Monday 24 February 2014

Movie and TV Clichés - Now in Book Form!

What, me, Inspector?

Movie and TV Clichés: now an exciting mini ebook:

Here's a sample:

Bad acting: look left, right, and at the ceiling – now sigh. (I don't have time for all this right now, Inspector.)

More bad acting: look at the ceiling and laugh gaily. (Me? A suspect? How ridiculous!)

Clunky exposition: If Cousin Everard hadn’t come all the way from Saskatchewan we’d never be eating in the Maison Pierre! (Rumpole)

ACTION PAINTING When a tortured artist picks up a paint-laden brush and looks in a mirror he will slowly: a) paint all over his face b) put the brush in his mouth.

BE BOULDER When running away from a careering boulder or exploding fireball, run straight ahead instead of leaping to the side. The same technique can be used with a stampeding herd of dinosaurs, a cavalry charge or a stream of lava.

CASH PRIZES Clutch cash in untidy handfuls instead of smoothing it out into neat bundles - see Pretty Woman. Sometimes you shove it at someone, while saying: “Take it! Take it! I don’t want it!”

DEATH OF THE DINOSAURS Herds are always setting off on a doomed trek into a desert as the rivers dry up.

FAUX FATHERS How to expose a fake priest: quote Thoreau and attribute it to Thomas Aquinas. (Murder She Wrote)

GARBAGE Anyone who has a dustbin upended over their head ends up smothered in baked beans, picking noodles out of their hair.

HANDBAGS AT DAWN When the beautiful woman finally admits she is the murderer, the detective solicitously helps her into her fur coat before taking her down to the police station - but she never takes her handbag.

JAPANESE GARDENER Watch out for that man clipping the hedge – especially if he raises his head with a meaning look.

MAY I HAVE THIS DANCE? They never dance but sway from foot to foot while telling each other large swathes of plot.

PERIOD DIALOGUE In bad period drama an older woman will constantly address a younger one as “child”.

SAIL AWAY In American films, going sailing is a sign of integrity.

TELEPHONE ETIQUETTE When making a phone call while pretending to be someone else, always hold your nose to disguise your voice.

WAKE UP! A man is sitting at a desk, apparently asleep. You tap him on the shoulder – he slumps to the floor, dead.

YOU’RE UNDER ARREST Arresting officers say “Anything you say will be taken down and used in evidence against you.”

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Howlers 10

Estate Agent speak
Construed in the 60s, a flay within waling distance of the fashionable immunities of Church Street, converted in this vicarage, in a quite residential neighbourhood, comprimises of carpet flooring, everything is separated from a central hallway, leaving room contains kitchen. Live in harmony with your environment in the shape of a long rear garden, we are delighted to offer to the market this two bedroom split level marionette. Double glaze windoe to rear, plummed for washing machine, communial car park area to front of the property, recently renovated within the last three months, carpeated throughout.

Say it in American
chalked full for chock full: chalked full of unnatural chemicals (Web)
Guy Fox day: Guy Faukes day
bombfire night: bonfire night
I took it for granite: granted
feeble for foetal: He curled up in the feeble position.
trickle treating: trick or treating

cognitive dissonance for contradiction (People rationalise away contradictions to avoid cognitive dissonance.)

collard doves for collar doves: You’re thinking of collard greens.

colonial: confusing with feudal or imperial? (Britain rules the waves, influential country, setting up more embassies in foreign blah blah we are the world police etc ‏@Sharpzilla)

descent for dissent: There has been a continuous murmuring of descent. (Dissent means disagreement.)

dinaphorous for diaphanous

edged for etched: Fear was edged on the cat’s face.

eschews for exemplifies: “Hayley [Mills] is very impressive, with that wide eyed wonder look she eschews…” (imdb) (Eschews means avoids.)

faith for fate: He suffered a similar faith.

foreboding for forbidding: “The forecast is foreboding” BBC 2014-02-13 (Forecasts are always foreboding. That’s what forecasts do.)

gambit for remit: “That’s not within your gambit.” Dragon’s Den

larva for lava: “the larva that buried Pompeii” (Times)

lip-singing for lip-synching (It’s short for “synchronising”.)

marred for mired: The Turin Shroud is forever marred in controversy. (Cable TV caption) (For ever? How do you know?)

