Friday 5 January 2024

Received Ideas in Quotes 35

The Emperor is naked, Santa isn’t real, I don't believe in fairies and I hate Big Brother.

I held a door open for a lady. Youngish. “I can manage myself,” she said. “Fair enough.” I said. “Give me a minute,” as I ushered her back through door and closed it. I then walked away. It felt like a small victory. (@benonwine. And many others on this template, though I doubt this version ever happened. Men seem to think a lot about holding doors open for women, while women – as far as I know – never do.)

exhausted the wood supply and chilly Britons had to start using coal.
(Salvage Hunters)

Wasn’t Shakespeare involved with the St James Bible? I think he included his name, via a pun, into a psalm. (@Greebohobbes)

Somewhere Over the Rainbow was written, not about the mythical Land of Oz, but the homeland of the Jews: Israel? The lyrics were written by Yip Harburg, the youngest of four children born to Russian-Jewish immigrants. His real name was Isidore Hochberg. (@SarinaGliksman)

I believe that at the time Swift’s ‘Modest Proposal’ was seriously debated in Westminster. (HKWD)

In Lancashire, women spoke differently from men because they pronounced everything to be heard over factory machinery. (Actress on BBC Breakfast)

They say that my language, which is Dutch, will completely disappear and that we will all speak English. (@ursus_art1)

Reincarnation is illegal in China without the government's permission. (@UberFacts)

Either I lack self awareness or this whole “what you dislike in others is what you dislike in yourself” thing just makes no sense. (@sun_girlxo)

The small distinguishing mark you see over a lowercase i and a lowercase j is called a tittle. (@Muttmere1) 

The King James version of The Bible is an edited version, right? Wrong. (RM)

Bibury, and many other places in the Cotswold's gave inspiration to J. R. R. Tolkien for LOTR! (@michaelartoff)

A few years ago they replaced a bridge that crossed a main road near me and on dismantling the old one found it packed with explosives ready to blow in case of invasion. (@workwithnature1. True or false?)

I’m old enough to remember when, in 1978, Jaffa oranges were injected with mercury by terrorists... temporarily, my parents stopped buying Israeli oranges “just in case”. (@back_badger. I remember "tinned tuna is contaminated with mercury". There are still concerns, and some advise adults to eat the canned fish no more than three times a month.)

The Queen’s (or King’s) English refers to the accent of the reigning monarch. (It means the English language.) I've read (though it might be apocryphal) that the phrase originated as referring to the English used by the royal bureaucracy. This sent out missives from London, with its East Midlands form of English, to all corners of the realm. And the local bureaucrats endeavoured to respond using the same variant. Thus London grammar and London vocabulary spread to the elite all over the country, and from then dispersed across society. This was the King's English because it emanated from his administration. (JP)

I'm reminded of something a Quaker friend once told me. He was one of a couple assigned to Quaker House in Belfast, to help with peacemaking there, and I visited in the mid-90s. Early on, he went to an Orange parade to chat to people, and an elderly woman said "They massacred us, you know!". When? He'd not seen anything on the news. "1642", she replied. (JP)

The “my fair lady” in the London Bridge nursery rhyme is said to allude to ... human immurement. (@stephenjameslit. The Fortean Times says that foundation sacrifices tend to have happened long ago and far away.)

Couldn't we have "sides to our personality" rather than "several different selves who don't communicate"? The law assumes that we have one self. It also doesn't assume that we are an entirely different person after therapy. (LF)

I was in a pub one night when visiting the Eisteddfod this year, and thinking how nice it was that everyone from the old to the toddlers was speaking Welsh, unlike where I live in Monmouthshire. I was enjoying having a bit of trouble with the local dialect when a family came in and took the table next to me. English speaking and, presumably, tourists. The first thing that I overheard was the man saying: "Did you notice that they all switched into Welsh when we came in". (Gareth Morgan)

I do wish all the boomer nostalgia-peddlers would realise that 'times were so much better back then' because they were children. Not because the racist, sexist, homophobic, warmongering world was actually better. (@fliceverett)

The sand and rock used in the construction of the Palm Jumeirah can make a 2m wall that goes round the globe three times. (Sergei Litvinov)

Hunter gatherers only worked four hours a day? (@deepfates. Perhaps they only hunted and gathered for four hours a day, but someone had to prepare and cook the results.)

