Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Grammar: Zeugma and Syllepsis

The Greeks had a word for it – they classified everything, including rhetoric and figures of speech.

The classic examples of syllepsis/zeugma are sentences like this:

She served the soup with a ladle and a scowl.
He left in a cab and high dudgeon.
He lived in hope and Crouch End.

Sometimes the writer or speaker moves from literal to metaphorical meaning, or vice versa:

You, sir, will die either on the gallows or from the pox!
That depends if I embrace your principles or your mistress!

This dialogue has been ascribed to many people from Disraeli and Gladstone to... Read all about it here.

Vigil for Missing Mom Steps up Pressure on Husband. Armed with anger, hope and candles, participants in a vigil for a former police officer's missing fourth wife left a pink placard reading "Where's our sister Stacy?" on the man's porch Saturday. (2007, CNN)

The air was thick with shrieks and fruit. (P.G. Wodehouse on an orange-throwing incident.)

She made no reply, up her mind, and a dash for the door. (Flanders and Swann)

They are sworn to secrecy and to protect the poor.

George III is predominantly remembered for losing the American colonies and his sanity. (Telegraph, 2013)

MissVietnam is my favourite to win Miss Universe 2015 tonight. She comes in peace — and a pink bikini! (William Lee Adams)

Those who confront him end up in the wrong, or Poland. (Nancy Banks Smith)

In 1868, at Walham Green, Edward Colbeck broke the world record for running 440 yards and the leg of a passing sheep. (Lee Jackson/LF)

Newsnight has learned the current clinical lead for the Tavistock’s Gender Identity Development Service – handed a key role in the new services – has questioned the need for change and the integrity of Dr Hilary Cass. (@hannahsbee, 2023)

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 22 May 2023

Adjectives 17: Intoxicatingly Drab

An adjective can sum up a scene, a country, a world. You might call it Greeneland.

Intoxicatingly drab. (Matthew Sweet on British B movies)

Places with a breathtaking ordinariness. (imdb on a film made in LA in 1950)

Banal suburban ennui. (Lars Kretschmer on a shuttered Turkish shop)

I found this monstrous featureless building next to the rice paddies in South Korea interestingly bleak. (Daniel Blackburn)

Gray suits, gray filing cabinets, gray skies, gray food, gray childhoods, gray marriages. ( on John Le Carré)

Green Line bus stops. Factory sports fields lined with poplars. Boarding kennels, down-at-heel riding schools, damp bungalows in wizened orchards. I was so happy. Is it still unloved, that landscape? I loved it. (Alan Bennett, The Old Country)

Looking down across the grey roofs, until my eyes for some reason lit on one stony "back" out of the many, where the face of a middle-aged man was presented against a window pane ... I remembered saying to myself with astonishment, "That man is happy—completely happy." (Graham Greene)

Tina Brown vividly conjures "the fading walk-up flats in far-flung London postal codes of former courtiers and retainers": their tables crowded with "tasteful knickknacks," their stair carpets reeking of "downward mobility and pointless, genteel sacrifice." (NYT on Tina Brown’s The Palace Papers)

Luigi's Pin-Table business is delightfully dingy, filled out with slot machines and macabre looking games such as a laughing sailor or Konki The Clown: Fortune Teller. ( on Street of Shadows)

Throughout this novel, there is a certain nihilistic dreariness hanging over all the characters. Goodreads on Georges Simenon’s Lock No. 1)

I love England... The true England of nature. The trees, hedges, grass and lie of the land... But also the transitory England with its railways, towns and lighted streets. And above all, the lit pavements shimmering with rain. (Clement Attlee)

“This is the England of arterial and by-pass roads,” wrote JB Priestley in English Journey, “of filling stations and factories that look like exhibition buildings, of giant cinemas and dance-halls and cafés, bungalows with tiny garages, cocktail bars, Woolworths, motor-coaches, wireless, hiking, factory girls looking like actresses, greyhound racing and dirt tracks, swimming pools, and everything given away for cigarette coupons.” (The Guardian article – about poltergeists – adds “roadhouse pubs and electricity pylons”.)

Outlandishly banal, numbingly tedious, completely devoid of stylistic flair; plodding, matter-of-fact prose; either a postmodern master or a talentless nobody. (Critics on Sylvia Smith’s Misadventures. She said she intended her books to be “hilariously funny”.)

I feel at home in airports and on trains and planes. I have plenty of time to read and "no choice" but to eat junk food. (@adamkotsko)

I really enjoy just existing in hotels. The long identical hallways. The soulless abstract art. The weird noises the air-conditioner makes. Strange city lights in the window. Six storeys off the ground. Strangers chatting in the hall. Nothing in the dresser. No past, but an infinite present. (All over Twitter.)

God I just want to go to a hotel so badly. Just one night! I want to swim in a hotel pool and eat at their overpriced restaurant and then order a nightcap through room service. (@anne_theriault)

Arriving into English train stations makes me think of Eastern Europe in the 70s. (@CitizenNate)

I don’t want to transcend the commonplace. I love the commonplace. (Philip Larkin)

More here, and links to the rest.

Inspirational Quotes about Relationships 104

You shouldn't seek for another person to supply all your needs – in fact, you'll be stronger on your own. Nobody talks about "spinsters" any more! Just live in the moment!

I just want a boyfriend. (Girl on Written in the Stars)

The tedious drudgery of being single. (Hannah Fry)

Agnes knew that having a man in her life would give her the respectability she craved. (Imagine, BBC2)

I used to pray that my children would do well at school, marry someone that's good for them and they would prosper. (@WildAtHeartAus)

When we got older and people started getting into relationships, that didn’t really happen for me. (Man with congenitally disfigured face)

Most westerners spend their youth chasing the future, their jobs, sex/romance and their kids. (@Sal_Robins)

[US Presidential candidate] Tim Scott is 57, never married, no children. Not to be harsh, but that's simply disqualifying. (@willchamberlain)

I've long thought that the problem is that the vast majority of people just want to get on with our lives and local goals like a family, nice place to live, hobbies etc, and not cause any trouble, and it's the bastards with the Big Ideas that mess it all up for us. (@IanBlandThatsMe)

When your husband dies “A woman loses caste for a long time and only regains it in very old age”. (Enid Bagnold, The Loved and Envied, 1936)

I never realised how important being pretty was. When I lived at home, my parents kept saying I was all right and I suppose I believed them. Then, when I went to Derby, all that was taken away. What you looked like was the only thing that mattered and I was ugly. You had to have a man... I am emotionally immature. Thanks to a middle-class upbringing. (So Much Blood, Simon Brett) 

Cougars may be capable of swimming to some 4,500 islands in the waters of Washington state, possibly allowing them to access new territory, food sources and mates. (@newscientist. Has anybody told the cougars there are 100 genders, or that the nuclear family is the cause of all the world’s evils, or that mammals are going to stop pairing off and instead experiment with alternative living arrangements? I tweeted this reply, and got an extremely offensive picture in response.)

Absolutely baffled how nice enough but utterly average boring no-hoper blokes end up with nice women. Do women just give up and settle after about 35? (@anon_opin)

She was cute, and she was able to project herself as a catch, which is very important to someone looking for a mate. (Aphrodite Jones)

How to be more attractive, from @mehrnoosh: Wear Red, Show Off Your Hips, Make Yourself Look Taller, Travel in Groups, Fill in Your Eyebrows, Put On Some Sunglasses, Walk With a Swagger, Stop Crossing Your Arms.

I don’t regret it, but I hadn’t realised the cost. I hadn’t realised how much it would cost to live alone... As for safety, it’s a basic human need I’m learning to live without... Officially divorced as of last summer, neither a wife nor somebody’s long-term partner, I’m a woman I no longer recognise. (An ex-wife in The Times Jan 2022)

[An unmarried woman] was named ‘a jolly good sort’, and was always ‘just outside’ the real life of her friends. (Hugh Walpole)

I think it's worth keeping in mind that one major reason it seems hard now to find a partner is that (in the West) we by and large don't arrange marriages any more. To that extent it's a byproduct of greater freedom and autonomy. (@McCaineNL)

Marriage, a home and a car – the ambition of all young Iranians, according to Christopher de Bellaigue in the Guardian.