Niandathol Man for Neanderthal man

obeisance for obedience: “The infallible, all-knowing, all-seeing leader, expecting absolute obeisance…” Skeptic, January 2014 (Obeisance means genuflecting or kowtowing.)

pawn off for palm off

pin-clean for clean as a new pin (You’re thinking of “pin-sharp”.)

plain for plane: operate on a high artistic plain

planet for plane: “When he moved on from this earthly planet…” (Flog It! 2013) (It's from a spiritualist idea of planes of existence.)

prize of place for pride of place: Make sure they're prize of place!

quixotic for paradoxical: “To castigate a man, on the one hand, for his use of sexist language and then to turn on him for lack of chivalry may seem quixotic.” (Angela Carter)

site for sight: in plain site

The press has made us a laughing stalk. (More easily confused in the US.)

toe-path for tow-path: High tide at Richmond, toe-path impassible in places. (The horse walked along it while towing the barge in the days before they had engines.)

travesty for tragedy

unerring for eerie or unsettling: “You’ve all probably seen that slightly unerring sight…” (World’s Weirdest Weather)

vigorous for rigorous: Such woodland would still have to go through a "vigorous planning process". DOE spokesbod quoted by the BBC Jan 2014

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Adjectives 9

Breathtakingly ugly
Ignore advice to strike out all adjectives.

sketch of the utter vacuousness of a Baftas 2014 afterparty, by the superstellar @hadleyfreeman. (@alokjha )

a breathtakingly ugly Holiday Inn (@createstreets)

This is a sort of rock cum orchestra package that is as unlistenable as it is infuriating. Inaccessable and incomprehensible to the vast majority of people, this self-indulgent experimental epic is maddeningly pompous. Records like this are favoured only by simpering eggheads who consider themselves to be some kind of self-appointed musical intelligenstia. It reeks pretense and looms from your speakers with a stifling gloom. Avoid. (Amazon review of Kaddish)

Small flats with cheap facades of veneer-thin seaside timber, with uninhabitable balconies and with no thought to their orientation or aspect, masquerade as luxury development.

We’d prepared a complicated, idealistic and on reflection absurd birth plan involving paddling pools. (Robert Crampton, The Times 2014-02-13)

The examples were the classic 90s self-help-book variety. (Telegraph Feb 2014)

catchpenny articles

strained power-ballad style (Derren Brown)

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a remarkably unremarkable book. (

Having compared the two – which is the kind of stupendously dreary thing I do when left to my own devices… (

pseudo inspirational, flatulent texts

volatile, touchy and vindictive (Borgen translation)

the mendacious marionette (Pinocchio)

The mysterious “piano man” ended up back home in “stifling Potsdorf”. (Fortean Times)

identitarian piety, pious moralising (Mark Fisher on the crisis of the left)

A lot of misty eyed guff about JFK. (@IamThorMeToo)

Marcus Aurelius certainly had a talent for spouting high sounding meaningless twaddle. (Mike Goss)

The book is peppered with strained jokes. (Times Nov 2013)

patronising planning (Guardian article on Ian Nairn, Oct 2013)

I have a vivid memory from childhood of seeing on the new Coventry cathedral a huge statue of St Michael defeating the Devil, the features of the Devil ever since standing in for everything wicked and conniving. Stupidly, I recently went to have another look – the statue is sort of hopeless and the Devil's face, which had mutated in my mind to keep pace with my personal iconography of how evil should look, now seemed feeble. (Guardian Nov 1 2013)

the interminable bickering of painfully earnest students (Popup London/@FoodPit)

