Friday 27 September 2013

Cliches 2

In space, everything hurtles

Sometimes writers try and make dull old science exciting.
painstaking: It has taken doctors nine months of painstaking work to construct (the patient's new nose). (BBC News 2013-09-26) Scientific breakthroughs usually take place “after two years of painstaking research”.

Distant galaxies were hurtling through space… galaxies were discovered that were all hurtling away from our earth. (Horizon)
For years, Voyager has been hurtling away from the solar system. (BBC Breakfast 2013-09-13)
In science stories, Curiosity rover sucks, gulps or sniffs Mars’s atmosphere, rather than inhaling or sampling the stuff.
One of the biggest canyons in the world has been found beneath the ice sheet that smothers most of Greenland. Before the ice sheet was formed it would have contained a river gushing into the Arctic Ocean. (BBC)
The relentless hunt for offshore oil continues. (BBC News 2013-08-05)

corrosive: Clegg calls GTA V "corrosive".
We neutralize the corrosive bourgeois preoccupation with luxury that can so often threaten the creativity which drives real fashion. (Gloss, via Slate Sept 2013)

shrink: Prices have a habit of shrinking. (BBC News Numbers can only rise or fall.)
explode: 3D printing will explode in 2014 (@BorutVovsek) How about "take off"?
explosive growth: try “runaway”
jump in the number of: sharp rise

X restored my faith in human nature. (Opposite of “lulled me into a false sense of security”.)
spittle-flecked outrage: Someone you disagree with complains about something. (This is also hyperbole.)
unveil: Manuel Pellegrini… “officially unveiled as the new manager of Manchester City,” and I imagined the Queen pulling on a silken rope attached to the velvet cloth covering Mr Pellegrini’s head. (Simon Hoggart, Guardian 2013-07-13)

big: The mammoths now face a huge battle for survival. (Alice Roberts)
closely guarded: what secrets are
drag on for years: what the war in Syria may do
former glory: what buildings, parks, towns and areas are restored to
rapid: growth always is
roam: What mammoths do (sometimes “over a vast area”)
standstill: what cities are brought to in an uprising, earthquake etc
striking: what resemblances are
string: criminals have a "string of" previous offences
tear through: what fires do to buildings and cities

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 23 September 2013

Adjectives 8

Have you ever eaten at a Harvester before?

glamourless: In a sort of Harvester, eating rethawed food on a table for one, but I like the solitary, glamourless glamour. [Is there a word for this kind of experience? And nostalgia for this kind of experience? Non-places. Liminality. Sudden yearning to live in an orphanage.] (@robinince )

“the ineffable Gurdjieff” (E.S. Turner)

fustian: It is a pompous and idiotic fiction... and it is staged by Vincente Minnelli in an incredibly fustian "Hollywood" style.

conceited: Roald Dahl was “extremely conceited”. Isaiah Berlin

dim, dreary people of utter unmemorability (Philip Knightley on MI5)

awkward communing with pseudo friends…. a series of distressingly underemployed young women. ( on Tao Lin July 2013)

bizarre tosh: A friend on the radical feminism of the 80s.

whimsical:  'Thought for the day' oddly named given complete lack of rationality, logic or reason. 'Whimsical wittering of the day' wd be more accurate. (Sathnam Sanghera ‏@Sathnam)

dull, middlebrow fiction (The Age of Uncertainty on those books people read at book groups)

Fascinatingly tiresome. An in-depth review of the new Woody Allen. It sounds different from recent twee travelogues. (@kerryshale)

mesmerisingly nuts:
The Telegraph's descriptions of the Chelsea Flower show gardens make the whole thing sound mesmerisingly nuts.... (@elliswoodman)

