Wednesday, 14 November 2018

So, Was Josephine Tey a Snob After All?

Prepare for shocks – The Singing Sands was written in the middle of the last century, and any opinions are Tey's or her characters', not mine.

Tey writes of "nice little girls from Balham" who have been given new eyebrows by film producers and become "mysterious creatures from Omsk" - which might anchor this book in the 30s (it was found and published after her death in the early 50s). Her detective, Inspector Alan Grant, is quick to spot received ideas and "fake news", but he believes a lot of tosh about what facial features – like eyebrows – or handwriting tell you about a person. ("Large women are sexually cold" is a gem from The Daughter of Time.)

Grant takes the night train to Scotland to get away from it all, only to find a dead man in the next compartment. He is supposed to be having a holiday (and a nervous breakdown), but he becomes obsessed with the man in B7.

Grant arrives at the "clean" Highlands and there is a lot of blether about "clear" trout streams. Like Tey, Grant is a native Scot, and he stays with his Scottish cousin Laura and her husband and son. The adults speak the Queen's English, having been to the right schools, but the little boy proudly speaks the local accent. According to Laura, "the Gaels" are "the only known race who have no word for no". Out fishing, Grant and the boy meet a preposterous - English - Scottish nationalist in a kilt, known as "Wee Archie".

Inspired by a poem scribbled by the dead man, Grant ploughs through books on the Hebrides - it seems everyone has written one, of varying value. The librarian opines that the authors have a "tendency to idealise a primitive people".

Grant sets off for the Hebrides on the track of B7. He finds it's blowing a gale that never lets up (it's March). There's a hotel, but the islanders import all their — inadequate — food, he has to beg for bed clothes, and the chambermaid doesn't know how to build a fire or cook. Plus her legs are short!

Grant finds the "singing sands" (it's more of a squeak) on a windswept beach. Returning, he decides to go the ceilidh (dance) and enjoys himself reeling with the stumpy chambermaid, who is a good sort. But then up pops Wee Archie to give a separatist speech in Gaelic.

There are songs, and Grant doesn't think much of the tunes – "musically negligible, some of them deplorable". Girl singers have no expression, a flaunting tenor hasn't bothered to have voice lessons. "The few inspired songs had... gone over the world on their own wings. It was better that these feeble imitations be left to die."

Grant hopes that Laura won't wait too long before sending her son to school in England: "The quality of Scotchness was a highly concentrated essence, and should always be diluted. As an ingredient it was admirable; neat, it was as abominable as ammonia."

As Grant flies over France in search of clues, Britain is obscured by cloud. What would the world be like if the place had never existed, he asks himself. "An all-Spanish America, one supposed. A French India; an India without a colour-bar and so racially intermarried that it had lost its identity."

The story ends abruptly and rather melodramatically. B7's attractive American buddy seems ready to settle down with the ladylike Daphne – but he could never have aspired to the aristocratic Zoe, whom we are supposed to admire. She is so beautiful that she can stand a plain hairstyle. I hate her already.

And I'm rather disappointed that Wee Archie doesn't turn out to be planning a Riddle of the Sands attack on England. What would Tey make of Nicola Sturgeon? She thinks nations should keep their "identity", but looks down on "primitive" Scots. She herself was no aristocrat.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Euphemisms in Quotes 13


And that turned out to mean...

Moderate? Acceptable. As in socially acceptable. He earns a moderate wage. They live in a moderate house. My drinking is moderate. It can be any size or amount, as in "The Apollo program was a moderate expense". It nearly bankrupted the USA, but was accepted, by the whole world, as worth it, due to its anticipated outcome. Whereas the pay rise for the House of Lords is immoderate in today's climate. So I would think 'moderate' is a social acceptance word, not a measurement word. (Mark Fisher)

Male Tindr bios, a glossary of terms: 
old-fashioned: misogynist
entrepreneur: unemployed
rakish: sleeps around
sapiosexual: pretentious liar
adventures: unplanned hikes
gentleman: race, gender, and social values 200 years out of date

My whole life people have told me I could get any man I want, meaning a rich man. (

I’m thinking that anyone talking about “traditional values” or “traditional roles” is really talking about straight white male dominance. (@junodawson)

concise: small
boutique: small and expensive
cacao: expensive chocolate

Kooky: wears a hat
Japester: puts hats on dogs
Wacky: takes whoopee cushions to meetings
Wag: says poisonous things (“She’s a slut!”), and then adds, “Only joking!”
Jocular: laughs uproariously when people are upset/hurt
Droll: bitter and depressed person who quotes Dorothy Parker’s poem about suicide
Clown: conveys simply terror
Humorist: professional

unbiased journalism: protect the status quo (David M. Perry ‏@Lollardfish)

A brand I consulted with asked me to inquire about working with a top-level beauty influencer. (I think this means: "A manufacturer who employed me to advise them asked me to inquire about paying an influential product shill.")

I am firm, you are obstinate, he is a pig-headed fool.
I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.
I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.
I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist.
I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.
(Bertrand Russell)

He mentions on most pages that Dodo had abundant vitality, energy, wit, but for all he shows you, she's just a chattering bore. (Goodreads on EF Benson.)

