Sunday 24 December 2023

Grammar: Meet the Antecedents

Who he? What that? Who they? Harold Ross, founder of the New Yorker, used to write this in the margin of galley proofs. He wasn't surprisingly ignorant of modern life, he was pointing out that the writer had used a pronoun without an antecedent.

Most writers are terrified of repeating themselves. They know that "elegant variation" is allowed, but think it means replacing names and places with "it, they, he, there, these, them, those, do so". It means finding a synonym – so find one! The Victorians used to write "fish" in the first instance and follow it up with "the scaly breed" or "the finny tribe" and so on. You don't need to be quite so flowery, but any thesaurus will give alternatives.

What's more, the "it, he" etc needs a noun to refer back to. A possessive won't do. And refrain from using "it" to mean: "You know, what we were talking about in the previous paragraph". 

You may assume that a reader will start with your first paragraph and work their way through to the end, but they may start in the middle. They need to know what you're talking about.

That generation was replaced by editors who understood the internet, what sort of pieces the internet responded to, and what sort of pieces the internet wouldn’t. (substack. Wouldn’t what? How about: That generation was replaced by editors who understood the internet, what sort of pieces IT WOULD RESPOND TO, and what IT wouldn’t.)

Ending the tale, Johnson does at least confess that the story “has withstood all my efforts to verify it at the Churchill Archive or elsewhere.” Well, I have, and in doing so, I have concluded that Mr Johnson can’t have tried very hard. (Fake History, Otto English. He means he’s verified the story.)

I had the idea of setting a bronze maple leaf in the floor but, to my amazement, the Canadian High Commission was unable to provide us with an image – the leaf was not, at that point, the country's national symbol. It would be another 10 years until that happened. (Anthony Blee, Guardian 2012. Until what happened? Oh, “before the maple leaf was chosen”.).

Chilean wine has changed. Forget the cheap, rough, fruity past, today its mid-priced reds are excellent. (Jane Macquitty, paraphrased by The Week. What does “it” refer to? Obviously Chile. But we haven’t mentioned Chile, we’ve only used the adjective Chilean. An "it" has to refer back to a noun. Likewise we can’t say “the country’s mid-priced reds are excellent”. What country?)

Salisbury Plain may be sacred ground to some, but it’s fertile ground for bustards. Extinct in Britain until last year, four chicks have now been hatched there as part of a conservation programme. (“There” is too far away from Salisbury Plain, and “Britain” is in the way – and in the same sentence. There's also a dangling modifier: bustards, not the four chicks, were extinct etc. Times, 2010)

In the 18th and 19th centuries the models were ringed off by red ropes. Now that they’ve been removed, we can all mingle with the great and the good. (Hephzibah Anderson, Prospect, 2012. The ropes have been removed, not the models. "Now that these have been removed" should work.) 

President Karzai ordered all foreign private contractors to leave Afghanistan by last December, but that hasn’t yet happened. (What hasn’t happened? “That” must refer back to a noun. Try “but they’re still there”, or “but none of them have left”.)

Even by Pakistani standards, the religious zealotry displayed there over the past weeks has been horrendous… (The Week. Displayed in the country...)

They were reprinted by Carrol & Graf twenty years ago, but more recently Felony and Mayhem seems to have opted not to when they reprinted Allingham's novels). (passingtramp.blogspot. Opted not to reprint them when they reissuedopted not to include them… You can’t use a passive verb as an antecedent for an active verb.)

Want entertainment on tap? With our new Classic Collection, you can! (You can have it.)

Any "24/48 hours to move" mention is just a precursor to legal action. It does NOT mean we have to move this week. We won't be. (@occupylsx. We won’t be moving.)

With distinctive shields on one side of the tower, businesses were said to be queuing up to move in, but it has stood empty since 1996. (Norwich Evening News. But the building has stood empty... It’s a dangler, too. The tower, not the businesses, has the distinctive shields. Actually, the bit about the shields must belong with the previous sentence. That's another thing to avoid. Fronted adverbial or adjectival clauses can be useful, but make sure the clause stays with the verb or noun it is qualifying.)

As works of art have come to resemble other types of assets – they are used as collateral for loans or as a way to diversify a portfolio – there are calls for it to be regulated like other financial products. (Financial Times 2015. There are calls for investing in art to be regulated etc... The meaning is clear, but there’s nothing for “it” to refer back to.)

It’s called ‘the shame game’, and it’s worked remarkably well for the past 40 years. But now it isn’t. (The Canary Feb 2018 Isn’t what? “Isn’t working” is understood. "But no longer"?) 

While it is certainly possible to have people who are not volatile be untrustworthy, it is far more likely that someone whose emotional state fluctuates wildly is. ( A truly horrible sentence. What to do? "While it is certainly possible for people who are not volatile to be untrustworthy, it is far more likely that someone whose emotional state fluctuates wildly will let you down." Don’t end on a weak, dangling “is” or “will be” – find a synonym. Turn “untrustworthy” into a verb. What do untrustworthy people do? They let you down.)

The 1752 Murder Act... required bodies of convicted murderers to be either publicly dissected or gibbeted. Between 1752 and 1832, 134 men were hanged in chains. It was formally abolished in 1834. (Atlas Obscura. Gibbeting, or “the practice” was formally abolished etc.)

Others claim Christie wanted her husband to be suspected of murdering her, as the police briefly did. (Ben Macintyre, Times 2018. “Did”, meaning “suspected her husband”, is an active verb. It has only a passive verb to refer back to – “be suspected”. "Others claim Christie wanted her husband to be suspected of murdering her – as he was, briefly, by the police." Not wonderful, but at least it’s grammatical.)

We are starting to see the impact of the national restrictions on our local situation with data beginning to level off, but this will become clearer in the next couple of weeks. (Local council handout. “But the picture will become clearer” etc.)

Slavery was vital to the success of the Roman Empire and there were a lot of them. (Lara Maiklem. She means "slaves". 

This well-preserved 220-million-year-old dinosaur footprint has been discovered by a four-year-old girl on a beach. Lily Wilder spotted it at Bendricks Bay, Barry, Wales - and scientists believe it could help establish how they walked. (@Rainmaker1973. How who walked? Dinosaurs. But you haven’t mentioned dinosaurs, only used the word “dinosaur” as an adjective. How about “establish how the creatures walked”?)

Actor Richard, 78, became President of the Parkinson's Disease Society after comic actor Terry-Thomas died of it in 1990, aged 80. (Mirror. Died of the condition, died of the disease.)

They had put on an act for him, and still were. (Georges Simenon, Inspector Cadaver. This is a case for "do so" – "and were still doing so".)

Now, it’s fair to say that within academia there are certain unspoken codes of practice around how and why we watch films in the process of undertaking historical work, particularly within the specific sub-discipline of British cinema studies, and that moreover matters of visual pleasure and desire are not always paramount within that (which sometimes has a lot to do with the paucity of potential for that in the source materials). ( the first "that" refers to "historical work", and the second to "visual pleasure and desire".)

More danglers here, and links to the rest.

Predictions for 2024

Journalists will write about the following:

The world's first wind-powered cargo ship has set off on her maiden voyage, using her giant metal 'wings' to fly through the ocean. The WindWings have been fitted onto Mitsubishi-owned Pyxis Ocean - chartered by Cargill - and was designed by a team of British Olympic sailors. It has been built by Yara Marine Tech, and the WindWings are expected to save up to 30% of shipping fuel on average. ( According to Wikipedia, "wingsails" were invented by  L. Francis Herreshoff, who died in 1972. They've been the next big thing since then.)

The big idea: are our short attention spans really getting shorter? (Guardian, 2023-10-29. This idea has been current since the 16th century.)

Schoolgirls at Rainford High School have been lined up in fenced-off areas whilst male teachers inspect girls' skirt lengths. This has lead the girls feeling humiliated and subsequent mass school protests staged by pupils. (@David_Challen Feb 23 2023. Head teachers impose draconian uniform rules in order to get their school's name into the papers.)

2023 Fuss over a shorts ban in South Wales. (Child isolated, petition from parents.)

A Cornish tin-mine re-opens. This year it’s South Crofty, in Pool. And they’re not mining tin but miracle ingredient Z. Oh, they are mining tin because we need it for X and its price has risen because Y. (Cornish Minerals CEO Richard Williams explains: 'It's a very simple use, it's a solder for the electrical connections in computers, iphones and electric vehicles. However 75% of all the tin today comes from China and Indonesia.'

Politics is no longer about class. Class is no longer about money. Sorry, class is now about money instead of... what exactly?

Bring back blogging. (It never went away.)

Twitter and Facebook are dead. (Every year since they appeared.)

A middle-aged or elderly writer will come over very puzzled about a technology that’s been around for ten or 15 years. (“What is the point of these ‘pod casts’? When do people have the time to listen to them? What is a ‘park run’?”)

