Thursday 30 December 2021

Reasons to Be Cheerful 30

BBC Radio 3 now regularly plays the works of women composers, after years of an almost complete embargo.
We don’t tell Irish/Polish jokes any more – or call people "wet".

840 Venice outlaws the sale of Christians to Muslim countries.

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750-1848) was a German astronomer, discoverer of several comets. She was the younger sister of astronomer William Herschel, with whom she worked throughout her career. She was the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist, the first woman in England to hold a government position, the first woman to publish scientific findings in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, to be awarded a Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1828), and to be named an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society (1835, with Mary Somerville). She was also named an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy (1838). (Wikipedia, paraphrase)

1761 Portugal outlaws slavery in Portugal. Slavery in the African Portuguese colonies was abolished in 1869.
In the 1790s, the French reformer Philippe Pinel scandalized his fellow physicians by removing the chains from 49 inmates of the Bicêtre lunatic asylum.

1813 Argentina abolishes the Inquisition, slavery and bullfighting.
1816 Argentina gains independence from Spain.

1869 Wyoming gives women the vote, 50 years ahead of the rest of the country. In the 20s there’s a town in WY run entirely by women.

1870 The Papal States are absorbed by the Republic of Italy, which imposes its anti-castration laws on the area.

1898 A wife can voluntarily testify against her husband.

1886 Geronimo is last Native American to resist the US Army.

1893 Netherlands abolishes slavery.

1810 William Cobbett goes on trial for an article objecting to flogging in the militia.

1909 End of slavery in China.

1928 All British citizens over 21 get the vote, fully enfranchising all women and many men. It was known as “the Flappers’ vote”.

In 1945, after extensive lobbying by the Bartenders’ Union, Michigan legislators enacted the "Bartender Act" which prohibited women from bartending in cities with a population of over 50,000. In 1955, the law was repealed. (

1956 Tunisian women get the vote and are allowed to divorce their husbands.

1960 In the US, bowing to pressure (countrywide sit-ins) Woolworth’s desegregates its lunch counters.

1962 Australian Aborigines get the vote.

1966 Spain allows Judaism to be practised.

1968 Seslin Fay Allen becomes the UK's first black female police officer.

1967/68 UK brings in seat belts in the front of all new vehicles. 1983 belting-up is made compulsory in front seats. 1991 same in the back.

Massachusetts' “Stubborn Child Law,” originating in the 17th century, was not finally repealed until 1973. (Originally the literally puritanical law had allowed for the execution of unruly sons of at least 16 years of age.)

1974 Canada abolishes corporal punishment for prisoners.

"Between 1955 and 1975 an estimated half-a-million unmarried women in Britain were compelled to hand over their babies," says Mark Steel. He adds that times changed – because people campaigned for change. (After 1975 opinions changed very quickly as people realised that “the stigma of illegitimacy” and “dishonour to the family” were mere chimeras. I always wondered why people cared so much about illegitimacy when they didn’t believe extramarital sex was a sin that could send you to hell to burn for all eternity.)

Since 1979, all forms of physical punishment of children have been outlawed in Sweden. (But parents get away with it all too often, say Swedes in 2021.)

1963 The Peerage Act, allowing lifetime disclaimer of peerages, became law shortly after 6 pm on 31 July 1963. Tony Benn was the first peer to renounce his title, at 6.22 pm that day.

1976 Women are allowed join the Liberal Club after protests and pickets.

1980 China institutes one-child policy. Policy reversed 2016. Chinese are now permitted up to three children.

1982 Borstals are officially abolished under the Criminal Justice Act and replaced by “youth custody centres”.

1989 The existence of MI5 is officially acknowledged.

1992 The head of MI5 is named.

1995 Women barristers are allowed to wear trousers in court.

2002 Halle Berry becomes the first black woman to win an Oscar, for Monster’s Ball.

2011 Congresswomen get their own bathrooms on the House floor (there were 76 of them in that year).

2019 Civil partnerships are extended to all couples.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to end its membership of the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme.  May 2021 Acas has also withdrawn, citing “costs”. Exodus over transgender advice continues as the Government pulls out of Stonewall diversity training. Whitehall cuts ties over growing fears that the LGBT charity's workplace policies are at odds with the 2010 Equality Act, says the Telegraph. The Crown Prosecution Service leaves the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, Sept 2021. In Nov 2021, “After careful consideration, we believe it is time to step back from the Diversity Champions Programme and will also no longer participate in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index,” says the BBC Press Office. (But it has joined a lookalike scheme run by a Stonewall graduate.) The British Pregnancy Advice Service refuses to “remove gendered language”.

Murdoch is pulling the plug on “Fox News UK”.

Marriage records in England and Wales will include mother’s name (and profession). Records will be held in a central electronic registry.

Following reviews of evidence, in the last few months Finland has banned trans surgery for anyone under 18, Sweden has banned cross-sex hormones for under 18s, the UK's NHS has suspended those hormones for under 16s and several US states have banned hormones for minors. (@ripx4nutmeg)

Sweden has U-turned on gender reassignment of children and referrals have dropped by 65%.

Scotland aims to abolish NHS dental charges.

President Macron re-opens La Samaritaine department store after a refurb (The original Au Bonheur des Dames).

The European Commission will ban cages for animals in the EU.

June, the Methodist Church votes in same-sex marriage.

Upcoming legislation will formally acknowledge that animals are sentient beings – and ban boiling lobsters.

A new law under discussion says that the following can cause emotional harm to children: “Being left alone, being humiliated, intimidated, distressed, receiving verbal abuse, blame or criticism, or being deprived of contact with others.”

Argentina bans salmon farming.

EU plans to tax jet fuel and ban the sale of petrol cars within 20 years.

The Norway women’s beach handball team were obliged to wear thong bikinis as a uniform. They petitioned to be allowed to wear shorts, but were turned down. They ignored the ban and wore shorts. They were fined €150 each. The European Handball Federation no longer insists women compete wearing bikini bottoms – but stipulates “short tight pants with a close fit”. Men can just wear ordinary shorts. The sportswomen call it a victory of a kind.

Tommy Robinson loses a libel case and has to pay a Syrian teenager £100,000.

Venice bans cruise ships from the lagoon from Aug 1.

Grant Shapps pauses bridge-infilling programme.

The Stonehenge tunnel is ruled illegal. (Though work seems to be continuing.)

Premier League clubs will continue taking the knee.

Swiss voters accepted same-sex marriage.

In September, Australia announces the launch of world’s first detrans clinic.

Leaded gasoline is now banned everywhere on earth.

Over the last two decades Paris city council has taken old buildings, often in desirable areas, and refurbished them for 100% social and affordable housing. (@lrbobrien)

Darren Agee Merager, the male-bodied person identifying as a woman who undressed in front of women and children in a spa has been charged with indecent exposure and turns out to be a serial sex offender. He’s complaining about transphobia and harassment.

German Army appoints first Rabbi as military chaplain since the Holocaust.

Overwhelming recognition by the European Parliament of the way in which custody disputes can be used as a further form of abuse. (@BarnettAdrienne)

Britney Spears’ “conservatorship” is over after 13 years.

Spain scraps musician rules: UK Musicians won’t need visas for short contracts.

The Middle Temple debates the “undebatable” subject of gender identity.

France has outlawed wild animals in circuses and shows and their participation will be phased out, including dolphins and orcas. It has also banned fur farming.

Okehampton welcomes rail service connecting Dartmoor town to Exeter and beyond (Guardian)

Gloucester Cathedral has had a girls’ choir since 2016. On 3 September the boys and girls sang together in the cathedral for the first time ever.

A statue of Betty Campbell, Wales' first black head teacher, is unveiled at Cardiff's Central Square - the first public statue in Wales to honour a woman.

A Ukrainian airline asked its flight attendants what they’d like to wear, and they came up with a loose suit worn with sneakers, with a silk scarf. Stylish, but in bright orange.

Tunisia appoints the first Arab female prime minister, Najla Bouden Romdhane.
Sandra Mason elected as first president of the Republic of Barbados.

Priti Patel orders UK police to stop recording male offenders in female crime stats.

National Trust members vote to halt “trail hunting” on the Trust’s land.

2021 Budget
Libraries will be “renovated, restored and revived”.
The chancellor says he will increase investment to support London-style transport across the regions of England.
Higher-strength alcoholic drinks will attract higher duties. The chancellor says alcohol duties are “full of historical anomalies” as [the laws go] back to 1643.


1803 The Methodist Conference bans women from preaching.

1919 FA bans women footballers, saying “The game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged”.

1920 Women are admitted to study at Oxford, though their numbers were capped until the 50s. (See also quotas for Jewish pupils, quotas for women studying medicine, higher passing marks required, girls deliberately failed in the 11+ in order to keep the sexes 50/50, and so on.)

1925 the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty is formed.  in December 1928, the Abolitionist Bill was presented to the House of Commons. In October 1929, the abolitionists would have won the three-hour debate, had not the Liberal politician Sir Herbert Samuel, upheld by the Home Secretary, decided instead to set up a Select Committee on Capital Punishment to consider the matter. That Committee called in 1930 for the abolition of capital punishment – but England did not ban the death penalty for murder until 1965.

