Friday 17 March 2017

Misunderstandings 5

"Pitch perfect" became "picture perfect" became "picture postcard perfect" due to confusion with "picture postcard village". If your singing is "pitch perfect", it's perfectly in tune.

It’s like the paediatrician being beaten up because he was he was mistaken for a paedophile. (Angus Jackson, RSC director Mar 2017 quoted in Times. The female paediatrician who had "paedo" scrawled on her house has become an urban legend. The BBC has the details.)

hairy shirts for hair shirts (The penitential shirts, woven out of goat hair, were itchy and hot. You wore luxurious clothes over the top and hid your suffering.)

Like the druid and bardic movements in Wales, a few proselytising enthusiasts became the bottomless butt of jokes for the metropolitan masses. (AA Gill on Morris dancing. The “butt” in “butt of jokes” isn’t the one in “butt of Malmsey” – a cask; it’s a butt as in Newington Butts – a target for archery. But was it the bottom of a barrel?)

Tenterhooks are still holding people aloft, while their breath remains baited. (Tenterhooks stretched cloth on a frame, didn’t hold things aloft.)

The British colonial army in India, whose favourite laxative was a spoonful of gunpowder in a cuppa 'ot tea. (Florence King, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting? Is she thinking of gunpowder tea – dried green tea rolled into pellets? Saltpetre – gunpowder’s active ingredient – was used medicinally in the 18th century for asthma and arthritis, but it is toxic and of no medical use. Soldiers used to pass round the story that the army was dosing their tea with saltpetre to dull their libidos.)

Rurophilia crops up in the strangest places... including murder trials. The psychiatrist who testified for the Crown in the trial of mass murderer John Reginald Christie described the defendant contemptuously as “an insignificant, old-womanish city man”. (Florence King, Wasp, Where Is Thy Sting? Surely he called Christie a “City man” – someone who works in the City, London’s financial district? Christie had worked as a clerk in a radio factory, and for the Post Office Savings Bank.)

What a busy week for trolls typing away in their parents' box bedrooms. (Carol Midgley, Times. Box rooms are not rooms with a box bed or boxlike bedrooms – they are very small rooms intended for the family’s “boxes”, or trunks and suitcases. When a servant left she took her “box” containing all her belongings with her. They could only be carried by two men or strong women, but there were porters with trolleys at railway stations, and men and boys who hung about the streets offering to carry heavy stuff, load and unload carts etc for a few pennies. We have shoulder bags and pull-alongs now, but tiny boxrooms remain, and some have been turned into bedrooms.)

Infantile sectarian anarchist throwing windmills with nothing useful to say. (Does this tweeter think “tilting at windmills” means “chucking windmills about”? Don Quixote "tilted at" some windmills, thinking they were giants – he rode at them with a lance, like someone jousting in a tiltyard.)

Fiona Bruce thinks Edinburgh was called “Auld Reekie” because it suffered from “a particularly smelly smog”. It just means “Old Smokey” in the local dialect.

Africans sleep with their heads on uncomfortable wooden “pillows” or neck rests. (They’re stools.)

Gone was the palatial edifice of the Euston and Victoria hotels that looked like they'd been carved from sugarloaf. ( Baroque and post-baroque architecture is often called “icing sugar architecture” because it looks like a wedding cake covered in piped swirls and filigree.)

A Julian Fellowes’ heroine “has a 'cut-glass set' to her mouth.” (Explained here.)

More here, and links to the rest.


  1. I like a damp squid rather than damp squid - it has its own logic. Florence King! Always liked her, haven't heard of her in years.

  2. Yes, and we don't call fireworks squibs any more. The great and wonderful Florence King died recently in her 80s.