Guardian hed 2023-02-20: Goth’s undead! The dark return of Britain’s spookiest subculture (A comment: Doesn’t somebody write this article every year?)

Could a pioneering hydrogen airship help the world move away from fossil fuels? (Financial Times, 2023-02-25)


Music won’t require personal musicians in fifteen years and your favorite “artist” will be a personal algorithm, though you will still have your favorite generic public celebrity musicians. (@vkhosla Jun 29 2023. Didn't Orwell predict machine-written songs, and machine-written pulp novels, in 1984?)

Many, many people will whinge that there is no “none of the above” option on a ballot paper. (But as none of the parties seem able to define the word "woman", I may write the above on mine.)

They will moan that "nobody wants to work any more, and everything bad is caused by new things". (As someone says every year. Thanks to Paul Fairie, author of The Press Gallery) 

A novelist will use the adjective “bone” in a title. We’ve had people, clocks and ships so far.

A pundit will write a book using “science” to complain that whatever it is young people are into this year, it’s just too enjoyable

Just finished
Dopamine Nation by Anna Lembke, interesting and fast read on our addictive, pleasure-soaked society. (@phamnuwen2. God forbid anyone should experience pleasure, especially not young people. To be paired with the one about the decline of mental health in young people – meaning that they’re unhappy, and they’ve told someone, and those someones have actually taken it on board and considered it to be a bad thing.)

A pioneer will suggest re-importing wild wolves, bear and lynx to the UK. The Leicester Mercury has the story for 2024.

More recycled topics here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 17 December 2023

Hey Guys, It's Nearly 2024!

So if my name is joint on a credit card, health insurance, or any other account but my husband opened the account and is therefore the primary holder they won’t speak to me without his permission even though I’m the one paying the bill and this is not the 1950s. (@AileenWeintraub)

It's nearly 2024 and some men resent Mary Earps for winning Sports Personality of the Year in a women-only sport while being a woman.

It's nearly 2024 and some men don't like the idea of a woman football referee.

It’s 2023 and dancing in public is outlawed in Iran. (Citizens are dancing in the streets, December.)

It’s 2023 and phone conversations are barely audible through crackles.

The comments made by a journalist about autistic people is deeply upsetting as an autistic person and reminds me why it often isn’t safe/comfortable to talk to other people about being autistic. Even in 2023. The world could be a much better place for us but we are not there yet. (@AlexHarpin)

Books on autism are still be reviewed by the one staff member with an autistic brother. The media still assumes that no autistic people listen to the radio, or read newspapers or magazines.

"Nobody wants to be lectured at by a woman!" is what British historian @bettanyhughes was told in the late 1990s. (@TheInnerViewTRT)

I really wish misogynistic men would stop telling Women what to think, how to behave, and what a Woman is. It’s 2023, men. (@inmyownfashion2)

It’s 2023 and the Sun is bringing back Page 3.

It’s 2023 and in Northern Ireland schools are still segregated.

It's 2023 and lesbians have to apply to a Human Rights Commission for permission to exclude men! (@stuartf100. The Lesbian Action Group of Melbourne has applied to the Australian Human Rights Commission for a discrimination exemption to hold a (female) lesbian-only event at the purpose-built Pride Centre.)

It’s 2023 and Bargain Hunt contestants are still joking that “The wife makes all the decisions!” It’s 2023 and the producers have probably told them to say it.

It’s 2023 and the church where the Vicar of Dibley was filmed (St Fimbarrus’, Fowey) has had no vicar for four years because the parish council’s governing council refuses to consider a woman. Bishop Rose Hudson-Wilkin says that when women were allowed into the priesthood in 1993, “it was felt a period of ‘reception’ was needed”, which seems still to be going on, she adds. Flying bishops still exist in the person of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet. I interviewed the office holder in the 90s and he told me his parish consisted of a Roman fort and a nuclear power station – charming man.

Update: The Times of Dec 16 reports that Fowey parochial church council has stood down, and the new council has appointed the Rev Carol Edleston to the job. On the same page, the Times reports that two women priests have become the first same-sex couple to be blessed by the Church of England. These are reasons to be cheerful.

Slow clap to @BarclaysUK whose online verification won’t allow me to have my title as Dr because I am female… (@jessamycarlson)

Feckless! Dear God – the undeserving poor raise their heads again. It’s 2023, ffs. (@YesWombat)

It’s 2023 and women are still judged on how good they are at providing food and having children. Feel left out at work? Bring home-made banana cake. No children? Borrow some. Put their photos up by your computer.

It’s 2023 and people are shocked by women with armpit hair.

Oxfam depicts “TERFs” with hideous features and demonic red eyes. (One is probably JK Rowling, but who are the men? They look like caricatures of the enemy from the 1940s. Or cartoon villains of the 50s.)

I had an entire board of trustees LAUGH at me for objecting to our lawyers writing to us as "Dear Sirs". Yes I know it's customary. I know some women "accustomed" to it "don't mind" being called Sir. I know #legaltwitter will pat me on my head. But it's 2023. Honestly people. (@katherineschof8. Women judges were originally “My Lord”, but became “My Lady”. But French lawyers are all “maître”.)

Received a letter “Dear Sirs”, asked the writer to desist from doing so as we are a female led firm. Response: “Dear Sirs, this is our standard approach and we do not see why we should depart from this.” Erm, cos we asked you and it’s professional courtesy to engage with our request? (@Anita_emplaw)

The Post Office told its fraud investigators to racially classify potential suspects, including “n*groid types”, during the company’s false prosecution spree...investigators were asked to categorise suspects as “n*groid types”, “dark skinned European types”, “white skinned European types... “Indian/Pakistani types”, “Chinese/Japanese types’ and “Arabian/Egyptian types”... The Post Office said “We don’t tolerate racism in any form”. Times, May 2023

It’s 2023 and women in Belfast are being refused service in a pub for wearing Suffragette colours and T-shirts with the word 'woman' on them. (@Isaac_de_Tormes)

I had some delusional twits try to get me fired from my old job because I spoke out. It’s 2023 and being told you’re transphobic for knowing humans are binary and can’t change sex is insane. (@ThatsWutSheZaid)

It's 2023 and we still do not have good enough power storage solutions, which is crucial for 100% renewables. (@lospabloss)

It's 2023 and hold music is still fuzzy and crackly. And in the case of my bank it’s the same crackly hold music they were playing 30 years ago. Update: They’ve changed it to something jazzy! But it’s still crackly. And the jazz style is from the 50s.

It’s nearly 2023, and some men still think a wolf whistle is a “compliment” and “flattery”. (But then some men think women urinate through their v*gina. Some also think that women don’t need period products, they should just use “self-control”. If the v*gina had a sphincter they’d soon know about it – if ever they got anywhere near one.)

It’s 2023 and I can hardly hear the lady from Hackney Council because she’s in an office of people talking on the phone and there’s a frightful racket in the background. Couldn’t they have sound-proof booths or something? Or even partitions?

It’s 2023 and women are still fighting and getting arrested just to have access to basic human rights and be treated like human beings. (@hobisshawtyy)

It's 2023 and Iowa Lawmakers Are Trying to Ban Same-Sex Marriage. (@nightbird39)

It’s 2023 and they still calling us Indians because they thought they were in India like 500 years ago. (@dsoufhoney)

It’s 2023 @AmericanAir how about a flight tracker? (@tresamigos858. How about backward-facing seats and more leg-room?)

It’s 2023 and private schools still exist and are still charities, and one in particular produces most of our rulers. And it’s single-sex.

@LoGravityTweets How is it 2024 and there still isn't a pill you can take that meets all your nutritional and caloric needs for the day?

Why doesn't Twitter make it obvious that a post/tweet is part of a long thread, with many previous messages? You just have to guess. Hey guys, its 2024!

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 16 December 2023

The Veiled Virgin

The Veiled Virgin is a sculpture by Giovanni Strazza (1818–1875), carved in Rome in the mid-19th century. Such figures were popular in that era. Then as now, people asked "How could a human being create such a thing?"

Here's how:

Make a clay model of your figure. Let it dry a bit. Take a length of fine cloth and dip it in clay slip (diluted clay). Drape it over the figure - you have one chance to get it right. Let the whole thing dry. Now studio assistants copy the model plus draperies in marble, using a 3D pantograph called a pointing machine.

Once they've done this, you, the sculptor, add the finishing touches with a fine chisel. You and the assistants give the marble a fine polish, to bring out the marble's translucency. And there you are.

Here's an anonymous Italian veiled nun.

Thursday 14 December 2023

Syndromes: Mad Management 2

Popped into my old office this evening to see how they had repurposed our former Humanities offices now we are required to hotdesk... 6 months on. Oh, it's not being used at alI I see.

