Thursday 5 December 2019

Buzzwords of 2019

Brexit is “humiliating” and making us “the laughing-stock of Europe”,  end Dec 2018. (Still true, Dec 2019.)

Jan 2 Today I learned that under NYC law, "gender identity" means "one’s internal deeply-held sense of one’s gender"; where "gender" is defined as "an individual’s actual or perceived sex [or] gender identity". So that's all super-clear! Also "sex" is defined as "a combination of bodily characteristics… and" – wait for it! – "gender identity." (@oliverburkeman)

Royal College of Paediatricians tells parents not to worry about screen time. Times headline reads “Doctors say screens bad for kids”, BBC trumps research with anecdotes “Social media made me self-harm”.

Running, swimming and singing prescribed for depression. All may help, but friends say “what about social context, why make it all up to the individual”? They agree that mindfulness is being used as a Bandaid, plus it stops you questioning your circumstances or the people around you who may be driving you barmy. (You need to review the situation, take an audit, and look for strategies.)

Someone points out that hipsters have become so mainstream that nobody bothers to comment on them any more.

Vegans a new phenomenon? The word was coined in the late 40s and I used to eat at a vegan café in the early 70s.

Easter eggs in shops too early again – when will manufacturers learn to listen to middle-class whingers who despise Easter Eggs because they are covered in silver paper and made of milk chocolate.

Americans are worried about white people ceasing to be the majority.

What will the next “life-saving food” be? And who’s growing it? We should find something that will grow in the Scottish Highlands, sell it to the rest of the world, and survive Brexit. Though we may need immigrants to pick it.

Everybody’s got “red lines”, second week of Jan.

If anyone complains of anti-Semitism accuse them of anti-Semitism.

Democracy” now means “Brexit”.

Has “instilling resilience” as a goal for schools gone out at last? (No such luck.)

Reach out” for “contact” is everywhere, despite the moans about it (ghastly Americanism) over the last few years.

People on Twitter afraid of being attacked by militant vegans? They must be joking! (Jan 16)

A sock puppet is now a “sock”.

Boringly, journalists have gone back to moaning about Dry January, laughing about how they fell off the wagon, and boasting about their intake. Apart from Janice Turner, who’s shocked to find that she feels much better without booze.

The idea that "trigger warnings" are unnecessary and just attempts by "the liberal elite" to mollycoddle young people and especially students on campus who must be exposed to challenging ideas and "you can't ban Nazis from speaking" has become a well-worn path over the last few years. (BN)

“You netted that out exactly.”

Escape Room
absolute unit

You don’t need an iPod to listen to a podcast any more. You can upload them to Youtube and people can listen on their phone. Just means “home-made radio” now.

First “superb owl” spotted.

“Logic is a capitalist plot” is back from the 80s. Also “slavery only means slavery of black people in America”.

modalities (Me neither.)

Authorities are literally “opening the floodgates” in Townsville, Australia.

People are being “broken” first week of Feb (by their grandmother’s cooking, etc).

stoush for row

Visualising” now means “drawing a diagram”. Diagrams are “visualisations”.

February: If you’ve somehow found yourself on the same side as the woman defending Hitler, the man who scuppered FGM legislation or the Minister who gave a contract to a shipping company with no ships, it might be time for a rethink. (@mrjamesob)

Someone who does not want kids has been accused of being 'adultcentrist' which is, I quote, 'as bad as racism'. (LW) (This kind of "let him be anathema" and party-line toeing is also back from the 80s.)

chud (Appears to be a type of human.)

People claiming to be “outraged” and “upset” that others are referring to Dr James Barry as a “woman”. (In the 19th century, Barry qualified as a doctor, lived her life as a man and performed the first Caesarean to save the lives of both mother and baby.) They were also outraged over an article that suggested Mr Casaubon from Middlemarch was hard done by, and his research might have led to another Golden Bough. Did it go against the narrative that he oppressed Dorothea?

Seven MPs have left the Labour Party and the Twitterverse is dumping on them from a great height, even people I thought were sensible – and kind.

“Broad church” popular as three Tories join them.

Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston have just literally crossed the floor of the House.

The Independent Group is already IG (Feb 23).

A French singer “practised her gracious loser pose before the ceremony”. (So much for "living in the moment".)

Radicalisation: used recently to describe anti-Semitic Labour Party members. Its meaning has morphed from “brainwashed into becoming a Communist” to “brainwashed into becoming a jihadi” to “indoctrination into any POV”.

Competitive bloviating, speculating and sneering
about Shamima Begum and The Independent Group. Some even sneering that The Independent Group went for a meal out at Nando’s! Shame on them! Shows how “greedy” they are! Couldn’t they have gone somewhere more up/downmarket?

Millennial” now just means “person between 15 and 35”.

RIP André Previn and I thought I’d never have to hear “André Preview” again. 1971, and it wasn’t funny then.

When, oh when, will people stop going on “journeys”?

Witch hunt, innocent until proved guilty – now in the context of Labour Party members accused of anti-Semitism.

Race Across the World – the Twitterverse is being mean to Alex, who’s 20 and cries when it takes five hours to find somewhere to stay in Budapest. Man up, etc. And his dad is a “wonderful Yorkshireman” when he compares Alex to Alexander the Great, unfavourably. (Excellent programme, but very manipulative.)

White saviour big early March.
Trickle-truthing (letting the truth out bit by bit).

Does the current fad for naming every last “orientation” (demisexual: someone who doesn’t feel sexual attraction until they fall in love) have anything to do with Americans’ need for a diagnosis of a named condition before their insurance company will pay for therapy? (Or is that an "asexual panromantic"?)

“Having someone’s back” popular early March.

Arancini came and went.

Identity now means “white identity”, though “identity politics” is black people being uppity.

Fuss over paper straws has died down (“Just because one turtle got a straw up its nose!”)

Churchill’s “broad, sunlit uplands” have become “sunny uplands”.

interabled couples (They’re fine as they are, they say.)

Interpretive dance is even more of a thing – though it never really existed. There were contemporary dance groups in the 70s, but they were rather serious and abstract.

“I don’t believe in Twitter.” Do they think that if they don’t believe in it, it doesn’t exist? It has been around for about 12 years and shows no signs of going away.

There’s an anti-Semitism denial industry.

Bigotry today has become adept at draping itself in the garb of victimhood. (

Mentoring now means “instructing”. And I thought it meant motivation and cheerleading.

Oh no, asking if you want a straw is “socialism”, apparently.

Postmodernism is now a folk devil. But what do they mean by it? Has it replaced “communism”?

"Jordan Peterson is just a psychology professor from Canada - why is he being persecuted?" (He’s a libertarian and associated with all the wrong people.)

experience: user experience, student experience, improve your shopping experience, experiences make people happier than things blah blah ("Improving the user experience" means targeting ads more cleverly. And probably content as well.)

Apparently it’s a big joke that newspapers tell us stuff we could have guessed, like the accused saying “I’m innocent”.

Craven now means “giving in to offended snowflakes”.
“All white people are racist” is back from the 80s.

There’s a new George Martin and he isn’t the fifth Beatle. And I’ve forgotten the first Russell Davies.

April: Councils have the clever idea that if they shroud trees, hedges and cliffs in netting, they can stop birds nesting. Because they aren’t allowed to grub up hedges where birds are nesting – oh.

Why are capybaras trending? Is it some kind of therapy?
Apparently woke snowflakes say everything is “problematic”.
Everyone’s an expert on how they photographed the black hole.

The Notre Dame fire is a punishment for colonialism. The wealth of the colonies was stolen to build this monstrosity, says @nopidgeon. Did the French have any colonies in the 13th century? (No.)

Isn’t the Catholic Church enormously rich? (Notre Dame belongs to the state.)
Americans saying “What about Flint and Puerto Rico?”

Aren’t the French over-reacting? And do we need all this coverage of candlelit vigils?
And now the Italian far-right is blaming the gay community for the fire!

"The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation." (Rolling Stone)

All: It’s just a building, just a building, just a building, just a building, just a buildinggggggggg.....

And people are tacking these words onto any appeal. “It’s just a building, we should stop plastic pollution.”

Judeo-Christian popular. (Stands for “White Conservative Protestant”.)

Eco-protesters glue themselves to the Docklands Light Railway. April 19 (A man dressed as a bee has glued himself to a bus, Dec 4.)

Oh yes, I use Twitter, Facebook, Google, youtube, Whatsapp, Amazon, but not that ghastly Instagram! (Repeat, with variations.)

Apparently there is an “Instagram style”, characterised by supersaturation, coloured walls and pictures of avocado toast. It is now being superseded by something more naturalistic. You can get a filter that reproduces the look of a disposable camera.

