Category Archives: Language

ECCENTRIVIA: The joys and perils of writing in the English language…

The funeral of Prince Philip takes place in England today and it seems to have encouraged an outbreak of dodgy journalese… First of all I read this on a BBC post…

One can only imagine what connections the military units had had with Prince Philip on the grass, which is how that can be read.

Later, this more jaw-dropping Antipodean literary blunder was spotted online:

It is easy to make an English language faux pas.

English can be a subtle language, as this Facebook posting (also today) makes clear:

 

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To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

My chum Ariane Sherine’s 9-year-old daughter is astonishingly creative. It is perhaps not surprising that she is very literate as her mother has been a columnist for multiple broadsheet newspapers and has written books while her father also writes for a prominent broadsheet newspaper.

But she is also very musically and visually talented – again, something in the genes.

Last week, she got a new painting set as an early 10th birthday present and did this:

Admittedly it is based on an image she saw online. But the original has different colour tones, the blossoms on the tree are different and there are no blossoms coming off the tree. The original is a daytime image. Hers is, she says, “around six o’clock in the evening”.

She recently asked people she knows to write honest essays about her for her 10th birthday next week. So she can know what people think of her.

Last night, her mother showed me some of the essay she has written about her daughter. It included the sentence: “I’m so pleased you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I and expressing yourself creatively.”

The following text exchange then followed:


JOHN

I am always a bit vague on this but should it be “your father and me”?

‘You’ is subject; ‘following’ is verb; ‘footsteps’ = object?

But fuck knows how your father and I/me fits in. Clearly I need remedial education.

Genuinely flummoxed.

ARIANE

I have no idea but I asked a friend who didn’t know either – and he is a linguist! 😂


ARIANE: Hi – need grammar help! I want to say that I’m pleased she’s following in my and her dad’s footsteps, but how do I word it? 

“I’m so pleased that you’re following in the footsteps of myself and your father”?

or “of your father and I”?

or “of your father and me”?

FRIEND: I’m struggling too. Whichever way you say it, it sounds stiff and unidiomatic, which indicates to me that it needs rephrasing. Is it possible to mention her father and you in the previous sentence and then say: “I’m so pleased that you’re following in our footsteps”? Sorry I can’t be more helpful.


JOHN (to ARIANE)

The only person who’s going to know is your daughter and we can’t ask her!

Maybe “I’m so pleased that you’re expressing yourself creatively” – to disguise the fact that you, your friend and I are utterly illiterate!

ARIANE

Ha ha! Yes maybe 😂🤣

ME

It’s a sobering fact that you are a multi-titled broadsheet columnist with multiple books out… I was paid by Random House (the world’s biggest publisher) to edit a bestselling book… and your friend was a university lecturer possibly with academic publications to his name…

…and none of us knows how to write a basic English sentence!

ARIANE

Ha ha! To be fair, it’s a VERY difficult sentence! xxx

ME

Hah! Says you!

ARIANE

I don’t think my friend had stuff published in journals. His wife did, and she had a PhD. But he’s no slouch either! 

JOHN

My excuse is that I was mostly educated in Essex.

What’s your excuse?

I bet your daughter knows. She’s already got better vocabulary than we do.

ARIANE

She is amazing. 🥰 

JOHN

I’m off to bed now.

(LONG GAP)

JOHN

…talk about sleepless nights!

I was dozing off and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and I” started swirling in my head!

The problem is it’s about the possession of the footsteps, not about subject-verb-object. So maybe both “I” AND “me” are wrong.

The actual thing being communicated is “you’re following in your father’s footsteps and in my footsteps”.

So I guess it should be “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and of mine”

But that and “you’re following in the footsteps of your father and mine” both sound ridiculous, so can’t sensibly be used.

I think it’s a balance between being grammatically correct and sounding right.

So it’s a case, as your friend said, of rephrasing … or of just tossing a coin about I and me.

ARIANE

Ha ha! Thanks for email, just read it. I think I‘ll stick with father and I… it’ll do.

JOHN

Yeah. Like I say. To hell with correct grammar. This is English. What’s right is what feels right.

I’m off to sleep now… I hope.

Unless I’m visited by the ghost of Dr Johnson.

