Saturday 24 April 2010

Quotes and Misquotes

Play it, Sam!

Never mind that nobody ever said "Play it again, Sam", "Come up and see me some time", or "When I hear the word culture I reach for my gun" – sometimes misquotes are snappier than the original. But some quotes are oft-quoted with the wrong meaning, or misquoted, or misattributed. Or oft-quoted to support a point of view they actually demolish.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. Said Winston Churchill? When Mark Twain mentioned this pithy saying in his autobiography, he credited it to Benjamin Disraeli.

Honesty is the best policy.
Policy used to mean something like diplomacy, so this means "honesty is the best kind of deviousness".

Every sperm is sacred.
From an amusing comedy skit by those zany jokesters, Monty Python, not promulgated by the Pope.

Thou shalt not kill, but need'st not strive/ Officiously to keep alive.
These lines by Arthur Hugh Clough are often quoted to support the view that abortion, embryo research and euthanasia are acceptable. They are from his poem The Latest Decalogue which is a satire of the ten commandments. Other commandments in his list: "Thou shalt have one God only - who/ would be at the expense of two?/ Adultery do not commit -/ Advantage rarely comes of it." You get the idea?

Religion is the opium of the people.
Marx is often dismissed for being anti-religious. After all, didn’t he say "Religion is the opium of the people"? He did, but in context it means something more like "Religion is the Prozac of the people, and if you don’t want people to take Prozac you should make sure they don’t need to."

Here's what he actually said: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."

The bells! The bells!
Catchphrase of Charles Laughton as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Declaimed by Henry Irving in a famous melodrama in which he played a character called Matthias who was haunted by the sound of the sleighbells of the man he murdered.

Wherefore art thou, Romeo?
Means “Why are you ‘Romeo’?”, not “Where are you, Romeo?”

And here is some meaningless uplift...

We have nothing to fear but fear itself.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We need'st must love the highest when we see it.

Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.
"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ... With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do," said Ralph Waldo Emerson. But he was wrong.

Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?
Robert Browning But was he being ironic?

We know what Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein are doing in the afterlife – churning out pious platitudes for automatic spam tweets. Why not add these to the fortune cookie database?

If you touch one thing with deep awareness, you touch everything. Thich Nhat Hanh

Real freedom is about living with limitations. (Template: real x is [the opposite of X].)

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Soren Kierkegaard

Only a life lived for others is a life worth living. Albert Einstein (allegedly)

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. Mahatma Gandhi

You have to meet life on life’s terms. (Geri Halliwell)

More here.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Travel Writing Clichés

Wish you were here

Is it possible to write about holiday destinations without using clichés? Notice how many of these are boo or hooray words.

bustling Street markets, especially abroad, are bustling. Waiters are likely to scurry in this environment.

At auctions, bidding is always brisk.

Villages are always nestled somewhere.

Suburbs are inclined to be grey, because we disapprove of them.

Factories chimneys always belch smoke. We don't like them much either.

Fishing villages are always sleepy, and contain a huddle of whitewashed cottages. "We ate more fresh fish at a beachside restaurant in the sleepy fishing village of Sogut." Observer Feb 28 10

Narrow cobbled streets always wind up hills.

Houses are always huddled on a mountainside.

The local inhabitants are either fiercely proud, or fiercely independent. "The Polynesian aspect of our heritage is fiercely independent." Independent March 10

Monks are always dutiful, or make herbal liqueurs dutifully. (Sometimes for a change they're tireless or indefatigable.)

And choirboys are always suitably seraphic (angelic, cherubic).

What waves to do coasts.

What high winds do to practically anything.

are people distant from us in place or time. Or else they're rural and primitive. Townsfolk threw rotten veg at people in the pillory. Does anyone still write captions about "Local tribesmen and their womenfolk”?

Tuesday 13 April 2010


Most of us have caught up with the digital revolution. But some people have kicked and screamed and held onto the door frame as we tried to drag them into the 21st century - or the 20th – or even the 19th.

Twenty or thirty years ago, they were very disturbed by FELT-TIP PENS, treating them like biros and refusing to put the tops back on, so the ink dried up. They then carried on writing with the pens. If you offered them a new one they said “No, no, this is fine, look!” and wrote something faint and illegible, pressing very hard and destroying the tip.

They carried on typing with faint, ghostly TYPING RIBBONS because they didn’t know how to put in a new one. Typewriters had a few mechanical features (like a switch that made the ribbon run back the other way). They found these too complicated and carried on typing on the same spot on the ribbon (now stuck at the end of its cycle) until it wore through.

They wrote humorous articles complaining TYPEWRITERS had too many gizmos (tab keys!) and if you pressed the wrong one everything ended up in capITALS.