Pat Neal in a film wore “optimistic Shetland jumpers”. (Jeremy Treglown in his biography of Roald Dahl)

wistful Vietnamese pop

It would be infinitely kinder to pass over this book in silence were it not for the richly fatuous self-regard that gleams off every page. (Angela Carter)

gently boring (Angela Carter What was? A Japanese suburb or the novel Monkey?)

in an apartment on the crummy side of the not-so-great. (Angela Carter)

Baffled officials came up with one inane explanation after another. (

There are dull canvas approximations, knocked out in reduced dimensions, by a host of repetitive Aborigine artists making a buck. Out of a tremendous indigenous tradition, fired and inspired by an enormous natural landscape, the Australian art world has managed to create what amounts to a market in decorative rugs. Opening the show with a selection of these spotty meanderings, and discussing them in dramatically hallowed terms, cannot disguise the fact that in most cases the great art of the Aborigines has been turned into tourist tat. (Waldemar Januszczak on Australian art Sept 2013)

Another ad which takes the heart and soul out of a classic tune, replacing it with anodyne mewling over naff guitar. (Scarlet Wilde)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 16 February 2014

Inspirational Quotes 51

Be a creature like no other

Sam Leith claims that Orwell’s essay ‘Such, such were the joys’ is ‘soaked in self-pity’ (8 Feb) It really isn’t. What impresses me is Orwell’s willingness, 30 years on, to tease out the lasting impact of such conditioning on him. For heaven’s sake, the headmaster breaks a riding crop whilst caning the eight-year-old Orwell for bed-wetting. Orwell doesn’t describe this with self pity so much as builds a powerful and moving case as to why he’s thereafter incapable of love and trust. Orwell acknowledges that the damage is lasting, deep and profound, and it is Leith’s failure not to acknowledge that retrospective insight. Boarding schools remain powerfully divisive, anti-democratic, inegalitarian forces within British society, that maim their ‘beneficiaries’ every bit as much as they confer privileged access to the establishment. That’s what Orwell’s 65-year-old essay expresses, and it’s as true today as it was in 1974. Mark Smalley, Bristol, The Guardian 15 Feb 2014 (I’m quoting this in full because I can’t find it on the Guardian site. Their new, app-like, device-friendly search now works LESS well than before they tinkered with it. Leith actually wrote “sodden” with self-pity. Leith is a public-school product.)

Scott Adams, in The Joy of Work, recommends not saying anything at all around witty people that they can use to make fun of you. He gives an example in which a speaker says they watched a movie last night, is called a "couch potato", and despite their best efforts is nicknamed "Spud". (

Many human beings will be a complete jerk to people they don't know. In some institutions, hazing or bullying a newcomer is standard practice. (Thanks for warning us, wonderful Parents and mentors usually say something pointless and untrue like “people will take you at your own valuation”.)

Internet dating, which in some respects has revolutionised the dating process, has, up till now, failed to challenge the antiquated taboo about full and open disclosure about people’s baby desires.
Online profiles of both men and women are filled with claims about fun-loving, care-free, spontaneous personality traits. But the make-or-break subject of breeding intentions is conspicuously absent from profiles or at best mentioned in the vaguest of terms… Being coy about children is a bizarre and counter-productive custom.

Just because you own half the county doesn't mean you have the power to run the rest of us. For twenty-three years, I've been dying to tell you what I thought of you. And now, well, being a Christian woman, I can't say it. (The Wizard of Oz)

Outgoing, conscientious, friendly people who are open to new experiences tend to be happier than those who are more shy, unadventurous, neurotic and unfriendly. BPS Digest

Most of us want to fit in,
few want to be the shunned loner forced to live outside the city limits in a den made of moss, but we also want to have a feeling of individuality… As creatures with a fear of social judgement, we can keep things in. (Robin Ince Forget about being a tall poppy, a unique snowflake or a creature like no other. Unless you hang out in the cantina in Star Wars.)

