Thursday 30 December 2010

Things Called After People

Alice band
Aunt Sally
Belcher (handkerchief or chain)
Big Bertha (gun)
Bloody Mary
Brown Betty (teapot)
Busy Lizzie (plant)
Calamity Jane
Cassandra (prophetess: she was always right, but no one would listen)
Champagne Charlie
Dundreary whiskers
every Tom, Dick and Harry
flash Harry
good-time Charlie
Hebe (waitress)
Honest John
Hooray Henry
Jack of All Trades
Jeremiah (prophet always predicting doom)
Juliet balcony
keeping up with the Joneses
Little Orphan Annie
long Johns (pants)
Louis heel
Lucky Jim
Mary Jane (shoe)
Moaning Minnie (shell)
Mother Hubbard (dress)
Negative Nancy
Nehru collar
Nervous Nellie/Nora
Nosy Nora
Paul Pry
Peter Pan collar
Potemkin village (village full of happy peasants that’s just a lot of facades)
Raglan sleeve
Sally Ann (Salvation Army)
Smart Alec
Spotty Herbert
Tam O’Shanter
Tom Jones (long-forgotten hairstyle)
Typhoid Mary
Watson (detective’s dim friend)
Wellington (boot)

Wednesday 29 December 2010


Why do we make a "beeline" for something? Why do we refuse to touch things with a "bargepole" instead of just a pole? Because it’s harder to give dramatic stress to a monosyllable. English vowels are clipped. We don’t eeeeeeeeelongate them for emphasis so we add a syllable instead. And of course they're all cliches.

acid test test
bargepole pole
beached whale whale
bedrock rock
birthright right
bombshell bomb
brickbats (thrown by critics) brick
end result result
epicentre centre
firebrand torch
grass roots roots
hand picked picked
head start start
kick start start
lifeblood blood
logjam jam
loophole hole
object lesson (from 19th century teachers basing a lesson on an object) lesson (We say "object lesson" when we mean "lesson in how not to do it".)
pipe dream dream
pitfall trap, snare, snag
plug-ugly ugly
pole/meat/fire axe axe
pole-axed stunned
postage stamp stamp
price tag price
quagmire swamp
ramrod poker
ring leader leader
road map map
role model model
route march march
scot free (scot means free) free
sea-change mutation
sheet anchor anchor
skyrocket rocket (What’s a skyrocket anyway? If you want to set off a firework, or visit outer space, it’s a rocket.)
sledgehammer hammer
soapbox crate
spearhead head
straw poll poll
trip hammer metronome
wellspring spring
whole heap/load heap/load
wildfire napalm

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Grammar: Heteroglossia

Heteroglossia is a figure of speech – it means combining high and low diction for ironic effect. You can also combine words from different backgrounds – scientific, flowery, bureaucratic, vulgar. And if you lift words and phrases from science, architecture or railway timetables, it’s funnier if you use them precisely. Charles Dickens, Raymond Chandler and PG Wodehouse employed this dodge frequently.

'Jeeves,' I said. 'Sir?' said Jeeves. He had been clearing away the breakfast things, but at the sound of the young master's voice cheesed it courteously. PG Wodehouse

Did someone really kill someone else by tying them onto the rails and hoping the 5:20 from Chicago would do the rest? Or was it a metaphor for Industry crushing agricultural society? Liz Gorman, Rockville, Maryland,

And while we're all here: Some will occasionally claim that since the moon reflects UV radiation, staying out too long when it's full can get you a case of "moonburn." In medical parlance, these people are known as half-wits. (

As soon as a tenant was found, he subsided into the greengrocer’s shop once more... Thackeray, Vanity Fair

Francis Scott Key wrote of the Stars and Stripes waving “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” not o’er the Brooks Brothers lapel. (letter to Time)

Le tout Loughborough has turned out... (Time)

One American research program was cancelled after the chimps escaped the lab on a Sunday morning and reassembled in a local church, interrupting worship services. (

Taking pictures in public is indeed legal, but that's not likely to impress some outraged citizen who's determined to tapdance on your cranium. (

Dollo's law states that evolution isn't reversible, and that things that have been lost during the course of evolution don't reappear. Once it's gone, it's gone – sayonara, whale legs. (

I suppose we ought to be glad that Burchill was never appointed to a diplomatic post: World War 3 might have ensued. (@doctorcdf)

More figures of speech:

Monday 27 December 2010

Grammar: More Misplaced Pedantry

If you want to be angry about neologisms, coinages, buzz words and new usages, you’ll always have an excuse, because they’re not going anywhere. But perhaps you want to be angry. People who are furious about language change only know about five examples, and go on about them the whole time. For a "thin end of wedge" theory to stand up, you need thousands of examples. More here.

an item on the agenda is an "agendum

means “act as if something foreseen has already happened” not “look forward to”

should be pronounced “et”. Or maybe “eight”.

data and media
are plurals

don’t say like or the likes of when you mean such as

furze/gorse is the only true synonym

It’s Hallowe’en, not Halloween (and anyway it's a ghastly American import)

It’s PEJorative and PRImarily and MILItarily

It's "I should like", not "I would like". "I would like" means "I should like to like". (@frankish)

It's the Union flag, not the Union Jack.

less stuff, fewer things

mind your ps and qs – it’s really please and thankyous

Ne'er cast a clout
till May be out – it refers to the plant, not the month.

means precise

rule the roost
– it's really "roast" (cue long explanation about medieval banquets, yawn)

Scotch and Scottish
are wrong – it’s Scots (or the other way round).

The nuns at school were very against “I don’t take dancing” and “I don’t have a pen” –

means by way of, not by means of

Who led the pedants’ rebellion? Which Tyler

You can only use "between" if you're talking about two people or things, because tween means two. (For more than two, you use "among".)

