Thursday 28 March 2013

Mixed Metaphors Part 8

The President called for warmer ties. (Woollen, knitted? Closer ties are needed.)

“If you open that Pandora's Box, you never know what Trojan Horses will jump out." Ernest Bevin wins Mixed Metaphor of the Day. (Daniel Trilling /@trillingual)

The thin end of a slippery slope, set the applecart among the pigeons, different kettle of worms, these are not your daddy’s usual suspects. (via @petmori/Peter Morley, @WillWiles, @StottR/Rory Stott)

We are, I suppose, those sharp-shouldered middle-class parents who think they can nag and badger their way into a decent school. (Tim Lott, G Mar 2013 It’s sharp elbows you need to get to the front of a queue.)

They felt hemmed in by the shackles of society.

Finally ignites a cacophonous backlash. (FT Jan 2013)

Lynch finds $1bn pot of gold to spark new wave of technology (Times, Feb 2013)

It’s hard to have an intelligent conversation on that sort of playing field. (Play a fair game?)

"We've created a treadmill, it's usually the mother that is orchestrating all of that and doing all the driving." (Claire Perry quoted by Will Wiles)

UKIP woman says religion is a key pillar that holds society together. (@MikeHypercube, Feb 2013)

“In the second half of the 19th cent the English artistic pantechnicon was grinding through the gear shifts of aestheticism and pre-Raphaelitism in the search for a new language… Lillie Langtry got used to the blaze of publicity that illuminated her every move. If the public saw her in a certain way she played on it, blinding them with the mirror-dazzle of the star they had imagined. She learnt that she could hide her real self behind it like an eclipse.” If you can follow that, then your astrophysics is better than mine. (Matthew Sweet in The Independent reviews Lillie Langtry by Laura Beatty)

Lionel Shriver on Vow by Wendy Plump (Guardian, March 9 2013)

It isn't just the thud of the insultingly self-evident: "In the end, I think you either cheat or you don't," or the over-obvious emotional arithmetic: an unmarried lover shoulders the guilt more easily "because he is betraying a stranger rather than the person to whom he gave a lifelong vow". It isn't just the bland faux-profundities: "We all break in the same human way" – or the self-help clichés: "I was good at compartmentalisation." It's the metaphors.

Mixed, inapt, overextended, or plain ghastly, these clunkers are hardly the stuff of occasional lapse, because they are everywhere. "I was born on the windy side of the personality island." Or, "I want sex to pierce reality and come blazing out the other side." Or, "I could no longer manage the tilt of our marriage. It drifted out of my control, its tides caught up and dictated by Bill's grief."... It gets worse. In a new infatuation, a "hot mix of smashing atoms" generates "an unpredictable plasma". When the author laid eyes on a lover, "the immediate sensation was of some soft, squirrely creature rolling around in my rib cage". Plump made use of the "Tao" of infidelity by "squeezing that logic like a cheese". It's a contest, but in the end this one takes the prize: a friend took a position in relation to Bill's treachery, "A position that I would like to pass on now that the egg white has passed through the eggshell and I can see the wisdom of it." Hey, Heston Blumenthal, I want to see it in real time.

The author is no better at coining snappy analogies. For the adulterer, thou-shalt-not condemnations are "about as useful as throwing spring onions at a charging wolf." Indeed, so ineffectual must hurling spring onions be in this circumstance that it's doubtful anyone has ever tried it…
The point is: the writing matters. This isn't a typically low-rent guilty pleasure. There's no pleasure. The story remains inert. The harder the author tries to elevate her hard-won lessons into wise generalities, the less her story comes alive and the less she actually has to say. Thus the text is not only wince-inducing but, despite its titillating premise, dull. Given the wretched quality of the prose, it's tempting to blame the editor – unless the original manuscript was even worse and this is the cleaned-up version (which beggars belief). And yet the subject of infidelity is wholly worthy of scrutiny, encompassing as it does the most searing of emotions: the horror of lying, rage at being lied to; disappointment in a spouse, or even more devastating, disappointment in oneself. But if that's the palette that appeals, reread Anna Karenina.

