Thursday 26 February 2015

Haiku 9

When I am lonely

And go for a walk, I see
Everywhere the same
Autumnal dusk.

The monk Ryozen

(Sabishisa ni

Yado wo tachi ide
Izuku mo onaji
Aki no yugure.)

Feels like winter just rolled in
on an Easterly wind

smelling of sulphur
and dead bonfires.

Alan McGinn ‏@Chainsaw_McGinn

We found pieces
of the doomed spacecraft
littering a remote road
in the Mojave Desert.

BBC News

Things sucked into a black hole
aren't permanently lost –
only until the end
and re-birth of the Universe.


Andrew Rader ‏@marsrader

Pitch black still.
How quickly the fig and prickly pear
gave way to the clementine
and chestnut again.

Each year seems to fly faster.

Alex Andreou

Stunning leaf colour
and mass of ladybirds.
One being eaten by spider!

iain green ‏@naturebygreen

Mass of stupidities. Yes.
Untrodden path.
No help, on the contrary.
An alien machinery.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin

Fog burning off
in the Thames Valley

and an almost summer sun.
Heading for Cheltenham.


Listening to the surprisingly deep tones
of rain on the window I realise
I should have gone out
when I first had the idea.

Andrew Brown ‏@seatrout

Autumn begins today.
Time of crystallising breath.
Crunching leaves.
Spectacular light over the sea.
Hibernation. Rediscovery.

myfot ‏@thisismyfot

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Tautology 7

Horribly colonial

"From whence" is fine. Idiomatic English has many mild tautologies: reason why, time when, man who.... (Oliver Kamm of the Times)

But don't telegraph your punches. Take people by surprise. Avoid starting a sentence with “Alas...” you haven’t told the reader what's sad yet. Same goes for “the devastating war that killed four out of six of the country’s youth”. The stats tell the story.

"A graduated hierarchy of measures, what does that mean?" (BBC Breakfast Most hierarchies are graduated.)

All you remember is the horrible colonial past. (Speaker on Sunday Morning Live about the Kohinoor, the Elgin Marbles etc. It’s like saying “By the way, colonialism was wrong”.)

brand new
Don’t go too overboard. (Once you’re overboard, you’re overboard.)

escape from

exquisite delight

frozen in formaldehyde (Many hits on Google. You preserve specimens in formaldehyde at room temperature, or put them in the freezer.)

In an age when the tip of the devastating iceberg that is sexual assault in the military is only beginning to emerge... ( It's the sexual assaults that are devastating, not the metaphorical iceberg.)

insulated ivory tower
It’s a mundane world.
(What would you expect from the mundus?)

light-winged dryad of the trees (Keats Dryads are wood nymphs.)

MGM is closing after amassing crippling debts of more than $4bn. (That level of debt is obviously crippling, there’s no need to say so. Either “crippling debts” or “debts of more than $4bn”.)

old history



Purple tomatoes that could help to slow the ravages of ageing still alive today. (slow ageing – it's like talking about the plague/spectre/scourge of something you don't like)

The caterpillar absorbs poisonous toxins from the vine, and secretes them onto its spines. (Life on Fire, Eden. All toxins are poisonous, and all poisons are toxic.)

The parks are bursting full of exotic flowers. (Saturday Kitchen full of, bursting with)

The virus, which scientists first discovered in Britain a month ago… (Times 2012 Did they discover it a second time somewhere else? How can you discover something twice? Or was it the first time it’s been spotted in Britain?)

This defeat shortly paved the way for the devastating Abbasid sack of Amorion, one of Byzantium's main cities. (@JamesThorne2 There is no kind way of sacking a city.)

underage minor

unrestrained free-for-all

utterly chronic

World War I “completely upended the old world order”.

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 20 February 2015

Art Shows in London, Bexhill, Turin...

Out of the Maze, by William Kurelek

Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Bethlem Royal Hospital
Monks Orchard Road
Greater London
The Maudsley Hospital (original the Bethlem hospital) has reopened its collection of works by former patients, including Richard Dadd and Canadian William Kurelek.

Tate Liverpool
Leonora Carrington

6 March-31 May
Leonora Carrington, 1917-2011, was a member of the Surrealist movement. Her paintings feature flying women with trees growing out of their heads, surrounded by fierce birds. She wrote short stories: in one, she turns into a hyena to avoid a dreary party. "Beautiful women have special lives like prime ministers but I don’t want that."

Dulwich Picture Gallery
Eric Ravilious

1 April-31 August
Ravilious painted the chalky landscape of Sussex, threaded with rain, barbed wire fences and leafless trees, using a tiny brush and very dry watercolour, building up an image with calligraphic strokes.  Expressionist distorted perspective adds dreaminess. When war broke out, he painted uniforms, battleships, planes, and the gun emplacements that had sprouted on the Downs. In 1942 on the way to Iceland his plane went missing.

