Saturday 31 December 2011

It's Not Rocket Science

Why oh why don't we...?

Give buildings more natural light with picture windows, internal doors with little glass panes, windows between rooms, skylights, light wells, mirrors.

Use the Post Office network to offer out-of-hours parcel pickup.

Create more parklets – little gardens in former car parks, vacant lots, waste bits between bits, alleys between houses.

Give civil partnership the same legal rights as marriage, and call it marriage; call register office marriage civil partnership. Let the religions do what they like. (The government may be doing this.)

Put power points at person height - no more tangle of wires gathering dust under your desk.

Why do Dutch drivers + cyclists have such respect for each other? They learn rules of road as kids in "traffic garden". @urbanphoto_blog

Use video/voice recording evidence in domestic violence and bullying cases. The Judge whose daughter released video of him beating her has been suspended. Nov 4 2011

If something’s a problem, make it impossible. Bullying at playtime? Don’t have playtime.
Americans murder/bury people in basements (and watch internet porn while pretending to be doing carpentry)? Build houses without basements. And don’t manufacture freezers big enough to contain a body.

Does homeopathy work? Is abortion moral? Debate these questions in a law-court setting. Opposing sides could object to logic tricks, irrelevance etc. ("Objection! Goal-post moving!" Might make a TV programme.)

Produce a toasted sandwich maker for flatbread (probably available on Amazon).

If I were king #234: a small red arrow pointing north will be painted on the ground in the center of every road intersection. @Jugbo

Friday 23 December 2011

Inspirational Quotes Part Nine

Beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction. Aristotle

"Friends talk," she says. "So especially among teenagers and college students, when everyone is trying to be the same, 'the same' is what you get."

People who live in society have learned how to see themselves in mirrors as they appear to their friends. Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

My teenage years were the hardest. All your friends pair off. Person of restricted growth, Guardian Dec 2011

Business success is all about arrogance and toadying to those above you. Hard work and focus comes after that. Pundit on bbc breakfast (paraphrased)

What makes people "click", and instantly become firm friends or lovers? And could you harness this "quick-set intimacy" in order to make your business run better? Yes, we are in the increasingly crowded territory of high-concept corporate flirting, where social-science research is repackaged in the hope of attracting lucrative consulting gigs. The danger of the genre is often that the material has to be twisted to fit the sales pitch. Here, the authors seem almost to be doing the opposite since their vivid slice-of-life case-studies and interviews – with a police hostage negotiator, a pair of physicists, a social butterfly and some basketball-playing roommates – don't really throw up any novel recommendations ("companies can look for ways to foster a sense of a framed community"; face-to-face "interactions" are important). Instead, they proceed quite amiably, inventing bits of vague jargon ("transformative presence") and telling lots of interesting stories about basically nice people. It made me want to kick something. Steven Poole, Guardian Aug 10 on Click by Ori and Rom Brafman

I know your social conditioning is telling you’re that you’re a unique snowflake and you should never copy anything. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Don’t make things harder than they need to be. Do it the easy way. Modelling a person who already has it figured out will give you a huge head start. tries to reconcile uplift with reality.

As the teacher at the centre of [the experiment], Ron Jones, says: Educational institutions weed out troublemakers and those who are difficult to teach, rewarding placid students who want to succeed at any cost and will accept authority. Kids aren't learning to ask questions. You create a population where freedom's just a spelling word.

If [he] wants to avoid an attack, he needs to avoid the things most people long for, including physical affection and giving and receiving love.

…it turns out that there is more than one kind of virginity to lose. We think of ourselves as entirely rational, independent beings with a fully raised consciousness and totally free will. It is sobering to realise that we are all just puppets, really. Puppets with unknown but formative childhood influences and outmoded but stubborn cultural cliches pulling the strings. Lucy Mangan on Nov 2011 on how she found herself trying to fulfil atavistic good wife stereotypes – until she thankfully worked through them.