1930s: A White Paper stated that His Majesty’s Government are “convinced that the time has not yet arrived when women could be employed in the Consular Service or in the Diplomatic service with advantage to the State or with profit to women.”

2021 Some courts still have male and female robing rooms. @Azza_Brown: Security only gave me the code for the male robing room, can’t be bothered to go down to get the female code. I’m sitting in the male robing room, and let me tell you, it’s much larger than the female robing room and it’s got big tables to work at. So I’m going to stay in here.

2021 A woman with Down’s syndrome campaigned for the abortion limit for babies with Down’s to be changed to 24 weeks – from “just pre-birth”. She has lost her legal fight.

2021 In Iran, members of the Bahai faith can’t go to university.

2021 Under the Twitter terms of service, it is forbidden to tweet that men cannot be women.

The Automobile Club de France will continue to bar women members.

Iran is one of six UN member states out of 193 that have refused to sign the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Rendition and detention without trial "extremely effective"; tackling white supremacists is "overreach" driven by "political correctness": the views of the man the government has appointed to head its Commission on Countering Extremism revealed in new Private Eye. (@PrivateEyeNews)

Since banning fur farming in 2000, the UK has imported more than £850m of fur, £11m of it from Finland. It is sold in stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Flannels. (The Week)

In 2016 Canada banned the banning of plastic bags by local governments. 2021: A new bill seeks to overturn the ban.

More here, and links to the rest.

Perceptions of Agatha Christie: Witnesses for the Defence

Particularly becoming Bermuda shorts...

The Queen of Crime's scheming ingenuity has been so much praised that one is sometimes inclined to overlook the lightness of her touch. If Mrs Christie were to write about the murder of a telephone directory by a time-table the story would still be compellingly readable.
(Maurice Richardson, The Observer, 10 November 1940)

Christie typically writes efficiently and briskly, with much give-and-take dialogue presented in short paragraphs. (Alan Jacobs)

The pleasure of her writing comes from the way that a seemingly breezy style is suffused with a sharp sense of irony. (Nicholas Blincoe, Guardian)

You never see her writing. (Nancy Banks-Smith)

Miss Christie has a clever, prattling style that shifts easily into amusing dialogue. (New York Times, 1922)

She uses subtlety, irony, understatement and implication to present impressions in a manner that is far more effective than the obvious musing and description of the modern writers of the genre. (Michelle Parker Brien)

Xavier Lechard calls her “the most popular and most under-rated writer”. (Paraphrase)

PD James contended that, unlike Dame Agatha, she was attempting to use the mystery genre to enlighten us about the human condition... who’s to say Christie did not accomplish this very thing? (

Mrs Christie makes you feel just as much at home on the Nile in 1945 BC as if she were bombarding you with false clues in a chintz-covered drawing room in Leamington Spa. (Review of Death Comes as the End from 1945. As far as I know Christie never set a story in Leamington Spa, though there is an excellent Miss Marple short story – narrated by herself – set in a "hydropathic hotel" before the war.)

The fact that Ariadne Oliver, as the series goes along, doesn’t land a boyfriend or have to deal with a parent suffering from dementia or get diagnosed with cancer or get a cat or open a bakery doesn’t mean she isn’t a character that engages readers. (Curtis Evans. All the above are “depth”. Their absence means a character is “cardboard and two-dimensional”. They are also clichés.)

Unfortunately, [Christie’s] popularity and historical importance have one major drawback, in that they’ve spawned a group of haters who mindlessly claim that Christie is psychologically shallow, a hackneyed writer repeating old clichés, “cozy”, naïve about sexual matters, or just plain “bad”. The most cursory look at Christie’s work is enough to dispel these notions, but the public perception of Christie has been influenced by many factors. And one of the most fatal is that Christie’s grandson, Matthew Pritchard, is willing to put his grandmother’s name on just about anything. ( Matthew has been superseded by James – will he do better?)

The haters like to claim that Christie’s murders are “bloodless”. As someone points out, she wrote a story called The Bloodstained Pavement. And if, in the 1920s, she’d written detailed descriptions of torture, rape, gore and autopsies in the modern style, she wouldn't have been published. And if you want gore, what about the murder in Towards Zero?

Every Christie character wears a mask, which allows their creator to [reveal] secrets. ( It also means we can't be party to their thoughts, most of the time.)

When people say Christie "can't do characters" I wonder if they mean her actors are rather ordinary? They are not "characters" in the Gideon Fell sense. (That's what I like about them.) They come from all backgrounds, including the suburbs. They are also not the “central character the reader can identify with”, with her romantic sensibility, and endless feelings, thoughts and quotes from great literature – the flattering version of the person the reader thinks she is. (And the writer thinks she is.) Christie likes to nail types like the selfish hypochondriac mother Mrs Wetherby in Mrs McGinty’s Dead, or the spiritualist sisters in Dumb Witness. Her characters aren’t Mary Sues! (John Williams and Charles Laughton are in the picture above.)

Witnesses for the Prosecution, and links to more about Christie, here.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Perceptions of Agatha Christie: Witnesses for the Prosecution

We did it!

What to say about Agatha Christie: All her books are closed-circle mysteries. Her characters are cardboard cutouts. She was “ladylike”. Her greatest mystery was her life. She was a snob who only wrote about aristocrats in country houses. She didn’t write enough long descriptions. Oh gosh I say, she was young once and liked surfing!  

"There's this perception of her as this slightly quiet, slightly meek kind of Miss Marple-ish character, but she was far from that," says Christie's great-grandson James Prichard. (No, she wasn’t Miss Marple.)

“This film explores why a proper English lady would imagine plans for a perfect murder." A 1990 TV programme about Christie’s life was framed by visits to a therapist. This patronising cliché also appeared in one of the radio programmes about Christie and the other Crime Queens. In the 1920s, a writer wanting to make money would pick the popular crime genre and stick to the conventions.

Dorothy Sayers read the newspapers to see what people liked to read about. Two subjects jumped out at her – detectives and the aristocracy. “There is a market for detective literature if one can get in,” she wrote to her parents, “and Wimsey might go some way towards providing bread and cheese.” (

The villain is always discovered, loose ends are tied up and everyone returns to their cosy English idyll. (Evening Standard, 2007. Well, what do you expect from a murder mystery?)

It's unlike other Christies in that most of the victims are not wealthy or aristocratic. The scenes in the Andover shop and at Bexhill are (perhaps unintentionally) touching. The deaths are really sad – which is almost never the case in a Christie book, where murder is only a chance for an interesting puzzle and the victim is quite often a nasty tyrant whom almost everyone wants dead. (imdb on The ABC Murders)

Her writing is of a mawkishness and banality that seem to me literally impossible to read. You cannot read such a book, you run through it to see the problem worked out; and you cannot become interested in the characters, because they never can be allowed an existence of their own even in a flat two dimensions but have always to be contrived so that they can seem either reliable or sinister, depending on which quarter, at the moment, is to be baited for the reader’s suspicion … Mrs Christie, in proportion as she is more expert and concentrates more narrowly on the puzzle, has to eliminate human interest completely, or, rather, fill in the picture with what seems to me a distasteful parody of it. In this new novel she has to provide herself with puppets who will be good for three stages of suspense: you must first wonder who is going to be murdered, you must then wonder who is committing the murders, and you must finally be unable to foresee which of two men the heroine will marry. (Edmund Wilson, in his 1945 essay-review, "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" And if he only skim-read, no wonder the characters seemed to lack depth.)

It’s not as if anyone, even her hardest-core fans, ever makes any claims for Christie as a writer per se. Her prose is flat and functional, her characters on a spectrum between types, stereotypes and caricatures... What there was instead of an interest in character and selfhood and complex psychology – as opposed to the psychology of types – was an interest in form... her interest in the traditional apparatus of character and narrative was so perfunctory that she was in effect signalling that it didn’t matter and was present purely as a formal requirement.” (John Lanchester in the London Review of Books)

That world of tea-parties, servants, tennis clubs, rectories, manor houses and public schools that dominates her books. (Polly Toynbee, Guardian. She adds that “During the First World War AC was a pharmacist in a local chemist’s” – it was the local hospital’s dispensing department. Toynbee also refers to a “Miss Marples”, and has clearly never read Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express or Murder in Mesopotamia.)

Because of her popularity, it seems Christie can be almost anything to anyone: the doyen of quaint English village writers or an apologist for Empire, a middle-class reactionary or a pioneer of strong independent female authors, etc. Success makes you endlessly protean. (Bill Picard)

Her evocation of a utopian if also profoundly reactionary England - snobbery, racism, anti-semitism and all - continues to be so irresistible even to a modern reader that I have no problem understanding her enduringly high sales and the countless radio, television, stage and film adaptations. (Gilbert Adair, Guardian, 2006)

Vicarages, snow-bound villages. With any luck we’ll find a retired Indian Army colonel, a gigolo, a faintly sinister Austrian professor, and an old lady who’ll sort it all out for us. (Murder at the Old Vicarage: A Christmas Mystery, by Jill McGown)

Snowbound village: The Sittaford Mystery
Retired Indian Army colonel (a portrait of Christie's brother): ditto
Gigolo: Towards Zero, The Body in the Library (Both characters are likeable.)
Sinister Austrian professor: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Can’t write, but a great story-teller. The same is said of Somerset Maugham and Daphne du Maurier.

