Saturday 19 February 2022

Perceptions of Agatha Christie: The Same Old Clichés

Not the Thames

There's a piece on Agatha Christie by Rhys Bowen on called Those Golden Age Ladies Weren’t So Hot. I've read more than one book on Christie that claimed to rescue her from her detractors by “explaining” why she is “so bad”. (Her sometimes repetitive prose is a clever use of neuro-linguistic programming, and so witlessly on.)

This article tells us what a present-day writer expects from a mystery. For example: back story. Why doesn’t Poirot have one? Why isn’t he married? He has a tendresse for Vera Rossakoff and also for Zia Papopoulos, both shady ladies with an eye for a sparkling gem. They are also both well-upholstered and dark-haired. Poirot sometimes recalls the beauties of his youth, with their sweeping skirts, feather boas and huge hats. Why don’t modern girls make something of themselves? (See Third Girl.) Miss Marple sometimes refers to unsuitable young men who, instead of being forbidden the house, were constantly invited until their unsuitability became obvious. 

“Her characters are usually one-dimensional.” I can picture a two-dimensional character – a cardboard cut-out from a toy theatre – but a one-dimensional character would be what – a single point?

Bowen approves of The Hollow “which is a completely character-driven plot”. 

“The stories are always whodunnit and never whydunit. The crime writing field has moved into richer, more multilayered stories in which we are involved in the private lives and histories of the sleuth and the characters and their relationships.” This is the usual dissing of earlier writers in order to make current writers look good – the field has "evolved". 

She claims that Roger Ackroyd is unfair – the narrator withholds information. Of course he does. If he wrote "I stood behind Roger and inserted the antique dagger into the medulla oblongata via the foramen magnum because he was about to expose me as a blackmailer", there wouldn’t be a book.

“We have little sense of place in her books.” This is an oft-repeated slur. Christie herself once wrote that she preferred places to people because she was long-sighted and could see landscapes more clearly than faces. But she’s teasing us – she was clearly fascinated by people. Perhaps what Bowen means is that there are no long passages of lyrical description holding up the narrative. Surely “great writers” all write approvingly about nature?

The village. The market town. The big country house. But that is about it.” And Mesopotamia, BaghdadEgypt – you don’t even need to read beyond the titles to work out that not all her books are set in English villages, towns or country houses.

We rarely know what plants are blooming, what birds are in the garden, what the air smells like, whether the scenery is wild and remote or soft and gentle.”

Despite Mrs Bantry and her seed catalogues? Nasse House and its rare shrubs? The foxgloves growing too near the sage? The clue of the exotic dahlia? Miss Marple's Japanese garden? The siskins and goldfinches Miss M pretends to be watching through her binoculars? What Christie doesn't do is employ the pathetic fallacy and ascribe human qualities like "gentleness" to a landscape.

“The books do not touch our emotions. Nobody weeps for the body in the library. Nobody is sad when the tormented murderer is apprehended. We remain detached observers to a crime and its solution.”

What goes through people’s minds when they dish up the usual clichés for the nth time – and try to convince us that they are the first to have the idea? 

Nobody weeps for the body in the library? Read the scene where the news is broken to the bereaved parents. Read about Clotilde Bradbury-Scott and her adopted daughter. The scene in Murder in Mesopotamia where the efficient Miss Johnson breaks down in bitter sobs. Nurse Amy Leatheran is later comforted by Poirot ("a woman couldn't have been kinder"). What does Bowen want, more melodrama?

And Peter Wimsey is “one-dimensional” despite the serious attacks of PTSD. See the scene in Strong Poison where he looks at himself in the mirror:

The great Venetian mirror over the fireplace showed him his own head and shoulders. He saw a fair, foolish face, with straw-coloured hair sleeked back; a monocle clinging incongruously under a ludicrously twitching brow; a chin shaved to perfection, hairless, epicene; a rather high collar, faultlessly starched, a tie elegantly knotted and matching in colour the handkerchief which peeped coyly from the breast-pocket of an expensive Savile-Row-tailored suit. He snatched up a heavy bronze from the mantelpiece—a beautiful thing, even as he snatched it, his fingers caressed the patina—and the impulse seized him to smash the mirror and smash the face—to break out into great animal howls and gestures.