Mixed Metaphors Part 7, and links to 1-6.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Neologisms 7

Boris is in PR overdrive as he goes in to high gear chortling bumble mode to pretend he's laughing off yesterday's disastrous interview. (Woodo/‏@woodo79)

Ep 2 of a mandible-dropping series. (Matthew Sweet on a BBC programme on insects)

the frantically riffing throngs of Twitter (

Barbara Stanwyck as the definitively amoral Phyllis Dietrichson, an icy schemer with the conscience of a cobra and a heart of pure anthracite… (

clutching their pearls (for over-reacting) Deborah Orr

To firehose money at projects that haven’t been scoped out. (Boris Johnson, Feb 2013)

the Twittergraph

Agreeing to a gym session before the lark has even put his contact lenses in or had his cup of coffee, seemed like a stellar idea at the time. (@lorrainepascale)

banlieueification (Douglas Murphy)

High frequency trading is very difficult to corset, to manage. (Quote in Guardian Jan 28 2013 – the only way you can stop it is to rip the cable out of the computer)

Hallmark-card philosophy
(as tweeted by Alain de Botton) (@ballardian/Dr Simon Sellars)

I also hate the tights-over-skates, but I fear that ship has sailed. (@fuggirls)

ghastly grandstands (cliff-like flats with a “stunning panoramic view of the river”)

The Big Society lies at the bottom of the ocean. (Paul Richards @ProgressOnline)

There is hardly a sheet of Bronco between the teams. (Tim Wonnacott on Bargain Hunt)

Everyone south of Madonna...

In finance, dark pools of liquidity (also referred to as dark liquidity or simply dark pools or black pools) is trading volume or liquidity that is not openly available to the public.

the golf club fringe of conservatism (Telegraph Dec 2012)

cake boxes and jewel cases (CD boxes and cases)

My grammatical knowledge has rusted right through. (@sashalu)

high/low mashups for heteroglossa (or mixing a ballgown with Doc Martens, wearing pearls with a boiler suit, teaming cashmere with jeans)

shamelessly ambitious politicos who’d happily trade an aunt on eBay for a Parliamentary seat (Owen Jones)

It sounds like Morsi is planning to go the full Akhenaten. (@holland_tom/Tom Holland, Nov 27 2012)

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

Thursday 21 March 2013

So, Was Agatha Christie Anti-Semitic?

Three-Act Tragedy

In the Daily Telegraph 20 March 2013, Matthew Sweet reviews Perspectives, a programme with David Suchet (the BBC's Poirot) on Agatha Christie’s disappearance in 1926. Did differing responses to the affair reflect attitudes to Christie’s (conservative) politics as expressed in her books? It’s an interesting question, but Sweet uses it as an opportunity to wheel out the old accusation that Christie was anti-Semitic:

“The buzz of anti-Semitism is loud in her fiction of the 1920s, with its references to ‘Hebraic people’ and ‘yellow-faced financiers’ – and this is more than the thoughtless transmission of cultural background noise. Christopher Hitchens, who had dinner chez Christie in the Sixties, recalled ‘the anti-Jewish flavour of the talk was not to be ignored or overlooked, or put down to heavy humour or generational prejudice. It was vividly unpleasant.’”

Ruth Dudley-Edwards on a Telegraph blog post headlined Anti-Semitism is a light sleeper. Look at Agatha Christie, also responds to Suchet’s programme, and refers to Sweet’s article, repeating the quote from Hitchens.

Both Sweet’s examples are lifted from Christie’s Wikipedia entry perhaps he didn’t have time to do any proper research. Hitchens recalled the incident in his autobiography, written in 2010. We only have his word for what was said decades earlier. It’s possible that he remembered dining with the Mallowans, and that his memories were tinged by What Everybody Knows about Christie – that she was anti-Semitic.

Perhaps we should all read Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction by Malcolm J. Turnbull (I’ve got it on order). But a quick trawl of memory and Google throws up the following:

Christie’s first published novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1916) has a Dr Bauerstein among the cast. From the original text (disparaging references to Jews were wisely removed from later editions of her books), here’s what some other characters say about him:

"I've had enough of the fellow hanging about. He's a Polish Jew, anyway."
"A tinge of Jewish blood is not a bad thing. It leavens the" — she looked at him — "stolid stupidity of the ordinary Englishman."

And later:

“He is, of course, a German by birth," said Poirot thoughtfully, "though he has practiced so long in this country that nobody thinks of him as anything but an Englishman. He was naturalized about 15 years ago. A very clever man – a Jew, of course."

He’s a red herring: Jewish characters may have been sometimes sinister in Christie's early books, but they never turn out to be the villain.

Oliver Manders in Three Act Tragedy (1935) is sympathetic, even if he does have an inferiority complex and a world-weary manner. The perceptive Mr Satterthwaite observes that there is “something un-English” about him and guesses that he is Jewish.

In the original text of Peril at End House (1932), picture dealer Jim Lazarus is referred to as "a Jew, of course, but a frightfully decent one". This sentence was omitted when the book was serialized in the US. And in the audiobook version of The Hollow (1946), a “Whitechapel Jewess” (the henna-haired and beringed proprietress of a dress shop) has become a “Whitechapel princess”.