When women are without partners, it is a personal failing. when men are without partners, it is a societal issue. (@dearestfem)

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

Dating sucks for everyone, and the fact is that we just don’t see a lot of highly differentiated status pairings. Everyone mostly pairs off within their own social/attractiveness bands. This applies to dating as well as marriage. (@constans)

That homophobia remains rife among gay men is hardly surprising. They grow up in a society that teaches that settling down with a woman is the natural order of things. (Owen Jones, April 2014) 

People stopped asking me [when I was going to have children] about 5 years ago when my hair went totally white. It was surreal. Like a switch just flicked. (Alexandra Honigsberg)

Most people by my age have confronted those things. You know, they’ve got married, they’ve had kids. They’ve got pensions. I have always shied away from those things. But I realise that the way I’ve lived my life in my 20s just isn’t a sustainable model for the rest of my life. (Comedian Jon Richardson, aged 31)

Without Friends or Family, even Extraordinary Experiences are Disappointing. Happiness is inherently social, two studies find (Sci Am head)

Every single person I knew had children apart from my two childfree friends: I didn’t know anyone who didn’t get what they wanted. But I think they had this idea that I had this “other” group of friends I was hanging out with when I wasn’t with them – like I had this spare secret set of friends – I didn’t! They all went on to get new friends through their connections through their families and partners and children but I had just lost all my friends. (

Picture by Gordon Bruce.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 9 May 2023

Grammar: Empty Signifiers


What is honour? A word. What is in that word ‘honour’? What is that ‘honour’? Air. (Falstaff, Henry IV Part One, William Shakespeare)

There are words that are never defined. No evidence is ever produced for the existence of the Things they refer to, yet these are talked about confidently as if they were real. Philosopher John Locke called them “insignificant terms”, and to the French they are “empty signifiers” (signifiants vides). (Some of these Things may have a doubtful semi-existence. You can reify something easily by calling it “the something”. But you haven’t actually summoned it into existence. But what do you call it when you don’t merely reify the abstract concept – nature, progress, but ascribe intentionality to it? Personalisation?)

We didn’t do it, it was:

civilisation (“Civilisation flourished in the Indus Valley.”)
complexes, compulsions
demons, destiny, drives
evolution, fate

historical inevitability, history (“the wrong side of history”)
impulse, inhibition, inspiration, instinct
karma, Nature, neuroses

progress, providence
repression, sublimation
temper, temptation (from the Devil)

the dark side, the passions, the subconscious
the Zeitgeist, urges


anger management: Your problem is behaviour you need to stop, not an emotion you need to control. In fact, it’s our problem and you need to stop it now.

benign neglect:
No neglect is benign. And it usually means “middle-class neglect”.

cancel culture

caste: Yes, caste systems exist, but people are not really inferior or superior.


dyslexia: Many teachers define an inability to read as “NBT” – “never been taught”.

empowerment, liberation: Popular in the 80s, but they were seen as internal feelings. People have to give you power and freedom.

family values: Never defined, but probably means “no single mothers being a burden on the taxpayer”.


functioning alcoholic: You only think you’re functioning. You only think nobody notices.

human nature

inalienable rights: Those who give you rights can take them away.

low pain threshold

modernity: Assumes we progress just because time passes. 

My Big Break

nation: Convenient fiction that allows “us” to rule without too much trouble.


permissive society: It always seemed to be happening somewhere else. It also assumes that society ought to be repressive. It further assumes that people shouldn’t – or even can’t – do what they like without permission from somebody.

primitivism: a state to which human beings will regress given half a chance (Given the ease with which humans default to racism, sexism and victim-blaming, perhaps this is not such an empty concept.)

progress: an impersonal force, an inevitable improvement (But it’s also talked of as if it had plans for us.)

rights: See the UN Declaration on Human Rights.

romance: You can always dismiss a phenomenon by calling it “unromantic”, such as... driverless cars? 


sanctity: They said equal partnerships would destroy the sanctity of marriage. How’s it doing?


sense of community, sense of Britishness, pride: Things the Powers That Be want us to have because they will stop us rioting and emigrating to Australia, or something. Or perhaps they’ll just make us vote Conservative.

standard English, French etc: Invented in the 19th century as collections of states became “nations”. (Governments suppressed minority languages.)

the Age of Aquarius
the last taboo: As if soon there would be none.
the meaning of life: Do you mean “purpose”?

the multiculturalism experiment: Seems to mean “translating leaflets into Turkish”. The alternative is NOT translating the leaflets, so monoglot Turks will be forced to learn English. But meanwhile they can’t understand the leaflets. And you’ve just scrapped the English classes.

the new celibacy: Much-touted in the 80s by a couple who’d been influenced by a guru and wanted to sell their book.

the new man: In the late 60s, this fabulous creature was going to take on half the housework and childcare.

the new millennium: It turned out to be just like the last one, and we stopped talking about it.

the next chapter (in my life): As if would just come along. You usually have to write chapters.

the nuclear umbrella
the paperless office

the subconscious: When I was young, we were told we should give our subconscious the right programming, and it would then cause us to do and say the right thing, while sending messages to other people’s subconscious minds, which would communicate with our subconscious… Meanwhile, what DO you say after you say hello?

the will, willpower

trickle-down economics: See “Bilbao Effect”.


Victorian values: Never defined, but probably “hard work and thrift” were meant, not “workhouses and disenfranchisement”.

Zeitgeist: In the early 20th century, quite sensible people thought that, for instance, nations had a “geist” or spirit. The Zeitgeist is the spirit of the age. Makes Gustav Jung’s “collective unconscious” sound a tad less off-beam. 

And what do people mean when they say “It doesn’t define me”?

More about grammar here, and links to the rest.

From my book Boo & Hooray: Dysphemisms and Euphemisms

Thursday, 27 April 2023

The Belfry Murder, By Moray Dalton

The Belfry Murder by Moray Dalton (Katherine Renoir 1881-1963), 1933

This is more of a thriller than a mystery.  Warning: spoilers and discussion of anti-Semitism.

A gang led by a Mr X has moved on from dope-smuggling to chasing the jewels of the Tsarina, brought to England by a faithful governess. There is a lot of action on the trail of both, plus a kidnapped girl and a possibly murdered man. The writing is economical, scenes are vividly depicted, and characters are convincing. So it’s a pity that it ends up as an unresolved mess. Was Dalton up against a deadline? A word count? As well as “Good God, the swine have got Phyllis!” there is a dash of “With one bound Jack was free”.

We start off with the Borlases, father and daughter, who run a small antique shop down an alley near the London docks. Odd things start to happen. A rather deep-voiced woman comes in enquiring about Russian embroideries. The Borlases find a long-overdue letter and small, feisty Anne Borlase decides to deliver it in person. She drives to deepest Sussex and hands it to Stephen, a handsome soldier crippled in the war, and his brother, friendly chicken-farmer Martin. The letter is from Stephen's lost love, and it's all about the jewels. We settle down to follow the fortunes of Anne, Martin and the jewels, expecting wedding bells in the last chapter.

But then Anne is lured to an empty house where she is drugged by the gang, and this is pretty much the last we hear of her. The shop is ransacked and there's no sign of Mr Borlase but a large bloodstain. Martin and Scotland Yard man Hugh Collier set off in pursuit.

Now the plot becomes difficult to summarise. Anne is a mirage, always ahead of them on the road (via Arundel, Brighton etc). She survives being flung off Beachy Head by landing on one of those convenient fictional ledges. Now she’s in a nursing home, but as Martin and Collier arrive she is whisked from under their noses – in the hands of the Gang again. The action moves between the empty house (Clumber Place) and Lord Bember’s “country cottage”: a “raw new house” with white walls, "staring" red tiles and green paint, "with a large garage attached, and a hard tennis court".