National Portrait Gallery
from Feb
Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends
John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was a portrait artist in the style of Velasquez. His subjects were the wealthy and leisured of his day in their plushy drawing rooms. These are more relaxed portraits of his friends and fellow artists, working or on holiday.

Palazzo Chiablese, Turin
Tamara de Lempicka
19 March-30 August (then travels to Budapest)
On the run from the Russian Revolution, Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) turned Cubism into high fashion, dressed her sitters in Vionnet, posed them in racing cars, and threw in some streetscapes from Metropolis. "Her young women may have geometrically simplified arms, perfect cones for breasts and hair that seems sculpted from sheets of steel, but they also have large, heavy-lidded eyes and languorous bodies," wrote somebody in Time in 2004.

Whitworth, Manchester
to 31 May
Cornelia Parker
Includes the contemporary artist's Cold Dark Matter, a constellation of charred wood suspended from the ceiling and lit from within. I shall always admire her for steam-rollering a huge heap of formal silver tableware.

Ladybird by Design
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill-on-Sea, Sussex
The original art behind the Ladybird vision of perfect middle-class life in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

St Agatha's church
12-20 June
Embroidered church vestments and altar frontals, from the 15th century to now.

Langham Place, London
to 23 May
Drawings by architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Thursday 19 February 2015

The Demon Drink Part II

Antiques programmes are still dragging in a mention of alcohol for an easy laugh. Can we stop homing in on older ladies with a scripted “joke” about alcohol? And can we retire the word “tipple”?

What’s your favourite tipple? Gin?
I make my own home-made wine.
Why do you want to sell the glass?
Someone once nearly knocked the cabinet over.
It wasn’t after some of your home-made wine, was it?
No, they were teetotal.
So what’s your strongest wine? What’s the most powerful?
Well, I make a blackberry whisky...
Flog It!

What’s your tipple of choice?

What’s your favourite tipple?
Scotch whisky.
Flog It!

So you never put a bit of whisky in there and have a little tipple?
(Catherine Sothern to an elderly lady on Flog It!)

He only drinks on two days – odd and even! 

Endless banter over some plus-size wine glasses.
“Will you throw in a bottle of wine?! I bet you’ve had two bottles in there, haven’t you, Gladys! I can see a twinkle in your eye!”
Secret Dealer

This flower is purple with a border of white – some people think it refers to the head on a pint of Guinness! Her her her her! (Lord Ross, programme on the gardens at Nymans)

Tim Wonnacott: Sequence dancing? And do you have a gin and tonic while you’re doing that?
Contestant: Oh, no, no, we’re all old dears, we can’t go out like that!
Tim W: What? Old dears can’t have a gin and tonic?
Bargain Hunt

Expert: All Scottie Wilson [painter] wanted was the price of a bottle of whisky!
All: Ah, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Antiques Roadshow

Down to the wine shop, that’s what I’d do, 50p into £25, and a cracking bottle of wine!
David Dickinson on Dickinson's Real Deal

I think I need a gin!
Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Antiques Roadshow

What are you going to do with the money, Gladys (aged 93)?
Gladys: I’m going on holiday, so I shall spend it on a little tipple!
All: Ha ha ha!

Sarah Beeny: What do you do when you’re really stressed?
Property show couple: Drink wine!
All: Ha ha ha!

Contestant: I managed to get down the mountain to a bar for a drink so I was OK!
Bargain Hunt

Tom Wonnacott looking at pewter measures:
Have I got time for a wee dram before the auction? (cheeky grin)
Bargain Hunt

Here’s a plastic beaker – unfortunately there’s no beer in it at the moment... And surprisingly, the slugs didn’t like alcohol-free lager!”
All: Ha ha ha!
BBC Breakfast, woman demonstrating slug traps

You could sit here with a glass of wine and look at that view.
Alastair Appleton on Escape to the Country

And a Radio 3 programme on the amazing, heartfelt polyphonic singing of Georgia in the former Soviet Union was mainly about drinking songs, and the habits of the amusing peasants who like to drink all night and play the bagpipes.

We don't show people smoking on TV any more – must we show them drinking?

You can call Alcoholics Anonymous on 0800 9177650, or email them at

More here.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

Agatha Christie's Hickory Dickory Dock

Poirot’s secretary, the perfect Miss Lemon, makes three mistakes in a letter. How can this be? She is worried about her sister, a widow who now runs a hostel for students in London. There has been an outbreak of odd thefts: a pair of trousers, a lightbulb – and a diamond ring, that later turns up in a bowl of soup.