Friday 24 December 2010

Complete Buzz Words of 2010

mulligan as a verb? Any relation to Jones? or McGyver? (Seems to have disappeared by May.)
dances the happy dance” and variants
people are “getting it” week of Feb 1
broken: group CORE (which tries to “cure” homosexuality) talks of people “struggling with sexual brokenness”)
train wreck
Charles Gray stroking white cat gesture suddenly very popular.
lots of people having “spats” week of March 1 (a word they’d never use in real life)
carnage is very popular this year (don't use it to mean melée, confusion or humiliating defeat – it means mass slaughter). Do people use it to mean “traffic jams” because it sounds a bit like “car crash”?
hubs and spokes are popular with the public sector (we're getting a "spoke" in my road – it's what we used to call a youth club)
ganache Suddenly people are saying ganache as if they knew what it meant. How do they do that? Apparently it’s “A rich icing made of chocolate and cream heated and stirred together, used also as a filling, as for cakes or pastry. Ditto gribiche, which according to the Free Dictionary: “Se dit d'une sauce vinaigrette additionnée de jaunes d'œufs durs et d'herbes hachées.” That’s a vinaigrette with chopped or mashed yolk of a boiled egg and chopped herbs. (There's also a kind of pudding called a panache. And a granache is a kind of grape.)
sanitise was popular in the week of April 4
upset Lots of them in the week of April 14, in the sense of “sudden and unexpected reversal of fortune”, the unfavoured party or tiny football club wins ect. I think it's a new American meaning – "upset" used to mean just turned or knocked over.
Not so much is everywhere the week of May 11.
End of!
a big ask
chaos is being used to mean disrupted airline schedules, flight bans due to volcanic ash, stranded travellers, airlines losing millions etc.
Hosted now used for held, entertained, harboured (previously meant “acted as host” ie he hosted the gathering)
reset (US/Israel relations, the Spiderman franchise) popular week of 5 July.
dramatic now means sudden
fare (badly, better) perfectly legit, so why do I hate it? American? Brits “do” well.
convulse: several decades of convulsive European history
parking” something you don’t want to think about right now
life-changing Aug 10 (admits that events can change your life, that your life isn’t entirely driven by you, it doesn’t all “come from within”. Attitudes formed by language?)
game changing/er July 28 10
question for wonder or ask (Questioning is something different “I question your judgement.”)
dramatically for drastically very popular
face palm
lots of people being “lifted out of poverty” week of 24 Aug 10
as “shell suit” now means track suit, and “staycation” means holidaying in Britain (rather than at home), so “lap dancer” now means stripper, exotic dancer, pole dancer.
emotional intelligence popular Sept 10
speak out September 11, 2010 v popular for something like “saying the unsayable”, telling truth to power (Pope to “speak out” on abuse. If he just “spoke” on it he might be exonerating everybody.)
rowing back” on things popular week ending Sept 12. Pope wanting to row back from Vatican II.
cosplay ball
Week of Oct 11 Lot of “in excelsis” in place of “to the max”
People using “minted” to mean “rich”, suddenly. Isn’t it young person’s slang for “lucky”? Or something you do to potatoes?
crushed potatoes
lifted for raised
the govt is scrapping everything rather than abolishing, axing, closing down Wed Oct 23 10
rightly so, indeed so, to do so, obviously so
driver for motive (“I’m a fisherman, that’s my driver for [eliminating Himalayan balsam].” BBC Countryfile October 24, 2010)
locked down (what LinkedIn and Facebook are too), Greece locks down borders Dec 2010 (has lock down taken over from lock up?)
starting sentences with “Alas, “ – are they trying to avoid starting sentences with “but”?
bifolding (strangely popular week of Nov 6)
totes for totally (I can totes go back to bed now)
The question now is…
Flickr commenters address each other as “my friend”. Or is that only blokes?
people complaining that planning policies for more density will force to live in "hobbit homes" November 30 2010 Boris Johnson said: “For too long we have built homes to indecently poor standards - fit neither for Bilbo Baggins nor his hobbit friends - and that is indefensible. The finest city in the world deserves the finest housing for its inhabitants and when we get it wrong it can scar generation after generation.” 2009 Think people must mean "tiny homes".
blow for setback, knockback etc.
elites (now we've got a word for them, we can't pretend they're not there any more. Classless society?)
hobby farm
ne'er-do-well surprisingly fashionable
Week of 20 Dec a lot of things ground to a halt (like the country)

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.

Saturday 18 December 2010

Reasons to Be Cheerful

Many like to moan that they are “terrified” that the country is on a slippery slope – we’re losing all our civil liberties and we’re going to end up in a police state. Sometimes it helps to remember the civil liberties and self-determination we’ve GAINED in my lifetime. For all those convinced the world is going to hell in a handcart, remember the following:

1950s women enter the professions in increasing numbers (some professions open their doors to women, others allow women to continue working after marriage)
1970/83 Equal Pay Acts
1975 Sex Discrimination Act
1979 first woman prime minister Margaret Thatcher, women admitted to All Souls College, Oxford
1970s Single women could get a mortgage (but it was very difficult)
1991 women admitted as members of the Magic Circle (they’d been barred because “women can’t keep a secret”). Rape within marriage made illegal.

The Judge who helped change the law on rape within marriage, Sir John Owen, died recently. This is from his obituary in The Times January 13, 2011: "Probably his most memorable achievement was as the Judge at First Instance in R v R in 1991 when his ruling helped to change the law on rape in marriage. Until then, according to Hale's Doctrine, wives were considered to give irrevocable consent to sex, no matter what the violence or humiliation to which they were subjected. The wife in R v R was separated from the husband and Owen said that, while it was not for him to make the law, he had a duty to state the law as it stood and he did not believe that the law would allow the husband to go unpunished in this case. The jury convicted and the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal which went further and ruled that Hale's Doctrine had always been a fiction. This reasoning was upheld by the House of Lords and the law was changed."

1961 Pill available to married women only
1967 Pill available to the unmarried (and soon free)
Late 60s Nicholas Saunders’ Alternative London gives useful addresses for young people to obtain contraception, medical advice, STD and drugs help in confidence.
1970s Better sex education in schools, easier access to facts and information, greater openness, Claire Rayner starts her career as a straight-talking agony aunt
1973 Our Bodies, Ourselves published – book giving women information about their bodies and sexuality
1986 The first advert for a sanitary towel on television in the UK

1923 Change to law makes it easier for women to petition for divorce for adultery
1937 Divorce allowed on other grounds including drunkenness, insanity and desertion.
1969 Divorce Reform Act allows couples to divorce after they’ve been separated for two years (or five years if only onBolde of them wanted a divorce). A marriage can be ended if it has irretrievably broken down, and neither partner has to prove "fault".
1996 White v White case makes distribution of assets more fair, and recognises contribution of “homemaker”.

