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.

Monday 22 November 2021

Received Ideas in Quotes 21

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. (2 Timothy 4:4)

Derelict steam engines at Tyler Hill depot in Canterbury were probably the remains of a secret armoured train. It was kept in the tunnel during World War Two and never used, and that’s why Canterbury people were forbidden to shelter there (though some did.)

The widespread notion that romantic love is a recent [Western] invention strikes me as a tellingly male reading of limited cultural texts produced by mostly other men. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but I suspect people have been falling in love (regardless of norms) for millennia... Love's a powerful thing, I guess I'm trying to say. Don't believe "experts" who want to tell you "interiority is a new-fangled cultural fad". People are people. Have been for at least a 100,000 years. Culture doesn't change the essentials of innate human psychology. (@DavidOBowles)

We millennials are, remember, entitled, narcissistic and fame-obsessed, owing to the deadly combination of doting parents, reality TV and social media... we’re constantly whining, because our early adult years – dented by the 2008 financial crisis – have not lived up to the expectations we formed as we grew up bingeing Sex and the City. (Hannah Marriott, Guardian, July)

The best midge-repellent is Avon’s Skin So Soft’s Woodland Essence. (@mikerflinn Plus lavender-scented lotion keeps off ticks.)

Late medieval scholarly traditions argued that hot climates produced inhabitants of more feeble mental capacities than temperate ones; this theory implicitly justified the enslavement and dominion of such peoples. (Surekha Davis, Renaissance Ethnography and the Invention of the Human)

"Ringing the changes" comes from London cabbies giving short change, or false money. (It’s from bell-ringing).

It still amuses me in Australia there are people that actually think that Aboriginal people get some sort of compensation for being Aboriginal, and that everyone's getting some sort of payment or getting to go to uni for free. I've even heard free wedding dresses, free dogs, free Toyotas — it's ludicrous. ( I’ve been told homeless people in London acquire dogs because they get extra benefits for the animals’ food.)

What do you think Christians mean when they say that the USA needs to get back to "God"? (@HeathenSassy)

As a former Christian, I can say honestly that most of the time when Christians say these catch phrases they don't mean anything specific and have no clue what it would look like. Christianese is encouraged but never fully defined. Everyone just mimics each other. (@Conruthhoward)

A friend in Lisburn was told a story recently by a fella, who went to the shops for a neighbour, & was sent straight back cos he’d bought a loaf of Brennan’s & “that’s Catholic bread”. (@artimusfoul)

This house was built 130 years ago, and people were smaller then. HutH

Baa Baa green sheep - it was a tiresome right-wing urban myth a lot of people fell for. I remember kids I taught saying, "My mum knows this woman, and she knows a teacher who said they weren't allowed to teach the children Baa Baa Black Sheep any more." (It was presumably the same school where they weren't allowed to have black bin liners.) (JL)

Blackboards were replaced with whiteboards in most schools for various reasons (technical and health), which was another wonderful opportunity for racist conspiracy theories.

Everyone knows the difference between male and female brains. One is chatty and a little nervous, but never forgets and takes good care of others. The other is calmer, albeit more impulsive, but can tune out gossip to get the job done. (

Agatha Christie hated Hercule Poirot. She said (in the Daily Mail in 1938): “There has been at times a coolness between us. There are moments when I have felt: “Why – why – why did I ever invent this detestable, bombastic, tiresome little creature?” eternally straightening things, eternally boasting, eternally twirling his moustache... Yes, there have been moments when I’ve disliked M. Hercule Poirot very much indeed, when I have rebelled bitterly against being yoked to him for life... But now, I must confess it, Hercule Poirot has won. A reluctant affection has sprung up for him. He has become more human, less irritating. I admire certain things about him - his passion for the truth, his understanding of human frailty, and his kindliness... In spite of his vanity he often chooses deliberately to stand aside and let the main drama develop. (In the same article she talks about his “intense interest in the psychology of every case”. And don’t forget a) she had a sense of humour and b) the article is a teaser for Appointment with Death, which was about to be serialised in the Daily Mail. She also takes the opportunity to refer to some of her other titles.)

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

Sunday 21 November 2021

Received Ideas in Quotes 20

Westerns used to be written by people who had never left England, leading to solecisms like Overhead, the coyotes were circling.

People have stopped washing during lockdown.

Mikhail Gorbachev was a big fan of
Twin Peaks and asked George H.W. Bush to find out for him who killed Laura Palmer. David Lynch was contacted by the producers on behalf of the president but didn’t tell them the answer. (@qikipedia. Urban myth, says @thornewip – probably based on a contemporary political cartoon.)

Hotpot is from hodge-podge, which is from the Spanish olla podrida or stew. (Sounds convincing.)