Poirot agrees to help out, under the guise of lecturing to the students on crime. We meet the cast: Mrs Nicoletis, the hostel’s owner, and the students: Ahmed Ali, Akibombo, Celia Austin, Len Bateson, Nigel Chapman, Sally Finch, René Halle, Valerie Hobhouse, Elizabeth Johnston, Chandra Lal, Patricia Lane, Genevieve Maricaud, Colin McNabb, Gopal Ram, Jean Tomlinson.

Christie always moved with the times. A mixed hostel was quite “advanced” for the 50s, though the male and female students live on different staircases. (The hostel is formed out of several townhouses knocked together.) The students all eat together in the evening – a meal cooked by an Italian couple – and have a communal sitting room.

Even more daringly, students of all backgrounds mix. Not just the Indian students, the West African and the Jamaican (Elizabeth) with the others, but the working-class Len and the rather stuffy Scottish Colin with the more privileged Nigel, Sally and Valerie. Some of the students (the Indians and the French girls) remain in the background, but Elizabeth is shown as a reserved, serious scholar, and Akibombo as warm-hearted and a bit dim. (He speaks broken English, too.)

Christie was also interested to know how young people made their way in the world. When very young, she was expected to make a good marriage, but the war intervened and she became a nurse and then a pharmacist, and married a penniless pilot.

The goings-on at the hostel at first seem a series of unrelated events: someone’s green ink is stolen, and used to damage Elizabeth’s essay. Much is explained when Celia confesses that she has been trying to attract the attention of the psychiatry student, Colin. I won’t give away whodunnit, or who done what, but the plot gets more complicated and darker, featuring old crimes, locked cupboards and a torn rucksack.

Christie was also intrigued by the way romance and courtship changed – the older characters comment that girls are driven to some strange procedures these days if they want to get their man. Pretending to be a kleptomaniac? Well, really!

As the story proceeds, several romances seem to be coming along nicely, though they don’t all turn out well. But some of the young people survive and pair off, and Akibombo agrees with delight to be a “best man” when the role is explained. Poirot imagines that Mrs Hubbard the manager will go on a cruise and perhaps meet somebody (Christie’s usual prescription for the older single lady). To him, Countess Vera Rossakoff will always be “the” woman.

Hickory Dickory Dock

More on Christie here.

Monday 16 February 2015

Euphemisms about Race (in Quotes)

The Market, Edward Burra

[Republican] code words for black: lazy, tax cuts, handouts, voter fraud, big government, socialism, takers. More GOP code words for black: dependent, poor, welfare, stand your ground, food stamps, entitled (KDS/@Yankeefan1972)

For the Rev Grylls, who has experienced the practice of a ministry first-hand, [the Church of England] must be ‘authentic and permeable’, which is code for ethnically diverse, hospitable to other faiths, and not hung up on women bishops. (Robert McCrum, Observer 21 July 2013)

Anglo-Saxon: white (If you’re French, it means British/American, or “unacceptably capitalist”. “National jewels are being made available to serve the cause of Anglo-Saxon hegemony.” Arnaud-Aaron Upinsky on the Kardashian-West wedding at Versailles)

born to Russian immigrant parents: Jewish (

diversity: “Black Journalists Complain About Lack of Diversity in Presidential Debates” (, Aug 2012)

community tensions: black people may riot, white people may attack Muslims (“…a warning by Gordon Prentice, Labour MP for Pendle, that the school, described as a Muslim Eton for girls, would both damage existing schools and colleges in the area and stoke community tensions.” Daily Telegraph, 2009)

divisive: racist (Attorney General Dominic Grieve said corruption was “endemic” in some ethnic minority communities. “Some Asian commentators have described Mr Grieve's remarks as ‘divisive’.” BBC News)

multiculturalism: “members of minority races being judged by different standards according to their ‘culture’.” (The Times, June 08) Norman Tebbitt doesn’t like “two parallel cultures. A society must have a dominant culture”. (Feb 08) Abandon the failed experiment of “multiculturalism” with its politically correct requirement that mainstream social values and beliefs be downplayed in case they “offend” a minority group. We should be a tolerant society, but if we do not give proper respect to traditional British customs we risk creating a rudderless country with no common values. (Norman Blackwell, The Times September 8, 2008)

New York: People would always ask “Are you from New York?” It was only later I worked out that “New York” was code for “Jewish”. (Sarah Silverman, The Guardian, Aug 4 2012) Until now, I've had a happy life thinking of myself as a Jewish writer. I came to accept that when my work was described as being “too New York” it was really a euphemism for something else. (Wendy Wasserstein)

tranquillity: no outsiders ("We felt so lucky to live here with the tranquillity. Now it’s a nightmare." Villager from Hemley Hill, where travellers have moved in.)

tribal: black
(“Black History Month is an expression of tribalism – we are now a nation with different national historical narratives for different people.” Ed West, The Daily Telegraph, February 18 2010)

trouble: “This morning my neighbour asked me how we were coping. Unsure of what she meant, she commented on the ‘trouble’ in the community. Most of what she said is not worth mentioning in detail, except that it was thinly veiled racism and classism.” (Christian blog)

So, when is White History Month? In the US, it's January, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December.