Silly! One could not do that. The inherited inhibitions of twenty civilised centuries tied one hand and foot in bonds of ridicule. What if he did smash the mirror? Nothing would happen. Bunter would come in, unmoved and unsurprised, would sweep up the debris in a dust-pan, would prescribe a hot bath and massage. And next day a new mirror would be ordered, because people would come in and ask questions, and civilly regret the accidental damage to the old one. And Harriet Vane would still be hanged, just the same.

Bowen then confesses she has all Christie’s books and reads them for “comfort” and predictability. (There are Christie stories I find too disturbing to reread: Harlequin’s Lane, The Last Séance. I can’t even start And Then There Were None.)

A piece like this can’t end without tackling the central mystery: why did AC sell so many copies? Why is she more popular than current writers – than ME! “I suppose one of the reasons for her initial success is that there were not many other crime novels published when she started.  Mystery was not established as a genre.” Whaaaaat? Christie took up the mystery genre because it was so popular in her day! 

“Then we had a very different crime writing wave in the US—the hardboiled guys, Chandler, Spillane and again spare telling of tales with little depth of characterization.”

You want depth? “You’re not human tonight, Marlowe!” Find me a deeper character, here suffering existential angst in The High Window. And if you want complex, try the chameleon Terry Lennox in The Long Goodbye.

But finally, it’s all about me – I mean, the current state of mystery writing:

“People who don’t read in our genre think of mystery novels as trite and slight because they only know of these initial writers. I have been asked if I ever intend to write a real book. But oh, how we have evolved. The best crime writing today can be called great literature. Complex characters, multiple timelines, incredible sense of place, nuanced feelings of right and wrong. What’s more, we have plots and climaxes and we don’t end our books walking down a beach in Maine wondering about the meaning of life.”

Multiple timelines? The Moonstone, The Hollow. Nuanced feelings of right and wrong? Murder on the Orient Express, Unnatural Death. As for “slight” – word counts were different in the 30s, and padding – sorry, “incredible sense of place” – was not necessary.

Bowen does not mention – perhaps she hasn’t noticed – the satirical nature of many Golden Age mysteries. The way they send up current fads, or place characters on the class ladder. She also fails to mention their wit, or their ironic detachment. Their skill, not just in the narrative voice, but in capturing the way people speak. (Though I can do without country people who converse in dialect.)

Great literature? I give you The Moonstone, The Long Goodbye, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Even Bleak House. There is more to great literature than the qualities Bowen lists – which sound like prerequisites learned on a writing course. 

Perhaps in America there are just too many writing courses and retreats and “programs”,  books on how to write, and formulae for success. Why not junk them all and just tell your story? If you tell it in the voice of the main character, you don't have to strive to be "literary".

More on Christie here, and links to the rest.

Friday 11 February 2022

Loopy Logic: Extraordinarily Forward-Looking for its Time


Whig history... is an approach to historiography that presents history as a journey from a dark and terrible past to a "glorious present". The present described is generally one with modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy: the term was coined to criticise grand narratives praising Britain's adoption of constitutional monarchy and the historical development of the Westminster system. The term has also been applied widely in historical disciplines outside of British history (e.g. in the history of science) to describe "any subjection of history to what is essentially a teleological view of the historical process". (Wikipedia)

What I think of as the American, or Ford car, view of literature, which holds that every new poem somehow incorporates all poems that have gone before it and takes them a step further.
 Philip Larkin

