Saturday 29 August 2020

Everyman’s Guide to the Mysteries of Agatha Christie by Bruce Pendergast

In this self-published 2004 book, Pendergast lists Christie’s many “mistakes” in construction or believability, but his text is full of typos, misunderstandings and slabs of repetition. He helpfully lists makes of car driven by Christie’s characters, all dedications, and all mentions of newspapers in the oeuvre – but doesn’t tell us which publications are fictional. (Don’t waste time looking for back copies of the Daily Yell.) He was Canadian, and is sometimes baffled by England, the English – and the Irish.

He tells us that “damme” is “a peculiar spelling for the word damn”. It is a polite way of writing “damn me”.

Mr Satterthwaite and Mr Quin meet at a “high class restaurant such as Arlocchino”. The friends meet sometimes in the Arlecchino (Italian for Harlequin), a downmarket restaurant in shabby Soho (pictured) that’s known for its excellent food.

Pendergast calls Sir Roderick Horsefield in Third Girl “Sir Horsefield”, and thinks there is a character in Dead Man’s Folly called “Sir Stubbs” (He's "Sir George".)

In Taken at the Flood, “David calls his fake sister Mavourneen and a couple of lines later alanna in small case letters but her name is Rosaleen. He only does this once and there is no explanation or obvious reason he would suddenly call her by these two unrelated names.” Both mavourneen and alanna mean “darling” in Irish.

Pendergast talks of “bad hereditary” when he means “heredity”, and mentions people “waxing enthusiastically” about various subjects. “Waxing” in this context means “becoming”, and “waxing enthusiastic” is correct.

He assumes actress Jane Hellier (The Tuesday Night Club) is “dimwitted”, whereas she is cleverly running rings round her audience by playing dumb.

The book contains a dubious guide to British idioms:

“Enquire within upon everything” means look thoroughly.
It is the title of a Victorian compendium of useful household knowledge.               

“The wind in that Quarter” means, that’s where (or what) it is. “Stands the wind in that quarter?” is a quotation from Shakespeare, and means “Is the wind blowing from that direction?”.

Cross-grained means hard to deal with due to a lack of brains. It means difficult, rather than stupid – imagine sawing across the grain of wood.
“Flea in her ear” ... means an annoying feeling difficult to get rid of. If you’re sent away with a flea in your ear, it means you were dismissed rudely or abruptly.               

“Irish eyes; put in with smutty fingers” means Irish ladies have dark eyes. It means that they have light eyes with black eyelashes.               

“Fag end” means being almost late such as getting to lunch just before the cafe closes. The fag end of a party is the last hour when everyone is tired, the food’s run out and most people have gone home.               

“DT’s”, delirium tremors, the effects of excessive drinking the night before. It stands for delirium tremens, the result of severe alcoholism.               

“N***** in the woodpile” while a racist remark really means the same as the saying “something is dirty in Denmark.” He means “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Hamlet). The person hidden in the firewood was escaping from slavery in the South, and the phrase means the unsuspected factor, or person acting behind the scenes.               

“Got the wind up pretty badly” meaning became angry or agitated. It means to be afraid.               

“Mutton dressed as lamb” means the same as “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” One person or thing disguised as a more innocent alternative. It means an older woman dressed like a young girl.
In Secret of Chimneys, Fish says to Cade, about a supposed clue, “But of course it was an outside job - I remember now. Window found unfastened, wasn’t it?” Cade simply replies “yes” and suddenly Fish says, “Young man, do you know how they get the water out of a mine?” “How?” (asks Cade). “By pumping - but it’s almighty hard work!” ... Why he would interject this totally unrelated set of comments is a mystery that will probably remain so forever. The story has nothing whatever to do with mines, pumps or water. Surely Fish is hinting to Cade that he is aware the young man is trying to pump him for information?
In The Moving Finger, chapter 1 starts with a doctor telling his patient to “take life slowly and easily” adding “the tempo is marked legato.” ... in later editions that comment is edited out and replaced by the far less lofty, “absolute rest and quiet”. “Legato” is not a tempo (speed) marking – perhaps Christie meant to write “lento” (slow). Pendergast concludes that Christie didn’t know much about music, while recording elsewhere that at one point she wanted to become a pianist.
In Third Girl, he wonders why we are told about Sonia’s meeting with an official from the Herzoslovakian embassy as this is quite irrelevant to the story. But the suggestion is that Sonia may sell her employer’s secrets – she is a red herring. The theme of the foreign au pair being a possible plant recurs in the story How Does Your Garden Grow? and Postern of Fate.