More euphemisms here, and links to the rest.

Friday 13 February 2015

Mixed Metaphors and Garbled Clichés 13

45 mins at Regulo 6

pre-cooked hatchet job (UKIP’s Roger Helmer on critics, May 2014 First cook your axe...)

"We have to revive small builders," says Tony Pidgley. "Cut the red tape which saps the small builder." (‏@createstreets)

kneejerk soundbites
Joy Reidenberg is a hive of information. (It's usually "mine". Hives are full of busy bees.)

It’s just adding fuel to the enemy. ( the fire.)

Shopgirls are the beating heart of today’s vibrant world.
(Programme on shopgirls exaggerates slightly.)

Commenting on the files that have been "destroyed, lost or simply not found", someone promised on the radio that every stone would be unturned. (JP)

The Surrey village of Westcott pushes this thatch-topped envelope by adding a thatched dovecote bearing a weather vane on top to the mix. (There’s a thatched dovecote next to a thatched bus-stop.)

In a nice full-circle twist... (Time, July 2014)

Sometimes tensions boil over. (New Scientist, Aug 2014 Tensions can slacken, or snap.)

Batting down the hatches in lieu of hurricane Bertha. (Daisy Ashcroft ‏@dashcroftx Battening down the hatches in preparation for, in expectation of, anticipation of. "In the wake of" means "after"; "in lieu of" means "in the place of". And you close a hatch with a batten.)

the window of opportunity fades (Steve Backshall Windows open or close.)

"With scientists a bit befuddled, it's no surprise the public has begun to wonder whether the Antarctic sea ice situation reveals a chink in the climate change story." (flaw in the story, chink in the armour)

Later, the vengeful Mrs Pepys literally seized the iron while it was hot: "She came to my side of the bed and drew the curtain open, and with the tongs red hot at the end made as if she did design to pinch me with them." (If Walls Could Talk by Lucy Worsley A blacksmith strikes the iron when it is hot because that’s when it's malleable.)

It was the tip of the icing. (iceberg)

My personal favourite remains the branding consultant who told me: "Well, yes, that is the spanner in the ointment." (Mike Smyth ‏@M1ke5myth Spanner in the works, fly in the ointment.)

Elvis films “have the consistency of week-old candy floss”. (Ian Penman, LRB Sept 2014 Elvis’s films are “candy-floss” – figuratively pink and fluffy. Week-old candy-floss would be a small pool of pink syrup – the fluff goes fast.)

He does Elvis and his family/culture the due compliment of taking them altogether seriously. (Ian Penman LRB Sept 2014 on Elvis biographies. Does them the honour, pays them the compliment.)

Those in public life who deny climate science have long had a free reign in the media. ( It's "free rein", nothing to do with kings.)

Gender pay gap rises. (Gaps widen, numbers rise, lists lengthen.)

We’ll start to iron out teething troubles.
No alarm bells rang until the whistleblower intervened.

It was quite a guttural kind of feeling, just an instinct. (Beautiful Gardens from Above Language can be guttural, gut feelings are instinctual.)

This world is as big as our oyster! (The cliché "the world is your oyster" means that there are pearls everywhere if you will just go and look for them.)

a notch below the pecking order ( on Posh People. They mean “a notch below IN the pecking order”. Do they think the pecking order is an order of people who are allowed to peck the rest of us?)

Oil prices fall sparks market bloodbath (Times, paraphrase)

Last day duelling the high street gauntlet? (spotify)

This is a monumental step forward. (Only if the statue comes to life.)

He wasn’t really a task master about it; he was pretty easy going. (It’s “hard task master”.)

