Friday 24 February 2012

Whatever Happened To...? 12

“while you were out” notepads
art made from distorted polaroids of celebs
(you can probably do it in Photoshop but nobody does any more)

bank messengers

bath pearls

Beech Nut chewing gum
Bermuda Triangle
blue-rinsed hair (and pink and purple)

and the fad diet that went with it
circle dancing
citizen journalists –
they were going to render paid journalists obsolete by pouring words and pictures straight into newspaper pages. (Press sometimes uses the public’s video and photos, journalists carry on as before.)


decoupage (80s)
drinking champagne out of coupes

electronic business cards
ergonomic keyboards
everlasting lightbulbs

eye-level grills

face powder

fingerplates on doors
flans (A flan is a pie with a cake base. They were slightly vulgar, especially when made with tinned peaches.)
football rattles
freesias (very 80s)
frog jugs, fish jugs that glugged when tipped
fully-fashioned (stockings, cardigans etc It meant “moulded to your shape”.)
fuss over information being held in a "computer database"
fussing over the meaning of the word charisma (60s)

genteel, feminine teashops run by ladies
(20s) – back now!
gentlemen putting a hand under a woman’s elbow
geographically correct attempts to refer to “the North” instead of “the West”
ghost of high streets past (Sian Williams) – Rumbelows, Dolcis, Radio Rentals, Oddbins, Etam, Richard Shops, Wallis, C&A, Chelsea Girl, Macfisheries, Jane Norman
ginger thins

hamburger relish
hippo foot ashtrays, elephant’s foot umbrella stands
hole in the ozone layer

insisting that “prestigious” meant “connected with sleight of hand”

Kabaka of Buganda

line dancing

loony lefties (rising from the grave)

metal toothpaste tubes

mini ironing boards for shirt sleeves
mini swiss rolls
more equitable maps that made Europe and America look smaller (still around, used by National Geographic)
mulled wine parties

now-defunct pathologies – Ah, frigidity and nymphomania, where have you gone? Guardian Dec 2011 (into the bin with hysteria, neurasthenia etc etc)

putting up the “legs” on PC keyboard (newbies all did and now nobody does any more)
pressure groups (have changed name to think tanks or lobbying organizations)
prohibition on washing your face with soap and water (so drying!) so that you can buy products to “cleanse” it with instead
protest singers (OMG they’ll be back now)
putting sugar on fruit salad

raw onion
(as an ingredient in cheese and onion sandwiches, or coleslaw - formerly a bitter punishment food)
Sanatogen tonic wine
scare stories about microwaves (they cook your innards if you leave the door open, they destroy the nutrients, there was this woman who cooked her dog, it’s not real heat, the food isn’t really cooked, they get as hot as a nuclear reactor, they cook from the inside out - thanks to Giles Coren)

Schloer apple juice
sick building syndrome

smashed potatoes (brief late noughties fad)
smelling salts
sound of modems
street photographers
styptic pencils
superstitions like throwing salt over your shoulder if you spilled it, not dining 13 at table, saying an angel was passing if everybody fell silent, not wearing green or bringing May into the house

sweet cigarettes
swiss rolls talcum powder
that forest of skyscrapers Ken Livingstone was going to build (or allow) (Here in 2016 - far too many of them.)
Theatre Museum
timers on ovens
toy guns (They really did become unacceptable. Now can’t we do the same with binge drinking and gender inequality?)
trout as posh food (aux amandes, paper-wrapped etc)
turtle soup
twinsets (and wearing the cardigan part round your shoulders like a cape)
veal roulade
wall pockets
web sites listing your favourite web sites
Wednesday half-day closing (via Linda Grant)
wild rice
Women’s Lib
zigzag partings
More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 17 February 2012

Outdated Slang II

When did people stop saying?

