Saturday 29 December 2012

Grammar: Don't Waste Words

Be concise, not wordy – here's how.

Make your subject and object a thing or a person, not a long unwieldy clause.

That Britain has a problem with drink is highlighted not just by the figures, but by the fact that the government is busy devising a new strategy to address alcohol-related ill-health. (BBC February 20, 2012)

Make it: "Britain has a problem with drink, all right – the figures show it, and what's more the government is busy devising a new strategy to address alcohol-related ill-health." ("Britain" is now the subject, rather than "That Britain has a problem with drink". The bit about the figures is now in the active voice, not the passive, and we've lost some infill like "by the fact that".)

Turn passive to active. Make somebody do something. Write with nouns and verbs.

"Until that dispute is resolved the museum's plans for a show about the Ottomans will have to be put on hold."

Make it: "Until that dispute is resolved the museum must shelve its plans for a show about the Ottomans."

If your subject is “the museum”, rather than “the museum’s plans for a show about the Ottomans”, you can peak on the Ottomans - otherwise the sentence trails away in dull words like “will have to be”.)

"An attack on Israel by Iran won’t occur this year." = "Iran won’t attack Israel this year."

Cut out empty words (of, a, in, the, has, been, he, they, it, what, mean, thing). Pick ones that refer to something concrete, something in the real world, something you can picture. Imagine you are tearing out photos from a magazine and arranging them in order.

Replace “to have” and “to be” with active verbs.

is a threat to = threatens
there have been growing rumours = rumours have spread
be of benefit to = benefit

Simplify. Cut to the chase.
Answer the question “Who did what to whom?”. Don’t start a paragraph: “The good news is that…”, “The thing I particularly like about this book is…”, “The trouble with that is that it is…” “One reason for that may be that the”, “The only question is whether or not…”, “One of the most interesting things about the X is that it does Y” or “Part of the reason for the X’s popularity is that it does Y”. (The X does Y, which could be why people buy it.)

Avoid constructions that use a lot of “has beens” and “to bes”. Especially not: “That would mean it having to be...”.

"This would have meant that shareholders would have had to have been taken into consideration."

Make it: “This would mean considering shareholders.”

One word can often stand in for a long verb with lots of bits:

"This approach often gave the restored buildings an empty appearance they had probably never previously had, or been meant to have."

Make it: "This approach often gave the restored buildings a spurious and anachronistic emptiness."

We peak on “emptiness” rather than trailing away with “or been meant to have”. You can picture “emptiness” – boring words like “or been meant to have” call up no image.

Bothered by ending a sentence with a preposition? Choose a non-compound verb:

pay no attention to = ignore

You can do a lot with an adverb:

"This made Galton a towering figure in the prehistory of counting, without him ever intending to be one." (New Scientist, April 2011) 

"Quite unintentionally, Galton became a towering figure in the prehistory of counting."

Or an adjective: "This made the unsuspecting Galton a towering figure in the prehistory of counting."

are going to have to = must
are seemingly = seem

be of benefit to = benefit
brought about the end of = ended

come as a shock to many = shocked many
discover the whereabouts of = find, pinpoint
do damage to = damage

equip with, supply with = give
get smaller = dwindle
gets closer to = nears
give a new lease of life to = give new life to

has the effect of reducing = reduces
has to do with = concerns
have an effect on = affect
have been used as inspiration for = have inspired
he decided to leave = he left
he delivered a broadside against = he attacked
he embraced a nomadic life = he wandered
he was lacking in ambition = he lacked ambition

in the meantime = meanwhile
is going to have to be = must be
is opposed to = opposes

make use of = use
managed to survive = survived
partially = partly
put a check on = check
put a stop to = stop

reached peak intensity = peaked
responded by saying = retorted

saw fit to refuse = refused
served as the inspiration for = inspired
serves to underline = underlines
subject them to persecution = persecute them

tell the story of = narrate
the drawing up of = drawing up
the good news is that there's a free buffet = there's a free buffet
the government's advice to parents is = the government advises parents
the workshops were intended to be a way of enabling artists to earn a living = were intended to enable artists to earn a living
the way to deal with that = the solution
they are sceptical = they doubt
this is what has created = this created
those who had been treated = those treated
took a tour of = toured

was the inspiration for = inspired
were the only ones who had put no weight back on = who hadn't regained weight
while also helping to make the den more waterproof = while waterproofing the den
with the help of = aided by

Monday 24 December 2012

Inspirational Quotes 27

Don't forget: you should never think about what other people are thinking about you.

There is a sharp transition… from single adult to married adult.

Each stage has a certain optimal time. It is no use trying to rush children into adulthood, as is so common among people obsessed with success. Neither is it possible to slow the pace or to try to protect our children from the demands of life.

Our families mostly just reflect our society and culture.

Some family members can be swallowed by the others and not allowed a separate identity. (paraphrase)

Withdrawing families… most notable for [their] cool indifference, if not cold hatefulness. (Common among bourgeoisie and in northern Europe.) Parents are very demanding of children… punishment is cold blooded, done “for your own good”. A culture may use guilt and withdrawal of affection.

Self image develops between four and six. This is… the me as others see me. This is the impression I make on others, my look, my social esteem or status, my sexual identity.

The single most important thing seems to be social acceptance. If you do not have a circle of friends, in the teenage world you are nothing. For many teenagers, whether they are isolated is due to a family move or social inhibition, physical abnormalities or not meeting local standards of attractiveness, not being accepted is a cause of depression and sometimes suicide…

Ego identity means knowing who you are and how you fit in to the rest of society. It requires that you [mold a suitable self image] that your community finds meaningful.