If I ever read the words “avocado toast” again it will be too soon. (All started in an article about home ownership in the Australian press. I’m not going to laugh every time you say “avocado”. Avocados are not expensive, and have been readily available since the mid-60s. To me they don’t say “entitled rich young person”, they say “tricolore salad”.)

TIG/Change abused for having too many colours on their poster. (September: they are fading away and morphing into LibDems. Hurry it up.)

Apparently it’s OK to shoot birds because crows pick the eyes out of lambs. And the BBC should sack Chris Packham because he is anti-hunting.

Forced adoption” protesters seem deeply sinister, like the “dads’ rights” gang.
Fake “cranky prof” accounts
are a thing... (Gone by October.)

Sorry/not sorry.
Sand art on beaches – it’s ephemeral, but you publish the drone footage. (Now snow art, Dec.)

The “gypsies steal children” rumour is alive and well in Yarmouth. Not heard that one since the 50s.

Hugely laboured efforts to defend Danny Baker, while the man himself goes “Honestly I didn’t know it was Meghan and Harry’s Royal Baby they were talking about” (he made a frightful chimp joke). Oh, anyone who complained (sorry, “took offence”) is racist themselves, of course.

Also defending the headmaster of Stowe school, who whinged that “thanks to social engineering”, fewer private-school pupils are getting into Oxbridge.

When did “set foot” become “step foot”? When did “long-drawn-out” become “long and drawn-out”?

Change UK
still a much-loved sneer target. (May)

IKR (I know, right?)

Even the news has become reality TV. Yes, it’s good to talk about the menopause but do we have to be so maudlin?

What to say about HIGNFY: Bring back the good old days it’s not funny any more. Past its sell-by date. (I think they mean: Too left-wing. Mocks those in power.)

Other people’s use of social media is all wrong.
We voted to leave – why don’t we just get on with it? We’ll be OK – Nigel Farage says so! (Dec: "Boris will get it done and everything will be fine.")

It’s good that JD Williams is using “real” models (large, diverse), but must they sashay towards us in slow motion while smiling cheesily? (Dove is doing the same, with plonking lectures about "looks don't matter".)

1001 reasons why throwing milkshakes at right-wingers is political violence and a slippery slope, but outraged snowflakes must learn to debate with points of view they disagree with. Or something. (Which is code for “allow very right-wing speakers to come and address their fellow-students who may end up believing them”.)

BBC Breakfast just said “back on an even keel” of a listing ship.

Deepfake (May) It’s like Photoshop for videos.

End May: “John Cleese wasn't racist really.

Pivoting” to a different political party.

Insults morning after Euro elections: upchucks, toady melts.

Live your best life.
(You have several lives available – all you have to do is pick the best one. Ditto “be your best self”. You are not changing yourself to fit into society, oh no, not at all.)

He’s already “Chuka Uppah”. That’s really disgusting.

Well, at least we can pronounce “Huawei” now. The days of “Werwer” are over.

Good grief, the nastiness about Change UK. (Please, everybody, just join the LibDems like sensible people. Oh, you have.)

Apparently posh people/millennials/Remoaners/lefties/Brits say “grahnd piarno” and “an hoop”.
(It's from Monty Python, and there’s a tendency for a parody of any social group to become a parody of the posh.)

He lives in a land of unicorns and fantasy. (BBC pundit on Boris, paraphrase)

Everyone very impressed by Fleabag and Gentleman Jack giving looks to camera, “breaking the fourth wall”. Just as Ian McShane used to do as Lovejoy. And Puck in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Chorus in Henry V and probably several characters in Sophocles.

Jeremy Hunt’s name! Tee hee hee hee hee!
"Socialists want to turn Britain into Venezuela."
Stan” is stalker+fan and has been around since 2000 in K-Pop circles.

Has social media made us nasty? Forty years ago cruelty and sarcasm were common from  strangers, teachers, bosses, bus drivers, jobsworths, officials, functionaries of all kinds. People who say “social media has made everybody nasty” or “Thanks to social media, we can see how nasty everybody is” were not the target back then. The targets were low down the pecking order: women, and especially young women. I’m sure anybody brown-skinned got it too. But if you were an adult white male it was all “Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir”.

“I can’t speak to how Mark Field was feeling in that moment” when he grabbed a protester by the neck and manhandled her out of a Mansion House dining room. Speak to? Isn’t this a ghastly Americanism? (The Tory MP was suspended and has not been reinstated.)

“Harry and Megan-bashing” is the latest popular sport. (“The ‘Firm’ will force her to conform.”)

Lots of mean-mindedness about women who leave bags on unoccupied seats.

Selina Soule's petition to keep women's sports for females (she is a female high-school track athlete in Connecticut where males can self-idea into female sports). *self-id (but autocorrect was actually on the button in this case.

Put your big/boy girl pants on.
Labour anti-Semites all claiming to be Jewish now.

Children need “adventures”, not more things.
Social stories, children are social natives (“Social media” is meant.)

5G and Smartmeters
are the new geopathic stress.
Reluctance to use the R word. (Don’t we have official definitions of R?)
Oh dear now fruit is bad for you.
Straw wars
rumble on – is it an attack on “libs”?
Just waiting for FaceApp to be over. (Gone by October.)
People misusing cognitive dissonance to mean ambivalence.

Jo Swinson is the new LibDem leader and she is being “monstered” (July).

The Daily Mail and its vile readership are attacking Meghan. Can’t think why.

Now the whole of Sweden is a no-go zone thanks to the usual suspects and all the Swedes are leaving for Hungary. (Swedes still at home, October.)

Labour anti-Semites now accusing prominent Jews of being anti-Semitic.

The American definition of racism seems academic and incomprehensible. Result, “I can’t be racist because I’m black”. Racist acts and speech are redefined because in the current system they can't be racist. (It’s all about power relations, you see. I think they’re mixing up two different things.)

Rees-Mogg’s rules to staff about commas, spaces after a full-stop, and avoiding “due to” are widely called “grammar rules”.
“These bad boys” are back, Aug.
Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
"Delicious" now means “oooh, a bit naughty!”

TERF bangs are a thing! Yes, trans-exclusionary feminists are supposed to wear a chunky fringe. “All over the internet”, apparently.

Now they’re telling us not to wash our clothes.

Relentlessly popular to mean tirelessly or unstoppably. (It means "remorselessly", which doesn't mean unstoppably either. Aug.)

When did gunmen become shooters?
People want no-deal because they think any kind of deal is “staying in the EU”.

Tweets/IG posts that “go viral” often do so by means of bought bots following and liking. And Boris has an insta-army of Borisbots to like his tweets.

Everything’s a “story”. Museum objects and pictures are “about the story”. On the Antiques Roadshow, the “story” is more important than the object.

In August, “mood music” re the G7 summit.

Deadnaming: using a transgender person’s former name. It’s now called “gender confirmation” surgery, but there’s a backlash against treating teenagers.

What’s all this about phrenology?

The meat industry is seeding the press with scare stories about veganism.

Hurrah for the natural hair movement – but students in Cape Town are being told they can’t wear afros because they “aren’t natural” and “make them look like trees”.

Upset by an anti-Brexit march? Just say “Waitrose” and they’ll all vanish in a puff of smoke.

OJ now stands for Owen Jones,
who is defending Ash Sarkar. You are dead to me, Owen.

“Draw me like one of your French actresses” is popular, for some reason, early Sept.

And nobody, but nobody, is visiting London. (So I don’t know who all those people are in the Travelodge.)

“Hipsters” are not so prevalent as formerly. And nor is “branding”. Perhaps “turning yourself into a brand” didn’t live up to the publicity.

I know how to negotiate because [insert irrelevant experience here]. You just don’t understand because [insert irrelevant reason here].” (Early Sept.)

Plastic straw wars reaching heights of silliness in the States – or are all the stories made up? It’s “the libs” who want to ban them, and advocates for the disabled (or are they climate change deniers and Trump voters?) who want to keep them.

Attacks on Meghan become increasingly absurd.
– what mean exactly? Visuals?
At the Last Night of the Proms EU flags were given out free! (Instant Urban Legend.)
Cancel culture is the latest bogeyman,

Twitter users are ranked by number of followers – should people with less than X followers be allowed to etc etc.

Rabbits are the new cats – your friends and the wider public will welcome constant updates on their amusing antics and bodily functions. Especially if you call them your “babies” and pretend that they call you Mummy and Daddy.

A couple revealed to their family, friends and the entire world the sex of their unborn baby by filling a watermelon with blue jelly, throwing it into the mouth of a hippo, filming the whole thing, and posting it on socmed as “The worst gender reveal ever!”

Strange take on Greta Thunberg No. 94: Yes, but what about this indigenous teenage girl climate activist?

Australian-style points-based system” much talked of for "controlling our borders" post-Brexit.