Below the salt: The lack of access that the English poor had to spices (or anything to make their food taste better) is pretty well expressed in the phrase 'below the salt', which was a term for the lowly folks at the bottom of the table who did not even have access to that. (@Cavalorn. Take this story cum grano salis. It’s a long refectory table and the salt is in the middle. The posh folks sat at the head, but the salt was for everybody.)

British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, who lived at Brocket Hall, died while shagging a maid on the snooker table. This is also where Lady Caroline Lamb lived and was wont to have herself served to dinner party guests, stark naked, from a giant soup tureen. (AJB He also says that priests on both sides were burned at the stake in “Romeland”, a street in St Albans, hence the name.)

A ‘grass’ or informant began with the rhyming slang ‘grasshopper/shopper’, because they shop a former accomplice. (@susie_dent)

Stationer: A bookseller who had a regular "station" or shop at a university, unlike most booksellers, who were itinerant vendors. (Free Dictionary)

Pockets in women’s clothes were phased out as men feared the women were carrying evil spells. (Women had “pockets” – purses that hung from their belt, or from the waistband inside their skirt, accessible through a placket.)

I knew a nurse who said "boys can get venereal diseases from toilets just like girls can". Also a lot of nurses are superstitious as hell. I've been trying to squash the belief that a full moon causes busier shifts among my coworkers for years. (@BoraxMr)

In 1988, a school friend and I did the Interrail thing. Was fun. He had no liking for yer Cultural Aspects, though. Was silent around Paris one day. On the way back to the hostel, he suddenly goes, "Will ye look at that! What will they think of next!?" It was a wheelie bin. (@galahadlake)

The tarte Tatin is a pastry in which the fruit is caramelised in butter and sugar before the tart is baked. It was created accidentally at the Hôtel Tatin in Lamotte-Beuvron, Loir-et-Cher, France, in the 1880s. (@Wikivictorian. Along with Bakelite, Lamingtons and many more.)

Think, for example, of so-called voodoo death. The witch-doctor has merely to cast his spell of death upon a man and within hours the victim will collapse and die. (Robin Humphrey, 2021 Featured in a detective story by Arthur Upward in 1938; became something that “everybody knows”.)

They are locks, not dreadlocks. The dread part came from the British army who in the 1850s dreaded meeting the Ethiopian tribesmen who wore their hair in locks. (@SertimaB)

Try not to allow Western interpretations of words to influence how you see things. "Dread" root origin is "Before it got the name ‘Rastafari’ its followers called themselves ‘dreads’, signifying their ‘dread’ and respect for God." (@AntoineSpeaker. He’s a TV reporter who’s been told off for appearing with “locks” – neatly plaited and short.)

A half-truth about St Francis (1181-1226) is that he preached to birds - like a 12th century Dr Dolittle. The truth is he was banned from preaching to people by the Vatican. By preaching to birds & letting humans overhear he bent the rules. (@MrEwanMorrison. He adds: "English-language catalogue from the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi." He further adds that the brochure (or current scholarship) wanted to make St Francis’ story less mythical and more political. There seem to have been various bans on itinerant preachers – they had to get permission from the local church before addressing the public. More research needed.)

What little evidence we have suggests that actual medieval pagans (in medieval Lithuania, for example) had stricter sexual mores than medieval Christians. When people associate pagans with sexual freedom, all they're doing is projecting C19th fantasies onto the past.

The reason why people don’t want to believe in God is because if they do, they know they will have to obey Him. That’s the real reason. That’s why they suppress the truth. (@grcastleberry)

What was an urban legend everyone “knew” when you were young? For some reason everyone firmly believed Polo Mints counteracted the morning after pill. (@Alrightpunk)

Was it Samuel Johnson who inserted the B in "subtle", just as he listed "furrin" as "foreign" on a mistaken understanding of its etymology? ("Foreign" goes back further and was once spelled “forayne”. Chaucer? This sounds American as they’re more likely to say “furrin”.)

“The answer is a lemon” comes from the one-armed bandit machine. Three fruit in a row was a winner unless the fruits were lemons. (HC)

More here, and links to the rest. And there are many, many more in my book What You Know that Ain't So.

Friday 19 November 2021

Technophobia 10

All my files are in a folder on the hard disk.

30 years ago when computers arrived in offices, firms didn't think it was worth paying for training. Result: a generation of people who've been using computers for 30 years without really knowing how. Zoom has revealed desktops littered with files, and I spent part of one call trying to tell the other person how to resize windows by grabbing a side or corner and dragging it...

Put your files in folders, and put the folders inside folders, and keep them on your hard disk. In Windows, "Cursor on the desktop (or inside an open folder), right click and select "new" then select "folder"."