Sumptuous but leaden… utterly inert… (Guardian May 2013 on Great Gatsby Versions)

cuckoo conspiracy theories: believed in by would-be UKIP councillors

insane: geodesic Macdonalds with internal garden in Georgia, US (Feargus O’Sullivan)

mawkish: An "emo-operetta" that "sweeps us away on a new riptide of mawkish euphoria" (Twilight)

simply awful: Why the Prado are so excited about their simply awful Mona Lisa is beyond me. (@philipmould)

posturing: Postmodernism at its scientifically ignorant and posturing worst.

eldritch: applied to cackles and screeches. Time for a revival.

fey: only word for the catfood advert cat (“I’m a carnivore!”)

measly: A strange, oddly suburban landscape of semis, apologetically detailed, measly in scale and generally nondescript. (Douglas Murphy/@entschwindet)

watery: Chinese contemporary art has come leaps and bounds from the watery Zen landscapes to huge canvases of strange-looking beings. (Scott Davidson)

unspeakably ridiculous: Forget the pretentious, fake, flashy drivel of people like Amis, McEwan, not to mention the unspeakably ridiculous Rushdie. (Amazon commenter)

twee: various pieces of friendly, colourful, twee architecture deployed as fig leaves over the grasping urban developments of the past 15 years. (Douglas Murphy 2013-03-08 Guardian)

flashy: Hadid’s flashy new transport museum (in Glasgow) (Ian Jack G 2013-02-16)

dross: façadist dross (Feargus O’Sullivan)

foolhardy: Building more outer Melbourne suburbs without infrastructure a foolhardy move

earnest: "earnest idealism" of Obama inauguration

paint-by-numbers: the paint-by-numbers quirkiness of Silver Linings Playbook (@bipolarbearnz)

pretentious: So pretentious, hollow and odious that it set my teeth on edge. (National Review on the Draughtsman’s Contract, 1989)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Buzz Words for 2013, Part II


fash for fascisti

woo for homeopathy, acupuncture etc Annoying, and I can’t remember what we said before.

What the Americans used to call a baby buggy and we called a push-chair is now a stroller.

Bring your whole self to work. (It means you shouldn’t have to hide the fact that you are gay or from the planet Vulcan.)

home made Scotch eggs (June 2013)

very very ("the very hail storm described in plague 8") Please rotate with "same" and "actual".

strawboard everywhere in walls, furniture… (It’s a buzz thing.)

fuck-ton (As in “fuck-tons of…”) Gone again, August.

tats for tattoos (around for a while)

open the kimono for reveal all, moment of truth?

whip smart

Curse you,
[fashionable phenomenon]! Seems to have passed. Oh no, spotted July 2013.

Reuters and Getty Images will appear as "firehoses" of content…. (

double-dip recession Oh, double-dip has some… other meanings. (Urban dictionary. As usual, not for the easily offended.)

cronuts (whatever they are)

de-extinction (for the mammoth)

mass outbreak of “fawning” as royal baby is born

parties are now “house parties”. (Where else would you hold a party?)

subtweet: tweet with no @ mention that beefs/comments about unspecified person. portmanteau of "subtext" and "tweet". (@bat020)

badass popular this past week 2013 4 8

vacah, cray cray, nabe, spox, amaymay, hilair! (vacation, crazy, neighbourhood, spokesperson, amazing, hilarious)

in persuading for to persuade, etc (In challenging the religious hierarchy, Hutchinson also challenged traditional gender roles. huffpost By challenging etc)

"Smart" is our generation's "modern". (Truett Ogden/@Truett)

selfies (They're going to cause the destruction of civilisation as we know it, or something.)

sharpie: a kind of marker that young people like to sniff

fried gold

“This seems to be the summer that Popup Cinema has gone mainstream.” (wegottickets)

FOMO: fear of missing out

Everybody has a solution for Syria, August 30, 13

Trolls being mentioned a lot by people tutting that we shouldn’t mention trolls, it only encourages them.

donut or plum
has replaced muppet

The web is now the internet (the distinction between them has been forgotten).

squeaky bum time ("The tense final stages of a league competition" according to the Urban Dictionary.)

coward now means "attacker" rather than "person who is afraid of something"

very popular for “women complaining about bad treatment from men”. It has become What To Say About women columnists, whatever they write. Often used by people who never read the columnists in question, but just want to be nasty about women, or anybody at all.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Why Gay Marriage Is Wrong III

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill (it applies to England and Wales) received Royal Assent in July 2013. We'll just have to wait and see if all mankind perishes, the apocalypse arrives and we can't use the word "gay" to mean "happy" any more. (Has anyone, since 1970?)