My mum wins the worst training day ever award. When she worked for the council they paid for them to spend the day in the forest. On arrival they were presented with clown costumes which they had to wear and spend the day being a clown in order to learn how to lose inhibitions. (@ChrisYoules)

A previous school amalgamated with the associated infant school. Our first joint inset was “get to know you” / “icebreaker” activities: hula hooping, belly dancing, maypole dancing (@Mr_Kerry_C)

Oxfam hired a mediation firm to conduct a conflict resolution process. Juliet Lewis, 66, a volunteer for 15 years, recalled how she and her friends had to watch a video of cartoon bears hugging, which was supposed to instruct them in how to show empathy. “I think I blotted it out,” said Lewis. “I’m pretty sure I had my head in my hands at that point.” (Times)

Academics will get “a video about mindfulness but are still expected to work a 90-hour week”. (@Phil_Baty)

I worked in one place where everybody had a motorised stand-up desk. Never saw anybody there ever use one in stand-up mode. Because when everyone has one the novelty wears off. (@TheSkankworks)

My most recent employer tried ungendered facilities. It was an experiment that didn't last long. I was still in the old building when it was abandoned. (JP)

In 2023, some staff who refuse to put pronouns in their bio are sent on a training course. 

Some workplaces pick up a "progressive" idea like hot-desking just as everyone else has dropped it as unworkable.

I am
still hearing about school proudly announcing their plans to build flexible, open-plan learning spaces with no walls etc, and my advice to anyone thinking about doing this is do not do this. (@tombennett71)


At XYZ I checked the drivers in and out, however the shifts had been re-organised so no drivers came to me, this meant sitting in a secure office at night doing nothing. I was also involved in taking in orders for a department that had closed down. I was once detailed to provide data support for an office that had ceased to function. Quite often I've been the person walking around with a clipboard for no reason. It wasn't quite nothing, but even at a leisurely pace a day’s work could be done in under an hour. (Quora)

Want a job where you’re paid to do nothing? Anything related to the government or a really large, slow moving, old company. The people there just slowed other people down so they would have to do less work, no wonder they never get anything done. (Quora)

A friend reports he had a job where he was basically paid to surf the internet and write emails all day. Everyone went to the pub at lunchtime and few returned.

Place I worked whilst waiting to get on with my A Levels had a decimal hour. Timesheets were completed in multiples of six minutes. (CC)

First place I worked, the timesheets were completed in multiples of 36 seconds. Then fudged to multiples of 15 minutes by the payroll clerks. (IG)

Office Life
by Keith Waterhouse features needlessly complicated bureaucracy. Staff get coupons torn out and books stamped every time they eat lunch. (Amazon has vaped my review – did I reveal too much about the central conspiracy?)

More here and here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Buzzwords of 2023

Anybody not giving a toss about the Coronation in May, or is it just me? (@DoctorJevvy Jan 23 2023)

passive voice: People have moved on from “passive voice” in headlines to “burying the lead”. (They're still complaining about the passive voice – they think it means "not laying blame". Or "not condemning atrocities".)

pluck: Survivors of the Turkey earthquake are being “plucked” from the rubble. (2023-02-06)

peasouper: People talking about a couple of days of mist as a “Thames peasouper”. Pea soup is a lot thicker than that – and yellow, being made of split peas. In a peasouper fog the sun never rises.  

curate: Does “curated” now mean “comes with an explainer that makes everybody feel ‘safe’, ie we’ve explained gender fluidity and non-binary to make sure visitors know that we know”?

15-minute cities: The government unveils a plan to make cities walkable by having everything you need in 15 minutes walk – corner shops, pharmacies, dry cleaners, green spaces. Weird backlash from libertarians who moan that stopping them driving to out of town supermarkets (that the carless can’t access) is a limit on their freedom. They also say it’s “statist”! Power and property grab by the state! The state has done nothing so far but impose traffic restrictions. Is it a “build it and they will come” philosophy? If people can’t drive to Budgen’s will someone open a corner shop? (How on earth would you police it? And what will happen to Budgen’s?)

People are “pulled from the rubble” after the “devastating” Turkish earthquake. 

Those who stand up for women’s rights accused of “bad faith” a lot the week of Feb 19, though it’s quite common at any time. 

Pronouns (again – and it didn’t catch on the last time, ie 40 years go, when "zhe, hir and thon" were suggested).  

dogwhistle: Is dogwhistle becoming conflated with whistleblower?

Job search website Adzuna finds that many offices have a more “dress-down” policy after staff spent two years working from home in leisure-wear.


The predicted flight from London has not happened. Meanwhile many high street shops are empty because owners can’t be found. And we wring our hands over the death of the high street. 

quinoa: I’m tired of “jokes” about people pronouncing quinoa as “keen-wah”. I don’t think anybody ever did. Quinoa has been around in Europe for over 20 years. 

far-right: You can call any opinion you like "far-right" and people will pile on to condemn it. ("I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Goody Osburn with the Devil!")

Actress Emma Watson says she’s “self-partnered”. Just when you think people can’t get any more idiotic. 

predatory: Popular week of March 1. Woman photographed the people who chanted slogans at her when she asked what rights trans people didn’t have – described as “creepy, predatory” behaviour. (They were in the distance, turned away.)

Putting gambling machines in pubs: “This is nothing short of predatory behaviour”. 

slur: Popular week of March 6, not always correctly used.

“We need to have a national conversation about...” popular this week too. Yes, let’s have all those conversations! Roll on the Court of Law for Ideas.

Gary Lineker says Suella Braverman uses language about immigrants “similar to” that used by Germany in the 30s. Many assume he said “the British government is like Germany in the 30s and they use identical language”. (Many use “similar to” to mean “exactly like”.)

2023-03-14 Oxford Street is going to be tarted up. There must be a fund they don’t know what to do with. Not pedestrianised – some traffic will still be allowed. I hope that means “buses and taxis”, otherwise how will we get to the shops?

Lot of distortion of others’ arguments around this week. Distortion and misquotation. “She didn’t say anything about X but there was a dogwhistle! She really meant...” (How do they sleep at night?)

I've just worked out that when people say a film is “dark” they mean “sad”. Or "no happy ending"? Life is sad.

Long, bland and good-humoured threads give a sudden kick at "those who attack Jeremy Corbyn with a hidden agenda" or “those climate-activist, mask-wearing idiots”. 

ban: Sunak wants to ban nitrous oxide, and intelligent, educated people are getting quite cross about “banning things”. It only causes worse problems, apparently. At the same time, everybody is using the word “ban” when earlier they might have used “drop” or “scrap”.

It’s nearly April 1, and competitive indifference to the Coronation has begun. 

Rarebit” employed to mean “grilled cheese on toast”. Welsh Rabbit is a Bombay Duck, which is a fish. Or Poor Man’s Goose, which is veal. 

Unalive” used for “kill” because Tiktok mutes references to murder and suicide.

Musicals such as Six and Juliet have organised specific singalong shows. (Guardian)

Sunak says women don’t have penises (Week headline) One day we’ll look back on this, laugh nervously and change the subject. (John O’Farrell) Sunak’s statement was “bold”, apparently. Keir Starmer says a mere 1% of women have penises so that’s all right really. You really can’t sit on the fence, or please everybody, on this one.

Rolled out without any consultation. Too many things are. How is this possible? (Especially "gender-neutral toilets" without consulting women.)

Why is there no oversight of lobbyists in schools? Why are they there in the first place?

People being told to “touch grass”.

Just Stop Oil are “middle-class” protesters with “luxury beliefs” (A man called Edred threw turmeric onto a snooker table during a televised match – actually it was orange powder symbolising flames.)

Liberal and Reform Judaism merge. Joint CEOs are Josh Levy and Charley Baginsky.

Journalist confuses misgendering with dead-naming. “Yes, OK. But it doesn't matter what term you use for it – it's intentional and hurtful.” (Flaubert: Yes, but my point holds!)

Kirstie Allsopp on the culture wars acting like a throwback from the 50s: Sit down, you’re rocking the boat; there’s always an off button; block and move on. Not just the “Nothing to see here, haven’t you got homes to go to?” but the assumption that she knows best and gives the orders. Someone says she belongs to a rich Bohemian set in West London. Explains the “I’m all right, Jack”. She bought her kids tablets and then broke them in front of their eyes because they used them too much. Performative cruel parenting. “Not the sharpest tool in the box, and separated from the sharp end of the debate by class and cash,” says @lespauljunior3. I add: She and others like her assume that their expensive education has made them more intelligent than the plebs.

Judy Blume and Margaret Atwood come out in support of the gender-critical movement, and then almost immediately publish an apology and basically say “No, I was wrong, transwomen are women.” Someone says they should be holding up a copy of today’s paper in their hostage video. 

Diane Abbott has been suspended from the Labour Party for saying that Jews, Roma and Travellers experience “prejudice”, not “racism”. And Martin Rowson’s caricature of Richard Sharp, straight out of Die Stürmer, has been taken down. (Feeble excuse: “Those aren’t gold pieces, they are polyps on the mantle of the vampire squid.” What kind of squid, Martin?)

