Friday 24 July 2009

Howlers for July

communal garden for common or garden (Think “This is the common – or garden – variety.”)

repatriate for return If you found a fiver in the street you probably wouldn’t be able to repatriate it. Barrister on Breakfast, BBC1, July 24 09

officious for official "the role hardly suited the officious persona of a Catholic princess" Observer June 19 (bossily organising/public)

cajole for regale (persuade/entertain)

regutted for gutted We’ve regutted the kitchen… Homes Under the Hammer, July 09

capricious for ironic “a deeply compassionate drama of division and reconciliation in apartheid South Africa playing the capriciously named 'Great White Way' in an attempt to prick America’s own racist conscience.” Independent June 25 09 The Great White Way is a section of Broadway in New York. If you act capriciously you're probably being contrarian, irresponsible, unpredictable and careless of others' feelings.

plumbing for channelling “with Tsakane Maswanganyi’s Irina plumbing the soul singer in her operatically inflected numbers “Trouble Man” and the enduring “Stay Well”.” Indy June 25 09 To plumb something's depths, i.e. measure how deep it is, you let down a string with a lead (Latin: plumbum) weight on the end.

déclassé for passé “the strong, silent father type became declassé a good while ago” Ben Gorge quoted in Observer June 7 09 (slipped down the class ladder/dated)

dearly for deeply But in the 1960s, the impact of the Beeching cuts was felt dearly by a community reliant on the fishing industry. June 09 If you say "I would dearly love to..." you mean "It was the dearest wish of my heart..." The Greeks called this a transferred epithet.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Shakespeare: Bard Song

Many everyday sayings are lifted from Shakespeare:

a plague on both your houses
Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio
a poor thing but my own As You Like It "An ill-favoured thing sir, but mine own."
a rose by any other name
Romeo and Juliet, Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose / by any other name would smell as sweet."

at one fell swoop
Macbeth, Macduff: “What, all my pretty chickens and their dam/ at one fell swoop?” (He’d previously been talking of Macbeth as a bird of prey – a kite.)

be all and end all
Macbeth, Macbeth: "...but this blow/Might be the be-all and the end-all here"

beggars description
Anthony and Cleopatra, Enobarbus: "For her own person/It beggar'd all description..."

bestrides the world like a Colossus
Julius Caesar
brave new world Tempest, Miranda: "Oh wonder, how many goodly creatures are there here,/ how beauteous mankind is, Oh brave new world/ that has such people in it."

charmed life Macbeth, Macbeth: "I bear a charmed life, which must not yield / to one of woman born." cruel to be kind Hamlet, Hamlet: "I must be cruel, only to be kind."

discretion is the better part of valour Henry IV, Part One, Falstaff: "The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life."

dogs of war Julius Caesar, Brutus: "And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,/With Ate by his side come hot from hell,/Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice/Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war..."

every inch a king
King Lear, Gloucester: "Is 't not the king?" King Lear: "Ay, every inch a king."
fond farewell Henry VIII "Farewell, a long farewell to all my greatness."
foregone conclusion Othello "But this denoted a foregone conclusion."
gild the lily King John "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily."

green-eyed monster
Othello, Iago: "O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;/ It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/ The meat it feeds on..."

hoist by your own petard
Hamlet "For 'tis the sport to have the engineer / Hoist with his owne petar." (A petard is an explosive device used to break down doors or walls.)

I can tell a hawk from a handsaw Hamlet, Hamlet: I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw. Cue endless explanations of the “real” meaning of hawk (carpenter’s tool easily confused with a saw) and handsaw (hansa or heron easily confused with a hawk). Hamlet was being ironic. He's also using alliteration, like saying two things are as different as chalk and cheese.

I could a tale unfold Hamlet, Ghost: "I could a tale unfold/ Would freeze your young blood, make your two eyes like stars start from their spheres, /and thy knotted and combined locks to part/ like quills upon the fretful porpentine."

in a nutshell
Hamlet, Hamlet: "I could be bounded in a nutshell/ and count myself king of infinite space /were it not that I have bad dreams"

into the breach Henry V, Henry V: "Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more/lOr close the wall up with our English dead."

