitudes: it’s not about sin, or damaging society. Was it all about keeping up appearances?

Troy is rude to her students and moans about them, apparently forgetting that they're paying her. Alleyn is abusive to his friend, the journalist Nigel Bathgate, and the students are vile to each other. Nigel is very rude about Hatchett (“He ought to be told how revolting he is whenever he opens his mouth. Antipodean monster.”), but that’s to give Alleyn an excuse to defend the Australian language.

And some people say civility has declined… I usually defend Golden Age mystery writers against blanket charges of snobbery from people who have read none of their books, but the prosecution rests.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Euphemisms about Racism (in Quotes) 5

I’m not being racist, I’m reflecting the national conversation. (Katie Hopkins, paraphrase)

It goes, "I am an expat. You are a migrant. He is a refugee. They are terrorists." (@ClareOBrien) Some people I know see me as an expat rather than a migrant, as I'm 'educated' and 'not on dole'. (@gabywolferink)

When people talk about millennials, they're almost exclusively talking about white people. (Martin Truther King‏ @brownlashon)

Euphemisms 4 racism the white liberal commentariat have used so far:  

economic anxiety,
racial self interest,
cultural anxiety.
(kaam jawaan ki maut @naziasmirza)

"VERY REAL CONCERNS" (John Band‏ @johnb78)

Apparently the new term for anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-fascism, anti-classism and anti-colonialism is "Identity Politics". (Liam Hogan‏ @Limerick1914)

Snowflakes: Why can’t they be more racist, like us. (Do You Even Science, Bro)

Migration flow (Church of England document about the election)

We saw the sales of any character that was diverse, any character that was new, our female characters, anything that was not a core Marvel character, people were turning their nose up against. (David Gabriel of Marvel, Times)

A group of American football stars have complained that they were turned away from one of London’s most fashionable night clubs for being “too urban”... a phrase often used as a euphemism for black. (Times)

So yet again, "neutral" is not neutral but a loaded term - a default to white, to Christian (male, straight, middle class, etcetera). (Charlotte L. Riley‏ @lottelydia EU has allowed firms to forbid headscarves.)

"We need to be able to discuss dangerous ideas!"
"I agree. Neoliberalism has run its course and - "
"Ah sorry, I meant: I want to be racist."
(Hot Take, Tim‏ @burgerdrome)

Political Euphemisms (in Quotes) 4

His rivals… were understandably annoyed by his willingness to treat journalism as a creative art, in which in order to convey larger truths, and catch his readers’ attention, he did not scruple to embroider his material. (Translation: Boris made up the EU straight banana.)

We're not going to introduce ID cards. We're going to introduce cards of identification.
(David Davis)

Funny the way parties always assume the problem was "we failed to communicate", rather than "people disliked our ideas". (@JonnElledge)

Health and safety = trying to make sure people don't die
Political correctness = trying to be kind
(Sathnam Sanghera)

It would be helpful if broadcasters were willing to be a bit patriotic. (Andrea Leadsom to Emily Maitlis after being questioned on Brexit)  
Where 'patriotism' somehow means *not* asking pertinent, evidence-based questions about the national interest. (@mrjamesob James O'Brien)

PM spokesman says she "expressed her disappointment" about the Paris Agreement in a phone call with Donald Trump this evening.
This is still pretty weak, even allowing for British understatement ('I'm not angry, I'm disappointed' = 'you bumbling fool'). (@chrislintott)

"Stop virtue signalling" means "Stop making me feel bad about being an asshole by going around not being an asshole". (@MitchBenn)

'I am not political'; 'They are all as bad as each other'; 'All politicians lie'; there are many ways of saying, "Secretly, I vote Tory". (Matt McG‏ @glaikit_f )

Examples of modern jargon...
Deep State = the rule of law
I am troubled. = I will do nothing.
Fake news =  I dislike this.

