Wednesday 27 April 2016

Funny Old Royal Jokes

Not seen her, myself

The Queen was staying at Balmoral and went for a walk in tweeds and a headscarf, with a plain-clothes protection officer. Some American tourists were strolling the other way. “Do you live round here?”, they asked. The Queen said she had a house nearby. “Have you ever met the Queen?” they asked. “No, but –” she indicated her bodyguard, “he has”.

If, during an audience with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, someone's mobile phone goes off, she's wont to tell them sharply something like "You'd better answer that  it might be someone important." (AG)

According to Jilly Cooper in her masterpiece Class, the Queen was trying on some evening dresses. She stood in front of the mirror wearing a creation studded with rhinestones. "Oh, do get it, Ma'am!" urged her ladies-in-waiting. "I'm afraid I'll have nowhere suitable to wear it," sighed the Queen.

The young Queen pushed past her mother and grandmother to the front of the royal box. "Who do you think you are?" hissed the Queen Mother. "The Queen, Mummy, the Queen!"

MP Bernie Grant turned up to a Buckingham Palace reception in African robes. The Queen said: “Don’t tell me – I know who YOU are! You're the Nigerian Ambassador!”

The Queen liked visiting her own racing stables because it was the only place she could go that didn't smell of fresh paint.

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother heard her butler chatting with another male servant and called out: "When you old queens have finished gossiping, this old Queen would like a gin and tonic."

Sir Malcolm Sargent told the BBC he was bringing a famous guest to its sound studios. Sir Malcolm said to the studio manager, “Allow me to introduce you to the King of Sweden.” There was a short pause and then the King politely said: “Actually, it’s Norway.” (Letter to Times, paraphrase)

A man bumped into a lady of a certain age in upmarket food shop Fortnum and Mason – knew he knew her – couldn’t remember the name – asked more and more probing questions – got nowhere “What are you up to these days?” “Still at the old firm.” "And old...?" "Oh, he's fine." "And your children?" "Flourishing." "And your sister?" "Still Queen."

A writer on the Times, at Shakespeare’s Quatercentenary, ordered his secretary: “Get me Timon of Athens!” "Is he our new Greek stringer?" she asked.

Late 19th century Punch called all pretentious painters “Daubigny” because they painted daubs, ho ho ho. (The real Daubigny was a painter of the Barbizon school.)

Giant European cattle went extinct: Alas! Poor aurochs. (Flying Archaeologist)

Your Manet may not be worth much Monet. (Matt Allwright)

Q: Why are demographers exhausted? A: They're broken down by age and sex.

TBF I won't believe that IDS is a humanitarian until I see him gnawing on a humerus. (@flying_rodent)

Is that the sun or the moon up there?
I don’t know, I’m from Port Talbot.

Does it always rain in Sweden, my lad?
I don’t know, I’m only nine.

I didn't come here to be insulted!
Why, where do you usually go?

Stop that at once!
Certainly, which way did it go?

Some Japanese hosts take a Western guest to a concert of Japanese classical music.
What did you think of it?
To be honest, I found it melancholy, interminable and depressing!
So glad you enjoyed it!

The first time I saw you on stage I realised what a wonderful voice you've got. I think you're so brave not to have had it trained. (Hermione Gingold. Probably.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 19 April 2016

Was Dorothy Sayers Anti-Semitic (and a Snob)?

His Lordship and I have never held with being narrow-minded.

Whose Body?,
Dorothy Sayers’ first mystery, was published in 1923. A revised version came out in 1935. But is the book, as some have said, full of antisemitism, snobbery, facetiousness and padding? 

Disparaging caricatures of the ‘lower’ social orders as well as dismissive comments about miserly Scots and parvenu Australians. (Sergio Angelini) He also says that the story is told mainly in dialogue (good), but that the story is padded out by Lord Peter Wimsey’s “fatuous” wittering.

Peter alone suffers from fatuousness overdone, a period fault that Sayers soon blotted out. (Jacques Barzun)

The novel introduces us to the volatile Lord Peter, and his serious friend Inspector Charles Parker. Architect Mr Thipps has found a naked corpse in his bath. Thipps is working on the church in Lord Peter’s home village in Norfolk, and Lord Peter’s mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver, hears about the discovery from the vicar’s wife. Naturally she calls her amateur detective son with the news, and Lord Peter goes round to see if he can help, and hopefully pick up some clues. He finds the case is in the hands of the obtuse and obstructive Inspector Sugg, but the friendly Mr Thipps is happy to show off the exhibit. Meanwhile Parker has been given the case of a missing financier, Sir Reuben Levy. Could he be the body? A casual inspection is enough to disprove this theory...

Lord Peter’s fatuousness (facetiousness?) is partly a disguise. He wants to appear an aristocratic “silly ass”, a character well known on stage and screen, in comic strips and school stories. His façade doesn't just hide his intelligence; it also conceals deep psychological wounds from the war, when he was buried in a shell-hole and his fiançee married another man. Plus his blether hides clues which Sayers is carefully planting. But why is he doing Scotland Yard’s forensic work at Levy’s home? Where is Parker’s team? His valet and assistant, Bunter, turns the tests into a lecture demonstration for the servants (and the reader). There is some padding: a long conversation in French in a doctor’s waiting room, and a long dull exchange between two valets.