The cozy mystery groundwork was laid almost 100 years ago, by Agatha Christie herself. (

Christie lacks social context. (Her books are packed with context and a gift to the social historian. Perhaps this means “does not tackle social issues of the day like the Depression, hunger marches etc” but instead included stuff about hats, crosswords and spiritualism.)

John Lanchester chides Christie for not being realistic, which seems to mean, judging from his examples, detailed and long. (Bill Peschel. But Lanchester does say that "the 20th century is one of the main characters in her books".)

 The continuing blood-letting in St Mary Mead provides a reassuring beacon of stability... The cosy warmth of the settings and the British stereotypes attracts Stephen King, who says she “deserves more respect”. (Times 2015-08-31)

Even in the 1930s Margery Allingham was modernising and updating the country house mystery model. ( Christie began by updating the country house. She’d stayed in some as a young girl when they were like expensive hotels. Styles is adapting to WWI with a reduced staff. Most of its inhabitants have war jobs.)

Other commenters say Christie's characters are static, they don’t develop, they don’t change or Learn Lessons, they have no hinterland or back story. Yes, Marple and Poirot have no story arc – because Christie wasn’t planning a series. She wrote book by book. And the elements readers miss in GAD mysteries aren’t "depth" or "development" but soap opera. This judgement tells you a lot about what 21st century editors and readers expect from a novel, and recent "adaptations" have given Poirot a back story as a failed priest. I mean, really.

And all these rules about how to write novels are writing-course fare, or publisher’s rules. The two probably feed into each other. My theory: endless analysis and chewing over technique are bad for fiction. Writing courses have turned novel-writing into an industry – that makes money for the runners of writing courses.

And when literary critics tell us what is wrong with Golden Age mysteries, they are telling us what they think novels should be like. And they should not be “chilly” “experiments with form”. They should be more spontaneous. Surely a novelist just sits down and lets words flow from her pen? Writing a mystery must take a lot of unromantic planning... (Following a writing-course formula with Acts One, Two and Three, heroic quests and the like is not "unromantic planning".)

TL;DR Christie outsells the Bible; she can’t be any good.

More here, and links to the rest.
How many of Christie's novels were set in country houses?

Fascinating fact: Marlene Dietrich was only two years younger than Norma Varden, who played the "older woman", Emily French, in the film Witness for the Prosecution (pictured above).

Monday 13 December 2021

Received Ideas in Quotes 23

These phrases are as insubstantial as spun sugar but they are made real and unquestionable by repetition.
(Mic Wright for Byline Times)

Yes, a few people like and use Latinx. But the assumption that these people represent a vanguard, and that society will eventually progress in the direction of that vanguard, needs to be sternly interrogated. (@Noahpinion. And others on this template.)

Il y a parier que toute idee publique, toute convention recue, est une sottise, car elle a convenu au plus grand nombre. ("You can bet on the fact that any idea and convention that is widely accepted is wrong, for it is simply convenient to the greatest number." Nicolas Chamfort, quoted by Auguste Dupin in Poe’s short story The Purloined Letter. Dupin’s unnamed Watson suggests that mathematicians are rational, poets irrational. He is trying to solve the mystery by deciding whether the thief (known to them) is a mathematician or a poet. The Prefect has searched for the letter by probing every object in the thief’s apartments and examining the floorboards and furniture with a “microscope”, while Dupin sits and smokes a “meerschaum”, while quoting from great European thinkers.)

Peppermint Patty: Do all fairy tales begin with “Once upon a time”?
Charlie Brown:
No, many of them begin, “If I am elected, I promise...”

My current favorite conspiracy theory involves the Denver International Airport, home to Illuminati skulking along miles of subterranean tunnels, bunkers and outbuildings, swastika-shaped runways, demonic leering gargoyles and of course Blucifer the horse (pictured). ( message boards)

People tried desperately to grow pineapples in Britain for centuries and just when they'd worked out how to do it, it became possible to import them.
(Alison Classe)

A swallow is associated with sailors since they were thought to carry their souls up to heaven if they drowned. (Lara Maiklem)

On 12 December 1917, Father Edward Flanagan opened Boys' Town in Omaha, Nebraska. for homeless boys. It was a place where troubled or homeless boys could come for help and adopted the motto: “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” The slogan was later used in the famous pop song. (Prof Frank McDonough @FXMC1957. Pictures shows a statue from Boys’ Town of a boy carrying a smaller boy.)

Or is this the origin of the song's title? A clergyman visiting a Victorian slum sees a tiny girl carrying a baby almost as big as herself. "I'm afraid that baby is too heavy for you, little girl!" "He ain't heavy, he's my brother!"

My chemistry teacher told us about a friend of his who worked for ICI and who was quite in disgust because he found out about “a lake of mercury” under one of the factories that was being ignored for some reason. (James Wright, Fortean Times)

The Radley College swimming pool, circa 1980. A story used to circulate that the pool was a yard shorter than a standard pool, so that no local swimming club would want to use it for practice or competitive events. (Christopher Hibbert’s history of Radley, No Ordinary Place, corrects this myth: the pool was deliberately designed a yard longer.

Chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be normal cookies with a chocolate center and the inventor screwed up that badly. (@23cmnails)

The one-time Mrs Thrale apologised for still using rouge, because it had been customary in her youth “as a part of dress”, and as it had made her skin yellow, she could not leave it off. (Muriel Jaeger, Before Victoria. When white and red make-up contained lead, as in Queen Elizabeth I’s day, it left scars that needed covering up with more makeup, so that “once you started you couldn’t stop”. But this idea persisted into the 20th century, when make-up hadn’t contained lead for decades.)

Democrats want to turn the U.S.A. into a socialist hell-hole (without really identifying what that means). To me, this theme has more to do with the absence of a communistic adversary (USSR) in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The “Socialist” boogeyman enabled by the lefty Demoncrats fills that void nicely. The casual reader looking at the Democrats' platform and policies and comparing them to actual socialist countries would see there is a large gap between the two, but the right-wing fear machine spews this “Socialism!!” BS every chance they can to keep people afraid and on-edge, especially regarding needed government spending where everyone benefits (like infrastructure, social safety nets) and not just the rich and corporations. And the rubes never really spend the time and brainpower to verify things (reading). ( message board)

I read an essay from the late 19th century where a man was arguing that women shouldn’t go to medical school. He couldn’t argue that women weren’t intelligent enough to attend medical school, there were already women in both the United States and Great Britain who had graduated, so he had to find another angle. He argued that women who devout such time to developing their intellect would see their womanly parts deprived and would thus shrivel up and they would no longer be able to bear children. As I read that, I could not help but wonder whether or not the author actually believed what he wrote. ( message boards)

The tree-like patterns on Mocha ware are created by adding urine to the glaze.

In a world where people tend to have too much stuff, experiences can be welcome. (Cliché of the year from The Week)

There is a case to be made – according to nature writer Stephen Moss – that a Partridge in a Pear Tree is solely about birds: the Lords a-Leaping are black grouse, the Ladies Dancing are cranes. The five gold rings? Yellowhammers, since an old name for them is "yoldring". (LW And a perdrix in a pear tree?)

Chicken Tikka Masala was invented in Glasgow – not. (

I don't know if 10 percent of the Russian government's income comes from the sale of vodka. I don't know if a cow can go upstairs, but not downstairs. And I certainly don't know if a duck's quack doesn't echo. But I do know the following statement is false: The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System requires that one mile in every five must be straight. These straight sections are usable as airstrips in times of war or other emergencies...  I will conclude by saying that, for all I know, there are 293 ways to make change for a dollar, snails can sleep for three years without eating, and an ostrich's eye is bigger than its brain. But no law, regulation, policy, or sliver of red tape requires that one out of five miles of the interstate highway system must be straight. Trust me on that. Please! (Richard F. Weingroff,

Monks sang the offices at three-hour intervals, day and night. Before the invention of wax candles, they had to memorise the entire service. (Radio 3, paraphrase. The Romans invented wax candles in 500BC. Before that, we didn’t rely entirely on daylight but used flaming torches, oil lamps, butter lamps, tallow candles and rush lights. Beeswax candles were always expensive, which may explain the Catholic habit of buying candles to burn before icons and statues.)