...tastic (from Smashy and Nicey)
And why not? Barry Norman catchphrase from 1980.
Any joy?
(for precious, up yourself, on your high horse, difficult)
at all (is there a doctor here at all? Can I help you at all?)
aware (for sensitive, perceptive, insightful etc.)
big girl’s blouse

boo-boo (60s)
bor-innnnng! (thank goodness they have. 70s)
bubbling under
bucket shop
for place that sells cheap air tickets
bumping along the bottom
calling planet [Janet] (2004)
carry out (for do)
chick (for girl)
clapped out
comparing apples and oranges

(very late 60s. Probably meant "airing liberal views on TV".)
crucial (not since early 80s)
(stubble etc. Very 80s.)
dishy (now fit)
domino effect (now knock-on effect)
don’t strain yourself (when someone expresses slightly forced excitement, or faint praise; or offers help too late and without enthusiasm – 60s?)
doom and gloom
(in the 70s meant strikes and oil crisis)
doss (v)
down to for up to
driven by (now fuelled by)
dull as ditchwater
(every few words)
feelgood factor (recently)
for some unknown reason
fringe medicine
gone off on one (recently)
grit your teeth (probably around 1890)
Having fun? (sardonically, when someone else has burnt a saucepan etc)
Holy mackerel!


(now stump?)
I don’t go a bundle on that. I kid you not
I must have been out of my tiny mind.
I’ll drink to that

I’m clever like that

I’m not a feminist, but…
I’m only here for the beer.
ideologically sound/unsound

in cahoots
in this day and age
it’s all gone horribly wrong
It’s not big, and it’s not clever.
(Though it still isn’t.)
It’s the way to go.

jammy bastard

joe cool
(the 80s?)
knock for knock
less of it!
Lord Muck/Lady Muck/Lord High Muckamuck
main claim to fame
malaise (something the country suffered from, a bit like doom and gloom)
male chauvinist pig

mind games
Ne’er mind, eh. (with a downward inflection on the eh.) (It was an 80s thing.)
new technology (for computers in publishing)
No shit, Sherlock
Not to worry!

Now you tell me.

Oh, what?
Ooooh, Tony!
(Falklands army slang)
pole/poll position
(and arguing about which it was, and the derivation of either)
prannet/pranny for prat (80s?)
precious to mean vain
rant and rave
rave from the grave

right on


(was it ever cool?)
strictly for the birds (what DID it mean?)
strictly from hunger (and what did it mean?)
stroll on!
suss out
take a stand (now stance)
Temper, temper! (Ooops – expressing emotion in public.)
the appropriately named...
the balance
for the rest (they were the same people who said “Any joy?” and they also said “the bulk of” for “most”)
the likes of... There you go.
throw a wobbly/wobbler
understatement of the year


value judgement

Very droll!

What’s not to like?

What’s the damage?

Where do you get off
saying that/turning up uninvited/criticizing my hairstyle etc etc. (“I told him where to get off/where he got off” ie off bus) More recently, one fan claims, "I was approached by a photographer from an English tabloid who said he'd give me £150 to kick in a German. I told him where to get off." Guardian November 19 2005

women’s libber
for poofter
woolly for cardigan/jersey
yomping (Falklands army slang – very short-lived)
You go, girl!

You’ve said a mouthful.


More here.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

When Did People Start Saying...?

Away with the fairies
Buzz words of past decades

A&E for casualty
aircon for air conditioning
attitude (he’s got attitude)
away with the fairies (yuk!)
bad hair day
bah! (for goodbye - bleurrgh!)

edge (and why? Obviously from “leading edge” but...? People just use it to mean “leading edge”.)

buff for fan
climate control for aircon
closure (blarrgh!)
comfort zone
comfortable in your skin (bleah!)
complex (for face cream)
defining moment
directional, edgy
for fashionable (cutting-edge)
do a runner
don't go there (Jerry Springer?)
doobry, humongous, manky (70s?)
doss (v)

du jour
(instead of de nos jours. Just as good, shorter, simpler and also funnier (ref to potage etc du jour))

dysfunctional family
early adopter

fabric for stuff, material (probably around 1951)
faux for fake (jewellery)
-friendly (from environmentally friendly, user friendly)
herbed, nutted, roasted instead of herby, nutty and roast
high/low profile
for billboards