Lord Peter – a skillful and sensitive pianist who never needs to practise, slightly built but possessed of "curious" strength and speed which he maintains without exercise. (Amazon commenter)

Some cite Sayers' wide reading, which shows itself in references to classical culture and rightfully obscure works of English literature. But I find her humour and social comment more appealing.

Through Parker’s bedroom window, hygienically open top and bottom, a raw fog was rolling slowly in, and the sight of a pair of winter pants, flung hastily over a chair the previous night, fretted him with a sense of the sordid absurdity of the human form.

Sir Julian Freke’s manner as he kissed the Book presented to him with the usual deprecatory mumble by the Coroner's officer was that of a St. Paul condescending to humour the timid mumbo-jumbo of superstitious Corinthians.

The Duchess: Not but what I think socialism is a mistake—of course it works with all those nice people, so good and happy in art linen and the weather always perfect—Morris, I mean, you know—but so difficult in real life.

American financier JP Milligan, who has contributed to the church restoration fund: We haven't any fine old crusted buildings like yours over on our side, so it's a privilege to be allowed to drop a little kerosene into the worm-holes when we hear of one in the old country suffering from senile decay.

Sayers said she made her detective a lord so that she could have the fun of spending his money on rare books and fine food and drink (there’s a scene in a London club where two toffs complain about the Consommé Polonaise and salmi of game).

"Pleased to meet you, Lord Wimsey," said Mr. Milligan. "Won't you take a seat?" "Thanks," said Lord Peter, "but I'm not the Duke, you know—that's my brother Denver."

Milligan (a suspect and a caricatured American, not Australian) gets Lord Peter’s title wrong, thinking that as his card reads “Lord Peter Wimsey”, he should be addressed as “Lord Wimsey”. Wimsey puts him – and the reader – right.

Mr Appledore “could make no definite complaint about Thipps except that his mother dropped her h's, and that he once called on them uninvited, armed with a pamphlet about anti-vivisection.”

The Appledores are introduced mainly so that they can let fall this fact. Also so that Mrs A can claim to be distantly related to Lord P, and he can be horribly rude to her. But she’s not just snobbish, she’s also refusing to look after old Mrs Thipps, whose son and servant (also her carer) have been arrested.

The Duchess of Denver comments on the inquest jury: What unfinished-looking faces they have—so characteristic, I always think, of the lower middle-class.

Levy’s servants are standard types, and the vicar back home in Norfolk is “Mr Throgmorton”, a stock silly name, and the poor architect is constantly referred to, affectionately but patronisingly, as “little Mr Thipps”. (Do we ever learn his first name?)

The Duchess: “He's such a respectable little man... I always thought him a nice little man." And he lives in a mansion flat in Battersea, the kind that Graham Greene compared to railway hotels.

Lord Peter: “Little beggar called Thipps—lives with an aged mother in Battersea—vulgar little beast, but quite good on angel roofs and things, I'm told."

When at the inquest Thipps refuses to give the name of the friend who can give him an alibi (they were at an illegal nightclub), the Duchess says she almost begins to admire “the little man”.

The original finding of the naked body and the deductions to be made from it were fairly 'daring' for the time. In the original text, Parker decides that the body in the bath could not be Sir Reuben Levy because "...Sir Reuben is a pious Jew of pious parents, and the chap in the bath obviously isn't..." This backhanded reference to circumcision was felt by Sayers' publisher to be too frank, and in the published version the deduction was made merely on the basis that the dead man appeared to have been doing manual labour rather than living the comfortable life of a wealthy financier.

The references are in the Kindle version, and I don’t remember ever reading them before.

Parker: "I went round to see if the Semitic-looking stranger in Mr. Thipps's bath was by any extraordinary chance Sir Reuben Levy. But he isn't." (The following sentence was cut from later editions.) However, as Sir Reuben is a pious Jew of pious parents, and the chap in the bath obviously isn't, I'm not going to waste my time. ... Sugg, of course, says he doesn't take account of fancy religions."

Lord Peter tells his mother: There is one odd little bit of evidence come out which goes a long way to support Sugg's theory [that the body is Levy – he was seen in Battersea on the night in question], only that I know it to be no go by the evidence of my own eyes.

The Duchess is an old friend of Lady Levy, formerly Christine Ford: I remember so well the dreadful trouble there was about her marrying a Jew... (when her family wanted her to marry Sir Julian Freke, the surgeon.)

But Levy “was very handsome, then, you know, dear, in a foreign-looking way... [The Fords] didn't like his religion. Of course we're all Jews nowadays and they wouldn't have minded so much if he'd pretended to be something else, like that Mr. Simons we met at Mrs. Porchester's, who always tells everybody that he got his nose in Italy at the Renaissance... As if anybody believed it; and I'm sure some Jews are very good people, and personally I'd much rather they believed something, though of course it must be very inconvenient, what with not working on Saturdays and circumcising the poor little babies and everything depending on the new moon and that funny kind of meat they have with such a slang-sounding name, and never being able to have bacon for breakfast.” (The Duchess is actually quite well-informed, and through her, so is the reader.)

It’s a prostitute who tells the police she saw Levy in Battersea the night of his disappearance, as Lord Peter tells his mother: "Last night at about 9:15 a young woman was strollin' up the Battersea Park Road for purposes best known to herself... so, not bein' a shy girl, you see, she walked up to him, and said, 'Good-evening.'" Levy kindly brushes the girl off, and a friend tells her “That’s Levy—I knew him when I lived in the West End, and the girls used to call him Pea-Green Incorruptible”. The friend, presumably uneducated, garbles the usual “Sea-Green Incorruptible”. These references, though “backhanded”, are also quite daring for the time.