By the 70s, unmarried mothers were no longer told (untruly) that they must give up their children for adoption because they’d get no help from the state
1976 The Adoption Act gives adoptees the right to see their original birth certificate and other information relating to their biological parents.

1976 Race Relations Act
1995 Disability Discrimination Act
1998 Human Rights Act

1964 Last executions in UK.
1969 Capital punishment for murder abolished.
1998 Capital punishment effectively ended.
1999 Formally ended.

1948 abolition in Britain of "birching" as a judicial penalty (retained until 1962 as a punishment for violent breaches of prison discipline).
1969 Jersey stops birching as judicial punishment
1976 last use of birch in Isle of Man
Trinidad may be the only country in the world still officially using the birch.” wiki
1987 corporal punishment outlawed in state schools
2003 in Scotland illegal to use any implements when disciplining a child, corporal punishment outlawed in all private schools

1968 Theatres Act ends theatrical censorship

1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalises sexual acts between two consenting males over 21 in private.
1973 American Psychological Association decides that homosexuality is not a mental illness.
1980 Homosexuality decriminalised in Scotland.
1982 And in Northern Ireland.
1994 Age of consent for homosexual acts lowered to 18.
2000 Age of consent brought in line with heterosexuals (16).
Sexual acts between two women have never been illegal in the UK.

1889 The first act of parliament for the prevention of cruelty to children.
1989 Children Act gives every child the right to protection from abuse.
1926 Post-hoc legitimisation introduced under the Legitimacy Act.
1970s Something called "the stigma of illegitimacy" disappears.

2007 Smoking in public places made illegal.

1973 End of White Australia policy.
Mid-70s Australia stops removing aboriginal children from parents
1976 End of Swedish forced sterilisation programme (started in 20s).
1977 Last person guillotined in France.

More here.
More reasons to be cheerful here.

Friday 17 December 2010

Corny Old Jokes

Our coalman is very posh - you can have it a la cart or coal de sack...

Man on embassy steps to smartly dressed gentleman:
Call me a cab!
You’re a cab, sir.
How dare you - summon me a taxi!
I'm afraid I can't – I'm the American ambassador. And if I'd had time to think, I'd have called you a hansom cab, sir.
(A hansom cab was a kind of horse-drawn taxi.)

Two academics were greeted with "Good Morning" by a third. One said to the other, "Now what on earth did he mean by that?" (via the Rev David Grieve)

A man bumped into a lady of a certain age in upmarket grocery store Fortnum's. He knew he knew her, but couldn’t remember who she was. He asked more and more probing questions: “How are you?” “Still at the old firm.” "And... your husband?" "Oh, he's fine." "And your children?" "Flourishing." "And your sister?" "Still Queen."

Sir Hugh Casson bumps into an old friend: Good heavens, X, I thought we were both dead!

Conductor Sir Adrian Boult was credited with a sense of humour:

Sir Adrian: This afternoon's rehearsal of Brahms' Fourth is cancelled.
New band member: But I've never played Brahms' Fourth!
Sir Adrian: Really? I think you’ll like it.

Another new band member: My name is Ball.
Sir Adrian: How very singular.
A man making an inflammatory speech in Hyde Park was hauled off by the police, tried and sent to prison. At the end of his sentence he returned to Speakers' Corner and began: "As I was saying when I was so rudely interrupted..."

Three very rich women were trying to impress each other:
First lady: When my diamonds get dirty, I wash them in milk.
Second lady: Oh, I scrub mine with toothpaste.
Third lady: When my diamonds get dirty I throw them away and get some new ones.

When the Lord Chancellor, Quintin Hogg, was processing through the Houses of Parliament in his elaborate official costume, he saw a friend and called out “Neil!”. A party of visiting Americans fell to its knees.

The inflatable boy went to his inflatable school and stuck a pin in it, in his teacher, and then in himself. And the teacher said: You’ve let me down, you’ve let the whole school down, but worst of all, you’ve let yourself down.

A WWII soldier is being interviewed by the Medical officer.
MO: Have you had your bowels open?
Solder: I haven't been issued with any, sir.
MO: I mean, are you constipated?
Soldier: No, sir, I volunteered!
MO: Good god, man, don't you know the King’s English?
Soldier: Really, sir, is he?
(The soldier thinks he's being asked if he was conscripted (drafted).)

Waiter, what’s this?
It’s bean soup, Sir.
I don’t care what it’s been, what is it now?

I'd like some soap.
Do you want it scented?
No, I’ll take it with me.

A man died and went to Heaven. St Peter gave him the guided tour – of the library, the golf course, the concert hall... They passed a high wall, and the man could hear people talking behind it. He asked:
Who's that?
Shhh - those are the Catholics. They think they’re the only ones here.

A cartographer in WWI was making a map of Greece. His CO dropped in to see how he was getting on.
Good work! But what are all these little marks over the letters?
They're to show you where to emphasise the word.
Oh, quite unnecessary, leave them out.
Sir, what would you say if someone asked you the way to ExETTah?
You can’t expect me to know the name of every tiny Greek village!
(The city of Exeter in southwest England is accented on the first syllable.)

What do you get if you cross a chicken with a lawyer?
Eggs that are legally binding.

Why are you writing 'F... the Pope' on that wall, my man?
Because I don’t know how to spell ‘F... the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland’.

In the days of telegrams (a bit like Twitter), the necessary brevity sometimes caused problems.

A magazine seeking information about the stars once cabled a film company: How old Cary Grant?
Grant himself happened to see the message and cabled back: Old Cary Grant fine, how you?

And here are some from the magazine Punch, which made people laugh from the 1840s to the 1980s:

Edwin: Darling!
Angelina: Yes, darling?
Edwin: Nothing, darling. Just darling, darling!

Young man, complaining about rotten service in a hotel: In the end we had to tell them who we were.
Old lady: And who were you?

Bishop (at breakfast): I'm afraid you have a bad egg, Mr Smith.
Sycophantic curate: I assure you, My Lord, parts of it are excellent.

