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

Saturday 17 November 2012

Inspirational Mantras 2

A journey may take you backwards, downhill, or round and round in circles. (The Dalai Lama)

Admit nothing, deny everything and make counter-accusations.

Break it down into bite-sized chunks.

Dress smartly, and attend more social functions.

Follow the money. (Advice to journalists)

Have a tantrum and then move on.

If nobody listens to you, put a sentence in quotes and attribute it to Einstein.

If you want your marriage to last, don’t marry an Australian.

Ignoring bullies does not make them go away. (Feminist skeptic Rebecca Watson)

It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you’re working on the wrong things.  (Dan Rockwell)

One's best hope, really, is to suck up to the big people. (London Review of Books)

Run for the hills.

Sometimes you have to just smile and say nothing. (@LottyBlue)

The secret is preparation.  (Presenter Bill Turnbull)

The transition from shy to assertive needs to be treated like you are playing a part. (

The unattractive are more likely to be unattached. (Yahoo)

Women need to be aware that becoming more like men is not sustainable. (

You are who your record says you are.

You play the cards you get given.

More Inspirational Mantras here.

Monday 12 November 2012

Inspirational Quotes 24

Be a unique snowflake! Be a tall poppy! (No don't!)

For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups.
Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile. The Psychologist, September 2012

What other people think
- what is deemed to be acceptable behaviour - is probably a key determinant in shaping behaviour. (Gaby Judah,

We observe people around us keenly, and when we don’t know what to do, we often decide by watching the actions of those we know well or respect… and pay close attention to the social nuances conveyed by body language. (New Scientist, Aug 2012)

At my depot it depends whether you're on the blue-eyed boys and girls list or the hit list, I now realise. (A bus driver)

In many ways, your 30s are your most important years. Typically, this is when you settle down and start a family. (

I almost fell off the edge of the exam table in my astonishment. That's what explained vaginal versus clitoral orgasms? Neural wiring? Not culture, not upbringing, not patriarchy, not feminism, not Freud? (Naomi Wolf, Guardian Sept 2 12)

Being in love [in the 70s] was considered undermining of female independence. (Emma Brockes, Guardian Sept 2 12)

[Thalassaemia] challenges the individual on a psychosocial level, especially in the adolescence stage when the teenager is confronted with various difficulties like identity formation, developing intimate relationships and entering the working world. [He] is not seen as a person with a physical problem but as a weak, different, inadequate, incapable being for whom we feel sorry… [The condition] often leads to short stature and delayed puberty. Consequently, they are likely to suffer from reduced self-esteem, poor self-image, increased dependence… The Psychologist September 2012

The older you get, the harder it is to meet people because the circles are tighter and smaller. Kim Catrall, The Times Sept 1 2012

Inspirational Quotes 23
Inspirational Quotes 22
Inspirational Quotes 21

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

Saturday 10 November 2012

Tautology IV

Tautology is saying everything twice twice.

spectre, plague, threat

Karl Marx started it off with: “A spectre is haunting Europe: the spectre of communism.” And now people write “the spectre of AIDS” when they just mean “AIDS”.

"Although 7,853,787 bunnies have been destroyed in Australia since the Rabbit Nuisance Act passed, the rabbit plague is on the increase." (Rabbits are on the increase.)

the terrible scourge [the Black Death] killed x million people (Fortean Times, October 2011, paraphrase) The Black Death/epidemic/plague killed etc We know a scourge is something terrible, you don’t need to point it out. And if you tell us that an epidemic killed X million people, you don’t need to say it was a “scourge”.

the rot of corruption went to the top: corruption went to the top (corruption is rot)

devastating, catastrophic floods, genocide, earthquake, tsunami
Every tree has been stripped of its leaves, after a devastating tornado in April 2011. Telegraph March 2012 (No need to say “devastating” [general] when you’ve just given an example of devastation [particular].)

There was a catastrophic epidemic that killed 20,000 in Palermo alone. (If you’re going to tell us it killed 20,000 in one city, there’s no need to say it was “catastrophic”.)