Toast the host… Stand up, speak up and sit down. If you are being honored, don't touch your glass or drink to yourself. @DianeGottsman

This was ostensibly an examination of Jackson's career... risible piece of hagiography… a chance for acolytes – who somehow managed to be dead-eyed yet fervent at the same time – to compete in a platitude-off. "She would talk about things that really hurt her. Poverty. Racism," said one of her choreographers, in breathless admiration, "She shared that side of herself in Rhythm Nation … She was just, like, 'Back off – I'm gonna be who I am and I'm gonna speak loudly for myself!' Which was at the same time speaking loudly for women. So she really became an icon of that whole kind of feminist movement." Songwriter notices aspects of the human condition and writes about them. Woman gets older and becomes more sure of herself. What insight, what unprecedented illumination of the creative process. On and on it rolled, therapy-speak and corporate PR-speak. No wonder so many celebrities go mad. it was never long before we cut back to talking heads marking supposedly seminal songs with observations such as: "It was Janet, evolving into another Janet" and "These were her moments of absolute self-definition." Lucy Mangan 19 November 2011 on Janet Jackson: Taking Control (BBC4)

I’ve had it out with one or two friends whose absence I felt especially keenly. (writer’s son has Down’s Syndrome Times Nov 14 2011) Interestingly, old friends deal with it less well than new friends. I suppose more established friendships resist adjustment because of the weight of baggage and history they bear. Old friends can feel more resentment at having the quality of their friendship questioned or being given directions regarding what is (or is not) required of them in a crisis.) I can feel some friends’ grips tighten around their perception of me. They are unwilling to let my function in their lives change…

You’ve got to start smiling at the f***ers and pretend you like them. Advice to Margaret Thatcher

But always be yourself and be spontaneous! And it's fine to be single in the 19th/20th/21st century!

Inspirational Quotes Part Eight
More here and here and here. And here. And here too. Yet more here.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Neologisms 3

New ways of saying things (thankyou, Twitterfriends).

baked in the cake (things you can’t change)

a Rada-approved Mad Stare Libby Purves Oct 22 2011 Times

Blairism = 21st century pseudomodernism @entschwindet Nov 2011

bubblegum Hysterical attempts to bubblegum the whole thing together. Boris Johnson on the euro

CGI garbage Nicholas Lezard on Tintin, Guardian October 19, 2011

Drive is like a big Levi’s advert starring Ryan Gosling (says a colleague).

gyfterie (Edward Burra)

heritage makeover Porthgain's rough beauty has survived both industrial collapse and a heritage makeover. Architecture Today Oct 2011


is X Factor for posh people @christopherexpo (and circle dancing is line dancing for pretentious people)

nodding dogs The whitewashing of the behaviour of the bank’s all-powerful, bullying former chief executive and its weak-minded board of nodding dogs. Alex Brummer in the Daily Mail on RBS

PLONKITECTURE A building placed on its site with no consideration for its setting. @cowanrob Rob Cowan

PLOP ART A pejorative term for a work of public art placed with little consideration of its setting. @cowanrob Rob Cowan

razor-blade strategy Eastman's razor-blade strategy of selling cameras cheaply and reaping lavish margins from consumables — film, chemicals and paper. dec 2011

Rocky Horror Show is "boil in the bag perversion for sexually repressed accountants" Simon Pegg in Spaced

side chick = the Other Woman

sub-Alcoholics Anonymous self-empowerment rubbish about breaking through walls and finding your true self (Nicholas Lezard on Tintin Guardian October 19, 2011)

The rainforest mezzanine
– a vital layer of fallen leaves held aloft by fungal nets @edyong209 Ed Yong

They are burning holes in our industrial structure as we speak, Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout warned. Nov 2011

whipsaw In recent years, people have been whipsawed by conflicting studies about the risks posed by low levels of radiation given off by cell phones. 20 Oct 2011

More good new coinages here, here, here and here. And here.

Friday 16 December 2011

Mixed Metaphors Part Five

Watch out for garbled images like these:

bow-tie lips
Lionel Shriver Times October 29, 2011 The blue-eyed English rose with the china-white skin and cupid lips Daily Telegraph on Susannah York, 2011 That’s “cupid’s bow” lips.

Berlusconi “forged his road to power” (roads are usually paved)

But America’s Puritanical past casts a strong shadow to this day… A long shadow – all the way from the 17th century to now.

cool as a cucumber, ripped as celery Catherine Shoard in the Guardian on Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible

David Mellor’s cabinet career unravelled under a barrage of allegations. David Mitchell, Obs Aug 14 11

FTSE directors receiving nearly 50% annual increases in their remuneration packages is, in the long term, a rotten nail in the coffin of future corporate UK. Letter to Times, Oct 2011 (nail in the coffin? Something rotten in the state of Denmark? rotten apple?)