Pendergast devotes a whole chapter to the shocking subject of incest in Christie’s work. In many states of the US, marriage between first cousins is illegal. Pendergast assumes that marriage between first, second and even more distant cousins will produce disabled or damaged offspring. “Indeed Mrs. Folliatt married her 2nd cousin and had been a Folliatt before marriage. Her son, George is insane as a result of this incestuous relationship.” In Death on the Nile, “Tim Allerton is about to marry his second cousin, Joanna Southwood”. His mother fears so, but Tim is not interested.
It is interesting that Mrs. Christie, with her great sense of the ridiculous would so casually criticize the upper crust for she herself was born amongst the wealthy in spite of her claims of near poverty. Pendergast, unlike some Christie commentators, has bothered to read her autobiography. But he seems to have missed the fact that the Millers lost most of their money when Agatha was a child. Christie, her mother and two servants ended up living in a few rooms of their large house. He later claims she belonged to the “landed gentry”. Her father lived on the income from investments, largely in property in New York. The family had a large house and garden in Torquay. “Landed” means that a family owns large country estates and lives off the income from farming, and from renting out land. The devious “Uncle Andrew” in Death on the Nile may be based on those who frittered away the Millers’ money.

Pendergast claims that Christie despised doctors and lawyers, since her characters often disparage modern medicine for “just handing out different coloured pills” and coming out with the latest fashionable diagnosis. Inspector Slack: Take out all your teeth - that’s what they do nowadays - and then say they’re very sorry, but all the time it was appendicitis. Christie worked both as a nurse and as a pharmacist, and had seen fashionable diagnoses come and go. She must have met people who put no trust in doctors, and thought that lawyers just made the simple complicated. She dispensed multi-coloured pills in the Second World War.

He correctly states that Mrs McGinty's Dead is one of the funniest of her books, but thinks that the humour lies in the Summerhayes' farcical housekeeping, rather than the dry wit that is sprinkled throughout.

Later edits have frequently removed racist language. The worst offences are found in The Secret of Chimneys and The Big Four, neither of which I can reread. They are in the style of Sapper or Dornford Yates, whose heroes are proudly British and disdain “lesser breeds”. However, Pendergast does not always understand language he assumes is racist, and ascribes all unpleasant ideas and language to Christie herself rather than her characters.

Poirot himself says he was wounded by a “rascally Apache”.
.. In The Capture of Cerberus once again the word Apache is used in its scurrilous form when Paul Varesco is described as being in “an Apache getup.”

I hope he doesn’t imagine that Varesco is wearing doeskin fringes and feathers. The Apaches were 19th century French gangsters who wore a uniform of cap, short jacket, stripy shirt and neckscarf.

He observes that different groups, including the French, Scots and Canadians, are branded as “touchy” by some characters. They are probably fed up with being denigrated as “hysterical” or “untrustworthy”. But when Major Despard (Cards on the Table) is referred to as “a white man”, this means integrity rather than Caucasian ancestry.

In The Moving Finger, a dress-shop owner is found “being firm with a stout Jewess who was enamoured of a skin-tight powder-blue evening dress.” She became a "stout woman" in later editions, and “The Jew Mr. Goldstein, who owns the Luxembourg [Sparkling Cyanide] is praised for his fairness and his kindness to his employees.”

Pendergast quite rightly flinches at the way some characters call Spaniards, Italians and Argentinians “dagos”.  A policeman “takes a shot at both Italians and American Indians, when he says, ‘I speak a bit of Italiano and had a Pow-wow with the Macaronis.’” But the language always tells us something about the character.

In Christie’s play Akhnaton, set in ancient Egypt, “there is a similar pecking order in that all the servants are Nubians, who are blacks, and the Egyptians look down on Syrians, calling them ‘barbarians’.” Surely she is mocking contemporary society?

More on Christie here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Reasons to Be Cheerful 26

We don’t wear fox fur stoles incorporating the animal’s tail and head. Dwarf tossing is no longer a sport.

This kind of thing no longer happens:
My mum got engaged in 1970 because it was the option left to her. She wanted to get a commercial pilot’s licence (she'd done her solo flight) but under 21 she needed her father's permission and he wouldn't give it. She was a talented rider too but he wouldn't let her event either. (@desperatereader)

Men-only pubs, caffs and shops are a thing of the past.
(There was no sign on the door saying WOMEN KEEP OUT, but everybody stared if you went in, or else looked through you and pretended not to hear you.)

I’ve talked to older parents who were advised by psychiatrists to put their son or daughter in the back ward of a state hospital, quietly remove their photos from the family albums, and never speak of them again.
(Steve Silberman)

The judge said the Children Act 1989 provided that a mother has automatic parental responsibility for a child from the moment of birth, adding: "No-one else has that automatic parental responsibility, including the father.
" (BBC)

We don’t take newborn babies away from their mothers and look after them in nurseries. We no longer go out leaving small children at home alone.

Parents in those days, as a matter of course, always arranged everything over their children’s heads. (George Orwell, Coming up for Air He’s talking about the days before the First World War, but this is what our parents did in the 50s and 60s. He also says that parents made a big fuss over their children adopting adult clothes, though they left school and went out to work aged 14.)