(All by psychologist Erik Erikson)

Social awkwardness is what we feel when the situation threatens our goal of being accepted by others.

Moments of feeling awkward... included times when participants didn't know what was expected of them or what the social rules were.

When a social norm was broken (e.g. one person interrupted another; someone infringed on another's personal space).

A social standard wasn't obtained (e.g. a person stumbled with their speech, there was a long silence).

Norms around eating were broken (e.g. spilling food from mouth while eating).

Negative social judgements were made by one person towards another, either explicitly or implicitly (e.g. by pulling a face).

When names were forgotten or people weren't recognised.

There were also five kinds of moment when social awkwardness plunged. This included: when people were sharing common interests, when one person helped another, when one person was positive about another, and humour. It's notable that a lot of the humour was actually about social awkwardness - joking about it seemed to make it go away.
(BPS Research Digest)

There's a hunger for countries to understand how they're perceived by others. (@humayusuf)

After a month or so, ask your partner if they’re still dating others. If they’re not – and you’re not either – you can then easily talk about dating each other exclusively. (Relationship expert from

Great human cliches: a single man approaching 30 finding his reservoir of drinking partners evaporating. (@entschwindet)

English is not about what you say, but how you say it. German is both, but more the former… As for saying what you mean, Germans have rightly realised that sugar coating is best reserved for cakes. (How to Be German in 20 Easy Steps,

Stalin hated ideas. Stalin hated anything he couldn’t control. (Museum Secrets)

One purpose of your brain is to anticipate events. You decide how to behave largely on the basis of the outcomes you expect, and these expectations alter your experience of yourself and the world. (New Scientist, 6 Oct 2012)

Inspirational Quotes 26

Inspirational Mantras 2
More Inspirational Mantras here

Inspirational Quotes 24

Inspirational Quotes 23

Inspirational Quotes 22
Inspirational Quotes 21
Inspirational Quotes 20
More here and here and here. And here. And here too. Yet more here.

Friday 21 December 2012

80s Decor III

When will we get the V and A retrospective, 80s fans? If you can't wait, visit for some fabulous art by Scott Nellis (above) and B.B. La Femme.

Bolted-together scaffolding with chickenwire panels
Sheets of aluminium with holes like offcuts from some industrial process
Mugs printed with large green graph paper
Red-framed spectacles
Wire bins
of hardboard with holes in to hang things off (with coloured pegs and wire hooks)
Metal bunk beds with built-in desks
Butcher’s hooks to hang your kitchen equipment from
Design inspiration: punched paper tape from old computers

30s Oriental
Black lacquer furniture
Pink-tinted mirrors (and pink-tinted mirror furniture)
Acetate kimono
Lily motifs
Ombre flowers
imitating silk paintings (especially on black-rimmed coffee cups)
bamboo chairs
Huge red fans
on the wall
Japanese square lampshades
Low black Chinese style tables with curved legs. 
Art and lanterns with Chinese characters (for Life, Health, Happiness).
Black and gold basketwork wallpaper
Coolie-hat lampshades
Chinese-style latticework
Rattan furniture
Tropical houseplants
Japanese parasols

Random trends
Orange-stained woodwork

Art involving humorous sheep
Art involving saucer hats
Art combining blue skies, clouds and checkerboard floors

Yet more 80s decor.

More 80s decor here.

Similes Part 2

A nuclear power station mixed with an insect

The Mayan Calendar just looks like a complicated biscuit. (@FunkButcher)

The sanctuary of Rivendell still resembles a tacky New Age spa. (New Statesman, Dec 2012)

So I discovered last night the RAC Club is brimful of cringing realist art featuring cars & chaps. Like birthday cards for dads.  (@mwhitfield80)

Looks like someone’s taken the British Museum and stuck a hearse on the back. (Rory McGrath on the Rolls)

Amazing cathedral in Liverpool – like a nuclear power station mixed with an insect. (@GeorgeVasey on Paddy’s Wigwam)

Like a bulldog chewing a wasp. (Somebody on the beautiful Angela Lansbury)

The News International complex, looking like the central air-conditioning unit for the planet. (Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island)

He looked proud, like a spaniel who had unexpectedly retrieved a dodo. (Margery Allingham, The Case of the Late Pig)

Sounded like two skeletons fighting on a tin roof.

By nice, my mother means the sorts of clothes that faintly resemble the staff uniforms of building society employees in the early 90s: pastel, understated floral patterns in washing machine-friendly artificial fibres. (Steerforth, The Age of Uncertainty)

Trying to use Google Translate on a Ukrainian document - the result reads like a Japanese VCR instruction manual from the 1980s.  (@ianvisits)

Similes Part 2
More similes here.

Monday 17 December 2012

More Found Haiku

Nothing has quite the pathos

of early 90s jazz/funk/pop 

wafting gently across

a neglected airport departure lounge.
Douglas Murphy, 2011)

The autumn leaves float in the puddle

while the denuded tree
casts its reflection in the pool.

Sharing more leads to
Tighter bonds - even in the
World of molecules.
(New Scientist, Oct 2012)

The ocean scares me.
It's so big and you can
barely see.
Suddenly a shark
could swim into view
and grab you.

When walking home,
a series of sights –
a smoking schoolgirl,
a chained-up bike –
are overwhelming in their impact.
Everything I see
reminds me of something else,
but something just out of reach.
(Eva Wiseman, The Guardian, 2012, on migraine auras)

Early morning at the Cape:
Birdsong. Crickets.The thrum of raindrops
on the roof. Jitters.
(Jeff Chu, author of Does Jesus Really Love Me?)