See the whole of Philip Larkin’s intro to his collected music criticism, All That Jazz. He points out that jazz grew out of dance bands, which played popular songs with tunes for people to dance to. This is the kind of jazz he loves. But after the war “Something fundamentally awful had taken place to ensure that there should be no more tunes... There was something about the books I was now reading that seemed oddly familiar. This development, this progress, this new language that was more difficult, more complex, that required you to work hard at appreciating it, that you couldn’t expect to understand first go, that needed technical and professional knowledge to evaluate it at all levels, this revolutionary explosion that spoke for our time while at the same time being traditional in the fullest, the deepest... Of course! This was the language of criticism of modern painting, modern poetry, modern music.... And so they soldier on at their impossible task, as if trying to persuade us that a cold bath is in some metaphysical way the same as a hot bath, instead of its exact opposite (‘But don’t you see the evolutionary development?’)

Beethoven anticipated Wagner who anticipated Schoenberg – as Radio 3 used to tell us practically every day in the 70s. But time's arrow only goes one way: the future can not influence the past.

The music station also avoided Mahler, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev because they were still writing romantic music in the 20th century. Didn’t they know they should have stopped in 1900?

Another 70s trope: Turner, Constable, Velasquez, Bonington, Boudin etc are good because they are Impressionists avant le lettre.

All noir films made before the “official first noir” (I can never remember the title or date) are not noir but proto-noir. There’s a logical flaw here that I can’t quite put my finger on... 

An early example of the mystery genre is not worth bothering about because it did not contain the seeds of progress towards what the genre became, reaching its peak in... 

Painted in loose bravura sweeps like the modernism Goya presages. (Laura Cumming, Observer 2015. Goya came first; the modernists learned from him.)

This gold-colored silk afternoon dress with its green bows and ruffles that help to emphasize the back of the silhouette was on trend in 1866, but its coordinating trompe l’oeil jacket was very fashion-forward. (@FITfashionstory)

Privileged to value a private collection of Francis Towne's work this evening. After his death in 1816, he sank into obscurity, now his compositions are highly regarded and sought after. 'Ambleside,' (1786) is a great example of his very flat, economical, ‘modern’ style. (@ahistoryinart)

This is the Reynolds self-portrait we filmed. I absolutely love this painting, so modern! IMO one of the best self-portraits in British art history. (@arthistorynews)

Villa Cavrois in Croix, between Lille and Roubaix. Designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens and built in 1929-32: way ahead of its time.  (@Birmingham_81)

These weirdly modern touches have aged superbly in the 124 years since A.J. Raffles first strode out onto the Lord’s pitch to dispatch some uppity bowler and save the day, before crying off sick and robbing the man’s hotel room. (

In many ways well ahead of its time, and distinctly modern, Iain Finlayson in The Times writes of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s journalistic “genius”, a view this collection triumphantly confirms.( It is Maclaren-Ross's genius that is "well ahead of its time", not Iain Finlayson.) 

In a Lonely Place is based on a 1947 novel by Dorothy B. Hughes that, in a way, foreshadows a later novel by another female writer: Patricia Highsmith’s 1950 opus Strangers on a Train. (

The poetry of Rimbaud anticipated the Surrealist movement by half a century. (Radio 3, 2021. The Surrealists were very derivative.)

The novel deals with casual sex, brothels, difficult relationships and a whole host of modern themes. (Amazon on Julian Symons’ The 31st of February. It is also a “psychological thriller” ahead of its time.)

Hieronymus Bosch is so now! (Bosch is part of a long tradition stretching from the Romans through the Middle Ages – see sculpture, manuscripts, wall paintings and endless depictions of hybrid/imaginary creatures and grotesques.)

It presents the artist as a cultural magpie possessed of some remarkably modern sensibilities. (Kathryn Hughes on Hogarth, paraphrase.)

Little survives from WilliamWalton's juvenilia, but the choral anthem A Litany, written when he was 15, anticipates his mature style. (Wikipedia)

A film that despite being made in 1944 avoids stereotyping British Characters. ( Gosh, well done poor benighted people of 1944!)