Many people post pix of elaborate past architecture and ask “Could we do this today?” Answer: The reason why we don’t built Reims Cathedral today is a) it takes several hundred years. b) The money was provided by people who wanted to stay out of Hell, a form of crowdfunding that has passed its sell-by date. 

Lots of “why isn’t there a ‘none of the above' option”? @GeorgeReeves94 sums it up: Don’t feel like you need to choose the least bad option. 

Women are talking too often and too loudly. Could they protest a little more softly? And not quite so publicly?

crunchy: Seen three or four uses of the word “crunchy” in the past week. Crunchy socks, crunchy pop, crunchy anti-vaxxers. Meaning? (Gone, December.)


Lots (well, two) complaints about biased headlines that turn out to be purely factual.

What do you conclude about someone who starts a sentence “I am not anti-Semitic...”?

When people say “I had to do X” they never really had to. Nobody was forcing them to. It wasn’t a life-or-death scenario. Likewise “half the time” means “all the time”. Sorry, I’m a bit slow.

May 30 2023 This week’s “thing I am too refined and superior to give a damn about” is Philip Scofield


Joke: Free-thinking nonconformist comes out as non-binary just like every single one of her friends.

There’s a restaurant (Silo in East London) serving up invasive species – at last: This week, it launched its most ambitious menu to date, featuring grey squirrel, seaweed, crayfish, muntjac, venison and Pacific oysters. (Did the writer mean “muntjac venison”, since a muntjac is a kind of deer?)

rewilding: Boring conversations about “Is that really rewilding?”, “What about this?”, “But is that proper rewilding?”. It may be about the way jumpers on the bandwagon are selling ways of profiting from rewilding. Is rewilding the next ostrich farm?

Covid: Some on Twitter really don’t like me saying that Covid is a real disease and vaccines protect you from it. Everybody I know, knows someone who was vaccine-injured. Everyone who was vaccinated regrets it now. Why am I “losing my wig”? Because you’re talking nonsense, that’s why.

the socials: Social media is now “the socials” – the Communist Party of Britain’s website even has a tab labelled “socials”.

Latest “thing that never happened” anecdote is “My mother/friend/acquaintance was waved through the passport queue because she said she was still “emotionally” a member of the EU (or somesuch).” (2023-06-15)

There’s still a rash of people tweeting pix of Gothic cathedrals and asking “Why can’t we make such beautiful buildings now?”. Latest incarnation: My father-in-law is a builder. It is difficult to get his attention in a magnificent space because he is lost in wonder. We were in a cathedral together years ago and I asked him what it would cost to build it today. I will never forget his answer… “We can’t, we don’t know how to do it.” (Nearly always with a picture of fan vaulting.) @DJMHarland points out: Most Gothic cathedrals are still standing and in good condition precisely because they continue to possess highly trained, expert stonemasons, who have an intimate understanding of their architecture and continuously work to maintain them. Dr Francis Young responds with pix of Gothic church: Also, this was mostly built in the late 90s and early 2000s.

And must trans activists winch in the word “existence” at every opportunity?

Vigil in Nottingham for three murder victims like a cross between an American political rally and a religious service. How did they organise it all so quickly? A choir, religious leaders, the bereaved families, the victims’ friends – and everybody is clapped. Somebody said “mawkish”. 

Midaxi? Just the skirt-length I want!

So tired of the word “journey”.

Writer-in to Times Feedback column asks if the word “guardrails” is the most over-used in June 2023. Metaphorically, of course.

And I wish people would shut up about unicorns.

Story about schoolgirl who identifies as a cat was made up. You amaze me.

WFH: "People working from home are to blame for everything" is the new "Single people are to blame for everything".

Does “gender stereotypes” now mean “they think humans can’t change sex” and “they think humans are either male or female”? Men and women are just stereotypes?

Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, has claimed that anxiety caused by social media and the physical strain of working from home at unsuitable tables have contributed to a dramatic rise in people suffering long-term sickness. (So get a suitable table! And an adjustable chair with arms.)

GOAT: greatest of all time (Has rather faded, December.)

Now they’re trying to find a woke alternative for “virginity”. Confusing the thing itself with patriarchal attitudes about the thing. (The map is not the territory.)

And the gender critical are “a cult”. No, you’re a cult! 

holding the ring: monitoring a debate while not joining in.

Is everything a human interest show now? BBC Breakfast, Antiques Road Show, Bargain Hunt? At least the creeping blight hasn’t hit Homes Under the Hammer or The Antiques Road Trip. No room for sobbing on HutH – it’s all mundic block, grout, filth, awful puns, relevant pop songs, vertiginous gardens, converted Methodist chapels, ripping out kitchens, destroying Art Deco glass... While The Yorkshire Auction House starts straight in with cancer diagnoses. 

When did party become “house party”? When did driving somewhere become “road trip”? (@amotorhomme)

“Is it true Muslims don’t pay stamp duty?” asks @colinedwardvoss. And homeless people own dogs because they get their food for free...

narcs: Now narcissists, not narcotraficantes.


Yasslighting: Yes, of course you pass! You go, girl, etc.

Working from home is bad for young people. (They could have a point as young people use workplaces to make friends and look for a partner.)

I didn't think I'd see the return of UFOs – or men calling feminists “man-haters”. Or saying “equality means women want to dominate”.

Many people posting pix of overhead projectors and asking “Who knows what this is?”

When they’re not doing that, they’re posting pix of quaint towns under snow, which might have had some point if we were experiencing a heatwave. Meanwhile, it probably IS snowing.

Stupid labcoat scientism cult – I didn’t think I’d live to see this one again, either. Popular in the 80s, though then it was “white-coated priesthood”.

You’re some tulip – like “a bit of a daisy”. Funny idiot.

Guarantee always bespoke tweets from a boutique posteur. (@hyperdiscogirl)

Arguments about who can walk on the grass at Cambridge.

Fluffing popular mid-Aug.

Flex moved from meaning “bend” or “tense” (something you do to muscles to show them off), to “brag”. Now it just seems to mean “attitude”.

On the regular (late Aug)

Planes are grounded – it’s “chaos”, of course.

I wish people would stop using “heart-wrenching” for “heart-rending”. Perhaps they don’t know what “rending” means (tearing). I have rent my garment. The tree was rent in twain by lightning.

Latest is “a pregnancy is entirely a woman’s responsibility”.

Europe is really tiny, and why don’t the Brits just drive eight hours to get to Edinburgh? (Probably because, unlike in the States, there are a lot of towns in the way. And if you're starting from Dublin, the sea.)

Why are shorts worn mainly by very old men?

I am always a safe person and will hold space for you. What does this mean?

mid: Looks like “mid” now means “Looks like a human being rather than a surgically enhanced freak”. Can that be Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin? And young men are getting the "jaw of the moment".

Cope is apparently this year’s buzzword. If you don’t like it – cope. But there may be other meanings.

People are talking about the Rapture, and astrology. Is this 1985?

wounded, trauma, healing, triggered: (What happened to “closure”?) You are supposed to reach a stage when you are "healed" and no long feel "triggered" by distress, neglect, mistreatment, abuse... And you are supposed to work towards healing and feel guilty if you don't reach it. It’s victim-blaming by any other name. Translation: One day you won’t mind what people did to you in the past, which gets the perps off the hook. Notice that you “heal”, you are not “healed”. People done you wrong? Heal yourself! Don’t think of reporting the perps to the police, or reorganising society so that nobody can do the same thing again.

People popping up to say, helpfully: “What we need to do in this confusing situation is to change the current popular meaning of all the terminology, sometimes to the opposite meaning.”

Much moaning about 15-minute cities. Do some Americans never walk anywhere? Never walk along a street? Perhaps we should sell it as a cure-all therapy! Street-bathing. 

universe: People have substituted "the universe" for God and believe in a "just world that cares about me" without ever defining it. One shamanic practitioner was honest enough to say that she refers to “the universe” because the word “God” puts people off. But “the universe” is very controlling. See also “It was meant”. Meant by whom?

Frog of shame? Rizz? Please explain.


accelerationist:  People who genuinely want there to be societal collapse and advocate for ways to get us to that collapse quicker. Millennialism, explains @BlakeBlakebabee. Apparently it's very popular, in different brands, in Silicon Valley. There are probably separate schools, sects and heresies by now.

Someone is posting on Twitter film of London from the 30s to the 60s, accompanied by tinkly piano music. “What do you think of this scene?” the account asks. Peaceful, tranquil, how did we lose it? Shame it is now “destroyed” say the comments. And also “no black people”, which was the subtext from the start.

Post-Maine, Speaker Mike Johnson blames mass shootings on “no-fault divorce laws”, “feminism” and Roe v. Wade. Women, in fact.