The catastrophic fire of 1917, which razed much of the city… Spectator Nov 2011

a grisly skeleton in its closet (A skeleton in your closet is evidence of a crime you want to conceal. It makes no difference if it’s grisly or cuddly.)

a huge head start (If you’re ahead by a head you’re ahead by a head and most horse’s heads are about the same size. A “head start” doesn’t place you miles ahead of the field.)

a ticking time-bomb about to explode (A time-bomb will do. And do they run on clockwork these days?)

a very dangerous fire hazard (extreme fire hazard)

At the ripe old age of 75… (We can tell someone of 75 is old. You can say “at the ripe old age of 16/27/34” if you want to be ironic.)

becalmed in the doldrums
bloody violence (in Syria)

brutal: The Elephant and Castle Tabernacle marks the approximate site where the "Southwark Martyrs" (a group of Protestants executed during the reign of Mary I for their faith) were brutally burnt at the stake. ( Since Mary's reign, we've learned that burning people at the stake is wrong. And there is no nice way to burn someone at the stake. And the word "brutal" is over-used.)

conspire to create a thick wall of silence (NYT If you could talk through a thin wall of silence it wouldn’t be a wall of silence, would it?)

fellow classmate
fellow co-workers
fill X full of Y (fill X with Y)

first, finally “I first asked for their teaching materials in July 2006. I finally got them in December 2010.” (“I asked for their teaching materials in July 2006. I got them in December 2010.” would be just as/more effective.) It was first unearthed in 2000 by Ken Wallace, a retired teacher who was out testing his £260 second-hand metal detector near his Leicestershire home. Telegraph Jan 2012 (First unearthed? Only if he dug it up, reburied it and dug it up again.)

for the very first time (This is also baby talk.)
horrible monstrosity (unlike those pretty monstrosities we meet so often)
inglenook fireplace (An inglenook is a fireplace.)
intermixing: mixing

Is asteroid mining the next big gold rush? (If it was small, it wouldn’t be a rush.)
It’s got linear lines! Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is Sept 2012
Jewish rabbi, Jewish synagogue
mass rally
(A small group isn’t a rally.)
massive $2bn losses

Miliband is quite encircled by gurus (If he was incompletely encircled he’d be semi-circled.)

new innovations

potential risk/hazard/danger
(Risk, hazard and danger all mean “potential harm”, not the harm itself.)

rural countryside
secret plot
stark contrast

She was charged with importing prohibited imports and making false misleading statements. Nothing to Declare

Stalin’s toxic curse on his children has finally died with Svetlana. Simon Sebag Montefiore Dec 2011

terrible blood feuds (They make a change from pleasant blood feuds.)
terrible prophecy of doom (There’s no such thing as nice doom.)
terrible travesty of justice (We're more used to mild travesties of justice.)

The Commission for Racial Equality recently tried to have Tintin in the Congo banned in the UK for its “words of hideous racial prejudice”. (There isn’t an attractive kind.)

they have run out of other optionsThey share the same name (They share a name/they bear the same name)
unprepossessing-looking building (lose the “looking” and avoid strings of ings)

various different rules

More at Tautology III

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Inspirational Quotes 23

Just believe in yourself and everything will be fine, or something.

What if your as-yet-unfulfilled life plans didn’t need more will, just skills? Oliver Burkeman, Guardian, Aug 4 12

If you have always failed then you need to examine why, 
so you can change your losing strategy into one that might work. Otherwise you will fail again and be disappointed or angry with yourself for failing. (Friend AM writes) 

Women fare worse economically after divorce, which is why some choose to turn a blind eye. Suzi Godson, Times Aug 4 2012

Relationships should build you up, not tear you down. End relationships with people who bring you down. (@kimgarst)

Cults have always been a social club for lonely people.

I like to hang around restaurants at midday, pretending I'm on a lunchbreak, too. I sit near people who work in offices and laugh at all their stories, about their awful bosses, about all the overtime they have to do. If anyone asks, I'm called Mary and I'm a secretary. In fact, we're workmates. Since it's holiday season, I can say I'm a temp and that's why they don't recognise me. And they let me in, especially if I say: "Who do you have to sleep with around here to get some stationery?" Susan Calman, The Guardian, Aug 16 2012

Shocked reactions from people when I tell them I don't want marriage or children, like I'm betraying womanhood. (@EverydaySexism)

If we don’t have free will, we act and feel as though we do. Even those who deny it exists behave as if they have it. We may not have the ability to choose, but we choose to think we do. New Scientist editorial, Aug 11 12

People don't mean "be yourself, don't copy others" in the 
absolute. What they don't want is their children copying Kev and Tracey from down the road. (Friend MB writes)

It is all a question of fashion. There have always been fashions. (Hercule Poirot on hippies)

It’s crazy because you change and we grow older, and suddenly you realize some things are (and aren’t) expected from you, especially when it comes to wardrobe choices. Once you end up in the latter half of your 20s, you have to start thinking about what kind of adult you want to be. Aug 2012

There’s something spiritual about marriage. We lived together before so it doesn’t feel hugely different, but making that commitment in front of your family and friends changes things. You take that extra step and you know that, no matter what, you are there for each other, through thick and thin. (Tom Aggar, Times mag 25 Aug 2012 You also get legal rights.)

The British have two settings: repressed and drunk. (@HallieRubenhold)

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