"It was all taken in good fun but then we did have to appreciate that it was blurring the waters for everyone else on the page." (Notts County’s head of media Jan 2015 Taken in good part, muddying the waters.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Euphemisms about Politics (in Quotes, Part II)


patriot: Somewhere on the Right is an anonymous genius at creating memes. Sarah Palin floats a suspicious number of them – Death Panels, Ground Zero Mosque, 9/11 Mosque, Terror Babies. Her tweets are minefields of coded words; for her, “patriot” is defined as, “those who agree with me”. When she says "Americans”, it is not inclusive. (Roger Ebert, 19 Aug 2010)

people: Remember Ian Paisley's refrain “the people of Northern Ireland”? Meaning Protestant people of a particular party. (@hughpearman)

political elite: people who disagree with me (“Peter Oborne says the euro debate was ‘manipulated by the political elite in an anti-democratic way’ – the way he describes people with different opinion to his own. Oborne's is a classic ‘my opinion is authentic and courageous, yours is manipulative and part of a plot’ piece of self-love.” @DAaronovitch)

politically correct: “Why is it that anything the Tories disagree with is politically correct?” (Sun commenter)

red tape, petty bureaucracy: “‘Red tape’ seems to be today's euphemism of choice for laws that protect working class people. #BBCNews” (Connor Beaton ‏@zcbeaton, January 2014)

refine: change (“They have had to refine their message.” Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me?)

right to choose: [The young voter would pick] Al Gore because: "I like his environment policies". But, she added, "also I want to defend the right to choose." This phrase is a codeword for abortion rights, and many women feel strongly on the issue. (

partial destruction “the biggest shake-up in Britain’s rail network” (BBC News, 27 March 2013)

social: It seems the word “social”, related to social media, is being used more often to mean “egalitarian”. Good. (Matt Ranson/@matr77, March 11, 2012)

speak out: give liberal viewpoint, speak up (Jordan's Queen Speaks Out, Pope to Speak Out on Abuse, Gen Petraeus speaks out against Koran-burning. Pauline Pearce “spoke out” against looters in the week of the 2011 riots: “I hope that I will encourage other people to speak out, to protect their communities.”)

sterile, stale: In the Met Commissioner glossary "sterile debate" = a question on falling police numbers. "Stale debate" = any follow-up question on police numbers (@AdamBienkov)

sustainable intensification of the livestock industry: factory farming, cows in megasheds (JOG)

take tough decisions: cut budgets, build eyesores, make people redundant, close railways, cut welfare, cause suffering (Beeching “made the tough decisions that anybody would have had to make”, spokesman on BBC Breakfast, 26 March 2013)

tribal, tribalistic: toeing the Labour Party line ("‘Labour supporters... vow Coalition is unthinkable. But they need to think again.’ Some solid reasoning by the usually tribal Polly Toynbee.” @Eugene_Grant)

trustworthy: right-wing (“You used to be able to trust the BBC!”

tumult: unrest, disturbance, uncertainty “Jane Norman has collapsed into administration as another 1,600 jobs are put at risk by the high street tumult.” (The Times June 27, 2011) “Tumult” means crowds milling about.

well-intentioned but naïve: socialist (“To Where our Well-Intentioned but Naïve Legislative Creep is Leading Us” headline from Civitas website)

women’s traditional roles: denying women equal rights with men (Men and women have "traditional roles". That's a quaint way of saying "women are subservient". @woodo79)

More here, and links to the rest.

Euphemisms about Politics (in Quotes)

Metropolitan elite
The difference between David Cameron and Tony Blair is that Blair was better at disguising his intentions. He would never have announced, for example, the sale of public forests. Instead he might have promised "a world-class forest estate" in which "walker-led beacon-foundation woodlands" would be managed through "partnerships with a plurality of recreational providers". Ten years later we would discover that our forests had mysteriously fallen into the hands of timber companies, and were being felled in the name of customer choice. (George Monbiot, The Guardian, May 17 2011)

People say: 'Can't say that these days. Political correctness'. They mean 'I'm sad I can't say things with certainty others won't disagree'. (@MarkOneinFour)

(From golden throne, atop pyramid of skulls etc): "It's the friends I've made along the way that really matter to me." (‏@WillWiles)

Child cruelty debate on #r4today it's all lessons learned & we've taken lessons on board, it's middle management talk for covering our backs. (@Bloke_On_A_Bike)

“The government loves ‘hard-working’ people, but hard-working people who organise in defence of their labour rights are obviously despicable.” (Steven Poole Feb 2014)

We are still very far from living in the meritocratic society I believe is a moral imperative. (Michael Gove Does this mean “the weak go to the wall”?)

politically partisan: leftie
lefties: people who want to take my money
taking my money: taxation

unipolar: The US has too much power. “At a certain point [the US] seemed to think that it was the only leader and a unipolar system was established.” (Vladimir Putin)

a multipolar world (Jacques Chirac, 2003): He means a world not dominated by America as the sole superpower. “To further Paris's goal of a 'multipolar world,' which is really a euphemism for constraining US power.” ( (You can’t have more than two poles, north and south.)