In the late 1950s, [Roy Jenkins wrote] a tract entitled Is Britain Civilised?, in which he attacked Britain's "archaic" laws on censorship, homosexuality, divorce and abortion, as well as arguing for the abolition of capital punishment and changes to the country's "Victorian" criminal justice system. (Daily Telegraph, 2003)

In the Bad Old Days, we treated the mentally ill with clitoridectomy (19th century), electro-convulsive therapy and lobotomies. Circumcision of boys was standard. Homosexuals were given aversion therapy – painful electric shocks. Are we civilised yet?

In the UK and beyond:
2nd century CE Romans ban human sacrifice when they settle in Britain. (The Brits revived it after the Romans left.)

7th century CE Queen Balthild, slave turned Frankish Queen, "abolished the practice of trading Christian slaves and strove to free children who had been sold into slavery". (Wikipedia)

11th century CE The Normans ban slavery and replace it with serfdom.

13th century CE Henry III abolishes trial by fire and water.

1650 Oliver Cromwell abolishes the Halifax guillotine, used on petty thieves.

1778 Dundee is the first place in the world to outlaw slavery.

1780 Louis XVI abolishes torture in France.

1829 The British abolish suttee in India. (A widow was supposed to burn herself to death on her husband’s funeral pyre.)

1831 Slaves in Jamaica withdraw their labour and refuse to return to work unless they are freed and paid wages. (One of many rebellions that helped end slavery.)

1835 Cruelty to Animals Act outlaws bear-baiting.

1851 Window tax repealed.1851 Arsenic Act restricts use of the poisonous substance.

1879 Bulgaria abolishes serfdom.

1890 Women win the legal right to live apart from their husbands. 

1912 After many attempts to ban it, China outlaws foot-binding (though it continues in secret for a time).

1917 International Women’s Day formally adopted.

1958 UK outlaws gin traps (metal traps that close on an animal's leg).

1960s Black train guard Asquith Xavier overturns London Euston station's whites-only recruitment process.

1967 Jewish worship legalised in Spain. (Banned since 1492.)

1970s Finland abolishes fee-paying schools.

1975 Sex Discrimination Act makes it illegal for pubs and bars to refuse to serve women at the bar, or insist they sit at tables. Some, like El Vino’s in Fleet Street, held out for a few years but ultimately they lost.

1985 The sale of contraception legalised in Ireland.

2008, Emily Thornberry supports a change in the law to allow single women and lesbian couples to seek in vitro fertilisation treatment.

2019 Saudi Arabia ends gender segregation in restaurants.

2019: Electricity from zero carbon sources surpassed fossil fuels for first time in centuries (Financial Times)

In 2020:
On April 22, 2020, under pressure from feminist lesbian movements, the United Kingdom announced that it wanted to ban operations for people under the age of 18 ... Since November 2019, six states in the United States have banned all forms of transition in children: hormones, operations, and puberty blockers ... Eight other states... are currently debating identical laws. (Le Figaro)

An emerging trend is ice cream parlours, which offer teens a similar experience [to pubs] at a low cost. Like chicken shops, dessert parlours attract young people who don’t drink for health and faith reasons – a group that is on the rise, with 25 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds choosing abstinence in 2016, according to the University of Sheffield. (Daily Telegraph)

Oxfordshire County Council becomes the first in Britain to scrap guidance urging schools to allow transgender pupils to choose which lavatories they use after a 13-year-old girl challenged it at the High Court. (Times)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called on his cabinet Wednesday to quickly adopt laws aimed at curbing so-called honour killings.

The Society of Homeopaths will no longer be allowed to promote anti-vaccination propaganda. Its website says: "As Homeopaths do not claim prevention or complete cure of any named disease, the Society does not permit RSHoms to practise or promote protocols such as CEASE therapy which are dedicated to specific named conditions." (CEASE therapy is alleged to "cure" autism.)

New London Synagogue in Abbey Road goes egalitarian.
Female village chief in Malawi annuls 850 child marriages and sends girls back to school.
Gambia bans Female Genital Mutilation.
Resorts like Magaluf are taking steps to stop pub crawls.
Great Green Wall of trees south of the Sahara planned.
First wild white stork “in centuries” hatches in the UK.
Rumours of a new law that will oblige foreign investors to rent out flats.

A bill introduced in the Lords would replace collective worship with inclusive assemblies in non-faith schools.

Period products will be supplied free to those who need them in all UK schools and colleges. And is the UK really taking tax off sanitary protection?

Parents force council leaders to shelve guidance that allowed transgender pupils to use girls’ lavatories.

From April, it is illegal to buy, import, transport or use military-grade assault rifles in Canada.

David Icke has been banned from Facebook, and YouTube has deleted his channel.

Sudan intends to ban FGM, start flights between Sudan and Israel, and create government boards for human rights.

Morrisons replacing plastic “bags for life” with old-fashioned brown paper bags in some stores. Other supermarkets may follow.

UK Probation Service renationalised after outsourcing caused untold harm.

