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.)