You may well have noticed the extent to which Counterpoint has been dumbed-down (no doubt the BBC-speak word is 'refreshed') for this series. (efrog@cix)

John Lewis department store cuts 270 jobs as it rebrands. (Guardian Sept 2018)

Players from both sides of the equation ... use the term “deannexation” to describe the process of re-appointing land from Stockbridge to Eagle’s Landing. It’s rather anodyne terminology for referencing what could be called a ... land grab unfolding in real time and with the state’s approval.

In non-autistic people it's called 'flow' and a good thing. In autistic people it's known as inflexible thinking/special interest hyper focus and pathologised as undesirable. (Becca Lamont Jiggens @beccalamjig Honesty, integrity and conscientiousness are similarly pathologised.)

People won't walk to the station, they will drive as that's what they are used to doing; hence traffic mayhem and car park hell for us. (Isabel Thurston via FB Who are "we", again?)

A gynaecologist at a private hospital refers patients to facilities abroad that provide IVF embryos of the desired sex. She explains: “These parents don’t want a ‘designer baby’.” They just don’t want to have “more children than they would ideally like” to achieve one of the “right” sex. She said it might be time to rethink laws to allow “the modern UK couple an opportunity to take a very pragmatic, responsible attitude to parenting.” (Times)

I tend to translate 'delicacy' (as in food) as 'something vile that posh folks and/or foreigners can be persuaded to part with good money for'. (AG)

We need critical feedback... Woah not that critical... (Jessica Eaton)

The course was called “Outrageous Texts”... In practice, “outrageous” mostly meant some dead white dudes with weird sexual hang-ups. (


Remember, "Identity politics" just means being black. Or being gay, or trans, or being female and stepping even a little bit out of line. All you have to do to commit the loathed "identity politics" is to exist. And they seem to truly seem to want to stop "identity politics". (@mcclure111)

If you find yourself about to decry the rise of "tribalism", the word you're looking for is probably "factionalism". Tribes aren't defined by opposition to one another. A group can't splinter into tribes. The reason "tribalism" gets used is because of the negatives that the word "tribal" evokes in civilized western thought, which is a legacy of colonialism and racism. (@alexandraerin)

Turns out you can sell multiculturalism to racists by calling it cultural appropriation and letting them think they're annoying someone. (@coso9001)

“Current crop of professionally outraged right-wing pundits” is a lot of words for “white ethnonationalists,” and “willingness to get physical at times” is a wild euphemism for “inciting violence and brutally assaulting people” but okay. (zoé samudzi @ztsamudzi)

On BBC news; 'The problem with Freedom of Movement is that you don't have control... over the mix of migrants' - pray, what does this mean? (@stephendurkan)

Peter Willsman taking the final place in the NEC race – despite his losing the backing of many – shows that despite media portrayals Labour’s membership won’t be told what to do. I said this in the teeth of the 2016 coup. Power no longer rests with relatively small groups of people. (Aaron Bastani)

What people generally mean when they say “don’t bring politics into (x)” is “don’t question the prevailing cultural narrative around (x)” and by doing so are supporting the existing cultural and political status quo, which is itself an inherently political act. (Conrad Nightsocks @RJMrgn)

If you want to claim “the people” are on your side, you need to figure out how to carefully curate and manage who counts as people. You can’t actually come out and say, “The only people who count are the ones who agree with me,” so you need to invent a cleverer way of saying that, using code words such as “the white working class” or “the heartlands”. (

When a politician like Esther McVey says they have made a "tough decision", they invariably mean tough for other people, not for tough them. (@GeorgeMonbiot)

As someone else said, it's "civility" when you demand respect for white men. Demanding respect for others is "PC". (@daveexmachina)

We are all familiar with Sir Humphrey labelling decisions as brave. I have just heard Dominic Lieven say that if anyone on the relevant cabinet committee had said in 1985 that the USSR would collapse, their view would have been called "distinctly original". (JP)

Why does the “marketplace of ideas” always end up requiring that you listen to people who you’ve already heard from a dozen times before and aren’t saying anything new. (@jesseltaylor)

There's a thread I saw on my phone that's an anime fan going to a con for the first time and being alarmed by the "politics" (queer people existing) and "degenerates" (queer people existing). (Alexandra Goblin @alexandraerin)

Likewise, "problematic" and "toxic". (Miguel @_YerMom)

In the east, Operation Todt took part in the thinly disguised “anti-Partisan” combat operations that really meant killing Russian civilians and Jews. (

Middle-class people have implicit biases; working-class people have Genuine Cultural Concerns. (

A priceless opportunity to transform a genuine Arts and Crafts property into a family home for today. (Translation: gut the interior and remove walls.)

A quaint 1920s family home has been drastically altered in a total home transformation. (Pricey Pads)

Modernised... beautiful... luxury, style... amazing additions... fabulous family home. (Translation: An old vicarage has been disfigured with vulgar bad taste.)

More here, and links to the rest.