Sunday 18 November 2018

Great British Understatement 3

Brits hide their secret optimism via language, namely in understatement. If you ask how someone is and they reply, “Mustn’t grumble”, then it means they are elated. Conversely, if they reply, “I’ve been worse, I suppose”, they are practically at death’s door. When we say an experience is “not bad” we mean it’s “very good”. If we say a meal was “disappointing”, it’s quite possible that three members of the party died in agony from food poisoning. If someone makes a mistake and a Brit says, “It’s fine — forget it”, then be assured that it is as far from fine as things could be and that they will never, ever forget it. “No harm done” is equally passive-aggressive and means much harm is done and you are now on the shit list. “That’s an interesting perspective” should continue: “only if you happen to be an utter moron”. If you hand in a piece of work and your boss replies, “It’s mostly great”, be assured it’s definitely not great (in newspapers “mostly great” means: “rewrite it from start to finish”). Just as in business “We’ve hit a bit of a snag” probably means the entire project is a screw-up and a possible fraud and we may all be going to prison.
 (Carol Midgley Times 2018)

The house was “fairly unbothered by the 20th century”.

In a piece for the online journal The Conversation rather frankly titled “Racism is Behind Outlandish Theories about Africa’s Ancient Architecture”... (

“My mother was one of the most horrible people that ever lived,” said Gore Vidal, not entirely hedging. “I can’t ever remember her kissing me or hugging me or anything.” (Andrew O’Hagan on Jean Stein's Hollywood exposé West of Eden)

Not many 99s were sold in Derbyshire (during the cold snap). (Times 2018)

Bishop Guo Xijin of Fujian was detained for three days “under the supervision of Communist party officials”. “I can’t say I was forced,” said Mr Guo, “But under certain circumstances there is no other option.”

When history records what has happened before/after the referendum it will not report it glowingly. (Anna Soubry March 2018)

Border guards are not selected for their charm and sense of humour in Russia, in my experience. (BBC Breakfast)

“Guns are my hobby!” well I like knitting but if knitting killed 9,747 people so far in 2017 I would at least consider switching to crochet. (@katefeetie Nov 6 2017)

Brigadier Brodie, dealing with a massive Chinese attack on the Imjin in '51 reported that things were "a bit sticky". A Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot told me once that allied defeat & France's occupation in 1940 was "a bit unsettling". (Via Dan Snow If things are really bad, you say "There's a bit of a flap on.")

Comedy is not my field of specialty, but it seems like a reference to karate is not enough to qualify as a joke. (

New Bearings, devoted principally to Gerard Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, TS Eliot and Ezra Pound, was [FR Leavis’] attempt to identify the essential new achievements in modern poetry. It also discussed at length and praised the work of Ronald Bottrall, whose importance was not to be confirmed by readers and critics. (Wikipedia)

While not possessed of the most sophisticated voice, her small frame could certainly belt out the hits. (BBC on Cilla Black. Stallholders at her local market used to shout out "Yer not a patch on yer mutha!")

Asked whether she believed a white man would have received similar levels of hate, Gina Miller laughed, not entirely mirthfully. (Guardian)

Mark and Joe first tried metal detecting about 20 years ago, but, as The Guardian reports, the two friends “became so bored that they gave up the hobby.” Instead, they turned to the slightly more scintillating hobby of fishing. (Atlas Obscura)

His neighbours observed an odour – not of sanctity – on his garments. (19th century)

"I wanted always to be famous, but not famous like this," Andre Bauth said. "I won an Emmy three months ago and nobody talks about it. But I make one mistake — I guess that's how Hollywood works." (October 2015 His “one mistake” was to stab his flatmate.) He added in an email "I guess all of you already know about the unfortunate situation I am passing by. Finally the Media present my self as the Emmy Winner and talk about my life and career. Because of something negative is on my curriculum. So sad to see the reality of Fame and what the Hollywood industry is looking for." (He also made a film about a landlord who murders his tenants.)

It would be fair to say that the unpopular Dearlove, “C” at the time, does not emerge from this account unscathed. (Spy story writer Charles Cumming. Richard Dearlove was head of the British secret service 1999-2004.)

‏Calling another Christian a wanker doesn’t work for me as a priestly response. (The Church of England’s head of PR, June 2013)

The rest of the world manages to drink Buckfast very happily without feeling the urge to smash the bottle and carve pretty patterns on the face of the nearest passer-by. (Daily Mail trying to persuade us that high-strength alcohol does not cause violence)

A bit of a pickle. Translation: A catastrophically bad situation with potentially fatal consequences. (via LC)

More here.

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