Phub: phone snub by fiddling with phone instead of talking.
X with the face/hair of Y. (Yawn.)

Please don’t treat me like a freak because I don’t want to see a close-up of your dog’s mouth ulcers.

Looks like a haunted...” Can we retire this one?

Suzannah Lipscomb is trying to get people to start emails “Dear X” and end them “Yours sincerely”. Hi Suzannah sweetie, Email has been around for about 30 years and it’s a bit late now. Tatty-bye! All the best! Ta-ra!

This has been around for some time, but men can’t go to the doctor without a long rant about the impossible appointments system. “You have to ring at 8am, and then there’s a menu, and then you’re on hold for ten minutes, and then...” etc etc. 

I don’t have a Soundcloud, do you have an Insta?” Translation: Soundcloud account, Instagram account.

Frightful joke going around about the free gifts in avocados being so boring.
There’s a lot of “inspiring” and “role models” aimed at young girls mid October. Copy Katarina Johnson-Thompson, not Kim Kardashian! If I was a young girl I’d be quite fed up.

Oct 17: Instapinions on the XR protesters who stopped a train at Canning Town by climbing on the roof. So inconsiderate! So unBritish!

Many pronunciations of “the island of Ireland”. Some speakers make it “the Ireland of island”.

Lit is the new "wicked", or something.

“If a tweet elicits far more hostile replies than likes or retweets it has been ratioed.”(@Yascha_Mounk) He’s defending “ratioed tweets” because he doesn’t like “conventional wisdom” and the ratioed are just “unpopular opinions”. You know, those ones. “Woke liberals” just spout a consensus and brave racists and misogynists must stand up against them de dah de dah.

Americans talking about development, regeneration and “zoning”. I have a nasty feeling that the last is a kind of jerrymandering whereby you keep poor people out of rich areas.

Red flags: “woke” (in quotes), and “elites”.

“Halloween” now means “Trick or Treating”, which you can whinge about because it’s American.

"Bin fire" popular.

What to say about Extinction Rebellion: "I agree with their aims of course but they’re doing protest all wrong."

PSA, TA, Deadspin. That might be “public service announcement”? Deadspin is a sports news site whose staff are resigning in droves because er er... TA, anybody?

You may disagree with them but it’s cruel to call Brexiteers “gammons”. Isn't it racist? And many others on this template including guff about being “civil” and “coming together”. We should be kinder to bigots, or they won’t listen to us. (I’m not sorry for them. They take their chance.)

Glacier seems to have become glay-cier. Is this a ghastly Americanism? Anyway, they’re shrinking and they’ll diminish further if we don’t do something.

His Dark Materials backlash after centuries of Philip Pullman adulation. @celestialweasel writes: I have read the Wikipedia plot summary of HDM, is it really that ludicrous?

Aren’t jokes about “fronted adverbials” getting a bit old?
“Oven-ready, best in class” agreements with the EU promised by the Tories.
Adults getting their knickers in a twist over Tik-Tok. (Yawn.)

Kombucha. Is it just a brand of fizzy drink? With supposed magic powers? Fermented tea that tastes like juice, say young people, and you make it with a “scoby” (like a sourdough starter or ginger-beer plant). Now for “matcha”.

People getting “dragged” second week of Nov.

A lot of criticism of headlines for not laying blame where it is due, by people who don’t understand how headlines are written. You can’t say someone committed a crime until they are found guilty by a jury, it would be contempt of court. Just so you know, writers don’t write headlines, they're written by editors and sub-editors.

Venmo (Paypal type thing, now a verb and that is perfectly OK.)

live worm (Line graph updated in real time during eg political debates.)

In the States, arguing about whether cats should be allowed to go outside is a thing. There is a “keep cats indoors for their entire lives” lobby. Reasons stretch from “They might be eaten by coyotes” to “They might kill otters”. Oh, and they eat birds. (“Indoor cats get almost no parasites, are vastly less likely to die in an accident, and don’t damage the native ecoystems,” I’m told. Update: there's a cat population explosion in the US.)

Now hospitals are “shovel-ready”.

Diversity buzz-words per @sarahstuartxx: cis privilege, decentring, intersectional, due diligence, emotional labour, disruption, allies.


Trend: long interesting thread on historical research ends with a request for a contribution to my Patreon, buy my book, my art etc.

Oh dear oh dear there are still people who think the British had an Empire because we really are superior. As George Orwell pointed out, this delusion was deliberately induced to persuade Britons to go out and work themselves to death or perish from malaria, cholera or typhoid.

Don’t politicize the London Bridge attack: Don’t suggest that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to let a terrorist out of prison early. Both sides are "making political capital" out of it by promising to avoid such incidents in future by stricter/laxer policies, or blaming the other side's strict/lax policies for the event.

Conscious as in “conscious uncoupling” now means something like: mature, calm, gracious, friendly, no-blame.

yeeting (Anybody?)

Lots of fuss about the Peloton ad. (It’s an exercise bike.)
Attendance at Choral Evensong going up across all age groups.

Blah blah echo chamber blah blah bubble blah blah opposing views blah blah oversensitive blah blah taking offenceconservative cliché bingo.

the forelock vote (11 Dec)

Culture wars: woke snowflakes (decent human beings) versus sensible people (racists and conservatives).

We voted Leave, the decision was made, end of story.
“I voted for change.”

I don’t think the membership will stand being lectured about phantom antisemitism any more. (Simon Maginn. None of the Labour leadership candidates is anti-Zionist enough.)

clam: tired old joke, sitcom cliché

Can’t we just abolish Christmas? It starts in mid-November now! We’re going bowling, then out for Chinese food!”

fan service
wine cave

People using “believe in” for “agree with”.

J.K. Rowling is a TERF and a transphobe.

red wall (As somebody points out, everybody immediately pretending they've been saying it for years.)

More here, and links to past years.

Wednesday 4 December 2019

Inspirational Quotes 96

Drink-parenting is as bad as drink-driving.
(Alan Davies)

Everyone knows that consultation can be tokenistic or faked.

Lacking a rapt and compliant audience does not equal actually being silenced. (Camille Lofters)

Today, most middle-class parents spend years taking classes and pursuing careers before they have children. It’s not surprising, then, that going to school and working are modern parents’ models for taking care of children.
(WSJ 2016)

We often make quick decisions about complex issues on the basis of our past beliefs or even chance associations. After we have made these decisions – which often happen in a matter of milliseconds – we start the laborious process of proving ourselves right. (

"Guilty pleasures"? If you think I should feel guilty for liking anything, I literally don't care about anything you will ever say. (@stevenpoole)

Everyone mocking "experts" today. I've booked each of you an appointment with an amateur dentist tomorrow. Have fun. (Repeat with amateur doctors, solicitors, architects etc.) (‏@JournoStephen)

A 2011 survey of declared Christians in the UK found that the majority of self-identified Christians either aren’t aware of or don’t accept many fundamental aspects of Christianity; only a third of British Christians believe in Christ’s resurrection, and nearly half don’t think Jesus was the son of God. (New York Times)

Her nature is too delicate to brave the fierce storms of public life. Woman is the power behind the throne. Unseen, she rules the destinies of men and nations. Her influence is the barometer of civilization. (Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler, 1888)
An Olympiad with females would be impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic and improper. (Pierre de Coubertin)

We seem increasingly in thrall to a 1950's-flavoured 'American Dream' where there's no unfairness just 'temporarily frustrated millionaires'.

Research also shows that explanations accompanied by images of the brain also persuade people to believe in their validity, however random the illustration. (Guardian)

If you're going to defend yourself against charges of sexism, do not under any circumstances use the word 'banter'. (Ian Dunt)

National Public Radio's comment board troubles are same-old: in-fighting, point-scoring across unrelated topics, racism, sexism, general nastiness. Online was ever thus, and the only known solution is heavy, persistent, consistent, human moderation. (Wendy Grossman)

"That's just how it is!" People objecting to other people not liking something, despite that also being just how it is. (@garwboy)

In my new profile pic, I'm affecting the facial expression of a "Who? Me?" Edinburgh Fringe hack comedian. (@paulwhitelaw)

What did the rest of humanity ever do for us? Writing, mathematics, paper, monotheism... yes, but apart from that.? (@simon_schama)

I don't know why anyone should be surprised that "have cake and eat it" is the Brexit position. It has been the Brexit position all along. (‏@sturdyAlex)

Not only did the murderer see himself as innocent, but he wished to make his victim feel guilty. (David Ohana on Fascism)

The obsession middle-aged journalists have with student unions is deeply disturbing. Absolutely can't handle them making their own decisions. (@WordMercenary)

I have no idea what British Values are. Morris Dancing, Up Helly Aa, Orange Marches, Welsh Language? (@bmc875)

To imagine that therapy, rather than social transformation, can address or prevent the conditions that lead to despair is to be wilfully blind. (A group of psychologists writing to the Times.)

