Monday 31 December 2018

What I Don't Miss About the 70s

Carbon paper and carbon copies
(hurrah for photocopiers and computers)

Handmade pottery cups and saucers (and the sound of the cup grating on the saucer)

Brown, brown, brown everywhere (especially as corduroy chair-covers)

Amusing egg-cups on legs

Fun activities like brass rubbing, repairing drystone walls and dredging canals (The canals have all been restored now – thanks, hearty young people of the 70s.)

Muzak (“light” background music)

Over-plucked eyebrows

Being called "dear"

Authoritarian sects that took all your money

Gullibility about macrobiotic diets, pyramid power, biofeedback, ley lines, earth energies, negative ions, out-of-body experiences, UFOs, crop circles, karma – and suspicion of science and logic

Marxists and feminists taking the fun out of everything

Hatred of the “nuclear family” (which meant you couldn’t say you wanted one)

Hatred and suspicion of love and romance

Ban on trying to make yourself look attractive

Communes, open relationships, wife-swapping

Arguments about what “equality” means

Reasons why women couldn't be airline pilots or bishops

Cruelty to vegetarians

Having no word to describe the person who shared your life (“Boyfriend” had become unsayable and “partner” hadn’t come along. People experimented with “lover” and “fellow” but sounded self-conscious.)

Dinner parties where people played Victorian parlour games. They’d suddenly turn to you and say “This is a drum” and you had to turn to the next person and say “This is a trumpet” and so on round the table until you all got confused, or died of despair, whichever was soonest. 

Body odour (Many people thought deodorants were "bad for you". They even thought too many baths were bad for you. At boarding schools and in bedsits, baths were rationed and people got used to having only three a week.)

Queueing for hours in the only passport office 

Money-saving wheezes like making notebooks out of paper offcuts stapled together, and reusing yoghourt pots for storing elastic bands

Cigarette burns everywhere, especially on the metal sanitary bins in public loos

The early 70s oil crisis, with its power cuts and oil lamps

Lack of public money, which meant not much got built. Optimistic 60s council estates were left to rot, and Victorian public buildings were still covered in traditional Victorian grime.

People saying the following:
Women can’t work together.
(Popular in the 70s when more women began to work outside the home, join the professions, become visible in offices, climb the hierarchy – not heard much during WWII when women operated anti-aircraft batteries together without any fuss.)

We don't have to pay women as much as men doing the same job because they only work for pin money.

I could never work for a woman – they're so petty.

Women have different roles which are just as important.
Women will never be equal to men because they have babies.
Women like being beaten up. (Yes, really.)

We endured cold (and filthy) trains, cold waiting rooms, cold houses, appalling railway cafés, closed shops (exclusive trade unions) and expensive books and we just accepted it because that was the way things were.

We waited three months for a phone to be installed, there was no choice of phones, and you had to dial three times before you got a line that worked. At university we shared a few pay phones in halls – digs had no phones at all and we communicated by leaving notes in pigeon-holes in the department.

Making money was naff, so shop staff were all rude, vacant or unhelpful. Or else they chatted to each other all day and ignored any customers.

There were a lot of things that you couldn’t get done because nobody had thought of setting up a business to do it. (If they did, they couldn’t get a startup loan.) We moaned about the disappearance of the "little man round the corner", who had probably gone out of business because nobody would pay him enough.

Fatalistic mantras: Mustn’t grumble. It must have been ‘meant’. These things are sent to try us. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken. If you can’t get what you want, change your want.

You could be depressed, but not unhappy. Instead of changing your circumstances or getting a makeover, you went in for Zen, Rolfing, Gestalt therapy, Biodynamics, Rebirthing, Co-counselling, indoor water features... (they gave off positive ions).

Flats above shops stood empty. Sitting tenants and fixed rents meant it wasn’t worth renting them out, or doing up a building. If you rented a flat, you had to pay illegal “key money” to the outgoing tenant. 

Banks shut at 3pm, and didn’t open on Saturdays. There were no ATMs.

Streets were dimly lit. Railway stations were dark and unstaffed, which made the London overground too dangerous for a single woman.

Agony Aunts advised: “Tell your boyfriend that women can enjoy sex without an orgasm.” Also “Don’t try to have an orgasm, just enjoy the moment.”

There were no night buses. Now (2018) there are twice the number that there were 10 years ago. And there were few buses, and none that went across London. Bus drivers carried on being rude and unhelpful long after shop staff had been sent on the customer care course. (And now Transport for London is cutting services again.)

Nearly all the shops in Stoke Newington Church Street were shut, perhaps because the only way to get there was on the 73, which hardly ever turned up. Or travelled in convoy – as we used to joke.

Also in Stoke Newington, a beautiful Queen Anne house fell into ruin while its garden turned back into a wood.

You could only get expensive prescription glasses, so you were stuck with a pair that was unflattering and out of date.

There was no morning TV, and the radio went off at night.

We were told that period pains were caused by smothering mothers (who were blamed for most things), and would stop once we understood how our bodies worked, or once we’d had a baby. Meanwhile you could just will it not to hurt, or try to have a positive attitude to gynaecology.

Not only was there no Google, there was no information available about anything. No maps of bus routes, and not much sex education. Censorship had gone, but publishers were still very timid about even hinting that people had sex before marriage. There was one British Rail information line – if you could ever get through to it.

Single women couldn't get a mortgage.
Officials were routinely rude and obstructive, especially if you were young and female.

Railway stations had wonderful Victorian loos that were dirty, cold and often shut.

stuffed peppers 

chilled soup 
bouquet garni
bay leaves
chicken hearts
bread pudding

recipes that advised “add some of the liquid from the tin”
The Pauper’s Cookbook and its recipes for cooking offal
adding Marmite to vegetarian cookery
the macrobiotic diet (Brown rice. That's all. It was supposed to have magical properties.)

Chick peas were popular (cheap calories, peasant food). But you could not eat the widely available tinned variety (commodified, more expensive than dried, how were you going to recycle the tin?). You had to soak the dried chick peas overnight and spend hours boiling them. They tasted exactly like tinned chick peas, and you’d spent more on fuel than you’d saved by buying the cheaper dried variety.

maxi skirts
hot pants on men
 (see footballers)
the colour mustard
cagoules (that failed to keep out the wet and cold, and only came in bright red nylon)

Eventually people became more rebellious and bolshy – as we called trying to change things and not accepting the status quo. Even though you might be told you "had a problem with authority", things got better with proper, legal employment procedures, HR departments and people you could complain to. Books got cheaper, and discounted bookshops popped up.

When you went out running people used to shout at you. (Tough Northern bloke on BBC Breakfast)

One thing I don’t miss about the 1970s – the Easter story, expressed through the medium of dance. (@Lord_Steerforth)

British Library users... who deplore the current accessibility of the library to the young and eager and pine for the days of narrow exclusivity when tickets were limited to... ‘core users’ need to be reminded how unpleasant the old regime was, and how improved the new management is in most ways. When my first reader’s ticket expired in 1978, just after I had finished my PhD, I went to the BL to renew it. There I was subjected to close interrogation by a young librarian who hissed and snapped at me as he fought every inch of the way against allowing me into the BL again. Although I was a mild and civil supplicant, he was one of those jealous, possessive librarians who resent anyone with the impertinence to order books from their collections or to finger them. Grudgingly, he issued me with a new card. Then, as I moved to leave the room, he danced out from behind his desk, confronted me at the door, and shrieked in my face: ‘Just because you have been allowed a reader’s ticket today, don’t think you will ever be issued with one again.’
(Letter to LRB, June 6 2013)

What I Don't Miss About the 50s 9

I remember the chilblains in winter
And the smell of boiled cabbage indoors
I remember the frost on the window pane
And the many illiberal laws
I remember intelligent women
Disguising themselves to please men
I remember the fear of authority -
Oh yes, we were happier then!

I remember the matchbox collections
And instructions to keep off the grass
I remember the bullying and teasing
And the rigid obsession with class
I remember the tough boiled mutton
Being sent off to board at age ten
And everything shut on a Sunday –
Of course we were happier then!

The man was the head of the household
His bank account shared with his wife
Eat up every scrap you are given
And never eat peas with your knife
We’re not to be thought of as common
And it’s easy to write with a pen
Don’t complain, it’s not flu, just a sniffle.
We were so much happier then!


I remember the cold outside toilets
Spam fritters, white faces and lard,
Gymslips, gingham and spangles
And the strap that struck us so hard.
Why are those days now departed?
I blame the gays and the left 
The hippies, the perverts, the liberals
And the decline of the Daily Express.
(Dan Clayton @DanSeanClayton)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Hey, Guys, It's Nearly 2019!

It’s 2018 and there are people whingeing about black presenters on Springwatch, women presenters at the World Cup, a female Dr Who, and women with PhDs using the title "doctor". Well, really! (That's Gillian Burke in the picture.)

It is 2018, so why are we still debating whether women can do physics? (New Scientist head)

It's 2018, and some people think "positive discrimination" means "appointing an inferior candidate just because she's female".

It’s 2018 and we’re still blaming victims of domestic violence.

