Thursday 4 April 2024

Writing Tips: Technology

I have upset people on Twitter this week by telling them to make sure all the quote marks in their manuscripts are curly. You can't type them straight into Blogger. But you can turn on curly quotes in Word and import them into Blogger “like this”. There are no such things as "straight quotes", those are inch and foot marks.

When typewriters were invented, inch and foot marks were provided, and typists used them for quote marks. However, any text that is typeset will have the curly quotes that match the typeface. In some typefaces, the quote marks are less curly, but they are still quote marks, and not the upright inch and foot marks. If you self-publish with "straight quotes", you will look amateurish – this was the word that upset people. The subject has its own Wikipedia entry, but it’s misleading and out of date. You may disagree with me, but if you want your text to look professional, use curly quotes.

If you standardise on double quotes (“), you only use single quotes (‘) for quotes within quotes. There are no exceptions for single words, or the names of plants, or anything you care to mention – whatever you may have been taught at school.

Turn on curly quotes before you start writing – but I've just tried searching and replacing in Word and it worked! Never has before.

Another subject that came up this week – a distraught writer reported that he'd lost the latest version of his work in progress. Fortunately he had an earlier draft, and was able to salvage most of what he'd lost. (I once lost the whole of Chapter 12 and had to rewrite it. It was all about getting lost in the mist on a wolf-haunted Bodmin Moor.)

Don't find yourself in this distressing situation. Get an external hard disk and back up everything from time to time. (I'm sure you can automate this process.) Name new versions fileb, filec and so on.

Back up in the cloud - in Dropbox or similar.

Don't keep an entire novel in one file. Save it chapter by chapter. And while you're writing, save every few sentences. Control, Command or Apple+S. You can customise Word so that the command is Cmd+S and you can type it without taking your eyes off the page. (You can customise most keyboard shortcuts.)

And if you really want to make your life easier, learn to touchtype properly.

More writing tips, and links to the rest.

Saturday 30 March 2024

Heartsink Phrases


Not just phrases you dislike, but phrases that usher in an unavoidable experience involving hours of discomfort, distress, embarrassment and/or boredom. And possibly leaving you with a dreary artwork, garment or object – like a coffee-table made out of an old water tank.

shake up, freshen, fresh and modern, playful, renew, reimagine, appeal to young people (who can’t relate Shakespeare because it’s not about them and their lives). (A "fresh and modern" bathroom is painted in grey and black, with white lavatory tiles.)

with a modern twist (Now it’s “sculptures of medieval women”. Or in a food context, chilli beetroot. Chilli Marmite.)

The whole house has been remodernised. (Bland, bland, bland with too many shiny surfaces.)

The 60s estate is being redeveloped. (The next sentence is “Half of it has already been demolished”.)

The performance will run for three hours without a break. (And “All our toilets are gender-neutral.”)

contemporary artistic responses (You haven’t got enough old art, so you eke it out with some mediocre new art. The worst museums of this type have an interesting modern building containing nothing but a perpetual son-et-lumiere performance.)

Der Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny reimagined. (In the latest production it looks as if they were all naked.)

A community mosaic will be unveiled. (Times letter, 2018)

The following piece has been specially composed for the occasion. (Richard Barber, Times letter,  2018)

We want to bring people together. (Like in the Blitz – because hard times are ahead.)

We’ve opened up the action of the original stage play/novel.

This new show confronts the colonialism and patriarchy behind church kneelers/the work of Mary Delaney/Egyptian mummy portraits/18th century silver napkin rings/Welsh love spoons... (Women’s work is destined merely to be knelt on, Mary Delaney was forbidden by society to paint, etc.)

Scan the QR code and order from the menu through your phone. (Translation: We have sacked all our wait staff.)

It’s all done through our app now.

Are there any words in the English language less likely to make the heart sing than "non-dairy creamer"? (@sumit)

There are so many wonderful jewellery projects that you can make with recycled sweaters.

Classic X (Manufacturer diversifies steady-selling product into a “range”. The range includes “Classic X”, but it has been tinkered with and “improved”. The range no longer includes original X. The word “classic” probably means nothing in law, whereas original would mean “original formula’.)

A Jean Brodie for our times. (Re an adaptation of Muriel Spark’s classic.)

The five-mile trail is lined with sculptures by local artists.

an evening of performance art

book of condolence

breaks down preconceptions, challenges/plays with our notions of, subverts pretty much anything

comic ballet

dance piece interpreting Strauss’s Four Last Songs

drinking song

for your safety and comfort
free fun for all the family

fusion food
fusion music

gentle comedy

I don’t want to bother the doctor. (Ushers in long argument where A says “Your tax pays the doctor to be bothered – it’s his job.” And B says “I don’t want to bother the doctor.” And others on this template.)

inspired by... (Nothing like.)
installation (Or still worse, "intervention".)

internal politics

literary fiction

out of your comfort zone (If there is such a thing as a comfort zone I want to enter it and stay there for ever.)

public art

refurbished to a very high standard
religious music for the 21st century

replacement bus service

rock-inspired score
romantic comedy

site-specific devised theatre piece involving the whole community 

This is from our new album.


updated classic

vintage knitting patterns – adapted and updated to suit modern life 

with a nod to...
with a twist, with a modern twist
with hilarious results

work hard, play hard
wow factor

You should have seen your face! (Can I sink through the floor, or should I merely move to another continent?)

You’ll never guess what happened next.

Friday 29 March 2024

Inspirational Quotes 107

Abusers manage their anger just fine – when there are witnesses. (S.C. Elgin)

Ah well, the world’s a strange place, full of jewels if you can find them. (Felicity Fisher. Her painting of  Hope End, Ledbury, is pictured.)

All opinions are not equal. (Douglas Adams)

All the world’s a stage, and some of us are stagehands. (John Mortimer)

Anatomy is destiny. (Sigmund Freud)

As goes the playground, so goes the world. (Elizabeth Bastos)

Blondes have more fun, are paid more, and marry wealthier men. (Daily Telegraph) 

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

Career women: nod less, smile less. (Kate White)

Conciliation makes the conciliated more aware of the effectiveness of their bad behaviour so consequently they increase it. (novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard)

Conferences can be challenging without a sidekick. (Carolina Patino)

Do not despise the past. You came from it, and into it you go. (Ronald Knox)

Don’t loiter hopefully, go now. (Mariella Frostrup) 

Don’t look for people’s motives – look at the results of their actions. They are probably the results they wanted. (Jordan Peterson, paraphrase)

Even those who deny free will exists behave as if they have it. (New Scientist)

Everything is awesome, everything is cool when you’re part of a team. (‏@knitboy) 

Facts aren’t kind to delusions. (Leiv Tunc)

Get out there and actually DO something. Go caving. Join a choir, make something, go somewhere, create – whatever. (AJB)

Get up, get out and do something – it will give you something to talk about. (@RBFesquire)

I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does. (@slowboring)

I am not strong on my own. When I have the support of people around me I am fine. I have a great team. (Susan Boyle) 

I believe that there is still an underlying truth even if we can’t find it. (Christina Rees)

I have plenty of people to do things with. I just have no one to do nothing with. (Katharine Whitehorn)

I no longer had any friends. Everyone around me was on the payroll. (Barry Manilow)

I’ve found that luck is quite predictable. If you want more luck, take more chances, be more active, show up more often. (Brian Tracy)

I’ve noticed even people who claim everything is predestined and we can do nothing to change it look before they cross the road. (Stephen Hawking)

If they attack one personally it means they have not a single argument left. (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, paraphrase)

If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. (Lemony Snicket)

If you never use small talk, your life will either be very brilliant or very lonely. (Katharine Whitehorn, paraphrase)

Ignoring bullies does not make them go away. (feminist skeptic Rebecca Watson)

In a group, there are several possible roles: leader, side-kick, ideas-guy, comedian, fixer, victim. (BR)

It’s much easier to build friendships within a private community. (

Just teasing – or mistreatment and disrespect? (Shahida Arabi)

Learn three entertaining stories to tell at parties. Cleo Rocos

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

Life is full of false starts. (Novelist E.M. Forster) 