Edison's cast-in-place concrete houses were a massive failure, but way ahead of their time. (@atlasobscura)

This 4,600 year old Egyptian statue made primarily from wood has eyes made from rock crystal and small copper plates. It’s one example of the remarkable level of craftsmanship and realism achieved even in 2600 BC. (@ArtifactsHub) 

Art appeared: art so sophisticated, it proves that the cognitive faculties we value so highly today were fully evolved tens of thousands of years ago (the works here were made between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago). Only a modern human mind, the argument goes, could create a masterpiece like the Zaraysk bison. (Jonathan Jones on the British Museum's Ice Age Art show. It was even subtitled "The Arrival of the Modern Mind".)

It is either reassuring or disturbing or both to recognise many of the dynamics observable in today’s Twitter wars described with such vivid clarity in 1976. (Ian Leslie, substack)

It’s astounding this masterpiece of a book was written in 1934 because even now I can think of only one other book of biographical literature that is so strikingly ground-breaking, so thrillingly compelling in its method of composition. (Amazon reviewer on The Quest for Corvo by A.J.A. Symons. Symons invented the “biography as detective story” genre.)

The Petite Messe Solonelle is my favorite Rossini, especially in its original version with just keyboards. It's not only beautiful, and incredibly forward-looking for its time... it's also FUN. (@IAmAPyriteKing)

The Lloyds building – very forward looking for its time. I used to work with people in the insurance industry, they always reckoned it was a ‘cursed building’. (@proctorstudio)

The 1996 Volvo: a Swedish gem. The design is considerably modern for its time and you wouldn't expect it is a 1996 model. More like an early 2000. (@syxq__)

Yuma Territorial Prison during its operation from 1876 to 1909 with 3,069 prisoners incarcerated here. It's often described as a hell hole but the pen was modern for its time with electricity, ventilation and plumbing – 2 bathtubs and 3 showers. There was also a prison band. (@onroadaz)

Pre-Hispanic divorce in the Philippines was pretty modern for its time. (@Nico_Tingson) 

Headline: The Philippine precolonial culture was feminist.

While Philippine lore is undoubtedly rich, what stands out is how it seems to be ahead of its time. (@gmanews)

North by Northwest is a fashion feast. So many fabulous dresses, coats and bags. The cinematography is glorious. Score feels modern for its time. (@nwfoodette The score is by Bernard Herrmann, one of the greatest composers of the 20th century.)

Franz Schreker’s music is harmonically and texturally ambitious, employing a huge cast, chorus, and orchestra, and a harmonic language, which, while still tonal, is forward-looking for its time. ( on Franz Schreker’s Der Ferne Klang)

In a straight novel, Giant's Bread, Agatha Christie wrote about a composer who wanted to remake music as pure sound – in 1930. Did Christie anticipate musique concrète? “In 1928 music critic André Cœuroy wrote in his book Panorama of Contemporary Music that "perhaps the time is not far off when a composer will be able to represent through recording, music specifically composed for the gramophone... In an essay entitled "Radio", published in 1936 ... Rudolf Arnheim stated that: "The rediscovery of the musicality of sound in noise and in language, and the reunification of music, noise and language in order to obtain a unity of material: that is one of the chief artistic tasks of radio." (Wikipedia) Musique concrète (created from sounds) got going in the 1940s.

In the character’s determination to find ways of escaping the conventional racism of her upbringing this is remarkably forward-looking for its time. (Tom Hochstrasser on Joyce Grenfell’s sketch First Flight) All three of these monologues could stand alongside Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads in quality of psychological insight and authority of character, and you have to wonder in point of fact how far Bennett himself was influenced by Grenfell in his own later work in this genre.” (Tom H is quite surprised to find himself wondering if Bennett was influenced by Grenfell, rather than Grenfell being influenced by the future Bennett, and struggles to understand that Grenfell was not the cosy, limited observer he has always thought her, and that not everyone in the 50s was racist.