They didn’t screw back the top on the TIPPEX tightly enough, or even at all. They either used it when it had dried up and gone lumpy, or spent hours adding thinner and leaving the bottle upside down. (And if you said “It says ‘Screw top on tightly’ - if you don’t it dries up” they’d say “No, no, it’s all right, you can add thinner and leave the bottle upside down!”)

When TVs were black and white, and you tuned in to the (four) channels with a knob at the back, they watched through hissing and snow, and wouldn't let you wiggle the knob to get a better picture.

When they finally got around to getting COLOUR TELLY, they didn’t adjust the colour, so everyone’s face was salmon pink and all football fields were vivid viridian. If you tried to adjust it they screamed: “No, no, stop! You’ll make it worse! I like it like that!”

They said they weren't going to use a computer unless they understood how they WORKED. (It didn't bother them that they didn't know how a telly worked.)

They couldn’t understand why anyone would want a COMPUTER – the only language they spoke was a lot of 0000s and 11111s.

Then they said: “But I don’t need a COMPUTER, all I want is a WORD PROCESSOR.”

They pretended to think that a WORD PROCESSOR would massage your prose and write your article for you. They said “I’ve heard Wordstar is the best,” meaning that it was the only WP programme they’d heard of.

They didn’t want to get a COMPUTER because they were afraid of hackers and viruses. When they finally got one they lost all the text out of their document and then saved it, overwriting the backup version. They swore they'd never buy anything online because hackers would steal their bank details as they wafted through the ether.

They liked to tell cautionary tales about search and replace ("and they ended up with African Americanboard!"). If you asked them for some amended sentences, they'd update the article and send you the whole thing again - without marking the changes.

They got RSI from refusing to buy a proper adjustable CHAIR, and putting the screen and keyboard very close to the edge of the desk so there was nowhere to rest their forearms and they had to hunch over the equipment, looking stressed and breathing heavily. (Why do office workers get a desk but home offices get “workstations” with a little tiny shelf for the keyboard?)

They used MOUSE MATS that stuck to the mouse, not the desk, and never increased their mouse speed.

They refused to buy FLOPPY DISCS when these were the only way of passing electronic text around. They'd just spent several hundred pounds on a GADGET, and weren't willing to splash out any more. If you told them that floppy discs were 30p each in Rymans, they put their fingers in their ears and went "La la la!"

If they ran an office, they continued to perform operations in ancient, labour intensive and time consuming ways (“We don’t need a PHOTOCOPIER - we have ten typists!”)

They dictated EMAILS to their secretary.

They whinged about terrible computer JARGON and wouldn’t learn the right name for anything. (“Why do I have to download or access? Why can’t I just get it?”)

They’re always going on about how they hate HELP WIZARDS, but refuse to listen when you explain how to turn them off.

They even refuse to use PRINTERS’ MARKS for correcting text (“My own are just as good!”).

They’re quite sure that what they’re doing is TOUCH TYPING (“My way!”)

They used to say “I don’t want to become a SLAVE to technology!”

And they thought that MOBILE PHONES might be quite useful for builders and plumbers but it was ridiculous for anyone else to get one.

And they swore they’d never use these newfangled POSTCODES, and refused to leave messages on ANSWERING MACHINES. When they finally got an answering machine, they got their child to record the “please leave a message” message. They call their remote control by a cute name ("the Herbert").

They can't understand why their old keyboard SHORTCUTS don't work - after several software upgrades and a machine replacement.

Now they’re afraid they’ll become ADDICTED to the Internet.

They like to moan that FACEBOOK friendships aren’t real, and don’t see the point of TWITTER and blogging – who wants to read about total strangers having cups of coffee?

They think that Facebook and Twitter give you instant access to information about all other members at once. When you say "You choose who to follow, and you can block or hide people", they look blank and change the subject.

When they join Facebook, they don't want to hear about earlier forms of social media (which have been around since the mid-80s, no, really). "Yes, but they were for GEEKS!"

Everybody has ONE piece of technology they’re loathsomely smug about NOT using. "Youtube! Oh, I have no use for Youtube! I just don’t need it!"

They save everything to their DESKTOP, cluttering it up and slowing down the machine. They don't want to hear about folders (and nested folders) - "Too complicated!"

They're convinced that wikipedia gets everything wrong.

What will they do when we all travel by jetpack, live on compressed food pills and live in geodesic domes?

If you liked that, you may like this from Successful Software.

Here's Part Two.