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

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

Like all geeky girls on the planet I have no friends. (

Lonely? Join an athletic team or a church. (

Lord, what fools these mortals be! (William Shakespeare)

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

Nerds form their own societies where intelligence is the most important thing. (Paul Graham)

No man is an island. (John Donne)

Once she saw to whom I was married she was NICE - AS - PIE. (@Highgatemums)

One person’s “fun joke” is often another person’s “painful jab”. (Danny Lavery)

Partners should be able to cheer you up after a tough day, and they should be able to provide you with love and support. (

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

Positivity may prompt us to seek wars we can’t win, make us waste time and money “improving” ourselves when the real impediments to happiness lie far beyond our control. Lucy Ellman  

Proper love should be utterly supportive and comfortable, like a raincoat or a jacket potato. (Olivia Colman)

Psychological maltreatment is just as harmful as other types of maltreatment. (Pediatrics) 

Relationships are key to a successful life, because family and partners provide support. (Brooke Feeney and Nancy Collins)

Relationships should build you up, not tear you down. (@kimgarst)

Resistance is not futile. (Patrick McDonnell)

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

Ridicule is dominance-marking behaviour. (@RuffyanMe) 

Self-approval is acquired mainly from the approval of others. (Mark Twain)

Silence encourages the tormentor. (Elie Wiesel)

Some taboos don’t need breaking. (Janice Turner)

Sometimes being too nice is dangerous – you have to show your mean side once in a while to avoid getting hurt. (‏@madfactz )

Sometimes the price of freedom is too high. (AJB)

Sometimes you can fashion a friend out of a human who happens to sit nearby and does the same job as you. (Jezebel) 

Sometimes you have to just smile and say nothing. (@LottyBlue)

Sweet, unspoilt, natural, charming – the usual bag of tricks. (Agatha Christie, The Mirror Crack’d )

The biggest cause of human misery is miserable relationships with others, conducted in miserable circumstances. (psychologist Richard Bentall) 

The outward form – it is a bagatelle – but it matters to people. (Hercule Poirot)

The secret is preparation. (Bill Turnbull)

The toad beneath the harrow knows where every separate toothpoint goes. (William Blake)

The truth is more useful than lies. (NJ)

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

There is no-one as judgmental as someone who says they never judge. (LW)

There is nothing in the world so curious and so interesting and so beautiful as truth. (Hercule Poirot)

There is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes)

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

To thine own self be true, thou canst not then be false to any man. (Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet)

Tough love is often a pretext for cruelty. (Alex Paknadel)

Try a hairstyle you’ve never tried before. (@chictopia)

United wishes and good will cannot overcome brute facts. Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is. (Winston Churchill)

We are born to be in relationships. We are born for one another. (Lee Weissman)

We cannot survive alone. (Monica Lewinsky. You should have heard what they told me.) 

Wear this year’s silhouette – not last year’s. (Helen Gurley Brown)

What makes a computer inhuman is its complete honesty. (@diggonomics)

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

When bullying goes unchallenged, it becomes normalised. (Mairi Black)

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do? (Maynard Keynes, allegedly)

While people are entitled to illusions they're not entitled to limitless enjoyment of them, or to impose them on others. (David Didau)

While relationships with gold-diggers may not be the best, they are better than no relationship at all. (JP)

Will does not imply ability to implement that will. (Koen Smets)

Without Friends or Family, even Extraordinary Experiences are Disappointing  (Scientific American headline)

Work is more fun than fun. (Noel Coward)

Working behind the bar of his dad’s pub, writer Chapman Pincher learned “the art of easy conversation with men of all ages and ranks”.

You can try hard, don’t mean a thing. (Bananarama)

You carry forever the fingerprint that comes from being under someone’s thumb. (Nancy Banks-Smith)

You don't need religion to be kind to people, you just need to be kind to people. (‏@sherlockmichael)

You play the cards you get given. (Roman Iwaschkin)

You want people who will support your dreams and goals, not squash them. (@HeatherSanto) 

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 24 March 2024

Censorship and the Meaning of Words

On 24 March 2024, @elfbatross asks: All right, what's woke/anti-woke today then? paperclips? squares? the colour yellow? vaseline? door hinges? ear lobes?

@seanonolennon Mar 22 If words are violence, and silence is violence, and violence is violence, what isn’t violence?

“Fake Democrat” parodies that “borders are violence”. @votejgr claims “Evictions are violence”. 

And we’ve been told many times that words are violence. And back in the 60s the BBC had similar problems...

Round the Horne, Series 1, Episode 4

Kenneth Horne: The BBC Censors, whose job it is to force out hidden dirt. Wherever there is honi soit, there you will find them mal y pensing. Come with us now down the corridors of power to a small backroom in Broadcasting House... where the censors are in session.

Kenneth Williams: All right, all right, gentlemen, simmer down. There’s too much filth going out on the air, and it’s our job to stop it. Only this morning I heard a reference to a lady’s ankle!

Betty Marsden [pictured, left]: It’s Sodom and Gomorrah all over again!

KW: ...all over again!

Hugh Paddick: I agree. Where’s it going to end, that’s what I ask? Yesterday Mrs Dale said she had a ladder in her stocking!

BT: Ooooh!

HP: Where is it leading to is what I want to know?

BT: What about suggestive titles of programmes?

HP: Suggestive?

KW: What, what, what, eh? Oh, yes! Could you give me an example?

BT: Have a Go with Wilfred Pickles! Tell me! What's the implication of that?

KW: Mmmmm...

HP: I don’t see any harm in saying Have a Go. I mean It’s not going to corrupt the listeners. Anybody who listens to Have a Go is beyond corruption.

BT: It’s not that, it’s not that at all. It’s “pickles”, with its suggestion of vinegar. Everyone knows vinegar is alcoholic and we know what alcohol leads to...

KW: Ooooh, yea! [The meeting begins to take on the tone of a revivalist religious service.] Oh, sister, yea! Screamin’ and carryin’ on, and tearin’ their clothes off... fighting, the debauchery, and tearin’ their clothes off. At least, that’s what always ’appens in my case.

[The cast agree that Wilfred should change his name to Grated-Carrots, fluffing the obvious punchline that the programme should be called Have a Go with a Carrot. "And I defy anyone to find a double meaning in that!", challenges Betty Marsden.]

BT: Ah, gentlemen, I think we ought to do something about Take Your Partners. Gentlemen, who are they fooling? Take your partners for what?

HP: Well, surely it’s just Old-Tyme Dancing?

KW: Aaaaaaah! Dancing with each other! Holdin’ each other close. Their ’ot breath on each other’s neck! The proximity of warm flesh through the bombazine! Ooooh, the knees touchin’, women with their rouged cheeks and carmined lips, and the soft swell of their... Oooooh!

HP: Quick, quick, somebody, a damp sponge on the back of his neck.

KW: That’s better. Now, what else ’ave we got?

HP: A programme called Five to 10.

KW: Oooh, a suggestion of betting. Strike it out! 

HP: Let it be stricken!

BT: [High-pitched] Out with it!

KW: Aye, let it be cast out, brothers! For is it not sinful?

Omnes: Yea!

KW: And is it not written that we should go forth and scourge the fleshpots of the BBC with whips and scorpions?

Omnes: Yea!

The meeting degenerates into shrieks and shouts of “Hallelujah!”, and a brass band joins the fun. The programme itself fell foul of the BBC’s censorship in later episodes, and the cast were warned about “putting emphases on certain syllables”, by Mary Whitehouse, no less.

Censor (Kenneth Williams): Ah, Horne, I have to reprimand you on certain words and phrases used in last weeks show.

What words?

Last week you distinctly said: Hello.

Well whats wrong with that?

Oh come off it, Horne. We all know what "Hello" means. We all know what it suggests. It suggests "Hello, whats this I see through the keyhole? It's a scantily clad female doing an exotic dance with a ball of wool".

Good heavens, Sir, is that what it suggests?

Well that's what it suggests to me... And then there's your name.

What's wrong with "Kenneth Horne"?

Everyone knows that ground-up moose's horn is an aphrodisiac! The very title of your show is an inducement to loose living and carrying on... (pause) I've found. You'll have to change your name.

Douglas Smith (announcer): We now present Round the Larksley-Fortinbras.