Clichés abound: the rusty lock to the empty property that has been recently oiled, the weak character who pulls at their underlip, and the fellow who is “rather white under his tan”.

Enter another heroine – heiress Jocelyn, a fashionable girl, almost a Bright Young Thing. “They barge about calling each other Bunny and Baby,” someone comments. She's engaged to handsome Maurice, her father Lord Bember’s secretary and son of rich antique dealer Israel Kafka (yes really), who despite being Jewish is fond of Anne. Is it a marriage of convenience on both sides?

Anne is tracked down by a pair of bloodhounds (canine) to a rubbish pit, where she is found unconscious in a sack and is bundled off to another nursing home: The matron bent over the patient and addressed her with the brisk cheerfulness that is considered the right tone to take with the sick and dying.

During this farrago, Martin meets Jocelyn’s brother, Lord Herbert Vaste, a weedy no-hoper studying at the vicarage with several other youths. They clearly form the Gang – you can tell by their "soiled Fair Isle jumpers" (detail for Clothes in Books). “I’ve seen them slouching about the village in jazz pull-overs and trailing scarves, with gaspers stuck to their underlips.” (A gasper was a cheap cigarette.) 

Poor Bertie sobbingly confesses to Martin through a window that they forced him to throw Anne over the cliff, but they have some kind of hold over him (clearly drugs). Pathetic Bertie is incommunicado with a headache when the youths entertain Martin to dinner. Despite their constant playing of loud jazz records, they hear a single clang from the church bell and go to investigate, to find Bertie hanging from one of the bell-ropes. His recent demise is confirmed by the village's only doctor, an untrustworthy ladies’ man.

Candidates for the role of Mr X pile up: Stephen, the doctor, Mr Kafka, Maurice Kafka, Lord Bember, the vicar...  Jocelyn breaks it off with Maurice, Collier and the village policeman fall into a boobytrap, the postmistress sportingly gets up at 2am to brew tea, call the doctor etc. Bedbound Stephen wrestles with, and marks, Mr X. His dog is shot but not fatally. Maurice apparently shoots himself due to a broken heart, and Mr X staggers out of a wardrobe, dying from a self-administered dose of cyanide.

The story ends with everybody telling everybody else what has just happened with a lot of paragraphs in the past perfect (had been). Will Maurice survive? Will he get back together with Jocelyn who seems to be in love with him after all? Is Mr Borlase dead or merely kidnapped? Will Anne marry Martin? Meanwhile the jewels have probably vanished on a “Russian timber ship”. 

Moray Dalton was 52 when this book was written, which may account for a slightly suspicious view of modern life. The telephone had been around for several years, but there were holdouts, just as people now refuse to get smartphones or join Facebook.

“Ring me up at the Yard.” “We’re not on the telephone,” said Martin. “My fault,” Stephen’s rare smile was disarming. “It enables bores to get at one more easily, and bad news to travel faster. I prefer my fool’s paradise, without any noise-making machines.” “No wireless either, eh?” said Collier.

Later: “It’s a pity we’re not on the ’phone,” said Martin. “They are useful in emergencies,” his brother admitted.

Despite clichés, Dalton's female characters are far from the "swooning Early Victorians" mocked by Stephen – they all have grit, including the postmistress, the brothers' servant, and a cottager who gives Collier some useful background (and tea with toast and two boiled eggs).

I’m afraid fashion doesn’t feature much apart from Jocelyn’s dress with cape, Anne’s bobbed hair and Collier’s disguise as a hiker complete with khaki shorts.

The villagers were used to hikers of both sexes and expected them to stop and cry “Marvellous!” before the oldest and most insanitary cottages... Often they took photographs. In extreme cases they sat, precariously perched on folding stools, and painted pictures.

Jocelyn’s face “wore the air of faintly impertinent surprise which had puzzled him until he realised that the craze for plucked eyebrows was responsible.” She also wears an “emerald green skirt and jumper” when she should be in mourning for her brother.

On the whole the book is a glorious mishmash, sprinkled with wit and observation. One Goodreads commenter damned the book for its “anti-Semitism”, another praised its sympathetic treatment of Jewish characters.

“The Jews are a wonderful people, Anne. They have their faults, but think of the way they’ve been treated,” says Mr Borlase early on.

Lord Bember is on his second wife, and Jocelyn doesn’t approve. “I’m not interested in Beryl’s movements. Why father couldn’t leave her in the chorus—beastly little Jewess—I beg your pardon, Maurice.” “It’s all right.” His handsome dark face was a little flushed, but he answered her quietly.

Maurice opines: “There are Jews—and Jews—just as there are gentlemen and cads in every race.” 

At one point Jocelyn wonders: “Why are people so beastly to the Jews? I like them.”

Maurice again: “I’m a Jew, you know. We’re supposed to be rather good at business.”

[Israel] Kafka sat for a moment, staring at the green malachite inkstand on his table. He was yellower than ever and the pouches under his eyes more noticeable... He did not move but his heavy-lidded eyes, which he usually kept half closed, seemed to film over and, from being bright, to become dull beads of jet.

Foreign eyes have peculiar powers in Golden Age mysteries. In Ngaio Marsh’s Death at the Dolphin, written in the 60s, Winter Morris (clearly Jewish) has “thick white eyelids”, and he himself refers to his “long nose”. He’s treated as one of the cast, but poor Mrs Constantia Guzman in the same book is mercilessly guyed. In Marsh’s Black as He’s Painted (70s), Alleyn's old schoolfriend Bartholomew Opala hoods his bloodshot eyes and Inspector Alleyn thinks for the first time “I am talking to a n*gro”. Poirot’s brown eyes are known to “glow green like a cat’s” when he’s on the trail, but then he’s Belgian.

Mr Kafka is rather like Agatha Christie’s large and yellow Mr Robinson, who in Cat Among the Pigeons explains his role in the world. Was he modelled on her husband Archie’s early employers? 

Archie’s plans were working out. As soon as he got his demobilisation he was going in with a City firm. I have forgotten the name of his boss by this time; I will call him for convenience Mr Goldstein. He was a large, yellow man. When I had asked Archie about him that was the first thing he had said: ‘Well, he’s very yellow. Fat too, but very yellow.’ (Agatha Christie, An Autobiography)

More from Mr Kafka: A Jew may be straight or he may be crooked, but he’s very seldom a fool... Are you one of those who despise my race, Inspector? Do you talk of dirty Jews? ... If it is the diamonds you want I will give them to you if you will sign a receipt, eh? Yes”—as he saw Collier’s lips twitch—“I am a Jew—I will not be cheated even by the police.”

Our last view of him is arm-in-arm with Jocelyn as they go together to look after the wounded Maurice.

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

Grammar: Redundancy 2

The plague of, scourge of, threat of, cancer of, crisis of, menace of, curse of... Will your sentence work just as well without them? 

Truck driver shortage crisis now spreading across the whole of Europe. (Just "truck driver shortage" will do – and so on.)

The cancer of corruption. (David Cameron)

In Brexit Britain the rot of racism runs deep.

The Government are all talk - and are clearly not serious about tackling the scourge of sewage in our rivers. Simon Lightwood MP

How police deal with the scourge of drug driving (Cambrian News)

The UK must tackle the curse of plastic sachets (Guardian headline) 

When will Britain end the plague of e-scooters?
(Daily Mail)

New street rules will clamp down on ‘fight against the plague of potholes’ New rules are being introduced to help the Government and drivers deal with the scourge of potholes, by clamping down on repair companies. (Daily Express)

As the Nazi menace spread across Europe (@PunchBook).

We will always support measures that deal head on with the cancer of discrimination. (Michael Howard  2004)

The cancer of litigation. (David Davis, 2004)

The crisis of AIDS. (Sunday Times, 2012)

Christians fear spectre of extremism. (Times 2012)

The onslaught of winter. (Do you mean "onset"?)

End the scourge of oil theft.

As the threat of war loomed. (BBC)

How to beat the scourge of youth knife crime (Times headline 2018)

If we want to combat the scourge of prejudice, we ought to commit to reversing this process, and take responsibility for the beauty of our own lives, both its tragedies and its joys. (@HdxAcademy) 

That thing above is a real-life scourge.