A short-haired woman is lolling on a sofa showing her stocking tops and smoking. Her daughter (in a long dress): Must you be so modern, Mother? It’s terribly old-fashioned.

A girl explains how she got one over her boyfriend: I treated him with complete ignoral!

An older woman explains how she won an argument: I sez to ‘im, Pig! I sez, and swep’ aht.

Suburban matron: We did this room ourselves, and all our friends think it’s Liberty!
Smart friend (murmurs): Ah, Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name!
(Liberty is a department store which in the 1880s sold artistic knick knacks.)

Someone has suggested that people should print their interests on their business cards, to facilitate conversation. A roomful of smart people in evening dress is exchanging cards. A shy man in uniform hands over his card (reading "hunting, shooting, India") to a beautiful lady, and is mortified to receive one reading "Painting, poetry, Italian lakes".

This is not a joke, but a play on words. In the 1840s, women who walked the streets were known as "gay". Two girls in fine outfits are standing miserably in the rain (by a torn poster advertising La Traviata). One asks the other: Why Fanny, how long have you been gay?

Tuesday 7 December 2010

Kenneth Williams' Crepe Suzette Song

My Next song, is un chant d'amour, a song of lurve,
He loves her, and she loves him, but they cannot be marriéd. Because they are how you say, they are, husband and wife.

It's called, it's called, "Crepe Suzette" which is in English "A Flaming Hot Dish", and so is Suzette...

SUNG (to the tune of Auld Lang Syne):
Honi soit Qui Mal y Pense, Faites vos jeux, Reconnaissance
Hamersmith Palais de Dance, Badinage, My Crepe Suzette.
Double Entendre, Restaurante, Jacques Cousteau, Yves Saint Laurente
Ou est la plume de ma tante?, Cest la vie, ma Crepe Suzette

Corsage, Massage, Freres Jacques?
Salon, Par Avion, Petula Clarke.
Fiancee, Ensemble, Lorgnette, Lingerie, Eau de Toilette
Mmmm Gauloise Cigarette, Entourage, ma Crepe Suzette

Citron, Mirage, Carvela,
Hors d’oeuvre, BRUT and Chanel-e, Chaise longue, Sasha Distel-e
Fuselage, ma Crepe Suzette

Pince nez, Bidet, Commissionaire,
Mon repos, Brigitte Bardot, Jeux Sans Frontieres.
SPOKEN "It's a Knock out innit? Yeah, the French, not the song!"

Faux Pas, Grand Prix, Espionage,
Brie, Camembert, Fromages
Mayonnaise, All Night Garage
R.S.V.P. My Crepe Suzette

See it here. (Some New Zealanders do a ripoff.)

Thursday 25 November 2010

Punctuation Sometimes Your Better Off Without It

ee para 3 particularly thats a magnolia above.

So boring tedious that i had to register with IMDb to warn others against wasting 3 hours and 8mins of theirs lives the film is about a bunch of spoilt Americans with shitty lives moaning about their lot. a very shallow attempt to make a clever film tears moaning and foolish behaviour. all of their problems are self inflicted and the film would have been good if they all died but that would have been a good ending so it didn't happen it rains frogs instead. (IMDB review of Magnolia)

This is clearly a film in which the viewer sees what he wants to see and it has been compared to a wide spectrum of earlier literature not least the Illiad so I'm probably not the first to suggest similarities with Conrad's Heart Of Darkness with John Wayne's Ethan Edwards being a variant of Kurtz. (imdb on The Searchers)

Hope's Stultitude a Cheerful Lay
At Least I Like it Anyway
Gellett Burgess

The dismal day with dreary pace hath dragged its tortuous length along the gravestones black and funeral vase cast horrid shadows long.

Oh let me die and never mourn upon the joys of long ago with cankering thoughts the world's forlorn - a wilderness of woe!

For in the grave's dark bed to be though grim and dismal it appears is sadder not it seems to me than harrowing nights of tears.

Saturday 20 November 2010

Eric de Mare at RIBA, London

The works of this Swedish/British photographer of architecture were on recently at the Royal Institute of British Architects.

If you like Bernd and Hilla Becher you'll like his work - De Mare snapped follies, iron bridges, Swedish wooden warehouses, weird pyramidal tombstones, rare smock mills, flights of steps, shadows, fog, water, industrial architecture of all kinds. All recorded in abstract compositions of deep black, pale grey and every grade in between. Poetic, romantic and sublime - in the Burkean sense.

His work can be seen in several books, including my favourite, The Functional Tradition in Architecture, with text by J.M. Richards. Not available at amazon, but I found a copy at All his books seem to be out of print - somebody do something!

Here's a preview of the show at

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Hyperbole, Overstatement, Catastrophising

Hyperbole is exaggeration, overstatement or catastrophising.

Catastrophising is more than just exaggeration – it's predicting apocalyptic consequences (especially without showing the steps from A to B). It often involves undefined terms (like barbarism, anarchy, prostitute and destroy). Relaxed divorce laws haven't led to the disappearance of any form of government, and young people are not roaming naked in packs living off raw squirrels.

Understatement (litotes) is much more effective.

The Muslim community centre near Ground Zero is a “stab in the heart” of Americans. (Sarah Palin)

An Iranian newspaper denounced Carla Bruni as a prostitute for petitioning for Ashtiani to be reprieved.

On his website John J. May, author of The Origin of Specious Nonsense, says evolution “cripples sanity, promotes myths and obscures reality”. Sept 13 10 Irish Times "It [evolution] is a toxic poisonous mind virus which destroys the heart's immune system against hope and common sense,” he added.

Religion is an insult to human dignity. Richard Dawkins

If we relax the divorce laws it will lead to anarchy!

Political correctness has destroyed society!

Young people have become feral!

This 13-year-old father shows that we have lost all sense of right and wrong!

"This is Stalinism, practically!" David Hockney on the smoking ban. (Times May 9 2009)

When the head of a theological college removed one prayer from a rite, protesters asked: “Why do you want to destroy the prayerbook?”

“Full normalization of homosexuality would eventually mean the end to all morals legislation of any kind." Albert Mohler, quoted in Time Nov 08

The idea of damaging books is morally repulsive!