aspire: “Aspire” is mushy talk of politicians with nothing to say. See also “crackdown”, “get tough”, “hard-working families”. (Twitter)

bedrock: Spare us please every sentence with the words “bedrock”, “core”, “traditional supporters”, “abiding values” or “Conservative fundamentals” in it. What do these words mean – what in terms of doable legislation that this Government is not already enacting or committed to?… Phrases like “Northern voters” or “core Conservative values” are really ciphers for something that is not tied to region or party: populism. (Matthew Parris, The Times, May 5 2012)

British Bill of Rights: For MPs, this is code for riding a white horse to Brussels and on to Strasbourg, bayonet in hand, to declare war on the entire European human-rights edifice. (Anne Treneman, The Times, February 16, 2011)

broken: “People think our justice system is broken – thinking too much about the criminals and not enough about the justice.” (Chris Grayling And by "justice" they mean "punishment".)

Building Stable Communities: “In 1996, the policy ‘Building Stable Communities’ – the selling of council homes in marginal wards to potential Conservative voters… was deemed to be illegal.” (Woman’s Hour) “Dame Shirley Porter called her gerrymandering Building Stable Communities; Labour called it Building Sustainable Communities.” (Owen Hatherley, author of A New Kind of Bleak)

carefully choreographed (funeral procession for Kim Jong-il, BBC): "I appreciate what the BBC is trying to do there, to remind us that Communist North Korea is not free, [but] it was the funeral procession of the head of state. What do you think we’re going to do when the Queen dies? Wing it?" (Giles Coren, The Times, Dec 2011)

Choice means no more nanny state, you work it out for yourself, and pay for it.” (HC)

concerns: prejudices (“I have always understood the genuine concerns of hard-working people.” David Cameron, March 2013, talking about immigration)

controversial: right-wing (“Britain’s feistiest and most controversial commentator.” The Sun on Katie Hopkins. And by “feisty” they mean “brutal”.)

culture of excuses: “Rejection of ‘the culture of excuses’? Hmmm. Sounds suspiciously like a culture of ‘blaming the victim’.” (AG)

dignity: word used by religious people to defend the status quo (Gay people should retain the “dignity of difference”.) Or does it mean “adequate wages, reasonable hours and safe working practices”? “Workers everywhere need dignity at work, based on decent wages and decent, safe jobs.” (Petition responding to the Dhaka factory collapse, 2013. Note the “decent”, as well.)

family breakdown: "A certain kind of rightwinger fits the riots into the pattern of moral and social decline that she imagines has afflicted British society since the 1950s – multiculturalism, soft policing, family breakdown (sexual tolerance and feminism), liberal teaching, welfare dependency and immigration are all part of this elaborately imagined world." (David Aaronovitch, Times 11 Aug 11)

outrage: Always left-wing. People who complain about the anti-homeless spikes are just “hopping aboard the outrage bus”, said Katie Hopkins on BBC News, June 2014.

hard: cruel “They seek primarily to absolve Westminster from hard, unpopular decisions that will inevitably have to be made, one way or another, in the near future.” (Deborah Orr in The Guardian on the NHS bill, March 2012)

Jamahiriya: Gaddafi's most famous literary work is The Green Book, published in 1975. This treatise on "Islamic socialism" defined the concept of Jamahiriya, a state without parties that would be governed directly by its people. Which, in practice, translates as a military dictatorship, headed by – you guessed it – Gaddafi! (Guardian blog, Mar 2010)

key worker: public-sector worker, key voter, “the euphemism now used for low-paid public servants” (Aditya Chakrabortty, Guardian May 2014)

lobby: “One person's lobbying is another's bit of essential advocacy.” (@DAaronovitch)

localism, interference, activism: "The High Court judgment has far wider significance than just the municipal agenda of Bideford Town Council,” said Eric Pickles. “By effectively reversing that illiberal ruling, we are striking a blow for localism over central interference, for freedom to worship over intolerant secularism, for Parliamentary sovereignty over judicial activism, and for long-standing British liberties over modern-day political correctness." In 2012, the Bideford councillors were forbidden to put prayers on the agenda paper (to bring them in line with the law). Following a mass hissy fit, Eric Pickles unilaterally overturned the decision and justified it as above.

marginalise: “A lot of these guys were marginalised – i.e. imprisoned – as ‘incorrect philosophers’ in the Soviet era, but now they have been rehabilitated.” (Tim Dowling on the Russian Cosmists, April 11, 2011)

media frenzy: “What Liam Fox refers to as a ‘media frenzy’ was actually investigative reporting into breaches in ministerial conduct.” (@fatcharlesh)


metropolitan: left-wing

“That tiny spectrum of metropolitan elite left wing opinion the Guardian et al regard as ‘acceptable’.” (Commenter on the Guido Fawkes website)