In 1312 Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master of the Knights Templar, was burned alive by order of Pope Clement V. When his brothers came to collect his body, all that remained were his charred skull and two femur bones. The Knights Templar owned the world’s largest naval fleet at that time and to commemorate their martyred leader, they adopted the white skull and crossed bones on a black background as their fleet flag. The symbol became well-recognised, and widely replicated, used as a memento mori on mourning jewellery, graveyards and of course the infamous Jolly Roger flag of pirate ships. The symbol persisted through the centuries, on poison bottles and naval tattoos. (Monika Buttling-Smith)

Fireworks are being set off throughout the year at all times of the night to signal where drugs are being dropped for pick-ups. (Sky News interviewee)

My home town had "wild panther" stories, sightings claimed every few years. Allegedly goes back to US military having them as mascots while based there in WW2. (@arwon)

If you eat a whole pack of Polos you will become infertile. (@ProfThomasDixon)

I was first told "student demands mug of ale in exam per obscure ordinance; is later fined for not wearing broadsword" as fact, then a few months later it showed up in the Healey and Glanville Urban Myths column, which I think was running in Guardian Weekend at the time. (@JamesBSumner)

Henry Coventry, an 18th century writer of the English Enlightenment, helped bring “mysticism” into general usage. ... He argued that mystical religious practitioners—especially women—might believe they were passionately devoted to God, but were actually transferring frustrated sexual love onto an imagined divine object. In fact, he argued, sublimated sexuality made up “the far greatest part of female religion.” (JSTOR Daily. The same article argues that educated people became interested in Eastern religions in the 1830s, not the 1960s.)

The United States is based on having freedom of religion, speech, etc., which means you can believe in God any way you want (Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, etc.), but you must believe. I don’t recall freedom of religion meaning no religion. Our currency even says “In God We Trust”. So, to all the atheists in America: Get off of our country.
(Alice Shannon, Soldotna, newspaper clipping)

In response, Snopes says: Attempting to assign any kind of “true” or “false” status to letters to the editor is often tricky, because such letters are generally expressions of opinion (rather than fact), the senders of such letters are not necessarily the original authors of the material presented (i.e., readers often re-submit under their own names letters they’ve read in other newspapers, or material they’ve gleaned from other print sources), and such letters are sometimes couched in irony or sarcasm (a facet which can escape many readers) and are intended to express the opposite of what they literally state.  Snopes also says it has been “much circulated”. The letter was printed in the 29 January 2007 edition of the Alaskan newspaper Peninsula Clarion, over the name of one Alice Shannon of Soldotna, Alaska. Shannon later told the Clarion the letter was meant as a “joke”. Snopes concludes that there are a lot of people out there who agree with the letter.)

County Hall started sinking as soon as it was built. So did Bedford County Library – the original structure was razed to the ground and rebuilt.

A Facebook post (shared hundreds of times) claims the capital ‘P’ which appears on passports under “type” stands for “peasant” or “pauper”. (@FullFact)

Apparently despite being where they keep the Crown Jewels and one of the securest places in the country, the live-in staff [of the Tower of London] find it almost impossible to get decent contents insurance because they share a postcode with Tower Hamlets. (Ben Jeapes)

My friend’s Aunt Shirley owned a building worth a few million right off Times Square. One day she was sitting on her stoop with a paper coffee cup and someone threw change into it. She kept doing it for years “to earn some passive income”. (@thrasherxy. See Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story The Man with the Twisted Lip.)

Back in the 1700s and 1800s life expectancy was much shorter and infant mortality was high. This made our ancestors accept loss more easily. (Auctioneer Charles Hanson)

Problem of actually keeping up with scholarship and not just trotting out the same "oh legend says an old monk built this in one night" and "the three windows symbolise the Trinity" stuff people expect but are just complete falsehoods about what these buildings truly represent. (@DrJACameron)

Old wooden buildings were “made without nails” – they just slotted together like a drystone wall! (They were held together by wooden pegs.)

What I don't believe about Columbus visiting Galway on his way to discover America is the yarn about him choosing to visit the city's Protestant church to pray, when he was in the pay of the Catholic Monarchs. (@AodhBC. He has a dry sense of humour – there were no Protestants in 1492.)

I said this before, and quite a few people actually couldn’t believe me when I said that my great uncle spoke (in 1980s) in an old Sussex accent that I couldn’t understand. I really doubt that today’s kids have trouble understanding grandparents born 5 miles from where they were. (@nicktolhurst)

People almost never smiled in photos back then. (Roger Karlsson. On a photo of two women smiling against a background of the San Francisco fire of 1906.)

Pinch and a punch for the first of the month: 'pinch' means a pinch of salt to 'make the witch weak' and the punch is to banish the witch. Makeup was believed to be a form of witchcraft. (@Cavalorn, paraphrase)

I’ve never been to Denmark, but a 6th grade music teacher in rural Illinois must have expected me to, and warned us never to say “Copen-hah-gen,” citing that as how the Nazis had pronounced it. (Straight Dope message boards)

Bermingham slang for good bye, ta ra, originates from Irish immigrants who said ‘tabhair aire’ to each other, which translates to ‘take care’. The locals picked up on it and shortened it to ta ra. (@baboig)

Some varieties of muslin were so fine that an entire sari made of such fabric could fit inside a matchbox...  the local English merchants also cut off the fingers of the artisans so that the native weavers could not teach the next generation the technique of weaving muslin. ( See Shetland shawls and wedding rings, and the Kremlin's architects – blinded.)

Preventives of cholera: Abstain from cold water when heated... (19th century poster. Became “Diarrhoea is caused by cold drinks/iced drinks”. If the water, or ice, was contaminated, avoiding it was sensible, but "Cold drinks are bad for you" lingered.)

Why don't kids today play outside? The big change is fewer kids: letting your 3-5 kids go play with large groups of kids is different to sending your only or two kids separated by several years, out on their own. (Farah Mendlesohn)

My high school dress code banned headbands because of an urban legend about Jimi Hendrix using his to imbibe LSD through his forehead. Which, even if it were possible, would have to be the least efficient possible way to consume a drug you could easily just pop in your mouth. (@raylehmann. Someone else says “I thought it was Axl Rose and cocaine”. @HowardeMiller adds: In Vietnam, we wore headbands to keep sweat out of our eyes”.)

In English, a turkey is a "turkey", while in Portuguese it is a "peru" and in Turkish, it is a "hindi" ("India"). (@qikipedia)

I read somewhere the fire in Australia last year between Sydney and Brisbane was to get people off the land to build a new high speed railway... not sure that was true.

Main reason is that [fires] make people believe that there is a climate change and convince them to use solar energy that will be connected to blockchain. They want to control everything on the earth through internet. (

Exactly this. The burning land will be 're-wilded' and the displaced people stuffed into micro housing in 'smart' cities. (

In the 1950s, Chinese peasants complained that birdsong was disturbing them, so Mao ordered all the birds to be killed. Free of birds, insects devoured the crops, causing a famine which killed 5 million people. (@IainSankey) 

One Fascist official, Giovanni Balella, never forgot a committee meeting over which the Duce presided in June 1943. On this hot oppressive afternoon, a dozen delegates were listening in silence as Minister for Agriculture Carlo Pareschi explained why that summer's harvest had fallen short of expectations. Suddenly Mussolini held up a lordly hand. 'Do you now what the birds do?' he asked them in a conspiratorial whisper. "Mystified, vaguely uneasy, each man shook his head. 'Days ago,' Mussolini confided, 'I was out in the country — and I saw what the birds do. They alight on the wheat stems so that their weight bends them over and they can't be seen. Then they eat the grain!' Suddenly, with almost manic intensity, he ordered: 'Kill the birds — kill them all!' (From Duce! By Richard Collier. But did Mussolini put this policy into effect? See Wikipedia.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Grammar: Pedantry 5

I admit I flinch at “etch” meaning “engrave”. Etching involves acid. “Acid-etched” is a tautology. And I hyphenate helicopter as "helico-pter".

Every time I mention the correct meaning of ‘decimation’ I ruin the word for about one-in-ten of my followers.
(@davidallengreen. It means "destroy one-tenth" not "nine-tenths".)

Reiterate” means “repeat more than once” because “iterate” means “repeat”.

#FBPE (Follow Back Pro EU) is NOT an acronym. It is an abbreviation which has to be pronounced letter by letter “eff bee pee ee”. An acronym can be pronounced as a word – NATO, RADAR… (Via the Web)

Viking” is a gerund, not an ethnicity. (Some people think “Viking ancestry” means “blue-eyed and blond”.)

Using “etc” etc is sloppy. (As PS, NB, i.e. and the rest fall out of use, readers may not understand Latin contractions. "Etc" stands for et cetera, or "and the rest".)

That’s a foot rule, not a ruler – a ruler is a king.
Those are venomous, not poisonous, snakes.
It’s Magna Carta not “the” Magna Carta (and Handel's Messiah, not "the Messiah").

I have taught my daughter to say telephone and television, not phone, TV or telly.
What we call “letter openers” are actually “envelope openers”.
All toast is burned. Overdone toast is “burned bread”.
Clocks have pendulums. All other time-recording devices are “timepieces”.

incorporate downspouts – all other ugly medieval sculpted heads are grotesques.

A Facebook user complains that people talk about “Legos” rather than “Lego pieces”.

There's no such thing as a "sea gull", those are herring gulls.
An historical, an halal, an herbivore, an homage because it’s pronounced “ommage”.
Phone and bus should get apostrophes as they're contractions for telephone and omnibus.

An agreement is always “verbal”, but if it’s not written down, it’s an “oral” agreement. (Economist Stylebook, 90s)

The distinction between complementary (free) and complimentary (flattering) is being revived, just when I thought we’d lost that one.