It was all Greek to me Julius Caesar But, for my own part, it was Greek to me.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. King Henry IV, Part II "Not the ill wind which blows no man to good." (What does it mean? That a wind that blew nobody any good really would be bad. So most ill winds (or terrible events), though they bring disaster to a lot of people, will actually benefit a few.)

lay it on with a trowel As You Like It "Well said, that was laid on with a trowel." (Applied thickly, like cement.)

Lend me your ears Julius Caesar, Brutus

make a clean breast of it Hamlet "Cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff/that weighs upon the heart"

many a time and oft Merchant of Venice, Shylock: "many a time and oft / In the Rialto you have rated me." ie berated

marry in haste, repent at leisure Taming of the Shrew "Who wooed in haste, and means to wed at leisure."

Methinks the lady doth protest too much... Hamlet, Queen: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." (Queen Gertrude means the actor is overdoing “her” part. Now used to indicate that the more someone protests their innocence, or their disinterest, or their love, the less likely they are to be sincere.)

method in his madness
Hamlet, Polonius: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in it." (The characters in the play treat Polonius as a dim buffoon, but he often pinpoints the truth whether by accident or design.)

midsummer madness Twelfth Night, Olivia: "Why, this is very midsummer's madness."

milk of human kindness Macbeth, Lady Macbeth: "Yet do I fear thy nature;/It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness."

mind’s eye Hamlet, Hamlet: "In my mind’s eye, Horatio."

more honoured in the breach than in the observance Hamlet, Hamlet: "It is a custom... "(He doesn’t mean that people forgot to honour the custom, but that it would be more honourable to forget about this particular custom.)

more in sorrow than in anger
Hamlet, Horatio (describing the ghost): "A countenance more in sorrow than in anger."

nearest and dearest
Henry IV Part I, King: "Why, Harry, do I tell thee of my foes,/ Which art my nearest and dearest enemy...?"

needs must when the devil drives
All’s Well that Ends Well "He must needs go that the Devil drives." Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Hamlet, Polonius

not single spies, but in battalions/Sorrows don’t come singly. Hamlet, Claudius: "When sorrows come, they come not single spies..." (You usually send out spies singly — you wouldn’t send out battalions of spies, they’d be noticed.)

not wisely but too well Othello "One that loved not wisely, but too well."
pound of flesh Merchant of Venice
primrose path (to the eternal bonfire) Macbeth, Porter
salad days Anthony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra: “my salad days/When I was green in judgment”
sea change Tempest, Ariel: “but doth suffer a sea change, into something rich and strange.”

seen better days As You Like It Orlando: If ever you have look’d on better days,/If ever been where bells have knoll’d to church,/If ever sat at any good man’s feast,/If ever from your eyelids wip’d a tear,/And know what ’tis to pity, and be pitied,/Let gentleness my strong enforcement be:/In the which hope I blush, and hide my sword. Duke Senior: True is it that we have seen better days...

Shuffled off this mortal coil
Hamlet, Hamlet: "For in that sleep of death what dreams may come/ When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,/ Must give us pause." (He means when our immortal souls have shed our mortal bodies like a coiled snake sloughs off its skin, not when we have shuffled off this planet, or off to Buffalo.)

slings and arrows
Hamlet, Hamlet: The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em. Twelfth Night, forged letter to Malvolio

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark Hamlet, Marcellus
star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet (assumes that your fate is written in the stars)
strange bedfellows Tempest "Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows."
That way madness lies King Lear, Lear
The course of true love never did run smooth. Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander
the darling buds of May Sonnets "Rough winds may shake the darling buds of May"

the food of love Twelfth Night, Duke Orsino: If music be the food of love, play on. (ie if love lives on music, go on playing, and maybe love will die of a surfeit)

The long and short of it The Merry Wives of Windsor "This is the short and the long of it."

the stuff that dreams are made of Tempest, Prospero: "We are such stuff/as dreams are made on, and our little life / is rounded with a sleep."

