Saturday 30 April 2011

More Movie and TV Clichés

Watch out for that man clipping the hedge – especially if he raises his head with a meaning look. He’s a detective, a spy, a goon or someone planted to act as your bodyguard.

A man is sitting at a desk, apparently asleep. You tap him on the shoulder – he slumps to the floor, dead. OR he is sitting in his swivel office chair facing the window. You put your hand on the chair – it swivels round to face you revealing the occupant slumped on the seat, dead.

A character addresses the camera: “Why, I didn’t expect to find YOU here! Now, there’s plenty for both of us – why don’t we just divvy it up and go home?” We see other person’s gloved hand with gun in it. He/she shoots, first person falls dead.

First law of TV drama: if a woman talks to a man about "us", the relationship is doomed/over/never existed outside her own head.

Blind beggar sees all through dark glasses. Person in wheelchair can really walk.

In night street scenes, the streets are always wet. (Apparently deliberately wetted so they reflect the light.)

When someone is buried at sea, the one black character will recite Psalm 23.

In a bad period drama an older woman will constantly address a younger one as “child”.

Herds of dinosaurs are always setting off on a doomed trek into a desert as the rivers dry up.

More here, here and here.

Mini e-book here.

Thursday 28 April 2011

How Many Historians...?

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb? via David Leeson of the Laurentian University via Radio 4's Analysis

A: There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was "one": and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the "Great Man" school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women's historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between "light" and "darkness", and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.

Whatever Happened To...? 8

Ashes of Roses (and other scents/cosmetics that survived from the 30s to the 60s and then vanished)

circular knitting needles (an 80s thing – harder to use than the regular kind)
Citroen 2Cvs

cropped tops and trousers

ergonomic computer keyboards
(in two pieces)
Ever Ready batteries

four-leaved clovers

goods trains

(especially those wool ones in big checks with fringed edges)
herby sausages (80s)
hire purchase
hitech interiors

inner tennis
(You worked on WHY you didn’t WANT to win. It was so effective that… it disappeared about 30 years ago.)

interactive Web art


knitting machines
(bought, used once, stored under beds)

leg paint

Lux soapflakes
(if it’s safe in water – it’s safe in Lux!)

miniature brass cannons on your mantelpiece

mink farms

non-competitive games

nuclear-free zones


shortie nighties

shove ha’penny (oh, what fun we had)
stable girls and kennel maids
(that you starched your clothes with – why?)
sundried tomatoes (everywhere in the 80s, now a faint, vanishing memory)

television hire companies

thongs (agony, whatever anybody said)
tomato puree/concentrate
(which you put in every single recipe in the 70s)
track lighting
trendy vicars

water beds

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 24 April 2011

More Inspirational Quotes

Be yourself. Be spontaneous. Be different. Be happy, and then everything that you are looking for will find its way to you - I don't think!

We construct our identities on the basis of attitudes towards us. Erving Goffman (paraphrase)

I realised I no longer had any friends. No friends at all. Everyone around me was on the payroll. The people I’d grown up with, my real friends, had somehow fallen by the wayside. (Barry Manilow, Daily Mail April 2011)

A job can save your life, though. If you are lost, and lonely, and wondering how you’ll ever find your way in this world, take a job. Any job. Because structure, and regular contact with regular people, and a method of contributing to a larger group are all things that help us recalibrate ourselves. Penelope Trunk,

Thinking of making changes as taking steps is a great strategy. You can't change major things about yourself overnight. Psychologist Leslie R. Martin

And stereotypes remain: women must navigate a narrow “acceptable personality range,” as one female professor said, that is “neither too aggressive nor too soft.” Said another woman: “I am not patient and understanding. I’m busy and ambitious.” NYT on women at MIT, March 2011

There is little tolerance for true individuality in America. Middle Class Handbook

We all fictionalise ourselves in the process of creating a story out of the raw materials of our life. Neil McCormick

He had a way of giving boys a very good opinion of themselves which made them unable to measure accurately their strength and value afterwards when they were face to face with disagreeable events in life. Julian Symons, The Quest for Corvo

There is often a distance between theory and practice. Alex J. Lubet

People more often conform to type than deviate from it. Ngaio Marsh

They want to establish a home, whether for the sake of becoming parents or for the social recognition. Orthodox Israeli rabbi marrying gay men to gay women

Sex is easy to come by – it just depends how little you expect in return. Mariella Frostrup

Circumstances affect feelings, not the other way round.

Speaking like a teen-age hip-hop artist while you're in a job interview is just as bad as speaking like a U.N. delegate while you're at a keg party. ehow

The best anyone can do is to be well-informed about the particular subject and base decisions on the balance of probability. Life itself is uncertain but think how tedious it would be if it wasn't.

More here and here and here.