It is odd to think that not so many years ago olive oil was something you only bought in Boots the Chemist to treat earache or to rub into sore muscles. Indeed, 20 years ago the majority of Britons had never tasted olive oil and found the idea of its widespread use in cooking little short of repugnant, as package holidaymakers returning from the Mediterranean made clear. (Daily Mail Cookbook, 1998. The Fortean Times points out that this is a flattering myth, and it's always "20 years ago".)

Beware when naming children for characters in SF books. Anne McCaffrey said that a fan came up to her and told her she named her daughter Killashandra after the main character in her Crystal Singer books. What the fan didn’t know was that Killashandra was a brand of Irish butter! Annie had to keep a very straight face. (BJF. The butter is made in Killeshandra, Northern Ireland, but it's called Lakeland.)

I once worked for an antiquarian bookseller, from whom I learned it was not uncommon in the 18th century for readers to use strips of bacon rind as bookmarks. He acquired a book whose owner had marked their place with a fried egg. Over the decades it had oxidised and eaten its way through the pages, leaving a large lacuna edged with sulphuric green. The book achieved pride of place in the shop’s window display for a while. It was long before my time, so I never saw it; but it had become something of a legend in the bookseller’s history. (Julie Speedie, letter to The Fortean Times, paraphrase. Nobody saw the fried egg, she didn't see the book. Presumably there was a hole in the book (mice?) and everybody knows that somebody, somewhere used a fried egg as a bookmark.)

The Legal Walk tour guide regularly brought his cohort of flammably clad tourists to a halt outside my window, and told his enthralled posse that THIS – gesturing theatrically to Middle Temple garden – 'was where the last person in England was hanged'. (@Wigapedia. The last two executions in the UK, in 1964, took place on the same day in prisons in Manchester and Liverpool.)

Sat in the airport with my rucksack and hat on the floor, and the hat tumbled over so it was facing upwards. Someone threw a euro in it. (@MeNigeStew. This seems to happen regularly – including to Sir Ian McKellen when appearing in Waiting for Godot.)

"Innocent until proven guilty" applies to the state and whatever punishments it might mete out; it doesn't mean I'm not allowed to personally think someone did something unless it's been proven in a court of law! That would be an insanely high bar. (@pastasnack_e. She's right. And it gets wheeled out every time a prominent person is accused of sexual offences.)

One of the greatest myths of the modern age is that “You can’t legislate morality.” That’s dead wrong. Every law legislates morality. (@William_E_Wolfe. He's right.)

In Geneva last week a banker told me how they’d suspended experiments with AI after two computers developed a language between themselves which couldn’t be understood by humans. (@dolphinsands)

Multiple pastors tell me essentially the same story about quoting the Sermon on the Mount parenthetically in their preaching, ‘Turn the other cheek’, to have someone come up after and say ‘Where did you get those liberal talking points?’ (

I think the people in this country have had enough of experts from organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong. (Michael Gove. He didn't just say “We’ve had enough of experts”.)

There were fewer cars on the roads, and therefore more feet on the pavements, though whether life moved at a slower pace is a moot point. (Michael Redgrave in 1959, talking about 1929.)