Levy’s valet: I don't hold with Hebrews as a rule, Mr. Bunter, but... For a self-made man, no one could call Sir Reuben vulgar, and my lady at any rate is county.

Bunter replies: His Lordship and me have never held with being narrow-minded... A good Jew can be a good man, that's what I've always said.

Lord Peter lunches with Freddy Arbuthnot, who’s in love with Levy’s daughter, and calls Levy “a decent old domestic bird”. He tells Freddy: "You might do worse. Money's money, ain't it? And Lady Levy is quite a redeemin' point. At least, my mother knew her people." Freddy replies: "Oh, she's all right, and the old man's nothing to be ashamed of nowadays. He's self-made, of course, but he don't pretend to be anything else. No side.”

Everybody calls Levy, in his mid-50s, an “old man”. He's also described as “a respectable middle-aged Hebrew financier”, and (facetiously) as a “Wandering Jew”. Revealed by his diary, he's: “kindly, domestic, innocently proud of himself and his belongings, confiding, generous and a little dull.” And Parker calls him “an innocent and lovable man”.

Peter and Parker discuss the motive of Sir Julian Freke, who once wanted to marry Lady Levy: “It isn't the girl Freke would bother about—it's having his aristocratic nose put out of joint by a little Jewish nobody.”

Freke on Levy: “And he shrugged up his shoulders and looked like a pawnbroker.”

In Strong Poison, the dim but sympathetic Freddy Arbuthnot goes on the marry 'the beautiful' Rachel Levy in a synagogue... He has promised any children can be raised Jewish, observing that it will be all to their advantage to be in the "Levy and Goldberg crowd", particularly if the boys "turn out anything in the financial way." He observes that these Jews all "stick together like leeches, and as a matter of fact I think it's very fine of them." (The Wikipedia talk page has an interesting discussion on the subject.)

Some moneylenders are referred to in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, who have “friends in the City”, unconvincing Scottish names and crippling interest rates. Similar characters appear in Busman’s Honeymoon: Mr MacBride, “an inquisitive Hebrew”, turns out to be “a brisk young man, bowler-hatted, with sharp black eyes that seemed to inventory everything they encountered, and a highly regrettable tie”. In Unnatural Death there are references to checked caps and narrow shoes worn by “Jew-boys of the louder sort”.

In Sayers’ private correspondence she says she isn’t surprised Londoners are anti-Semitic, in the light of... and she repeats several tenth-hand stories. The Jewish family are the only ones in the street who don’t join in fire-watching, children won’t follow the usual “school code of honour” and so on.
George Orwell collected several such anti-Semitic urban legends in the Second World War. 

Sayers' books reflect a range of attitudes, and a complex cocktail of acceptance and "othering", but it’s a shame that she herself didn’t follow Bunter’s example. The picture shows the late Richard Morant in the part, in the 80s TV series which starred Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter.

More on snobbery and anti-Semitism in Golden Age mystery writers here.

Thursday 14 April 2016

Overheards 10

Very ladida, mate!

In the café:

I’m having poached egg on toast.
Very ladida, mate, very ladida!

Yeah, no, I like it. Yeah, no, that’s nice.

Crossing the road: Why, why? Why won’t people help you? Yeah, yeah, because it’s too much hassle, yeah.

In the café:
Rugged builder: A little bit of mint in the meatball?
Waitress: It’s coriander!

In Pret:
Frenchmen all look gay!
When they like you they do everything you like.If he likes me, he can ask me out!
(Tells a story about a girl who kept knocking on a neighbour’s door and asking to borrow a cup of sugar and having a chat. Eventually she said, “Well, aren’t you going to ask me out?” They’re now married with a child.)
(On English men) You say something, you do something, and they’re like “OMG she wants to marry me!” (And they end it.)

On the train:
I asked her what she was doing. Not very much! And I told her what I was doing – not that she could contain her indifference. Then she bent down and started picking out vitamin supplements.

In a Greenwich pub:
And that's how the bubonic plague spread so quickly. (@concretism_mus) 

‏Top mansplaining prize (decibel category) to aged chap on bus yelling DARLING I THINK WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY IS into wife's face. (@lucyfishwife)

A man in this post office queue is on his phone, bragging to his mate about how much online Scrabble he's played with Gary Kemp... (@kitlovelace)

In Borough Market: Well, we can always get bread back in Shoreditch. (sumit paul-choudhury ‏@sumit)

In the #skyatnight office: The average colour of the universe is beige, the average smell is musty, and the average sound is F#. (BBC The Sky at Night ‏@BBCStargazing)

The lowlight of overheard parenting in the caves was a very quiet "You're making things very unpleasant for the other people here". (@Truett)

In Soho: "OK, I get chicken tagine, but where's Sue Cook in all this?"
"...and Marcus is cooking what he calls his 'post-war lamb'."(Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

At our company, we came up with our own name for Not Invented Here syndrome. (Daniel Westheide ‏@kaffeecoder)

Love spotting British people abroad: Woman reading sign remarks, "apparently it's a historical site", "doesn't look very historical to me..." (Jen Izaakson ‏@Izaakson)

‏ On the train:
So I went from Scotland to London to feed the cat. (Andrew Brown ‏@seatrout)

In Hyde Park: "These non-native parakeets are terrible, taking all the chestnuts from the squirrels!" (None of the 3 are native) (James Wong ‏@Botanygeek)

At dinner: He's amazing. He's published poetry on Amazon Kindle. (@willyleeadams)

Overheard once sat by the river:
"It's the worst barn conversion we've ever lived in." (@janmorgan8)

In the office:
You know, love is a battlefield.
No, Syria is a battlefield, get over yourself. (@NilamAtodaria)

Lady on the bus: You know what I hate? People making up conversations.
Child on the bus: I am profound. (@BDSixsmith)

More here, and links to the rest.