Saturday 23 April 2011

Atkinson Grimshaw

Atkinson Grimshaw Mercer Art Gallery,
Harrogate, Yorkshire

to 4 Sept 2011

The Guardian has trouble shedding its prejudices about “Victorians” and “pre-Raphaelites”:

The Leeds-born Victorian painter of landscape and cityscape enchantments John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836–1893) really should not be appealing to our modern eye. Heavily, painstakingly influenced by the detail of the pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Grimshaw's focus reveals a near-hallucinatory clarity. Like almost all of his contemporaries (except Richard Dadd) he should have laid off the fairies, but when he concentrated on a nocturnal London Docks or gas-lit Leeds back street, he achieved a clarity of vision with his marbling of moonlight and shadow. His avoidance of realist social documentary may leave him open to accusations of escapist sentimentality, yet his common visions are almost transcendental. The effect endures more than a century later – Robert Clark.

Robert Clark must have written "Victorian.. heavy… painstaking… pre-Raphaelite… avoidance of realism… escapist sentimentality…" in his notebook before he went to Harrogate, only to have his mind blown by Grimshaw’s transcendental night pieces. They feature newly built department stores and mansion blocks, windows glowing with new-fangled gas or electricity, and the mundane figures of cab drivers, shop-girls and governesses in respectable tweeds making their way home. He was influenced as much by photography as by the pre-Raphaelites. Painter James McNeill Whistler claimed he recorded "the rain and mist, the puddles and smoky fog of late Victorian industrial England with great poetry." Grimshaw was brilliant – go.

The Guardian has a fuller account here.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Americanisms II

Continued from Americanisms.

I know someone who thinks we shouldn't use the word "revisit" because it's an Americanism. He wants to remove them all from the language. Going back to Jamestown? I asked. Yes, the lot. And how are you going to do that? He was strangely silent.

But he's not alone.

H.W. Fowler (1858–1933) in The King’s English, 1908 says:
"Americanisms are foreign words, and should be so treated... A very firm stand ought to be made against placate, transpire and antagonize." He condemns Kipling for using the words shrimp-pink and honey-coloured.

And according to the wonderful and crowd-sourced Urban Dictionary, Americanisms are:

"garbled English masquerading as the correct way to speak in today's global village"


"ridiculous mispellings and mispronunciations of the beautiful English language by the Yanks. This often involves missing vitally important letters from such words as 'herbs' (in American ''erbs'); maths ('math'); through (thru) and bizarre pronunciations of words such as basil ('baysill'); mirror ('meeyor')and aluminium (alloominum). We invented it, albeit it with a little help from Ancient Romans, Celts and French so stop messing around with it!"

And the Economist Style Guide says:

"Vilest of all is the habit of throwing together several nouns into one ghastly adjectival reticule: Texas millionaire real-estate developer and failed thrift entrepreneur Hiram Turnipseed..."

Educated Americans go to great lengths to avoid compound adjectives like this – preferring to break up sentences with endless qualifying clauses, separated by commas. Yanks, eh?

American and British English began to diverge in 1607. Noah Webster published his American Dictionary of the English Language in 1828, and Americans follow the modern version.

Sometimes we pick up words from them, sometimes they borrow from us.
Get over it! (As they would say.)

Saturday 9 April 2011


Americans use our language and have the NERVE to speak and write it differently! They were our colony until they won their freedom and we lost the war - but we were still top nation! Except now we aren't and they want to take over the world. So let's fight back - by shunning all Americanisms! Yes, that's going to work. Or "good luck with that", as they would say.

America on the left, Britain on the right. And IN the right.
a few months back: ... ago
a while back: some time ago
advisory: hint, tip, warning, public service broadcast/announcement etc
after an elapse of years: a lapse of years
all of: all
alternate: alternative
around: round, about
aside from: apart from
atop: on top of, on, up

beat out: beat
besides: beside
birthing: giving birth

bucolic: pastoral (to me bucolic means large, fat, dim 19th century agricultural workers with amusing West Country accents, ghastly mumming plays and incomprehensible jokes about “turmuts”)
bumble: bungle

bundt pans: jelly moulds
burn ward: burns ward

canopy bed: fourposter
chichi: chic
chomping at the bit: champing
cobblestone: cobbled (if streets are cobbled, they always have to mention it)
cup cake: fairy cake with mounds of vivid icing and sprinkles

deadly: anything that makes people die (deadly force)
depthless: bottomless
deviltry: devilry
differ with: don’t agree with
done: carried out/on
down to: due to, up to
duplex: semi

ever-(fickle etc): always
face time: meeting in RL
fancy: elaborate, elegant
feckless: useless, powerless, lackadaisical, weedy
file cabinet: filing cabinet
finish line: finishing line
footless: inept or awkward (dates from 1398 according to Webster)
freight train: goods train
French: French people, the French (many French disapprove of José Bové)
from here on in: from now
full-fledged: fully fledged

get in trouble: get into trouble
give them the heads-up: tell them to look out
go belly up: fail, founder
graduate: unis graduate students, and students “are graduated”
guys in ties: suits

hall: corridor
happenstance: chance
has to be: is surely
Have a nice day: Goodbye
He talks a good game: He's all mouth.
He’s got game (He Got Game is the title of a movie)
heads up: advance notice, warning, hint, tip, advice
high-strung: highly-strung
hurt: harm, damage
hurting: suffering