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One Dutchman’s poetic criticism of the idiosyncrasies of the English language.

Yesterday’s blog was about bizarre spellings and pronunciations in the English language. I got a comment – and a poem – from Alan Gregory in Manchester. He wrote:

“I’ve always loved this poem despite never having been able to read it with 100% accuracy and being a native English speaker. Perhaps not surprisingly it was written by someone who wasn’t a native English speaker and was equally confused – Gerard Nolst Trenité (1870-1946) was a Dutch writer, traveller, teacher and “observer of English”.

Alan says: “I am currently dodging COVID-19 as a key infrastructure worker in the power sector. My interest in language is mostly from my ex-wife who is a former food critic and university lecturer in English literature. Academically, in linguistic terms, I’m crap: got an E at GCSE English, yet a masters in business. So go figure.” 

Gerard Nolst Trenité published under the pseudonym Charivarius. He is best known in the English-speaking world for this 1922 poem The Chaos (Ruize-rijmen) which demonstrates many of the idiosyncrasies of English spelling. It first appeared as an appendix to his 1920 textbook Drop Your Foreign Accent (Engelsche uitspraakoefeningen).


Gerard Nolst Trenité had a pronounced interest in English

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
Just compare heart, hear and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word.

Sword and sward, retain and Britain
(Mind the latter how it’s written).
Made has not the sound of bade,
Say-said, pay-paid, laid but plaid.

Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as vague and ague,
But be careful how you speak,
Say: gush, bush, steak, streak, break, bleak ,

Previous, precious, fuchsia, via
Recipe, pipe, studding-sail, choir;
Woven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, shoe, poem, toe.

Say, expecting fraud and trickery:
Daughter, laughter and Terpsichore,
Branch, ranch, measles, topsails, aisles,
Missiles, similes, reviles.

Wholly, holly, signal, signing,
Same, examining, but mining,
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far.

From “desire”: desirable-admirable from “admire”,
Lumber, plumber, bier, but brier,
Topsham, brougham, renown, but known,
Knowledge, done, lone, gone, none, tone,

One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel.
Gertrude, German, wind and wind,
Beau, kind, kindred, queue, mankind,

Tortoise, turquoise, chamois-leather,
Reading, Reading, heathen, heather.
This phonetic labyrinth
Gives moss, gross, brook, brooch, ninth, plinth.

Have you ever yet endeavoured
To pronounce revered and severed,
Demon, lemon, ghoul, foul, soul,
Peter, petrol and patrol?

Billet does not end like ballet;
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.

Banquet is not nearly parquet,
Which exactly rhymes with khaki.
Discount, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward,

Ricocheted and crocheting, croquet?
Right! Your pronunciation’s OK.
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.

Is your r correct in higher?
Keats asserts it rhymes Thalia.
Hugh, but hug, and hood, but hoot,
Buoyant, minute, but minute.

Say abscission with precision,
Now: position and transition;
Would it tally with my rhyme
If I mentioned paradigm?

Twopence, threepence, tease are easy,
But cease, crease, grease and greasy?
Cornice, nice, valise, revise,
Rabies, but lullabies.

Of such puzzling words as nauseous,
Rhyming well with cautious, tortious,
You’ll envelop lists, I hope,
In a linen envelope.

Would you like some more? You’ll have it!
Affidavit, David, davit.
To abjure, to perjure. Sheik
Does not sound like Czech but ache.

Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, loch, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed but vowed.

Mark the difference, moreover,
Between mover, plover, Dover.
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice,

Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, penal, and canal,
Wait, surmise, plait, promise, pal,

Suit, suite, ruin. Circuit, conduit
Rhyme with “shirk it” and “beyond it”,
But it is not hard to tell
Why it’s pall, mall, but Pall Mall.

Muscle, muscular, gaol, iron,
Timber, climber, bullion, lion,
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor,

Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
Has the a of drachm and hammer.
Pussy, hussy and possess,
Desert, but desert, address.

Golf, wolf, countenance, lieutenants
Hoist in lieu of flags left pennants.
Courier, courtier, tomb, bomb, comb,
Cow, but Cowper, some and home.