Harold Pinter wrote that "the mistake they make, most of them, is to attempt to determine and calculate the source of the wound. They seek out the gaps between the apparent and the void that hinges on it with all due tautness."

Isn’t that the dance with the devil you have to play? (Hugh Grant’s informant)

mired in intrigue, self-congratulation (Try “full of” or “awash with”.)

Russell Grant is camper than a row of tent pegs – Bruce Forsyth on STCD. That’s “camp as a row of tents”. Tents are in rows in army camps.

simmering tensions erupted into war

the company wants to ascend from the bargain basement and soar with the premium brands – this car is their first stake in the ground. DT Sept 2011, paraphrase

the original price tag has ballooned (the original price has risen)

The Prince of Wales… wrote in glowing terms to the former Libyan dictator, calling for wider ties between the two nations. G Oct 11 (Wider ties were last fashionable in the 70s.)

They have pinned their colours to this dreadful document… G September 14, 2011 (you nail your colours (flag) to the mast (of your ship), you pin your hopes on someone or thing)

the spotlight is a mixed bag Metro Nov 2 11

the thrust of sanitisation creeping into the Premier League product

This is not going to shed me in a good light

Weaving a terrifying thread of sex and violence, this is brilliant thriller. Val McDermid

What’s driving this dramatic spike?

Who’ll be crowned cream of the baking crop? BBC headline

Yesterday was a momentous day for British journalism and of course the PR industry. We are now sitting on the edge of the biggest scandal ever seen in the media. The ripples will swamp other newspapers. The world's biggest English speaking Sunday tabloid newspaper is dead. Rupert Murdoch's action to try and halt the hurricane sweeping through his empire by taking a butcher's cleaver to his own corporate flesh was a deliberate act of filicide. The outcome is a clear sign that huge tectonic plates are shifting in British newspapers. Murdoch in effect has cut off a financial pit prop to his empire. The News of the World's closure is the equivalent of amputating a gangrenous limb - it saves the BSkyB deal and even the Sun so it's not hyperbole to describe it as the greatest publicity stunt of a generation. Huffington Post July 8, 2011

More mixed metaphors and garbled cliches here, here, here and here.

Tuesday 13 December 2011

More Travel Writing Cliches

Tourists come in hordes.

Or else they're "chattering trippers": All the action is in the restaurant, which is packed out with chattering trippers. John Walsh Indy 23 July 2011 (We are such an elite that there aren’t enough of us to pack anywhere out. And if we do gather together, we don’t “chatter”, we converse.)

Hens, when not being carried in baskets on buses, “scratch” around people’s front doors.

Scenery is lush, snow-capped or rolling.

Yet more travel writing clichés here.

On water, people ply routes, oars etc

Houses huddle, especially when they have slate roofs: Port Isaac with its huddle of slate houses/ little lanes of picturesque fishermen's cottages which huddle side-on/ The village huddles over the rushing stream amongst shady trees./ Its old village huddles around a substantial medieval fortress/ A small village huddles around a ruined castle in Provence etc, etc, etc

Forbidden Words for 2011

There are some words and phrases that should be retired, because I'm tired of reading them.

deep pockets = fat wallet, healthy bank balance (do you keep your money loose in your pockets?)

You collect a pension POT. The government keeps its money in COFFERS, or the public PURSE. You hit people in the WALLET, especially if they have deep POCKETS. (Replace with piggy bank, treasure chest, bank account, cash box at random.)

for severe, extreme, top etc.
Afghanistan is the world’s biggest recipient of aid (gets the most aid… it’s the amount of aid that’s the biggest, not the country)
hugely limited = severely restricted
big mileages = high mileages
one of the biggest victims = one of the worst-hit victims

blow = setback

break into Why is it publishing that people have to “break” into? (Tip: Don't start your application letter "I am determined to break into publishing".)

hotly You always dispute things hotly.