Metro elite gay activists.” (Nadine Dorries, 2012)

“Many believe that we are dominated by the political agenda of the metropolitan elite and this sits uneasily with the social conservatism of much of the rest of the country.” (Liam Fox, 2012)

“The metropolitan classes, of course, despise our readers.” Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre, 2013)

nanny state: “So when it's government intervention conservatives hate, it's 'nanny state'. When it's dictating morality, 'decency'. Just so we know.” (@gaipajama)

orchestrated Twitter storm: “If a significant number of people on twitter react to something, it's now assumed to be some 'orchestrated Twitter storm’.” (Sarah M /@sazza_jay)

our unique social fabric: our unique social hierarchy “Instead of the common law of England we have the abstract idea of human rights, slapped upon us by European courts whose judges care nothing for our unique social fabric.” (Roger Scruton, The Guardian, 11 May 2013)

outspoken and controversal: liberal and inclusive (Daily Telegraph obituary of Rev Colin Slee, Nov 2010)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Inspirational Quotes 69

Footbinding now survives only in the West, in the form of spike heels. (

Tories have always sold poverty as a character flaw rather than the fault of a society where the elite benefit and the rest make do. (Harry Leslie Smith ‏@Harryslaststand)

After opposing the use of phonics, the next best way of promoting socio-economic exclusion is to argue against a knowledge curriculum. (Mike ‏@PhonicsBlog)

It was a funny old ceremony, with the state aping everything the church did except the actual religion. (Mary Beard on her wedding, 29 years ago)

Walter Mischel’s contemporaries were interested in talking cures, but he wanted practical steps, actual things people could do to help themselves... “What if I’m preparing for a speech and I’m falling apart? Then I think, ‘Walter’s got to give this big speech tomorrow.’” (Tim Dowling, Guardian 2014-09-20)

In our view CQSW courses impart very little about how to help clients tackle the practical problems of life, preferring instead to focus on the individual pathology of clients by skimming the surface of subjects such as psychology, therapy, counselling and analysis... Development officer Shane Ellis says that more support should be available to help young people cope with the loneliness of moving out of a home full of children to their own flats. (The Family Rights Group on child abuse, 1983)

He had developed a charming persona that he could control at will, that he could switch on and off like a light bulb... The author mentions the description of the Covert Abuser as "also being angry and hostile. However, they don't express anger in the pattern of the anger addict... they may be more inclined to develop long-range plans to control and manipulate their partners. (Amazon review of a book about verbal abuse. The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond)

Psychology, psychiatry and particularly psycho-analysis are all insistent that personal relationships, ideally both intimate and sexually fulfilled, are necessary to health and happiness. (Sara Maitland)

Being single, being alone… is one of the few things that complete strangers feel free to comment on rudely. (Sara Maitland)

Everyone tries to keep a mental note of everyone else's slate in their little group. This includes things people have said, things they have done, things they can and cannot do and the general way in which they come across. It is mostly on the basis of your slate that people will be able to make fun of you. (Marc Segar)

Yet still you wait for parties to make your moves... This could be a modern sort of relationship. One where the woman takes control. (Romantic Misadventure: A Point-And-Click Quest For Love Kit Lovelace)

Because the craze for gin suddenly sprang up almost from nowhere, gin-drinkers had no notion that it was not a good idea to drink it by the pint as they did ale... the ‘problem’ of gin was only solved when... an increase in the price of its raw ingredients simply made it unaffordable for the poor. (If Walls Could Talk: An intimate history of the home Lucy Worsley)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Jobs You Never Knew Existed (In Quotes)

Tough Bloke Challenge
I lecture and, frankly, it’s a rat race. You’re only as good as your last expedition. (Ranulph Fiennes)

Runs such as Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, the Stampede and the Tough Bloke Challenge are predominantly aimed at men and commonly feature mud and obstacles. And for running fanatics… there's running tourism. Runners can sign up for marathons as far afield as Antarctica. More recently, race organisers have set their sights on women, with shorter novelty runs such as the Electric Run, Neon Run and Glow Run. (, October 2013 Organisers pocket the $50 entrance fees.)