“Solder, soldier! Blood is thicker”,
Quoth he, “than liqueur or liquor”,
Making, it is sad but true,
In bravado, much ado.

Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Pilot, pivot, gaunt, but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand and grant.

Arsenic, specific, scenic,
Relic, rhetoric, hygienic.
Gooseberry, goose, and close, but close,
Paradise, rise, rose, and dose.

Say inveigh, neigh, but inveigle,
Make the latter rhyme with eagle.
Mind! Meandering but mean,
Valentine and magazine.

And I bet you, dear, a penny,
You say mani-(fold) like many,
Which is wrong. Say rapier, pier,
Tier (one who ties), but tier.

Arch, archangel; pray, does erring
Rhyme with herring or with stirring?
Prison, bison, treasure trove,
Treason, hover, cover, cove,

Perseverance, severance. Ribald
Rhymes (but piebald doesn’t) with nibbled.
Phaeton, paean, gnat, ghat, gnaw,
Lien, psychic, shone, bone, pshaw.

Don’t be down, my own, but rough it,
And distinguish buffet, buffet;
Brood, stood, roof, rook, school, wool, boon,
Worcester, Boleyn, to impugn.

Say in sounds correct and sterling
Hearse, hear, hearken, year and yearling.
Evil, devil, mezzotint,
Mind the z! (A gentle hint.)

Now you need not pay attention
To such sounds as I don’t mention,
Sounds like pores, pause, pours and paws,
Rhyming with the pronoun yours;

Nor are proper names included,
Though I often heard, as you did,
Funny rhymes to unicorn,
Yes, you know them, Vaughan and Strachan.

No, my maiden, coy and comely,
I don’t want to speak of Cholmondeley.
No. Yet Froude compared with proud
Is no better than McLeod.

But mind trivial and vial,
Tripod, menial, denial,
Troll and trolley, realm and ream,
Schedule, mischief, schism, and scheme.

Argil, gill, Argyll, gill. Surely
May be made to rhyme with Raleigh,
But you’re not supposed to say
Piquet rhymes with sobriquet.

Had this invalid invalid
Worthless documents? How pallid,
How uncouth he, couchant, looked,
When for Portsmouth I had booked!

Zeus, Thebes, Thales, Aphrodite,
Paramour, enamoured, flighty,
Episodes, antipodes,
Acquiesce, and obsequies.

Please don’t monkey with the geyser,
Don’t peel ‘taters with my razor,
Rather say in accents pure:
Nature, stature and mature.

Pious, impious, limb, climb, glumly,
Worsted, worsted, crumbly, dumbly,
Conquer, conquest, vase, phase, fan,
Wan, sedan and artisan.

The th will surely trouble you
More than r, ch or w.
Say then these phonetic gems:
Thomas, thyme, Theresa, Thames.

Thompson, Chatham, Waltham, Streatham,
There are more but I forget ’em-
Wait! I’ve got it: Anthony,
Lighten your anxiety.

The archaic word albeit
Does not rhyme with eight-you see it;
With and forthwith, one has voice,
One has not, you make your choice.

Shoes, goes, does *. Now first say: finger;
Then say: singer, ginger, linger.
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, age,

Hero, heron, query, very,
Parry, tarry fury, bury,
Dost, lost, post, and doth, cloth, loth,
Job, Job, blossom, bosom, oath.

Faugh, oppugnant, keen oppugners,
Bowing, bowing, banjo-tuners
Holm you know, but noes, canoes,
Puisne, truism, use, to use?

Though the difference seems little,
We say actual, but victual,
Seat, sweat, chaste, caste, Leigh, eight, height,
Put, nut, granite, and unite.

Reefer does not rhyme with deafer,
Feoffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Dull, bull, Geoffrey, George, ate, late,
Hint, pint, senate, but sedate.

Gaelic, Arabic, pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific;
Tour, but our, dour, succour, four,
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.

Say manoeuvre, yacht and vomit,
Next omit, which differs from it
Bona fide, alibi
Gyrate, dowry and awry.

Sea, idea, guinea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean,
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.

Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion with battalion,
Rally with ally; yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, key, quay!

Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, receiver.
Never guess-it is not safe,
We say calves, valves, half, but Ralf.