Nigel Farage is off the air! And Katie Hopkins is permanently banned from Twitter.

Carnival to sell six cruise ships as bookings dry up.

Victims of domestic abuse will be able to access safe spaces at Boots and Superdrug pharmacies' consultation rooms where they can contact specialist services for support and advice.

Germany bans gay conversion therapy for the under-18s.

Hitorian David Starkey forced to resign from Cambridge college over slavery comments.

Victoria to set up Australia's first truth and justice commission to recognise wrongs against Aboriginal people.

Due to fears that it is a lobby group for medical transition, the BBC has removed Mermaids and two other organisations from its information and advice web pages.

Grime artist Wiley has been dropped by his management after tweeting a string of anti-Semitic messages over several hours, 24 July.

The European Commission orders France to outlaw “barbaric” glue traps.

2021 No-fault divorce available in the UK from September.

2022 Natural History GCSE to be taught in schools.

LESS THAN CHEERFULThe 1870 legislation also introduced the concept of renunciation of British nationality, and provided for the first time that British women who married foreign men should lose their British nationality. This was a radical break from the common law doctrine that citizenship could not be removed, renounced, or revoked. (Wikipedia. This right was restored to women in 1948.)

"Under the 1916 Proclamation, Irishwomen were given equal citizenship, equal rights and equal opportunities. Subsequent constitutions have filched these or smothered them in mere ‘empty formulae’..." (Electoral Address, 1943)

1920s Men and women students at Glasgow School of Art worked in separate studios.

1924 Virginia passes Racial Integrity Act, the "one drop" rule that strips anyone of mixed race from white legal privileges.

1930 Anti-Yiddish riots in Tel Aviv.

Between 1907 and 1981, more than 65,000 individuals were forcibly sterilised in the United States. In 1928 the Canadian Province of Alberta passed legislation-the Sexual Sterilisation Act of Alberta - that enabled the provincial government to perform involuntary sterilisations on individuals classified as “mentally deficient.” In order to implement the 1928 act, a four-person Alberta Eugenics Board was created to approve sterilisation procedures. In 1972, the Sexual Sterilisation Act was repealed, and the Eugenics Board dismantled. During the forty-three years of the Eugenics Board, 2,832 sterilisation procedures were performed. (Wikipedia)

2020 Countries that still impose the death penalty for apostasy: Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, Afghanistan, Qatar, UAE, Maldives, Brunei, Malaysia.

2020 California votes to REPEAL “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin” from their constitution. (@RupertMyers)

2020 UK Contrary to news reports, “rough sex gone wrong” defence has not been banned.

More here, and links to the rest.

Reasons to Be Cheerful in the United States 25

1870s Esther Morris is the first woman judge. Most states allow women to serve as judges by the early 1970s.

1907-1922 America’s Expatriation Act deprived a woman of US citizenship if she married a non-citizen.

1920s In Ohio, women were forbidden to drive taxis. It was legal for a law firm to refuse to hire a qualified woman. Workplaces and colleges supplied fewer, or no, toilets for women. In many states women couldn’t serve on a jury.

1920s Doris E. Fleischman (Mrs Edward Bernays) was the first married woman in the US to be issued a passport in her own name only.

1943 Prison chain gangs end in Georgia.

1960s FDA approves the Pill.

1961 A university bans fraternities over racism and anti-Semitism; Washington Redskins becomes last NFL team to integrate, when forced to by the government. Fans responded with banners reading KEEP REDSKINS WHITE.

1965 Supreme Court upholds that married women could receive the Pill.

1964 Civil Rights Act forbids firms to discriminate on the grounds of gender or race.

1967 Supreme Court forces states to allow interracial marriage; Kathrine Switzer is the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon (she was attacked, spat on, and taunted).

1969 No-Fault Divorce Act makes ending a marriage easier for women.

1969 Five states agree women should be allowed maternity leave, leading to the Temporary Disability Insurance Act.

1969 Yale is the first Ivy League college to admit women.

1973 All states allow women to serve on juries.

1973 Roe v Wade rules that states that ban abortions are unconstitutional.

1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act means women don’t need their husband’s signature to get a credit card (if unmarried, brother or father’s signature).

1975 First Women’s Bank in New York City is the first bank owned and operated by a woman. Before this date they couldn’t open a bank account without their husband’s permission.

1976 West Point admits its first female students.

1977 US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia states that women can't get fired if they refuse sexual advances from their boss.

1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents firms firing employees who get pregnant.

1980 President Carter rules that the States would celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8.

1980 First women graduate from West Point

1980 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines sexual harassment.

1981 Sandra Day O’Connor gains a seat in the Supreme Court.

1983 Sally Ride is first female US astronaut to go to space.

1983 Columbia University admits women.

1994 Women are banned from combat/2013 This ban is lifted.

1994 Violence against Women Act criminalises marital rape

2013 All 50 US states adopt a law allowing couples to live together without being married.

2014 Alison Russell is the first judge to use the title Ms.

2020 DC city council unanimously passed a police reform package today that would speed up access to body camera footage and ban: Neck restraints, Use of pepper spray, Rubber bullets, Stun guns, Tear gas.