In The Body in the Library (1942), Basil Blake accuses his wife of flirting with a “disgusting Central European” called Rosenberg. But Poirot has a helpful theatrical friend called Joseph Aarons, who appears in several of the books.

Christie in her autobiography describes working with Dr Jordan, the German director of antiquities in Baghdad, in the 30s. (He was later revealed to be a Nazi agent sent to undermine the British in the region.) She found him a cultured, charming man and enjoyed his playing of Beethoven sonatas. But then one day someone mentioned the Jews, and his face changed “in an extraordinary way that I had never noticed on anyone’s face before. ‘You do not understand,’ said the Doctor. ‘Our Jews are perhaps different from yours. They are a danger. They should be exterminated. Nothing else will really do but that.’ I stared at him unbelievingly... It was the first time I had come across any hint of what was to come later from Germany."

More Christie clichés.

Was Ngaio Marsh a Snob?
Was Agatha Christie a Snob?
So, Was Agatha Christie a Snob?

Update: I have now read Victims or Villains. It is an interesting but brief trawl through detective fiction from 1890 to the post-war period, and its frequent unpleasant stereotyping of Jewish people. Dorothy Sayers, though her first book featured a "decent, domestic" and gentlemanly Jew, had her characters throw out some unnecessary and insulting remarks in later books. As a private person, she became more prejudiced, expressing various opinions in a letter that included the idea that Jewish children were unable to learn "the common school code of honour". Turnbull reveals that the same writer could be concerned over the fate of the Jews under Hitler, and continue to use mean, lazy stereotypes of "fat, ugly" pawnbrokers and moneylenders. The subject is not simple, and much more could be written about it. (The publishers might want to get the text proofread before the next edition – it is full of typos and howlers such as "afficianado" for aficionado and "relict" for relic.)

And it still seems unfair to blame it all on Agatha Christie, just because she's the most popular of the authors discussed. (The other Queens of Crime come off better: Ngaio Marsh featured a sympathetic Dr Hartz – now Hart – in Death and the Dancing Footman, and Margery Allingham brought in Mr Melchizedek in Look to the Lady: "Mr. Israel Melchizedek was that miracle of good breeding, the refined and intellectual Jew. Looking at him one was irresistibly reminded of the fact that his ancestors had talked to Jehovah.")

Part Two Here

Sunday 17 March 2013

Inspirational Quotes 32

Some useful advice to balance all that guff about loving yourself.

She ought to bear in mind that in a few year's time she will be more lonely, have fewer ties, and, as her charms fade, she'll have very few of the friends she thinks she still has at the moment. (Painter Berthe Morisot's mother, in a letter. Morisot (above) was in love with Edouard Manet. She eventually married his brother.)

You’ve stopped inviting me to parties or on holiday, because everyone else there will be in couples and, ironically, you don’t want me to feel left out. (What You’re Really Thinking, Guardian 26 Jan 2013)

What had begun as a radical experiment was slowly moving towards the centre, and I had ceased to be its leader. Alexei Sayle

Theatre design is an appallingly badly paid profession - you need a partner with a proper job. (Tom Piper)

Hilde Spiel, a novelist from a family of assimilated Jews… Despite enthusiastic efforts, she never managed to penetrated the inner circles of the London literati. (Tessa Hadley’s review of The Love Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel, Guardian 2013-01-19)

Of course stage trickery has origins in performance of ancient rites and divinations. (Fortean Times)

I have got no boyfriend, no job, and no prospects. (Woman quoted on R4 programme about quarter-life crisis)

If you are in any doubt about the “beauty = success” equation, then seek out a book called Beauty Pays by Daniel Hamermesh. It’s a guide to the new discipline of pulchronomics, the study of how being better looking leads to being better off. Hamermesh, who gaily describes himself as no Alec Baldwin, finds the equation almost Einsteinian in its incontestability: the beautiful are more likely to find employment, get paid more, and have more attractive and highly educated spouses. Handsome men earn around 13 per cent more than uglier colleagues; prettier women either earn more or have richer husbands. (BBC)

Kids always lacked respect, but since you stopped being a kid, suddenly it's a problem. (Telegraph blog, Jan 2013)

How to find a husband, by Amber Estes.

Hang out around the law school looking “flawless, but seemingly without trying”.

FB pix of yourself in party outfits.

FB pix of yourself with pretty friends – but not prettier than you.

On a first date, don’t give sexual favours. “Let him do most of the talking.”

Once you’re going out, have sex. “Bake for his frat brothers, encourage him to do well on his tests, and impress his momma like it’s the last round of recruitment.” But don’t be controlling.

