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.)

Savannah cats... are playful, loyal and like to be in water. (Times, April 2024. The cats are playful AND loyal, AND like to be in water.)

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.