2020 Confederate statues are being pulled down all over the southern States. The head of the US Navy intends to prohibit the Confederate flag from “all public spaces and work areas aboard Navy installations, ships, aircraft and submarines”. NASCAR bans the flag.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

Dancers in Mourning by Margery Allingham

Margery Allingham was one of the Queens of the Golden Age between the wars, along with Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy Sayers. They are frequently accused of being snobs. But like E.M. Forster's Howards End, Dancers in Mourning is a book about snobbish people – mainly.

Mr Campion's friend "Uncle William" Faraday has seen his unreliable memoirs turned into a musical comedy. He's having the time of his life, until a series of petty and increasingly dangerous and disruptive practical jokes are pulled on the cast. Mr Campion is called in to help, and invited down to the star's country home, White Walls. (It seems to be deep in the Suffolk countryside, but the characters whizz up and down to London, sometimes more than once a day.)

Star of the show is a gifted dancer, Jimmy Sutane, clearly modelled on Fred Astaire. He is at the top of his game, and is producer and choreographer of "The Buffer" and a new show in production. But he confesses to Campion later that he just about breaks even. He has this vast country house full of servants, constantly stuffed with cast members and hangers-on. We hear echoes of Allingham's own life: she also had a large house in the country where people turned up and dug themselves in and flirted with her husband. He had a job, but she was the main supporter of the whole circus.

Campion is invited down for the weekend, and promptly falls in love with Linda, Mrs Sutane, who must be about 27 and now finds herself running a house that's more like a hotel. Also present are Jimmy's young sister, Eve, several members of the cast who spend most of their time rehearsing, and the composer of the shows, Squire Mercer, who lives in a cottage in the grounds. Benny Conrad, Jimmy's understudy, is an affected young man with golden curls who manages to alienate everybody.

A new cast member, Chloe Pye, has invited herself. She is somewhat past her prime, and is still performing a rather old-fashioned, risqué strip act. It's summer, and she spends the day in a white bathing-suit plus a red silk sarong and a child's sun-bonnet. She flirts with anything in trousers and refers to herself as "little Chloe", and if a man is sitting in an armchair she'll come and perch on the arm. She bosses Linda's servants and is rude to them.

Late that night she is found dead, and Jimmy may be responsible. There's an inquest, and her sister-in-law turns up. Linda invites her to the house and another awful character comes to life. Mrs Pole comes from near Wolverhampton but has added layers of gentility to her voice (Francis Matthews "does" her very well). Chloe has been found to suffer from a now-vanished diagnosis that meant that a small shock might kill her. Mrs Pole, despite her airs, doesn't know that it is not done to talk about someone's "glands" in public. Still less to go on and on about them.

Also present at this post-inquest party is a ghoulish neighbour, Mrs Geodrake, who has dropped in on the off-chance of gathering gossip fodder. She can sense that nobody likes Benny, so she teases him as a means of ingratiating herself with these glamorous theatre people.

Campion tries to bow out of a difficult situation, but as so often, the deaths begin to mount up. Jimmy eventually explains confidentially that Chloe – whom he claimed not to know – was an ex-girlfriend, and he paints a picture of their early, struggling years touring Canada. And now he's married to Linda, who is a "lady". The house is hers.

Allingham kept her menage afloat by writing popular romances and thrillers under other names, but her Mr Campion books reveal new depths on every rereading. This one benefits from the presence of Lugg, Mr C's valet and sidekick - he takes over as butler when Linda's servant gives notice, and makes a far better job of looking after her daughter than any nursemaid.

The rose-loving doctor with a stuffed wolf in his hall was a real person – Allingham bought his house. I wonder if she kept the wolf?

More on Golden Age mysteries here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Buzzwords of 2020: the First Six Months

Will the next six months be this interesting?

Children should learn proper handwriting because it boosts creativity and [insert reasons here, none of which are “so that they can get a job as a Dickensian clerk just as if typewriters and photocopiers never happened”].

“All white people believe in race science and phrenology.”

Broadsheets recommend “doing nothing”. Suspect what they mean is “stop typing on your computer and hand-whittle a wooden spoon” as usual.

A “right-wing conservative” is now “someone who alleges that Corbyn and the Labour Party are anti-Semitic”. (Late Dec 2019)

“I only get the Mail for the TV guide/crossword/sports section/fashion/ gossip/health...”

Any group you disagree with is a “cult”. (Except that some of them are.)

Children should be bored, it’s good for them.

Vegan” now stands for “metropolitan liberal elite avocado-munching snowflake”.

now means “Marxist plot invented in the 30s that sees everything through a particular moral lens”.

Storm Ciara early Feb. Much “wind not windy enough” and “My garden chairs have blown over.”

