Friday 31 May 2019

Grammar: Pomposity

Pomposity attacks writers of obituaries and nature documentary narration. They also use the kind of banalities I was told to cut out when I was 12, and end up writing like a novelist or journalist from 150 years ago, in a manner which is both overblown and arch. And catching. 

Something like this: No greater example could exist of the dearth of amusements which disrelish or prejudice or both have brought about among us than in the charming town of Brighton, a not only self-asserted, but world-confessed queen of watering-places. If this sparkling, salt-watery gem of a place, this villeggiatura of all the world’s idleness, belonged to any foreign Power, it would be one of the gayest indoor and outdoor bains de mer in existence.

Love way people turn into cod-Jane Austens when writing dating site profiles: "Confess I have a penchant for exploring and am a tad flighty." (@MarkOneinFour)

She became a devotee of, the bell duly pealed, he rested his head on assorted perfumed pillows, he liked to don an oriental jacket, he had a lively appreciation of female pulchritude, experienced at close quarters, forbore to, garlanded with honours, he divided his time between, he slaked his thirst for adventure by, his
annus mirabilis, his world was shattered when, it is testament to his talents that, prompting the wry remark, the deed was done, unclear as to why, until such time as they saw fit to, the less physically taxing métier of poetry, took to task, took up residence, were long viewed solely as, at the helm, assumed the mantle.

Nature Documentaries
The lion is a shadow of his former self, gnawing hunger, the snow still holds sway, beauty where death reigns, doomed attempt to find a greener pasture, teeming with life, summer's bounty/
claim the bounty, ablaze, escape unscathed, easy pickings, too hot to handle, as a new day dawns, the fruits of their labour, aplenty, darkness falls, a devastating intensity, a botanical wonderland, coaxing new blooms from the rich glacial soil, held at bay, reaping the rewards, he resists with every ounce of his strength but the battle is lost. And all large animals are "majestic".

The language is overcooked: "elemental forces", "time of plenty", "spectacle", “formidable”, the monsoon has reached the “peak of its power”, this “vast river in the sky”, the “mighty Amazon river” – you get the picture.

Did you do these exercises at primary school?

A stitch in time saves ______
Poor as a church ______
Look before you ____
Practice makes ________

When writing the voiceover for a nature documentary, please try to forget them all. 

A single strong gust has proved an ill wind for Daisy.
Hunting creatures “fill their bellies”, all kinds of things “are beginning to stir”, and the turtle is “a prized delicacy for the cooking pot”. (“A local delicacy” would do.) "Nature's bounty" usually turns out to be plankton, and the cold, winter and ice must grip.

From Wild India:their most precious harvest” – someone turns over a piece of honeycomb slowly and reverently. Harsh realities are never far away – even the summer nights hold an unwelcome chill. After dark, the village takes on a siege mentality. The villagers close themselves off from some very unwelcome visitors – Asian black bears. It’s not just bears on the prowl. Foxes take their pick… in the shadows an even more sinister presence is lurking.”

Lack of oxygen hasn’t cramped this creature’s style... Conflict is inevitable. (Wild China

If you want to sound pompous, use words and phrases like these: a goodly number, a variety of, above all, additionally, all and sundry, amongst, approximately, as of now, as you would wish, assist, attempt, attired, centre on, expedite, in addition, in conjunction with, in excess of, in respect of, indefatigable, inherent, lest, major, many a time and oft, observed, occur, ongoing, over time, overall, plaudits, potential, prone to, proven, regard, residence, rightfully, special, sufficient, the bulk of, the majority of, various, viable, virtually, wish, with respect to.

End your nature or science doc with the words “…in ways we are only just beginning to understand”.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Clichés 5a

Extinct predators’ teeth always resemble bananas. Abuse and insults are hurled. Political demos are good humoured and have a carnival atmosphere unless they don’t. A shallow grave is where the bodies are found.  Wedding dresses are “meringues” – at least they were in the 80s – but ornate buildings are “wedding cakes”. You should call any female over 65 “a lovely lady”, and if she’s mentioned in conversation, don’t forget to say “Bless her!” If you want to reference a pointless activity, opt for basket weaving.

Surely, only effrontery is "breathtaking". Nonsense is “arrant". (JP)

Note to editors: tariffs are always slapped. (@NewsProvidence. And writs.)