Later, they had trouble with "without further ado", which suggested that some "ado" had been going on already...

More Kenneth Williams here.

Monday 4 March 2024

Grammar: Lists

Writers are bad at lists – perhaps because they're worrying about Oxford commas, or have been told they can't have more than one "and" in a sentence. If you want a rule, here's one: Lists must go "noun, noun and noun", or "verb, verb and verb". Your list can't go noun, noun and verb. Make it noun and noun, and verb. Note comma before the last "and".

Children are dying from dirty water, poor sanitation and hygiene. Or is it "poor sanitation, hygiene and dirty water? Water Aid have juggled the voiceover on their TV ad more than once, but they’re still telling us that children die from hygiene. What they mean is: dirty water, poor sanitation and POOR hygiene. Or: poor sanitation and hygiene, AND dirty water.

@MinnOrchia claims: I have a female personality, including high levels of anxiety, submissiveness and low self-esteem. He has high low self-esteem? He means: high levels of anxiety AND submissiveness, and low self-esteem.

@GrimArtGroup: He sold loose biscuits, loose tobacco and strikes me as the type of lovely bloke who wouldn’t hurry you when you were choosing yer tuppenny mix. (He sold loose biscuits AND loose tobacco, and strikes me... Note the comma before the and.)

He went on to write plays for the Royal Court, a screenplay for Ken Russell (in whose film The Devils he acted as Cardinal Richelieu), and his satirical poem I Shall Vote Labour – with its refrain “I shall vote Labour because... – became a popular poster in students’ bed­rooms in the 1960s. (The Week. Needs an and – no comma – after "Royal Court".)

While tradition might provide comfort, familiarity, and even bind groups of people… (Comfort AND familiarity...)

Much aid to “poorer nations” is wasted, mismanaged or goes down the corruption trail. (Aid is goes? Much aid to “poorer nations” is wasted OR mismanaged, or goes down the corruption trail. Note the last comma.)

They have a designated bathroom area, garbage area and are even recycling. (They have a designated bathroom area AND A garbage area, and are even recycling.)

Airbath’s Air Royale has hundreds of microjets, underwater lights and can hold two people. (Evening Standard, 2005. It has underwater lights and hundreds of microjets, AND can hold two people) 

I buy organic milk, free-range eggs and always put the recycling out on a Thursday. (New Scientist 2004. I buy organic milk AND free-range eggs, and always put...)

He became guarded, withdrawn and found solace in the world of books. (He became guarded AND withdrawn, and found solace in the world of books.)

Based on bone density, he was a strong man who lived and worked with a broken back, hand and died of a broken neck. (Based on bone density, THEY CONCLUDED THAT he was a strong man, ONE who HAD lived and worked with a broken back AND hand, AND died of a broken neck. "Bone density" only shows his strength.)

Harnisch spent three decades as a newspaper copy editor, ensuring stories contained no inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and were grammatically correct. ( Harnisch spent three decades as a newspaper copy editor, ensuring stories contained no inaccuracies OR inconsistencies, and were grammatically correct.)

Herne the Hunter is said to have antlers growing from his head, ride a horse, torment cattle and rattle chains. (Put the longest item last. Can we make “have antlers” more active? Herne the Hunter is said to ride a horse, torment cattle, rattle chains and sport a set of antlers. Or start with "The antler-headed Herne...")

Sometimes, these “magi” were depicted as performing divination, ritual activities or educating young boys who would take the throne. ( Sometimes these “magi” were depicted as performing divination OR ritual activities, or educating young boys who would take the throne. You need an “or” between the two verbs: performing and educating; and between the nouns: divination and ritual activities.)

Winchester Market has stalls selling handcrafted gifts, a steel band and a rock choir. (Turn it round, or make it “gifts PLUS a steel band”. The stalls are not selling steel bands. Has a steel band, a rock choir and stalls selling etc.)

With its errors, distortions, bias, and evasion, this is a shameful account of the British and their art. No one asks for a roseate and patriotic narrative, just one that is correct, well-informed, and which encourages visitors to assess for themselves. (Spectator on the Tate, 2023. They mean “rosy”, and need an “and” between correct and well-informed.)

@RGRyan777: Are you ever watching a movie, a streaming series or reading a book and think to yourself, “My God. How in the world did this ever get produced/published?” (Are you ever watching a movie OR a streaming series, or reading a book, and think to yourself, “My God. How in the world did this ever get produced/published?”) 

This is George Manuel Unwin, a Chilean opera singer who paraded around Paris in his spats, wearing a monocle, hat and carrying a cane. (...wearing a monocle and a hat, and carrying a cane.)

Via Twitter: EDI training needs to be legally accurate and not counterproductive. Yet too often in last 10 years it has been activist dominated, divisive and led companies to Employment Tribunals like the Borg-Neal v Lloyd’s Bank or Phoenix v Open University cases. (A list can't go "adjective, adjective and verb". And you can't use the "has" from "has been" twice. Yet too often in last 10 years it has been activist dominated AND divisive, AND HAS LED companies to Employment Tribunals like...) 

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 19 February 2024

Syndromes We Don't Have a Name For 10: Organisations

Like gangs, fundamentalist sects demand substantial "sacrifices" as proof of loyalty. (Athena Andreadis)

It is with great sadness and regret that I have to report the @sheffielduni executive board had decided to press ahead with their plan to close @UniShefArch and move only two small elements of our teaching into dispersed departments where they shall surely wither and quickly die. (@Hugh_Willmott)

High-handed rule by an arrogant inner group.
(Lucy Worsley)

Founders are often charismatic individuals who can attract well-known public figures and large sums of money to their cause. However, they are not necessarily well suited to running and sustaining the organisations they create. The initial money and the supporters are drawn in by the passion and commitment of these strong personalities, rather than by evidence of their effectiveness… (Peter Kent, letter Guardian, 2007 (He was talking about the late Camila Batmangelidgh.)

Beware of backing the wrong horse. Today the “Lambertist” organisation, now known as the Parti des Travailleurs, is a shadow of its former self. It has lost the thousands-strong activist base which Pierre Lambert won in the 1970s; it retains only some cranky ideas and a bureaucratic internal regime to remind Lambert’s disciples of what once was. The death of the sect-leader Lambert is far less sad than the tale of those who followed him, committed revolutionaries who acquiesced to the rule of a petty tyrant and his coterie in the belief that they were contributing to the cause of socialism and the liberation of humanity, and were politically destroyed and demoralised by the experience. (Read about it here.)

Entryists jump from organisation to organisation, and are adept at manipulating internal structures for their own advantage: sitting out long boring meetings, coordinating interventions, playing victim when it suits.
(Guardian, 2016)

The bigger and more established [a campaigning] organisation becomes the more timid and conformist it seems to get, until it’s almost indistinguishable from the interests it should be confronting. (George Monbiot. See the critical outfit that is in hock to the phenomenon it is criticising, or even set up by it as a front, and intended to be toothless. See internal tribunals that never find bullies or harassers guilty, or force victims to reconcile with perps. See government enquiries set up to not find abuse or discrimination, headed by people who don’t believe it ever happens. See anti-racism initiatives that never lead to change. See many foxes in charge of henhouses.)

UK minister for building pylons loses role after campaigning against them. (Guardian, 2024. And "loses role" is a great euphemism.)

A friendly group recruits you – because they need someone to do the boring jobs. 

If you set up an efficient and well-funded organisation to do anything, beware of a takeover by a charming hard worker. He brings in many of “his people” and turns the purpose of the group into something completely different. A few of the original members cling on, either trying to continue the original project, or being brainwashed into working for the new goal and spreading the new word and repeating the new mantras. 

Or he may just want an important role and eventually a paying job.

A movement arises. It gathers momentum and has some influence on public affairs. Just when success seems to be approaching, it divides into Extremists and Moderates over a minor matter of principle. The factions quickly acquire names. The enemy is no longer the evil the movement started off fighting. What is the next act? The movement tears itself apart? Voices of reason say: "Of course you'll have to give up your more extreme demands." The movement is watered down until not even a molecule is left. The Moderates take over the official organisations and they become bandaid or astroturf outfits – and are known as "the reasonable face of...". 