We should stop buying things and start making them. (Probably means “stop buying those awful tablets and smartphones and expensive children's toys” rather than “stop buying food and clothes”.)

When did lowdown become “downlow”?

Woke” now means “hiring black people”, especially to positions of power.

Clothes and shoes are described as vintage, medieval, Civil War, Titanic-era or Gibson Girl era. (The “medieval” shoes looked like a stash of 70s shoes inspired by the 40s.)

Competitive meanness over Valentine’s Day: “I reuse a Tesco value card”, “I bought some heart-shaped crumpets at Asda but they were on sale”.

Lot of “energy” around today – what year is this, 1975?

High and low decoupling (Something to do with the Sabisky row.)

Optics: What something will look like to the outside world; the perception a public-relations person would have on something. (Urban Dictionary – not for those of a nervous disposition.)

Curate now means “source”, and “source” means “find”. But “curate” indicates that you might add value by supplying photos of you or a model in the dress, the object in a home setting etc etc.

People are using the word “floodgate” in its literal sense again.

And they’re all wearing Bluetooth headphones like earrings.

Bright yellow is this season’s colour.

Middle-class people slightly huffy over hand-washing instructions. Hand sanitiser? What happened to good old soap? Etc.

Hints that coronavirus will thin out the population, relieving us of the old and sick. Polish politician says pogroms were “good for” the Jews, assisting natural selection. Others claim that food shortages post-Brexit will help Brits lose weight (and thin out the population as before).

People are “panicking” about the pandemic, and they shouldn’t. We plan ahead, you stockpile, they panic buy.

“Jokes” about hairdressers and dentists performing with long-handled tongs. Bumping elbows is the new handshake.

Middle-class people overwhelmed by the stress of working from home and shopping at the corner shop because all the supermarket delivery slots are taken. Situation still genuinely grim.

Too many people taking the opportunity to insult the “fat, drooling morons” who shop in supermarkets.

“Corvid-19” sounds more appealing. Caw!

Doom-mongering ascribed to “My friend Bob, a bioscientist” or “my brother, who’s an expert in epidemiology” being retweeted and shared.

"Other people are buying all the loopaper," says person buying loopaper.

The middle classes admit they are taking sensible precautions, but “I’m not going over the top”. Meanwhile conservative Americans won’t be told what to do.

Supermarket shelves emptying as people buy ingredients for cooking.

Middle-class Brits rediscover “keeping themselves to themselves”, avoiding “the wrong kind of people”, and “An Englishman’s home is his castle”. Others are going for long walks around their local side streets, like explorers looking for the source of the Amazon.

Staff at a Chinese takeaway assaulted by youths. “What have we become?

Racist shoplifters called “rancid thugs”.

“Whatever I’ve got, it’s not coronavirus.”

Some Brits thinking staying at home is “giving in” to the virus.

People are writing COVID-19 poetry hoping that when it's all over we'll have learned to appreciate peace, quiet, nature and our families.

Second homes are colonialism” as second-home owners flock to their “bolt-holes”, bringing the virus with them and straining local food supplies. Or is this just a rumour?

"Isn’t the city/country calm and peaceful without all those other people?"

Middle-class couples are posting pictures of the posh food they've cooked.

What is this “Zoom” everybody is talking about?

Where did "furlough", "level with you" and "ramp up" all come from? (and can they go away?)
(@Pseudo_Isidore. Per NGram, “furlough” peaked in British English in 1912, and “ramp up” is in the Cambridge English Dictionary.)

Now that police have been given powers to ask if your journey is really necessary, people are moaning that they’re “over-zealous”.

“I use FB/Twitter but despise Twitter/FB” is still going strong. Also “My Mum doesn’t have Facebook.”

Now people are moaning that Zoom isn’t secure.

Keir Starmer is “too metropolitan” to appeal to renegade Labour voters in the “red wall”. (It means “not racist enough”.)

Isn’t education much more effective without all this testing!

To cheer everybody up, here's a picture of a fan vault.

Reporting on others breaking the rules is “how communism starts”.

Most planes are grounded, but there’s none of the usual whingeing about “chaos”.

Depressingly, middle-class people in lockdown are rejoicing that they can drink all day.

What happened to "the British will never stand for an Italy-style lockdown"?

It’s 2020 and people are communicating through notices in windows and chalked messages on pavements – and playing hopscotch.

Police powers to break up groups mean we are “living in a police state”.

The post-virus future is going to be a Messianic age.

Dettol is having to warn the public not to drink or inject its product, after the President of the United States recommended these actions to protect against coronavirus.

Tory Twitter moaning that Keir Starmer isn’t working-class enough, pointing out that Nye Bevan went down the pit aged 10. And the Speaker doesn’t call him Sir! It’s a conspiracy! (Such a shame we don’t send children down mines any more. Where are we to get our Labour leaders now?)