Art Shows in London, Southend and Beyond

Undressed: A Brief History Of Underwear
Victoria and Albert Museum, London from April 16
Corsets, crinolines, bras, pyjamas, Playtex living girdles.

Fashion Forward, 3 siècles de mode (1715-2016)
Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Paris
7 April to 14 August 2016
Paniers, miniskirts, leg'o'mutton sleeves.

Beyond Beauty: Transforming the Body in Ancient Egypt
Two Temple Place from Jan 30
Temple Place is a neo-Gothic mansion on London's Embankment.

Bath Fashion Museum
A History of Fashion in 100 ObjectsFrom March 19
Shoes, bodices, embroidery, theatre costumes, the fashions of Jane Austen's Bath.

Shakespeare in Art: Tempests, Tyrants and Tragedy
Compton Verney
March 19 to June 19
Paintings, photography, projection a sound score and readings.

East London Group: Out of the City
Beecroft Gallery Southend
from 19 Mar

Sicily: Culture and Conquest
British Museum, London
21 April to 2 Aug
Romans, Byzantines, Greeks, Normans, gold, mosaics, volcanoes.

Drowned Egypt May 19 to 27 Nov
The lost city of Heracleion yields sculpture from the sea-floor. Is this the real Atlantis?

Out of Chaos: Ben Uri: 100 Years in London
Somerset House, London
2 July to 13 Dec
Pictures by well-known and lesser-known Jewish immigrants including Frank Auerbach and RB Kitaj.

And in 2021, the Museum of London will move to Smithfield Market. We hope.

Friday 8 April 2016

Received Ideas (in Quotes) 2

Toothpaste grin

When folks ask "did we really need a study to tell us what we already know," the answer is yes. Much of what we "know" turns out to be wrong. (Michael J. Murphy @MichaelMurphyNY)

it hosts "furiously manufactured outrages". (Steven Poole, ES June 2013)

Why do we think Prince Charles has a man to squeeze his toothpaste for him? What’s the origin of that? These stories about monarchs and despots and tyrants – even our modern monarchs – they have a life of their own. Whether they’re true, we have no clue. (Mary Beard 2013-07-26)

Various claims about the accents of the Appalachian Mountains, the Outer Banks, the Tidewater region and Virginia's Tangier Island sounding like an uncorrupted Elizabethan-era English accent have been busted as myths by linguists. (

Green pigs are the enemies in Angry Birds because the swine flu epidemic was in the news during the game's development. (Mad Facts ‏@madfactz)

I think the u [in colour etc] was dropped by us angry Americans to promote slothfulness and as a form of a declaration of independence from the British spelling. (LInkedin discussion. Americans follow a dictionary written by a spelling reformer – Noah Webster.)

Is the pursuit of happiness ... a worthy goal? Many have said no, on the grounds that happiness comes only to those who don't actively chase it. ( And this magic carpet will take you anywhere as long as you don't think of a purple cow...)

Dandelions were called “chimney sweepers” in Shakespeare’s native Warwickshire. Dandelions start off gold, then go grey. “In 1971 a Canadian critic, Hugh Kenner, writing on Ezra Pound, reported that 'In the mid-20th century a visitor to Shakespeare’s Warwickshire met a countryman blowing the grey head off a dandelion: ‘We call these golden boys chimney-sweepers when they go to seed.' Apparently, Kenner had the story from Guy Davenport, a US writer and friend of Pound, who claimed to have had it from William Arrowsmith: presumably the US classical scholar of that name. Arrowsmith himself seems to have been the 'visitor' who received (but did not, apparently, record) this scrap of folk tradition.” (From livejournal, wolfinthewood. She exhaustively researches this story and concludes that it’s made up.)
“To buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid.” (Godfrey Bloom, MEP 2013 Aug)

If Miss Manners hears any more contemptuous descriptions of etiquette as being a matter of “knowing which fork to use,” she will run amok with a sharp weapon. (Judith Martin)

An anecdote you always seem to hear about almost any 1960s housing estate is that "it became known to residents as Alcatraz". (Douglas Murphy ‏@entschwindet)

Coral is a fairly common find on the Thames foreshore and would have been brought from as far away as the Caribbean as ballast, then dumped on the foreshore to make room for cargo. (London Mudlark)  This [cowrie shell] isn't native to the Thames and probably arrived in ship ballast, which was offloaded into the river prior to the ship loading up with cargo. (London Mudlark) It probably washed up from Ballast Quay in Greenwich.