I presume it's an urban legend that Queen's University in Belfast had, within living memory, both a Department of Philosophy and, entirely separately, a Department of Catholic Philosophy. (@AodhBC)

I certainly met people at the time who thought we had 'no say' in the EU, including one who said she'd looked into it thoroughly (i.e. read the Mail) but was entirely unaware of the existence of the MPs we elected to the EU parliament. (@nmurray)

Earlier on this morning on the Radio 3 Breakfast programme, today being the birthday of Winston Graham, Petroc Trelawny said that when the original BBC TV Poldark series was broadcast in the 1970s, vicars had to adjust their church service times to fit in with the TV schedule. Now I recall that the same claim was made about the BBC's TV adaptation of the The Forsyte Saga in the 1960s. Is there any evidence for either claim or are we in urban myth territory? (efrog@cix)

Retsina: the Romans plundered the wines of Greece, angering the citizens, who turned to pine resin as a way of extending their store of wine and as a deterrent to their conquerors. The harsh flavour was said to put off the Romans. (RC)

Wordsworth only rhymes in a Lancashire accent. Bits of Keats only rhyme in a Cockney accent. (@MusicEdu4all. Educated men of Keats’ time called him a “Cockney poet” and sneered at his pretensions in name-checking nymphs, Greek gods etc.)

Hung, drawn and quartered: ‘Drawing’ refers to the procession of the condemned from the prison to the execution site, not evisceration. (Dr Una McIlvenna. She adds that sometimes prisoners were dragged behind a horse on a hurdle.)

"Trans women are women!" Until it comes to the draft or inheriting a peerage, then they're blokes again. (@Serena_Partrick. We'll see what happens when Christopher Guest dies – will Ruby inherit the title?)

“Returning crusaders blunted their swords on the door arch” of the Saxon church at Bosham in West Sussex, says @SimonNewton5.

Blow Up: Often praised for its ambiguity and mystery, ironically much of this came about because the budget had been eaten up and whole scenes connecting the narrative had to be cut. (RodneyMarshall1.  And “Antonioni had the park’s grass spray painted because it wasn’t green enough”.)

The rhyme Mary, Mary Quite Contrary is said to reference Queen Mary’s lack of an heir, cockle shells being symbols of barrenness, and the “pretty maids all in a row” referencing innocent Protestant martyrs, like Lady Jane Grey, lined up for execution. (Fortean Times)

Decades ago, I read that scientists and mathematicians sometimes get "proofs" that what they have accepted as fact is all fraud and a conspiracy to hide the truth. (@SteveTiger999)

It had been supposed that women would not follow the leadership of a woman. ( on the city’s early 20th century Woman’s Temple, originally a temperance organisation, but later held “conventions, circles, debates” and set up (temperance) hospitals and restaurants. The Temple was the HQ of The Women’s Christian Temperance Union.)

A skiver was so-called because it was the only job you sat down for, so a skiver was thought to have an easy time of it. (RC. “Skiving” means cutting out a shoe sole.)

Son of a “shoe repairer” – he always insisted that's what he was and that a cobbler is an odd job man. Snob is another name but I never heard him say that. (KD) 

The Coronation that Goes Wrong: the most shambolic modern Coronation was Queen Victoria's. Little or no rehearsal took place, the Archbishop forced the Coronation ring onto the Queen's wrong finger, and the aptly named Lord Rolle rolled down the steps when paying homage. (@DrFrancisYoung. Became “Archbishop Fisher tripped and rolled down the steps during the rehearsal”. No flight of steps is visible in the footage of Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation.) 

Linda Lewis, singer and famed backing vocalist, dies aged 72. The British songwriter was known for her five-octave vocal range. (Guardian 2023-05-04. "Four octaves" is often quoted. This is beyond the highest note a woman can sing and the lowest note a man can sing.)

Surprising new insights into the minds of this extinct human species suggest they may have been far more cultured than their outdated brutish reputation once suggested. (Rebecca Wragg Sykes,  2023)

Making sure that a line of text would have a final punctuation mark once printed, letterers would use an exclamation rather than a full stop, because the full stop was more likely to lose colour during the inking process. (Florence Hazrat, An Admirable Point)

“Predictions of doom never pan out”, actually statistical error. Countless civilizations that correctly predicted their doom, leaving no trace, were ignored and should have been counted. (@browserdotsys)

Paganism (belief in pre-Christian religions) just didn't exist in England after about 920, and most of our churches post-date that, so it would be impossible for stonemasons and woodcarvers to 'sneak' pagan imagery into churches. (So says @DrFrancisYoung.)