Is anything ever "infernal" apart from a "racket"? (@Bob_Fischer)

Writing about UK politics for the first time in what feels like ages, and it’s amazing how easily the clichés slip out... reforms are “sweeping”, lines are “tough”, etc. (Daniel Trilling. And cuts are "swingeing".)

Always 'bleak', aren't they, open spaces? Like plazas are always 'windswept'. Is Hyde Park 'bleak'? Is Trafalgar Square 'windswept'? (Hugh Pearman)

Any white person writing about any city in Asia: "It's a city of contrasts, old and new, traditional and modern, at times hectic but also serene...." (@wetcasements)

Challenge to newspapers: try to write a headline about the Gulf that doesn't have the words 'sand' or 'desert' in it. (@KarlreMarks)

Mist is what rises on the morning of a battle. Fog is what appears when you're chasing a killer through London, accompanied by a bobby. (Heidi Regan, Annandale

Mixed emotions, emotional rollercoaster, emotional smorgasbord. (Naga Munchetty)

One would like more criticism, less gush. In the first three pages we get “note superciliously”, “pause reverentially”, “glows invitingly” and “wafts grandly”. Why look when you can “espy”? (Times book review, 2019)

The Times points out that baby bumps are constantly being “flaunted”. Kate is “flaunting her baby bump” in October 2017. (It’s actually invisible.)

When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging. (BBC News on the Prittlewell Prince, artefacts going on display in 2019. Research is always "painstaking". You can't discover something twice.)

Stonehenge is just one of 35,000 megalithic stone monuments in Europe. And now, after 10 years of painstaking analysis, one archaeologist has concluded they all began 6,500 years ago in northwest France. (DigVentures)

When not being "unearthed" from filing cabinets, lost artefacts are found in "dusty cupboards": Relief of Hatshepsut “unearthed” from storage in Swansea “had been gathering dust for four decades”. (Times 2018)

Dean Mohamed’s life and work have been chronicled in the painstaking researches of Michael H. Fischer and Rozina Visram. (

Diana Keys, aged 70, who has spent the last 40 years painting her own version of the Sistine Chapel in her council flat, Hemel Hempstead. (@womensart. All-over murals in council flats are always compared to the Sistine Chapel. These feature the Almighty, but also horses and mermaids.)

It’s been a very big week for Europe. (All weeks are seven days long.)
The care crisis is getting bigger. (BBC. They mean "worse".)
I’ve got a big announcement coming up. (Rory Stewart. He means "important".)

Guffaw, titter, chortle, chuckle: These sounds are only heard when pantomime villains are planning your horrible fate, explains the Times.

A property development company could be forced to rebuild a 165-year-old East End pub “brick by brick” after it was accused of demolishing it without permission. (Sept 2018)

"Margo Durrell is the sort of person who calls a doorway “my threshold”. Her memoir also contains a “would-be farcical set-piece". "A meal is made of melodramas such as purloined bathplugs, blocked drains and a chimney fire.” People are “blissfully unaware” of listening audiences etc. (Roger Lewis on Whatever Happened to Margo, Times 2018)

There are lots of “famed” and “legendary” scientists. Every other character is introduced as “tall”, “slim”, “athletic” and “handsome” if male, or “attractive” if female. (Times 2018 on a biography of Enrico Fermi)

One of the most interesting rooms was the North Turret Room,” he tells us. Authors shouldn’t tell us that things are interesting. Their job is to tell us the interesting thing. (Times 2018)

Nightmares are waking, Lister is both dazzled and enthralled.” Another character is referred to as “the quarrelsome Scotsman”. (Review of a book about early surgery, Times 2017)

As I walked/rode out one morning
On my coal-black/milk-white steed
In the merry month of May
Whom should I meet but a
Shepherdess/gypsy girl/maiden OR
Soldier/sailor home from the wars
Looking for lost sheep/a gold ring/sweetheart
Among the leaves so green-o...
(Jane Susanna Ennis)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 23 May 2019

Outrageous Excuses 8

...and silly reasons for leaving the EU.