When the First World War broke out, actor Ernest Thesiger fancied himself in a kilt and applied to join a Highland regiment, but as the accent he assumed for the occasion proved unconvincing, he spent much of the hostilities teaching embroidery to disabled ex-servicemen. (London Review of Books)

Many whodunnit novels are criticised for being artificial puzzles with little or no characterization. (Wikipedia)

Easter bunny and link with eggs concept is due to ancient belief that leverets were born from eggs as their eyes are open. (Countryfile)

To make a right Horlicks of something: [The hot drink company] once aired a series of TV commercials that portrayed a stressed-out woman enduring a series of mundane catastrophes. She ends the terrible day by relaxing with a hot nip of Horlicks. (From World Wide Words)

As I understand it, Shakespeare's plays were mostly fairly rough "scripts", and only written down for print by scribes sent to be in the audience. (RI)

Time is a concept that humans created. (Yoko Ono)

As long as there has been brain science there have been – in retrospect – misguided neurological explanations and justifications of sex inequality. Again and again, these hypotheses eventually find themselves hurled on the scientific scrap heap. (Cordelia Fine)

Oxford University Museum, Deane & Woodward,1854, was saved from demolition after a 1961 Victorian Society campaign. See also Clissold Park, saved for the people after a vigorous campaign. Protest never changed anything. But perhaps “campaigning” (hooray!) is not the same as “protesting” (boo!).

China to ban ivory imports for one year after international pressure (@TheArtNewspaper)

When, many years ago, the Queen visited Hatfield new town, her route passed by some public toilets so the whole of their frontage was covered up with new plywood and painted grey to look like the nearby walls. In a back-handed way, I'm pleased to hear that. For, it's claimed that Puddletown in Dorset was originally called Piddletown, but, when Queen Victoria was due to drive through, the town was renamed in order to spare HM's sensibilities. But, alas, my own research shows that the name 'Puddletown' appears in an 18th century will, and so predates the queen's visit by many decades. So it's good to have a replacement legend -- and a thoroughly up-to-date one, at that. :-)

Another favourite is that if [crusaders on tombs] are shown drawing a sword, then it's because they died in battle. If there's no shield they didn't die in battle. If the arm is crossed over but he lacks a sword, then he died in battle but using his fists. His crossed legs show that he's been castrated by a Saracen! Or, crossed legs at the ankle equals one crusade. Crossed at the knee and it's two. (

Atheism: It's a conscious willing choice to base one's life belief on irrational meaningless nothingness! (CV McDonald@vdld)

It is said Constantine was rescued by an angel, turned into marble & hidden in a subterranean cave to await the time to re-conquer the city. (@JamesThorne2 Like King Arthur and Francis Drake.)

Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence “was so badly damaged that the man who ordered the theft sobbed when he saw it. Others have said it was hidden at a farm, where rats and pigs chewed it to pieces, or that it was buried in a chest full of heroin”. (Times Dec 2015)

Glasgow Central College (was College of Building and Printing) Great urban myth about 'swimming pool' on roof of B&P whch cd never b filled w/ water as wd be too heavy & crash thro floors. (@TheDrouth)

Aventurine was originally an accidental discovery made by Venetian glass workers during the 18th century. The name 'aventurine' was derived from the Italian words "a" and "ventura", which mean "by chance". The Miotti family from Italy created an iridescent Italian glass known as 'goldstone', which closely resembles aventurine. Goldstone was accidentally made when copper filings spilled into a batch of glass during production. This was the birth of goldstone and artificial aventurine. Muscovite mica was also named after a type of glass, known as 'Muscovy glass'. (

Bubble wrap was originally supposed to be used as wallpaper. (@madfactz)

According to my Facebook feed the Zika outbreak is caused by everything from GM mosquitos to chemtrails. (James Wong)

Antioxidants are good and free radicals are bad? The reason the notion of oxidation and ageing hangs around is because it is perpetuated by people making money out of it.
People have different learning styles? [Teachers] have disillusioned faces. Teachers invested hope, time and effort in these ideas. After that, they lose interest in the idea that science can support learning and teaching.
The world’s population is growing exponentially? Overpopulation is really not overpopulation. It's a question about poverty. (

The non-U words such as serviette, pardon and toilet derive from the French, and the upper classes associate them historically with the Napoleonic War when anything French was considered very tacky indeed. (Wikipedia talk page on U and non-U gets hold of the wrong end of the stick about every single item.)

Just mention IQ testing in polite company, and you'll sternly be informed that IQ tests don't measure anything "real", and only reflect how good you are at doing IQ tests; that they ignore important traits like "emotional intelligence" and "multiple intelligences"; and that those who are interested in IQ testing must be elitists, or maybe something more sinister. (Stuart Ritchie)

Australian accent is a product of early settlers' heavy drinking, claims academic (Indy Oct 2015)

Poor people are constantly exposed to a better life through TV, and it makes them angry. (Rudi Gernreich, 1975)

The organisers [of the British Museum’s Celts exhibition] have not let themselves be swamped by recent waves of anti-Celtic revisionism (“no such people existed: Celticity only invented yesterday by sentimental nationalists”), but they have taken some healthy dollops of it on board. (LRB Oct 2015)

Somewhere out there in the world of widely accepted ideas, there exists the notion that choral singers should stand still. … As singers warm-up, so will they rehearse. As they rehearse, so will they perform. (Tom Carter, US choral director)

People like to complain that modern life is ruining sleep, but they’re just saying: Kids today! It’s a perennial complaint but you need data to know if it’s true. (

Where did we get idea authentic working class anger can only be right wing? And all concern about 'the poor' is middle class hand wringing? (@MarkOneinFour)