“The trouble is, these days everybody takes a holistic approach. No one knows what the word means; it started to appear in sentences about 15 years ago and no one questioned it. Everyone assumed everyone else knew what it meant and was too embarrassed to ask.” Jeremy Hardy, ES Apr 27 01

ick factor
for project
killer (heels, app)
lead for flex
leverage (1930s according to M-W)
lost the plot
for Paul McCartney and Madge for Madonna
marque for brand
max out
net instead of network (n)
on/off the radar outside the box (stop it! stop it now!)
physically for actually (70s?)
poster child
proactive instead of active
savvy (aaargh!)
shrapnel for loose change (recently, which is odd)
sit for lie (sits at the opposite end of the spectrum)

tea light for night light (did you put them in a hotplate to keep your muffins warm?)

the ... from hell

the devil is in the details
(it used to be God)
timeline for chronology
to that end (dying out at last 2006)
toxic (relationship, boyfriend)
trim for trimming

(for morals or priorities) (traditional values are back and much mocked May 17, 2006)

Vicks instead of Vick (long before the company changed its name)
wannabe (re Madonna fans in the 80s)
well-positioned for well-placed
What am I like? (90s?) (Viz)
when push comes to shove (80s?)

Monday 13 February 2012

All Boo

Some words have an inbuilt "boo!" or "hooray"! These are all boo words.

English, Merchant/Ivory, repressed, old-fashioned, uncool, TV shows about people with servants, corseted, naïve, escapist, unrealistic, middle-aged, middle-class, slow, talky, beloved of people who are afraid to look reality (CGI, violence, sex, explosions, fast editing) in the face

prejudice, stereotype, discriminate
= prejudice against, inaccurate stereotype, discriminate against

judge by appearance
My child got into a fancy nursery, and I don’t want to be judged by my appearance, so I now take 20 extra minutes to “freshen up” exclusively for the school run… I want to make sure my son doesn’t suffer from various forms of social or even educational exclusion. Guardian September 24, 2011 She clearly wants to be judged on her GOOD appearance.

brigade A group of people you dislike (The PC Brigade are out in force. In those days we weren’t plagued by the green brigade!)

culture (always a pejorative sweeping statement: our teenage gang culture, our dependency culture, victim culture, moaning culture, culture of cool (is ruining our children), our target culture, sicknote culture, quick-fix culture, our BOGOF culture, culture of yobbery, victim culture, ladette culture, gutter culture, compensation culture, warped celebrity culture, couch potato culture, bling culture, risk-averse culture, caution culture, canteen culture, benefits culture… Vicars used to preach against our throwaway society - they didn't like Kleenex.)

dirge-like Music that's emotional, melancholy, tragic - or just slow.

Implied sneer – call or name are neutral.

dusty (see musty, fusty and stuffy) We all use jargon in our everyday jobs, and management jargon is perhaps the most derided, but to its practitioners it adds a richness of understanding and illustration than no amount of dusty brevity can convey. Letter to Independent, June 2011 He was being ironic (I hope).

escapism = much derided in the 70s, when “escapist literature” was looked-down on

fussy The image... shows the statue displayed at the Dusseldorf Gallery, New York City. "Notice the striking contrast between the fussily overdressed Victorians gazing in fascination at the uncluttered white marble nude," Kasson comments. And notice how superior and liberated we are. See fusty, stuffy.

fusty old-fashioned, uncool (see musty and stuffy)

gawp Other people gawp at popular art exhibitions, we look.

grub up uproot (like scrub)

guzzle, sniffles This happens everywhere, from GP surgeries in Britain and the U.S. - where antibiotics are the medicine of choice for just about every minor childhood snuffle [usually sniffle] - to India, where antibiotics are available cheaply over the counter without a prescription. Here... they are guzzled by millions every day. Daily Mail Aug 2010
heavy, heavily Heavy accents, heavy sauces, heavy decorations - we look down on them.