"The progressive intelligentsia ... have simply written orderly, married, normative family life out of the script, enforced the doctrines of multiculturalism and nonjudgmentalism with the zealotry of the fanatic, and caused Britain to descend into an age of barbarism." Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail

Sunday 31 October 2010

Yet More Good New Metaphors

OK, so they're not all metaphors. Take a rest from whingeing about people who use "action" as a verb and enjoy some good new writing. More here, here, here and here.

mystic barmpottery @zzzooey on Steiner/Waldorf schools

“the curse of the Booker prize” hangs over DBC Pierre like a raincloud, said Arifa Akbar in The Independent. (paraphrase)

Birdshit architects Those who are “planning from high above and dropping their things down.” Jan Gehl

brochure banter (Neil Oliver)

nonchalant irreality Capturing the Atom Bomb on Film [NYT]: image 21, especially, captures the nonchalant irreality of the nuclear age. @ballardian

Dalek shoulders (Will Wiles)

deeply sharing (the latest SATC movie)

Kumbaya atmosphere It was not,” Katy Perry told Rolling Stone, “a Kumbaya atmosphere. I knew about Hell from the moment I understood a sentence. I had fuzzy-felt boards with Satan and people gnashing their teeth.”

Bill Viola backdrops to Tristan are “like a New Age greetings card

meaning creep

oversharing Guardian blog on food writers who bang on about their own lives

Recently botoxed person “looks like someone peering through the eyes of a painting in a haunted house.” Julia Raeside, Guardian 26 Oct 10

Something else about this recent species of London business hotel: the furniture appears to all have been designed in Second Life. William Gibson via Twitter

The garden is rapidly turning into Sherwood Forest. Martin Roberts on Homes under the Hammer

wearee Recipient of the hand-crocheted granny square top

We employ the Socratic method, known in modern circles as a FAQ. Uncle Cecil, the Straight Dope

Saturday 30 October 2010

Whatever Happened To...? 6

baked apples
blue green algae, green lipped mussel (they were good for you somehow)
cappuccino machines
fancy vodka flavoured with buffalo grass etc

happy murals
(sunflowers, children from several ethnic groups) on the sides of libraries. They failed to change the world, were kitsch, sentimental and inept, and have been whitewashed over.

Kekulé’s ring
(very fashionable in the 80s because it proved inspiration is better than rational thought)

Long personal phone calls at work.
Learning all about someone else’s life by earwigging their long personal phone calls at work. Long conversations at work about everybody’s personal life.

oval fingernails

palm-tops and PDAs (that you operated with a little toothpick type thing)
psychedelic singles with camp British vocals and brass bands (60s)
Tibetan singing bowls
wedge-heeled espadrilles (utterly 80s)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 28 October 2010

Styles and Genres 2

Decor and architecture

New Age rococo
On Skye, I'm staying in a cottage whose design can only be described as new age rococo. Stags, swags, wind chimes. Love it. @tomdyckhoff

mod lodge What do you get when you mix modern wood panelling, stone fireplaces, mountain views, and the occasional resin deerhead? The "mod lodge" look — it's a blend of old-school Alpine and sixties mod style — knotty pine meets Knoll.

fruit-salad civic Jonathan Foyle, BBC4 Sept 12 10

advertisers’ nostalgia How could anyone who had read the book and who had any respect for literature… turn this story of glum penny-pinched '30s London into 1990s-style standard advertiser's jolly-jumpered "Heritage" golden nostalgia? (imdb on Keep the Aspidistra Flying)

hard-core suburban Fanny Cradock “had hard-core suburban taste” Paul Levy Indy June 10

scando-simple Alone in this clinically faux-funky space (Scando-simple wooden furniture, facetious lamps, abstracts with blue splodges apparently styled after cancer cells), Matthew Norman 29 may 10

I think I like symphonic metal. If you know what any of these are, or would like to add some, please comment.

acid techno
Balkan turbo folk
dark electronic dance
epic a.m.m.
folk metal
French-Pop/NuChanson/Electro-Chanson (Zofka)
funeral doom
funk psych
fuzz wah-wah
garage psych
hard rock
melodic chilled electro
metal Industrial
no wave
Rock In Opposition
symphonic metal (and all the billions of others)
visual kei


kitchen-sink drama
horse opera
meller (short for melodrama)
oater (Western)
pill opera (daytime hospital saga)
slasher/splatter/slice ‘n’ dice movie
space opera
sword and sandals
sword and sorcery
thatawayer (oater)
torn porn (tornado porn)
yawner zzzzz
Political types

revanchist “A usually political policy, as of a nation or an ethnic group, intended to regain lost territory or standing.”

“One who advocates the recovery of territory culturally or historically related to one's nation but now subject to a foreign government.”

Pierre Poujade was a French populist politician after whom the Poujadist movement was named. Poujadism flourished most vigorously in the last years of the French Fourth Republic, and articulated the economic interests and grievances of shopkeepers and other proprietor-managers of small businesses facing economic and social change. The movement's ideological issues were: lower taxes, corporatism, and the denouncing of politicians and media; later, the movement grew increasingly nationalist, antisemitic, xenophobic, and critical of parliamentary institutions.

petainiste Petain was head of Vichy France

Christian types

high up the candle
smells and bells
pongs and gongs
happy clappy
tin tabernacle

Monday 25 October 2010

Quotable Quotes

Then I realised how utterly extraordinary my childhood was. writer John Le Carré

What if we continued to assert that the world would be the best place possible if straight people would take lessons from us, rather than us begging them to admit us into their dysfunctional institutions? @defiler

All you need is empowerment, self-esteem, confidence – funny how people don’t apply that approach to bike maintenance. George Spelvin

It is possible to amble aimfully through life under the illusion that you are
someone other than the person who (as others perceive it) you are. Kate Flett Observer Aug 23 09

Know when to
give up. Don’t fight a “losing duel with reality”. Paul Hayward, Guardian Oct. 09

Human nature is much the same everywhere. Miss Marple

Best to have a script, to think it through.

More here and here and here.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Buzz Words for Autumn 2010

life-changing Aug 10

game changing/er July 28 10

question for wonder or ask (Questioning is something different: “I question your judgement.”)

dramatically for drastically very popular

toddler belly (ugh!)

face palm

lots of people being “lifted out of poverty” week of 24 Aug 10

romantical – is this a trend?