"Until the 1950s, all the food we ate was organically produced."  Another (obvious) everyday-untruth. Food journos, please do your research. (James Wong ‏@Botanygeek)

NEED THE LOO?(1) it's short for "Waterloo," which in turn is slang for "water closet."
(2) It's short for "gardy-loo," a warning shouted by natives of Edinburgh in the days when it was still customary to empty your slops out the window.
(3) It's short for "Lady Louisa," Louisa being the unpopular wife of a 19th-century earl of Lichfield. In 1867 while the couple was visiting friends, two young wiseacres took the namecard off her bedroom door and stuck it on the door of the bathroom. The other guests thereafter began jocularly speaking of "going to Lady Louisa." In shortened form this eventually spread to the masses.
(4) It comes from the French lieu, "place," meaning, of course, that place. Some 17th century English architectural plans call the bathroom "le lieu." Similarly, Germans sometimes call it der Locus.
(5) It comes from the Continental practice of referring to the bathroom as "Room 100" — "100," when written hastily, looks like "loo." Take your pick.
Frank Muir on the origin of the word “loo”.

Alexander von Humboldt encountered many wondrous things [including] a parrot who spoke the last words of a language otherwise wiped out with its people by a rival tribe. (Darren Anderson, Imaginary Cities I thought that was Cornish.)

"The average person swallows 7 spiders a year in their sleep" is a myth. (Dean Burnett ‏@garwboy)

Today was asked on the plane if the Crown Jewels were real. Where has this rumour come from? Was also asked if I'd ever met a real cockney. (Polly Putnam ‏@CuratorPolly)

The phrase 'Hanging on Tenterhooks' came from this #Spitalfields street name (Tenter Ground). (@Look_UpLondon “A hooked nail for securing cloth on a tenter”, says the Free Dictionary. And a tenter was a frame for drying blankets or cloth.)

Apparently the Walkie Talkie was to face the other way until Sunand Prasad turned the model around in a CABE design review. (Ellis Woodman ‏@elliswoodman)

Economists have not been signing “round-robin letters”... but circular letters. Round-robin letters have the signatures arranged in a circle to disguise the order of signing. They became popular in the 18the century as a form of petition, in which the complainants concealed who had signed first. This was especially useful to sailors because mutiny was punishable by death. Leftwing groupthink may be misguided, but it is not a hanging offence. (Angela Polsen-Emy, writing to the Times Aug 2015 What difference would it make who signed first?)

in the 19th century it was widely reported that people in the Middle Ages thought the earth was flat, because it made for a good example of how backward the period was believed to be.
“Medieval torture devices” are much later.
While people would avoid polluted water in the Middle Ages, there were many sources of clean water which would be used for drinking. It was also common for water to be added to wine in order to make it less potent.
Medieval people did not have to eat everything with their hands. Knives and spoons were common throughout the Middle Ages, and the fork was introduced to the Byzantine Empire by the 6th century, and into Italy by the 11th century.
People in the Middle Ages did take baths, and would try to keep clean. Combs and other personal grooming devices were also widely used.
Women in the Middle Ages could inherit, buy and sell property, run a business, and had many legal rights... (which they later lost).
(Not everybody followed the Catholic Church without question:) ... church officials were often complaining that many other people were indifferent to following religious practices. We can also find that even peasants had their own ideas about religion, which diverged from official church teachings, and that among theologians there was a lot of debate over many issues.

Theophanu married Otto II, and was mocked in West for her "depraved" Byzantine habits: bathing daily, eating with fork not hand. (Dorothy Lobel King ‏@DorothyKing)

Wearing a veil with spots is said to injure the eyes. (Girls' Own advice ‏@GirlsOwn)

A Tijuana restaurateur named Caesar Cardini created a late-night snack for Prohibition-flouting tourists. All that he had left in the kitchen was Romaine lettuce, Romano cheese, bread and olive oil, which he mixed tableside. And a salad trend was born. (

Disability scholars refer to such myths of super-human skills as a “fantasies of compensation,” which, like most of our popular beliefs about disability, come from the Victorian Era. (

Every self-respecting lake should have the reputation of being bottomless. Optional extras might include concealing a lost village, or having been formed by the devil’s hoof when he was thrown from his horse. Lake Gormire has all of this, and more... (Times 2015-08-01 Other well-known examples, such as Ness and Champlain, have monsters. Even Lake Como.)

The acclaimed The Third Man, for example, owes a lot to the slow build-up of the Orson Welles character to appear, and even then seen only in shadows -- the shoes, etc. Reason for that was that Welles was holed up in Capri demanding to be paid more and they had to shoot a lot of his
scenes without him. (RI)

Legend says shoes came to Wales from Spain, where Persians imported the craft. (Deena Desh ‏@LDN_2471_BOY)

Loch Nan Uamh Viaduct, the central pylon of which entombs a horse and cart. (Ross Brown ‏@scotbrut)

Urban legend has it that a tunnel links the MI6 building to the Neo-Georgian office block on Vauxhall Park where cars go in but never leave... (@elliswoodman)

Everyone knew that the dead liked one to be brave and cheerful.
(Agatha Christie, Giant’s Bread)

1. Patent leather ‘draws’ the feet. 2. Eating flies makes cats thin. 3. October is the prettiest time of the year. 4. Cauliflower is good for growing bones. 5. Work at a table with the sun shining over your right shoulder. 6. Eat a little bread before going to church to stop rumbling during the sermon. 7. Finger-nails should be cut round, and toe-nails square. (Crazy Pavements (Beverley Nichols)

Abandoned hotel in Almeria, Spain... It was built in a national park and too close to the coast... They got the permit through bribing a local politician, and the project was abandoned once he was thrown out.. according to legend. (Philip Grönberg)

[He suffered from] jealous paranoia, which caused him to execute his beloved wife Mariamne, his two sons and any relative whom he suspected of threatening his security; but although Herod is best remembered for these excesses he was, in fact, an able ruler with several positive achievements to his credit. (The Jewish People: Their History and Their Religion, David J. Goldberg, John D Rayner  See reformist Richard III, town planner Nero, democrat Caligula etc.)