Human evolution is typically depicted with a progressive whitening of the skin. [In Darwin’s] 1871 book The Descent of Man, he described his belief that men are evolutionarily superior to women, Europeans superior to non-Europeans and hierarchical civilizations superior to small egalitarian societies. ... He considered “the hideous ornaments and the equally hideous music admired by most savages” to be “not so highly developed as in certain animals, for instance, in birds,” and compared the appearance of Africans to the New World monkey Pithecia satanas. (

Nothing pisses me off like the assumption that the historical poor were inured to grief, that women did not grieve their babies, or men their wives; every loss rationalised in terms of its effect on household economy. (@SophieMHistory) 

Pin making was a popular home industry in 16th and 17th c London. Hence “pin money”. (Geoffrey Munn. Pin money is cash women earn in order to buy pins.)

Children aren’t children any more. They don’t play like they used to. They grow up too quickly. Parents allow their children to date too young. Their vitality is pent up and all too often released the wrong way. The young people today have it too easy. They are handed everything on a silver platter... (Quote from 1932)

I was in London and was approached by a man who appeared to be down on his luck. He asked for money but I had no cash. He then whipped out a chip and pin machine and told me I could use a card. I will not give money out ever again on the streets. (@LeeAndersonMP_. That down-and-out must be a relation of the beggar who gets picked up in a Mercedes, or the boy with the "homeless and hungry" sign who's "gone home for his tea".)

There’s a story - probably apocryphal - of a lecturer who got into the regular habit of tape recording his lectures when he "had to be somewhere else" or was otherwise too busy. In the lecture theatre, he'd set up the tape player, and set it running, with the promise: "I'll be back later". He'd done this on an all-too-regular basis until, on one occasion, he returned to the lecture theatre and found... No students. Just a row of tape recorders, recording his recorded lecture. (Angela Moonchild)

I loooooooove using semi-colons so much. Unfortunately a teacher in college told me it makes the tone of papers seem arrogant. (@holyqueerit)

In the 1500s male brewers saw an opportunity to reduce their competition in the beer trade, they accused female brewers of being witches, equalling a death sentence. (@CentristRambler)

Welsh male-voice choirs persist because "the mines were protected services during both world wars. The English choirs were destroyed and never recovered." (FM)

A leather-shouldered donkey jacket of the sort Michael Foot was vilified for, now ineffably cool. (Times, March 2023. Channel 4 colour footage of that year’s cenotaph ceremony is labelled “Michael Foot in donkey jacket” while showing Foot in an olive-green duffel coat – without shoulder protectors.)

Despite huge educational drives on this topic, one study found that 42% of participants were unable to correctly explain the reason why tail docked and ear cropped dogs had short ears and tails. Similarly, when measuring their awareness, the study found that the majority of participants believed short tails and erect ears were a consequence of genetics, rather than a surgical procedure the owner or breeder had performed. (The Skeptic March 2023. Rather like the Hollywood actresses who claim "beauty comes from within", or the many cohabiting couples who think living together confers legal and financial benefits and protections. It hasn't since 1753.)

The word “abracadabra” dates back to the 2nd century (101-200 AD) and translates roughly to “I create as I speak.” (Amy Sousa. The date is right, but the word is nonsense.)

I remember learning about how the Greeks and Romans had the secret of perspective, then the world lost it during the 1,000 years of religious focus in art. No wonder they had some trouble re-finding it. (Penelope Haccius)

It is by pronouncing the Ukrainian word for a loaf of bread, palianytsia, that a friend is now distinguished from a foe at the military checkpoints around the country. (Web. In the bible it was "shibboleth".)