On a Mac, click on the desktop and click on the File menu (next to "Finder), and select "New Folder". Name it, and drag the relevant files inside.

Find your files again: In Windows, "open File Explorer from the taskbar or right-click on the Start menu, and choose File Explorer, then select a location from the left pane to search or browse. For example, select This PC to look in all devices and drives on your computer, or select Documents to look only for files stored there."

On a Mac, click on the desktop and then Apple+F, or click on the magnifying glass at top right. Type in the whole or part of the filename, or if you've forgotten it, type a couple of words you know are in the file. You can display lists of folders and the files they contain – in alphabetical order.

You can search any application – just look for the magnifying glass icon.

You can search a Web page with Apple+F too. In Windows Ctrl+F.

Keeping multiple internet windows open as tabs slows down your machine – bookmark them and put the bookmarks in the toolbar.  Select "Bookmarks" from the Firefox menu bar, select "Bookmark current tab" and choose whether to put it on the Toolbar or in "Other bookmarks". You can shorten its name, or just go by the icon.

If you open Internet sites as "windows" rather than "tabs", you can move them around the desktop, resize them, and easily move from one to the other.  Hover over an edge or corner until the cursor arrow changes shape, then click and drag to resize. Move windows around by clicking and dragging on the top strip. (The same goes for Word files – you can put them side by side, notes next to finished document.)

There's a meme about changing the name of a character in your novel with search and replace. What if he’s called Rob or Frank, haha? Or she’s called May? He he he. Switch to advanced Find and Replace. Check “whole word” and “match case”. And there’s no need to “replace all”, you can “go to next” without replacing, where you have a choice. (I wonder how old these stories are? Don't name your characters Don, Bob or Sue, either.)

And in Facebook, click on the three grey dots top right of a post. You may be amazed at the options on offer!

It's 2021 and someone on Twitter has "I don't know how to post a thread, but..." in her pinned Tweet. I wonder how many people have told her so far? (Tweet something, reply to it, reply to the reply until you've finished what you want to say.)

It's 2021 and users are still calling Twitter "this hell site".

It’s 2021 and they're still calling Facebook Faceache (or talking about Twatter and Farcebook as if it was a) funny and b) they were the first to think of it.)

All my colleagues have slowly been corrupted into the novelty of reading their inboxes at 7am or on a Saturday, and I regret teaching anyone how any of this works because I have a healthy fear of technology inspired by familiarity with it. (@Sotherans. Email has been around since the early 80s.)

I spent four hours recovering a stock-control machine that should have been backed up daily to floppy disk, but the store manager 'forgot'. Afterwards I asked them to send me a copy of the backup so that we had a version we could recover to. He photocopied the floppy and put the copy it in the mail addressed to me. (Mike Shevdon. Not sure I believe it. But ten years ago when working on a recipe book I was told "X has put all the recipes on the computer". Oh, good, I thought, no need to retype these handwritten sheets. I asked her to send the recipes to me and she sent me the printouts... I said nothing but retyped the whole thing.)

New boss asked me to cut and paste some info in a Word document and was aghast when I did so using the, er, cut and paste function. Swore at me, then made me print the doc out, cut it up with a pair of scissors to move paragraphs around & then re-type it from scratch in the new order. (@DoctorKirbs)

I once worked with someone who populated a spreadsheet with data, added up the rows manually on the calculator and typed the answer.

I’m the IT guy at a biotech company. I’ve automated my major responsibilities out of existence. My advice? Get a degree in Computer Science or related. Get a job at a non-IT company, existing employees won’t know how to do what you do and you won’t be expected to do their work. Automate any recurring job responsibilities: backups, processing workflows, etc.  Find a use for all of the free time in your workday. (Quora, paraphrase)

My job is to watch an email inbox for incoming documents. About ten times a day, a PDF document comes in and I forward it to whoever deals with that form. This could be automated but nobody at the appropriate level of management has the level of technical experience to know it’s possible. (Quora)

What I learned by taking a month-long break from email (Headline. Probably “I missed a lot of appointments and couldn’t join meetings because I didn’t have the Zoom link”.)

Justine Haupt spent the last three years developing a device that strips away all of the non-phone functions of modern smartphones. The Portable Wireless Electronic Digital Rotary Telephone does not have a touchscreen, menus, or other superfluous features (What a monumental waste of time. For “superfluous” read “essential”.)

We don’t do Sky, I’m afraid. (Via FB)

When I first used a computer in an office, I worked out ways of doing things faster. (Highlight a word, sentence or line and delete it instead of pressing the delete back button 30 times.) Every time I worked out a “go faster” tip, I would put it in a memo and send it round, expecting colleagues to keep them in a folder. They didn’t even read them because “I didn’t understand it”.  And perhaps if you speed up you'll only be given more to do.