Arguments against gay marriage, used by some gay people:

    Rights are more important than a name.
    It's a heteronormative institution that has historically marginalised homosexuality.
    Marriage is "between man and woman" and that's the best environment for children.
    It's a patriarchal, flawed institution.
    In countries that have civil partnerships, some gay people say that's enough.

Some gay people are against equal marriage, says BBC Online:

"Gay activists should instead put their energies into environmental issues like climate change, because there's a chance to make a morally more defensible and more urgent difference."

Some lesbians are opposed to marriage on feminist grounds, says Claudia Card, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, because they see it as an institution that serves the interests of men more than women. It is also, in her view "heteronormative", embodying the view that heterosexuality is the preferred and normal sexuality. "It's undeniable that marriage has historically also discriminated against same-sex couples," Card says. As a result, she thinks the issue of marriage is a distraction.

Legba Carrefour, a self-styled "radical queer", calls it a "destructive way of life" that produces broken families. He believes a more important priority for the gay community is the rise in violence against transgendered people.

Although the introduction of same-sex marriage will not make heterosexual marriage "disappear", it may make "the path to fulfilment, in marriage and in other relationships, more difficult to find," says the report Men and Women in Marriage, published April 2013 by the Church of England's Faith and Order Commission.

This is a truly terrifying totalitarian mindset from which the country cries out for deliverance. (Melanie Phillips)

Head of Russian Orthodox Church warns equal marriage is a sign of the apocalypse. (@pinknews 2013-07-21)

US Catholic Archbishop: Satan is responsible for gays marrying and having anal sex. (@pinknews)

Ana María Jiménez Ortiz, a congresswoman for the Mexican political party PAN, says gay people should not be allowed to marry because they don't face each other during sex. (She later said “I'm sorry that my participation was taken out of context”.) Aug 2013

From Hansard via the Independent:

Lord Waddington predicted that to profess disagreement with gay marriage would end up designated as a “hate crime”.

Lord Hylton expressed his regret that “the fine old English and French word ‘gay’ has, in my lifetime, been appropriated by a small but vocal minority” with the result that “it can no longer be used in its original and rather delightful meaning”. (In the 1840s, a “gay” person was a prostitute.)

If we give you gay people this equal right, asked Lord James, “what are you going to ask for next?”

Gay marriage is a grotesque subversion of a human right. (Cardinal O’Brien - or did he say rite?)

Gay marriage is a threat to the continued existence of all mankind. (Pope Benedict)

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee thinks gay marriage is like polygamy, assisted suicide and prostitution.

Pastor Kevin Swanson warned that if Colorado allows civil unions for same-sex couples, gays will end up burning Christians at the stake and children will be handed over to paedophiles.

I have seen one other argument against: "I'm not a bigot - I'm just being concerned about the feelings of those who are." (Brian Lawton /@MrBLawton)

Sikh lord says gay marriage would lead to children being “‘neglected”. (via @Sathnam)

Speaking in a debate in the House of Lords on Monday, the Most Rev Justin Welby said that marriage was the "cornerstone of society" and that what was being proposed was "neither equal nor effective". The Archbishop denied that his opposition to the bill was a faith issue, insisting it was "about the general social good". (June 2013)

Update 2024: Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, allows clergy to bless gay partnerships.

The Vatican's newspaper compared gay marriage proponents to conniving communists, promising a false utopia.

US radio host: Gays are "empty" inside and want to "absorb the personality and identity of others". (Aug 2013)

And who was it who said that gays should not marry because they meet in bars and aren't committed to each other?