I guess: I imagine
in hopes of: in hope of
is set to: will, is destined to
issue: problem

lease on life:
lease of life
light fixture: light fitting

any language or accent other than American English (critics complained Dodie Smith’s plays were written in a “bird-like lilt that is so British” and always mentioned teacups, teapots, drawing rooms or just tea)

MacGyver: jury-rig, cobble up

middle class:
lower middle to working class (in Britain “middle class” means posh or even smug, pretentious and uptight)

more nuanced: less obvious, subtle, underhand
nauseous: nauseating (but Charlotte Bronte used nauseous to mean sick-making)
neat (neat-oh!)
nuance: insinuation, euphemism, subtlety, weasel word

be obsessed with
on par with: on a par with
on second thought: on second thoughts
outcropping (used to mean islet): outcrop (only used for “land islet”)

pander (n)
parking garage: carpark
parse: interpret
persnickety: pernickety
pile into: crowd into, not criticize
plenty good enough: good enough
pocket/wallet: money, ability to pay
position: policy, stance
pry open: prise open
pushpin: map tack

rankled: disgruntled
restless: untiring
right now: now
rightfully: rightly
roil: upset
run scared

salt shaker: salt cellar
save out: save
say: for example
shooter: sniper, marksman, gunman

Americans use “skittish” to mean nervous, wary. We use it to mean arch, playful, unreliable, like a horse dancing about and shying at plastic bags, or a woman of a certain age slapping your wrist with her fan and screaming “La, Sir Percy!”.

sling: dispense (like slinging hash)
specter: threat, bogeyman
spin out: spin off

sport/sports: They wear a sport jacket, but talk about sports. (We wear a sports jacket and talk about sport.) They work in the missions, not mission, field. They say “legal protections” not protection. They change directions, not direction. They say brick-and-mortar, not bricks-and-mortar. They say “Everybody must use their brain” (not “use their brains”).

spotty: patchy
sputter: splutter
stomping ground: stamping ground
stop/prevent from: stop, prevent
strike down: They “strike down” a law or judgement instead of abolishing or overturning it.
substantive: substantial
the word on the street: rumour
tightly knit
topic A
toss out (or just toss): chuck out, throw out
track: add up “It doesn’t track”
tricksy: tricky

ugly: used metaphorically, as in an ugly action
under the hood: under the bonnet
vent: air, express (emotions)
wake up and smell the coffee: live in the real world
worked just fine: functioned acceptably

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 4 April 2011

Neologisms 1

New new coinages added here.

(And more here, here, here and here):

"Getting In Touch With Your Feelings" is another quilted-sampler-type cliché that ends up masking something ghastly, deep and real, it turns out. It starts to turn out that the vapider the AA cliché, the sharper the canines of the real truth it covers. David Foster Wallace

Varieties of stews, which feather into curries. Nick Dunlavy

Brecht’s sledgehammer moralising Obs Apr 29 2007

the cold, hard glitter-glue of the Irish Sea. Caitlin Moran, Times April 2011

Over the years I've taught here, I've seen student numbers creep up, while the staffing has decreased. I can't take a day off sick. I pedal harder and harder, but there will be a time when the chain will break. Chelsea Art School tutor on progressive cuts, April 11, 2011

You might even tiptoe over £40,000. Graham Barton on Homes under the Hammer.

a dockside scheme, The Waterfront, promised to roll out the more depressing form of marina dromeage, only to be indefinitely shelved a year ago… @OwenHatherley on “dockside regeneration” in Barrow in Furness.

Blair hat
– winged or barrel roof on top of reclad, regenerated 60s tower block

of council estates @OwenHatherley

Free Jazz - like a bison with TB being fed slowly through a mangle. And not in a good way. @RupertGoodwins

glove-puppet candidates

God’s building site
Gryff Rhys Jones on the Cuilins

(opposite of skyscraper) @KieranLong Jan 2011

It’s a fascinating area, full of elephant traps. Roger Nuttall on racism and offensive language

It's all run together in my memory like a wet watercolour. Sasha Lubetkin

Millions of ordinary Joes flaked away (from the Saturday Evening Post). Robert Peston Guardian Jan 3 2011


that ghastly fraying mantis, Lara Flynn Boyle Guardian 2/3/11

The alliance between Suze and me didn’t turn out exactly to be a holiday in the woods,” Bob Dylan later conceded. “Eventually fate flagged it down... She took one turn in the road; I took another.”

the nosebleed section (of stadium seating – the highest you can get)

The wallpaper is distancing itself from this flat. Lucy Alexander on Homes under the Hammer