Now that Wikipedia’s a click away, it’s no longer safe to regale your friends with your theory about the mysterious disappearance of JFK’s brain or what happens if you wake a sleepwalker, or how Madonna and Camilla Parker Bowles are cousins: some killjoy will inevitably reach for an iPhone to clarify the facts. (Oliver Burkeman June 2015)

Film Noir happened because the heavy hitting directors and stars were overseas. All your outsiders were left behind to make "Hollywood" films. Do you know why noir is so dark and ugly? It's WW2 cutbacks forcing B-Movie people to get bumped up to the big leagues. (Holden Yer Buttz ‏@Nick_Hanover)

The other aspect to face painting for Morris dancers is that begging was illegal, but they danced to make a few pennies in the winter when there was no farm work available. The face paint was a disguise. (MJ, following an article saying that the “blackface” worn by some dancers was a relic of the dirty faces of coal miners).

Henry Fielding says that writers should focus on “matters of consequence” so as not to “resemble a newspaper, which consists of just the same number of words, whether there be any news in it or not.”

Snow White is said to be a metaphor for cocaine, and each of the seven dwarfs represents a side effect of using the drug. (@madfactz  See endless “and the Cowardly Lion represents the French monarchy” memes.)

Here we go again with the "agitator" narrative. Such B.S. & so disrespectful of the people who are rising up based on oppressive conditions. (Ida's Disciple ‏@prisonculture Baltimore, April 26 2015)

Mayonnaise was invented by the great-nephew of Cardinal Richelieu in the port town of Mahón which is why it's called mayonnaise. (Chris White ‏@bombaylychee)

Fun fact: women were warned against using powder too often as it would either possibly clog their pores [sure], turn their skin yellow [what?], or even paralyze them. (

A kind of cant phraseology is current from one end of the Metropolis to the other... (Pierce Egan, 1820s on kids today)

Tea was good for illicit sex: amongst the privileged tea drinking required a tea gown; this was loose-fitting and was not worn with the usual corset. That meant that no maid was required to dress m’lady who could enjoy an assignation, and a cup of tea, in her boudoir without a nosy maid being present. This was known as cinq-a-sept, the time when it all happened. (Daily Telegraph)

Apparently you are statistically more likely to be bitten by Jeremy Clarkson than a shark. (@JonnElledge)

I thought I loved him at the time, but of course it wasn’t really love. (Gellett Burgess, Are You a Bromide?)

Besides, you know God exists... you just don't believe that you believe God exists. (William Wallace ‏@monkshui)

Every Irish town has the "meant for somewhere else in the empire" urban legend. Paul Clerkin

Given that every generation in history has observed a calamitous drop in standards since their youth, it is clear that the early protohominins must have been absolutely godlike in intellectual and moral qualities. (SR)

Legend has it that in the days of pirates, when tales drifted ashore of the wonderful treasures being seized, an accomplice on land would tie a lantern around the neck of an old and gentle horse and this nag would slowly be led up and down the clifftop or highest point to signal to the ship that it was safe to land. The sight of the bobbing lantern known as the nag's head was the long-awaited signal the pirates' perilous voyage was finally over and celebrations could begin. (Daily Express on pub name “meanings”. Why attach the lantern to the horse? Is this a garbled memory of wreckers luring ships onto the rocks so that they could loot the cargo?)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Hyperbole, Overstatement, Catastrophising 7

Wages of sin

Scruffy refugees from a war in Syria ruined my holiday in Kos. (Daily Mail, May 2015, paraphrase)

Self-service checkouts are “ruining Britain”. (Daily Mail)

The insane popularity of skimmed milk is a good metaphor for our deluded civilisation. (Peter Hitchens)

The Tbilisi Zoo was “founded on sin”, said Ilia II, the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church,  which is why large animals escaped after floods and roamed the city. He claimed that Georgian churches were robbed during Communist times and the dosh was used to build the zoo.

Fox psychiatrist blames transgender people for white woman who pretended to be black (June 2015)

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. (Donald Trump)

What is this crazy world coming to? (Complainer about parents being charged for parking offences outside schools, or for taking their kids on holiday in term time)

Unbridled capitalism is the 'dung of the devil'. (Pope Francis)

Sinead O'Connor declares 'music is dead' after Rolling Stone puts Kim Kardashian on cover (Indy 2015-07-16)

Taking pictures is literally demeaning and counterintuitive, it's illusory and rids peoples life of happiness. (Youtube commenter)

‏ It should be a hate crime to wear Crocs in public. (@VanDerWhat)

Political correctness is a vicious tyranny! (Stalin's rule of Russia was a vicious tyranny, political correctness is mainly being considerate and polite.)