BRUTAL for very, extremely It still feels brutally humid and oppressive (Ed Smith, Times Oct 2011)/ The world's newest nation, South Sudan, is brutally impoverished, but it just announced plans to build new capital from scratch @urbanphoto_blog

disgruntled Sacked ex-employees who hack company websites/make nuisance calls to clients are always “disgruntled”.

droughts always “hit

explode, explosion = Restrict use to bombs. C. difficile infection is caused by antibiotics wiping out swathes of bacteria in the gut. It gives the surviving C. difficile bacteria room to explode in numbers and produce masses of toxins which lead to diarrhoea and can be fatal. bbconline dec 2011/Agents tell me that there is an explosion in tenants unable to move. (Make that a huge increase. Or try multiply, proliferate or expand.)

FIERCE denials are always fierce, Colombians have a fierce contempt for authority (people are also fiercely sensual, and dessert menus can be fiercely retro)

FUEL, TRIGGER Try lead to, give rise to, powered by, contribute to, start, raise (fears)

gloom rises, the squeeze deepens = In the real world gloom darkens, squeezes tighten.
grip What famines or frosts do to countries

HURTLE It’s what things do in space. Couldn’t they speed, rush, fly, whiz or zoom sometimes? Men in Mars project “were supposedly hurtling millions of miles through space”/ See the Southern Lights from above as space station astronauts hurtle past./ The spacecraft will hurtle through space at a remarkable speed./ How fast would we hurtle off into space if gravity was suddenly removed?/ In the commercial, photon humanoids leap off a platform on the sun and hurtle through space towards earth./ Why do we hurtle ourselves through every inch of time and space (Indigo Girls)/ It's a place for everyone, young and old, to journey to a fantasy land of the past and future where you can hurtle through space to unknown lands (Florida Magic Kingdom)… Or do you mean hurl? The stage is all set for the launch of PSLV-C18, which will hurtle into space the 1,000kg Indo-French collaborative Megha Tropique satellite.

Idylls are always “shattered”. An idyll is either a romantic relationship or a “tranquil” and old-fashioned way of life. (“Ordered worlds” are constantly being “disrupted” too. “Immediately the couple's well ordered, harmonious world begins to disintegrate.” on Adam and Eve “Often they begin from a premise of a relatively ordered world suddenly disrupted by a crime.” British Television Drama in the 1980s by George W. Brandt)

have ignited controversy = have started controversy

indictment [Practically anything] is a sad indictment of society.

is set to
= on course to

jockey/vie for position = compete

light always pours or floods @FatCharlesH

motley = what assortments always are

Research is always painstaking (and usually takes two years). And so is restoration: After six years of painstaking restoration (the Bolshoi reopens)./ She gives me a tour of the painstakingly renovated building. BBC October 28, 2011

public rebukes are always “stinging

revenge = always thirsted for

= what cuts are

sentimentality = always “unabashed

Sitting is still popular: The headstones which had been positioned around the perimeter wall have been broken up and now sit in a large pile in the deconsecrated church yard. (Surely they're lying?)

spark, trigger, ignite = provoke outrage, precipitate, bring about, open a debate, start, begin, bring in

spectre, threat People are fond of writing "the spectre of X" rather than plain "X" A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of communism. Karl Marx (At least his spectre was haunting something.) Bubonic plague, the Black Death, has been one of man's most terrific scourges. Time, 1930/ This summer the once dreaded scourge of bubonic plague is on the loose in the Southwest U.S. Time, 1983 (A plague is a plague – it doesn’t need to be a scourge as well.)/ The scourge of scrap-metal theft on the railways is so bad that…

swathes = always vast @entschwindet

swell Periodic Table swells as three new elements named (lengthens, grows)

tension is always eroded (how about reducing it? or even better, slackening it?)

throngs of people are usually dark-skinned (especially if they’re a “ululating throng”)

Torrential rain sparks flooding (BBC Online) causes - the rain would put the spark outBold
unleash = activate, enable

visceral = used to mean almost anything (unpleasant, earthy)

A Catechism of Cliché here.
More journalistic clichés here.

Friday 9 December 2011

Buzz Words of 2011 Part II

Every year has its favourite slang. Every year has its fashionable pomposity, too - like to do so, rightly so. But effectively, to that end and sits well with seem to have gone at last.

for current, modern, present-day
ping me!