Boy, some of these foremen are all crazy on this socialistic stuff and they want a union. So management has got up this Associated Foremen to have meetings and speakers to show them they’re part of top management and get ‘em over this union idea. (7 1/2 Cents, Richard Bissell)

But some organisations are set up to fight some evil, while knowing that if they succeed they’ll all be out of a job. What do they do when that happens? Find a new evil?

Perhaps the truth is that, after success in our great 20th-century drive for equality, Stonewall was left with bricks and mortar, an admirable staff, a CEO and a fund-raising team and, unconsciously, craved another big, newsworthy cause. Well, sometimes a big army with only small battles to fight does best simply to scale back. (Matthew Parris) 

They looked up and the times had changed. ( review of John Le Carré’s The Looking-Glass War)

The foreign branch of military intelligence (“The Blackfriars Boys”), a ghost of its wartime self now reduced to gathering remote intelligence and conducting research. (Goodreads commenter on The Looking-Glass War. It’s also known as “the department”.)

LeClerc and his ridiculous “department”. (The Looking-Glass War)

Interpol was once a dozy outfit where officials did a little desultory work in the mornings, went out for a boozy lunch, had a siesta and never came back. They were probably using ancient computers that weren’t linked to Europe’s police forces. A new director came in and made them work all day. 

In the 80s, a church in the East End gave a feminist group a free space to hold meetings. It did nothing but hold meetings – probably about "this group’s attitude to Nicaragua". The vicar eventually took his church hall back and turned it into an outfit that actually did something.

There are four magazines devoted to carp fishing. There are multiple methods of teaching children to read, and depending which is in power at the moment parents must get involved/mustn't intervene/must read a 40-page brochure on the method/must/mustn't mix reading methods. And that’s before we get started on the psychotherapists and the Palestinian Front for Liberation... The humanist societies were eventually persuaded to at least set up their offices in the same building. There were several organisations devoted to reviving Cornish who all thought they had the one true way of spelling, grammar, vocab etc. (Same for Breton, says a Brittany native.) In both countries, they have split their differences and concentrate on teaching the languages.

There are two factions in the Corrugated Iron Appreciation Society and they have furious disagreements in their Facebook group.

A small organisation has too many managers – too many lions and not enough Christians.

The monks of St Athos bar women from their mountain peak. Their tiny domain is big enough to accommodate a breakaway group – the monks of St. Esphigmenou who won’t pray for the Greek Orthodox patriarch because he’s too friendly with the Pope. The Eastern Orthodox broke away from the Catholic Church over a disagreement about the nature of Christ. Is he of the same substance as the Father: homoousion? Or a similar substance: homoiousion? An iota of difference.

There are several schools of dendrochronology, and they don't speak to each other. It's just bigotree.

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 15 February 2024

Received Ideas in Quotes 37

“Aye!” said Nancy, “If you listen to sea yarns, young shaver, you’ve got to sort out what’s yarn and what’s spindrift.”
 (Worzel Gummidge and the Treasure Ship, Barbara Euphan Todd. Spindrift is "windblown sea spray", says the Free Dictionary. Nancy is a ship’s figurehead.)

@naomirwolf: I was excited to see the new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm but sadly the formerly compelling cast all look desiccated and grayish-yellow now, and have that ‘what’s-the-point’ vibe of the multiply vaccinated. Sad for the cast; but also, what a blow this all is for the arts, including for comedy. (@Hardley76 points out “They’re just older”.)

@DesigningMind: Couldn't stick with it...the whining got to me. Now they are REALLY whining as I'm sure they are all vaxed and losing health, friends and co-workers left and right... but mostly Left.

@CuriousBunnie12: "Mothers of the past always had an army of female family members to help them raise babies" is becoming one of those random ahistorical exaggerations touted as fact, along with "peasants worked less than modern people" and "everyone died at age 26".

Her parents died when she was three months old, in an age when the average lifespan was 50, even in the developed world. ( on Anne of Green Gables. Average life expectancy at birth again?) 

@wylfcen: The origin of the word “heathen” is funny to me. It’s derived from “heath,” meaning wilderness or wasteland, since Christianity originally spread in the cities, leaving heathens disproportionately in rural areas... so it was an Old English way of calling people “backwoods.”

@wylfcen I love how Anglo-Saxons would ‘adapt’ foreign words. The Old English word for a pearl was meregrot ‘sea pebble’. They took Latin margarīta (“pearl”) and then bent it into the native words mere ‘sea’ + grot ‘pebble’, so it was simultaneously a loanword and pure native English.

Acne is caused by modern junk food – you never see people with acne in old photographs. (Via Twitter: Photos that were kept were carefully selected, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries they were airbrushed – the Photoshop of its day.)

@mere_rain: American self-mythos valorizes go-getting badass protagonists. It's part of the lie that everyone should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. 

@NatalieKelda: Yep! I'm sure that has a lot to do with it. The whole mentality of "every person for themselves" influences so much media and cultural values but that's not how we think in other countries. In Denmark it's quite literally the opposite. (Her publisher complained that her central character “didn’t have agency”.) 

@richmondie: "Romantic love is a bourgeois construct invented by poets in the 18th century. Before that all marriages were arranged."

@JustinSadur: I can't believe this rot ever got any traction. It just doesn't pass the smell test. It's one of those things people mindlessly repeat to sound smart and "above it all."

All Old Masters were “mainly created by studio assistants”. @super_claude: What about Dumas (I think it was him) who got his assistants to write the filler bits of his novels?

@lauren_wilford: The best case for exercise I currently have is that experiencing your body being able to do something it could not do before is a visceral, undeniable message to your subconscious that change in your life is possible. (See many claims, eg: I bicycled up Mount Everest to prove to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to.)

@MarkHay55822123: On the site of King's Cross Station there was once a huge rubbish pile, one of several in the area. The main constituents were ash and clinker from innumerable coal fires. The material was likely sold for brick making to rebuild Moscow after 1812. (Sometimes it's "foundations of St Petersburg. See Dickens' Our Mutual Friend.)

It’s not illegal to fly over Antarctica, the Nazis didn’t establish a base there, and the continent wasn’t a ‘flourishing land’ in the 1500s. (Says

Plato divided the soul into three parts: the logistikon (reason), the thymoeides (spirit, which houses anger, as well as other emotions), and the epithymetikon (appetite or desire, which houses the desire for physical pleasures). (Wikipedia. Freud was not the first to divide up the human soul/psyche/mind/spirit.)

@NicholasPegg: It’s always adorable when twits reveal that they seriously think Great Britain means “Fantastic Britain”. It just means “large Brittany”. The 12th-century historian Geoffrey of Monmouth referred to the island as “Britannia major”, as distinct from Brittany, “Britannia minor”. “Great Britain” was first used 1000 years before Geoffrey of Monmouth by the Greco-Egyptian scholar Ptolemy, for whom it meant “Large Britain”, as opposed to “Small Britain”, which was what he called Ireland. Of COURSE he didn’t mean “Fab Britain”. That would be ridiculous. (Or does it mean mainland Britain, including the islands?) 

@RigelRilling: "The bad parts of New World colonization" denial was national policy within living memory, and "post-Roman pre-Enlightenment progress" denialism was the stuff of textbooks before that.

@QuetzalThoughts: As an immigrant, some American racial stereotypes still leave me baffled. Why is it such a joke that Black people enjoy fried chicken & watermelon? It's so confusing since everyone eats these foods to the point that I have no idea how the premise even took off. 

@Ken67547214: Food bigotry has always been a thing in the US, lobsters were hobo food until they weren't. 

@AndrewLivingst2: Because watermelon and fried chicken were supposedly routine meals or snacks for slaves living on 19th century farms. 

Others add:

It’s just an observation. Add grape soda to the list. Slaves were allowed to raise chickens and grow watermelon. Both are popular in the American south and “are widely considered to be low status as a result”. “They used to make fun of Mexicans for eating tacos.”

Something to do with a “watermelon grin”? Wikipedia has an entry on the "Watermelon stereotype".

@soulmeaning: Energy, vibration and frequency is encoded in your words, and this happens without your conscious awareness. And people "receive" and decode that energy easily.