At Birling Gap earlier,
a low cloud/mist rolled past from nowhere.
Pretty eerie.
(Ben Jones/@Ben_Patio)

In the gloom of the rain
the butterfly bush's purple flowers
are almost neon purple.
(@ElizabethBastos/Goody Bastos)

More here.

Sunday 16 December 2012

Yet More Predictions for 2013

Bad role model

Someone or some thing will be fingered as a bad role model for young girls.

The media will tell us that:

Etiquette is a thing of the past/undergoing a revival – we visited an etiquette school!

Alternative medicine is no longer the province of cranks.

Children don’t learn to read as fast or as well as we would like. Many adults are illiterate.

Embarrassed men buy lingerie for their wives/girlfriends at Xmas. The wives/girlfriends return it because it’s too small/exchange it for a bedjacket.

People are going in for “hook-ups” rather than relationships.

It is/isn’t OK for a woman to eat alone in a restaurant now. (It isn’t even OK for a woman to eat alone in a café.)

Nobody sits down to eat any more.

Nobody talks about “spinsters” any more. Women don’t need to get married now they can have jobs, unlike in the olden days (when women worked on farms, as servants, cooks, factory workers, nannies, shop assistants, miners, herring gutters, stone breakers, seamstresses, dancers, actresses etc etc etc).

TV ads treat men as lovable idiots.

We are entering a new age of superstition.

Motherhood is denigrated.

Young women aspire to marry rich men (copying those "bad role models").

More predictions for 2013.

More predictions for 2013, 2012, 2011.

Saturday 15 December 2012

More Predictions for 2013

The advent of "hashtag activism" has been greeted with breathless claims about the birth of a new form of technology-based social movement. Wordspy

The year will start with journos writing about how they failed “the” January detox after a few days.

It will end with journos moaning about Christmas starting too early and getting too consumerist while simultaneously whining about the recession, the decline of manufacturing and the decay of the high street.

In any discussion of equal marriage or minority rights, someone will say “Guys! It’s 2013!”

There will be endless discussions about equal marriage, but legal rights will never be mentioned. More information here. And here's the difference between being married and living together.

People will get upset about something utterly trivial, like Comic Sans. And they'll threaten to shoot anyone who confuses "your" and "you're" (not a capital crime even under the Black Act of 1723).

There will be a new exercise craze.
There will be a new superfood.
There will be a new diet fad (bring back grapefruit).

The French will ban some baby names.

Discovery will make a programme about the leaning tower of Pisa.

Archaeologists will find that Neanderthals, not Homo sapiens, invented (dugout canoes, philosophy, cooking, art, jewellery, poetry, writing etc etc etc). Americans will use "Homo sapien" as a singular.

Scientists will find that animals have some attribute previously thought to be unique to humans.
Writers will claim that all kinds of things are the one “that makes us human”.

The following arguments will be had:
Halloween is a ghastly American import – no actually it’s Scottish.

Flanders poppies – newsreaders start wearing them too early - grief inflation – diktat – jingoistic - originally anti-war? All BBC staff forced to wear them!

Flu jabs are useless – out of date – mismanaged - essential.

Journalists will misunderstand average age of death (everyone in the olden days died really young, yeah?).

Journalists will refer to women as a “minority”. (According to the 2011 census women outnumber men in the UK by almost a million.)

Journalists have given up pretending not to understand Twitter, but they will complain about hashtags and outrage.

Young journalists will write articles about the amazing changes the world has seen in the last 10 years, and how dim and unreconstructed we were a decade ago. They will also predict a “revival” of some garment that was fashionable three years ago. They will talk about the 90s as if they were a remote geological era (“back in 96”).

“They” will do something awful to the countryside.

Young people will need to be called to order and taught how to behave in the world of work. The middle classes will run round in circles wailing that the sky is falling because children speak jafakin/write in text speak/copy the Tellytubbies/watch too much telly/don’t watch telly any more/watch telly and text at the same time. They will completely forget last year’s panic about something that is now an unnoticed part of life.

Illiteracy will increase – not like in our young day when we learned the three Rs.

Volume builders will build houses with windows even smaller than last year’s.

Someone will write an article claiming that:
If you don’t wash your hair, after six weeks it cleans itself – our intrepid reporter gave it a try.
Therapy has lost its stigma.
British food has improved in the last ten years.
Women don’t need to get married any more (see links above about marriage rights).
Britons love bizarre sports like bog-snorkelling.
Today’s fashions are more about healthy hair than elaborate “dos”.
Women experience period pains in silence.
Women suffering miscarriages get no sympathy.
Women giving birth are ill-treated.

More predictions for 2013, 2012, 2011.

Predictions for 2013

Portrait of a serial killer

Columnists will recycle old articles moaning about mobile phones, computers, typewriters, ITV into whinges about Facebook (Why I Don’t Use Facebook, Why I Don’t Let My Daughter Use Facebook, Why I Have Left Facebook, Why I Am Joining Facebook Five Years After Everybody Else, Why Facebook Is Dead).

A television historian will opine that children should learn British history which will make them proud of their country. (Kings and Queens, not social reformers.)

Girls will outdo boys at GCSE. The press will report as if it was a BAD thing.

We’ll be promised a “new ladylike look for autumn” as a corrective to the tarty chav clothes we’ve been wearing all summer.

A politician will suggest restructuring the NHS.

Teenagers will invent their own language incomprehensible to anybody over 20. Adults will predict dire consequences, and several people will say "Language has got to evolve".