There are more things in heaven and earth (Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy) Hamlet, Hamlet (What was Horatio’s philosophy? One that didn’t allow for ghosts, apparently.)

There’s the rub. Hamlet, Hamlet (not "therein lies the rub". He’s referring to a shoe that rubs.) Thereby hangs a tale As You Like It, Jacques

thin air (Tempest, Prospero: "These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits/ and are melted into air, into thin air." He predicts that the world and all it contains will do the same one day.)

To be or not to be Hamlet, Hamlet
too too solid flesh "Oh that this too, too solid flesh would melt." Hamlet, Hamlet
We shall not look upon his like again Hamlet
wear your heart on your sleeve Othello "I will wear my heart upon my sleeve."

Wherefore art thou Romeo? Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (Means ‘Why are you “Romeo”?’ not ‘Where are you, Romeo?’)
Winter of discontent Richard II, Richard: "Now is the winter of our discontent/made glorious summer by this son [sun] of York."

worm turns
Henry VI, Part III "The smallest worm will turn, being trodded on."

A lot of our favourite sayings come from the Bible, too.

Sunday 19 July 2009

10 Bible Phrases

1. No peace for the wicked (not “no rest”) Isa 48:22 [There is] no peace, saith the LORD, unto the wicked. Isa 57:21 [There is] no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.

2. Crowning glory Proverbs 16:30-32 “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” 1 Corinthians 11:14-16 “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”

3. Fly in the ointment Ecclesiastes 10:1-2 “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.”

4. Gird up your loins – ie do up your belt, possibly hitching up your clothes so they don’t get in the way. Job 38:3 Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. 1 Peter 1:13 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

5. Powers that be Romans “The powers that be are ordained by God.”

6. Tender mercies Psa 51:1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

7. Wheels within wheels Eze 1:16 The appearance of the wheels and their work [was] like unto the colour of a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work [was] as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel.

8. Ends of the earth Psalm 65 “O God of our salvation: who are the confidence of all the ends of the earth.”

9. Hold forth Philippians 2:16 Christians should go through the world “holding forth the word of life.”

10. In all its glory Luk 12:27 Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Friday 17 July 2009

Random Script Generator

You see –
No, Professor Van Helsing, I don't see.

I’ll not have my command infiltrated by aliens!
They may be already among us.

I don't know what you're talking about!
I think you do.

I don't understand!
No, but you will.

I don't need a lecture from you!
I think you do.

You wouldn't understand.
Try me.

Sorry to wake you.
I wasn’t asleep.

You wouldn’t do that!
Wouldn’t I?

Is that an order?

I'd better tell you everything.
Yes, it would be just as well.

It's difficult to apologise.
I admire your integrity.

You really hate me, don't you?
I don’t hate you - I loathe and despise you.

Leave her out of it.
She's already in it.

You look as if you've seen a ghost!
I have.

I'm running it my way!
And what way is that?

I only thought ...
You didn't think. You didn't think AT ALL ...

Do you think...?
I don't think anything

You mean you think -
I don't think, I know!

You don't still think -
It's hard to know what to think.

You don’t mean –
That’s exactly what I do mean!

Keep calm!
I'm perfectly calm!!!!!!!

Sunday 12 July 2009

The Lille Deal

I've just spent a day in Lille and Roubaix (the Manchester of Flanders). Lille was strangely empty for a Saturday. Were the inhabitants on holiday? They weren't in the Palais des Beaux Arts in the Place de la Republique. It has a good collection of paintings, a little heavy on the religious. The best rooms are of landscapes, including records of the "debacle" – a bitter winter when blocks of ice sailed down the Seine. Sisley and Duran were there. The talented Carolus Duran could turn his hand to subjects as different as society portraits and the Prussian invasion of 1870. Perhaps his reputation has suffered because his Sergeant-like fashion plates are too easy to like. A temporary exhibition, Miroirs d'Orient, displays photos of women of the Middle East from past and present.