I voted Brexit because I hate centimetres. (Any Questions)

A ‘no deal’ for our country would actually be a blessing in disguise. It would force us into hardship and suffering which would unite and bring us together, bringing back British values of loyalty and a sense of community! Extreme change is needed! (@antmiddleton)

A second Brexit referendum would threaten community cohesion.A second referendum would be “extraordinarily dangerous to the social fabric”. (Andrew Mitchell)

It was pathetic, almost laughable, this morning to hear Michael Gove trying to justify the position that to have another referendum would be undemocratic! After a lot of waffle, it seemed that the deciding reason for that position is that if one had another referendum some people might think they were being talked down to...! (CS)

I voted Leave because:
I didn't want to be part of a fear-mongering crowd.
I am fed up with unsustainable massed immigration from EU and non EU.
I thought Remain would win and I didn't want to see a landslide.
(Radio phone-in)

We should Brexit because of foreign-language translators in the NHS.

Otherwise there’ll be violence.We’re an island.
We should have never went there in the first place.
I want everything to go back to how it used to be.
I want Britain to keep the three-pin plug.
Youngsters have stopped going to church since we joined the EU.
The EU won’t let us trade with the rest of the world. 
I didn’t know we were in it before the referendum. (BBC vox pop)

A man at our street stall on Saturday told me we should leave because of Waterloo. (@SherriDingle)

We voted to leave – why don’t we just get on with it? We’ll be OK – Nigel Farage says so!

Theresa May risks undermining voters’ faith in politics by allowing them to vote for MEPs. (UK Electoral Commission, paraphrase)

Several complained it was so dark during the finale of Game of Thrones they couldn’t watch what was happening. A director has explained that he wanted to ‘make the storytelling of the lighting with the storytelling of the characters’… Many people, he said, can’t tune their TVs properly and anyway it is not always necessary to see what’s going on because ‘its more about the emotional impact’. Carol Midgley, Times 2019

A reader told me he wrote to a TV channel to complain about annoying recaps after every ad break during documentaries. He was told that it was “a technique of modern commercial broadcasting” and unlikely to change. Carol Midgley, Times, 2019

I joined/stayed in the (House of Lords, establlishment organisation I have always fought, party that has become unacceptable) so that I could effect change from within.

No-fault divorce could “trivialise marriage”. (April 2019)

Women earn less because they take lower-paid jobs (Times headline April 2019)

Speaking Arabic in a public space in Sweden “disrespects Swedish language and culture”.

Everybody (Barbra Streisand) makes mistakes.

Henry F. Pulitzer presents laboratory evidence... that his painting is a Leonardo. However, specific detail on the manner in which these studies were carried out, and by whom, is not provided. He writes: "I have no intention of cluttering up this book with too many technicalities and wish to make this chapter brief".

He ended the physical affair by telling me he was a codependent sex addict and that he thought I had some of those behaviors as well, and then left on a European vacation with his family. (Writer-in to Dear Prudie,

Evolution is no longer taught in Turkish schools because it’s “too complicated”.

Alison Chabloz, who put anti-Semitic songs on Youtube that denied the Holocaust, said she did it not out of hate but out of “love”, also that they were “just silly songs”.

The painter of "potato Christ" says she was going to fill in his features but had to go on holiday.

Lifelong jerks have figured out a really successful grift when they can get, without even asking, other people to offer, “Oh, they’ve always been [ignorant/rude/boorish]” as a defense of their behavior and to prevent any real accountability or change. What your husband meant, of course, was that his sister makes a big fuss whenever he’s tried to get her to apologize or stop doing something hurtful, so he gave up ages ago to make life easier for himself and wants you to do the same.
(Daniel Mallory Ortberg)

My guess is that his first response will be something along the lines of “I don’t really know why I do this,” followed by “It’s just blowing off steam, I guess” or “It doesn’t mean anything”… “Get over it”. (Daniel Mallory Ortberg)

Famous psychological experiments turn out not to be replicable – researchers protest that the experiment was done in California and people in Michigan are different. (British Psychology Digest points out that experiments should be carried out in many different cultures and not just in WEIRD populations – Western, educated, and from industrialized, rich and democratic countries.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 17 May 2019


Name the authors:

1. Our hopes when elevated to that standard of ambition which demands unison may fall asunder like an ancient ruin... They smoulder away like the ashes of burnt embers, and are cast outwardly from their confined abode, never more to be found where once they existed only as smouldering serpents of scorned pride.