Forbidden Planet (1956) – actually a sci-fi classic. It was rather well-made and very forward-looking for its time, even thought it doesn't look it by today's standards; a very cerebral story based off Shakespeare's The Tempest and very much apparent inspiration for Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. (

Nietzsche is amazingly modern. To him you could trace the tendency in modern politics to analyse all human relationships in terms of their power disparities. And he is the prophet not only of academic moral relativism, but our present state of "post-truth" anarchy and moral warfare, where all consider themselves moral arbiters and responsible for discerning their own personal "truth" from the realms of "alternative facts". (Times Saturday Review, 2022. You could also say that the rot set in with Nietzsche.) 

And Amelia Bloomer and her followers really were ahead of their time – it wasn't the right moment for women in trousers. Mrs Bloomer introduced the “Bloomer costume” in the 1850s. It was the conventional dress of the day, but with a knee-length skirt, worn over baggy, ankle-length trousers. Women who wore it were mocked in the streets and in the press. One by one they “left it off”. Baggy knickerbockers for women were revived in the 1890s when women needed a safe bicycling costume, and in WWI women wore trousers and nobody blinked an eye. After WWI trousers were retained as leisure-wear and sported by Marlene Dietrich.

In 1935 William Stout invented a “mobile office” vehicle he calls the Scarab. Believed to be “too radical and modern for its time,” only nine Scarabs — what many contend is the first true “minivan”— were ever produced. (@reallyrabbit)

Perhaps we should conclude that most things were invented long before you thought they were. The internet, for example, is more than ten years old – are you listening, Nadine Dorries?

Dr Cameron gets it: The utterly extraordinary "Franciscan allegories" for the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience with St Francis deified. By the Giotto workshop around 1315, one of its finest achievements, but often sidelined because it doesn't presage renaissance "realism".  Boo.  (@DrJACameron. But the Christian church would be shocked by the idea that St Francis was "deified". St Francis received the Stigmata, and was Canonised: he was made a saint after his death.)

More twaddle in my timeline about music being 'ahead of its time'. No mate, I was there. It was there. Everyone showed up at the allotted hour. 
(Rob Chapman @rcscribbler)

This mid-20th century novel shows and accepts social and sexual mores different in many respects from those of today. It is valuable to be reminded of changing perspectives to avoid taking one's own point of view as absolute.
 (Goodreads on The Horizontal Manby Helen Eustis) 

I have always believed that in the history of art, nothing has come of nothing and that antecedence is inevitable (if only one can find it). (Brian Sewell)

X writes a novel with an ingenious premise. 20 years later, Y writes a novel with a similar premise that is widely popular and is made into a well-known film. Critics discover the X novel, but the story goes “Interesting that X anticipated the Y story 20 years ahead of its time” rather than “Hey! Y ripped off X!” 

Thursday 10 February 2022

Margaret Drabble's The Garrick Year, 1964

The Garrick Year, by Margaret Drabble

Drabble started out writing chicklit in the 60s. We loved the short, pithy books about being a young woman in a time of change and prosperity. But this, her second, is an odd story. It has a first-person narrator, Emma Evans, who normalises a lot of weird behaviour. She is upper middle class, works as a model, and falls for a handsome actor from the wrong side of the tracks. To start with, they don't sleep together (more usual than you might think in the early 60s). They do a lot of rather childish things, like going to the Zoo together.

Emma bitchily describes an old school friend as having “one of those small-featured, smiling faces which are thought tremendously pretty at school, in one’s home town, and on the continent’. The opposite of our heroine, and of Drabble herself.

Then, says Emma, I did something really avant garde. I got married. Most of the time she refuses sex, but somehow they have two children. She describes a row with her husband, and how she is both thrilled and shocked when he punches a hole in the wall (he picks a partition wall and avoids breaking his fingers). But then this incident passes without comment, and is quite baldly told – the narrator is more interested in her own feelings. Later in the book, she casually mentions that the children were the result of "near-rapes".