We relaxed in the gardens of a 16th century star-shaped fortress (Citadelle Vauban), next to the moat. There's also a zoo and a children's funfair. We wandered back to the gare through the old town, stopping off at a shop full of bandes dessinées and Tintin-abilia.

We took the metro to Roubaix, where there's an art museum in a decomissioned Art Deco swimming pool (La Piscine). The interior is stunning and still features a classical mask spouting water into a shallow pool, now surrounded by sculptures. Changing rooms have been converted into vitrines for the collection of ceramics and textiles. Paintings dwell on interiors and gardens. The pool's café is still open. Sadly we were too late to visit the garden with its dye and fibre plants. Another time.

Everywhere we went, greeters in orange uniforms offered friendliness and help with ticket machines. Two even walked us to the Piscine while we chatted to them in fractured French.

And it's only an hour from St. Pancras.

Lace Place

La Cité Internationale de la Dentelle et de la Mode (the International City of Lace and Fashion) opened in June in Calais, northern France. Its building, by Alain Moatti and Henri Rivière, is on the site of an old lace factory. Some space is taken up by a history of lace-making, from hand to machine. Calais was a centre of machine lace, using methods and hardware imported from Nottingham. There's also a restaurant, a shop, a library and a "tissutheque".

Here are some old recipes for cleaning lace, completely untried and unguaranteed.

From The Woman's Own Book of the Home, 1932: Take some clean old white muslin and sew it round a large bottle full of cold water. Wrap the lace carefully around the bottle. To prevent wrinkles tack one end of the lace to the muslin. Take a clean sponge soaked with sweet oil, and saturate the lace thoroughly through the wrappings to the bottle which is to be fastened by strings in a wash kettle. Pour in a strong cold lather of white castile soap and boil the suds until lace is perfectly clean and white. The bottle should then be placed in the sun to dry. Remove the lace and wind it round a ribbon block or press. Soap jelly may be used for washing lace – afterwards rinse in cold water.

To tint: After rinsing dip in weak tea or coffee. Black lace should be quite cleared of dust by brushing with a soft brush. Soak it in prepared tea containing 1 dessertspoonful tea, 2 teasponfuls gum arabic, and 3 pints boiling water. Iron under tissue paper.

"Some people wash it in sugar and water, and some in coffee, to make it the right yellow colour. But I have a very good recipe for washing it in milk, which stiffens it enough, and gives it a very good creamy colour." Mrs Forrester in Cranford.

Friday 10 July 2009

American Grammar II

I always wondered why Americans' use of grammar was so odd...

In the Chronicle Review's issue dated April 17, 2009, Geoffrey K. Pullum laid into Strunk and White's grammar bible, Elements of Style. His piece was headlined "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice".

Here are the edited highlights:

April 16 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of a little book that is loved and admired throughout American academe. ... I won't be celebrating. The Elements of Style does not deserve the enormous esteem in which it is held by American college graduates. Its advice ranges from limp platitudes to inconsistent nonsense. Its enormous influence has not improved American students' grasp of English grammar; it has significantly degraded it. ...

William Strunk was a professor of English at Cornell about a hundred years ago, and E.B. White, later the much-admired author of Charlotte's Web, took English with him in 1919, purchasing as a required text the first edition, which Strunk had published privately.

After Strunk's death, White published a New Yorker article reminiscing about him and was asked by Macmillan to revise and expand Elements for commercial publication. It took off like a rocket (in 1959) and has sold millions.

This was most unfortunate for the field of English grammar, because both authors were grammatical incompetents. ... Elements settled in as the primary vehicle through which grammar was taught to college students and presented to the general public, and the subject was stuck in the doldrums for the rest of the 20th century...

