Saturday 20 March 2021

Loopy Logic 8: What to Say when You're Losing the Argument 2

Whatever people say in the heat of debate, it often means: “I did not base my position on evidence and have no idea where to find any,” or “I am using this word to convey a subtext which may be racist or sexist but of course I’m not going to admit that.”

"What is truth?" asked jesting Pilate, and never stayed for an answer. (Francis Bacon. Picture by Duccio Buoninsegna)

I can’t be racist, I’m gay. (And others on this template.)
Let's not get argumental.

If you lose your temper, you’ve lost the argument.
It’s complex.
It’s a paradox.
It’s a general principle. (“Yes, but my point holds!” Gustave Flaubert)

You have a religious belief that you know the Truth and reject any other opinion.
You’re reluctant to take new ideas on board.

The evidence is all around you!
Don’t you have a dictionary?
I’m not doing your research for you!
Don’t you know how to Google?

You used an Americanism!

Adversarial argument
will never arrive at the truth. (Replaced by “binary” in 2020.)

How dare you tell me what to think!
God moves in a mysterious way.
Everyone has an opinion, and I’m entitled to mine.

I’m not being listened to, the other side needs to listen.

Let’s agree to disagree.
It’s time to move on.
Let’s stop this, shall we?
There’s always an off button!

Shall we leave it there?

Nobody changes their mind as a result of argument.
You can never change people’s minds by presenting them with facts.
Convince a man against his will, he’s of his own opinion still.

On attrappe pas les mouches avec le vinaigre. (You don’t catch flies with vinegar.)
Softly softly catchee monkey.

Nobody likes a smartarse!
I don’t like your tone.
Why can’t we both be right?

No issue is ever black and white. It is shades of grey.


Let’s not bring politics into this.

I think we need to step away and shut this down now.
We aren’t allowed to say X any more.
We can never really “know” anything.
I’m bored now.
I was just trying to start a debate by being provocative.

Show me one example! One example doesn't prove anything!

You need to educate yourself.

I don't really take social media that seriously.

Pretend not to understand
some perfectly common word: often “truth” or “fact”, but sometimes something simple like “widget”.

Pretend not to realise your opponent is joking. Take umbrage at others being told that your opponent is joking because it’s “patronising”.

Pretend not to realise that your opponent is quoting a famous work of literature.

Make an assertion (“Trump supporters who assaulted the Capitol were just a bunch of oddball eccentrics”), and then, instead of providing evidence to support it, employ “whataboutery”. Yes, Trump supporters violently invaded the Capitol, but BLM protesters set cars on fire! Next, attack a group you feel is hostile to you – the media, woke lefty snowflakes etc.

You don’t want to believe that people on your side (conservatives) can be evil or violent, so to avoid cognitive dissonance you whitewash them. Find excuses – left behind, rust belt, poor education. It’s the opposite of straw-manning. (Turns out the Capitol assaulters were mainly educated and middle-class.)

You then move on to “blinding with science” or “nitpicking”: There were four deaths inside, not the five you quote.

Paint anti-vaxxers as women who have been dismissed and poorly treated by doctors, and are naturally suspicious, and besides want to protect their children’s health. And there aren’t many of them. An attack on anti-vaxxers is therefore an attack on women. You also stress how hurt anti-vaxxers (or alien abductees) have been by disagreement. Relate anecdotes about these poor people “breaking down in tears” because we won’t believe them. 

Jeffrey Archer came and talked to my school once. Charming right up to moment my friend told him that when he'd quoted Gladstone he'd actually been quoting 1066 and All That. Archer practically exploded. "How dare you question me... you're a child... I was an MP etc." He was wrong. (@Otto_English)

Google is your friend, and Wikipedia is useful. See also, and

And read my book, What You Know that Ain't So.

More here, and links to the rest.


Tuesday 16 March 2021

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For in Short Quotes: 7

He also had to endure the thought that the “boy wonder” was now regarded everywhere as a has-been. ( on author Willard Wright. His mysteries written as "S.S. Van Dine", featuring detective Philo Vance, were a great success.)

What I have understood about the English I meet is their suspicion of generalizations, of abstractions, so easy for an American.
(David Plante)

He’ll always vote for the cruellest/nastiest option. (Via Twitter)

To be an enthusiast had become her social vocation. (War and Peace)

Hostesses who need so badly to be good hostesses that they’re suffocatingly overbearing. (@BeaDeeH)

Weird pack behaviour can develop. (

His early radicalism was tempered over the years. (The Jewish People, Their History and Religion, John D. Rayner and David J. Goldberg)

Fascinating and weird how failed artists have a tendency to drift ever more rightward and conspiratorial. (@Otto_English)

It’s deeply embedded in the office culture to hang on. Historical binders, outdated books and ancient files line every wall.