Her husband gets a job in a provincial theatre for a year (the Garrick), and the entire family decamps to the provinces. Emma brings a lot of Victorian textiles and luster jugs to cover the G plan furniture of their rented digs. Her husband brings the cast round for dinner and she self-sacrificingly chops onions and tomatoes to make pasta sauce. (This was a dull but fashionable 60s staple.)

Then the director, Wyndham, takes a shine to her and they go out on a few dates, but she'll do no more than reveal her bra in the moonlight in the garden of an empty mansion. Her small daughter suffers an accident and Emma is surprised by the strength of her maternal instinct. The director comes round while she's in bed with flu and takes advantage of her. She finds the experience boring and meaningless. She surprises her husband in a compromising situation with one of the cast.

Well, what did she expect? She ends the book deciding to go back to modelling (she's lucky to have kept her figure). She wonders idly if she'll ever work out if she's really frigid.

We are supposed to care about her, I suppose, but her vanity, snobbery and self-absorption is off-putting. She is just so convinced that she isn't ordinary. But she is also rather pathetic. Did we really think some women "were frigid" and would never enjoy sex? Tragically, we did. We hope she will grow up a bit in the 70s and read Our Bodies, Our Selves or The Sensuous Woman.

Give her time, she's only 26 – she must have got married very young. Having children in your 20s seems almost shocking to us now. I was also surprised that the fashion for Victoriana had got going in the early 60s when I associate it with the hippie end of the decade.

Goodreads reviewers have called Emma Evans "whimsical, determined to be shocking and daring, demanding, precious and self-consciously bohemian". They're right. She was a terrible role model. 

Friday 4 February 2022

Received Ideas 26

Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (on a cold and frosty morning): This mid-19th century [nursery] rhyme is thought to be about female Victorian prisoners exercising at HMP Wakefield in West Yorkshire. (The Sun)

Three Blind Mice: The mice were Protestant loyalists (the Oxford Martyrs, Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer), accused of plotting against Queen Mary I, daughter of Henry VIII, who were burned at the stake – the mice's "blindness" referring to their Protestant beliefs. ... The farmer's wife refers to Mary. (LinkedIn)

The author of the book The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland, Alice Bertha Gomme, suggests that “London Bridge Is Falling Down” refers to the use of a medieval punishment known as immurement – being encased into a room with no openings or exits and left there to die.

A review in the Fortean Times by Ronald Hutton of The Last Witches of England (John Callow) and The Ruin of All Witches (Malcolm Gaskill) encapsulates received ideas about witches that have been accepted since the 70s. In the examples studied here, the suspicions were allowed to spiral out of control and the cases got to court not because the authorities were witch-hunters but because they were weak or negligent. ... The Bideford women were hanged because the royal judges, faced with their confessions, were unwilling to cause public anger by discounting them. They and the couple at Springfield were not pagans, folk magicians, feminists or cultural nonconformists; they were simply unpopular, isolated, antisocial and vulnerable personalities, in communities where seemingly uncanny misfortune struck inhabitants regularly and where people believed... in the power of magic. Some individuals involved in the Bideford prosecution may have been misogynists, one was a clergyman and two were professional physicians, but these identities were not general factors in the cases. The latter were not male persecutions of women, because women had crucial roles in generating the accusations... Nor were they attempts by new-style professional doctors to suppress traditional healers and midwives, because none of the accused had anything resembling such a role...

Most of the women prosecuted for witchcraft were not wise-women or midwives. Fact. How do I know? Hundreds of scholarly books and journal articles in different languages over 50 years say so.

There was a backlash of “well they would say that wouldn’t they”, and @Nexxo00 replied: Indeed. "But all the historical documents say so" is not a valid argument; plenty of (what was considered at the time as) 'scientific' documents repeatedly asserted the intellectual and moral inferiority of women and people of colour.)