As “shell suit” now means track suit, and “staycation” means holidaying in Britain (rather than at home), so “lap dancer” now means stripper, exotic dancer, pole dancer.
emotional intelligence popular Sept 10

speak out September 11, 2010 v popular for something like “saying the unsayable”, telling truth to power (Pope to “speak out” on abuse. If he just “spoke” on it he might be exonerating everybody.)

“rowing back” on things popular week ending Sept 12. Pope wanting to row back from Vatican II.

cosplay ball (either a new kind of Indian club or kettle bell, or a dance for people who like to dress up as characters from anime)

Week of Oct 11 Lot of “in excelsis” in place of “to the max”

People using “minted” to mean “rich”, suddenly. Isn’t it young person’s slang for “lucky”? Or something you do to potatoes?

crushed potatoes

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.

Sunday 17 October 2010

Is There a Difference?

Those keen on their pet pedantries love to claim there is a difference in meaning between pairs of words. Sometimes they're right (can you tell forgo from forego?), but sometimes... Is there a difference between:

different from/to
due to/owing to/because of
homogenous, homogeneous
instinctive, instinctual
judgement/judgment (everyday use/legal use)
on either side/on each side
single and double quotes
within, in

Friday 15 October 2010


Boo words. They're those words that subtly sneer.

In the obituaries for Tony Curtis, there was some odd snidery about the way he spoke. The writers endlessly recycled that "yonda is the castle of my fodda" line. Was it from The Black Shield of Falworth? Son of Sinbad? Weirdly, English writers were particularly fond of it, throwing in extra jibes about his "thick Bronx accent" and even "the stench of the Bronx".

Thick? Stench? Isn't that a bit harsh? Would any of us know a Bronx accent if we fell over it in the dark? Presumably it would be like casting Chris Packham as Brutus, Matt Baker as Hamlet or Neil Oliver as Prospero. And why not?

Here are some more boo words for the way people speak (other general boo words here):

flat Accents you disapprove of are always ‘flat’. You can’t say you don’t like the South African/ Birmingham/Liverpool/Ulster accent because you think it’s common, so you say it’s “flat”. Apparently in South Africa they say Zimbabweans have “flat” voices and vice versa.

guttural Ugly and probably German.

Americans use for any language or accent other than their own

modulated American for speaking in a low, gentle voice, not yelling out of the window. They think all English people speak like this.

plummy voice posh voice Nigella Lawson’s voice is described as “plummy” but actually it is light and unresonant. The Guardian May 9, 2006 even has Kirstie Alsopp working for a couple of “plummy magazines”. If you have a plummy voice, you sound as if you have a plum in your mouth, it’s not like a plum job.

sloppy, slovenly Accent we don't approve of.

twang Accent you don't approve of.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Found Poetry

Found poetry made from genuine iambic pentameters.

Agatha Christie
We rang the bell at No. 88 –
Harrison did not reply at once.
A native dagger driven through her heart,
Eliza Dunn seemed very much surprised.
“The King of Clubs is missing from the pack!”
Poirot waved a deprecating hand.
“Nothing!” I lied, and lit another pipe.

The Web
You have no items in your shopping cart!
You do not follow Tasty_Recipes!
Just tell me if my Facebook page looks nice.
Apple’s weakest link is at its core.

Random Sources
I really think tuition fees are wrong.
The witchcraft act of 1542
When cosseted at 23 degrees…
A pair of porcelain elephants from Japan
are shoehorned in to fit a given theme
They thought they’d solved a problem for the king.
A pair of porcelain elephants from Japan
should board this train and change at Edgware Road
Perhaps I’ll go tomorrow afternoon.

More found poetry here.

Tuesday 12 October 2010


Don't try too hard

When people try to pronounce or spell a foreign word they often go a bit over the top.

a point of entrée New York Times Nov 09 (entry will do)
Anay Anay for Anaïs Anaïs
brushetta for bruschetta
carte de visité for carte de visite (it's vizeet, not vizitay)
chaise long for chaise longue (with a G)
chiqué for chic
creton (rhyming with Breton) covers for cretonne
entreco steak for entrecote
Epernay for épergne
etoi for etui
kletsmer for klezmer (A friend writes: And then there are those people who try to hypercorrect, incorrectly, and say "klezmeer", with the accent on the ultimate syllable, even!)
lowzhear for loggia (or log ear from To Buy or Not to Buy)
makismo for machismo
margarine with a hard G
menazherie for menagerie
mersli for muesli (that would be meusli, but only in French)
neesh for niche
oxymoron pronounced “agzimmaron”
Pinot Greeeezheeeo for Pinot Grigio
pouffé for pouffe
repartay for repartee
The Tweeeries Gardens four the Tuileries in Paris (assuming the French don’t pronounce their Ls at all)
tripteesh for triptych (triptick)
unairing for unerring
vinagray for vinaigrette

Grammar: Pedantry

Here are some examples of acute pedantry. Is there a cure? More pedantry here.

A kid is a baby goat. Young people are children.

She’s Gillian – if we wanted to call her Jill we’d have christened her Jill.

a handsaw is a corruption of hansa or heron, so when Hamlet said "I can tell a hawk from a handsaw" he was really making sense.

among, between – between refers to two people or things; for any more you have to use "among"

a spiral staircase is really helical

Audrey Hepburn is pronounced Hebburn
Barbara Stanwyck is pronounced Stannick
cinema is pronounced keye-NEE-mar (or perhaps it's Italian and should be CHEE-ne-ma)
clapboard is pronounced clabberd
patent is pronounced pattent not paytent

it’s a facsimile machine not a fax
it’s a rule not a ruler (a ruler is a king)
it’s a telephone not a 'phone
it’s an omnibus not a 'bus
it’s irREFutable not irreFUtable
it’s really “vicious cycle”, not “circle”.

kamilos was Greek for rope (it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven)
the Eye of the Needle was a narrow gate in Jerusalem (camel, eye, needle, rich man) ( says no such gate ever. Both Jesus and Hamlet were using hyperbole.)