She not only straightens pictures when she visits, but moves furniture and offers advice on coordinating the colours. (

You know that extremely common public attitude of "you can't understand this, you're too educated"? (@entschwindet)

The more power the right has, the more it thinks the left controls everything. (@PaulbernalUK)

It is something when evil asks you to be kind. It is something when a brute asks you to be gentle. It is something when an abuser asks you to have mercy. (@BenjaminPDixon)

Must get ahead of bicycle’ syndrome, followed by ‘can’t let bicycle get ahead again’ syndrome. (@IrishCycle)

Mrs Norris was trying to bustle when she had nothing to bustle about. (Jane Austen, Mansfield Park)

He agreed in everything everybody said, altering his opinions without the slightest reservation upon the slightest possible contradiction. (WM Thackeray, Snobs)

It seems to be a national sport to ruin listed buildings on the quiet. (Jane Schofield)

The public wants to think that stars wrote their own books. (Interviewee on the BBC)

Labour strike me like a weak man trying to keep both his wife and his girlfriend. (AG)

The otherwise Law Abiding were corrupted with a giant case of "When in Rome" or "Everybody's doing it" logic. (Imdb on The Roaring Twenties)

He’d begin with rapturous flattery... and then shift to self-regard. (New Yorker on author Daniel Mallory)

A personnel shuffle with the usual loss of collective memory. (Via FB)

If you want to know what a conservative is doing, just find out what they're accusing liberals of doing. (Michael Scott)

The psychopaths had learned the lingo to describe feelings very accurately. (Independent, 2019)

Someone at whose feet she could sit, yet someone she could direct and dominate. (Martin Edwards)

Epicurus, another figure who spawned acolytes and an "-ism" that he'd have found unrecognisable. (@byzantinepower)

Some families collect grudges the way someone might collect Toby jugs, and then they give the grudges to their children, like heirlooms! (Rupert Maddog Reynolds)

Many extreme types seem to flit from party to party. Finding a ladder they can climb is more important to them than policy/loyalty. (@janeyk72)

They may reappear, but weaker, with fewer followers. In time, they’re spending more time building their network than it’s worth. (Mike Stuchbery on exposing neo-Nazi groups)

My wife watches me load the dishwasher, her face creased with pain. Soon, she will commence the Great Redoing. It is the way of things. (@OwensDamien)

If your default mode is "picking holes in everything done by people who aren't you", "actual effect" is irrelevant. (@JohnB)

From Dear Prudence,

An ugly day of reckoning is inevitable.

Many family members collude with and protect abusers even after seeing overwhelming evidence.

Your in-laws’ style is to find other people’s vulnerabilities and relentlessly needle them.

My neighbours are aware their house looks terrible and have been claiming for years that a painter is coming to spruce the place up at any moment.

She tells family members: “I talked to my therapist about you, and she thinks you’re [insert armchair diagnosis here]”.

I almost admire your SIL’s ability to mine conflict from a seemingly peaceful landscape.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

More Golden Age Mystery Tropes


The beauty salon is the centre of the drugs trade – the stuff is hidden in cans of talcum powder.

The amateur detective is rude to police, suspects or witnesses and this is supposed to be funny.

A suitcase full of children’s books keeps turning up (Mr Standfast, Mystery Mile, N or M?).

An amateurish daub hides a Rubens.

Drug addicts have either pinpoint or dilated pupils.

A female character pretends to powder her nose so that she can observe people behind her.

Dubious male characters “hold up a perfectly manicured hand”.

An uneducated detective appreciates Wagner, unlike his tin-eared colleagues. He also instinctively recognises the worth of modernist buildings, impressionist paintings etc.

The detective and his sidekick refer to female suspects they don’t like as “the Smithson”, or whatever their name is.

The pearl necklace that is or isn’t genuine. (De Maupassant, Maugham, Edgar Wallace)

He met a stranger – she said she was his wife – he played along because... (Agatha Christie’s Destination Unknown)

The unset gems are hidden in plain sight, stuck onto a stage costume among rhinestones and silver paper – you’d need very strong glue.

People with horrible scars, or fiery eyes, always turn out to be harmless. (Inspector Pirberry, Sunset over Soho, Gladys Mitchell A very odd book that may be “all a dream”.)

Seemingly supernatural events being given a rational explanation followed by an ambiguous - for lack of a better word - ending. (Xavier Lechard on Margery Allingham’s Look to the Lady)

Weird cultists, dope ring, similar stock props.
(Contemporary review of Ngaio Marsh’s Spinsters in Jeopardy)

The "dossier" style prose that many authors use at the start of a novel e.g. a government official is telling a subordinate/superior all about the protagonist. Usually finishing with the listener saying "I see." (Alan Cassady-Bishop. If a TV episode, there is byplay with cardboard files.)

The Birlstone Gambit: murderer is person you thought had died in chapter four. Gambits are related to “types” of mysteries, like “locked room” or “Had I But Known”. (Noah Stewart)

More here, and links to the rest.