@uncle_deluge: My favourite nationalist conspiracy theory is that Japan influenced the world to spell Korea with a K rather than a C ("Corea") so it came after Japan in alphabetical order.

@PrettiestFrog: So one of my co-workers apparently believes that people in Europe don't get to pick where they live. He claims its assigned to them by the government and that's why the US is better. This is a teacher.

@meaning_enjoyer: "Thinking for yourself" is a psyop to prevent people from doing just that. There is a massive amount of thinking outsourced to culture, language, etc.

@urbanponds101: With the arrival of the ice I’m wondering who will be the first to rehash one of the silliest myths going - ‘add a tennis ball to your pond to stop it from freezing over’. Don’t do it!

@ded_ruckus: Buddhism is 110% a religion. This "not a religion" meme came about solely in order to make ideologically secular Westerners feel better about "practicing" the mangled pieces of Buddhism that became trendy in the West.

@70s80s90sKids: Liquorice Allsorts. They were invented by accident in 1899 when a Bassett’s sales rep tripped up, mixing up samples of sweets.

@mermaidwrites: Do you ever dream you die? I heard if you dream that you die you will die in real life.

@made_in_cosmos: My parents are reluctant to talk about their childhoods, but from what I've put together and read about rural life back in the day, it seems less like "people used to raise children in COMMUNITY" and more like "nobody really paid attention to kids, except for older kids".

@garicgymro: Some people really seem to want "Welsh" to have once meant "foreign" or "foreigner”. 

@germany_iam: I still remember when, after one month of cold, the Kinderarzt prescribed "Zwiebelsaft". Take some onion, put it in honey and leave to rest. Then drink the liquid. 

More here, and links to the rest. All this and more in What You Know that Ain't So.

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Talkin’ ’Bout my – Generation

I know who I am – a Boomer. When I was a teenager, suddenly there were more young people than usual, thanks to the "post-war Baby Boom". There was a Generation Gap, meaning that we couldn’t trust anybody over 30. “I hope I die before I get old,” sang the Kinks. We were hippies. We had the Summer of Love (over by September, say those who were there). Behold, we were going to make all things new.  We are aged 60 and up.

Like, they seem to constantly be in a bad mood, always looking to argue with someone.

But who are all these other generations? These “Gens”? 

Gen X

Born around 1965–1980. Aged 43-59.

Gen-X is getting tired, and very annoyed, by the surrounding generations and their entitled, self-absorbed attitudes. Quora

Gen Z

In a 2022 report, the U.S. Census designates Generation Z as "the youngest generation with adult members (born 1997 to 2013)." Statistics Canada used 1997 to 2012, citing Pew Research Center, in a 2022 publication analyzing their 2021 census. Other news outlets have used 1995 as the starting birth year of Generation Z. (Wikipedia) This means they are mid-20s to mid-30s.

Gen Z has good reason to be angry. Will they burn it all down? LA Times


Surely anyone born after 2000? No, they’re: Born 1981-1996 (27-42). Some were 20 in 2000.

Millennials aren’t angry because they’re coddled. They’re angry because riches are in the hands of the few.

Gen Alpha

Born 2010 and up. 0 to mid-teens. 

Perhaps they aren’t old enough to be peeved yet.

The trouble with this system is that you have to know when the Gens were born, requiring you to memorise dates. Then you have to subtract that date from the current year – in your head! Can't we go back to talking about 40-year-olds, etc?

Thursday 8 February 2024

The Mystery of the Kneeling Woman by Moray Dalton

Moray Dalton’s The Mystery of the Kneeling Woman is set in a small village surrounded by wet, wintry and rather sinister woods. Cottages are “picturesque but insanitary” (earth closet in the garden). A small boy finds a dying man while searching for conkers. Meanwhile someone has brained a local recluse, Mr Killick. Enter Hugh Collier from the Yard to battle with the Chief Constable and the extremely miffed local cop Inspector Brett. Collier and his sidekick, the solid Duffield, settle in to the local hotel and eat buttered crumpets.

The plot thickens. We are given a lot of information in the first chapter that the cops don’t discover until practically the last. There’s a saintly, ailing white-haired clergyman. There are two sons, killed in WWI, who haunt their parents and the narrative. The Kneeling Woman turns out to be a memorial brass in an abandoned church – an envelope was hidden behind it, that's now gone.

Collier befriends the boy, Toby, and his young mother, Sandra. A couple of loathsome bullies from Toby’s school, and their heartless rich mother, Lady Webber (“She was gracious merely to serve her own ends”), turn up almost out of the blue but rapidly eat the wrong chocolates.

Killick formerly worked for the May Morning cosmetics company, and Collier interviews the local chemist: “We’ve got the May Morning compacts and beauty sets... perfumes: daisy, buttercup, clover, and meadow sweet in the two shilling and three and sixpenny sizes.” He later visits the factory and we get a brief glance at the mainly female staff (“Most of our workers are young girls who come here when they leave school and leave us to get married”), but Dalton misses a trick – we don’t get to meet any of them or find out how the stuff is made.

Some attitudes are “of their time” – this is partly why I read 90-year-old mysteries: Sandra is “modern enough to have read a good deal about repressions and complexes”. And Lady Webber opines about Toby: “I suppose his people are all right or he wouldn’t be at that school.” It must be she who says: “Dear me, you sound as if you’d been reading that awful man Freud or something.” (Dalton was 42 when she started writing mysteries, and may have thought psychoanalysis a silly fad.)

“Lady Webber’s attitude to life was summed up in one sentence. ‘It’s no use being morbid.’

Dalton also evokes a world of fire buckets, Thermoses, nursing homes, shrubberies, bun shops and Cadena cafés. Lady Webber wears “a white sports suit of superlative cut. Her black gloves and a black velvet beret clinging precariously to one side of her golden head indicated that she was in mourning” – also that the date is circa 1935. (This is for Clothes in Books.)

I like Dalton’s mix of mystery, thriller and the bizarre. And she writes very well: “He glanced towards the parrot who was moving with ineffable dignity and in a crab-like manner along his perch and stopping at intervals to bow to an imaginary audience.” Sandra looks into the rich woman’s car and has a “confused impression of carnations in a silver vase, fur rugs, fur coats, and smiles that were somehow not reassuring”.

I guessed the culprit, something I don’t often do. There is a trial, briskly carried out, followed by a twist. Back in their comfortable digs, Collier and Duffield unwind. Collier laments the waste of life in the Great War, and the two lost boys.                

Duffield relit his pipe. “Are you a pacifist, Inspector? I’ve sometimes wondered from the things you say — ” “I’ve a right to be, haven’t I, after three years of hell? You were in it, too. What do you say?” “Nothing. What’s the good? Once I started I might not be able to stop.”

With horrible prescience Collier hopes that no such conflict will blight Toby’s life. They talk about something called “the Peace Ballot”.

“Wouldn’t God stop it? But God had given men free will,” muses Dalton.

Hardly dated and irrelevant. This book is followed by one equally bizarre, Death in the Dark, featuring professional acrobats and a failing private zoo. 

More here, and links to the rest. 

Thursday 1 February 2024

Darkness Falls from the Air, by Nigel Balchin

Nigel Balchin was a civil servant and government/business advisor who wrote popular novels on the side. In the early days of the Blitz, middle-class characters, occupied by their jobs and affairs, carry on visiting their favourite restaurants, conveniently sited in basements. There isn’t much of a plot, and I kept expecting a mandarin to be found brained by a Remington typewriter, mystery to be solved by Bill Sarratt, the central character and narrator.

Bill and his wife Marcia are in a three-way relationship with “writer” Stephen, who plays the tortured artist for all it’s worth. At least, Marcia is having an affair with Stephen, but it is played out practically on her own doorstep, and the three keep meeting over dinner.

Meanwhile Bill is frustrated by his job. He has plans to simplify the way things are run in wartime (the “Area Unit Scheme”), but nobody will listen. Instead they hold endless pointless meetings and try to stab each other in the back. (Balchin was employed by the Ministry of Food.)

In these parallel scenarios, something is slightly “off”. Like the films Nashville and Waking Life: it looks like reality but has a dreamlike quality. The endless conversations over hors d’oeuvres and round boardroom tables add up to nothing. 