More here.
And here.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Whatever Happened To....? 25

the Age of Aquarius

album cover art

angelica and candied peel


TV channel (opened with much fanfaire and closed 5 July 2013)

breaking the shells of your boiled egg so that witches couldn’t use them for boats

cable programmes about floods, the railways of Switzerland, other people’s nicknacks etc

childhood illnesses that required the child to stay in bed for three years

cinemas showing old movies, art movies and foreign movies

Courtelle (thick, springy man-made fibre yarn)

creativity (very important in the 70s)

Design Centre (closed in the 90s)

District Messengers

Estuary English
eurhythmics (Dance exercises popular in the 1920s - still going. Search for "Dalcroze".)

French slurs about the English eating animal feed (turnips, swedes, broad beans) and putting jam on their food (red currant jelly, mint sauce)


girls called Freda

(60s posh smelly cheese)


hanging one lustre from a chandelier in your window to reflect light

hats held on with elastic


idea that you could only “do” your hair properly if it was dirty


Italic handwriting

laundry marks

library signs exhorting SILENCE

male chauvinism


New Maths

New Millennnium

nuisance calls
(now internet trolls)

Op Art eye makeup

ouzo and retsina

(in pseudo-military uniform and pillbox hats)

palmtops that you controlled by a “gestural language” (now smartphones)

people complaining you can’t use “gay” to mean “happy” any more

performing Shakespeare with authentic pronunciation

pierrot shows on the beach/pier

poison pen letter writers (now internet trolls)

porn mags in newsagents (all on the internet)

protest songs
putting a record on when people came round
putting red kidney beans in everything

recipes called “something supreme” and “something a la King” (smother in cream, cook in white sauce)

roule cheese

scuba divers communicating by gestures

selecting a track on an LP and putting the needle down in exactly the right place without scratching the record


spoon warmers



The Pedway
(System of elevated walkways in the City of London. Fragments remain.)

Threshers off-licences

tinned gooseberries


travelogues (moved to TV)

treacle toffee

Turkish cigarettes
(elliptical in section)

turnips (Wartime famine food. They were still pushing turnip recipes in the 70s. Why wasn't Dig for Victory revived then?)

TV aerials

Twitter novels

Urban Outfitters

Women’s League of Health and Beauty (still going as the Fitness League – search for Bagot Stack classes)

YHA sheet sleeping bags

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Yet More Sound and Music Cliches

Chris Packham and friend


When talking about how life began, ramp up the stirring orchestral music with constantly rising figures and lots of brass while the camera ranges over mountains, clouds and volcanoes, and the voiceover becomes ever more portentous. Subtext: for “nature” read “God”.

High-profile nature docs (usually made in the US) have award-winning photography, a British or Irish actor doing the voiceover and an over-dramatic orchestral score. The actor speaks RP, or has a faint Scottish or Irish accent. If female, she speaks in low, whispery tones. There is hardly any, or no, science. There is no mention of Darwin or evolution (we want to sell into all markets). There’s no sight of a human being, so no interviews with anyone who studies, or looks after, the animals or landscape. The narration is reduced to a string of cliches. Sometimes the animals are anthropomorphised. (The pilot fish… patrol… the wreck.) Sometimes some drama is created. (Will the orphaned seal... make it back to land?) It all looks like a poster. 

In American documentaries including people, everything is very smooth. Not a beat is wasted. We go from voiceover to interview to action slightly too fast, slicing off the end of one and the beginning of the other.

Low-profile nature docs are narrated by Steve Backshall or Chris Packham and nobody makes a big fuss about them. In Brit documentaries, you see the presenter bumbling about, and a few “mistakes” and corpsing are left in. You also get ten minutes on "how we filmed the Arctic wolves".