More redundancy here.

Monday, 3 April 2023

Grammar: Redundancy

It can be hard to distinguish apart redundancy and tautology. Tautology (continue on, join together) says everything twice. Redundancy and otiosity over-egg the pudding. 

Icebergs are mainly submerged; haystacks are large compared to needles; tightrope walking is not easy. There's no need to say "the tip of a HUGE iceberg", "like looking for a needle in a VAST haystack", 

It’s like a needle in a thousand haystacks. (It can only be in one of them – but I suppose you'd have to eliminate the other 999. However, finding the proverbial needle is difficult enough.)

It’s a tiny needle in a very large haystack.

It’s the tip of an iceberg that goes very deep.
(All icebergs are 90% submerged.)

Gary Glitter is the tip of a huge iceberg. 

Early evidence suggests that Rafiq’s story is "the tip of a very large, very ugly iceberg”, says George Dobell in The Cricketer. (Nov 2021)

I suspect it is the tip of a much larger iceberg. 

It must have been an incredibly hard tightrope to walk for the writer. (How about “difficult balancing act”?

Autism’s big elephant in the room. (Not like those small elephants nobody notices...)

The big, stonking elephant in the room. (@DavidLammy)

Anne Widdicombe wants to send “a very loud warning shot across the bows” of the Conservative Party by standing as a Brexit Party MEP. (The point about a shot across the bows is that it nearly hits you – it is not meant to alarm you by making a loud noise.)

Handed him a rather large olive branch. (An olive branch is an olive branch, and it means “Let’s make peace”. It can’t mean any more than that. A tiny olive branch sends exactly the same message. Actually in the Bible it was a leaf.)

Before alcohol tightened its aggressive grip. (Times)

Archaeology is a complex jigsaw puzzle. (Alice Roberts)

An uninvited cuckoo in the nest. 

The results of the survey punched a rather large hole in the theory.

Putin has just shot himself a very unnecessary bullet in the foot. (Guardian)

Starmer is emerging as a plausible future prime minister in a desperately empty field. Like his possible rival, the chancellor Rishi Sunak... (Sept 2020. Either a field is empty, or it isn’t. Actually, if the field was empty, neither Starmer nor Sunak would be in it. The writer means something like "There is a desperate shortage of plausible candidates".)

If you add extra words to a well-known anecdote, its impact will be dulled, not enhanced.

The unspeakable in full pursuit of the unspeakable. (Ivana Lowell misquotes Oscar Wilde on fox-hunting.)

Help, my postilion has just been struck by lightning! (The original “useful phrase” was “My postilion has been struck by lightning”.)

The witty 70s graffiti read MY KARMA HAS RUN OVER MY DOGMA, not “Help! My karma has just run over my dogma!”. (It appeared on the side of the Conservative Club in Kentish Town in the 80s and I used to pass it every day.)

Actress Edith Evans had trouble with a line in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever (“On a clear day you can see Marlow”). She kept putting in an extra “very”. Coward complained: “Edith – on a very clear day you can see Marlowe, and Beaumont, and Fletcher.” (You may need to know that Marlow is a town on the Thames, and Marlowe, Beaumont and Fletcher were 16th century playwrights.)

More redundancy here.

More writing tips here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 20 February 2023

Euphemisms in Short Quotes

He now spouts respectably opaque management-speak.
 (Times on Saxondale, 2007. The ex-roadie also opined that "Sometimes it's time to hand in your gun and badge".) 

"Simple" is sometimes a euphemism for a really bad idea. (@Doctrine_Man)

"Disagreeing agreeably" is just agreeing. (@mynnoj)

I've said it before and I'll say it again – "Be kind" is "Shut up" with a pink bow on. (@bar_jen)

Men can have interests and hobbies, women "obsess"(@library_fae)

What’s the difference between assertive and aggressive? Your gender. (@DrProudman)

Gritty can mean something close to grotty. (Anne Treneman)

Hang on who decided that woke people are a brigade and twitter people are a mob?

The term ‘socialising’ actually means drinking heavily, it has emerged. (Daily Mash)

UN staff told to use “military offensive” and “conflict” instead of “invasion” and “war”.
 (Mar 2022)

Educational preparedness is usually code for white middle-class norming(@DrBritWilliams, paraphrase. He prefers the "earnestness" of poor and black students.)

Interesting how all the “free thinkers” have the same opinions on everything. (@Seerutkchawla)

Admin” is often code for “boring tasks”. (@AutisticCallum_)

I think "nuanced" is the "get out of jail" card. It's to academics what "just bants" is to footballers. 

"Complex realities"? "Wildly conflicting claims", more like! (@thames_pilgrim)

'Tough decisions' never seem to involve tax havens, tax avoidance, tax evasion etc. (@RedJohnBounds)

Never forget how much lifting “get over it” does for “get away with it.” (@KirosAuld)

It’s not quite what I had in mind.” Translation: What the bloody H is this? (@SoVeryBritish)

Continuing our deliciously mischievous series by a top celebrity writer. (Daily Mail. Dirt, scandal.)

V.S. Naipaul belongs to the late 20th century triumph of that cult of sophistication which worshipped the artist as a “complex human being” (ie bastard). (James Marriott, Times May 2022)

Absolutely not a Windfall Tax, goodness me no, it's a Non-recurring Opportunity Levy, I'd appreciate your cooperation in this sensitive matter. (@BrynleyHeaven. And a “windfall tax” is a “windfall tax rebate”.)

'It's time we moved on' really does mean 'It's time we pretended this never happened'. (Justin Lewis @WhenIsBirths)

On the day after the Uvalde shooting, Ted Cruz says people shouldn’t “politicize” the event or offer “immediate solutions” – like tightening gun laws. 

"Lazy workers" is a fun way of saying "effective unions which mean people aren't treated like garbage". (@PerthshireMags)

God helps those who help themselves? Sometimes a polite way of saying people shouldn't be so lazy! (Noreen Marshall)

We can vote for non-scary sounding "home rule" as opposed to scary-sounding "independence" as much as we like. (@PeterArnottGlas)

The United Kingdom? There wasn’t a union. There isn’t a union. There is a colonial power and colonies. (@gourockianoutl1)

We need a new narrative about nuclear power. (The Register. As we used to say, “Nuclear power needs a new image”.)

The demand to keep politics out of art is too often a demand for art to conform to conservative politics. (Adam Serwer, The Atlantic, headline)

What many people call “shadow banning,” Twitter executives and employees call “Visibility Filtering”. (@bariweiss)

PSA: If your job advert lists ‘resilience’ as a pre-requisite then there’s a serious problem.  (@lisaharveysmith. They once asked for candidates who were "used to dealing with difficult people".)

Do not ask others to be more resilient if what you mean is to suffer more quietly. (@dremilyanhalt)

More here, and links to the rest.