Inspirational Quotes 31
Inspirational Quotes 30
Inspirational Quotes 29 Inspirational Quotes 28
Inspirational Quotes 27 (and links to all the rest)

Friday 15 March 2013

Whatever Happened To...? 21

afternoon tea (Oh, it’s back!)

asparagus quiche

(Middle-class people used to put them in everything.)

blueberry cheesecake (ordinary cheesecake with jam on the top)

calling people “wet” (Don’t be so wet!)

chicken bricks

(Many years ago it was the fashion to frame pictures with an unedged sheet of glass held in place against the hardboard backing with clips. morrice@cix)

Don Marquis, Ogden Nash (humorous poets)

flatlets (bedsits)

flock wallpaper (originally found in grand 18th century houses)

fun fur, fun everything (a brief 60s fad)

instruction to grate raw turnip into salads (now celeriac)

jazz dance classes


leek quiche

making model villages

monopolies (You couldn’t buy a pair of reading glasses, you had to get them on prescription. It took months to get a phone installed, and the service was terrible.)

notelets (Like a sheet of writing paper folded in four, with weedy watercolours of cowslips, bluetits etc, so you could treat as card or fold out for longer letter. Came in boxes with matching envelopes.)

optical character readers

paper diaries, phone books, address books

plain boiled cabbage
(There is no need to eat it any more. There was never any need to eat it. There was never any need for it to be so disgusting.)

polo necks (or polar necks as people used to call them)

potato guns

Sainsbury’s “unbranded” range
which was going to save money/packaging/the planet by labelling stuff BEANS or FOIL in a plain typeface (Rebooted as Sainsburys basics, with a different typeface.)

ships in bottles

Shubette dresses
(Still trading! Founded 1913.)

spoon warmers

straciatella soup

Terry’s cocktail assortment
(Miniature chocolate bars in different flavours with foreign names and a gold palm-tree on the wrapper. How did they co-exist with boiled cabbage?)

the avant garde (We should have caught up with it by now.)

The Golden Turkey Awards (became TV Tropes)

throwaway folding plastic rain bonnets (on sale in newsagents and much worn by little old ladies)

timers on ovens (Nobody used them.)

tramps who stole raw turnips from fields (and claiming that they were Gentlemen of the Road who chose their lifestyle)

Van-Dal shoes (Still around.)

vibrating exercise belts

Video Plus

wall-mounted ovens
(They’ve gone back underneath hobs even though the two aren’t connected.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 8 March 2013

Too Appropriate Metaphors IV

A storm was brewing. (National Geographic documentary describing the approach of the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs. A storm wasn’t brewing, an asteroid was approaching!)

At Primrose Hill drivers have an uphill battle. BBC News Jan 2013 (Yes, they’re trying to drive uphill in the snow. And I think you meant “uphill struggle”.)

Djakarta is brought to its knees by rising flood waters. BBC News Jan 2013 (If the waters are rising you don’t want to kneel down.)

It intended to water down its liquidity rules.

So you’ve won the Derby three years on the trot? Countryfile 2013

Synchronised swimming has taken great strides. BBC Aug 9 12

The thoroughbred’s limb is also its Achilles heel. Inside Nature’s Giants (That probably IS its Achilles tendon. Except that it’s actually a finger joint.)

These felled trees are the beavers’ handiwork! (Springwatch – surely toothiwork)

We would discourage the wearing of rings as a rule of thumb.

with all this water on tap (Documentary on wildlife in Australian outback – the water is in ponds, raised by windmills.)

Too Appropriate Metaphors Part III, with links to Parts II and I

Wednesday 6 March 2013

More Clichés


Isn’t it wonderful that our language is so diverse that people can choose these colourful expressions? What would happen to poetry without them? (It would be a lot better.)

Reading this book is a bit like being trapped in a Past Times catalogue. Although the writer's story spans the 1850s to the second world war, her narrative hangs suspended in a de-historicised past, carelessly furnished with pretty ladies, wry clergymen and blunt military men who make rotten husbands… In the Bodleian she finds "a smiling and helpful young man in the splendid manuscript room"… It degenerates into a gushy heritage tour around mellow-stoned rectories, country houses and ancient seats of learning… (Kathryn Hughes Guardian 2004)

sage advice, unmitigated disaster: “He is, however, the kind of author who in the absence of hard evidence resorts to the well-tried scholarly technique known as making it up. ‘Inspector Thompson,’ he writes at one point, ‘permitted himself a rare smile of satisfaction.’… Fanny and Stella, described on the dust jacket as ‘dazzlingly written’, is full of naff phrases and clichés. Bouquets are the order of the day, advice is sage, disasters are unmitigated, rooms are too small to swing a cat in and events go swimmingly or arrive like a bolt from the blue.” (Terry Eagleton on Neil McKenna’s Fanny and Stella, LRB March 2013)

unpleasant weather is always “decidedly” something (cold, chilly)
what fog is
treacherous: I like it when weather is described as “treacherous”. I did once lose a girlfriend to some mist. (Matt Suddain/@suddain)