Since it’s 2018, can we stop trying to hold wives/friends/colleagues accountable for the actions of abusers? Abusers will lie/gaslight/intimidate anyone in their circle precisely because you trust them. Grow up! (Queen of the Universe @QofTU)

It’s 2018 and we still don’t talk openly about gynaecology – not even among each other. (And there are men out there who think women urinate through the vagina.)

It’s 2018 and people still don’t get that feminism doesn’t equal hating on men sigh. (Asy @ahchtoo)

It's 2018 and the Education Editor of the Sunday Times is describing being gay or trans as an "alternative lifestyle". An alternative lifestyle is living in a hut in the woods, not loving someone of the same sex. (Benjamin Butterworth ‏@benjaminbutter)

It's 2018 and there are still people who believe that these people are better than those people.

It's 2018 and some cafe loyalty schemes are a physical card you mark in biro.

It’s 2018 and there are still show bunnies, and men-only clubs, and “walk-on girls” at darts matches. But if we ban the grid girls, shouldn’t we ban PR girls, gallery girls, front of house girls, baristas and shop assistants chosen for their youth and looks? They used to work as usherettes and scantily clad cigarette sellers.

It’s 2018 and people are still tweeting “Loved the article, but why did you give it that headline?” Writers do not write headlines. Sub editors write headlines. (Writers do not “pick” headlines, either.)

Just a reminder, this is 2018. Although I had to laugh at the [nitwit] who thought his “sense of patience” grew after gawping at a mummified severed arm. (Gruntfuttock ‏@peasmoldia. St Francis Xavier’s arm has been touring Canada.)

Can’t believe this word is still getting used for humour. It’s 2018, c'mon. (Caitlin McKenzie Crum. Re people joking about pasta called “fagottini”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Predictions for 2019

Journalists will write the following articles:

Tweed is shaking off its tweedy image.

Twitter is entering a new phase.

I'm a grammar snob, haha! But language has to change. It's those others who are pedants. Here are my pet peeves.

"I tried stand up for the first time but it was definitely research for an article and not a desperate attempt at validation" pieces that many columnists inevitably churn out. (Dean Burnett @garwboy)

This new adaptation is an Agatha Christie for our times: visceral, deliciously dark, and full of grossness, bad language, violence and sex. Instead of a stuffy country house, it takes place in a crack den in Glasgow. It was high time we had a female Poirot!

The forgotten women of [insert scientific enterprise here].

Journalists will confuse average age at death with average life expectancy at birth. (In the olden days nobody lived beyond 40!)

The writer of a new version of Bleak House will be praised for the way he/she highlights poverty and inequality in Victorian England.

People will say:
I’d leave Facebook but it’s the only way I can stay in touch with my dad, organise my choir, share my holiday snaps or [insert reason here].

It’s time to stop [tweeting, complaining about sexual harassment, using the term “fake news”] because it is actually counter-productive.

What have we become? Entitled, outraged, thin-skinned – apart from me!

We must do something about the [lonely, autistic, single].

Some essential aspect of modern life is the reason why are going to Hell in a handcart. (They hoped it would go away when it first appeared 15 years ago, but now everybody has got one. They have too, but they don't really know how to work it and have to ask their children.)

Snow isn’t snowy enough, young people are young, and everybody does traditions wrong.

They’ll tell us not to politicise something political.

Racists will ask “How is that racist?

Someone will say that we have too many “things” and should live more simply – in 2018 it was the Pope.

People will say the following as if they were the first person to have the idea: You're the real racist, political correctness is the new oppression, atheism is a religion. (And many more.)

People will explain why that isn’t anti-Semitism, and that isn’t bullying, while claiming to be against all racism and to have an anti-bullying policy.

Middle-class women will moan “Well we would invite single women, but it’s so difficult to find single men for them.” A bright spark will set up

There’ll be a big fuss when someone tells children Santa Claus doesn’t exist. Trump didn't say "No, there is no Santa Claus", he said it was marginal to still believe in Santa when you are seven. (And Santa Claus doesn’t exist.)

Travel disruption will be referred to as “chaos”, and road or air shutdowns will be termed “hysteria”.

A new hominin species will be discovered.

Various methods will be tried to stop people buying or selling sex. Nobody will explain why this is a bad thing.

Come September, a school will get into the papers by making a ridiculous fuss about some detail of its uniform.

One or two women a week will be killed by their partners and ex-partners.

There will be schemes to empower girls and tell them they can do or be whatever they want. Nobody will do anything about the attitudes that close doors to women.

Waistbands will move nearer the waist but never quite get there, like Zeno's arrow.

Past years here.

Monday 24 December 2018

Grammar: Dangling Modifiers 4

Dangling modifiers don't quite convey your intended meaning.

By trimming weeds on the sides of the pond you can sit on the benches and enjoy watching ducks. (Via Twitter The weeds have already been trimmed by the gardeners.)

Although owned by popes and princes alike, the programme focuses on the stunning embroideries produced for the Catholic Church, as these have survived in greater numbers. (V&A website. The embroideries, not the programme, were owned by popes and princes.)

Lined with plush carpets and velvet upholstery, Carolyn has peppered the property with feminine touches. (Daily Mail. The property, not Carolyn - you get the idea.)

Equipped with a surviving 13th century dungeon, the castle is a place any child would love to grow up in. (Not a dangler, more of a non sequitur. Unless as a four-year-old you just longed to be cast into a dungeon.)

The Croydon Architecture Tour takes place again this Saturday. Supported by The National Trust, we'll be delving into the contemporary heritage of Croydon and shine a spotlight on the borough. (...Saturday, supported by the National Trust. We’ll...)

Despite being a raging reformer, she’s my favourite Tudor. Poor Anne. (Francesca Stavrakopoulou)

Ramshackle and creaky, director Wendy Toye further enhances the discord by using canted angles and personalised framing.

It was left behind from director Cecil B DeMille's 1923 blockbuster The Ten Commandments. One of the most expensive films ever made at the time, a team of 1,600 artisans built an Egyptian city amid the sand dunes close to the Pacific Ocean. (Daily Express Jan 2018)

The deteriorating political climate between Britain and Germany led to a late switch to Britain instead at the age of six, ending up at Bedales School. (Wikipedia entry on Elizabeth Ferrars. She, not the political climate, went to Bedales.)

Now quite weather-beaten and worn, the internet was surprised to discover a few years ago that the bodies of the Rapa Nui statues were covered with tattoo-like designs. (

Fanned by strong winds and burning for more than a week, Californian firefighters are still struggling to get wildfires under control. (BBC)

A two-hander, Anne-Marie Duff stars alongside Kenneth Cranham as eventual lovers and beginning strangers.

Untouched by spade or trowel for centuries, will we be able to uncover its secrets? (Time Team)

Little Collingwood Street, Bethnal Green. Almost unbelievably narrow, residents faced each other across a 9ft gap. (The Ripper ‏@The_East_End)

Off-limits and full of venomous pit vipers, Snake Island's nickname is frighteningly apt.

Named after a very fine lady from North Wales, I am eating plum crumble with custard. (LC)

At over 700 years old, I'm standing outside one of the oldest universities in the world.

Built nearly 700 years ago, lose yourself in the romantic moated manor house. (National Trust)

After eventually breaking free and calling emergency services, the snake was removed.

Beautifully preserved by the anaerobic Thames mud, I pulled this leather shoe out of the foreshore between Christmas and NY. (Mudlarks Facebook group)

Made up of shell and V stitches, you will be warm and feel wonderful in this shawl.

Built over centuries, medieval masons never saw their cathedrals finished. (@greg_jenner)

The Lord Chancellor sits on the Woolsack, stuffed with wool.

Some years ago I had great fun researching this hitherto unregarded portrait of Elizabeth I with David Starkey. (Dr Bendor Grosvenor ‏@arthistorynews)

The art of fishing for shrimp on horseback.

Penelope watched the horses as they galloped through the telescope.

Visited the magisterial minster church at Stow, Lincs. today with @dr_duncanwright, a true hidden masterpiece of Saxon & Normal architecture. (@Hugh_Willmott)

Shoppers “have more than £9bn worth of clothes they don’t wear in their wardrobes”.

A necklace of red thread was tied round children's necks and never removed until it rotted away naturally in Warwickshire. (Hannah Spencer‏ @hspencer339)

Now at Penn Station a man is on the steps as hundreds of people pass smoking marijuana. (Via Twitter)

Cure for mumps: meet a man riding a white horse accidentally.

While the humans did not initially gain any kind of benefit from this process, over time they would have developed some kind of symbiotic relationship with these animals, eventually evolving into the dogs we see today.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Good and Bad Writing Advice

There’s a lot of writing advice on the internet. Much of it can be ignored. As a friend of Flaubert’s once told him, if you want to say it was raining, write “It was raining”.

The following have been doing the rounds since the days of photocopiers:

Avoid Alliteration always. In a detective story by Ngaio Marsh, the murderer writes a confession that includes the words “I peppered his prepared powder pad with pethidine”, and then breaks off to apologise. Alliteration can be effective – I flinch more at unconscious rhyming. (“She longed to hold the brooch of old rolled gold.” “All except Paul followed him into the big hall.”)