A friend used email as texting because she could answer a text message but not send one.

When people say they hate technology, often what they hate is terrible interface design.

What happened to refusing to say “e-mail” because “mail” is American?

Just told another person how to switch to “Latest Tweets” and turn his friends into a list.

Do you remember the outrage when first-time computer buyers discovered they were expected to go out and buy a software package and install it themselves?

A friend in his 70s says he doesn’t need to “bother” with Facebook because his family send him snaps of their kids through the post.

Claims that technology makes things too easy, leading to the dreaded Instant Gratification, probably translate as “makes my brain hurt”.

People are still trying to argue that the internet and social media are addictive. They're still apologising for using them.

There’s a Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society.

When everybody got mobiles, when everybody got smartphones, people still treated them as landlines, expecting you to be “in” when they called. “I can never get hold of you!” If you have something to tell me, send me an email or text. And don't expect me to be able to hear what you're saying, or get out a calendar and make arrangements, when I'm walking along a busy street... I love it when people say "Could you put this in an email?"

Variations on “Man created technology and now Man is its slave” are current. I remember “I don’t want to become a slave to technology” being used an excuse not to get a computer about 30 years ago.

2000 headline: Internet may be just a passing fad as millions give up on it.

My screensaver (pictured above) is Greencastle in Donegal, Ireland. More technophobia here, and links to the rest.

Friday 12 November 2021

Received Ideas: Ballast

If you go for a tour around Topsham , Swanage or Fowey, your guide will point out an exotic building material that was brought over as ballast. For some reason, these stories have a romantic appeal, but a little thought will raise doubts. I suspect them all on principle.

The Swanage follies (bits of old London) were “brought over as ballast” by contractors John Mowlem and George Burt. (They scavenged – or salvaged – the architectural fragments while building in London in the 19th century.) In World War II, the battered American comic books available in England had come over as ballast (said George Orwell, and the story was still current in the 80s). Japanese imari plates came over as ballast in tea clippers. The yellow brick road of the Land of Oz derived from yellow bricks brought over by Dutch ships, which were used for roads by the first inhabitants of Peekskill, New York. Bricks from England built St John’s Cathedral, Belize. The ancient bricks of the oldest building in Walberswick were brought over in trading ships from the Low Countries.

Shingle and soil from Ireland supports Ullapool. The rubble from the San Francisco earthquake ended up in Newcastle, Australia. The ash heaps of Kings Cross were exported to St Petersburg (built on a marsh). FDR Drive in New York City is built on rubble from the Bristol blitz. Manhattan’s East Side is built on rubble from the Liverpool blitz. (There's a plaque.)

See also Dutch bricks that built houses in Topsham (Devon) and Fowey (Cornwall); Venetian tiles round fireplaces in Fowey; cobblestones that paved the streets of New York; exotic igneous rocks that built Museum Place, Cardiff; agates from Brazil en route to the lapidaries of Oberstein, Germany (imported in the regular way, says the Internet); fossil coral and chunks of quartz on the banks of the Thames; blue glazed bricks that pave the streets of San Juan, Puerto Rico; blue-and-white tiles that decorate buildings in São Luís, Brazil; cobblestones that pave Nantucket streets; exotic seashells adorning Scott’s Grotto, Ware... you guessed it. All cobblestones are exotic.

But when people say “brought over as ballast”, maybe they are using the term loosely. They don’t mean “slung into the deepest hold”, but “added as an extra cargo to make up the weight”. “Makeweight” is a nautical term. The Dutch bricks of US Colonial-era buildings – were they ordered by builders? Surely no ship-owner would dump useful building material on the quayside? And besides, wouldn't it get in the way? New York was paved with “flat oblong granite, known as Belgian block, which was brought in as ship ballast” ( Wikipedia says Belgian block is another name for granite setts, manufactured for road making and unlikely to be given away. Just as Belgian block is not necessarily imported from Belgium, are “Flemish bricks brought over as ballast” a misunderstanding of “Flemish bond”, a style of bricklaying? Another authority says that the “bricks from England” that built colonial-era mansions were manufactured nearby – why spend a fortune on importing brick and stone? And it would be impractical to wait for ballast to arrive on the off-chance until you had enough materials to build your structure.

Mudlark Lara Maiklem points out that carboniferous fossils on the Thames foreshore probably arrived in loads of coal from the northeast.

There’s a Ballast Quay at Greenwich, but it was for ships taking on ballast (sand and gravel), not dumping it. There’s a Ballast Island in Porthmadog Harbour in Wales, where you can find stones from all over the world, and rare plants and flowers whose seeds hitched a ride. Allegedly.

There are many more urban legends and internet myths in my book What You Know that Ain't So.

More myths here, and links to the rest.