2. As if beckoned by those who had gone before, I half floated between the titanic snowdrifts, quivering and afraid, into the sightless vortex of the unimaginable... Beyond the worlds vague ghosts of monstrous things; half-seen columns of unsanctified temples that rest on nameless rocks beneath space and reach up to dizzy vacua above the spheres of light and darkness.

3. Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

4. His touch both consoles and devastates me; I feel my heart pulse, then wither, naked as a stone on the roaring mattress while the lovely, moony night slides through the window to dapple the flanks of this innocent who makes cages to keep the sweet birds in.

5. Under her ear lobes a couple of miniature temple bells gonged lightly in the breeze. She made a slow disdainful motion with a cigarette in a holder as long as a baseball bat.

6. A tiny white church up to its knees in non-ecclesiastical currant bushes holds a bony arm bearing a small cross high up toward the pale sky. A large hipped white church glares disapprovingly at the movie theater across the way. A small brown church has its frail back braced against a horde of immense invading alders, its front porch sags wearily under a load of wild cucumber vines. A very old trembly gray church keeps its yard tidy and tries not to notice how its friends have fallen off. In among the churches are houses, mostly old, mostly shapeless and paintless, set in neat green yards, rearing up wild-eyed and rickety out of tangles, peering out of thickets, hiding behind orchards or teetering nervously on the edge of bluffs above the water... This is not a geranium-planted-in-the-wheel barrow, wagon-wheel-against-the-fence, Ye Olde Tea Shoppe community.

7. It was November – the month of crimson sunsets, parting birds, deep, sad hymns of the sea, passionate wind-songs in the pines. Anne roamed through the pineland alleys in the park and, as she said, let that great sweeping wind blow the fogs out of her soul.

8. “How sweet the morning air is! See how that one little cloud floats like a pink feather from some gigantic flamingo. Now the red rim of the sun pushes itself over the London cloud-bank. It shines on a good many folk, but on none, I dare bet, who are on a stranger errand than you and I. How small we feel with our petty ambitions and strivings in the presence of the great elemental forces of Nature!”

9. I'm bored stiff by ballet. I can't bear those muscular white legs like unbaked plaited loaves, and I get quite hysterical every time one of the women sticks out her leg at right angles, and the man suddenly grabs it and walks round in a circle as though he were opening a tin.

10. The world is deep and dark and full of tigers, and we need those shimmering white castles in the air to creep into when life gets unbearable.

Thursday 9 May 2019

Junk Statistics 7

Shocking statistic from John Gray, Emeritus Professor of European Thought at the LSE: “Today only around 4% of MPs come from working-class family backgrounds." (@neilwallis1)

The decision in 1997 by the WHO to move the BMI number at which “overweight” and “obese” began downwards by two points to 25... created the idea of a sudden runaway problem. Millions were made fat overnight. Anyone with a BMI over 25 was classified as “pre-obese”. (Times Jan 2019)

Apparently a 6ft tall person is likely to earn £100,000 more in a 30-year career than someone who is 5ft 4in. ( Person? Or man?)

76.3% of statistics are made up on the spot.
(But that's OK, because 88.9% of people don't believe them.)


Livestock are responsible for a third of all greenhouse-gas emissions. (It’s 5%.)

Only 6% of UK firms trade with the EU. ( says 78% of trade is done with the EU.)
60% of Londoners are immigrants.

Sales of instant noodles are up 50% in the past three months. But teen pregnancies have fallen 50% in the past 10 years. (2018 July, BBC News)

One in three victims of domestic violence is male, according to a 2017 study by Mankind Initiative, a charity helping men escape domestic violence. (Daily Telegraph)

According to the Crime Survey of England and Wales, men make up 31% of those aged 16 and 74 who report having experienced domestic abuse at some point since they were 16. Of those surveyed, 29% of women and 13% of men aged 16 to 59 said they'd experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. (

It is ironic that the perceived solution to New Zealand’s disastrous adoption of whole language approach to reading instruction (resulting in 20% of 6 year olds requiring intervention) was Reading Recovery. Talk about putting out the fire with gasoline. (@TheReadingApe)

The number of working class people in publishing, film, TV and radio is 12%; in music, performing and visual arts it's 18.2%. Just 4% of the film and music sectors are from BAME communities. The odds of someone with middle-class parents ending up in a job in the cultural sector are four times the odds of someone from a working-class family - and little has changed in the last 40 years. (Tom Watson)

Half of all UK homicides in 2018 related to domestic abuse.