It’s thank you, not thankyou. “Thankyou” is not a word. (See NGram – “thankyou” has risen sharply since 1972, while “thank you” has declined and then risen slightly since 1900.)

Homophobia means fear of the same, or fear of yourself ha ha! (But nobody’s saying that “transphobia” means fear of transition, or that “Islamophobia” means fear of a religion.)

doesn't mean paradoxical, or “funny, innit?” "If living was a thing that money could buy, You know the rich would live, and the poor would die" is an example of irony. So is "It is a fact universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife".

Fruition, enormity, existential, pristine – they don’t mean what you think they mean. (Fruition and pristine have changed their meanings. Enormity and existential have reverted to their original meanings. See also protagonist, plethora and fulsome. Why are we speaking Ancient Greek, anyway?)

Enormity means “outside the norm”. It came to mean "nastiness", then reverted to meaning "unusually large size".

Egregious means outside the flock.

Existential originally meant "concerning existence", but French philosopher used it to mean something like "living in the moment". It has reverted to its first meaning.

A protagonist was the central character in Ancient Greek drama, and there was only one per play. A second significant character was the "antagonist". "Main protagonist" is a tautology, and you can't have several protagonists. I think we've lost this one – however, a protagonist is not a proponent.

If you have a plethora of something, you have too much of it, not just lots.

Fulsome praise is oleaginously false – but "fulsome" originally meant plentiful, and it is reverting to its first meaning.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 8 December 2021

What People Say They Want 2

It’s called the “say versus do gap”.

What people say they want, and what they’re willing to work their ass off to get, are two different things. (Hugh MacLeod)

People say they want things that will make them look intelligent or thoughtful (longform, in-depth journalism, “art” writing) but they don’t actually read those things in the numbers they read fun, light-hearted lists about being in your 20’s, or dating advice articles, creepy entertainment... Pageviews will back this up every single time... For years the spaghetti sauce makers had been running focus groups and asking them what they want. People said they wanted culturally authentic spaghetti sauce (even though they didn’t) and when Prego came out with a “chunky” variety that flew in the face of tradition, it became extremely popular. Another example Malcolm Gladwell uses is that when asked what people want in coffee, they respond with “a dark, rich, hearty roast.” In reality only 25-27% of people really want that. Most people want weak coffee cut with milk, but won’t admit it. (

What people say they want as the mid-afternoon conference snack: "Healthier choices." What people really want: "A cookie and a brownie." Anyone in need of some carrot sticks and hummus? Cause we got 'em!

What people say they want: low to mid density traditional terraces with a garden and a fence you can chat over. What people choose: car parking

Now, if you're a journalist who is obligated to worry about traffic, this is part of the game. You write some worthy stuff that'll probably drop noiselessly down the Internet well, and subsidize it with hits (unless you're one of the rare people who can turn anything into a hit).

The horrible box office for The Suicide Squad is worth talking about. BUT if in that same conversation you don’t at least acknowledge a big studio finally did what people say they want – taking creative chances and not treating their audience like morons- then you’re [an idiot]. (@davidscottjaffe)

Publishers want the same old, same old – they say they don’t! (Mystery writer Martin Edwards)

People say they want love, but they go into relationships asking What can you do for me? What can I get out of you? Who can you be for me? (

We thought people wanted what they say they wanted, which is to pay more for great quality meat, but in the end their decisions are really about price and convenience. (Times Jan 2019)

Apples. We love to say we don't mind "spots on our apples," but actual sales data tells us we really, really do. And honestly, we should. Even "cosmetic" lesions can make micro-breaks in the apple's skin, allowing fungus to enter. One rotten apple, barrel, etc. (@SarahTaber_bww)

I remember in early 2000’s one of the fashion magazines decided to use more “realistic” models and it was reported sales dipped. (@CarlaWVTM13)

We think we like salad, we tell our families we do, we buy it, we leave it to rot. We hate it. (@paulmasonnews)

We do like the idea of organic and natural ingredients and yet these shampoos still don’t sell as well as the more mainstream products. (Alice Hart-Davis in the Mail, Nov 2014)

Ask audiences what they want, and they'll tell you vegetables. Watch them quietly, and they'll mostly eat candy. (Derek Thomson, US journalist)

Americans claimed national, local, economic, political and international news were most important, but a review of the ‘most read’ articles suggested more interest in celebrity and human interest stories. (

While 87 percent of people surveyed say they recycle, the Environmental Protection Agency reports just 33 percent of our waste is diverted from landfills. (

More here.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Found Haiku 20

Mirrored on the still
surface of the sewage pond,
A mobile phone mast.
(LF, picture by Will Lakeman)

Out on late afternoon errands,
I saw the perfect line
of the bright beacons against the indigo --
Jupiter, Saturn, Venus.  
This never, ever palls!
(Athena Andreadis)

Those who find the past times in paper flowers,
As soon as you get wounds, you find new, old relations,
These lips are very silent in the crowd of tears,
We also find excuses to smile!!
(Ravi Singh Jadon)

One oak is struck down
and another planted.
And the wretched beautiful old earth
keeps on spinning.
(Darran Anderson)

I really loved that Lea Valley area of London.
Just a short walk out
and you felt like you were on the afterthought fringes
of the known world.
(Matthew Caven)

Glassworks3: it evokes a sunny loneliness
that's impossible to convey properly with words.
Distant ships loom hopelessly beyond the dunes.

Going blackberrying.
Something in that air.
Evenings closing in
With the silent wash of a dark tide.
(Rob Chapman)

Are there eyes in the distance?
I’m afraid to go further
and my flashlight batteries are low.

(Michael Karger)

Welshpool. I’m sure it would be much nicer
If it wasn’t the middle of the night.
At least there’s a McDonalds.
(Elwyn York, long-distance lorry driver)

Dusk in Lincolnshire.
Then a clear cold night after.
Trainee was driving.
(Elwyn York)

I just found this wasp nest
On the sidewalk outside my apartment.  
I tried to show a woman walking by
And she said, “So what?”

I want to become
the kind of person that...
(Truett Ogden)

It's either very misty
or someone stole
the neighbours.
(Mark Tennant)

The haar is drifting in from the firth.
Someone has stolen the Black Isle
And there is snow on the ben.
(Paul Michael Dicks)

Plane tree brushing the sky above
The mansion flats of Victoria.
The dry spherical seed bundles
Hang on the twigs.

I rise from my bed,
Realising with horror
We have no teabags.

Window open
listening to fog horns
in the distance.

When the house creaks a little,
in the full sun of a cold morning
sometimes it sounds like your footsteps
and I start talking to you,
as if you were there.
As if I were, as well.

Something is going to happen here
Any minute
Any minute
Any minute
(Joseph Shelton)

Midnight in the Edgelands. Despite the promises,
You will be walking. The last bus
Has long since passed this place.
(Peter Whysall)

The owls are out.
Huge full moon rising over the fields,
With Mars a dim red eye in attendance.

Walk to night shift –
Quiet - some owls –
An engine sounds rough -
Drums from a different vehicle.

Sat in the cold, still dark
On the beach at Tankerton,
Watching the lights flashing
On the wind farm out at sea,
And hearing the peep of wading birds in the night.

I’m on a campsite somewhere in lowland Scotland
Miles from anywhere
Listening to China State Radio on my shortwave radio.
There’s a clear sky and the stars are coming out.
And I am happy.


Dawning in Sompting
while the tawny owl flew by
and a thousand rooks set off as one
for their morning commute.
(Mike Tristram)

The waning gibbous moon
is keeping me awake.
Not long now until
I transmogrify into a werewolf.

In this wood by the Deben
Feathered wings flapping against leaves
And the barking of deer.
(Quintin Lake)

This morning's music:
the seagulls and the sparrows outside
singing in the rain.
(Leslie Costar)

Years ago I found this tiny sepia photograph at a market.
I wonder if the houses are still there.
Part of me wants to know but also, doesn't.
(Kimmy Barrett)

At dusk hundreds of rooks
Fly over from Clandon to roost
Somewhere nearer Guildford.
(Graham Langley)

Just me and a carrier bag,
Blowing past me in haste
Up Windmill Hill.
(Michelle Facey in lockdown)

Crows deliberately light fires.
Clearly they massacre each other.
And laugh while doing it.
(Fred Tingey)

Last night when we were
coming into our lodgings,
a coyote crossed the path in front of us
amid fast-travelling wisps of mist.

(Athena Andreadis)

I love that cold morning autumn rain
that rots leaves
and carries the smell of chimneys.

Moths dancing on lamps
is a strange sound. Like rain gone
sideways and sparse and heavy.
(Hannah Tristram)

L’homme nait comme la fleur;
on la coupe, elle tombe;
il passe comme une ombre
et le lieu qui l'a vu
ne le reconnait plus.
(The Bible)

I sowed the seeds of love
But I understand the seeds of thyme
Are spread around by ants.
(Mike Tristram)

The corridor which led to it
had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil...
and the drab anonymity
of a thousand shabby lives.
(Philip Marlowe in The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler)

Basking in the sun,
A beautiful adder.
Collecting seaglass,
I nearly stepped on it.
(Fiona Rogerson/LF)

My battery is low
And it’s getting dark.