Shout out to the man who seems to have lost his Angry Internet Man phrasebook and addressed me as 'cupcake' rather than 'snowflake'. And it's a JOY to see how quickly people go from "FREE SPEECH!!!" when they want to be offensive to "you're gonna get sued" when offended. (‏@lottelydia)

However well intentioned, this "there have always been idiots", "we're still the same tolerant country" shtick, makes us feel unheard. (@sturdyAlex)

It's funny how Brexiters seem to lose their sense of humour when the joke is on them. (Kevin Keaves Eaves)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 1 December 2019

Literary Clichés Part Seven: How to Write a Modern Detective Story

The 1970s, when all cops start needing a good therapist.

We've moved on – Golden Age mystery detectives had quirks; modern detectives have problems. This makes them “3D characters with depth”. Modern mysteries also feature “real women with flaws”, but unfortunately this usually means “they drink a lot”.

Give your detective a few contrasting characteristics, but make him/her wise and warm.

The detective must engage in witty banter with a sidekick.

The detective must have a tormented private life which will from time to time impinge on the story: an unfaithful wife, a delinquent daughter, a drug-addicted son, an ill but estranged parent.

If male, the detective will be a chain-smoking alcoholic. He's crumpled, smelly, unshaven, in constant danger of losing his job/house/marriage. But he will relax by collecting ethnic art, and will have at least one affair with an attractive, much younger person. If female, the same, more or less. But troubled child (preferably daughter) obligatory. Will either live in an uber-chic through-designed minimalist pad or a tip. In both cases, however, will not be able to cook. Or possibly will have a depressingly normal sister who will crop up from time to time and ask "When are you going to settle down with a nice man like Tim? You and Tim were so good for each other." (JL)

Lead the reader into a world they don't know.

Set your story in the past, in a country other than the US or UK. It may or may not be your native land. Use the story as a frame for your research – pick a place and time that’s new to your readers.

Include descriptions of delicious food and if possible, recipes. The clue could be in the cookbook, and they only discover it’s in code when they try to follow the instructions for mulligatawny soup and find out it’s inedible, or uses a lot of mysterious ingredients which are all code for something,.

Include arcane knowledge (there’s a language called Yiddish, autistic people have literal minds).

The detective must teach you all about (for example) Chinese poetry while solving the mystery.

The detective must employ a dysfunctional young geek to do the computery bits of the investigation. (This may be a bit out of date now everyone's got a smartphone.)

The detective's love interest will turn out to be an enemy agent or master criminal but will die in the detective's arms at the end of the story.

The female detective, near the end of the novel, comes face to face with the Master Criminal, whom she is about to destroy before he destroys her. She of course finds him fascinating, compulsive, sexy. In their final confrontation she finds out that they are exactly similar (e.g. both adopted, abused as children, fought their way up from underclass, born in ghetto, traumatised by successful sibling, refugee, bullied at school etc etc). This won't stop her from destroying him at the end, of course, but it will mean that her triumph is hollow. (JL)

Some writers make you feel you're clever, by crudely dropping in little literary references (all of which are actually very obvious) to flatter your sense of your own intellectuality. The quotes are never identified, to make you feel even brighter for being one of the few to recognise them, or to appreciate the cod philosophy and Fine Writing and description for its own sake. (JL)

With a lot of help from James Loader.

More here and links to the rest.

Thursday 28 November 2019

Reasons to Be Cheerful 23

It's not all doom and gloom.
We no longer believe that the fox enjoys being hunted or that women like being beaten. We've stopped telling pregnant teenage girls that there is no alternative to adoption. We don’t prevent children finding their birth parents “because it is better for them”, either. We no longer force left-handed children to use their right hand, sometimes with beatings or tying one hand behind their back, a practice that continued into the 1960s and 70s. And cranes, bustards, egrets, red kites and storks are back in the UK.

13th century: Pope Innocent IV (1195-1254) issued a litany of papal bulls dated May 28, 1247, July 5, 1247, August 18, 1247... and September 25, 1253, condemning the executions in Fulda and the harassment of Jews elsewhere. The Pope forbade "to accuse any Jew of using human blood in their rites, since it is clear in the Old Testament that it is forbidden to them to consume any blood, let alone the blood of humans"... Twelve years after the first executions, Rome declared the blood libel myth as illogical and false. (

1694 Smoking is banned in the House of Commons.

1736 The Gin Act 1736 imposed high taxes on retailers and led to riots in the streets. The prohibitive duty was gradually reduced and finally abolished in 1742. The Gin Act 1751 was more successful, however; it forced distillers to sell only to licensed retailers and brought gin shops under the jurisdiction of local magistrates. (Wikipedia)

1856 Prison hulks are removed from the Thames.
1893 Louisa Brandreth Aldrich-Blake graduates in medicine from the Royal Free Hospital.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1923, introduced as a Private Member’s Bill, enabled either partner to petition for divorce on the basis of their spouse’s adultery (previously, only the man had been able to do this). A further Act in 1937 offered additional grounds for divorce: cruelty, desertion and incurable insanity. (

1835 The UK Parliament outlaws bull-baiting.1840 Abney Park Cemetery opens as Europe’s first non-denominational burying ground.

1892 Plaster confetti is banned after the 1892 Mardi Gras.
1911 Bexhill introduces mixed bathing.

1919 The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act allowed women to join professions like the law, become jurors, magistrates and join higher ranks of civil service.

1920 Wales disestablishes the Welsh church.
1926 The UK legalises adoption.
1931 Lili de Alvarez is the first woman to wear shorts at Wimbledon.
1930 Mildred Bruce is the first person to fly from the UK to Japan.
1943 Florence du Vergier becomes the first woman mayor of Hackney.

Late 50s: Mary Fedden became the first woman teacher of painting at London's Royal College of Art.

Sixty-five years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled that racially segregated public schools are unconstitutional. (Hillary Clinton, May 2019)

1956 Ireland's first female Olympian, Maeve Kyle, competed. Previously female athletes were told they were unIrish and un Catholic.

1956 In the UK it becomes illegal to solicit on the streets.
1963 Women can join the Oxford University Dramatic Society.
1965 Australian women are allowed to drink in a bar without a male chaperone.

1965 The Second Vatican Council's declaration Nostra Aetate proclaims that the Jews, as a people, were not responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.

1966 The Marriage Bar is lifted, meaning that Australian women in the public sector could continue to work after marriage.

In the UK, Judicial Corporal Punishment was abolished in 1948; however, it persisted as a punishment for prisoners committing assaults on prison staff, until it was abolished by the Criminal Justice Act 1967 (the last prison flogging was in 1962)... It was abolished in the Isle of Man in 1978. Judicial birching was abolished in 2000.

1967 Australian aborigines gain the right to be counted in the census. (Voting rights came in gradually in the 20th century, state by state.)

1969 The Catholic Church abolishes the Feast of the Most Precious Blood.

1973 Homosexuality is removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

1987 Liechtenstein abolishes the death penalty. (The last execution in Liechtenstein took place in 1784.)

1988 Benazir Bhutto becomes the first woman to head a democratic government in a Muslim majority nation.
1992 The UK bans snuff.
1998 The UK repeals a law stating it is treasonous to eat a swan. (Allegedly.)
2009 "Nagging and Shagging" defence that reduces murder to manslaughter ends.
2016 Madame Tussaud’s London wax museum closes its infamous Chamber of Horrors.

2018 Women attend a football match in Tehran.
2018 Breastfeeding in public is legalised in all 50 states.

2018 The Caribbean Court of Justice strikes down a Guyana law banning cross-dressing, that had been used to oppress transgender people

2018 Bermuda legalises same-gender marriage (for the second time).
2018 France bans physical, verbal and psychological violence against children.
2018 Women are admitted to the Cresta Run. (They raced on equal terms with men until the 1920s when it was deemed medically dangerous.)

2018 The US Senate passes the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act. A bill that classifies lynching — defined in the bill as an act that “willfully causes bodily injury to any other person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person” — as a federal hate crime. (

2019 Ireland criminalises emotional abuse with a new domestic violence law. UK removes the right of abusers to cross-examine their partner in the family court.

2019 Saudi Arabia is bringing in a rule that stops women being divorced without their knowledge. They’ll now be notified by text.

2019 The Ukrainian Orthodox Church gains independence from Constantinople.

2019 Cyntoia Brown has been released from prison, where she was serving a sentence for shooting her abuser, aged 16.

2019 Saudi Arabia is reintroducing philosophy into schools – it was banned for decades. (UK schools please follow.)

2019 Angola decriminalises homosexuality.

2019 First UK conviction for Female Genital Mutilation – 30 years after the practice was criminalised.

2019 Instagram is removing all images of suicide and self-harm.
2019 The Formosan clouded leopard is seen for the first time since 1983.
2019 The Rockabilly scene bans the Confederate flag from venues.
2019 The State of California imposes a moratorium on carrying out death sentences.