Euphemisms About Racism in Quotes


Can the “North London” jibes please stop? Every time I hear “North London” I think “Do they mean Jews?”. This government, no matter which of the three prime ministers (so far), have made consistently nasty, personal comments about “lefty lawyers”, tofu, north London etc. (@AdamWagner1) 

As a North East, tofu-eating Londoner I assume when they say "anti-growth alliance, North Londoners or tofu-eaters" what they really mean is 'not Tories'. (@LucilleChip)

He means Islington & Hackney, and it’s a jibe against Labour’s metropolitan LSE-inspired progressive groupthink. (@Sapper_Sailor)

Anyone outside London does not mean Jews, we mean urban elite. Using just London would mean the same. (@treflesg)

This is simply a jibe at Islingtonian champagne socialist types(@agw1437) 

Saying North London is the new way of saying cosmopolitan and yes it means Jews. (@jwbottomley)

I don’t read it this way at all it is very much an Islington jibe and a dig at the Labour Party really being London-centric and not caring about the rest of the country and particularly rural England which of course goes down well in the Tory shires their heartland it’s fair game. (@kaydeelala)

They mean ‘Champagne Socialists’ – Labour MPs who live in gentrified areas of North London – Islington and Primrose Hill – who profess to represent the working class. (@narkyanarchist)

It's not Jews, it's the Liberal Metropolitan Elite(@BrianofBritian) 

I was once asked to present a planting concept for East London to a room of (100% white) critics. Feedback was that international planting ‘didn’t fit the area’ and I ‘should do native wildflowers’. The site was founded by Romans and an immigration epicentre for +2,000 yrs. The idea of field of ‘wildflowers’ (they ironically meant non-native cornfield weeds) was ‘more in keeping with the area’ is not just historically ****ed. It also is predicated on often unconscious ideas of what and who does and does not ‘belong’ in the U.K. That’s before the ‘advice’ to me afterward about how I could make it more ‘fitting’ the ‘British’ ‘genius loci’. And that I had a ‘lot to learn’, not about horticulture (they were all planners and architects) but about Britain. I was born like two miles away from the site. (James Wong) 

"Bring the country together" means "get everyone on board with our racism and fascism". (Dr. Sarah Parcak @indyfromspace)

We had to fight the most uneven fight ever: the leftists at home, the international leftists, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Soros organisations, the international media and ultimately even the Ukrainian president. (Hungarian president Viktor Orban. Someone comments “Just say ‘Jews’, Viktor, this is taking for ever.”)

BTW “systemic racism” doesn’t mean “lots of racists in the system”. It means that even if there were ZERO racists present, the system would still disproportionately harm people of certain races. It’s baffling that lots of educated folks don’t understand this concept. (@THOTcrime)

The church has embarked on conciliation. When we talk of conciliation here we are talking about actually educating thousands of people. (Rwandan Bishop after the civil war and genocide. He meant “educating them that everybody is equal”.)

It is not a coincidence that calls to "globalize the intifada" and to throw out "Zionists" rise in tandem with rhetoric surrounding George Soros, New Yorkers, and "elites". When both sides lose touch with reality, fingers always point in the same direction. (@blakeflayton, 2022)

I’m led to believe a lot of the major slaughterhouses are owned by certain groups of people. (@JudithEvans14 The discussion is about halal meat being sold unlabelled.)

Every villain in The Hardy Boys is “swarthy”. (Dr Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell)

More here, and links to the rest.

Euphemisms about the Law in Quotes

Sean Jones KC

How the Judge describes your submissions versus what the Judge means:

Eloquent: I’m about to find against you.

Careful, meticulous: Way, way too long.

Scholarly: Oh, no – footnotes!

Ambitious: What?

Creative: You’re not as clever as you think you are, you weasel!

Bold: How dare you!

Novel: This is the first time anyone’s been foolish enough to try this on.

Is there anything further? There had better not be.

There is one point which troubles me: Let me explain why you case is a load of old cobblers.

Barrister Max Hardy adds:

Daring: Are you insane?

Concise: At least you haven’t wasted my time.

Simon Myerson KC adds:

Just help me with this: I have identified the irremediable flaw.

Very interesting: utterly irrelevant.

Yes, thank you: You’ve finished.

I have your point: You’ve finished and you’ve lost.

Your counsel has said everything that can be said on your behalf: Immediate custody.

Sean Jones again: 

Counsel’s spirited submissions: He kept talking over me and refused to take my hints that he was making things worse.

Ben Williams adds:

Erudite submissions: Beyond me. 

Spirited submissions: We did not crush your spirit this time, but we are working on it.

Alexander Chandler

Helpful: Helped me realise they were wrong. 

Logical: But wrong. 

Brave: Obviously wrong.

Jamie Jenkins

These all mean "too long": t
horough, extensive,  comprehensive, meticulous, forensic, detailed, full

On Murder, Mystery and My Family, when Sasha Wass says "I think I can help you, Jeremy...", she means "I think I have the facts and arguments that will demolish your objection."

More euphemisms here, and links to the rest.

More Euphemisms about Politics in Quotes

"Offended by" is a weasel-phrase that places the action and responsibility on the person who is on the receiving end of prejudice. 

The word “taxpayer” is almost always right-wing political framing. (@SpringaldJack)

"Mixed results” seems to have become doublespeak for “we are losing seats to ALL SORTS of people.” (@sturdyAlex, post council elections)

She was delivering a fiery manifesto about her undying allegiance to Donald Trump and sharing with great zeal why Jesus wanted her to vote the way she voted. Beneath her Bible references and heavily coded church words I could see it all: a fully ignited fear of terrorists, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ human beings, and people of color—mixed with some impending sky-is-falling spiritual doom that she believed only the Republican Party or the Second Coming could rescue us from. (

Any country with "people's" or "workers'" anything is working neither for the people nor for the workers. Any country with "democratic" in its name is anything but. (Richard Meredith. Someone adds “popular”.)

The House of Lords has been accused of “pathetic wokery” after staff were told not to use “offensive” terms such as ladies and gentlemen. Staff in the upper chamber have been issued with an “inclusive language guide”:

Manpower: workforce, staffing
Common man: average person
Class: socio-economic status
Manmade: synthetic, artificial

The UK government are world leaders at “looking at”, “working towards” and “focusing on” things. It all translates as “not doing the things”. (@Joanne_Lake)

I notice the conspiracy theorists have latched onto US political analyst John Mearsheimer, who describes himself as a 'realist' historian (a red flag for me – it's like men who say 'well, it's only common sense, isn't it?' before coming out with some truly bonkers opinion). (Liz Williams)

I wonder what Michael Gove means by ‘Christian forgiveness’, because it doesn’t half sound like ‘Let us get away with it’. (Justin Lewis @WhenIsBirths)

'Classical liberal' is a euphemism for 'selfish', isn't it? (@AodhBC)

If the government doesn't do what a certain commentator wants they're ignoring democracy. But if they do something this same commentator doesn't want, they're pandering to the electorate.

China is piecing together a “blacklist” of karaoke songs that contain “harmful content”, it has emerged. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism said karaoke must not endanger national unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity, incite ethnic hatred, undermine ethnic unity, promote cults or superstition or violate religious policies. In 2015, the country banned 120 songs from the internet, including Chinese tracks titled “No Money No Friend”, “Don’t Want to Go to School” and “Fart”. (The Week)

Prime Ministers have to make these tough decisions, refresh the team... (Tory pundit on BBC Breakfast. Dominic Raab has been sacked.)

Why aren't we doing face-masks all over the place? We're trying to take a balanced and proportionate approach, slowing down the spread of omicron while we get to the bottom of the exact effect it has. (Boris Johnson, paraphrase)

Guidance Patrol is the main Islamic religious police, or vice squad in the Law Enforcement Force of Islamic Republic of Iran. It was established in 2005, succeeding previously defunct institutions of similar nature.

More here, and links to the rest.

Critical Euphemisms in Quotes


Robbie Millen, The Times, Dec 2021

Daring: A stream of semi-consciousness with no paragraphs or capital letters. Possibly told in one sentence.

Bold and daring: Same as above, but with added swearing.
Lyrical prose: Sunsets are described.
Dazzling prose: Too many adverbs.
Hypnotic prose: Boring.
Unflinching prose: Depressing.

Atmospheric: Nothing happens, no plot.
Propulsive: A lot happens, no atmosphere.

Hallucinatory: The author is on drugs, whole chapters make no sense.
Fragmentary: The author is on drugs, whole chapters make no sense (but at least they’re short).

Addictive: A quick read, but we’re still charging £18.99.
Accomplished: Underwhelming. Fingers crossed the next novel will be better.

High concept: Implausible plot, ignore the clunking prose.
Polyphonic: Too many narrators, confusing.

A sharp-eyed [or fearless] look at humanity: No likeable characters, the author is a sociopath.
A searing exploration of toxic masculinity: No likeable male characters, the author had a bad break-up.

A writer at the top of their game: Past it, old, about to be dropped.
Master storyteller: Writes the same novel every year, too successful to be edited.

A masterclass in storytelling: Formulaic, two-dimensional characters.