Saturday 10 April 2010

Good New Metaphors

Add water and stir

Good new metaphors and figures of speech. (More here, here, here and here):

add-water-and-stir success (imdb)
A future fast receding in the rear-view mirror. Andrew Antony Observer Apr 3 10
airless (upper-middle-class milieu) IMDB
All the gear, no idea (surfing term) (Those in the pew have no clue.)
as long as no one gets their undergarments bent into some kind of Panty Origami (
As much variety and imagination as a Bulgarian housing project. Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune March 10
astroturfing (see greenwashing) A fake grassroots campaign, creating something that looks like a grassroots eco pressure group but is actually run by vested interests (who make sure it is ineffective, and use it to absorb any genuine protesters).

(the “heat” take the card counter into a back room and give him a good talking to)
bad enough to make your ears bleed (radio show) (Gareth McLean, Guardian August 30, 2006)
balmoralised “balmoralised popular histories” George Monbiot Guardian September 14, 2004
belting out an aria in a register normally associated with burglar alarms. Guardian July 23 08
bleaching bones “the landscape is littered with the bleaching bones of well-meaning incentives” quote from NS 25 March 06
blenderizer We are in the post-modern, blenderizer phase of the world-music movement. (Joel Bresler)
Boden It's the unrelenting uniformity of it all that's so repulsive, like being trapped inside a Boden catalogue. Observer Dec 24 2006
Bodenia Catherine Bennett Guardian March 31, 2006

Thursday 8 April 2010

Too-Appropriate Metaphors

You shall go to the ball!

Pantomime is the Cinderella of the arts.
Sean Greenhalgh ran a cottage industry from his garden shed. (bbc)
Seeing a buzzard catch a rare phalarope is “in bird-watching terms, like killing two birds with one stone.” birdwatcher in Times Jan 16 09
The discovery of the preserved bodies “breathed new life into” Arctic exploration. (The idea of artificial respiration is too near the disinterred remains.)
The centre of activity of the marketplace has changed ... quicker than any other slowdowns. G Sept 20 08
You might think the Channel Islands are a backwater. Coast
Experts Unveil Cloak of Silence ( headline) (Underneath this veil is - a cloak! Perhaps their subs have a sense of humour.)
China’s thirst for oil (Let them drink oil!)
British public toilets have been in free fall. Richard Chisnell, chairman of the British Toilet Association Guardian April 23, 2008 (Hallelujah! It’s raining toilets)

Whatever Happened To...? 3

Capoeira (it was a 90s thing

(children’s clothes)


chicken Kiev

ciré (the fabric)

desert boots

hysteria about the introduction of computers into workplaces. (They were going to damage people’s health, make them work too hard, irradiate them etc etc.)

jokes about heavy water

language labs

lemon cup cakes

making cutout paper dolls in a long line holding hands

mortadella (it was a horrible kind of Italian sausage)

panic about the radiation emitted by “VDUs”

predictions that “ecommerce” would never take off

radishes cut into florets

ratafias (tiny macaroons)

search engines which told you “Just type in a question in natural language!” and then gave you 1 million unsorted results all containing the word “the”.

smell of Brut

smell of Fenjal

smell of phurnacite

sneering about television


waffle about systems being “transparent to the user”

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 5 April 2010

Music in Cafés

I have been driven out of most of the yuppie cafés around Stoke Newington because they play such terrible music.

The Acoustic Café
Has one CD of MOR jazz which they play on a loop and if I hear that rendition of A Tisket, a Tasket one more time I shall stab myself with a toothpick.

I knew it wouldn't last more than a few weeks. It must have been that CD of MOR jazz they played without ceasing. There's a limit to the number of times you can hear My Baby Just Cares for Me and retain your sanity. (Sometimes they were listening to Turkish music, but like taxi drivers, they quickly switched the CD to something they thought the yuppie customers would like. Does the jazz CD come with the "start your own yuppie café" set?)

Belle Epoque
A genuine French café (see picture) with lovely croissants and quiches. And French chansons on the soundtrack. After reading the Observer there from cover to cover I now know how to write a French pop song.

Use one chord, or perhaps two. Three at a pinch.
Think of a refrain like "comme d'habitude" and repeat it. Chanson and on and on and on.
Walk it up the scale a bit.
Think up a simple motif with your refrain at the end.
Repeat it, one note lower each time. (There's my refrain "Plus bas que ça"! Good, hein?)
Come back up the scale again and have a bit of a huit central. Use your third chord.
Modulate into the major and end the huit central on a loooong note so that your voice can quaveurrrrrr.
Go back to the beginning and repeat your refrain a few more times.

It went on all afternoon and you will have noticed that I have indeed lost my reason.

Fortunately there's still the Flamingo over the railway bridge (Radio 2 and the telly). And Jessops (horrible coffee, warm friendliness, Radio 2), and the New River Café (latte, chips, chatting).