When Republicans and Tories say "choice", they mean "choice between commercial options". (RK)

Language of the contemporary internet-left:
"Listening" to someone means agreeing with them 
"Silencing" someone means disagreeing with them
(Jen Isaacson‏ @isacsohn)

Iain Duncan Smith hits out at "self-appointed court" that "tried to tell Parliament how to run its business". (@politicshome)
"Self-appointed" being the new way of saying "established by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005". (@alexmassie)

Funny how "hard-working British families" become the scum of the earth when they strike for decent pay, conditions, safety of their service. (@scarlettstuff)

Interesting how any way to protest that is effective is called "not the right way" to protest. (cheddar truckle ‏@emmetbroaders)

Certain mountainous districts in the north, inhabited by small savage tribes, had until recently escaped the clutches of the British, but it is more and more likely that they will meet the same fate as the rest of the country, thanks to the process euphemistically known as ‘peaceful penetration’, which means, in plain English, ‘peaceful annexation’. (George Orwell in an article on Burma)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Suddenly at His Residence, by Christianna Brand

The story concerns a weekend family house party taking place during World War II. The residence is owned by grandfather Richard and his ex-mistress Bella, and is a rather twee shrine to his first wife, a dancer called Serafita.

Present are: Bella; doctor Philip, his wife Ellen and their baby daughter; Claire (who is having an affair with Philip); Peta, a young volunteer nurse, in love with Stephen, the lawyer; Edward, Bella’s grandson, aged about 17 and thought to be “delicate”; Stephen, the lawyer and no relation – in love with Peta but feels he can’t propose as she’s the heiress.

The staff are reduced to Brough the gardener, Mrs Brough and a cook, Mrs Featherstone – known amusingly as “the Turtle” or “the old hag”.

There is scope for social and psychological satire after grandfather is found dead in one of the lodges after threatening to disinherit them all. The lodge is hemmed in by sanded paths that show every footprint, and rose bushes that drop their petals when slightly touched. The girls have visited during the day, but they were all wearing bathing suits owing to the heat and private swimming pool, and couldn’t have concealed the deadly hypodermic. Inspector Cockerill steps in to help, and is not too annoying as he establishes movements and alibis.

The book reveals a lot about current attitudes to emotions and mental health. The boy Edward has been “spoilt”, and encouraged to think he suffers from “fugues and automatism” when he doesn’t know what he is doing. (He may be epileptic and they should send him to a real doctor.) They repeat the myths about mad people being exceptionally strong and cunning, and Philip refers to Edward as a “hysteric” who can faint at will.

When Philip and Claire confess to Ellen that they are in love, she responds with: “My dear Claire - sheer Home Chat!” (Home Chat was a magazine something like People’s Friend.) Ellen preserves an air of ironic detachment, while retreating to her room to sob.

Sir Richard fulminates: “I realize more and more that none of the modern generation have any manners, reticence, or good-feeling!”

Stephen comments: “Claire takes things a bit desperately, always; she’s a bit sort of dramatic!” Both Peta and Claire are accused by the others of “showing off” and being “self-conscious”. Claire “pulls faces”, ie she doesn’t wear the aristocratic mask – “icily regular, splendidly null”. Peta gushes and flutters her hands.

Claire offers to help with the baby. Naturally, Ellen is not keen, but “she would not permit herself to have silly ‘feelings’.” When Sir Richard is found dead, Claire “would not pretend to a grief she did not feel”. Philip, the doctor, reflects that “the words of consolation and support came so glibly to one after a while”. Later, Ellen ponders Claire’s character: “She’s self-centred and not real; she’d have driven him mad with her emotionalism and scenes and play-acting.”

The constant denigrating of expressions of emotion as "hysterical" provided a template. Despite all this determined repression of feelings as “silly”, “unreal” and probably “common”, this family have constant emotional rows, especially over meals. “We had a great scene out here!” says Edward. “We all got most terribly emotional.” Emotions were seen as forces that must be controlled, or they would take you over and make you do ridiculous and "theatrical" things. See "fugues and automatism" again.

Although there’s a war on, a tray carried across a garden by the elderly Mrs Featherstone is still “laden with the massive silver dishes which had appeared to a little ballet-dancer the hallmark of respectability”. The dishes even have heavy silver covers. Mrs F uses the word “oblige”. This was a running joke about cleaners: they pretended they were just “obliging” their lady employers, rather than working because they needed the money. When called to the witness stand, Mrs F proceeds “with a series of strange little bobs and curtsies”.