... despite the "Style" in the title, much in the book relates to grammar, and the advice on that topic does real damage. It is atrocious. Since today it provides just about all of the grammar instruction most Americans ever get, that is something of a tragedy...

"Use the active voice" is a typical section head. And the section in question opens with an attempt to discredit passive clauses that is either grammatically misguided or disingenuous...

Strunk and White [denigrate] the passive by presenting an invented example of it deliberately designed to sound inept. ... Of the four pairs of examples offered to show readers what to avoid and how to correct it, a staggering three out of the four are mistaken diagnoses. ...

I have been told several times, by both students and linguistics-faculty members, about writing instructors who think every occurrence of "be" is to be condemned for being "passive." No wonder, if Elements is their grammar bible.

It is typical for college graduates today to be unable to distinguish active from passive clauses...

Some of the claims about syntax are plainly false despite being respected by the authors. For example, Chapter IV, in an unnecessary piece of bossiness, says that the split infinitive "should be avoided unless the writer wishes to place unusual stress on the adverb." The bossiness is unnecessary because the split infinitive has always been grammatical and does not need to be avoided. ...

Strunk and White are just wrong about the facts of English syntax. The copy editor's old bugaboo about not using "which" to introduce a restrictive relative clause is also an instance of failure to look at the evidence. ... Several generations of college students learned their grammar from the uninformed bossiness of Strunk and White, and the result is a nation of educated people who know they feel vaguely anxious and insecure whenever they write "however" or "than me" or "was" or "which," but can't tell you why...

Copyright © 2009 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

More here.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Hummingbird Crop Circle

This image of a giant hummingbird has appeared near Alton Barnes, Wiltshire, where birds haven't hummed for millennia. It's a bit like the one in Peru.

Why don't crop circle artists ever win the Turner Prize? Surely anonymity and a "practice" outside the art market are a valid form of artistic expression? Crop circles are a genre, couldn't they be an art movement? You could easily fill a gallery with photos and preliminary sketches. Or throw a party in a wheatfield to launch your latest work. All life forms invited.

Monday 6 July 2009


Tweed is durable stuff, woven out of pure wool in Scotland (and Donegal). It was originally coloured with vegetable dyes, and it is still known for its subtle, muted shades. How could you not love it? And with eco being in fashion, how could it not be cool? And it could be about to make a comeback. Read all about it at Fast Company.

Somehow it has become code for conventional, middle class and stuffy. Fashion writers can't mention it without dragging in Miss Marple. Ladies of her vintage would get a tweed "coat and skirt" (she'd never call it a suit or costume) tailor made, and wear it for the next 20 years.

Although he is a young, good looking man, his bearded, tweedy appearance tells the world he feels unloved, and doesn't see the point in loving himself. Web

They don't look like soldiers, these stolid and slightly tweedy Keiths, Brians and Nicks of the Met Office staff. (How can you be “slightly tweedy”? Just wear a tweed hat?)

Stuart didn't listen to The Killers: "I always knew they were overrated and now they turn up on David Cameron's tweedy iPod playlist to prove the point." Guardian, January 9, 2006

Its details will be remembered by him, and by tweedy historians, and by no one else. Guardian, November 3, 2005

Luddites will twitch uneasily in their tweed trousers. Guardian, March 12, 2006

Most people in the media were tired of aristocratic old men in tweed jackets. March 12, 2006

A tourist board England of guardsmen and tweedy butlers. Times, July 20 2006 (Butlers wear black coats and pinstriped trousers.)

Stodgy, tweedy Vaughan Williams – who could get into that?

From an era when most British architecture was too tweedy and austere for comfort. Guardian, May 30, 2007

I’ve spoken at more literary festivals in more charmingly tweedy English market towns than feature in Arthur Mee’s King’s England. Simon Montefiore, ES mag, July 6, 2007

Tolkein knew how to put the twee into tweedy. Observer, June 24, 2007

Although he is a young, good looking man, his bearded, tweedy appearance tells the world he feels unloved, and doesn't see the point in loving himself...