Chains like Starbucks and Caffe Nero can only use out-of-copyright music (but why is it always jazz? Can't we have some Chopin or Scarlatti sonatas?). But surely in the age of Spotify, when you can have 3,000 music tracks on a laptop, and there are 15,000 internet radio stations, we don't have to be stuck with one ... endlessly ... repeated ... CD.

Time for a Yuppie Cafe internet radio channel.

Update: the Trattoria Sapori on Newington Green was playing reggae on Spotify at the weekend (May 30).

Found Poem

I have been haunted by this one all my life:

Copepod eats diatoms.
Herring eats copepods.
Squid eats herring.
Bass eats squid.
Man eats bass, or
Bass dies, decays
And provides nourishment for

It's from a wonderful book published by LIFE called THE WORLD WE LIVE IN. More found poetry here.

Saturday 3 April 2010

101 Annoying Things About the Web

Technology, doncha love it? I spend a lot of my working life searching for articles that have appeared in the press – please don't make my job more difficult.

Browser companies, when you update your product, please don’t change some tiny detail just for the sake of it so that everything works slightly differently.

Web and software designers

Get your keyboard shortcuts designed by someone who can touch type.

The Apple key (or whatever it’s called on PC keyboards) should be used for keyboard shortcuts because you can press it with your thumb without taking your fingers off the home keys.

Do not use the standard Mac keyboard shortcuts (apple x, c and v for cut, copy, paste) for any other purpose.

Some of us (in other programs, all day long) use apple left cursor to go back by one word – please do not use this combination to exit a page without warning, losing irrevocably any web page we’ve created, email we’ve written or form we’ve filled in.

Instructions must be on the same page as the form. There’s no point giving a long complicated list of instructions if the user has to move to another page to complete them.

Make all dialogue boxes quittable with Apple W.
Cancellable with Apple .
Unacceptable with Apple N for no.

Newspapers and magazines Please give us a printable version of articles (it’s easier to search and cut-and-paste – and we can search within it without having to search reams of comments at the bottom). (The Guardian has a “read whole article” button.)

The Independent You can’t sort search results by date, newest first, or writer. Search results don’t always give you the name of the writer.

The Daily Mail It requires you to register before posting a comment, but only tells you that *after* you type out your comment and click reply! (via @ianvisits)

The Guardian You can’t include the name of the writer in your search terms (so you can’t search for “Time Team Nancy Banks Smith”).

Newspaper search features When you click on some search boxes, the word “Search” disappears and you can start typing your search terms immediately. With others, the word “search” does not disappear and you end up searching for “searchjoe bloggs”. When you delete this and try to search for “joe bloggs”, the darned thing thinks you MUST want to search for your original term “searchjoe bloggs” and helpfully substitutes this. It can take several tries before you get round its desire to think for you.

The BBC website defaults to OR rather than AND, so if you type in "Time Team Nancy Banks Smith" you get a lot of banking stories, every mention of people called Smith... you get the picture. It's how search engines worked back in the olden days, but even then they usually had an advanced search where you could use Boolean logic. You can get "newest first", but only if you select News and Sport. !!!! Update: the Beeb seems to have taken my advice. Their search page looks improved - we shall see.

Amazon You used to be able to filter results by highest price, lowest, when published etc. Now you have to “Select a department to filter”. But it now throws up a lot of books which do not have the title you are searching for. When I search for the works of Sigmund Freud I don’t want to get Chicken Soup for the Soul. When I search for a children’s book called Candy in the Alps, I don’t want to get Random House All Weather Crossword Omnibus (Newsday) by Stanley Newman, or Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien. With all these irrelevant suggestions, there’s no point sorting results by “when published” or “lowest price”. Only when you “select a department” do you see an option called Advanced Search which lets you do a precise search like you could in the olden days (but you still get some irrelevant titles).

Just searched for "bbc goldfinger" and got one result:

'Blerwytirhwng?' the Place of Welsh Pop Music (Ashgate Popular and Folk Music Series) by Sarah Hill

If you want to be famous, make sure your name and product are search engine optimised. Change your name from Paul Martin to Benedict Cumberbatch. And don’t write a song called “As”.

Friday 2 April 2010

Showbiz Euphemisms

I took a career break to reassess my attitude to the business. I have just got out of rehab.

making the right career choices being chosen for the role (or turning down a part in Return of the Radioactive Tomatoes)

introduces some bold new elements
changes the story out of all recognition (Nancy Banks Smith)

novelty comedy (as in novelty record)

showmanship grandstanding, showing off, embarrassing pantomime, gurning, mugging

inclusive including people who are no good at the activity "more 'inclusive' – that is, less rigorous – education" Times August 7, 2006

anarchic word people always use about “community” choirs. Perhaps they mean “a bit more democratic than” and “apparently not so rigidly disciplined as” a traditional choir.