Are traditional costumes never drab? Is authentic food never inedible? Are sleepy fishing villages never dull?

bustling: the bustling Muslim quarter (Sunday Telegraph 2012)
Other cultures are always “fiercely” proud or independent. “Zuma, 70, who was born into a polygamous family and is fiercely proud of his Zulu heritage.” (The Week)
expanses: always vast
overdeveloped: places we avoid
tranquillity: You can find tranquillity off the beaten track away from the tour buses.
blanket: Forests blanket hills.
teem: Wildlife does this.
trippers: Arrive on excursion trains and from cruise ships which enable the wrong sort of people to get to less accessible places we thought we had all to ourselves. "Kenya and South Africa, where hundreds of thousands of tourists traipse about every year gawping at animals, in Botswana it's altogether more exclusive - as well as massively more expensive.” (FT, Nov 2012)
travel: In your Spanish hotel, your maid is called Concepcion - or Circumcision.
unspoiled: no “tourists”

Re HS2, is there anything other than “picturesque” countryside? i.e. Can the countryside ever be ugly or worthless? (Charles Holland/@fatcharlesh)

Piazzas, always “windswept”. See also Bleak Underpasses. (Hugh Pearman/@hughpearman)

blot on the landscape: Terms that should be barred from any aesthetic debate: blot on landscape, emperor's new clothes, my 3/4/5 year old could do better than that. (Charles Holland)

I'm in favour of both planning & protection but could we talk about new housing without that phrase "paving over the countryside" coming up? (Charles Holland)

flow: Now means knock down all internal walls and turn your house into a “space” or “family home”.

Journeys, delays and lists are long or short, aspirations high or low, questions important or trivial.

with such big aspirations (Relocation, Relocation): high aspirations
but there is a bigger question: more important
the big worry: the main worry
huge casualties: numerous
A big rule of thumb when cycling is to avoid major streets and thoroughfares: important (
Plaques along the route provide the biggest clues to its existence: the best clues (
big delay: long delay
The biggest reason people come to our site is to save money: the main reason
They all have a huge life journey to go on: long journey (Winterwatch)
They have a big wishlist: a long wishlist
In March, with the publication of a new novel… the list will swell: It will lengthen. (Prospect, March 2012)
massive jail sentences: long

crush, quash: Hopes are always crushed, rebellions quashed.
what violence does
send, drag, throw:
We send people to jail, regimes we disapprove of drag people off to jail, or throw them in jail.
roam: When a state breaks down, militias tend to “roam unchecked” and there are often “clashes” between different groups.
roll: Tanks roll into a conquered city (when they’re not trundling or rumbling).

less inclined to forge an ironic distance: to establish
spawning in its wake an entire industry: creating
the images that fuel revulsion: provoke

away from prying eyes: out of sight
belch: “the Gothic ornamented chimney of the Edgbaston waterworks, which in the writer's day would have belched smoke from the steam engines”
blunder: what bees do
brutal: Out of the crucible of last year’s brutal illness… Try “severe”. (Guardian Aug 16 2012)
cavort: what people do in the nude

When did you last see a chocolate box with a sentimental scene on the lid? They still survive on biscuit tins, however. So it’s “biscuit-tinny” from now on.

crippling: what strikes are
find, achieve: You find fame, but achieve notoriety.

How do you concur? Heartily, of course.

humiliating: Political climbdowns always “humiliating”. (@hughpearman)

mess: If I hear that garbage mantra “economic mess labour left us with” one more time I'm going to scream! (Rich Firth-Godbehere/‏@mrgodbehere)

outrage: always “faux

overwhelmingly: mainly, largely. (Yes, they’re doing it in large numbers but we can’t be “overwhelmed” every time.)

What research is. The reconstructed temple of Trajan at Pergamon, where German bv  archeologists have painstakingly excavated for 130 years (Daily Beast)

panic: Now means “broadcast weather warnings” – and “chaos” means “traffic may be disrupted”.

pitch perfect, picture perfect, picture postcard perfect: all became popular long after cliché’d picture postcards faded from the scene. Try “picturesque”.

rekindle memories, reignite controversy: revive

Travel-writing clichés
Political and scientific clichés
Catechism of cliché