idyll In the context of class war, always a bad thing, implying middle-class cosiness, flight from reality etc etc etc

influx, onslaught of a flood of immigrants

institution Marriage is an outmoded institution (and "fusty and oldfashioned" according to the Guardian March 27 2010)

mob Crowds of people who aren't university lecturers and don't live in Hampstead, Crouch End or Notting Hill. There was a lot of "mob" hysteria in the broadsheets about 10 years ago. “On gender selection … the feelings of the mob are to be enforced.” Catherine Bennett, Guardian November 13, 2003 (A Mori poll showed that many people were against gender selection.) Shun this mob of pariahs: Memories of dead children are defiled by those who bay for vengeance and scorn real justice Mary Riddell Sunday August 25, 2002 The Observer

mollycoddle Assumes being nice to children is bad.

monger Costermongers just sell apples. But an opinion monger, rumour monger, scaremonger or doom monger is clearly up to no good.

musty old-fashioned, uncool (see fusty, stuffy)

nostalgia In the 70s, “nostalgia” was knowing anything about the past, and preserving bits of it instead of destroying every shred.

peddling Someone you disagree with is expressing his views.

peer pressure Forces you to get a sunbed tan and buy “brands”.

petty bourgeoisie, kingdoms, officials, bureaucrats, traders The bourgeoisie were only small, or “petit”.

quaint Very, very damning. “This classic book [Alice in Wonderland] is routinely treated as a quaint, almost chintzy relic of cosiness.” (See cosy.)

rampant consumerism I don't think it means "buying free trade chocolate".

rote-learning Children must either be forced to do it, or protected against it at all costs.

scrawl Graffiti is always scrawled on walls, even when artistically spray-painted.

scrub What will grow if we don't allow agribusiness, prairie farming etc.

slum Houses in streets now beloved by gentrifiers.

sprawl "Closes" full of Barratt homes.

strenuously People we don't trust "strenuously object" or "strenuously maintain" things. When they "strenuously deny" doing something, of course they did it. "They have been strenuously keeping everyone else out of the picture." Climate-change skeptic "books usually quote the specialist in insect-borne diseases, Professor Paul Reiter, who has strenuously and effectively attacked the idea that increasing temperatures will necessarily produce a rapid rise in the incidence of insect-borne diseases." "It is hard to rise above your material – and the play is, for all its strenuously attempted wit, as dead as the two men it describes."

stuffy old-fashioned, uncool (see musty, fusty)

talky Dull. The movies’ "dirge-like".

thrashing about, jump into bed, tryst, fumble Sexual encounters you disapprove of.

trafficking It just means buying and selling, but now means buying and selling things you don't think ought to be bought and sold, like drugs or people. (See hawking, peddling, mongering.)

trappings accoutrements, perks, badges of office which we aren't impressed by; expensive tasteless things that nobody really needs

wallow He has wallowed in the trappings of the good life Guardian October 24, 2010 He could have just “enjoyed” them.

worthy uncommercial, unexciting. Ought to refer to saving the planet or collecting money for refugees but also applied to things that might appeal to the planet-saving demographic – free mask-making workshops for kids which are NOT an (expensive) day out at (common) Alton Towers. (See talky and dirge-like.)

More here. And here.

Amphiboly II

170 linen napkins, with the Queen's monogram, are folded by one man in the shape of a Dutch bonnet BBC

antisocial behaviour enforcement officers

Falling rocks do not stop

Floppy discs do not bend

Guns and ammo found by bins. (Newspaper placard)

I was listening to the news this morning when I heard a report of a university department using satellites to look for woodpeckers from outer space.

Jail for pregnant woman attacker BBC Online headline


No food is better than our food. (via wiki)

Red squirrel threatened by rhododendrons in Dorset (Mail hed)

Slow children crossing

Stop children crossing

Tesco sorry for mice found in store

They were both only children.

You had to prove that adultery had happened in front of a high court judge. TV programme on Donald McGill

More here.