Never mind what or where it has been filmed – it can be red crabs on Christmas island, monarch butterflies in Mexico… You apply a generic title – here it happens to be “migrations” – to which you add the portentous tones of Stephen Fry annunciating every phrase as if it were the Second Coming… and then drench the whole thing in deafening quasi-celestial orchestral muzak. It’s like being sat on by a blue whale. (The Times on Migrations, 2011. They mean "enunciating".)

No nature documentary can be made without urgent drumming (2013). Galloping cheetahs, tectonic plates, rising mountains, battling baboons…

I predict the most catchy track, Ísjaki, will be the soundtrack to “every missed goal, every whale-pod journey, every sunshine-through-rain moment on every TV trailer well into 2014”. (Kitty Empire in the Observer on Sigur Ros, July 2013)

In jungles, there’s always a bird that whistles D F A G over and over again.

makes a creaking sound, even when it’s just sitting there. Sometimes it makes an “icicles on twigs tinkle together in wind” sound.

When we see an icefield, a moaning wind starts up. (And powdery snow blows across the surface.)

Popping sound: cells divide, fledglings leave nest, towns on map light up (Indonesian islands “popping up” on a map in Singapore Airlines ad. In another ad, it has a faint ding-dong doorbell after the word “house”.)

Tick tock ting bing (or pizzicato arpeggios) – we're talking about time going faster in weak gravity (but clocks don’t tick any more, or strike).


The villains are playing poker while the kidnap victim is tied to a chair. There’s a knock at the door. Soundtrack plays a snippet of  the series/movie theme, slowly, in a minor key, on a wind instrument (clarinet, oboe, bassoon).


We see a castellated tower through bare branches – rooks go “Chak!”. (Sometimes riders in Tudor dress appear, with falcons on their wrists.)

Allegri’s Miserere OR Zadok the Priest (but never more than the opening bars) (Just heard Allegri’s Miserere behind pix of a 12th century building.)

Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater (18th century) accompanying pictures of the Book of Kells (9th century).

Tune played screechily on a penny whistle – we are in Medieval Times.

There’s a genre of tall ship music.

BBC. Pizzicato violins. Could be baking. History. The Apprentice. A documentary. Gardening. Anything. (‏@IanMartin)


The BBC has one CD of light music tracks it uses for everything.

Why is klezmer used to illustrate something amusingly revolting, like mouldy bread? (There was a brief fashion for using it in ads, over car breakdowns.)


Robots make a loud hydraulic wheezing sound.

All large machinery emits the screeching of metal on metal, as if it was collapsing.

And why do all cars chirrup when they're unlocked in movies and on TV? They don't round our way. (@GraemeGarden1)

Everyone on TV’s mobile still makes old-fashioned tone-dialling noises. Apart from Scandi-detectives, whose phones are all on “xylophone”.

What's with the ripping of paper noise when a graphic goes on and off screen, ITV? This isn't some children's computer game from the 1980s! (@MrBLawton) Goes with slide projector changing slides noise, ripping record off turntable.


In Radio 4 documentaries, a deep-voiced actor puts on a funny voice to read out a passage by Samuel Johnson or Pepys.

Someone, please, do a supernatural TV drama that doesn't involve a spooky little girl whispering. Pretty please. (@mrgodbehere)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 1 September 2013

What People Say They Want

What people say they want is not the same as what they actually choose. (Ben Haller in The New Statesman May 7 2005)

It is said that doctors, when they ask you how much you drink, will take the answer and double it. (New Yorker 2007)

"People say they want things, and then they don't really want them," said Chris Martone, executive chef for Subway... It has developed new whole-grain breads and put them up against their refined flour breads in consumer taste tests. The refined-flour breads always win - though in surveys, people say they're looking for whole grains. ( People also said they wanted salads at McDonalds and then didn’t buy them.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink says that according to research by coffee producers people claim to like “dark, rich” coffee when actually they like it milky and sweet.