Journalists will exclaim over some “new” internet acronym that has been around for decades – and will claim that it’s “youthspeak”.

There will be a nine days’ wonder about the media.

Someone will say that a new film/TV prog/book “Shows that women can be funny after all!”

A school will ban an extreme hairstyle.

The media will tell us that:
Girls grow up too fast these days.
The NHS is failing old people who can’t feed or wash themselves.
There is bullying in care homes for the disabled.
You can cook with flowers.
Welfare money lies unclaimed because people don't know what they're entitled to. If they do know, the claiming procedures are so Kafkaesque they give up.
Police don't interfere in "domestics".
Masculinity is in crisis.
Rape victims should get better treatment.
The January "detox" is just too hard.
Spousal abuse happens in all levels of society.
Fashion houses are making bigger sizes and using larger models.
The pale and interesting look is back – and so are knitting and zeppelins.
People expect too much from marriage (“it’s not happy ever after”).
Internet dating has lost its stigma.
X% of women are wearing the wrong size bra.
It’s OK to be single – and holiday at the seaside.

Predictions for 2011.
Predictions for 2012.

Twitter Haiku

Sometimes Tweeters tweet 
haiku by chance, like scattered
autumn maple leaves.

Here are a few. In
no particular order.
Hope that you like them.

I want to be a Sea Otter,
wrap myself in kelp
and snooze while being rocked
by the motion of the ocean.

I want to be dead
and buried in a skeleton
garden, underground.
kattunge ‏@CaTs_4_ChRiSt

Waiting / languishing /
a rose / is still a rose / a rose
a rose / still waiting / waiting / waiting ...

A lone bird starts singing.
Realises no one else is
and stops.
Suzanne ‏@glittrgirl

Today - wrasse, cup corals
and hermit crabs in
pelican foot shells.

Profoundly overcast depopulated streets. 
Pigeons lingering vacantly up a leaf-strewn alley,
old garage doors mute & dream-like.

Regen auf schneebedeckte Straßen.
Kein Auto fährt,
keine Gassigeher brüllen nach Hunden.
Ist das diese Romantik,
von der alle reden?

(Rain on snowy roofs. Quiet.
No cars.
Nobody calling to a dog.
Is that what you call romantic?)

The birds have vanished down the sky.

Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and I,

until only the mountain remains.
Li Po

Sunday 9 December 2012

Whatever Happened To...? 18

afro combs

who liked to abduct people

apple cider vinegar (Its availability in health shops clearly had no connection at all to the folksy paperbacks puffing its curative properties.)

Apple disc mice and the tinny little keyboards that came with them (They were both useless and disappeared very, very quickly but not before at least one person said “Get used to them, they’re the future”.)

baking parchment
Black and White whisky
black strap molasses
and black treacle generally

bonkers feminist rhetoric full of long words (Back, unfortunately, in this feminist revival we seem to be having.)

book clubs
Boots prints (maidens by JH Lynch, swans, ballerinas in tutus, shafts of light striking through breaking waves, beaches, swans, horses… Where can I find pictures?)

Brylcreem (Unlike Brylcreem, which had reigned supreme since the Roaring Twenties, Vitalis contained no grease and left the hair looking more like hair and less like the aftermath of an oil change.

bus-ticket machines (“Any more fares, please?”)

camera phones
(All phones have cameras now.)
car showrooms on high streets
Clearasil (Kyboshed by that rule that said you can’t sell medicated make-up.)
coal bunkers (under the pavement)
coal carts (and coal sacks)
collar stiffeners
congress tarts
(a type of artificial fabric)
cotton handkerchiefs
Cow and Gate
Crawford’s biscuits
cucumber relish
and hamburger relish in general
Cyril Lord (gent's outfitter)

Damien Hirst
(His star is falling.)
dolly birds
Dorothy bags
Dr Wernet’s tooth powder
(fewer people have all their teeth extracted)
earth colours
(for walls and woodwork, 70s)

flans (with a cake base and tinned apricots)
floor-standing collapsible wood and canvas sewing stands (Amazon)
floor-standing folders for the Radio Times
flyposting (the Internet)

(no good at reading character)
group therapy
gypsy tart
(the centre is made of condensed milk and brown sugar)

hairstyles that flattered your face shape (They all involved setting your hair on rollers and made you look much, much plainer. They were probably combined with “spectacle frames that flattered your face shape”. Small square glasses were not hip in those days.)

having to remember phone numbers
health farms
(they became spas)
Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle Henry Stapp of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California is one of the few physicists who still subscribe to this notion: we are "participating observers" whose minds cause the collapse of superpositions... There are many objectors. (New Scientist Sept 2012 Very popular in the 70s, but nobody appeared to live as if they really believed that we "create our own reality".)

idea that eating tuna is cruel to dolphins, or contaminated with mercury, or something
idea that energy-saving bulbs should be very dim (100 Watts? You planet slayer!)
idea that typing chairs should slope forward

ink eradicator
Irish coffee
(and going on about how you have to pour the cream over a spoon)
jewellery in the shape of horsehoes
(health and safety - the seeds are poisonous)
large square biscuit tins
laundry vans

leather covers for the Radio Times
(With elaborate tooling or leather embroidery. Why couldn’t you just leave the Radio Times lying about? Would it get tatty and tea-stained? Went with the kind of interior that had linen cushion covers and traycloths embroidered with crinoline ladies in cottage gardens with hollyhocks.)

lefty “carnivals” with drumming, stilt-walking, fire eating, juggling and unicyclists (They lost their funding.)