2019 Danish billionaires the Povlsens are rewilding large parts of the Scottish Highlands – culling deer and removing sheep.

2019 Luxembourg makes all public transport free.
2019 London terminals make all toilets free.
2019 Maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK is reduced to £2.

2019 Routine vaccination of girls aged 12 or 13 years against human papillomavirus (HPV) in Scotland has led to a dramatic reduction in cervical disease in later life, finds a new study.

2019 The Mormon church is relaxing its attitude to LGBT people.
2019 Colorado becomes 16th US state to ban gay cure therapy.
2019 No-fault divorce is on its way in the UK.
2019 Arizona repeals a law banning “promotion of homosexual lifestyles”.

Mar 8 2019 A Bill to allow daughters the same succession rights as sons cleared a Commons hurdle this week.

Nov 4 2019 A draft law has been published in Germany aimed at banning "gay conversion therapy".

2019 Facebook bans far-right groups and leaders.
2019 Afghanistan has an all-female orchestra.2019 UK will provide all female prisoners with free sanitary products.

2019 Taiwan legalises same-sex marriage – the first Asian country to do so.

2019 The German High Court rules antisemitism unconstitutional, the rest of EU  is expected to follow. (Don’t worry, we’ll be out by the time it happens!)

2019 Architects set up Architects Declare to produce plans for eco-friendly buildings to halt global warming.

2019 Mexico City intends to decriminalise sex work.
2019 Transport for London plans a 20 mph speed limit in the congestion zone next year.
2019 Botswana decriminalises homosexuality.
2019 The London Metal Exchange bans drinking during work hours.
2019 France is ending healthcare refunds for homeopathic drugs.

2019 Saudi Arabia relaxes rules forbidding women to travel without the permission of a male relative.

2019 Prep schools have lost 3,000 pupils in one year... the number of children aged 5-10 enrolled at independent schools in England has fallen from 197,434 to 194,592, the lowest total for six years. (Times)

2019 Northern Ireland lifts the abortion ban and legalises equal marriage.
2019 The University of Technology Sydney intends to close its Chinese Medicine Department.
2019 Bulgaria recognises same-sex marriage.
2019 A teenage girl becomes the first jockey to race in a hijab – and wins her first race.
2019 Berlin makes public transport free for all schoolchildren.

2019 NZ is the first country to legalise paid domestic violence leave – 10 days to leave your partner, taking your children.

2019 Songs of Praise features a same-sex wedding, and Strictly Come Dancing showcases a same-sex dance.

2019 A US judge throws out Trump’s order and restores the Obama-era drilling ban in the Arctic.

2019 Scotland bans smacking.
2019 UK bans fracking. 2019 California is phasing out privately owned prisons and immigrant detention facilities.
2019 California becomes first state to ban fur products.
2019 Climbing on Uluru is banned.
2019 Luxembourg makes all public transport free
2019 MPs are considering a ban on fireworks sales.

2019 Australian women's football team the Matildas will earn the same as the Socceroos players, making them the first female team in world football to be guaranteed equal pay.

2019 Rose Hudson-Wilkin is first black woman to become a Church of England bishop.
2019 Victims of forced marriage will no longer be billed for their journey home to the UK.
2019 High Court Judge bans anti-LGBT protests outside school in Birmingham.
2019 Iceland makes it illegal to pay women less than men.

2019 A woman leads the Remembrance service at the Cenotaph for the first time. They had to let her do it – she’s the Bishop of London.

2019 STOP PRESS Extinction Rebellion prosecutions dropped en masse after High Court rules London protest ban unlawful (Independent headline)

From April 2020,  plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will be banned in England.

From September 2020, LGBT-inclusive education will be required in all UK schools.
2021 EU will abandon Daylight Saving Time.

Ireland has no hate-crime laws, and the US has no hate-speech laws.

US laws forbidding or limiting Chinese immigration lasted from 1875 to 1965.

2014 The Government promises 200,000 starter homes. Number built by 2019: zero.

2019 Brunei brings in death by stoning as punishment for gay sex
New laws in Brunei include:
Death penalty for gay sex
Death penalty for adultery
Death penalty for rape
Death penalty for defamation of the prophet Muhammad
Death penalty for apostasy (converting from Islam)
Also... amputation for thieves
Fine or jail for those telling under 18s about other faiths/religious beliefs.

Later in 2019: Brunei abandons the death penalty by stoning for gay sex after an international outcry.

My mum was turned away from visiting the Country Club in Trinidad, was the first stewardess and bank worker of colour for Grenada in 1956. All those professions were reserved for white people until that point, as all Caribbean people know. And people still complained. (@edincarib)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 22 November 2019

Inspirational Quotes 95

Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.

You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it's not a huge imposition. It's not your choice to make.
(Josh Olson,, gives advice to aspiring writers.)

I knew I needed [antidepressants] again, if only to make life less painful for the people who love me. They do make life more bearable for everyone. (Disabled journalist Melanie Reid wants to take antidepressants so that she doesn’t cry in front of people. Times April 2016 Lynn Payer in Medicine and Culture says Brits take painkillers and antidepressants to avoid “making a fuss” and upsetting others. Melanie calls them a “chemical crutch”. )

Remember, the myth that everyone is a selfish bastard is spread by selfish bastards to stop them feeling guilty about being selfish bastards. (‏@SteveHall5582)

Off-line Criticism - propagating gossip or criticism to a third party in an attempt to negatively influence the third party’s opinion of a person. (

They’re so goddam different that they hold a stacked deck and they don’t know any other kind of deck. (Raymond Chandler on the rich)

Humiliation always happens in a tyranny, and that foments revolution. (Shirley MacLaine)

I always feel as if people looking for English Lit to "matter" may be the sort who are secretly rather irritated we’re not all out there curing cancer, landing on Mars, and other things that don’t involve noses in books and the Waste of the Taxpayers’ Money (TM). ("Jeanne de Montbaston")

It always astounds me that people have a comfort zone. (@jtlovell1979)

People who say "I'm just saying what everyone else is thinking" - You are never, ever saying what I'm thinking. (@Nick_Pettigrew)

Combien de soi-disant classiques ne survivent que sous respiration artificielle? (Xavier Lechard. How many so-called classics would disappear without artificial respiration?)

Trump rallies are the comments section come to awful life. (Diana Burbano)

Over the past eight years, hundreds, maybe even thousands of wits have both emailed me or left a comment below the line dismissing me as “the fashion girl” or telling me to “go back to shoe shopping”. I’ve had snarky comments about fashion from teenagers, academics, even other journalists... But one thing unites them: do you really need me to tell you they’re all men? (Former fashion writer and writer on many other subjects Hadley Freeman in the Guardian)

Side by side with organised religion there has always existed a folk religion, which is not organised, has no temples, no priests, no fixed precepts; it consists of old beliefs and customs, generally not in the spirit of the official religion. The folk belief is in the background, but it plays a great role in the lives of the masses, those who are little influenced by the new thoughts and trends of the times. (Hayim Schauss)

Frankly, there are things in Narnia which are nothing to do with religion. They are to do with being out of date. As with Tolkien, there are ideas there which haven't yet faded sufficiently into the past to become valuable antiques. (Guy Kewney)

Changing the behaviour of a population is likely to take time, perhaps a generation or more, and politicians usually look for quick win solutions. The government needs to be braver about mixing and matching policy measures, using both incentives and disincentives to bring about change. They must also get much better at evaluating the measures they put in place. In order to help people live healthier and happier lives, we need to understand much more about what sorts of policies will have an effect on how people behave, and the best way to do this is through research, proper evaluation of policies and the provision of well-informed and independent scientific advice. (Julia Neuberger, 2011)

Bias is also more deeply ingrained and harder to mitigate when people convince themselves that they are not biased in a certain aspect and so unconsciously create strategies to substantiate their convictions to that belief.  This is also known as ‘confirmation bias’... while there is much talk around mentoring programmes to help women ‘break through the glass ceiling’, my own perspective from both sides of the gender divide is that there is at least an equal need for men, standing on the ‘glass floor’, to receive mentoring and coaching in how to tackle gender bias. (Letitia Davis, 2015)

‏The Sunday Post... and its claustrophobic worldview formed 50 years before in Presbyterian Dundee. (London Review of Books, 2016)

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes. (via Wicca Teachings)

The leader of the mass is still the feared primal father, the mass still wishes to be dominated by absolute power, it is in the highest degree addicted to authority. (Sigmund Freud)

Dystopias will have cycle lanes and host World Cups. (Darran Anderson)

Caitlin Moran suggests that instead of holding state banquets, the Queen should “introduce a series of evenings where the guests knit, quilt, sort out jumble, prep a buffet... collect tinfoil... decorate someone’s front room”. As “the king of Tonga helps the US ambassador... a dazzlingly productive new epoch in international diplomacy will finally be forged, one based on genuine understanding and warmth”. (Times, 2016)

Its amazing how quickly we become conspiracy theorists when things don’t go our way... (@Furmadamadam)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Six: Golden Age Mysteries

Two-dimensional, cardboard characters: that's the usual slur aimed at Golden Age mysteries. Try Margery Allingham's The Fashion in Shrouds – the whole plot depends on character.