Golden Age Mystery Tropes

The gifted painter who is forced by his grasping wife to paint slick academic portraits a la Boldini or De Laszlo. (Agatha Christie wrote a short story on this theme. It also features the “other woman” who is not rich or beautiful but appreciates the artist’s real work. De Laszlo is getting a London show soon.)

Treasure-hunt clues.

The projectile that was stabbed into the victim, not launched or thrown.

The victim is stabbed or clouted with an unlikely weapon that can then be left casually lying about – in someone else's house.

Too many victims have antique or oriental daggers scattered over the furniture.

Minnie Lawson, the companion, is presented with all the contempt that this society seems to have held for such women: she is silly, superstitious, goes unnoticed by most people, and bears her employer’s tyranny with sheep-like acquiescence. (ahsweetmysteryblog)

Common or tasteless people have family photos all over their walls, and cluttering up the furniture. But retired nannies and governesses are allowed silver-framed photos of past charges – Miss Silver and others.

The buttoned-up businessman/barrister/scholar who finds himself losing his temper and punching villains, and/or rescuing the heroine from dastardly evil-doers.

The blind man who pretends he can see; the seeing man who pretends he is blind.

Margery Allingham tropes: the perpetually smiling policeman, the brutal fight with an unknown assailant in the dark.

WH Wright (SS van Dine) in 1927 in his introduction to The World's Great Detective Stories asserted that only an ‘inept and uninformed author’ would any longer use such ‘fashions and inventions of yesterday’ as the cipher message containing the solution, the murder committed by an animal, the phonograph alibi, the discovery of a totally distinctive cigarette, a dagger shot at a distance from a machine, the locked-room murder committed after someone had entered the room, and so on. (Amazon review of ER Punshon. Phonograph alibi: But I was playing the piano in the great hall the entire time!)

Two characters meet by chance, exchange life stories, and do an identity swap.

Policemen never have proper notebooks but scribble on the backs of envelopes which they stuff into their pockets. At least Nigel Bathgate the journalist (Ngaio Marsh) always has a shorthand book and can take down conversations.

The one person who doesn’t react to the shot/car crash/entrance of the police.

Cottages are miles from anywhere, without sanitation, heating or running water, and are used by the villain to dispose of the body/an artist’s oeuvre. Or else used as an alibi: a faithful friend swears the two of them were living in the remote cottage for weeks – while the murder was being done.

That old classic – a family heirloom that turns out to be a fake. (Past Offences on Margery Allingham’s Flowers for the Judge)

No less than four stories incorporate the scenario of a captive or compromised protagonist sending a coded message to the outside world, and one which needs to be interpreted correctly by outsiders in order for help to arrive... This last story concerns a distressed doctor's curious prescription to a drugstore proprietor, complete with a Latinate message... A male gold-digger – here, an ersatz nobleman... Samuel Hopkins Adams takes the overstuffed approach to tell the fevered story of "The Seven Curses": a car accident victim drags himself to the bushes of a haunted house, and then watches a trio of robbers try to break in only for two of them to die an agonizing death. Fortunately, the wounded man shares a hospital room with the third robber, and the strange truth comes out. ( on a 1932 collection of US mystery stories)

"And if the telephone rings, take care it isn’t the mysterious summons to the lonely warehouse by the river, or the bogus call to Scotland Yard." "All right. And if the door-bell rings, beware of the disguised gas-inspector and the plain-clothes cop without a warrant-card. I need scarcely warn you against the golden-haired girl in distress... or the distinguished grey-haired man wearing the ribbon of some foreign order." (Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers)

Murder method: wait till victim has pneumonia, then leave a window open by their bed on a freezing night.

Golden Age detective stories sometimes feature a household that lives in the 19th century (in the 30s). (Police at the Funeral, Margery Allingham) Detectives Miss Silver and Miss Climpson are both survivals – wearing the fashions of their youth, and in Miss Silver’s case living in a “Victorian” flat and quoting Tennyson. Miss Marple frequently reveals that the Victorians knew as much if not more about psychology than the moderns. And a survival can come out with “moral maxims” that a modern young person of the 30s couldn’t.

Murderer leaves a trail of clues that on the face of it implicate himself, is arrested, cops work out that he couldn’t/wouldn’t have done it that way. Cops then find second trail of clues implicating the murderer’s ex-wife, rival or whomever he wants to target.

The sleepy, lazy smile. The carpet that is so luxurious that your feet sink into it. (Both Margery Allingham writing as Maxwell Marsh.)

The man with the nondescript features who can impersonate anybody. Character changes their face with stage makeup and fools people in daylight or electric light – just draw lines on your face with an eyebrow pencil and you're a little old lady. (Might have worked with candles and lamps.) Christie does it better with the switch from mousy to over-made-up plus wig or big, striking hat, or hiker outfit to garden-party outfit.

More here.

More here, and links to the rest.