Equal numbers of male and female judges could inflict “appalling consequences” on the quality of British justice, says Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption. He claims it’s “rubbish” to say that the law is run by an “old boys’ network”. (Daily Telegraph Sept 2015)

Eastern Europeans have taken over Britain! (Graffiti. There are some Eastern Europeans here. When they’re all in government and running the country, and have replaced the Queen with King Andrzej, then you can say they’ve taken over.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Outdated and Wonky Stereotypes 2

House husband wears a frilly apron of the kind women haven’t worn for decades.
English people – or posh people – constantly say “What ho, old bean!”.

Scots sometimes complain that the English have reduced their culture to Tartan Shortbread (and kilts and bagpipes). Worse than the Tartan Shortbread reduction of culture is the comedy version: for the Irish, green bowlers and red wigs, leprechauns turned into figures of fun (they were probably fearsome spirits), comedy Irishmen on the music hall stage. Folk music dwindles to Hava Nagila/Greensleeves/
Paddy McGinty’s Goat/the White Heather Club. What's worse, some people think that IS their culture and love it.

10s Um... Suffragettes? The Go-Between?

20s Throughout the 20s, girls wore very short dresses, had bobbed hair, danced the Charleston and said “Vo de oh do”. (Skirts lengthened after the war, rose sharply circa 1925.)

30s Er...

40s All girls wore their hair in a “victory roll”.

50s Ponytails, jeans, rock’n’roll.

60s Miniskirts, psychedelia, hippies, “Yeah baby, groovy!” for the entire decade.

70s Bell-bottoms, flowery shirts, decade style forgot.

80s Fluorescent bangles, ra-ra skirts and scrunchies.

90s Er... Apparently teenagers of today have no idea about 90s music! (Neither have I.) Grunge?

New Agers
Chris Addison and Amelia Bullmore starred in a couple of ads for... insurance? (See, they work.) In both, Amelia Bullmore was a "New Ager". In one incarnation, she’s wearing a psychedelic scarf and headband and talking about feng shui. She comes back as a crystal gazer in a white turban, who forces him to sit in the Lotus position.

Zoopla are following the same script with a woman who has looked up the property details and is pretending they are coming to her through the ether by waving her arms about.

There are many ads showing an inept team making a boring ad. There’s always one trying to be Richard Ayoade. Only BT Infini’y got it right.

The 40s film Kind Hearts and Coronets portrayed the Victorians as speaking with “veddy, veddy” posh accents. Partners in Crime in the 80s portrayed characters in the 20s as impossibly posh (when they are middle class and have jobs – as private detectives).

When the One Show got a researcher to pose as as an “avant garde artist” whose art was a pile of rubbish, she donned a flowery maxi-skirt and headband, and put on a ludicrously “OK yah” accent. It was a distorted version of the Sloane Ranger stereotype of the 80s (which had some foundation in fact – but I still don't believe anyone ever said "OK yah"). Why should a conceptual artist be posh?

More stereotypes here.

Too-Appropriate Metaphors 7

And unfortunate.

We are literally a cauldron of different diversities. (Glastonbury resident)

The squirrel’s simple wing makes it a sitting duck. (BBC nature prog It’s a sitting squirrel.)
This messenger pigeon was a sitting duck. (A sitting pigeon.)

It’s like shooting fish in a barrel! (a programme about lion fish)

There’s a nationwide ‘biscuit drought’ after the Carlisle McVitie’s factory was flooded in December (BBC)

Feel the bottomless satisfaction tonight! (Viagra scam)

This dog can unleash a savage bite. (Steve Backshall Inflict?)

The cliff railway has broken new ground. (Flog It!)

J. S. Fletcher wrote more than two hundred books in his storied career. (Amazon)

Cigarette fakers are blazing a trail across the country. (Matt Allwright, Fake Britain)

We opened up another trench as a last-ditch attempt to find something in the interior. (Tony Robinson on Time Team Last trench attempt?)

A morning-after pill that works for up to five days after sex and doesn't need a prescription has been quietly rolled out in pharmacies across the country.

BP sees 'massive' shock for North Sea as oil glut deepens (Telegraph Overflows?)

So, Michael Flatley – big shoes to fill? (Brenda Emmanus, BBC News)

The reason for all this fanfare... (BBC Breakfast reporter on deck of the Britannia, being stalked by a brass band)

This sovereign could be worth its weight in gold.

Women in architecture were failing to break the glass ceiling. (Architects Journal)

Cat shows up, demands food, wolfs it, leaves. (@HamishMThompson)

Chancellor is "balancing the books on the back of the poor". (#bbcnews 2014 Jan 6)

Despite declining food stocks, these seals are looking healthy. This marine biologist will be helping to unearth their secret. (Footage of her leaping into the sea. Oceans)

...a spindly creature who turned out to be the party’s election candidate for Bristol West. He used to be in the RAF, but, explained Baroness Jones earnestly, “He’s been working in Green fields for some time.” (Telegraph on Jenny Jones and the Green Party press conference)

Violent lightning erupts inside ash cloud as volcano spews lava.

They examine the beach with a fine tooth comb. (They can be seen examining it with a sieve.) (Eden voiceover)

Each egg is pregnant with possibility. (Yesterday)

“This is a very important step forward for them,” said a spokeswoman from the Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury research Center [about the injured possible re-learning to walk].

One hot-headed soldier could have triggered a disaster. (BBC on skirmishes in Ukraine, Mar 4 2014)

More here, and links to the rest.