The thatched cottage and village green stereotype associated with Golden Age novels by people who seldom read them... People who did not care to read them were nevertheless happy to make sweeping generalizations about them which contributed to the crude stereotyping of Golden Age fiction that persists to this day... The widespread consensus that Christie and company never questioned the status quo is wildly mistaken.
(Martin Edwards)

The main trial, office politics, and home life all have a linked theme. (Goodreads on Rumpole)

There are at least three distinct Campions who haven’t much to do with each other and two Wimseys it can be hard to reconcile. (

Tiger in the Smoke is Margery Allingham’s best novel. (It was made into a film in the 50s, and is the only one many people have heard of.)

An author wrote a novel that she never liked and everyone agrees is terrible “in order to break a contract with her publisher”. Wikipedia repeats this trope about Murder Must Advertise, one of Dorothy Sayers’ most brilliant books. (An Amazon commenter adds: "This book was written very quickly to meet a publisher's deadline as she was having trouble with The Nine Taylors.")

Certainly in their unquestioning and usually rural lives, characters do in fact seem to know their place and to be happy in it. (PD James on Golden Age mysteries. Surely there are not a few social climbers in the canon? She opines that in Murder Must Advertise “any sense of the world outside the comfortable confines of conventional English village life was absent... We feel no real pity for the victim, no empathy for the murderer...” (Murder Must Advertise is set entirely in London, and we – and Lord Peter – feel a lot of sympathy for the murderer.)

Have His Carcase is a 1932 locked-room mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers. (Wikipedia. The victim is found lying on a rock in the middle of a lonely beach. The odd title is a translation of the Latin "habeas corpus", the UK law that forbids imprisonment without trial.)

The bogus “intellectuality” of Dorothy L. Sayers, who, like many contemporary detective-story writers, is a novelist manquée who ruins her stuff with literary attitudinising. (Dwight McDonald, A Theory of Mass Culture, 50s)

And in the matter of ideas, subject, theme, problems raised, she [Sayers] similarly performs the best-seller’s function of giving the impression of intellectual activity to readers who would very much dislike that kind of exercise if it were actually presented to them; but of course it is all shadow-boxing. With what an air of unconventionality and play of analysis Miss Sayers handles her topics, but what relief her readers must feel — it is part no doubt of her success — that they are let off with a reassurance that everything is really all right and appearances are what really matter. (QD Leavis And who remembers her?)

One criticism levelled at writers of Golden Age fiction is that they did not illumine our understanding of the Second World War and sometimes wrote as if it was not happening. (Bodies from the Library. Their publishers may have instructed them not to refer to the conflict.)

Golden Age stories have often been criticized as implausible, involving as they usually do sophisticated and wealthy people, house parties on estates, and convoluted plots and counter-plots. (Father Brown and Company, James Hitchcock. Why should wealthy people be more or less implausible than the middle classes?)

Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Sayers and Allingham are sold as the “Queens of Crime” while male writers in the genre are out of print. Booksellers and publishers make money, while critics can denigrate the whole genre using gendered epithets: tame, dull, cosy, safe etc. One critic of the genre writes under a female pseudonym!

Over-simplification: interwar UK mysteries were all cosy, Conservative and written by women. Interwar US mysteries were all hard-boiled, left-wing and written by men.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Five: Methods

Use a detective story to take readers into an underworld you happen to know about: burlesque, hobos, fairgrounds, circus, theatre...  (Cellini Smith by Robert Reeves)

Never believe what a writer tells you about their work.
(Xavier Lechard, paraphrase)

Somehow you can spot the "I want to put a different spin on this genre to make me stand out" author.
(Alan Cassady-Bishop)

Greer [challenges] the usual model of books of this kind, in which the author likes to set out in the foreground his or her journey to emotional redemption, with the landscape playing the role of butler and helpmeet.
(The Evening Standard on Germaine Greer)

I usually start with a corpse. I then ask myself how the corpse got to be that way and I try to find out — just as the cops would. I plot, loosely, usually a chapter or two ahead, going back to make sure that everything fits all the clues are in the right places, all the bodies are accounted for... (Police procedural writer Ed McBain)

I notice a couple of writers who have made so much money out of writing in one genre that they decide they're going to change direction and write a multi-volume historical saga, mostly but not always about the Roman empire. (Michael O’Brien)

Why are simply terrible new Poirot/Wimsey stories being published? “Some of the original Poirot books are coming out of copyright. For instance The Mysterious Affair at Styles. So it is to ensure that the Agatha Christie trustees retain some control over the stories. To do this new ones were written using Poirot as the central character. This ensures he can not be used in any other story, film, television without permission. It is the same reason that there are new Peter Wimsey books too. When the need arises I am sure Miss Marple will appear in new stories.” (Ann Williams on Facebook)

Somerset Maugham attributed [his critical non-success] to his lack of "lyrical quality", his small vocabulary, and failure to make expert use of metaphor... Maugham wrote at a time when experimental modernist literature... was gaining increasing popularity and winning critical acclaim. In this context, his plain prose style was criticized as "such a tissue of clichés that one's wonder is finally aroused at the writer's ability to assemble so many and at his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way". (Wikipedia)

Here's a thing I really dislike: historical novels which exist purely for the author to show off his/her research. (Richard Ashcroft‏)

"He walked the heath reflecting that with only a 15% chance of contracting cholera in a rural area his children had been rather unlucky." (Simon Spanton‏)

"One sunny morning in Florence, Lorenzo woke up and decided to have a Renaissance. The Middle Ages were over, and it was time to paint." (Richard Ashcroft‏)

Per Robin Ince, who has read a lot of Mills and Boon romances so that you don’t have to, the stories are padded out with pasta recipes and details about kitchen decor. Writers for this publisher are given strict guidelines. Surroundings must not be too specific to a class, area or country, because the novels are going to be translated into languages from Finnish to Tagalog. Despite this the writers quietly add upmarket details, like walls painted in “earth colours” and instructions on how to make spaghetti Bolognese. Italian food and muted colours were aspirant in the early 70s when these books were written. The heroine is never going to look round with satisfaction at her walls papered with Chinese pagodas, or whip up an apricot gateau.

Heroines must not be a “cipher”, as in the olden days. Qualifications for non-ciphership are never stated. “Have some personality”, states a friend. Perhaps they mean “be a bit more masculine: stroppy, clever, aggressive, argumentative”. Something like Lucy Snowe or Elizabeth Bennett.

Here's a sample of romantic novelists' prose:
As she skittered past Marcus to the door, shock and awe still widened her eyes. With barely a few muttered words of farewell for them she was gone.
“I didn’t intend to frighten her off,” Marcus mildly joked to ease the tense silence that ensued after Maura’s departure.
An exceedingly quizzical look was slanted at him, and Marcus acknowledged it with a grunted laugh.
“Very well, I admit I’m glad your cousin has gone and we may speak in private.”
“So am I,” Jemma endorsed on a sigh. “Although her absence is less necessary than I deemed it to be at first.”
His thick black eyebrows were elevated in imperious enquiry.

It’s assumed that a writer who produces many books over a lifetime grows and matures. But often the early works based on their lives are the ones to read, not the later blockbuster well-researched historical sagas, or their series characters going through the motions one more time.

The “book-club classic” raises “issues” that the group can discuss. Clairvoyance, abuse, religion - this presses all the reading-group buttons, says Joanna Briscoe (The Guardian, 2009). "The classic reading-group novel is becoming eerily familiar. There's the emotion-laden yet strangely distanced tone, the damaged yet courageous protagonist, and the what-if dilemma that's supposed to set the ladies talking. A reader-flattering intellectual strand frequently features, as does a fantastical element involving historical flashbacks or spirits from the past, along with a multi-generational twist and a central emotional conundrum, preferably involving children. But rarely do the characterisation or writing stand up to the strong and often contrived premise, and an air of manipulation often prevails. Emotions run high, yet they read as though they could have been written on a computer programme…"

“Those words of Shelley’s came into her mind, ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass etc’.” The author shows off her erudition, and the reader is flattered. This kind of book is full of: "'Large women shouldn't wear all-over patterns', she thought." It's possible to convey the character’s thoughts in the narration, conversation or a “gentle reader” aside. Or perhaps you never reveal them.