Across the world, an average of 137 women every day are killed by a partner or family member.
Twice as many women than men are blood donors.
Cohabitation gives no legal rights, even though nearly half of us think it does.

Women are more likely to be killed at work by a domestic partner than by any other cause. In 2015 and 2016, about 40% of the women killed at work were slain by a relative or partner, compared with 2% of men, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [in the US].

There are 18,600,000 vacant homes in the US (figures from Feb 2014). Every night, 600,000 Americans have nowhere to sleep.

In 2019, kids spend more time online than watching TV. (There’s more content, and they’re in control.)

In 2018:
1 in 14 have used a Food bank
4m kids in poverty
1.8m pensioners in poverty
100 ESA claimants die daily
1,000 Sure Starts axed
Council budgets cut 50%
Rough sleeping up 134%
1m disability benefit sanctions

In the UK, 7 people a year are killed by cows. (According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 74 people have been killed by cows in the past 15 years. Dogs, meanwhile, have killed 17 people in the last eight years, according to NHS figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph. Independent, 2015)

Half of new-build luxury London flats fail to sell, but there are 420 towers in the pipeline, says the Guardian (Aug 2018).

Young today drink less, fight less, have less unprotected sex than older generations. (@benatipsosmori)

Children in England are smoking less, drinking less, and taking fewer drugs.
Guitar sales have dropped by a third over the past decade.

Young males are driving 50% less than they did in the mid-90s. (Young people say: Better buses, buses cheaper.)

And car sales are down – for some reason.

A 2011 Gallup poll found that Americans, on average, think 25% of the country is homosexual. Research says 2 percent, tops.

At least 62 free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools have failed, at a cost of £138.5m.

99% of foreign objects found in food were put there by the finder.

Australia confiscated 650,000 guns, and murders and suicides plummeted.

EU migrants are 45% less likely than UK nationals to claim benefits.

A Yougov poll showed that students are no more hostile to free speech than the general public.

The Tories benefit sanctions regime costs the taxpayer £153 million more a year to run than it saves. (Daily Record)

There are now more churches in the UK than there were in 2008.
2008 total number of churches 49,727
2013 total number of churches 50,660
2020 estimated number of churches 51,275
1,750 mosques in UK
(Versus “There are 460 mosques in London and 500 churches have shut, therefore the UK is now a Muslim state.")

IPSOS Mori surveyed perceptions in 38 countries.
Murder rates are down, but only 7% think so.
Deaths from terrorist attacks have fallen in the last 15 years, only 19% think so.
Average guess for how many prisoners are immigrants is 28% – it’s 15%.

Teenage pregnancy is overestimated across the world. Average guess is 20% of teenage girls giving birth – it’s 2%. In some countries the perception is that half of teenage girls have children – the highest figure in any country is 6.7%.

Six in ten think there’s a link between vaccines and autism.
Russia is the most alcoholic nation? They come seventh , Belgium comes top.
75% have a Facebook account? It’s 46%.
But the US really does consume the most sugar.

In the UK:
11.8% of prisoners were born abroad, not 34%.
One in 70 teenage girls give birth, not one in five.
5%, not 27%, of Britons have diabetes.We assume others are exaggerating their illnesses, but 74% say their health is good.
69%, not 81%, of Britons own a smartphone.58%, not 74%, of Britons have a Facebook account.
We’re a bit less alcoholic and sugar-addicted than we imagine, compared to other countries.
21%, not 38%, believe in Hell. 39%, not 43%, believe in God.

Our perceptions of suicide are nearer the truth: 21% of deaths of women 15-24, 28.4% of male deaths in the same age range.

Despite the claim being widely discredited, 55% think there’s a link between vaccines and autism, or are not sure.

Q: What is gender bias?
A: Women are 50% of law grads, 36% of practicing attorneys, 25% of judges, and 2% of U.S. Attorney nominees. (But there is no gender pay gap, because reasons.)

More here, and links to the rest.