Sunday 12 February 2012


Hooray! These are words that have an inbuilt upside. We just know that “character” is something worth building, and if we “transform” a school it will get better. (“Moving on doesn't always mean moving up” – Mariella Frostrup)

Behave! = behave well

build character = the right kind of character (Try searching on Amazon for "build character". You can even buy books of "character-building" songs for your kids. In unison and harmony.)

character development
= always assumed to be in the right direction

(Hang on, don’t we want to be inclusive?)

Real, working-class, fiction about criminals and low-lifes with graphic sex and violence, ie not quaint, cosy etc. "All their cliches about Glasgow writers were fished out and came in handy, although... the Scotsman suggested that ‘abuse of the adjective “gritty” should henceforth be deemed a capital offence'." Neal Ascherson Independent October 1994 Can be used as a boo word if you want to convey that an area is blue-collar without actually saying so.

personality = see character

sustainable = Now means something vague like “protects wildlife” or “doesn’t destroy rainforests in Java”. Or just “good”. Has taken over from “holistic”.

transform = always in the right direction “We’re going to transform British education” – you might transform it into something ghastly. “He pointed out a number of academies that weren’t ‘transforming fast enough’.” Guardian 24 Sept 2011

transformation “Bill Bratton, the former US police chief now advising the government on gangs, has told the Guardian he can bring about ‘transformational’ change in the UK.” BBC August 15, 2011

Value, fashion, period, character (property) = good value, high fashion, historical period, quirky character

vibrant = all-purpose hooray word (or code for diverse, which is short for “diverse ethnic groups”, which is code for “ethnic groups with different skin colours”)

More here.
More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Verbs of Motion

Subtle pejoration is often conveyed through verbs of motion or location. Outsiders "teem". When someone dares to to tell us what to do and where to go we are marched, herded or shunted.

crawl The streets of Georgetown are crawling with shoppers and gawkers and tourists.

herd We were all herded into a seated area with a tv and drinks machine, at 11pm the lights were dimmed and the TV turned off.

march, swathe, plaster, truss The solution is to “march Muslim children into separate institutions where, swathed in Koranic teachings and constrictive dress…” Janice Turner Times Feb 14 09 (She disapproves, doesn’t she?) An extreme Haredi sect… recently plastered yellow stars on their children… Independent January 10, 2012 Cameron's cuties are photographed "trussed up in jeans and heels" April 10 trussed up in a full skirt (Times on fashion, June 3, 2008)

parade Gershwin did not “parade around” conducting Wagner. "Public parading of the burqa is a cultural affront."

shunt When children are shunted off to "children's church," how will they see their parents worship?

skitter From a patronising review of a restaurant in a suburb of Sheffield: Inside the door, a heavily pregnant lady skitters past, her arms full of plates. Independent October 2010

squat, scuttle, tiptoe, perch In a piece about an older man who married a Thai bride, his house “squatted” in a swamp, he “scuttled” back to Barrow in Furness. It makes him look faintly ridiculous. “This auntie’s house squats in a back lane of solid walls and heavy metal gates.” “The Cathedral: 600 years ago, the builders of this Gothic monster, which squats opposite the Alcazar like a giant stickle-backed insect, had high ambitions.” "Delaroche’s portrayal of Oliver Cromwell tiptoeing over to the coffin of Charles I on the night of the king’s execution, lifting the lid and peeping in." Waldemar Januszczak, Sunday Times March 14 10 (Cromwell is just standing there wearing large boots – we don’t know if he tiptoed or stumped across the room.) "Here, high incomes squat next to high-rises in one big urban screech of noise." Johann Hari, Independent May 2010 He’s talking about Fulham and I don’t think he likes it. We subtly sneer at addresses that “perch” across the street.

teem In classic fashion, the city teemed with outsiders, migrants from other parts of Britain and even Europe. wiki Actually, the whole village is teeming with trippers. Web

toddle We don’t need to see a naked Helen toddle across the stage! (Ancient review of play in which Diana Rigg took her clothes off.)