Brough, the gardener, is “ignorant and illiterate” and always opining about this and that. He refers to his wife “working her fingers to the bone for them as was born equal with us, I says, and by rights ought to be waiting on us, not us on them.” Like so many, he misunderstands “equality”, but he has a point.

At the inquest, the family are forced to mingle with “little men in shiny suits”. The coroner looks like a hippo, and polishes his nails in public (on his lapel?).

The drawing room in the big house is “cool”, with blue and white linen “summer curtains”, and grey and blue chintz, only marred by the simpering portrait of Serafita in pink. Mrs Brough has a “stuffy little parlour. Ugly lace curtains kept out the brave morning sunshine, and everywhere were fringes and bobbles and hideous china plates.” Bella regrets her little house in Yarmouth with its yellow front door. She has always felt awkward in the big house where her only task is to “do the flowers”.

Ellen prides herself "a little, and not offensively, on taking an intelligent interest (for a woman) in the progress of the war".

I defy you to work out who dunnit and how (the characters discuss the possibility of transporting poison in a fountain pen), but the identity of the murderer is cleverly salted. The denouement is splendidly over the top. It's an amusing read and almost as good as Green for Danger.

More Golden Age Mysteries here.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Art Shows in London, Paris, Cornwall and Chichester

The Scythians: uncivilized nomads
British MuseumLondon
The Scythians roamed Siberia between 900 and 200 BC. They were artists, metal-workers and observers of the natural world. Some of their tombs in the frozen tundra have preserved leather shoes and clothes, wooden head-dresses and even skin tattooed with leaping, semi-abstract animals. Many cultures borrowed from their art, including the Celts.

CanalettoQueen's Gallery
Buckingham Palace
to 12 November
The Queen is letting us admire her fabulous collection of early Canalettos.

Camille Pissarro
Musee Marmottan
Hurry, hurry, it shuts on 2 July. Pissarro was an impressionist painter of snow, floods, back gardens and Upper Norwood.

Jasper Johns
Royal Academy
23 September-10 December
Johns shocked gallery-goers in the 60s with his ironic version of the American flag in thick paint, and his use of targets, numbers and maps as subject matter. He included household objects and the human figure, moving into abstraction in the 70s. Since then he has used Greek vases, slanting rain and images from painters such as Grunewald and Munch to explore sexuality and memory. "Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns defined the quiet cool of gay culture," says The Daily Beast. This is his first British retrospective for 40 years.

SOS Brutalism
Deutsches Architekturmuseum

From 6 October
Photographs of endangered Brutalist buildings, for lovers of grimmigkeit.

Hayward Gallery
25 Jan 2018
The blocky concrete masterpiece, inspired by World War II bunkers and gun emplacements, will reopen in January with a major retrospective of photographer Andreas Gursky, known for his panoramic views of public housing, humans in the mass, and regimented beach umbrellas.

Tattoo: British Tattoo Art Revealed
National Maritime Museum
To 7 January
Daggers, dancers, ships, roses, skulls, scrolls.

A Different Light: British Neo-Romanticism
Pallant House
To 24 September
Between the wars, British artists like Paul Nash and John Piper looked back to William Blake and Samuel Palmer, and imbued landscape and buildings with "the light that never was on sea or land".

Austin Osman Spare

The Last Tuesday society
Mare Street
East London
Spare's portrait drawings are exquisite. He was a friend of the notorious Aleister Crowley and created his own language of magical sigils.

Hackney Museum
1 Reading Lane
E8 1GQ
Lived in London all my life and never knew Hackney had a museum.

The National Gallery of Dublin has re-opened, displaying restored and conserved pictures.

Latin Abbreviations

Kids today – they don't learn Latin any more! And they don't understand the Latin abbreviations that used to be widely used. Here's a quick guide.