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. As Winston Churchill allegedly said “This is the sort of nonsense up with which I will not put.” Or did he ask his nanny “What did you get that book I didn’t want to be read to out of down for?” Avoid splitting up parts of a compound verb like “climb up”. “He climbed with great care, while trying to avoid breaking the branches or detaching it from the wall, up the ivy.” Also, we need to know that it’s the ivy he’s climbing nearer the top of the sentence. Don’t make your readers read backwards.

Avoid cliches like the plague. If you must use them, avoid mixing or garbling. Ideas are not crystallised in a nutshell. Here’s a recent example: “America’s cheese hoard continues to balloon to unprecedented levels, as producers fear the mountain could grow further.” A ballooning mountain of cheese? It’s hard to picture.

Use the vernacular. That means everyday speech or even slang. However, don’t use a lot of current slang your readers won’t understand. If you’re writing the story of your life, though, write it as if you were telling somebody about it.

Eschew ampersands & abbrevs. etc. Keep them for Twitter and text messages.

Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary. They’re often necessary (and useful), just don’t shove a long parenthesis between parts of the verb, or between subject and object.

It is wrong to ever split an infinitive. Sometimes there’s just nowhere else for the adverb to go. Are you going rudely to shove it in the middle of the infinitive? Avoiding the split can make for an uglier – or even ambiguous – result. But for many people, this is the number one grammar “thou shalt not”, so avoid it. Try removing the adverb altogether. However, the so-called rule only applies to infinitives (to come, to give, to do), not any old parts of the verb (“He wished fervently that the visitors had not been summarily dismissed” is fine. "Had not been dismissed" is not an infinitive.)

Contractions aren’t necessary. It depends on the “register” of your prose – contractions are fine in an email or fiction; they're not so acceptable in an essay or scientific paper.

Foreign words and phrases are not de rigueur. If you must use them, get them right, though some of your readers may be baffled. Find an English equivalent.

One should never generalise. It’s a good idea to be specific. “We sat on brocade-covered gilt armchairs”, not “The luxurious furniture was covered in sumptuous fabric”.

In 1970, Jessica Mitford investigated a correspondence writing school called Famous Writers.
I showed to an English professor some corrected lessons that fell into my hands. One assignment: "to inject new life and color and dimension into a simple declarative sentence." From the sentence "The cat washed its paws," the student had fashioned this: "With fastidious fussiness, the cat flicked his pink tongue over his paws, laying the fur down neatly and symmetrically." The instructor had crossed out "cat" and substituted "the burly gray tomcat." With fastidious fussiness, the lanky tweed-suited English professor clutched at his balding, pink pate and emitted a low, agonized groan of bleak and undisguised despair: "Exactly the sort of wordy stuff we try to get students to avoid."

You may also be told the following:

Employ unusual similes.
Don’t try to be too clever, but ask yourself what the thing reminds you of. Jilly Cooper once described palm trees in a storm as “angry dish mops”.

Don’t start a sentence with “and” or “but”. But writers do it all the time.

Don’t use more than one “and” in a sentence. I don’t know who came up with this one, but they were mistaken and foolish, and didn’t know what they were talking about, either.

Don't put a comma before an "and". The previous sentence is a good example of a sentence that needs a comma before an "and". Instead of trying to follow a "rule", use your judgement.

A sentence must contain a main verb. Not always.

Kill your darlings. This doesn’t mean “kill off your favourite characters” but “look critically at that flowery paragraph you are particularly fond of”.

Use no adverbs or adjectives. "You can do a lot with a pertinent adjective – or adverb," she expounded sapiently.

Remove unnecessary words. But don’t hang a whole set of subordinate clauses off one little verb, or write “no matter your views” when you mean “no matter what your views may be”.

Write about what you know. Do, especially if you have inside experience of an unusual job or milieu: the Salvation Army, a New Age cult, a department store. Keep a diary and one day it will keep you.

Use the subjunctive: “If I were”, not “If I was...”. The subjunctive can usually be avoided. But teachers tell their pupils to use it, and if you write “If I was...” readers may assume you are illiterate.

Write something the market will want. But if five novels about spiritualism in the 20s sold well last year, the market is saturated. Don’t forget book groups, though – they want novels that cover issues they can discuss. If you want to raise awareness of women’s oppression in the medieval period, write a yarn about a girl who is walled up in a nunnery by her family who can’t afford a dowry for every daughter. She escapes via a parachute made of veils, dresses as a man, fights in the Crusades and is captured by the enemy. In the Sultan's harem, she raises the concubines' consciousness and together they overcome the fearsome eunuchs who... well, you can make up the rest yourself.

Reference all five senses on every page. Not absolutely necessary, but tell your readers something about the characters’ surroundings.

Find your voice. This doesn’t mean “assume the voice of a member of an oppressed minority”, according to writer Elif Batuman. But it can help to have one of your characters tell the story – at least some of the time. Then you can write the way an ordinary person speaks, instead of trying to be literary. 

You can't have drama without conflict. They might have a point.

Vary your sentence structure. OK, but that doesn’t mean “make all your sentences a paragraph long and stuffed with parentheses and subordinate clauses”. Especially not if the clauses are in the wrong order, or you give away the surprise before the end.

Avoid repetition. But if you’re writing a news story about Microsoft, there’s no need to try and find synonyms like “the well-known software giant”. Make it Microsoft the first few times, then vary with “the firm” or “the company”. Find a synonym, don't just substitute with "it" or "they" or "do so".

Show don’t tell. This can end up as a set of melodramatic stage directions: “Her heart pounded like a herd of stampeding bison – her teeth chattered like castanets - her hands were blocks of mint choc ice – her face was as pale as a sheet of A4...”

Create a sympathetic central character the reader can identify with. But don’t make her too much of a perfect “Mary Sue”, with all the qualities you wish you had yourself.

The characters’ parameters must be changed by the last chapter. This means “they must pair off”.

Hero and heroine must meet by accident. As Woman’s Own once told Rumpole creator John Mortimer.

Find synonyms for “said” and “went”. Many sites offer synonyms. Ignore most of them. He advanced, she trotted, they pattered. And my pet hate: “skittered”. But how about: He exited abruptly. She trailed behind the rest of the party. We trudged on – only another half-mile to go.

Some verbs are functional. What is the speaker doing? He accused, she informed, he wondered.

Some describe actions while speaking. Avoid: "You're welcome!", he grinned.

Some reference the method of speaking: She babbled, he quavered, she snorted.

In a Victorian novel, a character might “approach”, “enter”, “retreat” or “pace the room". The party may then “proceed” elsewhere. You may be trying to tell the reader what to think: somebody inoffensive may “trot”. To avoid being dull, your actors spring out of a chair, bolt from the room and sprint down the path. But most of these verbs are clichés and found too often in children’s books of the 70s and 80s.

Characters must develop, or as they say these days, have an “arc” and go on a “journey”. When people talk about “character depth”, they mean that they want to be party to the character’s thoughts, and progressively find out more and more about their (tragic) back story which of course explains why they are feisty, awkward, difficult, a maverick cop etc. The character him/herself must find out who he/she really is, and also discover their own confidence, strength and bravery. They must resist temptation to go over to the dark side, though you can prolong their struggle.

The rules that bedevil the [mystery] genre today are largely publisher's rules, aimed at guaranteeing sales to their base. Corpse in the first chapter, sympathetic protagonist, characters/setting attractive, extra points for bookstore/craft shop/warm community, rapid pacing, etc. And so often boring, boring, boring. (via Facebook)

If you want the critics to love you, write "bejewelled" prose: The icicles depended from gutters like spicules of feldspar, and the footsteps of passers by resonated like the hooves of hippogriffs dancing on the untouched strands of Metanoia... Use words that will drive readers to the dictionary. But I think you have to be male for this one.

Stick to homely similes, though if your protagonist is a 19th century Moravian peasant boy, avoid comparing everything to grandma's kneidlach or your favourite newborn goat. In fact, don't make your protagonist a 19th century Moravian peasant boy. Stick to what you know!

Another contemporary award-winning trick is to write your novel in the second person (you) and the present tense. I expect it will one day look as passé as the hula hoop.

Positive advice in A Short Guide to Writing Well. Only 99p for the Kindle version.

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Grammar: Overstatement and Hyperbole 9

"Trigger warnings" and "safe spaces" are just "political correctness" all over again.  A simple request to be slightly more thoughtful when dealing with other people reinterpreted as the stamp of jackboots by people who will likely never encounter them.

You know Prohibitionists are running short on arguments when they take the “sex work causes climate change” approach. (Eric Sprankle, PsyD @DrSprankle)

PC gone mad! (Thomas the Tank Engine is introducing female trains.)

The ideology of the modern American university is “clearly literally destroying the country”. (Tucker Carlson, Fox News)

Universities have become left-wing madrassas. (Toby Young)

These perpetual offence-takers now rule the world. (Carol Midgley Times April 2018)

East London is a no go area! (Translation: It has a fairly high crime rate.)

We are now an Islamic State. Fact. (Via Twitter, in response to news that there are 460 mosques in London and 500 churches have closed.)

Tesco has left shoppers “devastated” after discontinuing aubergines in a middle-class market town. (Independent. They were also “outraged”.)