We take time off from worrying about the epidemic to moan that people are commemorating VE Day in the wrong way. All these plastic flags and singalongs – they’re so naff! The UK divided by class as usual.

Tomatisation: domestication of an exotic vegetable all the way from thinking it’s poisonous to buying it chopped in tins. Can be applied metaphorically to any phenomenon.

“We must get people back to work and end economic genocide.” (Ian O’Doherty. There are some words that should never be used metaphorically.)

Keir Starmer is “forensic”.

Guy on Twitter saying he won’t watch Sewing Bee any more because “the BBC has an agenda”. He means “too many brown people”. Searching Twitter for “BBC diversity agenda” is a depressing exercise.

When the lockdown began, Italians told us “Soon you will all know someone who’s ill, and know someone who has lost someone.” They were right. (May 17 2020)

The way mask usage morphed from "masks don't work" to "you're selfish if you don't have one" is really incredible. Any trace of how much pro-mask usage was an outlier position in the early phases of the crisis is eroding. (@Aelkus)

Middle-class Twitter enjoys slagging off “McMorons” as they queue at recently reopened Macdonalds drive-thrus.

Latest fashionable food ingredient: banana flowers. (Dandelion flowers are also edible, say some.)

Italy’s Museums Reopen with Vibrating Social-Distancing Necklaces, Limited Admission (

Family who drove 90 minutes to Dorset beach during lockdown complain about others doing the same. Jane Doe was surprised how many people were on the beach: "I find that quite annoying to be honest, it's like being in Tesco." (@imajsaclaimant)

Those complaining about Dominic Cummings’ trips to Durham are “just curtain-twitchers”. (Most people are outraged at his behaviour and Boris’s response.)

Kids don’t know how to use a landline – hilarious!

Buzz Words from Twitter
Ticks all the boxes
Pivot, impacted, win win, coast to coast to coast
Redonkulous, problematic, aspiration, con call, not a good fit
“Let’s parking lot that.”
“I know, right?”
“How good is that?”
As I understand it...
Inferencing, conferencing, referencing

NZ Covid bingo: waiting room, bubble, “Again, as I said...”, highest testing rates, new normal, “That’s not right!”, lock in the gains, burning embers, cautiously optimistic, yo-yoing between levels, gold standard, “What I can say is...”, be kind, hard and early, jeprodize, stay the course, do it safely, no-one wants a second wave

Middle-class Brits discover that it’s actually rather nice being at home with your family.

In the US, bare-faced Trump supporters abuse mask-wearing Democrat voters.

Rules or guidelines?

Rioters in Minneapolis aren’t protesting about the murder of George Floyd by the police – they just want an excuse to loot!

"A friend of mine who is an officer in Minneapolis said Soros flew in paid agitators to cause chaos."
After forest and heath fires, there’s a call for a ban on the sale of portable barbecues.

Tensions” used to mean racial hatred as America burns, June 2020. (They are being “stoked” as usual, when they’re not being “defused”.)

People telling each other about “petrichor” as if they were the first to discover it. It's a good thing the smell of snow doesn't have a pretty Greek name.

Upsides to lockdown: wildlife flourishes and we have time to notice it. People figure out how to work from home and buy houses in the country. Could this be the end of hot-desking?

The move from “set foot on” to “step foot on” is irreversible.

Black Lives Matter protests? They’re vilifying the entire UK police force!

Well-intentioned white Americans in monocultural areas talk seriously about “educating” themselves about the plight of black US citizens. Better late than never? Meanwhile some moan that they are being demonised for having white skin.

Some old white men are slightly more subtle and feign great puzzlement at what “taking a knee” might mean.

White people moan that liberals are making them feel guilty.

Others complain that official statements are “using the passive voice” when they don’t put their hands up and admit guilt. “Let us not pretend that these circumstances are the result of some immutable, passive-voice, unchangeable reality.” Facebook poster explains that finding yourself in a mono-ethnic society is the product of choice, not fate.

Statues are literally being toppled and some are shocked at the destruction of private property.

It's 2020 and we're in the middle of a pandemic and we are assessing the meaning of public statues  – well, no time like the present.

People reacting as if nobody ever toppled a statue before. (Where are all those statues of Hitler, Lenin and Stalin? Not many statues of Queen Victoria in India or Ireland.)

Angry old white men say “Criminal damage! I suppose you’re going to pull down Nelson’s column now!”

An ideologically driven mob should not dictate what we see or read! (Bristol states its intention to retrieve the statue and put it in a museum.)

Q: Why did people pull down a statue in BRISTOL when cops murdered a black man in AMERICA?
A: No man is an island.

How long before anybody says “George Soros” about anything? (Funding the Black Lives Matter protests, of course.)

Yorkshire Tea and PG Tips standing up for Black Lives Matter.

Lots of people tweeting “If you don’t like democracy, go somewhere else!

Esports: competitive gaming at a professional level.

Body shop brings out a red bag printed with IT’S BLOODY NATURAL. (It’s period-positive).