Words fail, I’m losing the will etc

wish list
(around several years)
bucket list
mindless being wheeled out, coupled with “violence” and “thuggery”, week of riots
slouch (item of clothing – it’s a shrug)
robust (policing) week of riots
violet – oddly popular week of riots
seasteading: PayPal founder, inspired by Ayn Rand, sinks $1.25 mil into 'seasteading' - libertarian, floating micronations. @ballardian

= area of town that planners hope will fill with hip cafes, art galleries and Thai restaurants. Or else it’s a few new-built closes surrounded by ex-industrial sheds, and the builders hope that if they call it a “quarter” people will think it’s got some kind of history and character. Roman quarter, Chichester/Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Oxford.

Adding “age” to words to make them sound grander: porterage, signage, dockage. Many ironic coinages.

lots of things being “shredded”, including welfare safety nets and existing power structures in Libya (Aug/Sept)

visceral being used to mean almost anything September 5, 2011
underbelly popular September 6, 2011 (soft underbelly, unpleasant underbelly –
think you mean “seamy side”.)
merch (merchandise)
roll out to mean “bring in” (If you roll something out, you start in Wakefield, move to Liverpool, then Manchester ect ect)
upselling = persuading customer to buy more things (meal deal) or something more expensive (better wine)

toxic is back late Sept
chasing down (used to be hunting down, chasing up)
+tives and –tives (Tweetese)
rock for wear (a barely there skirt ect)

picture-perfect What mean? Don’t use for things that aren’t visual, like food. And is it picture perfect, pitch perfect, or picture-postcard perfect? And how can you qualify "perfect"?

= what psychologists used to call “flooding”) as self-treatment for embarrassment, phobias. Afraid of talking to women? Chat up 50 women in a day. Embarrassed by dorky bike clothes? Ride topless! The bike clothes won’t seem so bad. Versus “don’t over-challenge yourself”.
life writing, wilderness writing, nature writing etc etc
X is what it is
when did forbidden to do become forbidden from doing?
family adventure (you can’t just “go on holiday” any more)
You have to say Adele is “beige”. October 10, 2011

reputational damage
enormo (Twitterspeak)

everyone’s complaining that people pronounce aitch as haitch (It’s everywhere! Actually, just one HSBC ad.)
Def’natlay, def’natlay! (Also high-pitched “Hiiiiiiiiiii!”)

link bait
– piggybacking a product on a charitable cause.
systemic trending week of Nov 6
levels of has replaced kind/s of
technocrat popular week November 16 2011
artisanal is the new home-made
meltdown (formerly throw a wobbly/become hysterical)

– the salmon die in the very stream that gave them birth. (“The same stream” would do. Yea, verily.)
especially for particularly
back in 1972
Whisper it!
popular week of Dec 5 (a whopping great...)
Hollywood reboot Rewrite, recast, misunderstand and utterly ruin well-loved classic. Turn Miss Marple into a feisty thirtysomething.

make choices = do things (because if we say “make choices” we’ll encourage people to choose to do things instead of following others, being influenced, being dominated, carrying out orders, doing what everybody else does, doing what the mores dictate etc. Or rather, they’ll still do all that but we can pretend they don't.) Americans use “children must learn the consequences of making choices” to mean “behaviour we disapprove of will be punished severely”.

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.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Junk Statistics

You can prove anything with statistics - as long as you make them up.

Sex and Marriage

6 out of 10 women prefer chocolate to sex. (Fay Weldon in her latest book Sept 2006)

Men think about sex three times a second. (Latest figures say 19 times a day.)

43% of women experience sexual dysfunction.

50 per cent
of US marriages end in divorce. (Based on stats from one year - allegedly.)
One in three marriages ends in divorce? Not true. The risk of divorce varies hugely according to age, class and length of marriage. Once you've survived the first seven years, the risk of divorce drops dramatically. Marriage kills passion? Not true. People in long-term relationships have more and better sex than single people. A lack of commitment is to blame for relationships breaking down? Not true. On average, couples stick together for six years before taking steps to bail out. Kate Figes, Guardian January 16, 10

[Some amazingly high number of women] don’t have orgasms through penetration alone.