Mallcolm Lowry
(especially minute steak)
Mensa (still going)
mink coats
models printed on cornflake packets
(insert tab A into slot B)

nylon overalls in the shape of a coat (pale blue with a dark blue collar – also in green or salmon)
old-fashioned cheese salad
paper windmills on sticks
patent corkscrews
that were sooooooo easy to use (screwcaps)
peashooterspeople who warned that the Internet would never happen/would somehow be a bad thing (and they saw it as “connecting networks”)

Peter Dominic (wine merchant)
(When did the last man smoke the last pipe?)
Portakabins (like Prefabs, they were used as offices for years either singly or in stacks.)
premium-rate phone lines
radio phone-ins
(now Twitter)

sack races, egg and spoon races
(for children to play in)
Sidney Nolan (Australian painter)
soap figures of animals that grew “fur”
Stephen Leacock (humorous US writer)
sugar sifters (“Who sifts sugar any more?” Tim Wonnacott)

talcum powder
the fragility of the male ego

the South Coast Cast Concrete Company
The Times airmail edition
tickertape, telexes

Victor Lewis Smith (Radio4 “funny” man)
whistling (iPods)
white highlighter on the brow bone
whiting (fried baby fish – 80s posh food)
William Gaddis (American writer)
wine boxes with taps
More here, and links to the rest.

Inspirational Quotes 26

Social behaviour is so subtle and nuanced that it can't possibly be put into words. And there are no rules! So why do people keep writing to agony aunts to find out what the rules are? They don't count, because they're just a few pathetic inadequates. (So some say.)

Have just been told off by a stranger for walking on the wrong side of the pavement. Seems I breached Dutch pedestrian etiquette. (‏@raganello)

"To be a  Communist," the East End-born Marxist historian Raphael Samuel (1934-96) recalled, "was to have a complete social identity, one which  transcended the limits of class, gender and nationality."

Acting gave me a life. (David Morrissey)

How to find a partner in Japan, from reddit.comDress nice and stand in front of a map looking lost. This is the best way to meet people in Japan without having any friends. You will attract people with decent English skills who are interested in you. If you like them then thank them and ask for their email. If you don't then thank them and be on your way.  Bars aren't that great for meeting nice relationship-type guys for the same reasons they aren't great in the US. Pretty much, the way to meet people is through friends. Those little dating groups. You bring x number of boys, I will bring x number of girls and we will see who connects kind of things. Dress nice, smile, have good mannerisms and hygiene, and never raise your voice.
Before the children at my school broke me of it, I had a lot of crazy idealistic notions. Both my parents were social workers, and I read a lot of books in which good triumphed over evil and people loved you for your inner beauty. (Rebecca Golden, Times Aug 16 06, on losing weight)

I used to dislike going to networking events too so I started telling myself that if I went, all I had to do was stay fifteen minutes; if I didn’t like it, I could leave. Sometimes I do leave after just fifteen minutes, but most of the time I end up finding someone I like talking to or start having a great time and staying. (Caitlin McCabe, Founder & CEO, Real Bullets Branding)

What is it about late capitalism that allows a profitable literary industry to be built on telling us we should appreciate simple pleasures, get back in touch with nature, express ourselves creatively, attend to human relationships rather than material things, come to terms with our mortality, and so on? (Sam Leith, G January 2012)

His acting career had become what he termed "an expensive luxury". (Guardian obit of speaking clock voice Brian Cobby, Nov 2012)

I’m so glad I learned how to make small talk. Cashiers, waiters, people in line, receptionists, girl in book store, etc. You’ll be surprised how willing they are to chat, you’ve become the person that breaks the monotony of their day and they will remember you for the rest of the day. So take it upon yourself to: Go to a random pub, talk to a random stranger, become a regular at a gym, try things at random, if you hear some people you know going out, ask if you can tag along, don’t be that guy that expects to get a call, be proactive, take charge and be in control. (

Inspirational Quotes 25

Inspirational Mantras 2
More Inspirational Mantras here

Inspirational Quotes 24

Inspirational Quotes 23

Inspirational Quotes 22
Inspirational Quotes 21

More here and here and here. And here. And here too. Yet more here.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Reasons to Be Cheerful IV

Yes, things were much better in the good old days. Weren't they?

1000 Paganism banned in Iceland. Ban lifted 1874, Asatru religion given legal recognition 1973

Trains are now much cleaner than they used to be and staff generally more patient and helpful. Ticket people always say please and thank you, bless them, and you can eat the food. (Bill Bryson, Notes from a Small Island, 1995)

We bought a flat in Primrose Hill because Camden was the only council who would lend money to unmarried couples. (Iain Sinclair)

Alcohol consumption has fallen by more than 15% since the licensing laws were relaxed in 2004. (Christopher Snowdon/‏@cjsnowdon)

It’s inconceivable now, but in 1962 I had to get my husband’s permission before I could open a bank account. (Philanthropist Stephanie Shirley)

1660 Cock throwing on Shrove Tuesday banned by the Puritans. Popularity waned, and it died out circa the 1840s. Goose pulling with live geese banned in the Netherlands 1920s (they use a dead one). Was popular in the States, but died out c. the 1870s.

1854 Oxford University Reform Act enables Jews to take degrees

1856 Cambridge University Reform Act abolished the religious test for graduation (subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England).

1869 and 1870 Acts were passed allowing atheists to give evidence in court without swearing Christian oaths

1882 Married Women's Property Act gave married women rights over their own property. Previously, although in the marriage service the man said “With all my worldly goods I thee endow”, all her property became his (unless it had been cleverly tied up beforehand).