Nell Dunn's slice of life in Battersea in the early 60s (Up the Junction) is written entirely in the present tense. The author just looks and listens – there's no commentary, no inner voices. Mystery writers Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett used the same technique, though in the past tense.

Some authors write entire books in another's voice (ventriloquism). Raymond Chandler's books are narrated by detective Philip Marlowe. Perfect valet Jeeves's doings are related to us by his employer, Bertie Wooster (with the help of P.G. Wodehouse). Anita Loos wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in the persona of dim but canny showgirl Lorelei Lee. LL is a gold-digger, but thinks of herself as a refined lady, so there's a further layer of self-deception. (See also Agatha Christie's Absent in the Spring.)

There is a small genre of books in which women tell all about their working lives. Good examples are Betty Macdonald (Anybody Can Do Anything), Alida Baxter (Out On My Ear) and Sylvia Smith (Appleby House). Monica Dickens' stint as a cook in the 30s is well-known. But Joan Rivers on her early struggles (Enter Talking) deserves an honourable mention, and Jilly Cooper's The Common Years. Girls – get an interesting job, keep a diary and one day it will keep you.

My heart sinks when I read the words “comic set piece”.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 14 November 2019

Outrageous Excuses 9

...and silly reasons for leaving the European Union.
Police were called when Boris yelled at his girlfriend. But “Corbynista curtain-twitchers are not attractive”.

A second referendum "would break down trust in democracy", says Nigel Farage. (Nov 12 2019)

We can’t translate this Bible verse word for word because we don’t like repetition in English. We can’t translate any part of the Bible word for word because the English language has changed and interpretation and scholarship have moved on.

They do have a disproportionate amount of intelligence (=power) in many fields including banking though I don’t resent this. As a young man I think Farage was exploring how extreme opinions felt by having some. God forbid everyone gets politically correct. (Chris Millar @onlyredherrings They = the usual suspects.)

Distressed children in detention centres are all “child actors”, says Ann Coulter.

We won’t write down our plans for a deal in case they are leaked. (Dominic Raab added they might be “leaked and criticised”.)

"Documents warning of food, fuel and medicine shortages after no-deal Brexit should be kept secret because they will scare people," Andrea Leadsom has said.

Chancellor Sajid Javid says the Tories have a 'cunning plan' to deliver Brexit, but it would be "madness" to tell anyone.

Boris Johnson says he does have some ideas to solve the Northern Ireland backstop but he's not going to share them right now.

A white woman, Nancy Goodman, at a restaurant in Raleigh, North Carolina, complained another customer was “too loud”. The woman replied that her money was just as good. So she called her a “stupid N-word”. "I used that word because they forced me into it," she said in a TV interview. "I would say it again to them." She added that she suffers from “tremendous anxiety”. “When asked whether or not she understood how using the N-word is incredibly offensive, Goodman replied: "Yes I do, that's why I said it." (Newsweek)

MP’s stalker said he was just trying to find a wife.

Faux apology: I’m sorry but it was everybody else’s fault.

Jim Davidson complained on Twitter that “Khan” had ruined his home town. Now he’s saying that it’s just the “congestion and traffic” that he “can’t bare”.
Lisa Forbes liked an anti-Semitic tweet without reading it. Fat fingers, half asleep, we’ve all done it.

Shakespeare is being dropped from the Israeli school curriculum as “too hard”.

Actually everything comes from China.

I want to leave the EU to honour those who gave their lives in two world wars.

We don’t want a second referendum because all the young people would vote Remain.

No-deal Brexit is a clean break. (It would be the start of negotiations that would continue for years.)

Yesterday on LBC James O'Brien had a caller who was adamant we had to get rid of all these rules that had been imposed on us. On being pressed for examples, he came up with having to control polluting emissions from cars, and regulations about the size of hand towels, though he couldn't actually name any. (HC)

I was bombed by Germans and I hate them so I voted leave because they control the EU.

We didn't fight two world wars to see Germany become rich.

Foreigners are telling us what to do.

We need to make Britain great again

British people should not be ordered about by foreign bureaucrats.

God said that Junker is the Antichrist and the EU is the nation described in Revelations.

Junker is bullying us.
Unelected officials making laws. (When asked how they were unelected when we regularly voted for MEPs, the response was that all the other MEPs were not elected by British people so were unelected and not democratic.)

We can keep out Muslims.

Too many immigrants doing our jobs.

Too many immigrants straining the NHS and claiming benefits.

We can keep out Syrians.

I don't want my son joining an EU army and being ordered to attack the US.

The Turks are coming here.

The yobs causing trouble are all the immigrants.

Brits deserve special treatment and if we don't get it, it's the fault of those in Brussels.
(All via PJ Lightning on FB.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Contradictions 7

To Abraham Maslow, “acceptance of paradoxes” is a “self-actualising value that will make you happier". (BPS Digest) Does he mean “telling yourself that you love Big Brother”?

We colonized other countries, and now we wonder where all these other people came from.

If you export armaments, don’t complain about importing refugees.

Brits have stiff upper lips, but we love the orgy of sentimentality that is "the" John Lewis ad.

It never ceases to amaze me that people who've been persuaded that our 'economic strength' will somehow solve Brexit problems also believe that we 'can't afford' policies designed to help everyone in the country. (@mrjamesob)

Clichés about it’s not the winning but the taking part, to succeed you must fail, coexist with cheering on England in the rugby final. If the platitudes are true, why do we watch Wimbledon? Why is there even a Wimbledon? (Oh I see, there has to be a contest to “take part” in, just as long as you don’t try to win. But somebody has to win a contest...)

If all I have to do is be myself, why does the term “impression management” exist?

Since I retired, people are worried that I’ll have nothing to do, so they give me tasks and make suggestions. But they don’t want to hear about the four novels I’ve written.

You can claim judges are out of touch with the real world or you can sneer that they used to be barmaids, but you really can’t do both. (@seanjonesqc)

a) Greta Thunberg is not a child.
b) Why should we listen to anything a child says?

If revenge only hurts the perpetrator, why is there a series called The Avengers? Why was “revenge tragedy” a genre in Jacobean England? The original tale of Hamlet was the saga of a long and elaborate revenge in which everybody gets a poetic comeuppance and Hamlet never stops to think about it once. Those who have done him wrong are picked off one by one. (And doesn’t a group of Marvel superheroes have the same name?)

"Social behaviour is too subtle and nuanced to be defined." So why have I got a book called /Japanese Business Etiquette/? And why are you teaching your children to say please and thankyou?

A Brexit crash out is both a vast threat against the EU, but simultaneously inconsequential to the British public. We have now hit Schrodinger’s Brexit. (S)

Don’t copy other people, but children need the right role models.

It's so weird to see, after 30 years of newspapers lamenting that kids aren't taught grammar any more, the flip to complaining about newfangled useless grammar lessons. (@ariehkovler They never meant grammar – they meant “correct English”, by which they meant “avoiding the five solecisms I was warned against at school”, such as split infinitives and sentences starting with “and”. And Michael Gove thought he was giving them what they wanted. Fronted adverbials to you too.)

Genre fiction is boring. “It’s like watching TV,” says Colm Toibin. He adds: “I don’t have a TV.”

Capitalism is so great that it:
1. Creates homelessness while there are more vacant homes than homeless people.

2. Creates hunger while 40% of the food produced in the U.S. and Canada is wasted.
3. Poisons the environment and then shames you into buying "green" products

Although Laura Thompson insists that “Only very rarely in her detective fiction did Christie write from life,” the biographer contradicts her own words on every page. (

We all agree that we should fly less to protect the environment, but we’re about to reroute motorways and rivers to build a new runway at Heathrow.

Burden young people with student debt and reduce their wages, and then complain that you can’t sell your “dream home”. (Actually you can sell your McMansion in Arizona – just for a lot less than you paid for it.)

"The only people in a position to make a living as poets were the ones being paid to tell a room full of poets who would never make a living from their work how they could make a living from their work." (@poetniall)

We all think we’re special and that conventions are for other people, while being utterly conformist.

We moan about immigrants from Bulgaria, Romania etc but employ them in care homes and manage not to see that someone else has paid for their upbringing and education.

Live the dream, you can do/have whatever you want as long as you want it enough, but the journey not the arrival matters.

a) Isn't it awful that language-teaching in UK schools is declining! No more French and German classes!
b) I'm not sending my children to that school – half of the children speak English as a second language!