Things are being “throttled” this week, end Oct 2023. If you want to create a platform that attracts high quality creators, don’t throttle Tweet visibility, even temporarily @elonmusk. (@tristanbeanie14) May be from some American sport, me lud. Watch Benson throttle down, cut back inside, and shrug off a couple tackle like it’s nothing. (@7RoundsInHeaven) Rugby, not strangulation.

Subaltern is back with us from WWI.

Trans Rights Activists of all kinds video themselves crying in their cars because they’ve been misgendered. They couldn’t do that on a bus.

queer: now means “TRA”.


People using “bipolar” to mean “contradictory”. They know they’re not supposed to use “schizophrenic” in the same way. How long will it take to beat it into their heads that no, they can’t use “bipolar” either?

Gender-critical people are also anti-abortion, very right wing, Nazis, Holocaust deniers, genocide promoters blah blah.

Stonewall have moved on to asexuality, led by Yasmin Benoit. (She's helped write their report. It's an umbrella term, say Stonewall. In the bad old days we might have used the word "frigid".) 

Struggle sessions or denunciation rallies were violent public spectacles in Maoist China where people accused of being "class enemies" were publicly humiliated, accused, beaten and tortured by people with whom they were close. Usually conducted at the workplace, classrooms and auditoriums, "students were pitted against their teachers, friends and spouses were pressured to betray one another, [and] children were manipulated into exposing their parents". Staging, scripts and agitators were prearranged by the Maoists to incite crowd support. The aim was to instil a crusading spirit among the crowd to promote the Maoist thought reform. (Wikipedia. It couldn't happen here.)

Facebook has banned the Lord’s prayer! Oh, only a rumour.

refoulement No, we can’t send refugees to Rwanda. (The expulsion of refugees from a place where they can rightfully claim refugee status to a place where they may face persecution or other threats, such as the country or disaster area from which they originally fled. Free Dictionary)

Israelis are accused of being “white”. (@FabricioNakata, Nov 13) You can't say MENAs (from the Middle East or North Africa) are white because that's like saying they're privileged.

2023-11-18, outside Downing Street 7.30pm. Trans rights activists singing ‘From the River…’. Just Stop Oil activists with Palestinian flags… What is going on? (@nicolelampert)

Anti-Semitism: I don’t wish to be pedantic, and I let most things pass, but it’s “anti-SemITic”. It doesn’t rhyme with “emetic”.

We can only analyse by looking for power imbalances. Who are "we", again?

Mossad was behind the Dublin riots 2023-11-24. Oh, of course.

Mommunes are a thing.

Can we stop saying things are “broken”?

Everybody is called Brianna.

Either everything is "hate" or nothing is. (Saying “I don’t want to share bathrooms with men” is “hate” (and “bigotry”), but calling for a genocide of the Jewish people “depends on the context”, per Harvard and Penn presidents. They have issued qualifying statements since.)

domicide 😞 (Destroying someone's home and society.)

picky tea (Pick a bit of this and a bit of that. Meze, tapas.)

What happened to all those snowflakes? Did they melt?

People tweeting heartbreakingly: "I DO own my life, with all its flaws, I DO own it! I WILL heal! I will no longer be triggered." This is victim-blaming AND gaslighting. Please, dear souls, forgive yourselves. If your life was pretty awful, it was. And I’m sure you know where the fault lies. Maybe you can never "heal" from dreadful experiences, only make sure they never happen again. 

When did bakeries become 'micro'? Why is there a middle-class tendency to prepend words like bakery, brewery and swimming with buzz words to make them socially acceptable? (@gwpurnell)

Context” excuses and explains everything.

Oodie. Is it a Slanket with a hood?

Are we using words like equity and parity because others use "equality" to mean "preferential treatment"?

settler-colonialist: the new "Let him be anathema".

It's still December 2023 and Easter Eggs are on sale, giving some people conniption fits

energy: It's back in some people's vocabulary, meaning "spirit, psyche, soul" as before. (What energy are you taking into 2024?)

from a place of...

Male folksingers are singing affecting ditties much too slooooowly.

And classical musicians are doing the equivalent of "food with a twist" by pulling the time around. Bach wrote his pieces in strict tempo, and that's how wanted them played. They are much more affecting that way. 

Meanwhile cellists are trying to put significance in to Bach's suites for their instruments. Nobody thinks the violin partitas and sonatas are works of great pith and moment, so fiddlers get away with playing them as they are written. Is high-pitched music somehow less important than low-pitched?

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 9 November 2023

Agatha Christie: Misunderstandings

Haslemere High Street

The County, the country, the country house, the village...

One of the many reasons given for despising Agatha Christie is that “She set all her stories in country houses and English villages and among the aristocracy.” American academics and critics talk about “English country villages” when Dorothy Sayers and Christie set stories in provincial towns – more Haslemere than Linchmere. There is a wonderful description of a rural high street in Third Girl.

In Sayers' Unnatural Death, Miss Climpson goes undercover in a small town, not a village, where the said death has occurred:

“It really is terrible, living in a little town like this,” went on Miss Findlater, “so full of aspidistras, you know, and small gossip. You’ve no idea what a dreadfully gossipy place Leahampton is, Miss Climpson." It certainly boasted an amateur theatrical troupe, and probably a tennis club or two. 

Later in the story Miss Findlater is planning to run a chicken farm with her friend Mary Whittaker. Miss Climpson asks: "You mustn’t forget that you’ve been accustomed to see quite a lot of young people in Leahampton. Shan’t you miss the tennis-parties, and the young men, and so on?”

However, Miss Marple always refers to St Mary Mead as a village even though it boasts a high street of shops: butcher, baker, taxi, Post Office, dressmaker – and eventually a supermarket. I wonder why nobody has accused the Queens of setting their stories in the stuffy, hidebound provinces and in suburbs? Perhaps because the provincial towns they depict seem too real, unlike the "fantasy" rural life they are often accused of embracing.

"The County" are the landowners of the counties of Sussex, Surrey, Herefordshire. They own big houses verging on the stately home, have grounds with hothouses and vegetable gardens (they were originally self-sufficient), and a lot of land – possibly gifted by Henry VIII once he'd stolen it from the monasteries. The land is rented out, with one farm kept as the "home farm". Colonel Bantry has a home farm belonging to Gossington Hall, and he likes to go and commune with the pigs. The Hall is eventually sold to a film star (The Mirror Crack'd).

In audiobook narration (and later editions) "county" is frequently hypercorrected to "country". Even in Howards End. "On her other side, Sir James Bidder sat, repeating that she only had to give the word, and he would whip up the county families for twenty miles round. Whether Sir James, who was Garden Seeds, had promised what he could perform, she doubted, but so long as Henry mistook them for the county families when they did call, she was content.

Did Christie set all her novels in "country houses"? To my mind a "country house" is the kind of stately home discussed in Mark Girouard's The English Country House. They became too expensive to run, some are now open to the public, some are run as wedding venues, and several were destroyed in "mysterious fires". In Christie's work, a lot of political wheeling and dealing takes place in a “country house”. See The Seven Dials Mystery

Many Christie characters live in houses in the country, some even live in the suburbs, but these are not "country houses" within the meaning of the act. But even if Christie did set all her mysteries in "country houses" (instead of Baghdad, Mesopotamia and Egypt), why not?

I once met some lovely American ladies who were fans of Dorothy Sayers, and thought it was so democratic of Lord Peter Wimsey to drop his Gs, just like the working classes. It was an aristocratic habit of Edwardian times and earlier.

“Why did you think it was more likely to be Carruthers than Granby? You’d never seen either of them.” 

“Well,” I said. “It was the g’s. You said she dropped her g’s. Now, that’s done by a lot of hunting people in books, but I don’t know many people who do it in reality—and certainly no one under sixty. You said this woman was forty. Those dropped g’s sounded to me like a woman who was playing a part and overdoing it.”  

(Miss Marple Tells a Story)

More here, and links to the rest.

Linchmere: X marks my window

Sunday 29 October 2023

When Wilt Thou Save the People?

When wilt Thou save the people?

O God of mercy, when?

Not kings and lords, but nations,

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

Flowers of Thy heart, O God, are they;

Let them not pass, like weeds, away;

Their heritage a sunless day:

O God, save the people!

Shall crime bring crime forever,

Strength aiding still the strong?

Is it Thy will, O Father,

That man shall toil for wrong?

No, say Thy mountains; No, Thy skies;

Man’s clouded sun shall brightly rise,

And songs ascend, instead of sighs:

O God, save the people!

When wilt Thou save the people?

O God of mercy, when?

The people, Lord, the people,

Not thrones and crowns, but men!

God save the people; Thine they are,

Thy children, as Thine angels fair:

From vice, oppression, and despair,

O God, save the people!

Ebenezer Elliott

It's quoted in Jesus Christ Superstar, and is just about singable to Jerusalem the Golden.