1891 First black Catholic priest ordained in US.

1916 The presumed inferiority of women entered Church Law especially through the Decretum Gratiani (1140 AD), which became official Church law in 1234 AD, a vital part of the Corpus Iuris Canonici that was in force until 1916. ( It stated that a wife is subject to her husband “by nature”, and that women are not created in the image of God.

1935 First woman visits Antarctica

1956 and 1968 Clean Air Acts

1959 Shortly after his election Pope John XXIII interrupted a Good Friday liturgy when one of the celebrants included the word “perfidis” in the prayer for the Jews. John had the prayer repeated with the word omitted. On 19 May 1959, Pope John XXIII ordered that the word "faithless" (Latin: perfidis) be removed from the prayer for the conversion of the Jews.

‏1962 Distinction between pros and amateurs abolished in England cricket

1962-65 Vatican II allows Catholics to go to non-Catholic weddings, funerals and services.

1966 Catholic Index of Prohibited Books abolished (Anne Rice said that as a Catholic she wasn’t allowed to read Camus and Sartre and longed to.)

1967 Catholic priests in Britain, previously forbidden to attend the theatre, heard this week that the ban is to be lifted. The decision was taken by the Bishops at their meeting last month in Liverpool As a result British priests will have no stricter rules than their colleagues in other countries, namely to abide by Canon Law 140, which forbids them attending any performance unbecoming of their station and liable to cause scandal. What this means is left to the priest's own discretion and presupposes mature judgment on his part. Previously, the clergy faced suspension from their clerical activities if they went to the theatre. As far back as 1803 Bishop John Milner, Apostolic Vicar for the Midland District. complained of this ruling because he said it was ambiguous. When the first Westminster Synod convened in 1852 it tried to soften the ruling a little by using the phrase "stage spectacles" to cover forbidden forms of entertainment. The law is thought to have been rarely. if ever, invoked, but it did exist on the books as a deterrent. Some priests have avoided getting into trouble by attending dress rehearsals instead of the actual performance. Pointing out how the law belonged to another age. when the theatre was always considered naughty at best and no fit place for a priest. Cardinal Heenan in an "ad clerum" to hi: priests says that it was made "before the advent of radio, television or even the cinema." (Catholic Herald)

Late 60s: Restaurants admit women wearing trousers

1971 Swiss women get the vote

1978 Mormon Church ends ban on black lay priests

1979 Homosexuality declassfied as an illness in Sweden.

1981 The IOC gets its first female member

1995 Duelling outlawed in Uruguay

At the beginning of 2007 UCAS (the universities central admission service) offered 45 different BSc degrees in quackery, at 16 universities. Now (2012) there are only 24 such degrees. Degrees in homeopathy, naturopathy and "nutritional therapy", reflexology and aromatherapy have vanished altogether from UCAS. (Edzard Ernst)

2008 311 years after the last man in Britain was hanged for blasphemy, the common-law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are abolished in England and Wales

2012: The Augusta National golf club admits its first women members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore (first black member 1990). 

2012 First man graduates as a nanny

2003 In the UK, bestiality ceases to be punishable by life imprisonment

1998 Judicial corporal punishment abolished in Jamaica. But corporal punishment is still legal in schools, the home and the penal system.

Reasons to be less than cheerful:

1401 Henry IV passes a law condemning heretics to be burnt alive (repealed 1553, reintroduced by Henry VIII)

1576 The age of sexual consent for women was set in England. It was set at ten. (@TourGuideGirl)

1627 Death of the last aurochs in Poland's Jactorowka Forest

1723 An Act of Parliament makes it punishable by death to be “found in a forest while disguised”, among around 50 other offences. It was repealed in 1823.

1836 The Jewish community of Rome sent a petition to  Pope Gregory XVI begging him to stop the annual Saturnalia abuse of the Jewish community. He responded, “It is not opportune to make any innovation.” Rome's Ghetto was demolished in the 1880s. (

1834, 1836, 1841, 1848, 1849, 1851, 1853, 1856, and 1857 Various measures to remove Jewish disabilities, as well as measures to alter the oath required of persons elected to Parliament, met the same end: passage in the Commons, defeat in the  Lords. (The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000, Todd M. Endelman)

1896 No women competed in the 1896 Olympics, as it was felt that their inclusion would be "impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and incorrect." (@MrGeorgeClarke)

Homosexual sex is illegal in China.

Same-sex marriage, adultery and cohabitation are illegal in the state of Virginia.

In the UK one third of state-funded schools are faith based. (Wikipedia)

Six US states ban atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas (It gets worse. )

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew’s (established 1754) remains men-only.

Men who have never married are 10 percentage points more likely to fall from the middle class than married men. Women who have never married are 17.6 percentage points more likely to fall than married women. According to estimates from the Census Bureau, 18 percent of men ages 40 to 44 with less than four years of college have never married, up from 6 percent 25 years ago. Declines in marriage rates are taking place across all education levels, pointing to a increasing problem for people staying within the middle class. (Pew research)

More Reasons to be Cheerful here.