Marcia and Stephen see Bill as a thinking machine, but of course he’s as emotional as the rest of them. He has a slangy, contemporary style: people have a thin time, they’re fed up, they’re told to pipe down and stop gassing. “This sort of thing” (which we "can't have") is usually an expression of emotion. “Anyhow I vote we just stay here,” says Marcia as the first bombs fall. 

Bill’s colleagues come out with several of Jeremy Bentham’s political fallacies: “But you mustn’t try to change the structure of society overnight. I agree in principle. But it’s got to come gradually.” Bill comments: We had the usual shattering exhibition of cold feet that we always got when someone wanted to do something... We organize our peacetime Civil Service on the basis that there’s only one sin – to do something.

He writes and speaks with wit – or what we’d now call snark. “Did I tell you about my bomb?’ said Luigi. ‘No,’ I said. ‘And you aren’t going to now. Otherwise I shall show you my operation.'

‘How far is your life a settled policy and how far is it an accident?’ said Stephen suddenly. ‘Go on,’ I said. ‘There’s an explanatory footnote to that, isn’t there?’ Another character “looked like a painting by somebody who couldn’t draw and had a nasty mind”.

Yes, there are “problematic contemporary attitudes”. Don’t we know by now that people thought differently in the Bad Old Days until we came along to put them right? We should be pleased to find evidence of how wrong they were. Bill slaps his secretary’s bottom and suggests she wear her hair behind her ears (height of wartime fashion). He thinks he can tell if someone’s Jewish just by looking at them, including a friendly taxi driver. A gay coterie is introduced just to be guyed.

Clive James revisited Balchin’s work in depth.  I was disappointed to learn that most of the novels repeat the same basic plot. The Small Back Room was made into an excellent film, and Balchin wrote the script for The Man Who Never Was. He claimed to be influenced by the Icelandic Sagas, in which you were told only what people said or did, and had to work out what they thought from that. “Kingsley Amis would vehemently deny any direct influence from Balchin, but it remains true that Balchin helped create the audience which read Amis in the Fifties,” says James. I'd love to read his How to Run a Bassoon Factory, published under the alias Mark Spade. And did John Le Carré lift Bill’s surname for his spy college?

The Darkness falls in the shape of death-dealing German bombs. I’ll be haunted for ever by the last chapter.

Reviewed by Moira Redmond at Clothes in Books.


Monday 15 January 2024

Inventions and Reinventions 12

What we really need to bring back is 1950s style Espresso Cafés full of Mods and Beatniks.  (@JSmithy64)

Printed menus.
Discount cards.
Large clocks in shops and cafés, and on public buildings. 

Air conditioning for all public buildings, houses and flats.

Long socks for men, to avoid "ankle gap".

Likewise, does the trade in mattress toppers and office chair arm extensions tell manufacturers anything? Anything?

Flocks of sheep in London parks – they keep the grass down, aerate the lawn and fertilise it. Also for cemeteries. Keep your own flock and hire them out. McMansions can have llamas, alpacas and vicuñas. Or deer and goats. 

Shabby gentility. Are we all shabby genteel now? Standards have slid a bit – we no longer dust so often, and fail to decorate our houses and flats with cut flowers every day.

Vases of flowers. You need enough land for a flower garden. The arrangements were not only decorative, but also scented your living space.

Awnings over windows (keeps rooms cool) and shop fronts (protects goods from the sun). 

A temperance movement. Stress health, rather than morals. 

Dance halls with a soft drinks bar. Ballroom dancing lessons to be followed by dance sessions with a live band. Might be an alternative to Tindr.

Daylight the rivers of Manhattan.

Department DQ. During the war it was responsible for black propaganda and disseminating rumours, according to Ben Macintyre. But did it ever close?


I can't believe there isn't a chain of coffeeshops with crèche and hot-desking spaces for people with babies yet. (@kardyology)

I need an inverse Costco. Instead of bulk, only sample-size products.

Hymn books with printed tunes (and transliterations). Those who can read music can lead the others. And the others might work out how to read music. Pick a key most people can reach – not too high, not too low.

A website logging predictions, and their accuracy. Count up the times the Second Coming has been predicted, and hasn’t happened. Collect all the reasons why it didn’t happen this time. 

Martial arts lessons for all schoolgirls.

Graffit wall, with a sign saying PLEASE DO NOT GRAFFITI THIS WALL. Result, the wall is sprayed, but not the neighbouring buildings you want to protect. 

What we need to do to protect the malls of America is make mannequin robot security guards. (@MelissaJeanSays)

Student housing AirBnB so that parents can swap children.


Carpets in pubs.

Lawns worldwide – in places where lawns don’t grow naturally, creating one just wastes water. And the solution is NOT astroturf.

Men pretending to be Santa, and Santa’s grottoes.

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 14 January 2024

Reasons to Be Cheerful 2023: 32

2023 has been an Annus Horribilis. Is there anything to be happy about?

Here's a timeline of women's rights regarding money

1612 Last person burned at the stake for heresy in England. (Pic shows a "Salem witch costume".)

1677 Parliament repeals the writ De Heretico Comburendo, which made burning at the stake the punishment for heresy.

1774 Austria became the first European nation to introduce a state education system.

1789 Pennsylvania outlaws slavery.

1824 Repeal of the Test Act abolished the requirement to assent to the 39 Articles for many professions.

1836 First black men become Mormon priests.

1871 Bank Holidays Act designated 4 holidays in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and 5 in Scotland.

Our Woman of the Day Susanna Salter born OTD 1860 Ohio, first woman elected mayor in the US. A group of men opposing the involvement of women in politics submitted her name hoping to humiliate all women. The joke was on them. She won with a thumping majority and was an effective mayor. 

1873 Jeannie Senior is the first woman in the UK to be appointed as a civil servant (outside the Post Office). She was appointed as the first female inspector of the education of girls in pauper schools and workhouses.

1880 November: The Isle of Man grants female suffrage in an amendment to the Manx Election Act of 1875.

1888 Brazil abolishes slavery.

Our Woman of the Day Elizabeth Gurney of Norwich. OTD 1800 she married Joseph Fry. As well as raising 11 children, this remarkable woman brought about the 1823 Gaols Act, mandating women-only prisons with women warders to protect women prisoners from rape and sexual exploitation. (@TheAttagirls)

The following give rights to the unborn child, says @TradCatholicMan: Section 47 of the Children’s Act 1989, Infant Life Preservation Act 1929, Congenital Disabilities Act 1976.

1942 The Church of England relaxed its rule that women must wear hats in church. The Catholic Church didn’t follow suit until 1983. 

Laws requiring "active resistance" to rape were repealed in the 1960s and 70s.

50 years ago, Dublin pubs refused to serve women pints of beer unless accompanied by a man. Nell McCafferty led 30 women to a pub where each ordered a brandy and a pint of Guinness. The bartender refused the beer request, so they drank their brandies and walked out. (@Katiadower)

1972 Catholic seminarians cease to be ordained as exorcists, but continue to be ordained as lectors and acolytes (readers and servers).

1978 Hannah Dadds became the London Underground’s first woman Tube driver, after completing a 7-week training course.

1990 On this day in 1990, married women in the UK finally became independent entities for income tax purposes, their income no longer treated as though it belonged to their husbands. Unbelievable, isn’t it? Almost three million women benefitted immediately. (@AnniesArboretum. You read that correctly: 1990.)

2008 The common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel were formally abolished in England and Wales in 2008 and Scotland in 2021.

2022 Single-sex toilets are made compulsory in the UK. Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said the government wants all new public buildings in England to have separate male and female toilets. 

2022 Singapore will repeal its ban on sex between men, said Lee Hsien Loong, the country’s prime minister. In 2018, India’s highest court also scrapped a colonial-era ban on gay sex, while Thailand has recently moved closer to legalising same-sex unions. (The Week 2022-08-21)

2022 We are thrilled to announce that the word "woman" will not be removed from our Maternity Protection Act 1994. Ireland's Work Life Balance and Miscellaneous Provisions Bill 2022 has been amended, and the word "woman" has been reinstated. (@TheCountessIE. She points out that “inclusivity” means “excluding half the human race”.)