I thought I would be married with kids by now. (Actor Matthew Rhys, 39)

In Los Angeles you can be one job away from finding success. Then you meet those people who have been chasing that dream for 50 years… Quite early on in my career, my agent suggested I come out to LA to audition. I got a role in Titus alongside Sir Anthony Hopkins and thought, “This is great.” Then I went out again every year for the next ten years and all I got was a suntan. (Actor Matthew Rhys)

It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope. (John Cleese in Clockwise)

I like nothing more than the sound of the dressmaking scissors slicing through fabric! (

Failure: Over-rated and often boring. And please, stop quoting Samuel Beckett about it: what would he know? (@frieze_magazine)

One individual can usually make little difference. But a million individuals can; and a million individuals are made up of one million single individuals. (MB)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 14 February 2014

Whatever Happened To...? 29

Whatever Happened To...? is now a mini e-book with extra sections on Why Won't They Go Away and Can We Now Say How Ghastly They Were?

They Were Ghastly
any film or play of the 50s or early 60s involving people in appealingly cute clown make-up
Archigram (Whimsical futurological “architects” who wanted us to live in giant Meccano mushrooms on wheels.)
poetic radio drama
ponderous British sculptor Henry Moore

Go Away - Now!

actors shouting
blonde streaks on everybody
mixed hospital wards
orange fake tan

What Happened To...?
wondering if there was a better programme “on the other side”
powder compacts
nouvelle cuisine

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Received Ideas III

Zippy the Pinhead

I have expanded and updated my book Clichés: A Dictionary of Received Ideas, a collection of weird wisdom and ludicours lore. It now has a section of questionable quotes. Also available on Kobo. Here's a sample:


ARE WE HAVING FUN YET? Asked Al Gore as a child on holiday. (It was cartoon character Zippy the Pinhead.)

BUT THAT WAS IN ANOTHER COUNTRY, and besides the wench is dead. (From Christopher Marlow’s The Jew of Malta. It is supposed to be a feeble excuse.)

EVERY SPERM IS SACRED From an amusing comedy skit by those zany jokesters, Monty Python, not preached by the Pope.

HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY “Policy” used to mean something like “diplomacy”, so this means "honesty is the best kind of deviousness".

LIES, DAMN LIES… “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics,” said Winston Churchill. (When Mark Twain mentioned this pithy saying in his autobiography, he credited it to Benjamin Disraeli.)


ATTENTION SPAN Reduced to three minutes by Facebook, Twitter, texting, television adverts, moving pictures, penny dreadfuls, melodramas etc etc

BUTTONS The Quakers thought buttons were frivolous.

CROWDS How lonely one can be in a crowd! But it’s possible to be “alone” and not “lonely”.

DYLAN THOMAS Habitually used a fried egg as a bookmark.

EUROPEAN UNION Set of screaming Marxists who ban bent bananas and force us to accept their bleeding-heart values. We need British human rights (i.e. fewer rights for humans).

FRIENDS It’s better to have four or five real friends than 40 acquaintances (and 300 Facebook “friends”).

GUNS Don’t kill people. People kill people. (“But the gun helps.” Eddie Izzard)

HYMNS Their tunes are always based on drinking songs.

ITALIAN The purest Italian is spoken in Tuscany.

JOHN WAYNE Couldn’t act. Hilariously, said “Aw, truly this was the son of Gahd”.

KING JAMES II Rode his horse upstairs to bed because he didn’t want people to know he was short.

LYING Everybody tells ten lies a day. 

MOSQUITOES Repel them by eating garlic, or wearing white.

NON-STICK SAUCEPANS A spin-off from space research, they are made from the same material as the nose-cones of rockets.

OVER-THINKING It’s better to under-think things. Be unprepared!

PUNS There are no puns in German.

QUEEN’S HANDBAG What does Queen Elizabeth II carry in her handbag? If anyone finds out, they are never seen again.