Anno Domini or "year of the Lord". It's 2017 AD, or 2017 since Jesus was born in Year One, according Dionysius Exiguus, who worked it out our dating system in the 6th century. Alternatively, you can replace AD with CE (Common Era), and BC (Before Christ) with BCE (Before the Common Era).

am and pm: Before and after noon (ante and post meridian)

c. or circa: about, around

cf: compare, or see also

CV: curriculum vitae, resumé or vita (as the Americans call it). Curriculum vitae means "course of life", and "vita" means life.

et al.: and others (Short for "et alia".)

etc., etcetera: and the rest

e.g., exempli gratia: for instance

MO, modus operandi: method of operating

NB, nota bene: Please note.

pa, per annum: per year

per cent: for each hundred

PS, post scriptum: postscript (And when we wrote letters, we sometimes added a PTO at the bottom, meaning "please turn over".)

QED, quod erat demonstrandum: You can't argue with that!

Re: concerning (It's a word, not an acronym, and can be said "ree" or "ray".)

RIP, requiescat in pace:
Rest in peace.

stet: Let it stand.

vs, v., versus: against

Latin words that end in A (larva, vertebra) have plurals ending in AE (larvae, vertebrae).

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Literary Clichés 4

Riley Keough

In a Golden Age mystery, if a girl wears her hair parted in the middle and drawn back into a knot “like a Madonna”, she will not be the murderer.

In novels of 70 years ago, the old nanny inverts her sentences: “A young man to you seem he may! Insulted I’ve bin!”

In a bad historical novel, good characters are given contemporary attitudes and ploddingly spell out why slavery is wrong, democracy is good and witches wise.

Modern detective stories have to contain a dysfunctional (and young) computer geek to do the computery bits of the investigation. Sometimes she is female and an ex-hacker.

Beware the fringe play with a lot of unnecessary “multimedia” that nobody really knows how to work and that breaks down halfway through.

Look out for the person who only thinks they are paralysed. The converse is the wheelchair-bound character who walks about the house unobserved, or the “blind” person who can really see.

I just popped out to the chemist’s and now I’m in Istanbul. (Graham Greene)

Beautiful woman turns up and tells hero a long tarradiddle. It turns out to be a pack of lies – he challenges her and she tells another pack of lies. (Maltese Falcon, Playback)

The household that lives as if Queen Victoria was still on the throne. Sometimes ruled by a terrifying matriarch. (Police at the Funeral)

The old gods are still alive and living as normal people.

Modern mysteries: a distinctly modern inclusion of every form of perversion, along with the tendency to turn the detective’s lives into turgid serial drama... The problem with all modern crime fiction: the puzzle is almost an addendum to “larger” issues. (

Character arcs
Menus (lengthy descriptions of food)
Intriguing setting (monastery, police academy)
Two strands that intertwine (local crime, larger issue)
Outsider who integrates with the community as both come to understand each other
Outsider who wears the mask but inwardly is mass of seething resentment
Token waspish gay couple who run a B&B.
(Ah, Sweet Mystery on writer Louise Penny)

Stop with the orientalist book covers! If book is about Muslims in Brooklyn, no camels necessary! (Su'ad Abdul Khabeer‏ @DrSuad)

Optimistic futures were always, always vastly outnumbered by end of the world stories with mutants, Frankenstein creations that turn against us, murderous robot rebellions, terrifying alien invasions, and atomic horror. (

Over 90% of stories submitted to Galaxy Science Fiction still nag away at atomic, hydrogen and bacteriological war, the post atomic world, reversion to barbarism, mutant children killed because they have only ten toes and fingers instead of twelve. (H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction, in 1952)

We never said “Was that a shot?” but always “Was that the well-known bark of a Mauser? ... As chapter gives place to chapter, and still no arrows stick quivering in the tent-pole, and still no tomtoms throb, the observant reader will get pretty fed up. (Adventurer Peter Fleming)

Murderous types who have gone to extreme lengths to cover up crimes will then confess for apparently no reason at all. (Moira Redmond)

“Well, I’ve met the crusty egomaniac, the ingenue, and the juvenile! But who’s the brains of the operation?” (Jessica Fletcher)