They’re not bread rolls but rolls.
They’re not seagulls but gulls.

too, too solid flesh is really “this too, too sullied flesh”

You can’t say “due to” for “because of” because you can only use it to mean “praise is due” or “thanks are due”. (If you can substitute "caused by", due to is correct; if you can substitute "because of", owing to is correct.)
You can’t say “thanks to” for “because of” because you aren’t sincerely thanking somebody.
You can’t saying “owing to” for because of because you can only use it for money that’s owing to the tax man.
(And if the difference between "due to" and "owing to" is so hard to explain, is it really worth keeping?)

You can't say "over 100", you must say "more than", for some reason I can't fathom.

Latest here.

More here. And here.

Monday 4 October 2010

Autumn TV from The Guardian

The Mast
Sarah Dempster
Guardian October 4 2010

Sadly not on the Grauny's site.

One mammal expo to rule them all

Jonathan Foyle on Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer?
Forsooth, my liege, with thy titular conundrum and agreeable jawline thou dost toy with our affections.

The Apprentice
All business propositions are equal, but some business propositions are more equal than others.

Wedding House
Fashioned entirely from taffeta and stupefaction. Come friendly bombs etc.

Eddie Stobart: Trucks and Trailers
Ashen endomorphs steer recalcitrant "rigs" across series hewn from yawns and free advertising

Rude Tube
Alex Zane shakes internet until footage of bums fall out. Insert own hell/handcart "observation" here.

Ed Miliband's "New Generation"

Hugo Rifkind in The Times
October 2 2010

Frankly, political demographics should be easier than this to lampoon. David Cameron’s people lust for a fuel-guzzling Aga and an eco-electric scooter. Tony Blair’s people wanted to be filthy rich, but still socialists.

But who are Ed Miliband’s New Generation? How can we ridicule them? Part of the problem is that they are not all the same generation. “The new generation is not simply defined by age,” said Miliband, “but by attitudes and ideals.” Bit vague, Ed. Maybe New Generation membership is something you can have, but never know about. Like chlamydia.

Although maybe there’s more to it. The New Generation might not all be 19, but they all think the things that 19-year-olds think. Perhaps just what they thought when they were 19 themselves. Are you one of them? Did you have kids, but not necessarily get married? Did you pick a career that won’t fund the lifestyle you want? Are you bright and well-meaning, but stressed, broke, and exhausted?

Well, then. Join the club.

Your home

You know that really nice area? With the elegant houses and the chic little shops? Well, you don’t live there. You live in that other, grubbier area quite near by, without any trees. You bought the biggest place you could afford, and then you painted it white inside and filled it with all the stuff you could find in Ikea which looked like it came from somewhere else. Your shelves strain under the weight of Booker Prize-nominated novels by J. M. Coetzee and Ian McEwan which you bought in 3-for-2 deals at the W H Smith at the airport, but never read. You probably have too many plants.

Your friends

You’ve got loads but tend to mainly speak to them on Twitter. “That was a great night!” you’ll tweet at each other, after the rare occasions you actually meet up. Although it never really is a great night, because you both spent it sitting in silence, on your phones, competitively sucking up to @eddieizzard.

Your clothes

There was a time, not that long ago, when you were really quite trendy. But then you got that job which meant you had to wear that suit, even though you swore you always wouldn’t. If you’re a man, your suits are from M&S but don’t look it, honestly, particularly when you wear them with one of those relatively expensive ties. If you’re a woman, you reckon labels are for idiots but you might change your mind when you get that promotion.

Your free time

You are incapable of saying the word “gastropub” without putting on a funny voice. Actually, you eat in them quite a lot. You consider yourself quite fond of nightclubs, but haven’t set foot in one for at least a decade. You probably wouldn’t even know which drugs to buy any more. Your favourite TV programme is Peep Show. Sometimes, you forget that David Mitchell isn’t actually a friend. Lately, you’ve been listening to Vampire Weekend a lot on Spotify. You also used to like cycling, but now you worry about the connotations.

Your beliefs

You’ve got quite a lot of these. Bankers and lawyers are bad, although the ones you know from university are all quite pleasant. Tony Blair was bad, although you voted for him ceaselessly, and Gordon Brown was worse, but he probably meant well. The Iraq war was bad, Israel is bad and big cars are also bad, which is just as well because you can’t afford one. Organic food used to be good, but since David Cameron started going on about it it’s probably become bad and elitist, too.

Your holidays

Three weeks before your annual leave is due to expire, you realise you have a fortnight left. It’s too late to book, so you get a last-minute flight to the capital of a faintly romantic sounding Third World or former Eastern Bloc nation. You have an innate horror of being seen as a tourist, so you spend most of your time on slow yet terrifying local buses. Then you come home with dysentery. This happens every year.

Your age

Probably somewhere between 25 and 40. But that’s entirely coincidental.

Saturday 2 October 2010


Beauty comes from within

There are some things people say because they know the truth is the direct opposite. Why do they do that? Zippy the Pinhead once dissed them all as "cold comfort for life's losers". Or is there a more sinister social engineering agenda?

A large nose never spoilt a pretty face.
A soft answer turneth away wrath.
Beauty comes from within (says Zsa Zsa Gabor and a zillion other plastic surgery veterans).
Beauty is not a natural gift.
Children are resilient.
Confidence comes from within, not without.
Crime doesn’t pay.
Don’t worry about fashion, follow your own personal style and wear what makes you feel comfortable.
Every cloud has a silver lining.
First impressions are always wrong/right.
Genius is 90% persp, 10% insp.
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb.
If you love yourself, people will love you.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.
It’s not the winning but the taking part.
It's never too late.
It's the little people who are really important.
It's the little things that really matter.
It's what you think of yourself that counts, not what other people think of you.
Just be yourself and everything will be all right.
Live in the moment, not in the future!
Men have died, and worms have eaten them, but not for love.
Men prefer intelligent women.
Men's egos are really very fragile.
Nothing's either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
Nudity is totally unerotic (no one says this any more).
People take you at your own valuation.
People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.
Personality is more important than looks.
Practical jokes are played for fun, not spite.
Process is more important than product.
Rape is about power, not sex.
Revenge achieves nothing.
Riches don't bring happiness.
Sex is a spiritual experience and should be a beautiful work of art.
Sex isn't that important. (People don’t say this any more, either.)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.
Suffering improves the character.
The darkest hour comes before the dawn. (Apparently the darkest hour is the midpoint between dusk and dawn – no, duh?)
The journey, not the arrival, matters.
The Lord will provide.
The meek shall inherit the earth.
The most important sex organ in the human body is the brain.
The truth is mighty and shall prevail.
The way to a man's heart is through his stomach.
There are no social rules any more.
There's some good in everything.
There's some truth in every statement.
There's someone for everyone.
They only have themselves to blame.
Those that humble themselves shall be exalted.
Time heals all wounds.
To know all is to forgive all.
To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.
What's the use of worrying? It never was worth while.
When God shuts a door, he opens a window.
Women are the tough sex.
You can't have your cake and eat it.
You get out of life what you put in.
You'll enjoy it when you get there.
You've got to be cruel to be kind. (This one's gone out - I hope.)