80% of conceptions are spontaneously aborted. (junk or questionable according to bloke quoted in New Scientist)

Child obesity has doubled in the last 10 years.

60% of young people don’t know that milk comes from a cow or eggs from chickens.

A generation of children knows virtually nothing about history. Michael Gove Nov 2011

Only 50% of French schoolchildren know about the Holocaust, the French education minister admitted last week. Marcel Berlins, Guardian February 20, 2008

48 percent of schoolchildren don’t know why we celebrate Easter/have never heard of the Holocaust.

A recent poll showed that 43% of the population have no idea what Easter celebrates, with the young most clueless. Polly Toynbee, Guardian April 14, 2006

One in four children are not the offspring of their supposed fathers. (…though nonpaternity rates of 10 percent and higher have routinely been cited in studies and textbooks, these numbers turn out to have little solid data behind them. Among the estimated rates they found: More than 30 percent — obtained from a researcher's remarks at a 1972 symposium on medical ethics, referring to a study (apparently conducted decades earlier in a single English town) that was never completed, much less published. 20 to 30 percent — from another aging and unpublished UK study; and 7 to 14 percent — from a 1990 study that relied (as later researchers would point out) not on any biology-based testing but on self-reporting by readers of a British women's magazine on the frequency and timing of their off-the-books intercourse.

Half of people under 30 don’t know how to boil or bake a potato (headline for piece about the Potato Marketing Board but the board didn’t quite say that)

A friend writes: Someone on this morning's Today show saying that some appallingly high percentage of "young people" think that peas and sweet corn are in season all year round... (May 29 09) 2 in 10 British people can’t recite any poetry (woman interviewed at Hay on Wye “I don’t get my students to learn poetry by heart – I don’t want to put them off it.” This is in the top ten silliest remarks of all time.) Or is it only 2 in 10 can?

Women, men
In the Renaissance, 50% of nobly born women were shut up in convents. Aristocratic families were loth to stump up dowries for more than one daughter. The rest were walled away. In Milan in the 1600s, three-quarters of the female nobility were cloistered.

75% of women wear bras that don’t fit

76 percent of women hate their bodies. Only one in 50 British women is happy with the way her body looks, a survey claims today. Evening Standard April 11 06 Grazia magazine poll found the average woman worried about her body every 15 minutes... while 29 per cent worried about their size and shape all the time... Grazia editor Jane Bruton said "98 per cent of British women hate their bodies.” 98% Carol Midgley Times January 13, 2011

Women utter 20,000 words a day, men 7,000.

Shakespeare had a vocabulary of 500 words, we use 3,000.


There are more Indian restaurants in London than in Mumbai and New Delhi combined. Sathnam Sanghera

Humans have only twice as many genes as the fly or worm. Humans have fewer genes than rice. (Or some other shockingly small number of genes.)

People tell an average of 10 lies a day More than four out of five people admit to telling little white lies at least once a day. Reuters, December 28 2006 (Or is it three lies every ten minutes?)

Approximately 75% of all CVs have some form of embellishment and 25% contain outright lies.

50% of all advertising is wasted.

The attention span of a TV viewer is only ten minutes. (Amazon review of Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy)

The average Briton is caught on CCTV camera 300 times a day. “England has more CCTV then rest of Europe put together!” Anna Minton in Ground Control (Research based on two streets and extrapolated - allegedly.)

It’s 90% appearance and body language, 7% what you say. Only 7% of communication is verbal.

All white Americans are 12% black and vice versa (probably more mixed than they had thought, but DNA testers revised their figures down)

80% of Americans think they have been anally probed by aliens. "It's about alien abduction, an issue they take far more seriously in America, where something like one in three people claims to have experienced it, anal probe and all." Spectator Jan 4 2003 (It’s more like 3%, one survey concluded.)


One-third of all murders in England and Wales are "domestic." (BBC)

Two women in England and Wales killed by partner or ex-partner each week. Most are killed after repeated, escalating violence. (Home Office)

75% of American teenagers who take the virginity pledge subsequently lapse.

40% of people who go to a therapist quit after one session.

55% of Britons have read less than a third of the books on their shelves; 10% haven’t read a single one (a poll says).

About 30% of people on singles dating sites are married. (true)