Every character is either headed for a padded cell, disappearing into a gaping maw or recording their final thoughts as murderous cultists descend on them. (Guardian arts blog on horror writer HP Lovecraft)

Plot of every book ever: Someone is looking for something. Commercial version: They find it. Literary version: They don't find it. (Novelist @matthaig1)

Stock characters – the gruff, lovable husband; the bright, spirited young girl... (LRB August 2014 on Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi)

"Bighearted" is the new "luminous." (Nancy Friedman ‏@Fritinancy)

The longer he or she has been in the public eye, the more likely are they to retreat into tired anecdotes that have already been rehearsed many times over ... cut through the easy laughs, the PR veneer ... cliché’s, banality, point scoring and psychobabble are discarded. (Guardian 2008 on ghost writing)

Tintin falls in love with Hans Castorp’s sexy Russian girlfriend and before you know it he’s waist deep in the horror that is “witty” postmodernism. (Kate Saunders Times 2009)

He is very taken by Anastasia, who in the time-honoured Mills & Boon style of demure secretaries with tempestuous plutocrats and nurses with hot-tempered brain-surgeons, is strangely unafraid of him. (Peter Bradshaw on 50 Shades of Gray)

There are endless scenes where [mystery writer] Dorothy Sayers puts her own opinions into approved characters’ mouths, and then has (less clever and attractive) others arguing with those views and being defeated. (Moira Redmond)

The idea of two contrasting assassins is centuries old. (Terry Pratchett)

Statistics show that you’re most likely to get your own story in a girls’ comic if you’re a sporty, disabled, artistic Victorian orphan who lives with a violent aunt or uncle, having a hurt sister/brother/pet who you need to earn money for, but don’t realise that your best friend secretly resents you, the snobs are plotting against you, and an evil mastermind is attempting to take over your school and you’re the only one who can resist her powers. (

PD James contended that, unlike Dame Agatha, she was attempting to use the mystery genre to enlighten us about the human condition... Who’s to say Christie did not accomplish this very thing? (

Has anyone else noticed how crime fiction that "transcends the genre" (understand: no plot, no detection, no fun) is now referred to as "literary crime fiction"? The label is bad enough, but the underlying idea that other forms are not "literary" and that being "literary" should be the aim of any serious, self-respecting crime writer is infuriating. (Xavier Lechard)

Snobbery is the worst attribute of all, in my view, and unfortunately detective fiction can have a bit of an inferiority complex sometimes. It's like when something science fiction is released and the author/actor/whoever says, "I don't consider it sci-fi," as though the work is in some way superior to others in the genre. As an aspiring writer, I try to make the story fun, with humour and exciting scenes... Sadly, publishers seem to prefer drug-overdoses, dead prostitutes, child abuse, gory crime scenes and a moody detective, with a bit of torture thrown in too. (David Jones)

"Plot is for precocious schoolboys. What matters is the imaginative truth, and the perfection and care with which it has been rendered. After all, you don’t say of a ballet dancer, ‘He jumped in the air, then he twirled around, et cetera ...’ You are just carried away by his dancing.” Edna O’Brien, explaining why 99% of what passes for "literary fiction" is unreadable. (Xavier Lechard)

In his foreword to the French edition of Sayers's Lord Peter Views the Body, Paul Morand says... The detective novel can't achieve genuine literary greatness because it is so carefully planned. "Real" novelists let their characters go and grow free whereas detective novelists have to make them cogs in a greater machinery; their behaviour and fate is fixed from the start. This argument seems to have been very popular with French critics, probably because of the local infatuation with the psychological novel... I find it flawed, though, as not all literary writers let their characters decide the course of the story - also it presupposes that the psychological novel is the only way to literary greatness, which I dispute. (Xavier Lechard)

For those interested in how life was before their time, contemporary films intended for short-life consumption can tell you more than any amount of memoirs and after-the-event recitations. And often more honestly. There's a lot of retrospective repainting that goes on. (RI)

The most interesting things are always done in the period when a medium is considered disposable trash. (