I have a strange feeling
of nostalgia for unknown places.
Does this have a name?
(Julian Pardoe/LF)

A wagtail in Jermyn Street!
They pop up bravely
on the edge of ghastly roads.

(John Thesiger/Jonathan Keates)

It snowed here.
Then it rained. Now it isn’t snowy.
This makes me sad.
(Ross Hall)

On Sat at 2 am I saw two lovely Geminids.
Cloudy, but the Plough could be seen,
I looked out of a window for two minutes,
They passed rather slowly and elegantly,
Then cloud covered all.

I remember learning that
those majestic and graceful birds, the swans,
are sociopaths and given to murdering one another.
(Esther Friesner)

Because of course
The bus is late
And I am trapped
In Milton Keynes.

I'm peering out into New York Bay
looking for the Statue of Liberty
but low, grey cloud is obscuring it.
That's some A-grade pathetic fallacy right there.

Stunde und Stunde entlang
der Schwarzen Elster.
Mal Schotter mal Asphalt.
Mal Schatten mal Pralle Sonne.
Mal Birken mal Eichen mal Kiefern.
Mal Fluss im Blick.
(Regine W)

Hours and hours along
The Black Elster.
Gravel, then asphalt.
Shadows, then full sun.
Birches, then oaks, then pines.
Sometimes a glimpse of the river.

Der Wind schlug
den grünen Fensterladen
auf und zu und auf und zu.

(Regine W)

(The wind claps
The green shutters
Back and forth, back and forth.)

From the passenger seat of a southbound car -
Lowing sun over teasels, debris yards
and former Little Chefs.

Something exquisite
And grievous about this view.
Thank you for seeing it.
(Pamela Evans)

Fred and Ginger will
live forever – I won't, but
while I do, they live for me.
(Peter Curran)

Visible gusts of
air swirling snake-like close to
the ground by the sea.
(Hannah Tristram)

More here, and links to the rest.

Friday 26 November 2021

Buzzwords of 2021, Part 2

“To inbox” is now a verb.

Twitter dissecting Hancock’s resignation letter: he left out a “to” and put a comma before “and” – twice! (Sometimes you need a comma before an and, and sometimes you don't. It's all in my book, A Short Guide to Writing Well.)

Otherwise quite sensible people are fussing about other people using “podium” when they mean “lectern”. (You put your feet on a podium. Think of podiatry.)

There's a fad for using no capital letters as a protest against “elitist language policing”. (That's my job.)

Hackney Gazette talks about “racially minoritized” LGBTQIA+ young people.

Innovate now means research or invent. “We can continue to innovate.” “Filipino students innovate gloves that convert sign language into speech.”

Through the lens of” is going out.

Wokewashing is in.

Fury and mob violence against women who protested over a naked man who identified as a woman joining six-year-olds in a Jacuzzi. Some say children can “just look away”. (Reminds me of the prevailing attitude when I was 6-16 – you walk on, you look away, you don't react, adults downplay the whole thing, dismissed as a bit of a joke, "kiddy fiddling" etc. The man in question was later identified as a sex offender.)

Do people use “slanted” for “biassed” any more?

“Twitter isn’t real life.”

A lot of mean-spirited whingeing about “sportsball”.

Everyone is posting pin-sharp brightly coloured close-ups of flowers.

Black English footballers were hit with online abuse after the Euros. “Just a few hundred! And they’re mostly from abroad!” say apologists.

Progressive is back, suddenly. We’ve all got to be it – however you like to define it.

“Well done avoiding Twitter,” say people on Twitter. One pundit is recusing, resiling and reneging because Twitter isn’t representative enough – too many ABC1 liberals and recent graduates. That’ll be one conservative the less.

#urbanlegend The BBC is sending “enforcers” round to pensioners’ homes to strong-arm them into paying the licence fee. It’s desperate for money, you see, as its woke agenda is influencing viewers to desert in droves.

Your fuel tank could explode if you fill it to the top in hot weather. (No, says

July 16 2021 “Ping” is the word of the week. (NHS app and practically anything else.) Also pingdemic. It means “an app tells you you’ve been exposed to Covid”.

We’ve been here before: Oz, Last Exit to Brooklyn, defended on grounds of “free speech”.

Oh no, Crocs are back. Popular with “Gen Z”, especially when covered in little kitsch stick-ons. (Can we go back to calling them “teenagers”? We’re going to have to start again with Gen A soon.)

Business plan for a post-Covid City unveiled. Turn offices into homes. (Anyone who urges everyone back to the office is pretty likely to turn out to be a Tory.)

Has the government – or somebody – suggested culling cats and mink because they carry a Covid variant? Per Google, the Danes have culled infected mink on farms because they were passing Covid to cats.

End July 2021 Does “levelling up” translate as “teach the plebs Latin”?

Glurge” for those “it happened to me and it restored my faith in human nature” stories seems to have gone out. (Somebody notes that there has always been an American market for "true confessions". November: a man is exposed as a serial sender of made-up problems to's Dear Prudie agony column.)

Supermarkets, tired of people posting pix of half-empty shelves, are removing some shelving altogether. What will they do with the empty space? Many on social media desperately denying that this has anything to do with Brexit.

Christian churches starting initiatives to solve non-problems. Day of prayer for atheism. The CoE wants to encourage house churches with lay leaders. No expensive premises or education – or salaries for ministers!

Oh, now cis women are oppressors?

Someone suggests on Facebook that if Starmer doesn’t just hand over to Corbyn we can only conclude that he is following the agenda of “the Israel lobby”. There are people out there who have lost all touch with reality.

Both left anti-Semitism and TRA activism have reached Apocalyptic proportions – literally. Diagnostic signs: everything is blamed on The Great Whore of Babylon, seven-horned beasts etc, and the tone rises from frenzy to hysteria.

“The word X is doing a lot of work in that sentence.” Twitter is still moaning about headlines in the passive voice, that foreground the shooter not the victims, or the victims not the shooter. (The passive voice is fully explained in my book A Short Guide to Writing Well.)

“We’ve moved on from Brexit.” Translation: We don’t point out the downsides because, well, just because.

QAnon survivors and relatives’ forum has now cracked the 100,000 people mark on Reddit. (LW)

Haven’t seen a handbag dog for a while.

Therapy Twitter: You'd like to be rescued? A normal wish. But, a good therapist wouldn't gratify that wish. S/he would help you tolerate  frustration or whatever you may experience when not rescued or given advice. You might come to recognize your ability to rescue yourself. (@SharonJenaviciu)

2021-08-23 Lots of Twitter side-swiping at Ian Botham – he’s been made a Lord. “This governing body is unelected!” Did it take the ennoblement of a working-class sportsman for people to notice?

Carceral: does it mean “people I don’t agree with”, or “people who want to imprison the opposition and throw away the key”? What can “carceral feminism” mean? We don’t have our own prisons yet – but maybe we should.

When did business types start using the word 'space' to refer to areas of specialism, as in "the private equity space" or "there's scope for innovation in this space"? Needless to say, I hate it. (@entschwindet)

Wendy’s hamburger joints are back – they’ve been gone for 20 years and I never noticed.

Many complaints about “food & lifestyle blogs which have a massive preamble and get to the recipe/revamp/whatever 10,000 words later”. (It’s so that you have more space to sell ads.)


Shits and giggles – eccch! Seems to mean “sick jokes involving violence and humiliation to the vulnerable’.

Plans for pedestrian plazas around Oxford Circus have been delayed, hurrah! They are a pilot scheme for a more permanent arrangement. They cannibalise more of New Oxford Street than previous schemes. Oh, they might be quite nice really, but I want to get a bus to Victoria. Already I have to change by John Lewis, and this plaza will slow down the buses. It seems that local residents, who strongly objected to plans to pedestrianise Oxford Street a few years ago, also objected to these much more modest plans, so the council is going to carry out more consultations. (

Apparently if you have the right genes, you won’t get Covid. Eating healthily and exercising are also just as good as the vaccine.

It’s time to break free from the stigma of dining alone, says the Guardian. (Thanks – I have lunch alone too, and breakfast and tea. This may be a retread of the perennial “Can women dine alone in restaurants without being seated in a dark corner?” Meanwhile some City office workers eat their dinner in Pret – and why not?)

Gas price hikes: BREXIT
Food shortages: BREXIT
Sewage dumping: BREXIT
Export crisis: BREXIT
Driver shortages: BREXIT
Farming chaos: BREXIT*
Fishing chaos: BREXIT
Financial Asset exodus: BREXIT
Northern Ireland chaos: BREXIT
Livestock culling: BREXIT
* crops rotting in fields, nobody to harvest; farmers plant less for 2022

Nearly a hundred years since the Equal Franchisement Act, politicians pretend not to know which sex were prevented from voting. (Daily Telegraph headline)

Employees will be able to request the right to work at home from their first day on the job under reforms to be unveiled this week. The Times said that ministers are set to confirm laws to protect flexible working that were first proposed before the pandemic. (The Week)

Fence-sitting and toe-ing the party line are popular in 2021.