2022 Florida bans puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and sex reassignment surgery for minors.

2022 Mermaids sued the LGB Alliance for being an inadequate charity. Now Mermaids is under investigation by the Charity Commission.

2023 is the bicentenary of the 1823 Gaols Act that brought in sex-segregation of prisons, and female warders for female prisoners.

2023 UK to ban single-use cutlery and plates. (This means that you get only an ineffective wooden fork to eat whole spinach leaves and boiled eggs. Sales of foldable pocket cutlery should boom.)

2023 Illinois bans assault weapons.

2023 Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Viking fire festival has women and girls in the procession for the first time. (It’s a Victorian “revival”.)

2023 Scots police disassociate themselves from Stonewall.

2023 Sadiq Khan promises free school meals for all London primary schoolchildren. (There's the inevitable backlash.)

2023 Leicester Cathedral celebrates first all-female clergy team (first for England).

2023 New legislation increasing the legal age of marriage to 18 has come into force in England and Wales. Under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act, it is now a crime to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, or enter a civil partnership, under any circumstances. Campaigners argued that a loophole allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent was being exploited to coerce young people into child marriage. Those found guilty of arranging child marriages face up to seven years in prison. (The Week)

2023 Eli Lily agrees to cap insulin at $35, dropping the price by up to 70%. 

2023 World Athletics votes to exclude transgender athletes (presumably from women’s sports)

2023 Italy criminalises going abroad to acquire a baby born to a “surrogate mother”. 

2023 Drugs and alcohol do not make you more creative, research finds (Guardian, 2023-03-25)

2023-05-03 Essex pub that displayed racist dolls closes after boycott (The golliwogs were taken down, but the pub owners replaced them. They didn’t just dangle them from the rafters – they hanged them from the rafters.)

2023-05-12 Wind is main source of UK electricity for first time (

2023 The NHS bans puberty blockers for children outside of clinical research. 

2023 Oxfam chief leaving after anti-trans 'villain' cartoon resembling JK Rowling (Express)

2023 Japan raises the age of consent (established in 1907) from 13 to 16. 

2023 Alcohol sales are going down, sales of healthy alternatives are going up. (Expert on BBC Breakfast)

2023 Ghana abolishes the death penalty for “ordinary crimes”.

2023 World Swimming bans transgender athletes from women’s events (

2023 In Ireland, trans identified male Barbie Kardashian has been transferred to a male prison. Kardashian, currently serving time for making threats to rape and murder his mother, had recently threatened to rape female prison officers. (

2023 The American Academy of Pediatrics plans to review the evidence for gender-affirming medical care and potentially amend its policies.

2023 EU bans glitter.


1753 Jewish naturalisation bill 1753. After an outcry, repealed December 1753. 

1855 Arthur de Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines is published.

Women wanted to be a part of polar expeditions from the start, but in many instances, they were purposely excluded. Shackleton... received a letter from three women eager to join his crew. (@JSTOR_Daily)

1929-1973 7,600 people were forcibly sterilised in North Carolina.

As for France: the legal age of consent was only made official in 2021, and it was set at 15. (@thisihowweduet)

2022 Primark is reinstating single-sex changing rooms – but allowing anyone in the women’s who “identifies as a woman”. Booths have curtains that don’t reach the floor. Staff say they’ve been told they “must” allow in men who claim to be women. (Self-ID is not law.)

2023 Dancing in public is outlawed in Iran. 

Universities in Japan have lowered women's exam scores for years to deny them entrance.

2023 Merrythought sell 10,000 golliwogs a year.

Friday 5 January 2024

Received Ideas: Skepticism 38

We should be skeptical about those "facts" and stories that "everybody knows".

We are the inheritors of so much inaccurate information and manipulated history. It conditions all areas of our lives, from personal interaction, to how we engage locally, nationally and globally. I’m constantly checking my assumptions, the sources of information and intent behind it.  
(Historian @DrJaninaRamirez)

On observation of many decades, those who espouse one prejudice endorse or are tacit about many. Same with conspiracies and pseudo-science, and indeed across all three. Go to war on 15-minute cities, you're in the triangle. (@rupertg)

A tutor once told me that we didn't have to be right, we just had to formulate a compelling argument. I immediately knew he was wrong. Scholars have to pursue truth, not chase fashions and concoct arguments out of thin air. (@jj_mcgovern)

Humans have a large store of beliefs that override almost any instruction, and these are generally neither made explicit nor questioned. (G.N.N. Martin)

Non-verbal communication is a booming field – not just for research, but for authors, presenters and businesses making money out of offering advice and training on everything from how to read a celebrity’s body language to the ‘tells’ that will reveal if a courtroom defendant is lying. But there’s a problem with all this, write Miles Patterson, Alan Fridlund and Carlos Crivelli, in a new paper in Perspectives in Psychological Science: the field of non-verbal communication is plagued with persistent misconceptions and incorrect ‘truths’. ‘These “truths” have taken on mythlike status as a kind of received wisdom impervious to evidence, so that they endure as pseudoscience,’ the team writes. And when they are used to guide the reasoning of jurors, employers, law enforcement agencies and romantic partners, not to mention researchers, they have the potential to be very damaging indeed. (The Psychologist)

has been around since 1795. Its inclusion in the dictionary is not a sign of the English language falling to pieces, or proof of the educational system failing, nor is it the work of cursed millennials. It just means a lot of people use it to mean "regardless." 

I studied anthropology for a year. Apparently, some jungle tribes don't have many words for colors because everything around them is green. Everyone has a word for red though, because of blood. I have no idea if this is true, I suspect a lot of anthropology is made up. (@madameask)

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact. (Daniel Kahneman)

We’ll know our disinformation program is complete when everything the American public believes is false. (William J. Casey, CIA Director, 1981)

Microchips aren’t in Covid vaccines. The government isn’t coming for your guns. The border isn’t wide open. The elections weren't rigged. Biden isn’t a communist. (@SaltyProfessor)

Nothing is achieved by going to a polling station simply to spoil your ballot. I assume people do it as a kind of protest, hoping it will upset or inconvenience someone. What they think that might achieve I don't know. In reality nobody cares that you drew stupid squiggles or wrote something offensive on your paper. If you don't like any of the candidates offered then don't vote. You might consider standing yourself next time. (Chris Blunt is the voice of reason.)

The courts have ruled time and time again (at least, here in the United States anyway) that when it comes to signatures, it is the intent that matters not what is put on the paper. This is also why documents signed electronically are still legally enforceable. (James Boroznoff responding to the frequently raised question “Now schools don’t teach cursive any more how are people going to sign their name to a legal document?”)

I get really tired of ridiculously rich and famous women claiming <insert accessible routine> is the secret to their youthful appearance. EVERYONE in Hollywood has had plastic surgery and has access to the best skin care and aestheticians. It's disingenuous to claim otherwise. (@squirrely_gig)

More here, and links to the rest.
It's all in my book What You Know that Ain't So.

Received Ideas about History 37

Women gave birth at ten, men went off to war at five, and the average Englishman died before he was born. (The Reduced Shakespeare Company)

It’s not safe to drink tap water abroad. (Still lingers.)

Gladiatorial contests always ended with the death of one of the participants. (Weren’t gladiators slaves and valuable properties?)

Flaming torches were used for lighting indoors. (See historical films.)

Famous characters from the past were modern liberals before their time. (Just another form of hagiography, points out @MrGodfrey11. We used to make them out to be saints, and whitewash realities such as Thomas Jefferson’s affair with a slave who was his deceased wife’s sister.)

French cooking is really Italian, imported by Catherine de Medici when she married Henri II. 

Feminism began in the 1800s/1900s. (Tell that to Mary Wollstonecraft, 1759-1797.)

Sexual intercourse began/In nineteen-sixty-three... (Philip Larkin)

The Maya disappeared after the collapse of their civilisation. (They’re still around.)

Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. (The woman with the jar of precious ointment, who anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair and is assumed to be a prostitute, is confused with Mary, sister of Martha, who was one of Jesus’ disciples. In art, the repentant Magdalene, dressed only in her long hair, was yet another excuse for artists to paint naked women. Has anyone made a list?)