Here is a prevalent (though we believe a very erroneous) opinion that if a widow is married without clothing, except a chemise, her second husband will be free from her debts. (Caledonian Mercury, 1794)

Caller on radio saying they have to eat only seasonal, local fruit and veg for health reasons, as it is much more nutritious. This is just plain nuts. Limiting your consumption to a tiny handful of the potential will do the exact opposite. Every piece of evidence we have suggests the wider the range, and the more total fruit and veg you eat the better. Whoever keeps peddling this ‘diets were better in the past’ idea is so damn irresponsible. And frankly ahistoric. Scurvy and rickets, anyone? (James Wong @Botanygeek)

Limping was briefly fashionable in 18th century England. The Prince of Wales's wife, Alexandra of Denmark had a limp and other ladies imitated her. Shopkeepers sold pairs of shoes with one high and one low heel. (@qikipedia. Someone suggests that Alexandra of Denmark didn’t live in the 18th century.)

Today I learned there are actual adults who think the 15min city idea means that they will not be allowed more than 15mins away from their home. Adults, with jobs and responsibilities and everything. (@bartramsgob. The 15min city ATM seems to consist of traffic restrictions, blocked-off roads and bus lanes rather than more corner shops.)

They’re still wiffling on like toddlers about “Remoaners” while flogging the myth that we’re just somehow one Brexit away from the ACTUAL Brexit. (@athertondavid )

The idea of one’s partner fulfilling every romantic and sexual need is unrealistic anyway, right? (Ellen Willis Aronowitz. Popular since the 80s.)

"Free from" food is just a fad? Aside from just being plain rude – there are a number of reasons someone might order a diet or lower-fat version of something, and "trendy" health foods often become such because of actual medical benefits to certain people – it can also lead to amateur comedians slipping customers "unhealthy" substitutes, which is potentially quite dangerous if the order in question is because of allergies or other medical reasons. Diabetics and people with dairy allergies or gluten intolerance frequently report being hospitalized by such "pranks", with the restaurateur/waiter surprised to find out that not only was their customer not kidding, they're now looking at a lawsuit and criminal charges.

Natives of Lincolnshire are known as yellow bellies – from the local eels. Or from yellow-waistcoated waiters in the officer’s mess of the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment? (Times)

One claim is that Crêpes Suzette was created from a mistake made by a 14-year-old assistant waiter Henri Charpentier in 1895 at the Maitre at Monte Carlo's Café de Paris. (@wikivictorian. One of several things, such as microwave ovens and Bakelite, that were "invented by mistake".)

As the historian Keith Thomas demonstrates in his superb study of the origins of politeness, The Rules of Civility, good manners are always connected with status display. (James Marriott. That must be where everybody gets the idea.)

Political stability was thought to be tied to belief in traditional religion. (@goethean. And all religious moral codes are aimed at creating a stable society.)

“Back in the 1400s when people were getting married, it was ‘until death do you part’ because people would get married as teenagers and somebody would die in their 20s or early 30s,” wrote relationship coach and author David Wygant in an article for HuffPost. (Independent, 2022. It's "until death us do part".)

Original copies of Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells were made near a VLF transmitter and accidentally contained a secret Morse code transmission, which wasn't discovered until much later. (@ThatEricAlper. And Lucille Ball received coded wartime messages through her fillings.)

William Salesbury saying that the letter K had been dropped from Welsh and replaced with C "because the printers have not so many Ks as Welsh requireth" remains one of my favourite quotes of all time. (@ofnwchyrhenwaed. The stories about “they ran out of Ns so they called it Pago-Pago” goes back a long way.)

The belief that exposure to cold, and particularly damp weather, causes colds dates back at least to Hippocrates and his theory of bodily humors. (Psychologist Carol K. Sigelman)

Guests indicated that they had drunk enough [tea] by turning the cup over or placing a teaspoon in the bowl. Until this was done it was bad manners to refuse more tea when offered. (Lara Maiklem)

The culturally pervasive, optimistic notion that the future will be utopian. (@richard_littler. That's what we're working towards – aren't we?)

More here, and links to the rest. The whole gamut in my book What You Know that Ain't So.

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