Sunday 22 October 2023

Inspirational Quotes 106: Instructions

A boy scout should be acceptable at a dinner dance and invaluable in a shipwreck. (Robert Baden-Powell)

A journey may take you backwards, downhill, or round and round in circles. (The Dalai Lama) 

Any decisions you make will follow you like a shadow. (@TheRoyalButler)

Asking someone how you can help them could change their life. (Chloe Bellerby)

At some point stuff's going to happen to you whether you like it or not and sometimes sitting tight is the preferred solution. (LW)

Basic problem-solving on work and relationship issues may make a difference. (The Guardian)

Be firmer than you were the first time. (Dear Prudie,

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by assholes. (via Wicca Teachings)

Cut out the polite hints and be politely clear. (Danny Lavery)

Decide on an action plan for the New Year, not just a two-week resolution but an outcome with small achievable steps to get you there. 

Do financially struggling people just lack a positive attitude? Are their kids hungry because they don't have a "can-do" spirit? Would a bit of optimism create local jobs? (Femi Oluwole)

Do the sums – if it's not worth it, don’t start. (@secularbloke) 

Don't make permanent or long-term decisions based on temporary emotions. Think it through. (Suzanne Fernandes) 

Don’t walk away without giving it the “old college try”. (Uncle Ezra, Cornell University’s agony uncle who sadly ceased advising in 2012)

Eat chocolate and keep smiling. (Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother)

Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie, and never miss an opportunity to go to the lavatory. (Queen Elizabeth I)

Even if you're on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there. (Will Rogers) 

Everybody thinks they are above average. We can’t all be. (Magician Derren Brown) 

Everybody thinks they belong in the group ten years below them. (Katharine Whitehorn, paraphrase)

Focus on doing rather than caring. (Penelope Trunk)

Good things come to those who wait. But better things come to those who work for it. (@ShulemStern)

I don’t have to stand here and listen to this! (Pigpen from Peanuts)

I don’t want to accept the things I can’t change – I want to change the things I can’t accept. (Angela Davis) 

I found using a higher, softer voice got me more tips as a barista. (@vibills)

I haven’t changed at all, except in appearance. (Dita von Teese)

I want what I want when I want it. (Marilyn Monroe)

I was trapped, but I had no idea I was trapped. (Prince Harry)

I've been rich, and I’ve been poor, and believe me – rich is better. (Mae West/Texas Guinan/Bessie Smith)

Ideals are replaced by conventional goals at a certain age. (Jenny Holzer)

If you can't believe it's happening, pretend it's a movie. (Andy Warhol)

If you trust in yourself and believe in your dreams and follow your star you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working and learning things. (Terry Pratchett)

Instead of waiting for life to get better, do something about it. (Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul II)

It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you’re working on the wrong things. (Dan Rockwell)

It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

It took me years and years to understand how people promote themselves, not just in this business, but in life. (Actress Gina McKee) 

It’s better to move somewhere new than will yourself to be more creative. (Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi)

Life was much easier as George. (George Osborne, who changed his name from “Gideon”)

Maybe today you look at all of the things you are doing and you ask which of those things aren't working. Which things are you not enjoying, and not even doing particularly well? Maybe shut that department down. (TO)

Maybe you’re not depressed – maybe you had a horrible life. (Jordan Peterson, paraphrase)

Most of us feel deep relief when we are told where to go, where to sit and whose instructions to listen to. (D. Mortimer)

Moving on is not necessarily moving up. (Agony aunt Mariella Frostrup) 

Much of what governs our behaviour is the situation in which we find ourselves. (Financial Times)

Never retreat, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl.  (Nellie McClung)

Never stay at an event just because you paid for it. (Mark Hogan)

No amount of smiling at a flight of stairs has ever made it turn into a ramp. (Stella Young)

Nobody ever wanted to BE that woman – the strong feminist with a career who didn’t need anybody because she was so politically pure. (Caitlin Moran) 

Only one thing stands between you and your dreams. Feasibility. (India Borden-Wuornos) 

Pray as if everything depended on God, act as if everything depended on us. (The Bishop of Salisbury)

Self-help gurus never make money by advising people to be realistic. (David Aaronovitch)

Sometimes you have to push the reset button and start over. (@6london)

Stand up for what you believe, even if it’s unpopular. (Anna Vital)

Stand up, not by. (Politician Jeremy Corbyn)

Take a job – any job. Structure, regular contact with regular people, and contributing to a larger group all help. (Penelope Trunk)

The Bohemian life was not for me. (Journalist P.J. O’Rourke)

The Charge of the Light Brigade is the ultimate critique of relying on positive thinking. (David Aaronovitch, Times, 2019)

The longer your commute, the lonelier you will be. (New Yorker)

The secret is preparation. (Broadcaster Bill Turnbull) 

The transition from shy to assertive needs to be treated like you are playing a part. (

There is no problem so big or so terrifying that it can’t be run away from. (Charlie Brown)

Try changing a flat tyre by the power of prayer. (@toolegs)

Tweet people how you wish to be tweeted. (@imajsaclaimant)

Useful advice is better than inspiring stories of people riding up Everest on a unicycle. (@MarkOneinFour)

We need others to think well of us. (Time magazine) 

What if your as-yet-unfulfilled life plans didn’t need more will, just skills? (Oliver Burkeman) 

When all else fails, kick over the table and run. (Raymond Chandler)

When arguing with a man, throw in a little modesty and confusion. (Jane Gaskell)

Wildness can be over-rated in an artist. It’s better to be reliable and nice to get on with. (Grayson Perry)

Words of comfort and advice are rarely sufficient; it is the practical help that is so often desperately needed. (Rabbi Jackie Tabick)

You sometimes need to begin all over again: with no history, in a new place and with new colleagues. (Agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore)

You would be surprised how seldom it occurs to people that their problems are not their fault. (Tom Waters)‏

Your greatest weapon may be a display of indifference. (Agony aunt Mariella Frostrup)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Inspirational Quotes 105

You know those useless platitudes that people hand out as advice? Here are some that might actually help.

"Be yourself" is always the worst advice in life. (Sathnam Sanghera)
Be yourself, but try to please as much as possible. (Edith Head)

An inevitable part of being a catch is one’s physical appearance. (The Times, 2022)

Bullies get worse as time goes on. (@TheRoyalButler)

Every generation thinks the new one is much more careless, less thrifty. (Moira Redmond

Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored. (Aldous Huxley)

Fairness is an imperfectly attainable goal for which any decent society should aim. (IG)

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. (Monisha Rajesh)

Good things come to those who grab them when they can. (Peter Coville)

He sat down and cleared his mind and tried to live in the present moment, to see what it would feel like. It couldn’t be done. (Enchantment, Monica Dickens)

I am an example of what is possible when girls from the very beginning of their lives are loved and nurtured by people around them. (Michelle Obama) 

I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept. (Angela Davis)

I am proud to be maladjusted. (Martin Luther King)

I can’t believe it comes as a shock to you, but evidence suggests that life is not fair. (Patrick McDonnell)

I dream of never being called resilient again in my life. (Zandashé L’Orelia Brown)

If life’s a joke, make it a good one. (Comedian Kenneth Williams)

It is easy to be yourself when you are part of the status quo – everyone else better learn to fake it. (

It's amazing how many things "aren't difficult" when you have no idea what you're talking about. (Julian Sanchez)  

Life can’t be solved by admirable maxims from modern literature. (Agatha Christie)

Life is cruel, but unjust. (Film maker Akki Kaurismaki)

Life is not Hollywood, life is Cricklewood. (Writer Alan Coren)

Life itself is uncertain but think how tedious it would be if it wasn’t. (Patrick McDonnell)

Looking different makes a difference. (Sarah Karloff, daughter of Boris.) 