Fox News host says (vaccine mandates in the US Army) are meant to identify “free thinkers” and “sincere Christians” to exclude them from military (Guardian)

People posting pix of birds, kittens etc “to cleanse my timeline”.

“Don’t panic!” says the government, meaning “don’t panic buy stuff in short supply”.

Via Facebook: Media cause panic-buying spree. There is no fuel shortage! (There are queues at petrol stations because a shortage of truck drivers means supplies are running low. Surely if people panic buy, there will be a fuel shortage for those who haven’t “panic bought”?)

The driver shortage and Brexit are just a smokescreen for introducing a new, more expensive fuel. #urbanlegend

Much moaning about the two new tube stations, Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms. Inhabitants of new flats prefer to take the bus!

Vichy Feminism (like all those organisations set up to eliminate Abuse X which actually make damn sure it continues) Astroturf organisations. IPSO – the sham “regulator” operated by the corporate press.

Jewish Voice for Labour: anti-Semitic Labour organisation. Jewish Labour Movement – rebranded Poale Zion.

White stag loose in Bootle shot dead by police (2021-09-28)

There’s a petrol shortage, and drivers are now allegedly following tankers, presumably to hold them up at gunpoint in places like Surbiton. (LW)

Wayne Couzens – bad apple – oh, of course. (Sarah Edwards’ policeman murderer.)

Vaccine mandates, which we have said all along would work, are working. Despite a bunch of protests that they would rather be unemployed than inoculated, the vast majority of people subject to mandates are quietly getting shots instead of quitting. (@bopinion. See “You can’t change people’s minds by changing the law.”)

Homosexuality is an attraction to people who present themselves in a similar way to you.

Some are retrospectively deciding that pioneering women scientists etc were “really transmen”. Also, after Dr James Barry’s death, the woman laying her out discovered she “had been identified as female at birth”.

Bubble butt – it’s what we all want.
Bestie brunch – we want these too!

Facebook went down because:
a) Putin
b) disgruntled employee deletes sections of code
c) card entry system failure

When did people start saying “It doesn’t define me” – of homelessness, illness, body parts... What does it mean? “Menopause doesn’t define you.” TV ad. And many more things “don’t define you”, “I won’t be defined by my...” etc etc etc. 

Amazon sprays all its packaging with pesticides that can be fatal to cats. #urbanlegend

The house is being used as a pitbull stash house. (Animal Cops Houston)

There’s more fuss and sympathy for Sussex students “feeling unsafe” thanks to the presence of Professor Katherine Stock, than for women in prisons, hospitals and refuges actually being unsafe due to the presence of men “self-identifying” as women. Women in prisons are being issued condoms to protect them against AIDs and pregnancy, and Professor Stock resigned after being subject to  protests and abuse at Sussex University.

Rickets is back among poor children – give tinned oily fish to food banks.

"The discourse" seems to be taking over from both "the narrative" and "the conversation" in business-speak. Going forward, probably. (@AodhBC )

FB people are posting screenshots of Twitter “jokes”. This too may pass.

Twitter is not real life. 2021
I only said it on the phone, I didn’t mean it. 1975
I only wrote it one the wall, I didn't mean it. 75
I only wrote it on a potsherd, I didn’t mean it. 500 BCE

Safety and unsafe are changing their meanings. A group for childless women offers “safety”, a “sense of safety” – safe from society’s expectations, probing questions, unwelcome suggestions for “fixing the problem”.

“Charming” is having a moment.

Misspellings on Twitter (fukn, wyte folks) are to get round search engines.

2021-10-23 Narcissism and narcissistic popular this week.

I honestly don’t know who’s leading the LibDems.

John Lewis has withdrawn the ad showing a little boy in a dress wearing makeup trashing the house “because it could be misleading” (paraphrase). But its Christmas ad featuring a black boy is “too woke”.

Based (No idea.)

When did fishermen become fishers?

This year’s objection to Halloween is “too expensive”. Americans on Twitter defend themselves from the usual moaning about “Americanisation” and the moaners are really rather shocked that Americans were listening.

Amazonians send young women to COP26 to see if the Greta effect works for them. Greta gets much more coverage. Now Amazonians and others can whinge “that GRETA gets all the attention!” Rinse, repeat.

Meanwhile angry old white men complain that Greta “spews bile”: despicable 'thing' this 'Greta' individual is... Unbelievable how much evil she vomits... I think they mean “I don’t believe in manmade global warming and a female teenager is being noticed instead of meeeeeee!”

First sighting of “giant poppy watch”, illustrated with a pic of people wearing normal-sized poppies, maybe a bit early.

Oh, guess who’s behind a world fertiliser shortage?

Terfs are now being painted as ipso facto conservative.

Why young women on social media are developing Tourette’s-like tics. Guardian hed. (How long has social media been around? But there’s still nothing you can’t blame on it – see TV, video nasties, rock’n’roll, Hollywood films, crystal radio sets, the waltz, novel-reading...)

Graffiti: There is no pandemic! It is a complete scam. They are using to collapse the economy, take control of small businesses, digitalise currency and create a social-credit scoring system without your consent.

Newsletters are back! This is where I came in.

You can subscribe to get sleep meditations you download to your phone, for so much a month. You can buy them on Amazon for much less. All those £5 a month are going to mount up, aren’t they. The stacks, the mediums, the podcasts, the streaming services...

People who complain about having to read books for English class are a thing. (I’ve met them.)

In a world where people tend to have too much stuff, experiences can be welcome. (Cliché of the year from The Week)

"I'm so modern that I ... [take your pick:] never carry cash any more/never read books any more/can barely write with a pen/never go to shops any more/don't have anything except virtual friends any more..." Versus “I’m such a Luddite I have a smartphone but only use it to test my blood sugar.”

All these nutty ideas lead to revenge plots against their enemies. ( message boards. Conspiracy theories give you hate figures, which is what you want.)

A video watched over 100,000 times claims that new gates installed inside the entrance to a Sainsbury's in Holborn are for vaccine passports. They're part of a checkout-free shopping trial and have nothing to do with Covid. (

I think I understand QR codes now, but I've never used one. Still not sure how you "scan" them in the first place except you don't take a picture. When I do have to use one I shall flounder and look silly and be embarrassed.

You know, if you have to tell us it’s parody or satire...

RNLI is a benefactor of Masonic charity and therefore part of the Rothschilds NOW one world government conspiracy, says retired cab driver @alan_ridgley. (RNLI have rescued too many migrants from rubber dinghies this week.)

2021-11-25 This week men have been cross that MP Stella Creasey wants to bring her baby to work, and that some people disapprove of Durham University teaching staff and students about the dangers of sex work. One suggests that a female Doctor Who increases crime because it means young men lack a role model. He’s now claiming he didn’t say it – it’s on video.

In the good old days (up to the 80s?) middle-class people could only sell books or antiques. Now too many of them open delis and coffee shops, pushing out caffs and corner shops. They don’t go bust in recessions/lockdowns thanks to the bank of Mum and Dad.

Word salad popular end Nov. There’s a lot of it about.
Giant puppets are a genre now.

Cole Porter, in Hell, reading how Sondheim was the first person to write both lyrics and music and have the lyrics express complex emotions. (@robpalkwriter summarises the Sondheim clichés in the wake of the song-writer's death.)

The late Stephen Sondheim broke with the European operetta tradition of the American musical. With him the songs arose out of the story and carried the narrative forward, adds @AodhBC.

Sondheim's tunes are not exactly "hummable", says Wikipedia.

Unesco is urging governments around the world to prioritise providing single-sex toilets in schools. Girls in an Edinburgh school are boycotting the gender-neutral toilets which are all the school provides.

Heart-rending has become heart-wrenching. (I preferred rending, but we don’t rend our garments much any more.)

Word of the year: subscription (Streaming services, substack, podcasts, box deliveries – like an everything-of-the-month club.)

Gift tokens are now gift cards.

Fortean Times suggests that those popular stories about bears, elephants, moose that deliberately get drunk on fermenting apples are just #urbanlegends. It points out that fermenting fruit would have little effect on such large creatures.

Clowns popular, and “clown-car” as an adjective.

When radio programmes or newspaper articles mention Twitter, it's always disparagingly. "Twitter distorts the debate", or "This debate only exists on Twitter". Do their editors tell them to drag in social media somehow?

Standing headline for late 2021: Boris in new trust crisis.

London has lost a tenth of its population. The UK has lost 1,300,000 EU workers. There are over a million unfilled jobs. There aren’t enough trained or experienced UK residents. Unemployment has doubled in two years.

It looks like proposed changes to human rights law are to facilitate deportation of brown people. (Thank you, Adam Wagner.)

The word “peaked” has changed its meaning. But do people hear “My interest is piqued” as “My interest has peaked”?

Latest anti-Semitic trope: the Israelis stole their cuisine from the Arabs.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 25 November 2021

Predictions for 2022

In many ways, it will be just like 2021.