People think they don't watch, look at or listen to ads. “Living in a very commercial society I make a pointed effort to avoid them. ... I haven't paid attention to ads for years!” (

Around 1970, I was part of the team that launched Ariel. The recommended dosage was (can't remember the actual figure - let's say) 50g. One of the technical team told me that in fact the ideal level was 35g. "But many users assume we try to increase sales by overestimating the amount you need, and put in much less. Then they find it hasn't worked well, and assume the product doesn't work. So we recommend a dosage about 50 per cent higher than the ideal, to make sure they use enough." (Friend RN writes)

Chinese people say they want to visit Europe for the art and culture: actually they want to shop.

English people think they want to live in the country. They spend most of their life living in the city but are convinced that they don’t really belong; they’re not city folk, they’re really country people. They can’t wait to “escape” the “rat race” and the “hustle and bustle” (the other people). They think they want to get away from it all. Then they find they’re trapped, there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go, you have to drive everywhere, there are no shops, nobody to talk to… (They probably even miss the “crowds” they’re always wanting to avoid.)

Others think they want a life abroad where there is “space to think and write”, “space to breathe” – translated, that means somewhere where property is cheaper so they can afford a big house with a garden. They give up when the money runs out. They realise they can’t get a job locally (apart from oyster gathering), their children don’t learn French just by osmosis, their own French isn’t good enough and it never will be. Even if they speak perfect French, les Français won’t accept them or be their friend; there’s nobody to talk to, especially not other English people from the particular class layer they belong to. They’ve gone there for a “sense of community” but are spooked by people observing and commenting on their every move. (It’s OK for the incomers to observe the natives, especially “quirky characters”.) They realise they actually love the anonymity of the city and go back to London and write about it in The Guardian.

They think they like porridge plain, with salt.

They think they like strawberries with black pepper.

Respondents tell researchers what they think they want to hear, or what the subjects want to believe about themselves (that they only eat a banana for breakfast, live the “green” life, floss every day, eat out in restaurants not get a takeaway, go to concerts and the theatre not the multiplex). They tell pollsters that men prefer curvy women, and women prefer men with a sense of humour.

Women say they don’t judge men by their looks. (July 12, 2003)

Men think they won’t mind if their wife earns more than they do. (Latest research suggests it makes them depressed, August 2013.)

Men say they find intelligence attractive.

Internet daters say they like meals out and long walks in the country.

The Three-Toed Sloth website casts doubt on dating research that merely asks people to report their preferences, rather than studying their behaviour: "You might find that students who say they are, e.g., very attractive claim to demand very attractive mates, and vice versa... It would not be reasonable, however, to say that you are actually studying 'the cognitive processes underlying human mate choice', for several reasons. You have no data on actual mate choice, but at best on mating preferences. In fact, you do not have data on actual preferences, but claimed preferences. And you really don't even have self-perception data, but claimed self-perception."

People think they like hard mattresses so they got harder and harder, so hard that you now have to get a mattress topper – a reinvention of the feather bed. (You can even get a Comfort U Total Body Pillow.)

They think they’d like to have “family dinner” round a dining table in a dining area or dining room once a week, and think they’d eat out in a garden if they had one, or sit out with a glass of wine. 

Drinkers think they like dry white wine, but they don’t really, so the bottlers label medium “dry” and sweet “medium”.

Novelist and mystery-writer Simon Brett is good on people who are always moaning about belonging to a huge faceless institution, and whining that they want to be free to do their own thing, but actually love the security and the fact that they can get away with doing rather little and have everything laid on.

Nobody tells a historian that they lived in a slum when they were young - but they can tell you all about the really rough area a few streets away.

The proprietor of an art, craft and gift shop says he’s closing down. He says people come into the shop, look at handmade things, pick them up and say “Oooh, that’s lovely”, and go elsewhere and buy something manufactured. He thought they’d turn into customers but they don’t.

People think they want to run their own communities à la Big Society (no interference from petty bureaucrats!). But when it comes down to it nobody wants to do the work. (And probably nobody has an inkling of how much work is involved.)

They all think they’re special and that conventions are for other people.