Yet More Reasons to Be Cheerful.
More Reasons to Be Cheerful... ish.
More Reasons to Be Cheerful here, here and here.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Inspirational Quotes 25

Ask a British person for a date, and they are more likely to hand you a dried fruit. British people do not date. They pull. This rather more violent verb conveys the more chaotic approach to romance than you might have known in your home country. The British method of coupling is as follows: go to a party, get extremely drunk, drunkenly kiss someone you have been making eyes at for some time but obviously never spoke to because you were sober then, go home with them, move in with them the next day, marry them. Hadley Freeman in The Guardian February 17, 2010

It’s about a girl who doesn’t have to develop a personality because she’s cute. Robbie Williams Sept 2012

[Cigarette ads] show people in relationships, having a great time, they suggest that if you smoke our cigarettes you’ll be successful. BBC World Service, September 2012

Confidence is like character and personality, it’s code for having remade yourself to society’s requirements. (Lorraine on ITV)

Try and give the compliment in a timely manner - don't wait until she is getting in a taxi to compliment her dress, for example, do so when you first meet her. A spontaneous response always feels more genuine. Debrett’s online (That's right - plan your spontaneity.)

He's a geezer, he keeps in with people, he makes friends. Terry Pratchett on the Artful Dodger (hero of his new novel)

It can help to give them some conversational gambits for the first few days in the playground, even if it’s just what primary school they went to. The Times on starting secondary school, Sept 2012

“I realised the bohemian life was not for me. I would look around at my friends, living like starving artists, and wonder, 'Where’s the art?’ They weren’t doing anything. And there was so much interesting stuff to do, so much fun to be had… maybe I could even quit renting.”
P.J. O'Rourke

And [happiness guru] Seligman's ideas on focusing your energies on what comes naturally, rather than fighting to be good at things that don't, sticks too. Independent June 10

A 1990 study by psychologist Bill Flanagan showed that liars who had worked out the details of their stories beforehand had significantly more success than those who hadn't. Psychology Today

Inspirational Mantras 2
More Inspirational Mantras here
Inspirational Quotes 25
Inspirational Quotes 23
Inspirational Quotes 22
Inspirational Quotes 21

More here and here and here. And here. And here too. Yet more here.

Monday 26 November 2012

Overheards II

I think this is a genre. How many actually happened?

OH in Bloomsbury: "Now, Ethan, we're going to Waitrose, so prepare yourself." (@Highgatemums)

In Waitrose the discipline is of a more passive aggressive nature. Mother to son, as once genuinely overheard: Yes, Oscar, I know it’s your birthday but no, you still can’t have Wotsits. (Deborah Ross, Times magazine, 3 Sept 2011)

Allegedly overheard: "Put that papaya down, Orlando!" And: "Oh no, I’ve got pesto on my gilet!"

O/H shouted at child in buggy in Elephant & Castle shopping centre: "Serenity, seriously, will you shut the f*** up." (@giles_fraser)

Overheard in Sainsburys Muswell Hill: Harry, you're behaving like an amoeba. (@IntervalThinks - trusted source)

Making ladybirds at the marvellous Stratford Discovery centre. Mother to 5 year old girl: "Very good, but it's not exactly SYMMETRICAL." (@DrMatthewSweet - and if you can't trust him, whom can you trust?)

People are making them up now:While shopping at Waitrose I overheard a 6yr old say to his dad.... "Daddy does Lego have a 't' at the end like Merlot?" (@Keith_Floyd_)

Almost as good as "Sebastian, get a bloody move on, the salad's wilting" overheard in the veg aisle of Waitrose (Jim Atkins ‏@JimityJim)

Overheard in Waitrose, Southsea. Child whining "But Mummy I really really want a Mango". (

In Henley on Thames Waitrose, I overheard "Tabitha darling, please pick up some soap for the guest cottage." (

But I really did hear: Precious! Ave you seen Angel?

And at Glyndebourne: He couldn’t be more crude. Absolutely no sophistication at all. And (with great smugness): You see, I can't do Twitter.

She's my sister; just let her live her life.
(Tom Fisher)

Overheard on the tube: It's really futuristic. That style is NOW. It's really futuristic. (@wendyg)

Overheard on Prince Street: Up jumped the devil in a pink tuxedo! (@Luxlotus)

On the train from Dublin to Belfast: I was the first single woman in Belfast to get a dishwasher.

Just overheard 2 women on bus. 1 said "I always keep a tomato in the house." The other replied "Yes, you can't go far wrong with a tomato." (@RichardWiseman)

Overheard in Colinton restaurant: All those tops that you wear with jeggings and treggings you can wear with a pencil skirt too. (@ElspethMurray)

Overheard on the tube yesterday: "They probably respect you behind your back". I never discovered who "they" were but I suspect they don't. (The Brig ‏@Terry_Hayward)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Misunderstandings II

Macaroni penguins were “named after a group of flamboyant dressing men (often with dyed hair) of the 1700s who traveled from England to Italy (and ate pasta) and were called 'Macaroni Dandies'.” ( They were named, says Nigel Marven, “after the 18th century English dandies who'd been to Italy on their grand tours and come back with pasta and yellow streaky hair” ( (Macaroni just meant a dandy - no pasta involved.)

Trotsky was killed with an ice pick, a shortened “mountaineering instrument”, according to the Guardian (June 16, 2005), which the murderer had hidden under his clothes. Surely it was a small handheld instrument for breaking up blocks of ice to put in cocktails?

“There's a fear of telling this story because there's a fear it will be too depressing,” said Angela Workman, Bronte's writer and director. “There was great tragedy in their lives and they died young, but the lifespan for women in that region at that time was 25, and it occurred to me that the Brontes lived beyond that.” (That was the average age at death – you have to count children who died in infancy, and women who lived to old age, like the Brontes’ 70-plus servant.) In May 2012 the New Scientist says that people in the olden days only lived to 35, so marriage was only intended to last 15 years.