Conspiracy theorists will react to every event on this template: A 95 year old woman can't just be ill! She must be dead!!! Also conspiracy theorists, when the Queen does finally leave us: She's still alive and has been moved to a secret location! Either that or she's "been assassinated." (LW)

Columnists will write about having a baby or bringing up children, and other people will snort and complain 'Does she think she's the first person to have a child?' Single people in their 20/30s will write articles about the problems in finding a partner, which are simultaneously completely new and related to new technology, and ALSO completely the same as for previous generations. (Moira Redmond)

They will also interview about 10 young people (if that), and write an article claiming that the young have invented “hook-ups” or “meaningful singledom” or “minimal living” or some such nonsense humans have been doing for decades. We did that in the 70s because there was a recession and wages were low and we couldn’t afford anything so we backpacked, hitchhiked, wore army surplus and bought household stuff from a charity shop, junk shop or barrow. We cooked from The Pauper’s Cookbook and recycled yoghourt pots. (Make sure you get the original edition of Jocasta Innes's classic, with its recipes for stuffed ox-heart.)

There'll be more of this kind of thing, and a family will try to live for a year without creating any waste: Today it’s cool, tomorrow it’s junk. We have to act against our throwaway culture. (Guardian headline, 2021. Vicars preached sermons about "our throwaway culture" – in the 70s. They were particularly upset about Kleenex and jet travel.)

The anti-Thanksgiving movement will gather momentum. (Colonialist, also you have to get together with bigoted anti-vax relatives.)

Social media disagreements will get more vicious, with more rape and death threats. The wrong people will have their accounts suspended.

Journalists will write the following articles:
It’s better to have a few good friends than many acquaintances – spin out with direct speech “I was sitting in a coffee shop with my friend Charlie and he said...” and peg to this year’s social media fad.

Why don’t we rehabilitate offenders instead of sending them to grim prisons?

Bullying at work is simply awful, but at last workers are refusing to put up with it any more.

Middle-class domestic abuse is a hidden problem but now we have brought it into the light it will soon be a thing of the past.

We communicate through body odour – we should stop masking our natural pong. (Some middle-clas people tried this in the 70s – they stank.)

Look at this animal in an embarrassing situation!

Maglevs and Zeppelins will solve our transport problems, that is if we don't "reverse Beeching": China unveils maglev train in July 2021.

For those fancying a trip from Belfast to Liverpool or Barcelona to the Balearic Islands but concerned about the carbon footprint of aeroplane travel, a small UK company is promising a surprising solution: commercial airships. Hybrid Air Vehicles, or HAV, which has developed a new environmentally friendly airship 84 years after the Hindenburg disaster, has today named a string of routes it hopes to serve from 2025. (Irish Times 2021-05-27)

Someone will announce a rescue plan for Cardross Seminary.

And, as in past years:

A clothes manufacturer will put out a plus-size range with new reasons and much fanfare. The plus-size will find it difficult to find clothes.

We'll ask: "How can we persuade people to get out of their cars and cycle or walk?" and "Can a woman hire a cleaner?"

We'll take "Twitter breaks" (sometimes with good reason).

Technology and social media will be blamed for everything from loneliness to potato blight.

Broadsheets and magazines seem to have given up on “Can a woman eat alone in a restaurant without being seated next to the toilet?” The answer is: "No, she can't."

Someone will get into trouble for saying publicly that Santa Claus isn't real.

More here, and links to past years.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Received Ideas in Quotes 22

Hypothetically if I was thinking up a medieval fantasy novel where there are retirement communities, what do I need to consider changing from the norm? Like if many people are able to live to retirement age because of magic or whatever does this affect the stability of feudalism? So like there's magic and maybe elves or dragons etc and you're free to do what you want with that. But you can't get around the fact there must be really good health care and a large population of old people and would that affect the social order of a stereotypical fantasy world. (CH. "In the medieval period life expectancy at birth was 40" doesn't mean "Everybody died aged 40". It's an average. And if you made it past five, your life expectancy increased. The Bible explains that the days of a man's life are threescore and ten. There were retirement communities in the Middle Ages - monasteries and convents.)

The New River Co’s East Reservoir at Stoke Newington (now Woodberry Wetlands) is widely reported to be lined with stone from Old London Bridge. (@highamnews)

The keystone of one of the arches in Merstham church is a piece of the old London Bridge, and in the grounds of Merstham House there is a vaulted chamber roofed with the same material by Sir William Jolliffe, of the firm of Jolliffe and Banks, the builders of the new bridge, 1838. (Mr Thomas Fisher, Seaford)

Old London Bridge became so crowded that "in 1722 the Lord Mayor instigated a 'keep left' rule for traffic — often said to be the origin of Britain's left-side driving."

Salisbury Cathedral
As many windows in this church we see
As days within one year there be
As many marble pillars here appear
As hours throughout the fleeting year
As many gates as moons one year does view
Strange tale to tell, yet not more strange than true

The grand boulevards of European cities are instruments of social control, not expressions of freedom. They (Haussman's Paris obviously the prime example) were designed to expedite military movements for when the population got uppity as it often did. In London the Euston Road was a military road of this kind to allow troops to march rapidly west-east. Similarly the Victorians used new roads to quell and disperse what was seen as a potentially revolutionary underclass. Kingsway being an example. They had a phrase for this: 'ventilating the slums'. The real freedom lay in the chaotic, tangled old roads. In there you could fight a guerilla war, and melt away when the troops arrived. (Hugh Pearman. Similar stories are told about brutalist concrete universities – there's a reason the windows look like arrow slits and the library has no windows.)

When people say the  God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath but the God of the New Testament is a God of love, I wonder if they’ve read the book of Revelation. (Dr Bart Ehrman. There is a lot about mercy in the Old Testament, and not much about Hell - that's all in the New.)

William Caxton set up the first English press in 1476... There were no style guides, no copy editors, no dictionaries to consult... Caxton brought typesetters back with him from [Bruges], and some didn’t even speak English all that well. They set type working from manuscripts that already had quite a bit of variation, and the overriding priority was getting them set quickly... Printing houses developed habits for spelling frequent words, often based on what made setting type more efficient... Hadde might be replaced with had... The word ghost, which had been spelled and pronounced gast in Old English, took on the gh spelling under the influence of Flemish-trained compositors. ( Caxton and printers get blamed for a lot.)

I see educational policy is being determined by the popular myth that learning Latin helps you learn modern languages more than learning modern languages helps you learn modern languages. (@SimonBruni)

This may well be an urban myth, but I like it all the same: when a previous initiative like this [teaching Latin] was introduced into inner city schools, the local police had to then send officers on Latin training because it was being used by 'youfs' to communicate in code.

Herodotus’s translators may have mistakenly rendered the term for marmot into one for “giant mountain ants”, because the two words apparently sound almost identical in Persian. (Fake History, Otto English)

The whole nine yards: The length of fabric used to make a kilt, the length of an aircraft machine-gun ammunition belt, or something to do with American football.

Gin was known as “mother’s ruin” because “gin and hot baths” were recommended to induce a miscarriage. (Murder Maps, paraphrase)

A paper published in the British Medical Journal in 1970, and widely reported in the press, set the tone for scientific inquiry across much of the following 50 years. It dismissed outbreaks of ME as either “mass hysteria” or misdiagnosis... Their conclusions were largely based on one observation: that the syndrome affected more women than men. Therefore, they reasoned, it was likely to be psychosomatic. (George Monbiot)

Where I come from some still believe that inhaling sileage vapours helps cure asthma. One friend's mum used to dangle her upside-down over cow pats yelling, in Welsh: 'Breathe, Cynthia, breathe!' (@FeetPetite)

James Pattle eventually drank himself to death and was put in a cask of rum to preserve him during the voyage back to England. (William Dalrymple)

In the original Wizard of Oz book (1900) the slippers were silver and represented currency and the Yellow Brick Road represented the Gold standard. (MrEwanMorrison)

What's in a name?
My great grandad was a Donovan and when he landed on Ellis island they attached an O to his surname to make it sound more Irish.
(@BrandonHodee. Nobody's name was changed at Ellis Island.)

My mother's maiden name of Daniel came about because the natives of the West Country couldn't cope with the ancestral immigrant name of McDonald. (@ffranc)

My mother called me Marlis because she didn’t think the Danes could pronounce Marie-Louise.

Extraordinary efforts to obtain saints’ relics
It was called furta sacra (holy theft). "Scholars contend that many of these tales were exaggerated or even fabricated outright", says JSTOR Daily.

A grete Myracle of a Knyghte callyde Syr Roger Wallysborow. This Knight being in the Holy Land, had a mind to bring-off, privately, a piece of the Holy Cross; accordingly, his Thigh open’d miraculously, and received it. Miraculously he returned to Cornwall his country; and miraculously his Thigh opened again and let it out. A bit of it he gave to that parish-church where this happened, thence forward called Crosse-Parysshe; the resydew he gave to St. Buryan’s College.

Pilgrims queued up to kiss the feet of the preserved body of St Francis Xavier. A keen relic-hunter managed to bite off one of the saint's toes.

Hugh, Bishop of Lincoln, gnawed off splinters of Mary Magdalen’s arm bone (or hand?).

A monk went undercover at the monastery at Agen before seizing an opportunity to steal the skull of St Foy.

More here, and links to the rest. Many more myths and memes in my book, What You Know that Ain't So.