ROYAL MAIL Set up by Charles I as a cover for a spy network.

STRAUSS WALTZES The pop music of their day. The musical equivalent of the doily.

TYPEWRITERS The qwerty keyboard is designed to slow you down! But we are stuck with it now.

URBAN REGENERATION We need more industrial buildings turned into art galleries surrounded by coffee shops.

VOCABULARY Most people have a vocabulary of only 200 words.

WIND TURBINES All dummies. The sails are turned by clockwork motors.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Progress III

Can we stand in the way of progress? Did protest ever change anything?

Now the line is destroyed at Dawlish, TPTB may be regretting that Dr Beeching closed alternative rail routes to Cornwall in the 60s. ("The mass closure of railway lines in the wake of the Beeching Reports in the 1960s was a colossal error." London Review of Books, Dec 2013)

[In Portsmouth] the planners came up against popular opinion, and lost. (London Review of Books, Dec 2013)

cabvision (gone by 2011)

smoking in pubs (now a memory)

that horrible pink and green 80s carpet in London's Barbican Arts Centre has gone (and so has the huge pastel mural that tried to disguise the starkness of the concrete interior)

Fewer and fewer sharks are being slaughtered for their fins, and shark-fin soup restaurants are closing down in Japan.

The Vietnamese communist government set up collective farms. They were unproductive and there was a lot of corruption. In 1986 the government abolished the farms and many private coffee plantations sprang up and flourished. (Earlier, the Russian collective farm experiment resulted in a famine.)

Ian Nairn’s Outrage was published in 1956. He coined the word “subtopia”. In the 70s, nobody ever told us that people had been protesting against the destruction of old buildings for 20 years.

Early American settlers didn’t celebrate Christmas (it’s a pagan festival), but it slowly came back into favour.

Mixed-sex hospital wards were introduced, loathed, and phased out.

the Pedway (A “boldly stupid” idea to connect London with walkways. They have almost all gone and now we miss them. But for a long time there were places where you couldn't walk at street level – you were supposed to take a walkway that hadn't been built yet, or had been shut.)

Word’s helpful assistant “Clippy” (a talking paperclip) was removed after widespread protest.

But sadly, the people who say they are going to "rebuild the Crystal Palace" want to build a modern business complex on the site. With maybe a couple of cast-iron columns somewhere...

More here, and links to the rest.

Too-Appropriate Metaphors 6

Kale sales rocket
Britain's flood crisis deepens, Thames bursts banks (Sidney Morning Herald Feb 2014)

Like a gigantic wall of granite, the mountains block the rain. (They are a gigantic wall of granite, that’s why they’re blocking the weather system.)

London's Garden Bridge idea takes root

[Seal versus iguana] is a rather one-sided game of cat and mouse. (Galapagos)

“It’s been a lovely day but it’s almost the calm before the storm…” Weathergirl goes on to predict storms all over the country (Dec 29)

Radio 4 PM debate on horse welfare and eating horse meat uses the phrase "shutting the stable door..." (@adamcreen)

[Shooting the last Tasmanian tiger] “was the death knell of an entire species”.  (The death of this animal was also the death of an entire species.)

The athletes trained on an unlikely breeding ground. (It was an unlikely running track.)

where the entire economy operates behind the shroud of the Internet (Veil? Garden wall?)

This plaster was once a canvas for fine decoration… (Restoration Home, 2013-07-13 Actually they painted on the plaster.)

a spate of wildfires (BBC News, March 2013-04-02 A spate is a flood. Try “succession”.)

Drilling through the Antarctic ice to a buried lake is “the cutting edge of science”. (Prof Martin Siegert, Guardian Dec 2012)

There are oak floors you could drown in.

Albatrosses are sitting ducks. (South Pacific)

I was quietly impressed rather than bowled over [by this baseball novel]. (Amazon commenter. Perhaps he meant it.)

More here, and links to the rest.