Medieval people were Christian fundamentalists. (Fundamentalism is a recent, 200 years ago, invention. Medieval people were Catholics. Catholic dogma was worked out by the Early Fathers of the Church, and if you couldn’t read or didn’t understand Latin, you had no access to the Bible.)

Arab settlers in Spain taught Europeans how to wash.

The Victorians didn’t have feelings. (@FullAsMuchHeart. They didn't have a sense of humour, either. Sorry, Thackeray and Dickens.)

Ordinary people in the Middle Ages just wore a rough tunic with a frayed hem. They wore well-made comfortable clothes which fitted them properly. 
(@duchessmathilda. They liked bright colours too.)

The nursery rhyme “one, two, buckle my shoe” started in plague times because people wore “special shoes” during plagues. (@michelleheeter. She may be thinking of Ring o'Roses.)

Easter is named after Ishtar? It doesn't even sound similar in any language other than English or German. This myth was created by a Calvinist fanatic who was accusing the Catholic Church of being pagan. (@Apocaloptimist5)

People of every ethnicity have always been free in the UK(@BradfemlyWalsh. The Romans and Anglo-Saxons owned slaves. The Normans outlawed slavery but set up serfdom.) 

The Scarlet Letter is a good depiction of the Puritans? It's a description of what 1850s Hawthorne thought about the 1650s Puritans. (@ToFertileChurch)

The defenders of the Alamo were brave heroes? They were fighting to keep slavery legal in Texas after Mexico outlawed it. (@schweetbird)

Iceland is Green but Greenland is Ice, and the Vikings named them that way to throw off invaders.  Iceland has a ton of glaciers (ice) and when Greenland was originally settled, it was green with pastures. Then the Little Ice Age occurred… (@CarpinelliGeosc)

Divorce rates are higher in recent decades because "back in the day, people worked on their marriages and didn't just give up". Like no, women were seriously oppressed then and had few options compared to today. (@SkeelMagnolia)

People used to say "ye" rather than "the" in English (e.g. ye olde pub). It was written that way because the printing equipment imported from the continent didn't have the letter "thorn" for printing "þe". (@TechnocratGames)

In the olden days, peasants ate bland pottage. Spices were expensive – and were only used by the rich to disguise the flavour of rotten meat. (Medieval peasants flavoured their pottage – and meat and fish – with sharp-tasting herbs like sage, thyme, dill, rosemary, savoury, sorrel, chervil, parsley, onions. Also crab apples, bilberries, juniper berries, sea buckthorn, damsons.)

More in my book What You Know that Ain't So.

More here, and links to the rest.

More Received Ideas 36

Shakespeare is hard to understand because he wrote in Old English.

The canonical books of the Christian Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicaea.
Buddhism is a philosophy not a religion.

Documents signed in purple ink are not legally binding.

Feminists don't need protecting.
The official foot was based on the length of the reigning King’s foot.

There were no Jews in Palestine before 1948. Jews are white, and hence settler colonialist oppressors. Atheists cannot be Jews.

The Titanic never sank, the “remains” are of another ship, or mocked up by NASA.
Before Gutenberg, there were only 30,000 books in the whole of Europe. (Die Zeit, paraphrase)

If you think people don’t like you it means you don’t like yourself. 
Do small grave slabs give rise to tales of people being buried upright?

Your NI contributions then aren’t paying for your pension now.
 (OK, OK, but I’ve paid money in and now I’m getting some out, aren’t I?)

Black people can’t be racist because “we are not the majority, we don’t have power”, says Kelisa Wing (@kelisa). 

There's “a real disconnect between the generations,” says Laura Kuenssberg (.She’s too young to remember the “generation gap” of the 60s.)

Schindler’s List was partly filmed at the Woodberry Down estate in Manor House, North London. (Debunked by @HistoryOfStokey.)

If we achieve net zero CO2 emissions, all the trees will die because they breathe CO2. (There is CO2 in the atmosphere, and what do they think the trees did before we came along?)

Sharks can smell a single drop of blood from a mile away – and locate the source. (You’d need more, closer blood, say sharksperts.)

A titled lady was travelling alone in a first-class carriage in a corridor-less train. At the next station a large lady climbed in – it was the mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers. “The most extraordinary people travel first class these days,” remarked Sayers, to the air. “Yes, and they get in at every station!” riposted the duchess.

Dorothy Sayers wrote Five Red Herrings (unengaging timetable mystery full of Scottish dialect) for a bet.

Agatha Christie – or was it Ed McBain? – revealed that she wrote an entire book without deciding who the murderer was. She then decided, worked out how they did it, and tied up the loose ends in the last chapter. (Some mystery writers allegedly write a whole book as if X was the murderer, and then at the last moment switch to Y.)

Queen Victoria visited, incognito, a soup kitchen run by nuns. She was shown round by the Mother Superior. Queen Victoria became irritated by the way all the nuns “bobbed” at her (dropped little curtseys), and she murmured to the Mother Superior that this wasn’t necessary. “Oh, they are curtseying to ME,” said the head nun.

The use of “spastic” as an insult among young people can be traced to “a Blue Peter episode of the early 80s”. (It was common at my school in the 60s.)

Nobody wants to work any more because they prefer to live on benefits. (Someone has compiled newspaper quotes from 1916 saying exactly the same – in the same words.)

All National Treasures and classic authors were upper class: Darwin, Dickens, Jane Austen, the Brontës. (Darwin was an English gentleman, Dickens’ father was a clerk who was imprisoned for debt, and CD himself worked in a factory for some time as a child, Austen lived in a modest way on her brother’s charity. The Brontës’ rather was a vicar and they themselves worked as teachers.)

All of “Shakespeare’s” plays were written by a black woman, Amelia Bassano. Shakespeare could barely write his own name.

In the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible, “rib” is a mistranslation. (On reddit, a biblical scholar comes along with good evidence that it’s “rib”.)

The original Little Compton Street, with original signs, can be seen through a grille in Charing Cross, lower than the present street level. It was buried when the new road was pushed through. (The signs mark the location in a network of underground service tunnels.)

The Daily Mail in the 30s recommended including onions in family meals to prevent colds: bake, and stuff with mince. Sara Cox says “Garlic is good for you” on Morning Live. Thins the blood, says BBC Good Food. “Eating raw garlic can protect against cough, fever, and cold illnesses” says “Although many people use garlic as a home remedy for the common cold, there is not enough evidence to confirm that it is effective,” says

Delia Smith taught us how to twirl spaghetti in the 70s – or was it Elizabeth David in the 50s? Before that people broke it into short lengths, we're told. I’ve just read a magazine article from the 1930s explaining how to twirl spaghetti. “Cheap and nutritious”, said the writer, “but should not be eaten on toast.” 

In the 19th century ice cream was sold in “penny licks” – a scoop of ice cream in a shallow glass that the customer licked clean. They weren’t washed, but were filled with ice cream for the next buyer. A late 19th century magazine complains that the ice cream itself had been shown to be contaminated with bacteria, and that the glasses were “never washed, but merely rinsed” between customers. Waffle cones came in, and the glasses were banned by the 1920s, but a feeling lingered that ice cream sold in the street was unhealthy. My mother wasn’t allowed it because it was “made of seaweed”. The glasses, rinsed in dirty water, transmitted TB and cholera, but it’s unlikely they were reused after being merely “licked clean”. (Via Atlas Obscura and other sources.)

Per the Times on Emmanuel Macron, the French always think the country is going to the dogs, menaced by communists or the bogeyman du jour. (See FlaubertTIMES, OUR Call them a time of transition, or decay.)

In case the Queen abdicated, the BBC prepared some non-committal music to follow the announcement, and inadvertently used the overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor. (Via @RaphaelHarris9)

Periods hurt because young girls are infantilised by smothering mothers. Periods hurt because women don’t understand how their bodies work. Periods hurt because you haven’t had a baby yet. Periods hurt because women eat too much meat. Women only think periods hurt because... [insert succession of silly reasons here]. Periods can't possibly hurt because there are no nerve endings in the uterus. 

All these and more in my expanded and updated book What You Know that Ain't So.