Overheard in the café: It's a long time since I heard the word cookery, they don't use it any more. (Doesn't he watch Bake Off?)

Everybody is looking at a phone or a tablet all the time, even when driving, claims a friend.

Top UK Surgeon says students lack dexterity to sew up patients because they spend too much time staring at screens.

Conservative London mayorial candidate Shaun Bailey said that allowing young people access to condoms and abortion services "leads to crime."

By giving children condoms... you normalise sex and they feel it is their divine right to have it. (Shaun Bailey) 

You bring your children to school and they learn far more about Diwali than Christmas. I speak to the people who are from Brent and they’ve been having Muslim and Hindi days off. What it does is rob Britain of its community. Without our community we slip into a crime-riddled cesspool. (Shaun Bailey)

Why did you go on and on about being trans on the Island? (@sharon_cun)
I spoke about it for about four minutes during the whole two weeks. (@parislees)

Anyone screaming "You are a racist" at Jeremy Corbyn has lost every sense of moral proportion. (General Secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey)

They’ve banned the words “he” and “she”! (Some non-binary people like to be referred to as “they” and “them”.)

Same-sex marriage dooms nations. (Placard.)

Darwin’s theories have destroyed and ruined countless lives, marriages and relationships. His unfounded premises have affected true science making it laughable at best. (Carrie J. @ArkhamcityGirl)

The Sikhs' agitation to wear the turban at work indicates a "dangerous fragmentation within society". (Enoch Powell, 1968)

The EU needs to worry about the radical Islamic terror that has destroyed the ENTIRE continent other than Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The rest of the EU has been TOTALLY CRIPPLED!!! They have WAY more to worry about other than "trade". (Joey Mann @JTMann05)

We still have people ready to complain if someone uses a basic Māori greeting on national radio that the language is being “shoved down our throats”. (@LucShorter)

Every bleedin' person that passes me in the street speaks in a foreign language, or with a foreign accent. (From Twitter – he lives in Wells. Or perhaps St Petersburg.)

Facebook is ripping society apart. (Daily Mail)

Detective story writer Ngaio Marsh was “virulently homophobic”. Translation: she made fun of gay men in a way that was common at the time (20s and 30s).

Chesterton was “rabidly” and “virulently” anti-Semitic because he mentioned in a story that a character was Jewish. This man, a hotel proprietor, sends for a priest for a sick employee, while “marvelling mildly at such superstitions”. Chesterton may have been more anti-Semitic elsewhere, but save “rabid” for those who are frothing at the mouth and biting people.

With CCTV everywhere you’ve got no private life at all. (Quote in Times 2017 from someone who’s had it installed in his bathroom)

Why are people so adversarial on social media – this is the end of civilisation! (Turns out they mean “civility”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 17 December 2018

Grammar: Adjectives 14

Don't listen to people who tell you to delete all adjectives. Why not tell us what you really think?

I can imagine the press releases full of unutterable tosh explaining how sophisticated the design concept was. Limp McMansion in pink Palladian pyjamas. (Architects fulminate over a tasteless house makeover.)

The UK has a mean-spirited attitude to the poor, says a UN report.

fascinatingly dishonest (

The intergalactically inept Labour Party. (Jo Maugham)

We live in an amazing age of artisanal hand-polished blithering. The man's a da Vinci of gabble-arrangement. (@Dirck_deLint on Jordan Peterson)

Another writer called his output "pseudo-intellectual fluff, drivel-stuffed regurgitated self-help truisms".

Blimey, the whimsical train station piano lobby are still coming at me. (Sathnam Sanghera ‏@Sathnam)

Socially conscious mashups of music, yoga, dance and whimsical costumes. (

Doris Lessing’s Good Terrorist is about a bunch of privileged naive lefties. (@rallen78)

DEFRA emailed a pat statement so obfuscating Stacey Dooley was aghast. (Times on a programme about the cost of fashion.)

An aside of hallucinatory crassness. (Irish Times)

Ed Balls gamely donned a ghastly leotard and climbed into the ring. (Times 2018)

The outline is filled in with richly tatty detail. (Clive James)

Degrading Japanese game shows (JP)

Everything about Perfume looks conceited and overblown, heavy with middlebrow self-importance and spurious period detail. (Guardian on the film 2008)

An annoying 60's go-go music track. (imdb commenter)

It is regarded as a minor cult film thanks to its unrelenting shabby grimness. (Wikipedia on Urge to Kill)

Productions of feeble glamour in London apartments. (imdb commenter on Urge to Kill)

Is this a political drama or a cringey homily? (Carol Midgley on David Hare, paraphrase)

Harry H. Corbett: possibly the most unintentionally dreadful actor of all time. (imdb commenter)

The Perry Mason books. I tried, but they were dreary. Still, my disappointment didn't come close to the incredulous rage I felt when I read The Da Vinci Code. (Petra Meyer)

There are few shopping malls more utterly wretched than the RoyalVictoriaPlace in TunbridgeWells. (Gruntfuttock @peasmoldia)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 3 December 2018

Buzz Words of 2018

END OF 2017
Lots of fear of “Marxism”.

And that tedious joke about “what day is bins” still grinds on.

Someone’s sighted Easter eggs in the shops on Boxing Day.

Jan 1 2018
“We’re going to have a traditional Christmas, children, aren’t you lucky? Board games and carol-singing! Just a joke here are your tablets and games consoles and DVD players.” Ha, ha, ha.

Outrage over Toby Young’s appointment as students’ tsar, but already there’s a backlash from the usually sensible Kathy Burke: “Oh but the lefty virtually signalling outrage over this is the worst thing about it.” (It’s “fuel to the right’s fire”, apparently. And he didn't last.)

sex positive

walk back (what Trump should do to his “s***hole” comment)

SPADs (Special Policy ADvisers)

stains popular 2nd week Jan

“How is that racist?”

Mum told us that when the ice cream van played Greensleeves it meant they were out of icecream! (And many made-up variants. You’re supposed to laugh. )

“Why not just appoint the best person for the job instead of having quotas or all-female shortlists?” (Translation: appoint a white man.)

Let’s not be too nasty to the French women who are siding with the perpetrators because they don’t want women to look like “victims”. (And others on this template. There’s always some reason why women should shut up.)

As well as the “let’s not be too nasty to men” backlash, there’s an “I’d castrate them!” backlash. I remember women talking like this in the 70s. “I’d just stab him with a hatpin!” When women hadn’t worn hatpins for about 50 years. (Now having the same conversation about hatpins on Facebook for the first time since the 70s. Seems to go: “But we always talk about hatpins so some women must have carried them as weapons – in their lapel?” A three-inch sharp pin? In your lapel? And if you buy a hatpin purely as a weapon, why not buy a knife or some knuckle-dusters? The meme “women protect themselves with hatpins” proves very difficult to shift.)

salted caramel cocoa vodka liqueur, salted caramel green tea

chain migration 

People in the US have been using the words “white supremacy” since the 19th century.

Lots of love for Ursula Le Guin and Mark E. Smith. How soon before someone calls it hysteria, Dianamania or insincere attention-seeking? (Didn’t happen. Not big enough stars?)

Has “props” gone?

Jan 31 first “everything happens too early”: Still Jan, Valentine's Day to come and the hot cross buns are already in the shops. I'm the hot cross bun in this scenario. (@gordonguthrie)

Rumbling about words being added to the Oxford English Dictionary. OED says “this happens on a quarterly basis”.

Cadbury is removing the word “Easter” from Easter eggs – again. Allegedly.

February: “Deign” is popular, but people think it means “dare”. It means “condescend”.

Well, that got dark very quickly.

Jeremy Corbyn and Tony Benn put up a plaque to suffragette Emily Davidson in the House of Commons and nobody took it down. But it doesn’t count because they are public schoolboys.

It’s snowing, and everybody thinks it’s terribly funny to post “Britain is now uninhabitable” or “OK you can cancel the Red Cross airdrop”. They’ve stopped now that there are eight-foot drifts in Hampshire and people have spent 24 hours in unheated trains or all night in their cars. But they’ll be back.

Oh, and after whingeing about media hysteria about the snow, now they’re whingeing that they can’t get weather maps and forecasts because the website is overloaded.

And now everybody is driving in snow wrong.

Snow – avocado shortage – complete unavailability – mercy – my sides – It’s those middle-class people, you see, they’re just so funny! And you know – they eat – quinoa! LMFAO!!!!

– from the right, this is now an insult. I think it means “valuing other cultures”. Civilisations first episode – too "postmodern"!

Mike drop. I still don’t get it.

Suddenly everyone’s misusing “passive aggressive”. They don’t understand “passive voice”, either. And they use "cognitive dissonance" when they want to say "denial".

"Big shoes to fill” is everywhere early March. Sometimes with extensions “but she’ll have a wonderful team to help her do up the laces!”

March 14 and everybody’s an expert on nerve agents and who’s responsible. And on what Jeremy Corbyn should have said. All the evidence points to the Russians, therefore it can’t be the Russians.
First sighting of “we should stop being hysterical just because the Russians only poisoned three people with nerve gas in Salisbury”. And who’s really behind it? George Soros. Oh, of course.

concept art

A lot of whingeing about the “hysteria” about Corbyn’s hat being photoshopped to look more Russian and his head set against a background of Russian onion domes. On the BBC.