More about you is universal than not universal. (New York Times, 2015)

Music is that glimpse of the infinite, that ineffable light. (Mark Brown)

My troubles are only scratches on the great periphery of cosmology. (Kenneth Williams)

Nothing dates faster than visions of the future. (Katharine Whitehorn)

Older women become invisible – people become quite indiscreet because they think we don’t count. (Novelist Jane Stevenson)

One day we will look back on all this, laugh nervously and change the subject. (Writer John O’Farrell)

One study showed that “social pain” activated the same circuits of the brain as physical pain. (Paul Randolph)

People don’t mean “Don’t copy others” in the absolute. They mean “Don’t copy Kev and Tracey down the road”. (Malcolm Bacchus) 

People generally need three things in life. A mentor. A scapegoat. And someone to hate. (Jeremy O’Grady, probably)

People more often conform to type than deviate from it. (Mystery writer Ngaio Marsh)

People want to be exceptional, unique – even if they don't want to stand out too much. (CS)

Prayer is wider than people often think, and includes the use of caring thoughts and imagination, even if you don’t believe you can address them to God. (The Rev David Grieve)

Reality has a liberal bias. (Professor Brian Cox)

Reality is a cold hard b*tch. (@MsCCFox)

Realizing that life does not contain infinite possibilities and choices is always an ego-bruiser. (Agony relative Danny Lavery)

Religion is full of poetry and magic. (David Baddiel)

Resistance is not futile. (Patrick McDonnell)

Resistance to bad things is not produced by being subjected to the badness one is supposed to resist. (RT)

Rhubarb and custard is a dish best eaten cold. (Jo Brand)

Rudeness is often permissible and sometimes mandatory. (Aaron Haspel)

Science is a method, not a body of facts. (Psychologist Chris French)

Self-help is cold comfort for life’s losers. (Zippy the Pinhead)

Some maintain... that we are happy when we are broken on the wheel, or fall into terrible misfortunes, provided that we are good. Whether they mean to or not, these people are talking nonsense. (Aristotle)

Some people never emotionally graduate from high school. (Reddit)

Some prospects will say "no." A career in sales is not for the weak. (Wendy Weiss)

Sometimes therapy is simply denial with more words. (

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can do damage that lasts a lifetime. (@DadRogd) 

Symbolic gesture is not effective action. (Simone de Beauvoir)

Take an audit under three headings: plus, minus and interesting. (Eric Berne)

The culture we live in sets expectations, which get manifested through TV, advertising, film, radio, books. (Nick Dunlavy)

The emperor has clothes – you better believe it. (Jules Feiffer)

The inner voice is a basic feature of the human mind. (Ethan Kross)

The invisible people must be seen, and the silent people must be heard. (Sally Magnusson)

The only people who get upset about you setting boundaries are those who were benefiting from you having none. (

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. (Gloria Steinem)

The young are obliged to rebel and conform at the same time. (Quentin Crisp)

There are no miracles. (Labi Siffre)

There are so many things one should not try once. (‏@r1z4t)

There comes a moment, when you get lost in the woods, when the woods begin to feel like home. (Jeffrey Eugenides, The Marriage Plot)

There is no problem so big or so terrifying that it can’t be run away from. (Pigpen in Peanuts)

There is often a distance between theory and practice. (Alex J. Lubet)

There is something to be said for stating the obvious. (Danny Lavery) 

There’s a terrible shortage of comfortable ruts. (Writer Peter Wildeblood)

There’s nothing more irritating than fierce individuality. (Charlie Lyne) 

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. (Andy Warhol)

They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown. (Carl Sagan, paraphrase)

They say money doesn’t make a difference. Of course it makes a difference. (Entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox) 

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind. (Writer Henry James)

Through Spock, Leonard Nimoy showed us that things like compassion, mercy, dignity, wit and friendship were actually logical. (Ronald D. Moore) 

Tibetan Buddhists do believe in gods. Or archetypes. Or personified abstractions. Or something. (RK)

To feel the supreme and moving beauty of the spectacle to which Nature invites her ephemeral guests! That is what I call prayer. (Claude Debussy) 

To try to do something which is impossible is always a corrupting enterprise. (Philosopher Michael Oakeshott) 

We are the cosmos made conscious and life is the means by which the universe understands itself. (Professor Brian Cox) 

We conform to the majority standard of our social groups while denying this is happening. (The Psychologist)

We construct our identities on the basis of attitudes towards us. (Erving Goffman

We live our lives to other people's expectations. (PMD) 

When you’re tall, you can afford to be quiet. (Rugby player Martin Johnson)

Where Buddhism falls short is where Kung Fu comes in. (@spudkitten)

Women’s magazines push the idea that maturity consists of making the best of what you have. Even if what you have is pretty crummy. It stinks. (Angela Carter)

Work is more fun than fun. (Noel Coward)

You play the cards you get given. (RI)

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 19 October 2023

Technophobia 13: I'm Not So Clever

It’s 2022 and I don’t know how to hang up a phone call. How do you get back to the screen with the red phone symbol? (You can tweak a setting so that you can hang up a call by pressing the power button. Done it. But why should I have to?) I had to show a friend how to answer a phone call, and it took me several tries to work it out myself, ringing the mobile from the land line to work out that you press and swipe. Same procedure for turning off the alarm – there is no clue, no indication. And I still manage to hang up the call while fumbling for the phone in my bag. That's after I've heard it, because if it's in the next room the first few rings are too quiet. I don't know how to turn off this "crescendo" features, either.

Oh gosh your phone’s pull-down menu shows the last reason why the thing beeped – you don’t have to flip through email, text, Whatsapp. Only took me ten years to work that out.

The writing on phones is tiny, but you can expand it with your fingers. Crumbs.

I can’t get my Yahoo calendar on my phone – well, apparently I can, but it involves downloading Google calendar app and syncing it with Yahoo... I think. That was when I started to cry.

I’ve only recently worked out how to do several things on the phone at once – you press the home key. I haven’t tried it yet. I was helplessly saying: “How can I send you a picture when I’m talking to you?” They would patiently say: "Switch to speaker..." And then everybody moans about those who use their phones on speaker in public.

I used to wonder why the numbers on my clock radio went dim apparently at random – but always in the darkest hour before dawn when I really need to know the time. Apparently the device has an “auto-dim” feature that can’t be over-ridden. It also has very shallow buttons that are hard to feel in the dark. Anyway, I have to turn the radio on the see the time.

I still sometimes find a map of where I’m going, and print it out. Well, it’s easy to see all at once.

I’ve only just worked out, after using Twitter since its inception, that you don’t have to go to the top to tweet but you can click a large button labelled “Tweet”. Or now “Post”.

I thought people made their own GIFs! I never noticed there was a GIF button on FB. There must be one on Twitter. You just pick one. Well, stap me! Egad!

I don't have to tear interesting paragraphs out of the paper any more, I can snap them. Wow.

Why can't I get a blogger feed on a Facebook page without a degree in computing? They can put a man on the moon... 

More here, and links to the rest.

Technophobia 12

Man in TICKET OFFICE (crossed out and replaced with INFO HUB): OK, one more time: Go home and log on to our website from your computer, create an account and purchase your ticket with your credit or debit card, download the ticket to a smartphone, then come back at the allocated time... Just what part of “easier and more convenient” don’t you get?

I won’t get a Kindle because everything you highlight is immediately visible to the entire world. Translation: There’s an option to share highlights on Facebook.

I won’t join Facebook because it was set up by the CIA to keep tabs on us. (More of a conspiracy theory.)

I don’t want to get a computer because I’m afraid of spam and viruses.
I won’t join Twitter because I don’t want to get trolled by a Nazi.

I don't want any of my information stored in a database because the whole world can see it.
(This was in the days when databases lived on one computer that wasn’t connected to anything and were not much more than a card index. Oddly, many believed in the internet before it had been invented. When it arrived, some wouldn’t buy anything online "because villains might capture my bank details as they wafted through the ether".)

Many think technology sprang into being the moment they discovered it. They don’t want to know its history. They don’t want to think there were years in which their friends knew about this stuff and they didn’t. There was a moment when rather grand people finally got a computer and managed not to see that their friends were ten or even 20 years ahead.

Staffers thought the machines would make their jobs more difficult – not more easy. (And there was a moment when it looked as if we'd never get men to touch a keyboard.) But when they couldn’t avoid computers any more, they treated them with disdain, refusing to learn the terminology so that it was hard to tell them how to do anything. I even think that class came into it – computers were machinery, and somehow beneath people’s notice, like typewriters and sewing machines. Surely they weren’t expected to operate machinery?

Word processors existed in the early 70s, but even by the late 70s most offices didn’t have them. I temped in an office where there was one word processor on a stand. Most of the time it sat idle. Only certain designated people were allowed to touch it. It didn’t even have its own chair! Very occasionally someone would come in and fiddle with it. 

Typing into a computer was known as “inputting” – or to some, “imputing”. I did a couple of WP courses, and worked out that WP jobs paid a lot more than the genteel book publishing roles suitable for a nice young girl that I’d been pursuing. So I got a job in the media and ended up as a journalist.

Them: And what do you do?
Me: I work on a computer magazine.
Them: [with look of utter terror] I'm afraid I know nothing about computers!
Me: Oh, neither do I! I just put in the jokes!
Them: [even more terrified, were that possible] How can you make jokes about computers????

Now we all have a computer in our pocket we've forgotten those days. Back then, a computer boffin told me "Typist? Speech to text will put you out of a job by next year!" Speech to text is only just catching up and it's still not very good. It only took a few decades longer than he foretold. In fact I’d done a different job for years, and retired, before it happened. 

I’m at the “click on everything and see what it does” stage with Bluesky. When computers entered most people’s lives back then, some never reached this stage. And they still haven’t.

You’re doing something on the computer at work (like renaming a file, or moving it onto the desktop) and a colleague is watching. They don’t know what you’re doing, or how to do it, or even that it can be done – but they don’t ask questions. So they don’t find out. (Probably not so common now.)