Yea, a lot of second-wave feminists really loved to romanticise both the witch trials and nature. Though, obviously, it has roots in the work of 19th C writers like Matilda Joslyn Gage. (Dr Miranda Corcoran @middleagedwitch. See Woman, Church and State: A Historical Account of the Status of Woman Through the Christian Ages With Reminiscences of Matriarchate by Matilda Joslyn Gage)

In the olden days, people were sewn into their underclothes for the winter. Working-class women bled into their skirts, or onto the floor. Cotton mills had straw on the floor so that women workers could urinate where they stood. “Rather than be ashamed, the Victorian poor woman was proud of her menstrual blood, believing it made her sexually attractive to men,” says Jennifer Borrett, MSc and BSc Archaeology, on Quora. (You could get a reversed rubber apron to wear under your skirt when menstruating. In WWI, the nurses stole disposable field dressings, which were more effective than the washable cloths currently used.)

AT opines that “sewing” is a misunderstanding for lacing – a common fastening for medieval clothes.

BV adds that “This is an old joke someone made up years ago... They had drawstrings instead of elastic.” She means on your pants – many in the conversation wonder how you would “go” if sewn into your undies. 

CM thinks our ancestors lacked buttons and zips.

TF on gransnet: Another of my supply teaching jobs in the late 50s was at Trimdon Colliery Primary. I was told that at the beginning of winter the children were smeared with goose fat and sewn into their winter underclothes. I'm not sure if it was an urban myth?

I remember being told horror stories about children whose skin had fused with the woolly vest... 
Perhaps the vests were tight-fitting, made of a non-stretchy material, and buttoned down the front. If you sewed up the opening, the child wouldn't be able to doff the garment.

More here, and links to the rest.

Loopy Logic 10: True X is Y

X is Y.
True X is Y.
There are no X, only Y.
To X is to Y.
The X is the Y.

X is Y

Template: [Specific action in real life] IS [abstract concept].

Capitalism is extinction, socialism is survival.

God is pure act.
(Thomas Aquinas)

Uncertainty is death. (Margy Osmond, Australia, Jan 2022 re masks) 

Ignorance is death. Education is life.
 (James Shafer, leader of the Master Metaphysicians sect)

Perception is reality.
How you view things is how they are. If you see something as bad – it is bad. But life happens to us, and it’s choosing to accept that. Most things are out of our control, so there’s no point beating ourselves up about them. (Writer Ed Jackson)  

A real decision is “a commitment to action based on a sound analysis of the facts” –  anything else is acting on impulse.

Learning is remembering.

Words are violence


These girls… we have indeed liberated them. These girls have become Muslims. (Boko Haram, which kidnapped many girls)


Liberals are the real authoritarians. Feminists are the real fascists. And now cis women are the real oppressors.

Violence is the real pornography (or v v).

That’s not equality, that’s EQUITY. That’s not education, that’s TRAINING. Leads to "TRUE equality is not equality" and "TRUE education doesn't teach facts and skills".

That's not writing, that's journalism

Real communication is not about communication per se but an almost religious attempt to understand things outside you. (@byzantinepower)

Antifascists are the real Nazis. (Only the real Nazis were Nazis.)

Affordable healthcare is slavery – for doctors.

Working for a wage is slavery. (Slavery is specifically NOT working for a wage.)

There are no problems, only challenges.

Immigrating and not assimilating while breeding is a form of invasion. (@Goyette_knows) 

I would always stand up for women but I don’t want women’s rights and all that sort of thing. (Mary Berry)

You have true freedom in the Catholic Church – freedom from doubt. (You might call that "Jesuitical".)

True immortality consists of never being forgotten by the generations which succeed us. ("I would prefer to achieve immortality by not dying." Woody Allen)

Patriotism isn't [thing I don't like] It's [thing I do like].