A website focused on the overdevelopment and "tweeding" of the borough of Queens in the City of New York

Ian adjusts his frameless specs – His overall demeanour's tweedy. Guardian arts blog commenter on Ian McEwan, January 2008

The C30, a compact two-door hatchback, rips a sizeable hole in Volvo’s careful, tweedy image. (

So, despite the almost tweedy image she has fostered, I have to confess, Ruth Kelly exudes youth and energy. (That's not "almost tweed" she's wearing, it is tweed.)

Saturday 4 July 2009

Top Ten Make-up Mishaps

1. Orange fake tan

2. Fake tan so dark that you look dirty (especially combined with pale pink frosted lipstick)

3. Over-plucked eyebrows on women and men

4. French manicured nails

5. Blue eyeshadow

6. Blue mascara

7. Brown lipstick with sallow skin

8. Orange lipstick with olive skin

9. Lipstick outlined in brown pencil outside the lip line

10. Orange foundation that stops at the jaw-line

Serious Limericks

Night Scene
There's a slow tolling bell in the dark
As the keepers are clearing the park.Like a desert, it's bare;
And each tree and each chair
Is a blurred indeterminate mark.
Gavin Ewart

There was an old Russian called Lenin
Who did one or two million men in.
That's a lot to have done in,
But, where he did one in,
That old Russian Stalin did ten in.
Victor Gray

Once a Raven from Pluto's dark shore
Bore the singular news 'Nevermore'.
Twas of fruitless avail
To ask further detail,
His reply was the same as before.
Anthony Euwer

The other young chaps in my dorm
Are all forcing me to conform
I thought it would be
The done thing to be free –
Just call me Societal Norm.
Lucy Fisher

We’re all in the same situation
Whatever your interpretation.
You’ve a ticket to ride,
But free will is denied, 
You alight at your predestination.

“It’s childish to think that we’re free!”
My friends all pronounce with much glee.
In a cosmical dance
There’s time, choice and chance
For me and for Bobby McGee.

More here.

Thursday 2 July 2009

A Level Art

Camden School for Girls A Level Art Show
Lots to like. Inspirations are Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer and the school’s urban surroundings. I liked views of modernist or brutalist architecture, some in black lines over random patches of colour, or in lino prints. Bluston’s Gowns in Kentish Town Road and the Ristorante Aurora near the Strand are immortalised (Bluston’s stitches retro dresses in horrible fabric, the Aurora serves old-fashioned food like Fettucine Alfredo). Photographers snapped markets and concrete overpasses in black and white. Students had “looked at power, status, figure and place”. When I was an art student in the 60s we weren’t allowed to play with abstract nouns. We’d have been shot if we’d suggested a theme or (eugh!) an idea. Well done, chaps!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Buzz Words

They come from nowhere, they’re everywhere, and then you ask yourself “When did people stop saying…?”

Already in 2009 we're using:

scrappage (of cars)

carbon leakage (moving industry outside zone which makes you pay for emitting CO2)

CBD for central business district

and churning were much used in May. "Flipping" is refurbishing your house with taxpayers' money and then selling it on. "Churning" is having two homes, and constantly switching their status from "first home" to "second home" and back again.

funds (buy third world debt cheaply then go to court to enforce payment of full amount)

metroplex for hastily built out-of-town city

everything is broken, not just society

In February, people used bolthole a lot, especially having to rent out a Devon "bolthole" because of the credit crunch

crinkly is now crinkle (as in crinkle blouse), though crisp has become crispy

(people above you in network marketing genealogy, ie pyramid-selling pyramid)

kettle (verb) – what the police do to protesters

“older ladies” are now called “senior women

decompress has almost replaced "chill"

Buzz Words of 2011 here and here.
Complete Buzz Words of 2010 here.
Buzz Words of 2009 here.
Buzz Words of 2009 Part Two here.