The hardest people to teach are the ones who think you expect them to know something you haven't told them yet, so they guess wildly. And then they don't listen when you do tell them because they're too busy flapping and bluffing and being defensive. They think that what they know is all there is to know because they can't bear the idea that you might know more than they do. Also they don’t know how to find out anything (look it up, ask somebody – but then they’d have to admit ignorance). “How to find out how to do things” was the first thing holdouts needed to learn. But they didn’t. (Plus “I don’t need to know that”. Or, worse, “Shut up, she doesn’t need to know that”!)

New users were terrified of “losing their formatting”, perhaps because style was mandated by the company, and it had taken them hours to work out how to apply the formatting in the first place – and they didn’t know how to create a template. So makers of WP programmes stuck formatting to text with superglue, making it difficult and complicated to cut and paste and pick up the format of the document you are pasting TOwhich is what you usually want to do.

I’d see people deleting a line letter by letter. They didn’t want to be taught tips that would make their jobs faster and more efficient – they didn't want anybody "typing them out of a job". And then it became possible to send text over the phone from one computer to another – it was the managers who didn’t want to know, initially, mainly because they couldn’t understand the process. And surely there was always someone to retype the text?

Help desks were staffed by one young girl who had had no training and knew precisely nothing. I once rang BT’s comms help desk to ask how to send a file to another user and got the reply “Weeeeeell, you need a modem and comms software...” Perhaps firms had been sold the systems by salesmen who claimed "It's all self-explanatory!".

I once asked a colleague for an updated paragraph, and he made the change in the article and re-sent me the whole thing. Me: I just wanted that one paragraph. Him: I never cut and paste because I did that once and my whole article disappeared and I hadn’t saved it. He was a tech journalist. 

Another colleague wouldn’t search and replace because she’d once wanted to replace back with black and had to go through the entire article looking for “blackwards” and “black to the drawing-board” – or similar. She didn’t know about “whole words only”, or even “undo”. Both about 30 years ago.

“I just want my computer to go back to the way it was!” There’s been an upgrade, it’ll never happen. On the other hand, you can customise the software. You can even customise keyboard shortcuts in Word. (I was the kind of person who found the list of InDesign keyboard shortcuts and learned them.)

A colleague was furious that another co-worker became a bit of a tech whiz, while she refused to learn more than the minimum. Guess who was made redundant when the time came?

I recently sent colleagues a leaflet they'd asked me to write, asking for comments. One man sent it back with changes. I couldn’t see what he’d done and asked him to email suggestions. Did they think they could all change the Word file and send it back and the different versions would somehow merge? (This is possible, I'm told.) Did they think they were amending the master copy remotely? Next time I’ll send a PDF.

I know of someone who has an Instagram account on which she posts one photo a year.

I remember in the early days, a colleague typed a letter himself on the WP, handed it to his boss to sign and the boss wanted to make a change. So he handed the whole letter to his secretary who re-typed the whole thing, not realising they could just change the file.

The mantra of software engineering is always be automating your own job. (@Pavel_Asparagus)

There are two types of tech workers, one type automates everything down to the curtains, and the other has a single fax machine in one tinfoiled room of the house with a shotgun ready if it makes a funny noise. (DW)

My wife hates computers. Why should she learn to use something she has no use for? Except she's quick enough to ask me a question I need to look online for the answer to, for something printing, and the latest one: type out her memories of village events in Silver Jubilee year and email it to the church & parish magazine. (KD)

I am reminded of the time I emailed a friend who lived about half a mile away. She was fairly new to home PCs. She printed off the email, hand-wrote her reply on the bottom of the paper, and got her husband to post it through my letter box. (MG)

Americans tend to see any new technology and ask "Will this take away my position in society?" instead of "How can I use this to make a bunch of money?" (@Noahpinion) 

I didn't bother with Computer lessons during my 'options' c. 1984.  I concluded I'd never need to use one. (@ChiefScrobbler)

Like 5 years ago, a very famous academic paid me $200 (in cash) to download a couple dozen PDFs off of her own course’s moodle page, put them on a flash drive, and mail her the flash drive. This was the best job I ever had. (

Having a work meeting where we're talking about some changes needed to a database and only like two people in the conversation understand what a database is while everyone else is talking about it in terms of the UI in which they view that database is... deeply frustrating. (@dayv)

In my last job I had to assist coworkers ranging from 25-75 years old with basic computer skills like printing to PDF or using Outlook. (

It’s 2022 and my company still employs people who are still doing REPLY ALL to an accidental company-wide emailing 48 hours later.

Anyone else so afraid to lose a version of a story that might be better than what you're about to change it into that you save Version 1, Version 2, Version 3, Version 4, etc. in separate files until your desktop is covered in little terrified versions? (@Thorntonforreal. Turn on "track changes". And put all your files into a folder on your hard disk.)

"Having problems with your computer? Clear your history!" they say, and the trouble is – I don't usually want to clear my history. There's stuff I sometimes need to easily find again. Can't somebody design a web browser with a longer memory? (Says a man on Twitter)

I reply that he should bookmark favourite sites and put them in the toolbar.

That would become really unwieldy very quickly, though. And also, I don't always necessarily know that I want to refer back again. You're right, there's possibly an admin task here I'm not doing, but the History menu is brilliant for searching for old bits of research. 

You can put bookmarks in bookmark folders with different titles.

In truth though, very often I'm reading an article about some obscure Merseybeat group on a tiny website, and I have no idea I'm going to need to return to it six months hence. The History folder is great for that kind of stuff. A simple search just pulls everything up. You can't bookmark everything though, surely?

Yes, you can.

I think that depends on how much of the internet you consume and how much admin you really want to undertake. And if there were an easier way of doing things, I’d welcome it. 

I’ve just told you the easier way of doing things.

An automated process would be lovely. 

I think you need a secretary.

(Another Twitter user told me I was “barbaric” for suggesting he bookmarked sites instead of keeping 100 tabs open permanently.)

What would happen if I just nuked all of my tabs. Has anyone actually done this on purpose, just BAM everything gone, scorched earth? (@gptbrooke)

I don’t mute words either – didn’t even know that was an option! (@ikesharpless. Another Twitter user wails “If only there was some way of muting words you don’t want to see!”. Twitter doesn’t make it easy – the facility is buried in sub-menus.)

It’s September 2023 and I’ve just told someone to reply to her own tweets in order to create a thread.

It’s October 2023, about 17 years after Twitter appeared, and some people are still apologising for being on “this hell-site”. All the Twitter alternatives are selling themselves on exclusivity (hooray!). Don't they mean echo chambers (boo!)?

I read fiction to escape the flatness and dumbness of Twitter, not to swim in it. (Susie Goldsborough,  Times, 2023. I was going to tell her she was following the wrong people – but she doesn't have a Twitter account.)

Delivering your message in 280-character chunks is good for style. Some writers tweet briefly and wittily, and then you read their books: long, wordy, rambling sentences with the clauses in the wrong order. Some despicable villains publish pirated “summaries” of popular non-fiction books on Amazon. Would readers buy a shortened, edited version of a popular science book with bullet points at the ends of chapters? 

To those who say “Social media has only been around for about 15 years and we’re not used to it yet”: Social media has been around since... Bulletin boards mid-70s. Usenet: 1980. Cosy conferencing: 1981. 1983: The Well: 1985. Internet Relay Chat: 1988.

It’s 2021 and you can’t search and replace inch marks with curly quotes in Word. And you can’t use italics or bold in FB or Twitter.

It's 2022 and a friend just went to A&E with a doctor’s letter. He held it up to the window at reception and the receptionist copy typed it into the system

It’s 2023 and there are no standards for social media moderators, there’s no official training, no college, no code of practice, no oversight. Do they learn how to stay within the law? 

It's 2023 and some are still "refusing" to use Facebook, as if someone was forcing them to.

It's 2022 and Zoom doesn't make "show controls permanently" the default. ("You need to mute yourself!" "How?" "Click on the microphone symbol!" "Click on the what?" "Hover over the bottom left of the screen!" "Do what?")

M&S wouldn’t accept credit cards until 2000. And do you remember firms whose website was just a showcase? You could ring a number to order the clothes, but couldn’t buy them through the site, because the company was too refined or something. That changed. But I miss printed catalogues – you could get an overview of fashion trends.

My local (excellent) hair salon doesn't accept card payments.

When they designed the system they "forgot" to include ANY process for "the customer has died". Their bloody computer sent my poor mum 17 letters (all addressed to my dad) about the issue, each one even more insane than the last. (AJB)

I don't want to download the effing Ticketmaster Ticketbastard effing app just to get the effing tickets that cost me an effing fortune. The Ticket[redacted] [redacted]. (@fenlandgent)

More here, and links to the rest.