Something I've never quite been able to make sense of: If, as a Christian, you believe Jesus's death was good and necessary for our salvation, then why would you become an anti-Semite who demonizes Jews for "killing Jesus"? (@5thCircAppeals)

Every time I say something bad about Corbyn, I'm an elitist snob. Ironically, when I say anything bad about the Tories, I'm a bleeding heart liberal. (@markoftheD)

My favourite is probably the one who spent twenty minutes telling me that he'd been blacklisted by the BBC because his views were so trenchant — in a BBC green room while we were both waiting to appear on the BBC. (@mrjamesob)

Immigrants ought to integrate; let’s save money by cutting English classes.

Brexiteers simultaneously see the EU as so weak that it's on the verge of collapse and something we have to escape from before it does, and so strong that it's been bullying us from day one and throughout the negotiations. (Edwin Hayward)

Parenting is tricky: on the one hand you want an obedient, well-behaved child you can bring out in public (and to restaurants); on the other, you want a daughter who isn’t afraid to push boundaries, ask questions and demand answers from authority. (

The young are obliged to rebel and conform at the same time. (Quentin Crisp)

I love it when religious people try to claim that atheism is a religion as an insult, because they unwittingly are insulting all religions, including their own. (Michael Paulkovich)

Society: The totality of social relationships among humans. The rich, privileged, and fashionable social class. (The Free Dictionary)

I used to get told off for being fervent, outraged, indignant, passionate, by people who complained I had no feelings.

Any autistic person who speaks up about autism is too high-functioning to speak about autism.

Society: "Autistic people are geniuses!" Also society: "Actually, let's hire the non-autistic person." (Chris Bonello)

Be yourself, but not if you’re autistic.
(Chris Bonello)

Society: be yourself.
Also society: why are you so odd?
(Nicholas Dunn)

Jews were mocked for being both too poor and too rich, caricatured as both beggars and bankers, pedlars and plutocrats – a premonition of their later fate, to be blamed for both communism and capitalism. (Jonathan Freedland)

Everybody says that gender is a social construct, but we also act like it's somehow an innate part of a person's identity. I started to think the whole concept of transitioning was regressive. (Person who detransitioned)

In the 80s, right-on people looked down on romance and romantic love as an invention of the medieval troubadours. On the other hand they approved of medieval courtly love, where the man yearned over the woman from afar and didn’t even have to meet her in real life. (Courtly love was made up by historians, say later authorities. "That's what we call withholding," say psychologists.)

The paradox of those Brexiters who can wilfully reminisce over their pre birth days of the British Empire and World War II, yet appear to have absolutely have no memory of Britain’s role in setting up the Common Market or the 70 years of a hard border Northern Ireland. (@JamesMelville)

How is no-platforming (boo) different from denying people the oxygen of publicity (hooray)? Or even “just ignoring” them? (hooray)

We want small, fragile young children to take risks, or "learn to manage risk" — when they didn't book the abseiling/canoeing trip and can't get out of the frightening activity. They have no control over the risks they are forced to take.
But we don't like teenagers to "indulge in risky behaviour" like sleeping around and taking drugs and drinking.
And then we want adults to “take risks” – which seems to mean “sleeping around”. And have you heard adults bragging about their drinking?

The Victorians had a much healthier attitude to death, holding elaborate funerals and dressing in black. The Victorians didn’t care when their children died because so many children didn’t live beyond five.

To deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies. (George Orwell on Doublethink)

Breast implants are popular, but clothes are designed for a slim, boyish figure. (Bum implants are also popular.)

The government is ignoring/pandering to the will of the people! (Dec 2018)

I loathe Christmas shopping and the crowds and the way Christmas has become a consumerist nightmare, but isn’t it awful that retail sales are down?

Don’t copy other people, be spontaneous, be yourself, be original and act naturally, but say "good morning" and "excuse me".

“Not only was there a media blackout, but the story was presented in a totally misleading way.”
"I am using this column in a widely circulated publication to complain that I'm being silenced."

The English deny the arguments Scotland uses to be free of the English while using the same arguments for their own ridiculous nationalism. (Andrew McLellan)

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Literary Clichés Part Four: Stock Characters

Most, but not all, from Golden Age mysteries from the 20s and 30s.

The arty woman in the folkweave djibbah
and handcrafted silver jewellery – a stereotype from the early 20s that persisted even when women like this had moved on. She is related to the medium festooned with scarabs and clanking necklaces. (Did lazy writers borrow stereotypes from each other? Of course they did. And – warning – some of them are offensive.)

Young man adores the ballet. He goes on about psychology (it was a 20s and 30s fad) and is keen to tell you what “type” he is. Converse of the typical Brit who thinks introspection is “morbid”. A brisk tramp over the moors will soon sort that out! And look what happens if you ever think about yourself and your personality and your problems – you start liking ballet! (Mr Riggert in Margery Allingham's Flowers for the Judge.)

The theatre… always works well for murder stories: the disparate people, the varied backgrounds, the close working group, the possibilities for past histories. (Moira Redmond, Clothes in Books) Here between the wars you may find the prima donna, the ingenue, the slightly past-it romantic leading man, the character actor, the player who is "not 100% he-man" and may wear a hat of slightly too vivid a green. (Yes, thankfully attitudes have changed.)

Just postwar, the refugee who doesn’t realise when she’s well off and is a bit of a snob. (Mitzi in Christie's A Murder Is Announced)Lissa Evans’ majestic WW2 homefront book, Crooked Heart, where Hilde the Austrian refugee complains of her new life: "This is not what I am used to. At home we had a pastry cook. I studied the harp.” (Moira Redmond) As so often, Christie subverts the stereotype.

The half-witted servant girl. Actress Kathleen Harrison made a career out of playing working-class women who are amusingly dim. She did this by putting her head one side and simpering.

One of those washed-up and bitter ex-servicemen who feature in macho adventure stories. Something terrible will happen which will cause him to find the man he used to be and, somehow, at the end of it all he will be saved by the love of a good woman, one who can see through the unkemptness and the bitterness to the man beyond. (JP) You'll find them in the works of Desmond Bagley, Gavin Lyall and J.P. Marquand.

@Lord_Steerforth nails Anthony Trollope:
Each novel seems to feature the following stock characters:
A penniless young man on the make
A young woman who can't decide whether to marry for love or money
A rich widower who is exasperated by his children's behaviour
A virtuous girl
Someone called Frank
A feisty, outspoken elderly duchess (and her dissolute son)
A middle-aged bachelor who's a bit of a chump
A penniless spinster who exists as a 'companion' to an aristocrat
A man of doubtful social origins who believes that he is a gentleman
A wealthy widow who delights in toying with her suitors
Other ingredients: foxhunting and a will.

The fop.
Was Philo Vance one of a genre of monocled, upper-crust, foppish, dandified, classics-quoting detectives including Lord Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and, originally, Inspector Alleyn? How many more are there? Bertie Wooster? (Except that Jeeves has the learning.) Did Vance really have a “phony English accent”? Did people in the 20s really call each other “old dear/thing/bean”? Was he originally a stock character of the stage? Foppish heroes “continued with the pulp fiction and radio heroes of the 1920s and 1930s and expanded with the coming of comic books,” says Wikipedia. See also The Scarlet Pimpernel. (But Gabriel Syme in The Man Who Was Thursday may be the first and best.)

In women’s and girls’ fiction of the late 19th cent to the 20s, characters were “worldly”, which was something you had to avoid. The stereotype lived on in girls’ comics in the 50s and 60s: there was a Belinda Mason in one of the ballet-school stories who looked like Diana Dors and wore a white angora bolero. She wanted to be a star, but didn't know how to lace up her pointe shoes. She was a far more interesting role model than the rather prissy heroine, Belle.

Characters on the autistic spectrum: Prince Myshkin (Dostoievsky's The Idiot), Jeremy Boob (Yellow Submarine), Barnaby Rudge, Sherlock, Saga Noren of Scandi-noir series The Bridge. But Saga and Sherlock's deductive powers are a kind of mystical clairvoyance, and their autism is due to traumatic childhood experiences. So we don't need to worry about them being cleverer than us - they aren't really clever, they just have a "gift". It's not ratiocination, it's intuition. And they aren't really "different" – if they hadn't had psychopathic siblings/mothers they'd be just like us. And all stories need a “sympathetic character we can identify with”, so writers must turn these people, originally interestingly odd, into just plain folks. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time and The Bridge are careful not to mention the words “Aspergers” or “autism”, so that they can make it up. What they’re depicting is “folk autism”.

In Cicely Disappears by “A. Monmouth Platts” (Anthony Berkeley Cox), a house party contains: dowagers, bright young things, silly asses, a famous explorer, a bluff colonel, a shifty major-domo... (It’s a spoof of an early Christie which was probably a spoof in itself. What are the stereotypes of today?)

More here, and links to the rest.