Rabbit-hole algorithms (You start searching for something and you end up down an internet rabbit-hole unable to see the way out.)

Luvvie as an insult seems to have gone out.

disintermediation (Thank you Noah Scott.)

Some people are still talking about “farcebook and twatter”, as if it was a) funny and b) we hadn’t heard it a million times.

Balloon jeans, balloon leg jeans. Proper 80s jeans! But manufacturers are applying the word to absolutely any style, as usual. (Gone by December, and trousers are as unwearable as ever.)

After any tragedy, conspiracy theorists will compete to accuse the most unlikely figures of being in league with each other.

People are addicted to Twitter discussions and Facebook kitten videos because – dopamine.

What happened to “sliders”? Miniature burger buns. Scones really.

Panopticon – in the context of Facebook and Cambridge Analytica.

Far-right groups are holding training camps in Europe.

One year to Brexit! Says the Daily Express, over a (whitened) pic of the white cliffs of Dover.

Oh dear, they’ve left “Easter” off Easter eggs again.

“My five-year-old” is lecturing on gender equality and animal welfare a lot end of March. It’s a joke template, apparently.

Paint a beach pebble and leave it for people to find.

Structural to mean institutional. Lots of “structural racism” around 2018-04-04.

Some parents are trying to bring up their children “entirely without gender”. Does this mean dungarees and pudding basin haircuts for all? And no He-Man or Barbie?

What happened to centrist dad?

“Social engineering” is the new “identity politics”. What does it mean? “Trying to force us to accept brown people, or accept them as equals”? Urban Dictionary says “attempt to control social behaviour”. One of its examples is liberal professors indoctrinating the young.

In Bristol, a Labour Party member put forward a motion saying something like: “In the face of inequality when vast wealth is confined to the hands of a few, can you blame people for looking for an explanation?”

Accusations of anti-Semitism all politically motivated slurs, accused innocent until proved guilty – LOOP to Weinstein, Cosby et al.

Everyone’s an expert on novichok.

I’m going to have to find out who “Hamilton” was, aren’t I?

(too long: didn’t read) now means “I’ll be brief” or “To sum up”.

Pwn has gone.

Kate’s having her baby and Ian Martin tweets: “My tweets are 90% Performative Disinterest in the Royal baby.”

Parties are now “house parties”. Where else can you have a party?

One music industry insider complains: “They’re all singing as if they were being Auto-Tuned even when they’re not.”

punching down: attacking those lower on the ladder of life (See also the idea that it's impossible to be prejudiced "up".)

Twitter braces itself for the “fawning” that is about to break out over the royal wedding. (May 3)

Competitive ignorance of the “horrors” of the royal wedding has started. 2018-05-07

for unworkable dream

Arguments I have had recently. 

I can't read mystery writer Donna Leon because she's a communist.
Why do you think that?

We should leave the EU because of the petty rules they impose on us.

Which ones?

Arrogant Londoners should not make laws and policies for the country.
Which policies do you object to?

Escape the horror of the royal wedding.
What's horrible about it?

(In several cases, there was a lot of bluster and changing of the subject before silence fell. Don’t people expect to be asked for evidence?)

I don’t believe there’s much anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Where’s the evidence?
Here, here and here.
I don’t believe there’s much anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Here’s some more evidence.

Dr Who isn't scifi any more, it's a political lecture.
You mean, despite the alien with the spaceship, time travel, and monsters from other planets?

Cultural appropriation everywhere week of May 7, after a girl wore a Chinese dress to a prom, and Met ball goers wore costumes inspired by the “Catholic imagination”. The RCC gave permission (or “its blessing”), so not cultural appropriation, say many, as there’s no imbalance of power.

A picture of Theresa May curtseying awkwardly to the Duchess of Cambridge is captioned “Bowing, scraping and fawning – modern 21st century Britain in one appalling image”. Commenters add “horrid”, “grovelling” and “sickening”. There’s a royal wedding coming up.

“Gammon” hits the mainstream and everybody has a theory: It was coined by Dickens (it wasn't), it’s an 18th century slur on working-class field workers, refers to cheating at backgammon, is racist...

In the Olden Dayes women just stayed at home sewing and waiting for a husband – but golly gosh here’s one who designed a bridge in the 1830s!

Meghan will walk up the nave, not the aisle. Aisles are the bits at the side. (Though planes and shops have aisles that are a) in the middle and b) all over the place.)

Has “structured” for “tailored” gone yet?


Sex Work Exclusionary Radical Feminists – SWERFs? (Sex workers are commodified, you see. “We refuse to be ‘rescued’ like we are fallen women,” says one.)

The wedding – Doria Ragland was “dignified”. And commentators said “Oh look, there’s another black person!” a few too many times.

People have stopped saying “chapeau”.

honeypot locations (where all the tourists go)

pipelines, funding pipeline, if we want more women on boards we need to create pipelines (June 1)

Fuss about banning plastic straws. (Ableist! Won’t make any difference! Lame jokes about one turtle with a straw up its nose.)

self-care (Could this be our old friend "feeling sorry for yourself"?)

“Carnage” used for chaos on the railways June 4.

job blockers (facial tattoos)

This week’s hand-wringing: too many middle-aged white men cycle, putting off women and ethnic minorities. Part of a movement to stop other people driving cars, because it’s bad for them.

Westminster Council gives a firm “nope!” to pedestrianizing Oxford Street, and the anti-car movement has a conniption fit.

Social media users get very upset if you tell them their meme is old and possibly offensive, and was never funny in the first place. (Examples: claiming you want to shoot those who misplace apostrophes, who ask for a cocktail or caramel mocha latte because they take too long to make, or who stand on the left on escalators. You’re not in a queue, you are the queue.)

TFW you read a Twitter conversation hoping to get the point and you realise it is an extremely lame attempt at humour which all the participants think is hilarious. Or are they all bots?

This man stole my daughter’s/niece’s ipad/tablet/phone and accidentally uploaded this selfie to the cloud please RT to help find him. Click-farming meme is back.

If you are a right-wing person who wants to denigrate any left position, just say the word “unicorn” and you will be let out of jail free.

Using “Venn diagram” to mean “overlap”.

Beige” now means “bland”.

Big fuss over academics with PhDs calling themselves “Doctor”. A woman was called “immodest” for using her title. (Women respond by putting "Dr" in their Twitter handle if entitled to it.)

Bill Roache talking about “knowings” rather than “knowledge”.

Latino/Latina people now referred to as “Latinx”.

chef kiss

Julia Hartley-Brewer can’t keep Waitrose out of a comment on the anti-Brexit march. (All marchers are upper-middle-class, therefore their opinions don’t count.)

White Americans believe in majority rule – so they’re terrified that they’ll become the minority.

Political correctness, no-platforming now surrounded by so much rhetoric of the “but the real X are the opposite of X” variety that it’s impossible to tell who the goodies and baddies are. When the smoke clears, it appears that the baddies are the people trying to protect minorities and the vulnerable. And otherwise quite sensible people are taking this stance because they think it’s wrong to see anything in terms of goodies and baddies. Or they are desperate not to take sides so they try to prove that this is not necessary. Black, white, shades of grey, yawn. Also they are desperate to be original, so they all rebel in the same way, as usual.

There’s fake news, and there’s the “hot take”. This is the one that goes “feminists are the real Nazis because reasons”. In one tweet, or in several pages of the New York Times or the New Yorker. The elements tend to be “political correctness”, “diversity” and “dictatorship”. (And "stifle debate" - they're still opining away in December.)

Freeze peach – oh...
Aperol spritz – whatever that is.

Plus-size clothing lines should be banned because they set a bad example. Large ladies might become role models, you see. Are they going to confiscate our clothes and make us wear sheets? (And there weren't all these plus-size people when I was young.)

It’s “prostitute” not “sex worker” now, apparently. (July. Maybe not, Sept.)

Instant novichok conspiracy theories, and people pronouncing it “novachek”.

Worthy attempts to teach children about gender identity a) far too young and b) by means of exercises involving blueberry muffins.

Heterosexual civil partnerships are now available. The usual Polly Fillas are writing the same article about “We never saw the need to get married – commitment – big party – expense – religious baggage – no rights in 19th century – chattel – but now you can just go and sign a form!” Heterosexuals have been able to “just go and sign a form” (get married in a registry office) for years. Any mention of religion is forbidden at a registry office wedding. All the religious, patriarchal and property baggage has been removed from marriage. And nobody ever mentions the legal and financial implications. Oh, apparently they do on Money Box and other financial programmes. But why has nobody told the Polly Fillas?

Wolf-whistling and barracking women in the street called a “compliment” by people who have been beamed here from the 50s.

Harry and Meghan go to Dublin for a “mini-moon”.

People have got that it’s “contactless” not “contractless”.

People have stopped whining about Comic Sans. They’ll find something else. (Meanwhile, what about Mathlete?)