A brilliant [or exhilarating or exciting] new voice: All debut writers.
A major new talent: A writer on their second book, the first was ignored.

Epic: Editor was on maternity leave, 200 pages too long.
Immersive: Editor was on maternity leave, 100 pages too long.
Magisterial: Long, boring, pompous. Has footnotes.

Darkly funny (see also full of sly humour): Not funny.
Hilarious (or wickedly funny): Mildly amusing.

Atmospheric world-building: Tolkien rip-off; too much detail. Has maps and silly names.
Steampunk: Author couldn’t be bothered to do the research for a historical novel.

A modern feminist fantasy: Young woman falls in love with a vampire/werewolf/unicorn.
A classic feminist fantasy; Middle-aged woman falls in love with a bear.
Relatable: Over-marketed commercial fiction aimed at twentysomething women. 

Brutally candid: Memoir by an unlikeable author.

Reads like a thriller (see also gripping narrative non-fiction account): Biography or history book with no original research. No index.

An intellectual feat: Deathly prose, but admire the 100 pages of notes. Has index.

Genre-defying Science fiction, but we don’t want it stocked in the SF section of Waterstones.

Long awaited: The author took so long to write this one, no one can remember the previous volume.

Literary sensation: Book was featured on morning TV, we ran ads on the Underground.
Literary phenomenon: Featured on Radio 4, we ran ads on the Underground, still no one bought it.

The year’s most talked about book: The author acts like an idiot on Twitter.

A meditation: Rambling essay, no thesis, stuffed with extraneous, clever-me literary references.

Not for the faint-hearted: Author is obsessed with bodily fluids.

A novel that asks what it means to be... The author has boring, hectoring political views
A brilliant interrogation of... (also a merciless takedown of... and told in blistering prose) See above.

Urgent (or necessary): A book addressing the big political issues of last year, when it was commissioned.

Controversial: The author is not left-wing.

A conversation starter: Buy before the author gets cancelled and it’s withdrawn from sale.

Coming-of-age novel: Character loses virginity.
Personal awakening: Character comes out.

Enchanting (or delightful): Twee story set in a middle-class Mediterranean holiday destination.

Cult classic: Read only by pseuds. Had been out of print for good reasons.

Gothic: There’s an old house in it.

Brims with empathy: Treacly, sentimental.

Overflowing with passion: Unhinged, the author is having a nervous breakdown.

Moving: A minor character dies.
Heartbreaking: A major character dies.
Gut-wrenching: The dog dies.
Heartwarming: The sick kid gets better.

Western media narratives: It’s all lies, lies I tell’ee! Believe these Western Youtube videos instead. (Common among alt med types, says Liz Williams.)

His most personal film yet” is fast becoming shorthand for, “Sorry, mate, but this really needs an edit”. (Times, Kevin Maher, 2021)

In fiction, one’s “blandly admirable” is another’s obnoxious w***er. One’s “sympathetically flawed” is another’s irredeemable a**hole. (@jeannette_ng)

More here, and links to the rest.

Yet More Euphemisms in Quotes

We can't afford a pay rise, but would you be prepared to accept some meaningless platitudes about how much your work is worth? (Cartoonist Fran)

Hey! I'm so glad you reached outI'm actually at capacity / helping someone else who's in crisis /dealing with some personal stuff right now, and I don't think I can hold appropriate space for you.(@diligenda)

The original TikTok video has: We’re moving in different directions in life, I don’t have the capacity to invest in our friendship any longer, I’ve been re-evaluating many areas of my life recently, I don’t want to disappoint your expectations. One commenter even called it “therapy speak”!

China is running out of children, and lifting restrictions. You no longer need a marriage certificate to register a birth. Couples can have unlimited numbers of children. It claims the new rules will “perfect birth registrations" and “strengthen the population service system”.
 ("Streamline", "simplify", "overhaul" and “rationalise” are often used in similar circumstances.) 

Odd isn’t it – when some are faced with a challenge they dislike, it becomes "bullying". But when they are robust in defence of their position, it’s admirable assertiveness. (@SVPhillimore)

CBT: You're wrong for being upset about your oppression and neglected pain. You're over-reacting. Stop it. Mindfulness: You can't control the future. Be in the present. Oh, you're in pain 24/7 including the present? Uh... take a deep breath? (@alanasaltz. It's the same old "Stop feeling sorry for yourself", and "If you stop thinking about it, it will go away".)

"Each week we'll be joined by a special guest star" she announced (TV-speak for "Our ratings have reached rock-bottom"). (Victor Lewis-Smith on the dying days of That’s Life! The programme featured a rubber rhino that jumped on a cake replica of the Foreign Office.)

Is "vicarious embarrassment" a thing to say in English? (when you feel ashamed in someone else’s place) In Dutch we say "plaatsvervangende schaamte". Seems like there's no real common/standard English term for this? (@JuPitch84. We’re not supposed to feel it – we’re supposed to enjoy others’ embarrassment.)

Is 'struggles with empathy' a euphemism for psychopath? (Maria McCann) 

I was called feisty by one colleague whilst another one was whispering “He means scary, he’s being polite”. (@RachelTurnham)

After gay MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle gave a speech about the new housing ombudsperson, Tory MP Jonathan Gullis told him he had a “flair for dramatics” and should “audition for panto”. 
(May 11, 2022) 

The basement of No. 81 was home from July 1934 to the Caravan Club that advertised itself as "London's Greatest Bohemian Rendezvous said to be the most unconventional spot in town" which was code for being gay-friendly. (Mike Iglesias)

Gobsmacked at that picture of PM strutting around a hospital without a mask. (@HumzaYousaf)

The great and the good sermonise about saving the planet while whizzing about in private jets. (The Week)

At low tide creatures are revealed or exposed, depending on whether you are predator or prey. (Autumnwatch)


Nurses, ambulance workers, rail workers, postal workers, teachers are not the enemies of the people. They are the people. (@paddygrant)

Say no to: “girlbossing”, “lean-in” feminism, “inspirational” talks, and nonsense EDI initiatives that reduce the impact of gender inequality to childcare and the number of women on committees(@lrbobrien. Perhaps this is more "narrow redefinition".)

Interpreting someone's mental state incorrectly is very different from not being able to conceive that there is a mental state behind the observable behavior. The former happens to all of us, the latter only to people with neurological disorders within the autism spectrum. (Lisa Zunshine)

If anyone can identify into a category, it no longer exists. (@inmyownfashion2)


In general, do you like material things like luxury clothes and sports cars?
(Yougov survey. What are second-hand clothes and buses made of?)

These aren’t the thoughtless retro shops that we had growing up. Instead, they’re now curated and considered. (Times. Translation: ten times the price. Sought-after “military overpants” go for £98. And somehow this is maaaahvellous. Plus, everything in the past was bad, but stuff in the present, even if pretty much exactly the same, is new, different and wonderful.)

Rishi Sunak boasted of taking money from “deprived urban areas” to help wealthy towns. A leaked video shows the former chancellor saying that Labour “shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas” and that “needed to be undone”. (
New Statesman) 

Boris Johnson believes helping struggling families to pay their bills would be "shovelling" money to appease "bleeding hearts". (Mirror May 2022)

The five-star hotel in Crete where Dominic Raab was spotted describes itself as a "sparkling boutique resort for the privileged and perceptive". (I think this means “expensive”.) (@johnestevens)

This government's "levelling up" mission is looking increasingly like "you may perhaps go up one level if you aren't already wealthy, but don't aim too high", which isn't quite what the manifesto implied. (@SophcoCooper)

We all need to consume, obviously. “Consumerism” is when consumption becomes a religion, when we think it's the main source of our well-being, as we are encouraged to by advertising. (@Petercoville. He admits that the crossover point is a “grey area”.)

An offensive term that I'm seeing over and over is "Handouts". A word resultant of targeted Tory rhetoric to make those in poverty feel deep shame – even in a time of national economic crisis. (@C_Fitz_)

Everyone needs a ‘hand-up’ at some point in their life, that’s what social security is all about. (@herloyalvoice)


"You may have a point there" means "You must be barmy to suggest that".