Monday 27 September 2010

The Demon Drink 5: Should You Drink in Front of the Kids?

By Paul Hilton in the Times, Sept. 25 2010

Paul? The answer is "no".

Obviously there must be parents somewhere who are bringing up their children without enormous glasses of wine in their hands, but I just haven’t met any. Theoretically I suppose it’s possible for a family to pass a weekend without visiting a gastropub; it’s just hard to picture.

My wife and I are part of a generation who are more open about drinking than our parents. A typical middle-class family; life is wholesome, happy, and gently marinated in booze. Anyone at a music festival this summer will have seen similar families annexing vast tracts of field with tartan blankets and chilled white. We don’t see our children as a reason to stop drinking, we see them as people who can bring us more pistachios from the bar.

But is this entirely wise? What kind of messages are we giving them? Earlier this month the Red Cross launched a campaign to give teens the life-saving skills needed to cope with an alcohol-related emergency. The organisation says that one in ten 11 to 16-year-olds has been left to cope with a drunken friend who was sick, injured or unconscious. Are we creating irresponsible teenage drinkers? Is our liberal honesty simply self-indulgence?

I ask Dr Linda Papadopoulos, a psychologist, who says that turning alcohol into a desirable and mysterious forbidden fruit is a mistake. “If you vilify alcohol too much then drink becomes a rite of passage,” she says. “This idea of being in the gastropub and demystifying drink and seeing it used responsibly is a good thing.”

Papadopoulos assumes that because we are middle-class drinkers our consumption is sensible. In a way my wife and I make the same assumption. But if I stop to question those pub outings, the idyllic image we present is only half the story.

With the first magical pint I am a more relaxed version of myself. By the second I am joking, laughing easily, doing “a funny voice”. The third means that I’m Captain Fun.

But later we’re at home. Captain Fun is tired and he’s heading for an armchair. He doesn’t want to play football. Then he’s asleep on a precious Saturday afternoon when he could be with his family.

Rosemary Duff, of the research company ChildWise, carried out a survey of children’s attitudes to parental drinking earlier this year for the BBC. She found that 30 per cent of children felt scared when their parents drink (not mine, by the way; I asked — they laughed) and one of the biggest fears for the children of drinkers was that their parents were damaging their health.

Duff says that this wasn’t the only concern. “They also worry about the arguments that occur and parental break-up.” Duff also confirms my suspicion that children of drinkers are more likely to drink themselves. “We found 70 per cent of children whose parents drink say that they themselves are likely to drink alcohol in the future compared with 30 per cent of the children of non-drinkers.”

Dr Sal Severe is an educational psychologist based in Arizona — author of the neatly titled
How to Behave so Your Children Will, Too! — and has little time for my approach to family boozing. He rejects the idea that the affluent are immune to drink issues.

“You get more problems in lower-income families where people use alcohol to self-medicate and ease the pain of not being able to pay the bills, but in higher-income families they are more indulgent when it comes to drink and drugs — it crosses all classes.”

He warns against using booze to ease the stresses of everyday parenting. “We call it Arsenic Hour here in the States — this is the time before dinner when the kids arrive home from school, they have to do their homework and you have to make dinner. It’s chaotic. Having a glass of wine is fine, as long as you don’t have one every 15 minutes.”

Dr Severe sees an alarming change in the children of problem drinkers as they move into their teens, a reminder that we are all role models. “When the children of alcoholics are about 12 they hate their parents’ behaviour but, sure enough, by the time they’re 18 they’re addicted too.”

Hopefully far from dependency myself, I do have a confusion about what I should tell them about my more adventurous evenings out. To put these in perspective they do not take place every week. In fact, for much of the week I don’t touch a drop — I’m a keen gym-goer and brown rice puritan. However, I’m also British and every now and then I will go out and drink sensibly ... before getting totally smashed.

I’m not proud of this, nor am I ashamed. I know my safe limits, I do not fight, shout or make sexual advances to people who aren’t my wife. I talk rubbish, laugh and perform age-inappropriate dance moves with trusted friends.

What should I say to my children about our nation’s favourite leisure pursuit? To depict my behaviour as an error of judgment is dishonest — some of the best nights of my life have been facilitated by Guinness. But on the other hand, I would hate my children to join the millions of teen drinkers bumbling into danger.

I’m frank about the good and the bad of bingeing. We have the Blanket of Death in our house — this is the Sunday morning shroud worn when Mummy or Daddy has a “special headache”. The children jump on us when we wear the Blanket of Death, often gleefully banging percussion instruments. They know we had a good time, that there is a price to pay and that maracas are unwelcome before midday.

Susan Foster, of the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, questions our open approach. “I don’t know that it’s necessary to share drinking stories with your children. If they ask, then you have to wonder, why they are asking?” Plagued now with guilt and liberal self-loathing, I finally decide to ask my children if they feel there are downsides to Mummy and Daddy drinking. My daughter nods. I lean towards her, eager to hear her pain, ready to apologise and alter my behaviour for ever. Rolling her eyes, my 11-year-old says: “Mummy sang karaoke on holiday, it was sooo embarrassing.” I suspect that we haven’t seen the last of Captain Fun and his musical partner.

You can call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0800 9177650, or email them at

More about the demon drink here, and links to the rest.