“There’s no such thing as whiteness” – red flag for someone who wants to use racist language. Also “I don’t see what’s wrong with saying ‘coloured people’. I don’t tell other people what to say – why should they tell me?” (“Person of colour” puts the person first.) Same goes for “I loathe political correctness” and “I don’t believe in ‘cultural appropriation’.”


One day I’m going to have to find out what being “verified” on Twitter means.

Everything’s “broken” week of July 23.

“I was asked by the BBC to debate a climate-change denier/flat-earther/homeopath/creationist/moon-landings disbeliever but I refused and I told the BBC they should give up this ridiculous ‘balance’ idea.” (Must be a campaign.)

August: Attempts to rationalise Boris Johnson’s remarks about women in burkas looking like letter-boxes. He’s “standing up for liberal values”, apparently. (He’s resigned, and his wife has kicked him out.)

Customer experience, seller experience, please rate your experience, we want to give users a better experience (by targeting ads to them more accurately).

Calling Twitter “this website” and “this app” – which is full of abusive neo-nazis. Nice people like us somehow aren’t part of “this site”.

Lots of people complaining about FB and Twitter and threatening to leave. It may be a stunt organised by a rival, Mastodon. (Like the people who used to complain about email.)

All right there are “pockets” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but people are just using the issue to attack Corbyn.

Nobody can spell any more they confuse they’re and their and the bus is full of screaming brats can’t their parents keep them under control!

Unicorns proliferate, and little girls are wearing plastic horns.

“Gaslighting” is going the way of “trolling” – now just used for “being mean”.

Chavs no longer spend their dole money on “flat screen TVs” (since 2009 we’ve all got them). They now splash out on “wide screen TVs”, the fiends!

Everyone’s accusing everyone else of “bad faith”. (I always confuse it with “false consciousness”.)

Globalists v nativists

Those Japanese bowls mended with gold are back. They prove that life is OK however disastrous because, er, er...

Slack or Discord channel – whatever will young people think of next? And Twitch?

Jamie Oliver sells packet “jerk rice” with the wrong spices – and you can’t “jerk” rice. And now everyone’s saying “but there’s no such thing as cultural appropriation, most culture is borrowed what about French cuisine?” And others are saying “what is this ‘cul-tur-al a-ppro-pri-a-tion’?” Still others are saying “It’s the power relations, stupid!” And “minorities can’t culturally appropriate”.

Cultural appropriation is about the stealing of elements of one culture by another to profit and reassert power dynamics”. Marxist theory? It may just be reducing another culture to a caricature. How do you say that in Marxist?

White men having hysterics about being referred to as “white men”. (The privileged is the unmarked, you see.)

Emotional labour (Can mean “forgiving awful behaviour for years”, or “teaching male flatmates at uni how to bake”.)

24 Aug Desperate attempts to justify a no-deal Brexit, and explain that Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-Semitic remarks a) aren’t anti-Semitic and b) don’t count because he said them in 2013. It’s a mad world, my masters.

Leavers now saying that shortage of medicines will “thin us out” and shortage of food will help us lose weight. Yes, that’s “thin us out”, not “slim us down”.

IG and YT (You guessed it.)

Love Island talent scouts trawl Instagram – of course they do! It’s the Spotlight of its day.

This is a Vanity Fair for the 21st century – it’s all about snobbery and female friendship. (It's based on a book by William Makepeace Thackeray – about snobbery and female friendship.)

carceral feminists (whatever they are)

Sept: What happened to Mastodon, then?

Double down (You’ve been told off for racist remarks, you apologise – while making more racist remarks. Or you only apologise for the “hurt caused”.)

“Ration your children’s use of devices and social media” is the new “ration TV watching” or “forbid comics”. (They used to tell me off for reading all the time.)

Calling pups “puppers”. Please don’t.

Popular meme: I was at a garden centre/beauty spot/National Trust café. We had delicious hot chocolate and banana bread. Only flaw was the family of feral kids who ran around shouting while their chav mother ignored them.

Some people think accusing all lefties of being hippies is a new thing...

Everybody is fighting racism, utterly opposed to anti-Semitism etc. But they bring it on themselves...

“Should we just turn of the internet???!!!” (The country would go bust even quicker – isn’t Brexit bad enough?)

The .... is strong with this one.

Mining landfill? Did he just say “mining landfill”? We can't do that, it's far too sensible. After all, we are British!

“The heating” – is yours on yet?

Radio announcers waver between Kavan-AH and Kavan-AW. (Brett Kavanaugh will be a forgotten man in a year – I hope.)

Dimbulbs whining that calling people “white” or referring to “brown people” is racist. Especially in sentences like “There are still people who think that all brown people should go somewhere else”.

29 Sept and people are whingeing about Christmas starting too early and being too commercial. Actually John Lewis put up their Christmas tree last week. Happens every year. Nothing you can do about it. If retailers waited until Dec 1 to sell Christmas stuff they’d go bust and you could all have a good old moan about the death of the high street.

Brownies now get mindfulness and self-care badges.

A rash of “moms” tweeting that their sons are “afraid to date” because of the #metoo movement. One tweet went viral, and “mom” admitted she’d made it up.

People moaning about feminism think it was invented by “Gen X” – the one before the millennials. This would be news to Mary Wollstonecraft and Emmeline Pankhurst.

Voxels (Same thing, but for video.)

Like farming: Amusing things I overheard at the cash desk, my five-year-old niece said to her gran.
Moaning about technology in a maudlin, sentimental way. Eat an apple instead of using your Mac! Go out and smell the flowers! Take a holiday from screens! Ask your granny what “paper bags” are!

You’re supposed to change your twitter handle for Halloween?

Conservative Christians in Australia and America telling us that London is full of “no-go” zones for white people. (They're still at it in December.)

Writers belatedly picking up on “sheeple” because it has been included in the dictionary and we’re having our annual flap.

Block party – Trump supporters, Brexiteers or pro-motorway campaigners gang up to get a Twitter account blocked.

Apparently we need to “do something” about Oxford Street because it’s “scruffy”. They’re going to widen the pavements. I hope they’re going to wash them, too, instead of waiting for a rainstorm as usual. I think they mean “We need to replace McDonald’s and the American candy shop with upmarket cafés and clothes shops that nice people will go to and all the chavs who shop in Oxford Street now can go to Bluewater or Stratford East.”

March for a People’s Vote, and they’re making Waitrose jokes. Middle-class folk who shop at Waitrose aren’t “people”, of course.

People who like to tell us that London is full of “no-go zones” now telling us that we can’t see them because we “live in La-La Land”.

Word of the week seems to be “units”. “Absolute units.” Something big and impressive. Oct 24

“Columbising – when, like Christopher Columbus, white people think they have discovered something that was already in existence.” Guardian – I think they mean “discovered something that other people discovered millennia ago”.

Q Why is everyone so angry nowadays? A They always have been.

De-colonialising any discipline has become an industry.

Carceral capitalism, now.

“Jo Johnson challenges the "spangly unicorn with a head at each end of its body" Norway for Now plan by Nick Boles” Enough with the unicorns! And this is overkill – you can’t get any more mythical than a unicorn.

Videos of presents being unwrapped get millions of hits on Instagram. Allegedly. And successive pix of house renovation. (“We ripped out the kitchen – and the dated features – and turned it into a modern family home with a rustic, country feel!”)

Juul, hypebeast – what? Isn’t Juul a character in Borgen?

What to say about the new She-Ra animated film: The original was just a means of selling moulded plastic toys with a few different details. The new one looks more modern and Japanese and is far, far superior! Of course the new characters are “headstrong” and have “depth”, not like the shallow old characters. The original She-Ra looked like a 50s-80s Marvel or DC comic.

Lots of blether about freelancers living in pyjamas. I wear office clothes.

Squirrelly now means weaselly!

Vegan food has gone mainstream which means manufacturers are producing processed instant versions and it’s on sale in supermarkets. Hence Tory fury – they never had to notice it before.

How to make a joke these days: Just say “vegan”.

There’s a hairdressing salon in Kings Cross called Radio.

Why are we obsessed with Thanksgiving? (There’s a bit of coverage in the papers.)

Is “leadership” the new “assertiveness”? The same old American I can – and I will!

David Baddiel using “radicalised” to mean “turned into racists”. (Brainwashed?)

Young people are practising this thing they call “polyamory”!

Tabloids trying to persuade us that “Kate and Meghan have fallen out”.

Lots of waffle about chocolate and Advent calendars.

People confusing tear gas (used at the Mexican border) with nerve gas (lethal).

Decolonising popular, for "removing the colonialism" rather than "retreating from a country you have colonised".

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 2 December 2018

Outrageous Excuses (and Silly Reasons for Brexit) 7


All spotted in the wild, some paraphrased. "No deal" does not mean we stay in the EU, it means we leave without any trade deals with the EU, and lose any benefit of belonging to the EU.

UK says its Brexit aims are to secure the rights of its citizens, minimise financial impact and protect its borders, while simultaneously suggesting the EU's aims to secure the rights of its citizens, minimise financial impact and protect its borders are tawdry and unreasonable. (@sturdyAlex)

The EU stops us trading with Australia, NZ and Canada.
Why are you so worried about Brexit? If we don’t get a deal we’ll just carry on as before.
A lot of people would vote for “no deal” because they think it means remaining, says Gina Miller.
I voted leave because my foreign neighbours are rude. (Caller-in to James O’Brien.)
I voted leave because I genuinely thought we’d stay in.