“Dealing with the harsh winters is simply a state of mind,” says Trine Hahnemann in the Times. However, she goes on to say, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”, and recommends big scarves, hats and fur-lined leather gloves. And thermal undies. She also suggests draping reindeer skins over the seating in your dining room to keep your bottom warm. Excellent tips, but the complete opposite of “just a state of mind”.


Redefine your terms in the middle of an argument. Start off by pretending you are using the terms in the dictionary sense, then come out with your own completely different meaning. 

I don’t wear make-up – just mascara, eyeshadow and lipstick. (Princess Michael)

If you redefine happiness as “state of wild ecstasy” you can say that happiness doesn’t matter and nobody should try to attain it.

If you say there’s no such thing as a “race” then nobody can be racist.

If you redefine bullying narrowly as insults and physical assault, we can’t call repeatedly shouting over a woman (and much other obnoxious behaviour) “bullying”.

If you redefine alcoholic as "a tramp drinking methylated spirits", none of your friends can be alcoholics.

Straight denial: John Kerry: US troop deployment to Iraq is not intervention. 

There's a famous fallacy called "No True Scotsman". 

No Scotsman wants to stay in the United Kingdom.
But my friends McTavish and McRobbie are against independence.
No true Scotsman...

It's a shame grammar, logic and rhetoric aren't taught in schools any more. You can't learn about them without learning about sophistry and equivocation.

You heard about the man who proved black was white? He was run over on a Zebra crossing.

Questioning science is science – oops, that’s true.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Grammar: Malapropisms and Portmanteaus 10

As Humpty Dumpty said, portmanteaus pack up two meanings inside one word. Conspiracy theorists like them: plandemic, scamdemic, Commiefornia, flu d’etat, Brussels bureauprats, Demoncrats, the lamestream media. Otherwise polite people talk about Tony Bliar, Microsoft Orifice and the Usanians. People have given their leaders nicknames for millennia – but we don't need to copy them. 
All of the following have been spotted in the wild.

portmantno (For clunky portmanteau that just doesn’t work. @Fritinancy)

conspirituality (Conservative spirituality)
somnambuscripting (Writing code when half asleep, AJB)

hopium (false hopes)

the plantocracy (head honchos of horticulture)
agrannoying (TG)
biografiends (James Joyce)

blanditry (architectural – especially recladding an ugly old building in the latest style)
prosumer (thinks he's a cut above the ordinary shopper)
soapnesia (Amnesia conveniently suffered by soap actors. I had a daughter 18 years ago? Dagnabbit!)


Malapropisms are called after Mrs Malaprop, a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals. Her garbling of words produced something better than the original. 

The Pigmillion effect (It's Pygmalion – see My Fair Lady.)
defliperator for defibrillator
monothealastic (monotheistic)

Psychic palm and terror card readings: speical offer! By Mrs Eli, Tell past, present and future.
us lesser morsels
Free Plasticine!

Post hoc ergo prompter hoc.
roast beef and criminalized onion relish
You can stop off and visit the Panthenon. (Cruise TV)

Her work is so enigmatic of the period! (Sotheby’s spokesman meant emblematic.)

Why do 'intense' or 'disorder' have to be despective? I love intensity and I definitely am disorder. (@adhdult – disrespective)

I must just Satanise my hands.
And now a word from our spouncer.
Everyone's so opinuated!

Pool closed because of carnivorous.
She wore an orchid pinned to her shoulder as a croissant. (corsage)

The event was a complete durbockle! (Say it in an American accent.)
He was a wolf in cheap clothing!

I bought my rolls from a partisan bakery.
Have you met my magnificent other?

"I attach a daft translation" I write to someone, with irreproachable professionalism. (@BelgianWaffling)

We decorated the walls with Deluxe paint.
a tilted family
of multimillionaires

There's a big gap between the armature and the professional!
I’m a social piranha! (for pariah)

This computer is completely defunk!
Our soup is made from locally sourced indigents.

The protesters lobbed mazel tov cocktails.

More here, and links to the rest.