Friday 15 May 2020

Misunderstandings 7

Audiobook narrators sometimes misread the text – often because times have changed and we don't wear combinations or eat picked shrimps any more.

"Don’t TELL me!" for "Don’t tell ME!"

Stephanie Cole reads Miss Marple’s famous “gill of picked shrimps” as “a gill of pickled shrimps”. She meant picked – with their shells removed.

In Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, a character called Inigo is referred to as “Indigo” throughout.

Combs (combinations) are pronounced with a long O, like the hair-styling devices. Combinations were a long-sleeved vest and long pants in one, with a few slits and flaps. They rhyme with "bombs".

Hugh Fraser performing the Blue Train: “You won’t find his title in the Almagnac de Gotha.” It’s Almanac – he’s confusing it with Armagnac brandy.

Edward Petherbridge narrating Howard’s End twice misreads "county families" as "country families". The "county families" were the people who owned most of the county. (A common audiobook mistake.)

Rhyming the tow in “tow-headed youth” with how or cow, not toe or go. Tow is unspun flax, and it’s pale yellow. (Margery Allingham's Cargo of Eagles)

Newsreaders accented Jacinta Ardern’s “vicious cycle of extremism” as if it meant “cycle of vicious extremism”.

In Anybody Can Do Anything by Betty McDonald, “calcimined” arms have been “corrected” to “calamined”. Calcimine is whitewash. It’s a joke! The Bards’ piano teacher didn’t make up her arms with calamine lotion, she “whitewashed” them with make-up.

Wikipedia calls Ian Duncan Smith’s name “barrelled”. Annoyingly, I can’t change it to “double-barrelled”. It’s like a shotgun – you’d think Americans would get that.

"Lash yourself to the mainbrace!" says the BBC. You’d be better off lashing yourself to the mainmast. What is a mainbrace? "Splice the mainbrace" is an order given aboard naval vessels to issue the crew with an alcoholic drink. Originally an order for one of the most difficult emergency repair jobs aboard a sailing ship, it became a euphemism for authorized celebratory drinking afterward, and then the name of an order to grant the crew an extra ration of rum or grog." (Wikipedia)

below the bread line (The bread line is a queue for bread, it’s not like a Plimsoll line.)

sausage-roll bangs (Sausage curls were worn by Little Lord Fauntleroy.)

“I’d rather strap my vitals to a windmill than have my Isabella marry a clerk!” jokes The Times, sending up 19th century melodrama. The phrase is “stap my vitals!”, and stap means something like “stab”. Your “vitals” are your vital organs.

Perhaps worriers are working with an outdated view of language: an old ‘for want of a nail’ image is embedded in some people’s minds, the old proverb in which a lost nail led to a lost battle: ‘For want of a nail, a shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, a horse was lost, for want of a horse, a man was lost, for want of a man, a battle was lost.’ Lack of care over ‘linguistic fingernails’ is presumed to lead to language collapse. (Language Myths, Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill. How would losing a fingernail lose you a shoe? And what would it have to do with the horse? The poem ends: “And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.” The horse lost one nail out of its shoe, the shoe fell off, the horse became lame, its rider couldn’t carry the vital message, and the battle was lost. It doesn't reference a soldier worrying about his manicure.)

pudding haircut for pudding bowl haircut (Times. A pudding-bowl haircut is created by brushing the hair outwards from the crown, inverting a pudding basin on the victim’s head, and then cutting round the rim of the basin. Pudding basins were used for steaming suet puddings – in the 1930s.)

For The Establishment, Mr. Kenny has returned to the art nouveau of the late Thirties, when exposed  beams were considered the only “honest” interior design, and when canvas walls each were painted a different colour to bring out the black of the ceiling. (Esquire, 1960s, describes a half-timbered “stockbroker’s Tudor” interior which is a long, long way from Art Nouveau. The style was over by about 1914. The writer may just about mean Art Deco, but exposed beams are not Art Deco either. He means Arts and Crafts.)

Russian carpenters appear to be exceptionally skilled. Someone told me once that their buildings make no use of nails at all. All the wood has been carefully cut to fit seamlessly into each other. Amazing when you think of it. (@ArianDekoning. The Russian builders didn’t use metal nails – but they did use wooden pegs.)

Many think that Harriet Vane in Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers got married in gold lamé. Academics have written reams on her “lapse of taste”. But her dress was not made from the bright, glittery fabric beloved of trailer trash and drag queens, it was a dull metallic material often used for evening dresses and coats in the 20s and 30s. Sayers writes that her dress is of “stiff gold brocade”.

Swells of the fancy were fine gentlemen of the smart town set. (Lucy Adlington, Stitches in Time. They were fighters or boxing fans. “The fancy” was the boxing world.)

Many actors and actresses would keep a rabbit’s foot in their make-up kit. Before entering the stage they would kiss it, or rub the rabbit’s foot on their hands or on their face. The rabbit’s foot would help them eliminate stage fright. It would also help them remember all their lines. ( 

A rabbit’s foot for good luck is used by many actors to apply make-up.
(Animal Magick, DJ Conway, 1995. There are many references in novels to actors applying makeup with a “hare’s foot”, and it seems to have been a real one. Superstitious actors were fond of mascots.)

“A fit of the vapours” refers to trapped wind caused by a tight corset. It means any ailment cured by the application of vapours or smoke. (“The vapours” referred to any female problem such as fainting or emotional outbursts – “hysteria”. They were thought be caused by vapours from the womb as it wandered around the body. Hystera is Greek for womb.)