My favorite of the bunch is Regina Weinreich, who is identified as ‘a Beat generation scholar’. While it’s no secret that the academic racketeers can turn just about anything into a ‘discipline’, Weinreich’s job description struck me as particularly delicious.  Here is a woman who was canny enough to hitch her professional wagon to the Beat caravan more than 20 years ago. (

Short story writer Richard Bausch describes meeting a couple who edited a struggling literary magazine and funded it by publishing a never-ending stream of how-to manuals for would-be writers. (

From CareerBuilder:
A: Actor for haunted house
B: Bingo announcer
C: Clown for rodeos
D: Drawbridge tender
E: Eye glass buffer
F: Fingerprint analyzer
G: Glass sculptor
H: Hot rod builder
I: Interpreter for government agency
J: Jelly donut filler
K: Karate instructor
L: Lifeguard at nude beach
M: Military role player (played Iraqi citizen for military sensitivity training)
N: Note taker for college students
O: Ocean scuba guide
P: Phone psychic
Q: Quiz writer for competitions
R: Rescue squad for pets
S: Stand-in bridesmaid (for weddings where the bride didn't know enough people)
T: Telemarketer for a cemetery
U: Urinalysis observer
V: Voice-over specialist for movies
W: Window washer for skyscrapers
X: Xmas tree decorator
Y: Youth boot camp instructor for juvenile offenders
Z: Zoo artificial inseminator

aeroplane salesman
focus group participant
human scarecrow
human statue
lip print reader
live mannequin in a high-end store (revival of an old job)
pearl diver
submarine cook
toy designer

More here.

Monday 2 February 2015

Grammar: Don't Waste Words II

The bird had been stolen and him murdered!

I came across a letter written in the way that people sometimes use when they’re dressing up their words to be more impressive—a tuxedo of prose comprising an “indeed” here, an extra adverb there, not to mention words like
comprising. (Jeff Chu, Does Jesus Really Love Me?)

The Greeks had a word for it: perissologia. They had another: laconic, meaning terse, concise, the opposite of verbose. The Spartans came from Laconia, and they were not known for wasting words. If you write concisely, your readers will know exactly what you mean – which may not be what you want.

Don't make the subject of your sentence “It”. 

It was not that the hardy, blue-eyed teenager from East Anglia was particularly bloodthirsty: X was not etc. (You can insert “blue-eyed teenager from East Anglia” elsewhere.)

a deep pit-like feature: a pit (Time Team)
an ever-more limited range: a shrinking range
be a reassurance to: reassure 
bring down: lower
conventionalities: conventions
functionality: function
fall down: collapse

gave him the encouragement to: encouraged him to
get back: retrieve
get better: improve
get longer: lengthen
get in: insert
get out: leave, extract
get worse: worsen
go down: descend, fall
go up: ascend, rise
greatest and most prestigious: top

His father was none other than Darth Vader: His father was Darth Vader.
I should have been sorry to have missed: to miss
in the first place: initially
instantaneous: instant
it hasn’t got a: it lacks a
It would have been familiar to anyone who had been involved: who was involved

look like:
make clear: clarify
not had any: had no
once again: again
ornamentation: ornament

present a threat to: threaten
put off: deter
put up: raise
putting a stress on: stressing
served as inspiration for: inspired
Skepticism persists even as sea-level rise increases (Delmarva Daily Times): as sea level rises

Some people are “besieged by loneliness” at Christmas: They’re lonely.

subject to close scrutiny:
that had come to be regarded as: was now regarded as
the thing I’m most worried about: my main worry
way to do this: method
whether it is or is not: whether it is

But you can't just cut words at random. You may end up making one word work too hard. I don't like "has been" and "had been" and try to use them as little as possible. But sometimes you need them.

Yet if he had the gift of composing eloquent hogwash, had been to art school instead of looking after the mail, and sold to the programme editor as an Artist, it would have been different. (Times, May 14, 2012)

You can’t use the “had been” from “had been to art school” for “had been sold”. In “If he had been to art school”, been is an active verb (he went to art school); “if he had been sold” is passive (somebody else sold him).

And it really should be “if he had had the gift”!

This is called the past perfect continuous, and if the writer had chosen a different approach, this sentence would have been easier to read.

If he had had the gift,
If he had been to art school,
If he had been sold to the editor as an Artist
It would have been different.

And forget that advice about not putting more than one and in a sentence. Sometimes you need lots.

The Garden Bridge will be inaccessible to unregistered groups, cyclists and closed at night. (Guardian Jan 2015)

It will be inaccessible to unregistered groups and cyclists,
and will be closed at night.

(The Bridge won’t be inaccessible to “closed at night”.)

And watch the switch between a singular and a plural subject, or vice versa:

The church somehow was kept open and even marriage ceremonies performed:
The church was somehow kept open, and marriage ceremonies were even performed.

There's no reason why you can't split up the parts of a verb (was kept open) with an adverb.

More wordiness here.