“Duper’s delight” is a thing. I love psychologists.

Rats are running up to people and begging for food. (Thanks to lack of fast food debris. Allegedly.)

One of the most articulate, intelligent and passionate speakers against racism and Brexit to emerge in these dark times is... genial antiques expert Mark Stacey.

Where did all these chickens come from and how can I get them to stop roosting? (@dennismhogan)

Instant takes on the black man who carried an injured white supremacist out of a stampede. Mainly about other people’s takes.

"Counter-protesters" have left offerings at the boarded-up statue of Churchill. Unopened Jaffa cakes and mini-rolls.

Government U-turns over free school meals over the summer holidays after 22-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford campaigns.

Repellent pond slime moan about “my tax dollars” going on free school meals over the summer.

Children do not need a free school meal – despite what a 22 year old footballer says. Studies prove mild starvation to be benificial for children, encouraging entrepreneurial behaviour and problem solving – but this doesn’t matter to the woke Taliban. (Brendan O’Neill on Spiked. Perhaps they can’t get any sub editors to work for them.)

Everyone’s an armchair epidemiologist. Angry old white men can’t understand why they aren’t in charge of social distancing rules. They are also furious that the rules apply to them as well as to everybody else.

China and India fight over a border.

Meanwhile the French wrangle over whether it’s le or la Covid 19, and the Académie puts in its two cents.

In the 70s everything was a “centre”. Now “hub”?

Some Twitter users are making Vera Lynn’s death about “woke lefties” – it’s the connection with the war.

A surprising number of quite separate clothes manufacturers are advertising on Facebook that the crisis has forced them to close down their artisanal workshops producing linen sack dresses, hippy goblin outfits and steampunk leggings. “We are sorry that our handmade workshop failed to survive this disaster. We decided to sell to the last batch of customers at a 75% discount. People who like tribal style can choose your favourite products!”

Angry old white men defend racism under the banner of “free speech”, again.

Denaming (UCLS denames buildings named after eugenicists.)

edgelord: "Someone who tries to appear edgy by doing or saying risque or offensive things." (Urban Dictionary)

Rubbish left on beaches and in fields is awful – but do we have to call those responsible “f***ing scum”?

@ukblm is now broadcasting anti-Semitic tropes.

York Minster denies it plans to remove the statue of a Roman emperor from its precinct.

At least people have stopped moaning about straws!

Fake Twitter accounts are all “political analysts” now – no more “bacon aficionados”.

Upsides to lockdown: they can’t go on telling disabled students that distance learning is impossible, or tick off women for wearing face veils.

Cancel culture: means not wanting right-wing speakers at universities, as usual.

Comments to protesters replacing all Parliament Square road signs with “green recovery”: Won’t the confused motorists emit extra fumes? Criminal damage, where are the police? Sanctimonious stunts just put off those who might support their cause. Altering signs is Orwellian. Vandalism. “All they are doing is driving away ordinary folk who would have some sympathy for their cause.” Nonsense. Anarchy. Where’s Khan – on his bike? Dense. How does this help climate change? Has rule of law broken down? Weirdos. Professional agitators. Best way to lose support. Why do Londoners put up with this crap? Ludicrous. Schoolboy prank. Grow up! Eco loons. Pointless.

What people call "cancel culture" often is just consequences for someone's words/actions. (Ole Andreas Imsen)

"Gender dysphoria" or just "dysphoria" now means "unhappy with the role society expects you to play". “I put the problem inside myself, when actually it is with how the outside world sees women who don’t conform to feminine norms,” says a detransitioner. (

Coincidentally, corvids have many fans.

“Forcing people to wear face masks isn't the business of Conservatives: We are not an authoritarian party.” (@EdwardLeighMP. Everyone's accusing everyone else of being "authoritarian".)

Illusion bakes have taken over the internet.”

Is there a connection between conservative politics and liking Star Wars and Renaissance or Medieval Fayres?

Apparently there is “no evidence for systemic racism” in the US.

Young woman MP says in parliament that we shouldn’t even discuss whether transwomen are women because to do so would be to fetishize debate. (Nadia Whittome)

People who can’t wear masks getting worried about the abuse they might encounter.

Conservatives convinced they must “stand up to” the “woke mob”.

“Gender” being used to mean “personality”, or as someone points out, “soul”. “Something innate, but unobservable which can’t be diagnosed, defined, or seen, but people swear that it exists while refusing to define it.” (@Anthony_Potts)

Immigrants being blamed for spreading COVID by living nine to a room and not speaking English (so they can’t read the rules).

“Where am I on the asexuality spectrum?”

underwater basket weaving: in the US, means “pointless dumbed-down college course”

Social scientists say that a minority group may be in the majority. I despair.

seems to be American for “ploughman’s lunch”. Someone points out that paté is just cold meatloaf, and you're really eating a deconstructed sandwich.

Buzzwords for 2019, 2018 etc.