"We are committed to doing X" means "Not a chance".

"I stand firmly behind..." or "... has my full support" means he'll get the heave-ho before tomorrow morning's Today programme. I particularly like "I stand firmly behind..." because that's the easiest place from which to bury the hatchet in "..."'s back.



Multiple places I'd worked at in NYC had basically fired their senior editors (read, all women over 40) so they could pay younger editors significantly less to do the same jobs. (Camille Loft. To do the same jobs badly, I’d add.)

Must be willing to work in a fast-paced unpredictable high-energy environment.

must be willing to work: underpaid
fast-paced: overly demanding
unpredictable: disorganized
high-energy: life-draining and demoralizing

(@tattudeguyWA. Formerly "used to working with difficult people".)

We don’t “fill jobs” here at Consolidated Tank and Foundry – we offer opportunities for the growth and enrichment of the individual. (Punch, 1965)

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday, 11 February 2023

Writing Tips: Fiction

I've just read a "writing tips" site and it was all about motivation. Go for a run! Get out into nature! Go to the gym!

It also gave some tricks to get yourself writing. "You only need to write three sentences a day!" "Take a blank piece of paper and write the word 'the'!" Or even: "Take a blank piece of paper and cover it with squiggles!" Don't we all use keyboards these days?

The above scenarios seem to be addressed to someone who has not a thought in their head. They want to "write" but don't know what. There was nothing, not a word, about the nitty gritty of writing: avoiding clichés, not mixing metaphors, writing readable sentences

So here's how I wrote my four novels: Which Way Now?, Which Way To...?, We Three and The Fourth Door. (They have young central characters and are a mix of realism and fantasy. They take place from the late 60s to the early 80s.)

I created a file, and threw into it any notes that were relevant. I knew how I wanted the first story to start: with a girl who's just started at a new school, opening a new exercise book and writing about her life instead of Henry VIII. Books one, two and three are her diary. Book four has a new central character, a young man. He has persuaded his new flatmates that he is writing a magical-realist novel, but instead tells the story – which is a magical-realist novel. I know, because I was the one writing it.

I carried on throwing notes into the file. I thought up a cast of characters and started creating incidents and scenes. I knew how the story was going to end. I wrote the odd scene as they occurred to me. I worked out motivations. I decided how the characters connected up.

I put the notes in order.  Now I had a 30-page synopsis. I suggest you don't start writing the text until you have one of these.

I started writing. I wrote a chapter (1,500-2,000 words) a day. At the end of each chapter, I wrote a few notes about what would happen in tomorrow's chapter.

Eventually, I had a first draft. I shelved it for a while, then reread it. I rewrote and polished. I realised that in the third book, I had the incidents in the wrong order. WHY was Fabia so upset that she walked out of the pizzeria? Moving the incident to later in the narrative gave her a motive.

Eventually I considered different titles and checked to see if someone else had used my favourite.

There were some scenes I included because I liked them. I just wanted two of the characters to play Scrabble in a tower room while listening to Chopin.

Because all the narrative was "written" by the characters, I didn't have to wonder about an authorial voice. And there was no godlike viewpoint – the characters only knew what they could know. Unless they saw it in a crystal ball. I know, that sounds like cheating.

Every time I finished one of the books, I didn't really know what was going to happen next, or if there'd be another story. But then my imagination got to work and... see above.

Mentoring would-be writers is an industry. Don't take the advice too seriously. And don't discuss your plot with anybody before you write it. Do make sure that nobody else has written your story, if you can.

It helps to choose a genre, and then read a lot of books in that genre. You'll get some ideas about style and structure, and also find out which ideas have been used (or over-used) already. I confess I didn't do this! I tell stories elliptically – they just come out like that. I mean the reader never knows where the story is leading.

If you want to know about the nuts and bolts of writing, read my other Writing Tips posts. My book A Short Guide to Writing Well gives basic help. And here's a post on writing your memoirs, finding an agent, and possibly getting published.

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Junk Statistics 10

Michel Souris

There are lies, d*mn lies, and... they're not all junk.


From YouGov's post-referendum analysis: The most dramatic split is along the lines of education. 70% of voters whose educational attainment is only GCSE or lower voted to Leave, while 68% of voters with a university degree voted to Remain in the EU.

Brexit benefits:
£200 added to yearly household food bills
4/10 British farms forced to leave crops rotting in fields
£900bn in assets transferred out of the UK
330,000 fewer workers including 4,000 NHS doctors 

£billions trade lost
Empty shelves
Peace under threat in NI
Environment sacrificed
Red tape suffocating businesses
Food rotting in ground/HGVs
100k pigs to be killed
Roaming charges back
Beer shortage

UK exports to the EU are down 36%. (2021-01-16 Now 68%. 2021-02-06)

A more than tenfold rise in the price of cardboard since the start of the pandemic is sparking fears among small British companies that they will be unable to source boxes needed to send out products and parts to customers. Demand from Amazon and other online sellers, alongside disruption at the border and stockpiling caused by Brexit, has led to a national cardboard shortage. (

Stats prove that 50% of Brexit voters were comfortably off Boomers. Cry of the oppressed my arse. Moan of the elderly right wing middle classes more like. (Attila the Stockbroker. As a Boomer, I voted Remain.)


17 men a day die of alcohol-related health problems.
In the UK, one in five hospital admissions is the result of heavy drinking.

Hospital doctors see 150 women a week who have drunk so much they have put their lives in danger, says the Times. Last year 7,760 women needed treatment for alcoholic liver disease, of which 113 were under 30.

There were 7,423 deaths from alcohol misuse last year - a rise of 20% from 2019, the Office for National Statistics says, and the highest in 20 years. 

Studies have generally found that the more serious the crime or injuries, the more likely alcohol was involved. Fro example, a recent study showed that drinking offenders committed 15% of robberies, 26% of aggravated and simple assaults, and 37% of rapes and sexual assaults. (Greenfeld 1998, quoted in

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, alcohol is a factor in 40% of violent crimes. ( Both via @HamaramaDD)

Prohibition lasted for 13 years, but the reduction in alcohol consumption it induced lasted for around 70 years.

In France, average alcohol consumption has declined by 75% since the 1960s. 


Liz Truss in her first Tory conference speech reminded people she was the first British PM to come from a comprehensive school.
Theresa May (private school, then from age 13 a state school)
Gordon Brown (state school)
John Major (state school)
Margaret Thatcher (state school)
James Callaghan (state school)
Harold Wilson (state school)
Edward Heath (state school)
Someone points out that most of the above went to grammar schools, not comprehensives.

Just 7% of Brits are privately educated yet 74% of the new cabinet are privately educated. (@Taj_Ali1)


There are normally three dog fatalities a year – last year there were 10.
Eight people a year are killed by cows, usually dog walkers. 

1,500+ dogs have been stolen during lockdown. (Policewoman on Countryfile)

The exotic pet trade is worth £15bn a year. People order sloths because they see sloth videos on the internet. (Via Simon Reeve)

EU states import around 4,000 tons of frogs’ legs every year, the limbs of as many as 200m frogs. (The Week. This is causing extinctions in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe.)

The UK imported 325 non-ivory elephant parts over the past 10 years, including 173 skins, 84 feet, 47 ears and 21 tails. Over 3/4 of the elephant parts imported were hunting trophies, with Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe being the most common countries of origin. (Guardian. The CITES ivory ban doesn’t mention other body parts.)

There are more trees on earth than stars in the Milky Way and even more neutrinos have passed through you while you read this. (@martinmbauer)


4% of women support gender-neutral toilets.

30% of women have said that they would give one year of their life to achieve their perfect body in shape and weight. 

98% of sexual assault is by men, women are 84% of the victims. 

Males were convicted of the vast majority of homicides at 89.5% of offenders, 98.9% of those arrested for rape, 79.7% of those arrested for offenses against family & children. (@g_lamarche)

Pictures by male artists sell for huge amounts more than pictures by women.