The hardest Brexit imaginable. An economy tanking Brexit – queues on the motorways, carnage at ports. None of it will be worse than this twee bullshit. (Alan White ‏@aljwhite, news editor at @BuzzFeedUK. The “twee bullshit” Alan White mentions was anti-Brexit marchers saying “After you!” “No, after you!” in the queue at Costa’s.)

More silly reasons here.


Shaun Bailey, Conservative candidate for London mayor, tells the Evening Standard his comments about single mothers were made as “a young man still figuring out his world.” He was 38. And he said there was a “cottage industry” of women becoming pregnant to secure a council home.

I love the Australian programme Nothing to Declare. Incomers to the country are always being caught with food in their bags that they haven't declared by ticking "yes" on a card. They like to say:

I haven’t got my glasses, I couldn’t read the questions, the man in the next seat filled it in for me, I didn’t think this was food, I thought it meant only cooked food, my mother packed my bag, I didn’t understand, it’s not my fault because it was a misunderstanding, it’s my first visit. Take it, I don’t want it! Throw it away! Can we just hurry it up? My baby is crying. I just want to get out of here! I always tick no to every question when I travel anywhere. Sorry. My fault. I’m wrong.

Sarah Phelps is stepping aside from scriptwriting duties because she’s busy with a big eight-part drama. (Radio Times. Phelps' Agatha Christie "adaptations" were widely panned.)

Sexting minister: I was having a breakdown (Sunday Times headline)

I like discussion and to be devil's advocate to see people's passion. (Facebook. I wasn’t being “abusive”, you see. Or a troll.)

Banter is generally used to mask misogynistic/bullying behaviour “It was just a bit of banter”. (@martinsross1)

All the smart conservatives have now adopted the line that "of course Kavanaugh committed perjury, but it was only to avoid damaging his credibility". (@willmenaker)

We’ve all said things like “horseface”. (Sen John Kennedy)

I apologise for spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It was a youthful mistake. (Paraphrase)

Jeremy Hunt told a reception for ambassadors tonight that he was misquoted on his conference speech when he compared the EU to the Soviet Union, and that his point was the EU protected people from the Soviet Union. (@MichaelLCrick. The interview is on Youtube.)

Japanese PM Shinzo Abe said he “has to admit” female politicians are underrepresented in the Cabinet, but said he had high hopes for Satsuki Katayama. “She is incredibly feisty. I know there is only one woman in this Cabinet, but (she) has a presence worth that of two or three women.” (Japan Times)

Man caught with chemsex drugs said they were "used for cleaning a friend’s classic car".

Me: You’re supposed to stop at every stop unless it’s a request.
Bus driver: No I’m not! Well, yes, I am, but I can’t stop at every single stop!

I can’t leave my wife, she needs me, she can’t cope on her own, you’re stronger than she is. And you'll be stronger on your own. (And besides, I'd lose contact with my children. I can’t afford two households. And two families.)

Sainsbury’s boss Mike Coupe was caught on camera singing “We’re in the money” before an announcement. He said it was to relax before going on air.

Interviewer: I've been told Dinsdale Piranha nailed your head to the floor.
Stig: No. Never. He was a smashing bloke. He used to buy his mother flowers and that. He was like a brother to me.
Interviewer: But the police have film of Dinsdale actually nailing your head to the floor.
Stig: (pause) Oh yeah, he did that.
Interviewer: Why?
Stig: Well he had to, didn't he? I mean there was nothing else he could do, be fair. I had transgressed the unwritten law.
(Monty Python)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 30 November 2018

Howlers: Misspellings

Predictive text turns definAtely into defiantly – it may be responsible for some of the following.

She plumed the depths. (It’s plumbed, from plumbum, lead. You measure depth with a lead weight on a string.)

The head-waiter was very swarve. (He was suave.)
Let's head off for sunnier climbs! (Climes.)
She saddled up to to me and whispered... (Sidled up to.)
Doths cap. (Doffs – the opposite of "don".)
This is under-handed, two-faced hippocracy! (Hypocrisy.)

She revealed a few unpalletable truths. (Unpalatable or distasteful.)
The head Tibetan Buddhist is the Dali Lama. (Dalai.)
Low and behold! (Lo!)
These trousers have an elastic acted waist. (Elasticated.)

I love the smell of Eau de Colon! (Cologne.)
A few foreign digitories attended Castro’s funeral. (Dignitaries.)
Tony Blair should be tried at the Haig! (Hague.)
Pinter was a famous playwrite. (playwright)

You find sea anomies in rock pools. (Anenomies.)
I can't be doing with all that polava! (Palaver.)
They were in the throws of moving house. (It’s “throes” or agonies, nothing to do with rugs.)
Pug ugly. (Plug ugly.)

The villain had a long wrap sheet. (Rap sheet. It’s a list of your crimes, as in bum rap, or beat the rap.)

I was hypmatised into spending too much. (Hypnotised.)
What better layer for Marvel Studios ' superheroes? (Lair.)
Viola! or Wa-la! for Voila!
The attack was viscous.  (Vicious.)
Portions were miniscual. (Minuscule.)

Barnier’s Brexit mantle-clock ticks. (A mantel goes over a fireplace; a mantle goes round your shoulders.)

Things have gone array! (Awry.)
You’ll be pillared if you don’t get your figures right. (Pilloried.)
They had vestige interests. (Vested.)

This person who sucks up new age ideas like a sponge and reagitates them when they are in the presence of others. (Regurgitate.)

We have many similar proprieties in the area. (Properties.)
Clothes were policed by presumptory laws. (Sumptuary laws.)
The curtains were decorated with cruelwork panels. (“Crewel woek” is a style of embroidery.)
My favourite genre is film nuar. (Noir.)

Their troubles were deep seeded. (Deep seated.)
Day today living. (Day-to-day.)
She was always shoving in her two penneth. (Two penn’orth, like two cents.)
The scene was like a dream - it was so real. (Surreal.)

Top hoe, 
old boy! (It’s top hole.)
Hey Preston, cured! (Hey presto! Phrase used by conjurers. Presto is Italian for fast.)
It earned him great cudoz. (It's kudos, and it's singular. You can't have one kudo.)

Until the day when desktop holography becomes a reality, 3D will remain the wholly grail of the graphics world. 
(Holy Grail.)

After a while you look like a bully or simply dilutional and arrogant. (Delusional – in a discussion about self-esteem.)

Grammar: Howlers 16

These howlers were all spotted in the wild.

We’ve got a written constitution – it’s called the Magma Carta!
artesian bakery
(Artisan – you’re thinking of an artesian well.)
That'll be just beachy! (Peachy.)
The Big Bag is a fairytale! (Big Bang)

This dealt the death knoll to the project. (Tolled or rung the death knell, dealt the death blow.)
We must addressing the route cause. (Root.)
To this day, I’ve never stepped foot back in the building. (Stepped, or “set foot”.)
It’s chalk-full of info! (Read it in an American accent.)

I’m anti-Zionist not anti-Semantic! (At least they’ve stopped saying anti-Semetic.)
He was fuming at the mouth with anger. (Foaming at the mouth with rage, or fuming with anger.)
But all and all, at the end of the day... (All in all.)

The Emperor was surrounded by psychophantic courtiers. (Sycophantic.)
Bring back hanging – we shouldn't have given up corporal punishment. (Capital punishment.)
We went through a ridiculous façade to get our passports back. (Charade.)

The will was complicated, with many benefactors. (Beneficiaries.)
We had a lovely time in Spain – we went to Seville and visited the Alcatraz. (Alcazar.)

It’s a doggy dog world. (Dog eat dog.)
Whatever floats your goat! (Boat.)
Hair-brained seems to have taken over from hare-brained. (Hares are supposed to be mad.)
Just because Krugman and his elk keep praising the virtues of Obamacare doesn't make it true. (That's "and his ilk" and it means "and his kind".)

It fell on death ears. (Deaf ears.)
beautiful gold-ringed hair (Ringleted.)
mentally efficient (Deficient.)
It's a home for old crocs. (Crocks – old people are like chipped crockery, not carnivorous reptiles.)

His money is stashed in a tax heaven. (Haven – it means "harbour".)
We were pawned off with an inferior product. (Palmed.)
He was smartly dressed in a shirt and bowl tie. (Bow tie.)
Rest your boots on this foot stall! (Foot stool.)
Their facile expressions were a study. (Facial expressions. "Facile" means "too easy".)

Hold and corner and grid up the lions. (Both from an “English-teaching” site. Shadowy activity is "hole and corner"; to prepare for action you "gird up your loins" - or tighten your belt.)

Woah betide them! (You are wishing "woe" upon them.)
I was tolled off to do it. (Told off.)
Pan-flat bike paths (It’s pancakes that are flat.)
That greyhound looks emancipated. (It hasn't been given the vote, it's "emaciated" or thin.)

It was a dumb fool thing to say! (Damn fool.)
The prophet was just a doom-mongerer. (Doom-monger.)