waltz "It's very disturbing that there were two, three, four-hour waits at Heathrow and other places and that there were practically no checks for EU nationals and non-EU nationals. That may well have meant that hundreds if not thousands of people were able just to waltz into this country," Chris Bryant [shadow immigration minister] said. Telegraph, November 7, 2011

Sunday 5 February 2012

Boo and Hooray

Some words just signal BOO or HOORAY! Eighteenth century Philosopher Jeremy Bentham called them derogatory and eulogistic terms. Boo words sum up an entire attitude and somehow make it impossible to disagree. Hoorays are more rare. (Now collected in my book Boo & Hooray.)

Some words are already negative, but are used to mean another kind of sneer:
colonial (used to mean imperial, interfering, patriarchal, snobbish, arrogant)
arrogant (used to mean nasty or inconsiderate – and “thinks they are right”)

When believers tell others about their ideas, it is “preaching”. When nonbelievers do it, it is “aggressive atheism”. (@richardwiseman) 

dated/character features
We don’t want dated elements in the house we’ve just bought (boo!), but if old enough they are “character features” (hooray!).


Do I have overweening vanity? or high self-esteem?
Is this art or a puerile prank?
Am I pushy, or am I confident?


hard/soft (a hard economic valuation)
industrial unrest/industrial action
musicals (Gershwin, Rodgers’n’Hammerstein)/music theatre (cabaret, Brecht)
one-night stand/brief fling
sell off/sell

Sentimentality = feelings we think people shouldn't be feeling. Or else we think (or hope?) that they are insincere.
style/good design via @fatcharlesh

compound Only tyrants ever seem to have "compounds". Curious typological distinction. Maybe it's one of those conjugations: I have a headquarters; you have a base; he has a compound. I have a residence; you have a palace; he has a lair. (@WillWiles)

Sects and cults also have compounds./Perhaps we goodies have bases, while baddies have compounds (@entschwindet)

Sneering about how people speak here. More boo words here.

Thursday 2 February 2012

How You Say?

The words we use for how other groups speak reveals what we think about them:

bay, bray
Mobs always bay, while the upper classes bray.

Americans use this word for Irish, Scottish and English accents (thick Scottish brogue – they even say “thick English brogue”! Oh well, we used to say they spoke in a nasal drawl.)

clipped To Americans, British accents sound “clipped”.

heavy Ugly and probably foreign.

Over and over in the voices of film stars as different as Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce and Katharine Hepburn in Suddenly, Last Summer, I heard the echoes of my own voice, the patrician inflections of characters who conversed in a manufactured Hollywood idiom meant to suggest refinement and good breeding, the lilting tones of Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Bette Davis in Mr. Skeffington, Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat, or even Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz. …the high-society, charm-school intonations of the Park Avenue matrons who rip each other to shreds in the gracious accents of an Anglophilic argot concocted by the elocutionists at the major studios. Only Joan Crawford, the inimitable Crystal Allen, a social-climbing shopgirl who claws her way up to the top [in The Women], can speak in both accents as the occasion requires, one for when she is at her most deceitful, hiding her common upbringing beneath the Queen's English of the New York aristocracy, and the other for when she is being her true self, a crass, money-grubbing tart who gossips viciously with her equally low-class cohorts at the perfume counter. [Anne Baxter does the same in All About Eve.] Daniel Harris in the New York Times

modulated American for speaking in a low, gentle voice, not yelling out of the window. They think all English people speak like this.

speak out Speaking out is always good. Pauline Pearce “spoke out” against looters, in the week of the riots last August: “I hope that I will encourage other people to speak out, to protect their communities.” Sometimes it means “give the liberal viewpoint”: Pope to speak out against abuse. Gen Petraeus speaks out against Koran-burning.

strong We don't mind a "strong" accent.

thick It is almost impossible to find an example of Jesus Christ being depicted without an extremely thick British voice too, even though the man was a Palestinian Jew. TVtropes

More here.