Meerschaum pipes are made out of seafoam? Meerschaum means seafoam, but it’s a kind of rock, regardless of what they may say on Flog It!

What would Iain Sinclair's ideal resemble? Railyards and pin-wheel poetry presses, certainly. (Robert Macfarlane, Guardian 15 July 2011) Does he mean daisy wheel? Or a cast-iron hand printing press worked by a huge wheel? A pinwheel is a firework.

“April is the cruellest month in Niigata: a cold muddy earth under a sullen leaden sky.” ( No, it’s the cruellest because it breeds lilacs out of the dead land. Just when you’d thought everything was safely dead, it gives you a sign of hope, or desperate nostalgia for the time when you were young in a lost world like Vienna before the First World War.

Poisoned mice being “parachuted in” to Guam to get rid of a plague of snakes became mice with individual tiny parachutes. (What would the mice do on landing? Hide the parachute under a bush?) The mice (laced with paracetamol, deadly to the snakes) were actually deceased, ex-mice and were chucked out of the planes. (BBC and others, May 2012)

More misunderstandings here.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Headlines II

Headlines are written by subs, not the author of the story. They are written in a strange language consisting of short words and cumulative adjectives ("Louth sausage costume mayor").  They aren't a title to the piece, but a desperate attempt to hook the reader's attention.

Louth Sausage Costume Mayor Faces Olympic Torch Row (BBC News July 5 12)

Illegal butt-lift surgeon "Black Madam" blamed for Brit girl’s death is arrested at "pumping party" in Philadelphia (OK it was a Tweet but we have to move with the times.)

Cross-eyed rioter who started £1m blaze in underwear shop is caught after police spot his eyes on CCTV
Group Seeks Hedgehog Climate Change Clues

Fish Foot Spa Virus Bombshell
(Sun, Oct 2011)

They're not all that exciting:

Man who Popularized Steel Hatch Cover Dies
Crochet Resumes Tuesday at Library
(Wilkes Barre Times)

Sometimes they're ambiguous (the Fortean Times has a regular collection called Extra! Extra!):

Man Not Responsible for Global Warming

Baldness Cure Secret Revealed by Mice
(yahoo, April 2012)
Red Squirrels Are Lottery Winners (Westmoreland Gazette, April 2012 via @annabelgiles)
Dog Helps Lightning Strike Redruth Mayor
Occupy Protesters Offered Free Speech Lessons

Red Squirrel Threatened by Rhododendrons in Dorset (Daily Mail)
Pole Seals Walk Treble (It was about a Polish competitive walker who won three races - BBC)

And I'm sure I once read this in the Guardian:

Crushed Kurds Give Way

And this:

Fish and Flash Were Nearly Fin for Family
(On a brief item about a fish preserved in formaldehyde – the tank broke and somehow the formaldehyde mixed with the Flash on the just-washed floor, giving off a deadly gas. Fin is the French for "end".)


Monday 19 November 2012

Neologisms 6

Unless you've been studying penguins in the Antarctic...

circling the plughole: doomed species or phenomenon

crag-fasted: stuck on a crag

Davison’s Doctor and his confluence of companions (

dissimilating: the opposite of assimilating

horse ballet: dressage

I'm really carbon-dating myself now, Bill. (Lord Coe on BBC Breakfast)

I’ll bet my left arm there’s narcotics in that bag. (Nothing to Declare)

iFatigue  The endless cycle of Apple products that are released at the pace of a rampaging water buffalo and have little to no practical advancements over the previous versions. (Dogears on Urban Dictionary, November 13 2012)

It’s not been any further east than Ramsgate. (Tim Wonnacott on Bargain Hunt, Sept 2012)

lolarious (@RopesToInfinity)

outlier responses (on graph)

preening nonachievement: Yet it is the failures who stand out and set the tone, none more so than Brian Howard, whose name has become a byword for preening nonachievement. “Expected, not least by himself, to write novels that would out-Firbank Firbank in their orchidaceous subtleties,” Taylor remarks, “he ended up a tragicomic turn in novels by other people.” (

read the funeral service over/last rites over (a phenomenon)

The “waterfall of words” defensive technique. (@hopisen)

The attempt to try and long-grass it for three years into the other side of the election is just not realistic. (Bojo on the Estuary airport, Aug 16 2012)

The government has already started to adjust the spigot. (New York Times on mainland Chinese immigration to Singapore, July 12)

the red light has been flashing on the Olympic dashboard for some time (BBC1 news)

They climbed on the bandwagon and fell off the other side.
truth is fallen in the street (Bible)

turn on the afterburners (Victoria Pendleton)

Universities don’t have rubber walls. (BBC Breakfast, Sept 2012)

Unless you’ve had your head in a haystack/been studying penguins in the Antarctic for the past three months you’ll know that…. and variations.

uranium's ever-present decay chain radio-daughters (wiki) (uranium and its radio-daughter radium)

vintique (@LadyKentmores)

Vortex of boring and proponent of the Ikea acting method, Kristen Stewart (@distant_angel)

We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes: we stumble at noonday as in the night; we are in desolate places as dead men. (Bible)

Wondered when the inevitable crow-barring in of the Beatles would happen (@distant_angel on the Olympics opening ceremony)

World War Three has stood at our doors with great patience. (@murraygold)

You are just indoctrinated with an anachronistic idea that cardigans don't suit men under the age of 70. Undoctrinate yourself, please. (Hadley Freeman, The Guardian, Sept 2012)

You’d be tiptoeing towards £550 a month. (Homes under the Hammer)

More neologisms and coinages here and here. And here, here, here and here. And here