She was a botanist – she married again but she’d never got divorced! (Bigamist. Botanists study plants.)

The singer was a pre-madonna. (Prima donna or "first lady".)
Let's get this project underfoot! (Under way.)
Australopithecus was a bird! (Archaeopteryx is meant – australopithecus is a human relative.)

A religion exposing subservience to a deity. (Espousing – embracing, not revealing.)
The country is run by petty baccarats. (Bureaucrats.)
Their machinations are internecine. (Byzantine.)
She feinted interest in the boring saga. (Feigned or faked.)

The team is going paintballing next week – but you don't have to join us, it's mandatory! (Optional. Mandatory means compulsory.)

Nearly every time, it invariably... (Invariably means “all the time”.)
It was her favourite past time. (Pastime - it passes the time.)
We'll get this done quickly if everyone pinches in. (Pitches in.)
She was wearing a skirt with knife pleats. (The sharply ironed pleats are "knife-edge pleats.)

It peaked my interest. (Piqued - imagine being poked by a rapier.)
Passivists are always protesting against war! (Pacifists – they fight for peace, not supinity.)
I was presently surprised. (Pleasantly.)
We'll carry on shouldering on. (Soldiering on.)

The flight was nerve-wrecking. (Nerve-wracking.)
Virtual signalling (Virtue signalling, or complaining just to show how virtuous you are.)
He had a coterie of tics and quirks. (Assemblage - a coterie is formed of people.)
He disavowed his family, leaving them nothing. (Disinherited. Perhaps he disowned them as well.)

My cat is malting! She’s leaving hairs everywhere. (Moulting.)
I was miles away at the time – and my wife can collaborate that. (Corroborate.)
He had servants at his beckon call. (Beck and call - he could gesture to beckon them, or call out.)
He was treated as an escape goat. (The Bible has "scapegoat".)

This idea fell by the waste-side. (Also the Bible - Jesus was talking about seeds that fell by the wayside, or landed at the side of the road where they wouldn't sprout.)

Listen to the cooing of the collard doves. (Collared doves. Collard is an American vegetable like spinach.)

In real life the actor was the nice man he betrayed. (Portrayed. Traitors betray their country, painters portray their sitters.)

Exorcising of dogs
 not allowed in the course area (Exercising, not casting out evil spirits – but is it Photoshop?)

Wind from the Sea by Andrew Wyeth, tempura on hardboard. (The paint is tempera, the batter is tempura - both contain eggs.)

The housewives were perfectly quaffed. (Coiffed or coiffeured. You quaff mead at a medieval banquet.)

Their actions came in for some coruscating criticism. (Wit coruscates or twinkles. Perhaps you mean "excoriating".) 

Anyone with an itch for rigour in their plots might be unable to ignore the susurrous discontent... (It’s “susurrus of discontent” – a susurrus is a whisper, it’s a noun not an adjective.)

It begs belief. (Beggars belief. Shakespeare has “beggars description”. If you beggar someone, you make them so poor that they have to beg – as in the game Beggar My Neighbour. Means something like “strains credulity to the limit”.)

She was archly conservative. (She was an “arch conservative”. It’s arch as in archangel, not as in “She riposted archly”.)

Coercive control often involves gas-lamping. (It's "gas-lighting. In the film Gaslight, the villain tried to persuade his wife she was mad by going up into the attic and turning the gas lights up and down. She’d complain that the lights suddenly went dim, and he’d go “You imagine it, my dear!” Nothing to do with street lights.)

Boy Erased is well-intentioned but saccharine-inducing. (Saccharine means over-sweet, over-sweet food is nausea-inducing.)

People are so rude these days! It's the end of civilisation! (Or maybe just the end of civility, or politeness.)

acetycholine, tumeric, cardamon, longtitude, Epson Salts (Watch the spelling: acetylcholine, turmeric, cardamom, longitude, Epsom Salts.)

Louis XIV’s mistress – Madame Pompidou! (Paul Martin on Flog It! She was Madame Pompadour. Madame Pompidou was the wife of the French Prime Minister in the 1960s.)

Queue drums! (To queue is to stand in line, to cue is to signal someone it’s their turn to speak a line in a play.)

I had done it. I was no longer a tourist, but a modern European. Mozart’s Ode to Joy played in my head as fireworks lit up the sky. (EasyJet inflight mag. Ahem, Beethoven.)

The Italian visitors were such Anglophobes that they dressed entirely in tweed. (Anglophiles. Phobes fear, philes love.)

I didn't know – at least not conscientiously. (Consciously. And conscience – awareness of guilt – doesn't mean consciousness or awareness.)

Money talks: sporting events in Britain were once the prevail of the upper classes (Caption, Daily Telegraph Aug 2018. Province?)

Mr Satterthwaite was a little dried-up pipkin of a man. (Three-Act Tragedy, Agatha Christie, American edition Christie wrote that Mr S was a “dried-up pippin” – a withered apple. A pipkin is a small cauldron. The same 1961 edition misprints “mannequin”, a girl who models clothes, as “manikin” – a very small person.)

James Stewart raises the barre considerably. (The bar that’s raised is one you have to high-jump over, not one you hold onto while doing pliés and arabesques.)

It was a Plutonic relationship. (Chris Packham. Should be “Platonic relationship”, from the Greek philosopher Plato who recommended sexless relationships. Pluto was the god of the Underworld.)

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again. (I'ts "Manderly". It's also the Forsyte Saga, not Forsythe.)

Flirty baby-doll flicks and high backcombed beehives triumphed in the 1960s. (Baby-doll pyjamas were fashionable in the early 60s, made in a flimsy fabric and consisting of a puff sleeved smock and gathered knickers. “Flick-ups” on your hair were never called “baby-doll”.)

Pressed with small gophering irons. (Gophers are American rodents, ruffs were pressed with “goffering irons”. Both from Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time)

In truck to ("I'll have no truck with that” means that you do not wish to be involved with that in any way. If you are “in hock” to a group, you are held in pawn or in hostage in return for favours.)

These places were once rich in a diversity of trees, flowers and wild animals, which rubbed alongside small human settlements eking a sparse existence. (Times, 2018 If a couple or group “rubs along”, they get on OK most of the time, by tolerating each other. It doesn’t mean “lives next to”. And those settlements were eking out a sparse existence. If you eke something out, you stretch It to go round six, perhaps by adding breadcrumbs.)

Sir Winston Churchill laid in state in Westminster Hall for three days until his funeral on 30 January (Parliament Archives – he lay.)

They gazed on the picaresque scene as the sun set over the thatched cottages. (Picturesque. Picaresque novels describe a journey with a constant change of location and characters.)

So "official identity" is rather a nefarious concept in the UK unlike many other countries. (Nebulous, or cloudy, is meant. Nefarious means wicked or illegal.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – A tale of poverty and hardship counterposed with greed and comeuppance for the lucky few. (Caroline Lucas, Guardian  “comeuppance” means “just deserts”, or “deserved punishment”, not  “upward social mobility”.)

Branding, the pillory and the ducking stool were used to shame the perpetrators and frighten the populous. (Guardian 2017. If you mean the people, it's populace.)

Africa’s Great Green Wall is already reaping benefits. (It is producing benefits; people are reaping the benefits it has produced.)

In 2018, "lionise" is being used to mean “big up” or even “whitewash”. (“Lions” were celebs in the mid 19th century. If you “lionised” someone you boosted them and also fawned on them.)

You ever met someone who is needlessly cold or even outright rude to those who deign to engage with them? (Dare. "Deign" means "condescend".)

A woman I met had one book group she attended for the purposes of frivolity, and another for the meditated consideration of the literature du jour. (Rachel Cusk. Surely “mediated”?)

She was voicing her personal views in her inimical and jocular way. ("Inimitable” or unique. Inimical means hostile.)

Some schools have an accountant on their pay role. (It’s roll, as in roll of parchment, not role as in part in a play.)

Explore Normandy's history in Rouen with its half-timbered houses and infamous cathedral. (The cathedral is famous, not notorious.)

These mountains have borne witness to this sound for millennia. (Footage of belling stags. They have “witnessed” the sound. If they “bore witness” to it, they would be testifying that they had heard it.)

An example of that lesser-spotted sub-genre, arthouse fashion horror, Personal Shopper is unusual and unsettling. (Times Mar 2017 The Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is a smaller version of the Greater Spotted Woodpecker.)

These are clear examples of pseudo-science run amok in which the proponents are both ignoring and violating a whole gauntlet of scientific laws. ( Gamut. You run the gauntlet – you run between two lines of people flicking you with leather gloves. A gamut is a musical scale.)

The taught, yet flexible line. (Taut meaning “tight” has nothing to do with teaching and being taught.)

But that realisation will come too late, after the nets have been pulled away, and they've been allowed to fall unimpinged. (Unimpeded.)

It's nearly the bewitching hour! (Witching hour – like belabouring the point for labouring the point.)

Dietrich was not merely reactionary in her reading: she was engaged in final attempts to shape the record. (New Yorker. “Reactive” is meant.)

It looks a bit niche, possibly not a vibe quite up my strata. (Not up my street. "Strasse" is the German for street, strata are geological layers.)

More here, and links to the rest.