Women talk less than men, but men perceive equal speech division as women dominating conversations. (@cursesinvogue)

Around the world, women produce up to 80% of the food, despite globally owning just 20% of the land. (@Botanygeek James Wong)

Even in the US, with norms of monogamy that mean most adults are married at some point (two-thirds of American adults are married or cohabitating with a partner at any given moment), 18% of men over 55 do not have children, as opposed to 15% of women at that age. ( And marriage was going to disappear by about 1973, wasn’t it?)

The ‘norm’ of mum, dad and 2.5 kids is becoming less and less typical. (It's been said every year for the past 50.)

Fewer same-sex couples are getting married than ever before, says The Week 11 Aug 2022, even though marriage lowers your blood-sugar levels.

According to brokers Hargreaves Lansdown, the cost of living premium for being single comes in at an average £860 a month, factoring in typical expenses from rent and energy bills to groceries, wifi and TV subscriptions.
 (Guardian, 2023. Now add that up over a lifetime.)

Single adults make less money than those with partners, study finds. (Bloomberg, 2021)

Study from the University of Michigan shows that having a husband creates an extra seven hours of extra housework a week for women. (@g_lamarche)

Ofsted did not find that nine in 10 girls experience sexist name-calling or are sent explicit videos, as was widely reported. However, the evidence we have does suggest that sexual harassment and abuse are common in schools. (

What are the factors behind a 73% drop in teenage pregnancies in Ireland? Well, what do you know, better sex education and access to contraceptives. (@MaryMcAuliffe4)

Abortion in the US has dropped to record lows – lowest since abortion became legal in 1973. 

Teen pregnancy is the No. 1 cause of death for teen girls worldwide. (

Females underwent 92% of all procedures recorded by the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons in 2018. (Times)

Women’s median hourly rate on average 10.2% less than men’s, compared with 9.3% in 2018. (Guardian, which suggests that the pay gap is still there, and widening.)

160 women and girls were killed in Canada in 2020. That's one every 2 and a half days. So, that's 160 women and girls. 0 trans people. (@dinahbrand2)

The best available figures show that in Europe trans people are 50% less likely to be murdered than the rest of the population- there is less than one per year in the UK – while somewhere between 160 and 180 women per year are violently killed. (

Between 5% and 9% of trans have surgery. So it's between 91 and 93% that don't have surgery. (Via @roche_toni)

A letter to the BBC complaining about a “transphobic” article was signed by 16,000 people. (A check of the signatures revealed that they included threats, racism, a “Michel Souris” from Florida, and many who couldn’t be verified.)

75% of detransitioners don't go back to their clinicians. The 1% number is extremely outdated and refers to old studies on surgical regret only (not detransition) that don't reflect the current cohort of transitioners, some of which had more than 50% loss to follow-up. (@somenuancepls)

Don't trust this one: "6% of people are intersex and that 89% of trans people have considered taking their own life." 

More than 99% of live births are simply XX female and XY male. (@deekayzomb who seems to know what they’re talking about)

The Tavistock’s QC, Fenella Morris, [said] that many adults are happily asexual. (Times 2020. She’s a lawyer, not a doctor or statistician. )


Customers are “casting off the trappings of a life in lockdown” with sales of loungewear velour tracksuits, jigsaw puzzles and wall-mounted desks all down, according to data from John Lewis. Sales of soup makers fell by 12% and bread bins were down 42%, in an indication that people are returning to eat lunch outside the home, said The Times. A spokesman for the retail chain said: “We’ve seen a profound shift in shopping behaviour.” (The Week Sept 2022)

A combination of lockdown and Bridgerton have boosted cross-stitch kit sales by 545% at Hobbycraft. (Guardian. That’s HAS boosted, unless you’re Molesworth – the subject of the sentence is "combination".)

1 in 10 homeowners have ditched real lawn for fake grass.

Marks & Spencer announced it would halve the number of outlets that sold suits, as in-store sales of formalwear had fallen by 72%. (2022-03-15)


An article in The Sun claims that since 2018, two thirds of unaccompanied children claiming asylum in the UK were found to be adults. This is false, and is based on a misinterpretation of Home Office statistics. The real figure is around 20%. (

There are more Jewish people in Britain than the official total because people are wary of identifying themselves on official forms. 

The UK population seems to have fallen - by as much as one million - over the last year. Very small numbers of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants - many of whom are deported - do not add to the UK population in any meaningful way. (Otto English)


90% of America thinks the fact that they see more homelessness must mean crime is up (it's not). Meanwhile traffic deaths are increasing at a rate not seen in a century and no one outside of the bike/ped safety world has any idea.

40% of benefits claimants are in work. (BBC)

97% of the people in this country live on 6% of the land, the 94% is mostly owned by the aristocracy, the MOD, and the Royal family. (@the_fbpe)

70% of the land is still owned by the direct descendants of the people who were given it by William the Conqueror. (@JohnBoo85608696)

Many of us are subjected to online abuse almost daily. (Der Spiegel)

More than 75% of planned coal projects have been scrapped since 2015 (and the Paris Agreement). (

13 per cent of the population of Adur and Worthing have never been to the beach. (Worthing Herald)

The average IQ score is 100. Approximately 68% of the world's population falls within the 85-115 range. (IQ Test Academy)

An article in the Sun claims cancel culture has “exploded” as 82% of people “first encountered” it in the past year. Research actually showed that roughly half of people said they had never heard or read the term. (

Of 10,000 university speaking events, six were cancelled: four due to defective paperwork, one because the speaker was a conman pyramid seller, and one because the speaker was Jeremy Corbyn – his rally moved to a larger venue. (Going the rounds 2021-02-19.) 

The latest figures from the Vatican show that there are 300,000 fewer nuns and priests in religious orders than there were 40 years ago, with a marked decline in Europe, the US and Oceania. (2021-03-02)

Seat belts in cars may have saved about 16,000 lives per year, and motorcyclists' helmets may have saved around 2,000 per year. (Via Richard Thompson)

Innocent smoothies contain 30% more sugar than a can of Coke. That is a fact. (@JamesUnfettered)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For 8

More trouble than it’s worth.
Demonising the poor.
Waiting in the wings.

Learned helplessness.
Diminishing returns.

If this is victory, give me defeat.
I’ll always be young.
Missing the point by miles.

Halo, ripple, butterfly, domino effects.
The mean millionaire. 
We are us because they are them. 

When the end came, it was swift.
Your therapy client is cleverer than you

Reading too much into a situation.
Murderer joins in hunt for missing victim. 

Libertarian wolf in liberal sheep’s clothing.
Place becomes a museum of itself (Rowsley flour mill, Montmartre).

Exchanging one prison for another.
We all disagree with HER even if she says the sun rises every day.

Delusion of young people that they invented everything.
Use your child to move up the class ladder – or assimilate. 

Grands travaux inutiles (“iconic” structures).
“Oh no, you're not autistic because <reasons>.”

Dressing your children in very old-fashioned clothes (Rees-Mogg, the Royals).
Not realising that everyone has been willing you to retire for years. 

The self-educated person who gets words and names slightly wrong – and won’t be told.

Change an institution’s name and imagine you’ve changed the organisation.

Shut down an initiative to save money. A few years later, with a big splash, launch another initiative to do the same thing, under a different name.

The commercial imitation of an ethnic dish is much nicer than the real thing.

Someone calling you crazy after they fail to manipulate you. (@MindTendencies2)

And then I realised that the organisation was run by a secretive inner circle...

Those who are congenitally suspicious of scientific authority. (Observer)

Persistence of big game hunters, grouse shoots and deer stalking.

A single woman received a gift from married friends – it was a foot spa.

The “opinion poll” that attempts to plant ideas or sell you something.

Blaming your therapy client for the fact that your therapy hasn’t helped them.

You try growing tea in Europe or America, but it’s cheaper to import it from Asia.

Religious ritual as tourist destination (Indian temples). 

I’ve got kids but I’m still an individual, not like those other mothers. (And others on this template.)

More here, and links to the rest.