180 years ago, the 26 year old Charles Dickens used the word "gammon" to describe a large, self-satisfied, middle-aged man who professes an extreme patriotism in large part to disguise his essential selfishness and corruption. (@alanferrier. In Nicholas Nickleby, Chapter 16, a self-satisfied middle-aged man is addressing a packed hall. Someone at the back calls out “gammon!”. In Dickens’ day “gammon and spinach”, or just “gammon”, meant “nonsense”. “One gentleman in the rear did not scruple to remark aloud, that, for his purpose, it savoured rather too much of a ‘gammon’ tendency.” This is Dickens parodying newspaper reports of political meetings, in the overblown journalistic style of the day.)

Murder Maps gets most things right. But Edith Thompson’s cloche hat is perched on her head, when it should be pulled down over her forehead. In a reconstructed scene, Percy Thompson, Edith and Freddy Bywaters wait half an hour while a pot of tea gets cold, waiting for Avice. On the table is not a teapot, but a coffee-pot. And you would wait until all your guests were present before making tea. Paraphrasing Edith’s letters, the voiceover says she fantasised about killing Percy by putting “shards of glass” in his porridge. People at the time thought ground glass was poisonous – more likely than broken glass, which a victim would notice.

The mixture he invented was first called “SuperCrema” before it became “Nutella” in the early '60s by combining the portmanteau of “nut” and the Italian word for sweet —“ella.” ( That’s “dolce”.)

An embroidered globe made in 19th century US when girls were allowed at last to learn geography. The school couldn’t afford globes so the girls stitched their own, sewing down the boundaries of their New World. (Eighteenth century girls’ schools offered “use of the globes” – celestial and terrestrial. There was no ban on girls learning geography in the 19th century.)

Asser in 893 is writing for a Christian Welsh gallery. (“Playing to the gallery” means over-acting so that your words and gestures will reach those in the cheap seats – high up in the gallery of the theatre. The “gallery” also appreciates anger, torment and pathos.)

Bullets struck the man. This is condemned as the “passive voice” because it doesn’t name the gunman or men. ("Struck" is an active verb. “The man was struck by bullets” is in the passive voice. And once a person has been charged with a crime, he can't be named until his trial. And even then he can't be referred to as a criminal until he has been found guilty by a jury of his peers. There is a current fashion for condemning newspaper headlines for being too "passive" about evil-doers.)

Most of the accents one picks up beside the haha sound as if they were hand-fashioned in a crystal factory. (Guardian, 2006 Posh accents are known as "cut-glass" because poorer people can only afford moulded glass.)

Hugging huskies and gay marriage were pursued mainly for the signal they sent, rather than for the result they achieved. (Matt Ridley, Times 2017. I think he means “hugging hoodies”. Huskies are padded waistcoats worn by posh women.)

The Ancient Greeks “kept slaves, were largely illiterate, and died at 40”. (Emma Duncan, Times, 2017)

The wind blows through leafy trees; birds chirp in the background. No sign of bubonic plague or war or a life expectancy of, what, 30? (Jezebel)

The Times on the discovery of a new Egyptian tomb: Inside was the skeleton of a woman in her seventies, a ripe old age at a time when life expectancy was at best in the early 30s.

Discussions about life expectancy often involve how it has improved over time. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy for men in 1907 was 45.6 years; by 1957 it rose to 66.4; in 2007 it reached 75.5. Unlike the most recent increase in life expectancy (which was attributable largely to a decline in half of the leading causes of death including heart disease, homicide, and influenza), the increase in life expectancy between 1907 and 2007 was largely due to a decreasing infant mortality rate, which was 9.99 percent in 1907; 2.63 percent in 1957; and 0.68 percent in 2007. But the inclusion of infant mortality rates in calculating life expectancy creates the mistaken impression that earlier generations died at a young age; Americans were not dying en masse at the age of 46 in 1907. The fact is that the maximum human lifespan – a concept often confused with "life expectancy" – has remained more or less the same for thousands of years. The idea that our ancestors routinely died young (say, at age 40) has no basis in scientific fact. (Livescience) 
The title of A View to a Kill was so odd (and grammatically dubious) that scriptwriters felt obliged to make some sense of it during an exchange between the villain Zorin and his henchwoman May Day. Her: “What a view!” Him: “To a kill.” (Times 2018 It’s from fox-hunting. A hunt starts with a “view” of the fox, and ends with a “kill”. It proceeds “from a view to a kill”. The article adds that Bond titles are philosophical-sounding but meaningless. Really?)

Casino Royale (Name of a casino.)
Live and Let Die (Variation on old proverb.)

(Dictionary says “a small square sail set above a skysail” – a kenning, like “skyscraper”. The original moonrakers were ignorant villagers who tried to fish out the moon’s reflection in a pond with a rake, thinking it was a cheese. Or were they smugglers trying to retrieve barrels of brandy, and only pretending to be stupid to fool the excise-men? Wikipedia says the inhabitants of Lincolnshire are known as moonrakers.)

Diamonds Are Forever (From a current ad for diamonds: "A diamond is for ever.")
From Russia, with Love (Needs no explanation.)
Dr. No (Name of the villain.)
Goldfinger (Name of the villain – lifted from architect Erno Goldfinger.)
For Your Eyes Only (Something that might be stamped on a top secret government file.)
Thunderball (It’s about bombs. From ball lightning, or a slang term for an atomic mushroom cloud?)
The Spy Who Loved Me
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Wordplay refers to “On Her Majesty’s Service”.)
You Only Live Twice (Wordplay on proverb “You only live once”.)
The Man with the Golden Gun (It’s about a man with a golden gun.)
Quantum of Solace (A quantum is a minute amount. It’s a bit like “cold comfort”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

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