Starry, granary, canary,
Crevice, but device, and eyrie,
Face, but preface, then grimace,
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.

Bass, large, target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, oust, joust, and scour, but scourging;
Ear, but earn; and ere and tear
Do not rhyme with here but heir.

Mind the o of off and often
Which may be pronounced as orphan,
With the sound of saw and sauce;
Also soft, lost, cloth and cross.

Pudding, puddle, putting. Putting?
Yes: at golf it rhymes with shutting.
Respite, spite, consent, resent.
Liable, but Parliament.

Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew, Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, clerk and jerk,
Asp, grasp, wasp, demesne, cork, work.

A of valour, vapid vapour,
S of news (compare newspaper),
G of gibbet, gibbon, gist,
I of antichrist and grist,

Differ like diverse and divers,
Rivers, strivers, shivers, fivers.
Once, but nonce, toll, doll, but roll,
Polish, Polish, poll and poll.

Pronunciation-think of Psyche!-
Is a paling, stout and spiky.
Won’t it make you lose your wits
Writing groats and saying “grits”?

It’s a dark abyss or tunnel
Strewn with stones like rowlock, gunwale,
Islington, and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.

Don’t you think so, reader, rather,
Saying lather, bather, father?
Finally, which rhymes with enough,
Though, through, bough, cough, hough, sough, tough??

Hiccough has the sound of sup…
My advice is: GIVE IT UP!

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How Britain built an empire on the insanity of the English language…

A widespread Facebook linguistic gag of unknown origin…

What a load of bollocks the English language is.

I was talking to my eternally-un-named friend about the apostrophe (or not) in ‘It’s”.

“It’s” = It is.

But the possessive of it – “its” – for no logical reason – has no apostrophe.

No rhyme or reason.

It’s English!

I think I was over 30-years old when I found out the correct spelling is LIAISE not LIASE.

Totally mad.

English is designed to confuse foreigners… and sometimes native speakers.

I told my eternally-un-named friend: “English is mad. Even the so-called ‘rules’ are mad. There’s that saying Don’t forget it’s I before E except after C… But the truth is, although it is always E before I after C, it is not always I before E before C…

“That is how Britain won an Empire,” I told her, with some authority. “The British just confused foreigners into submission by teaching them the English language…although the way the English kept the Empire subdued for so long was by persuading other countries to play cricket – the most boring game on earth… The Scots never fell for this so we were never subjugated…”

I said all this, as I say, with some authority but, of course, my eternally-un-named friend – ever a dogged online researcher – came up with a quote to prove me wrong:

“As it turns out, for every ‘ceiling’ there’s a ‘concierge’, a ‘conscience’ and some ‘celibacies’. And for every ‘deceit’, there are ‘deficiencies’, ‘delicacies’ and ‘dicier’ things… The iciest glaciers make idiocies out of the conceit of Except after C.”

I tried to argue that ‘concierge’ is not really fully an English word, but I was outnumbered by her examples…

Oh the linguistic shame!

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary No 32 – My dreams, con-men and COVID footie

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 31

SUNDAY 23rd AUGUST

I was recently talking (well, emailing) with a well-known comedian. The interchange went:


The Glum family, with Jimmy Edwards second from the left

HIM: In an extraordinary – sorry ‘unprecedented’ – turn of events I have become busy! How you coping? I’ve been quite glum….

ME: Sorry to hear you have been Glum, presumably in the Jimmy Edwards pater familias role. I am a nihilist, so the world this year seems just ticketyboo and SNAFU, surely those last three words deserving of a lovable Noel Gay type London knees-up song.

HIM: Your nihilism has cheered me up and my excessive laziness reduced such that I have sent 3 emails today.


We are, truly, living in the time of coronavirus.

MONDAY 24th AUGUST

I am back to waking up 10 or 12 times every night with a bone dry mouth and have to drink water. Sometimes, this means I wake up in mid-dream.

Political problems in Belarus… I woke up too soon to help

Last night, I woke up and, for some reason, I had been talking in my dream to an Egyptian general who was working for a female Russian President who was having a television programme made about her. Lurking in the background watching all this was a rather aged Melina Mercouri – the Greek actress of the 1950s and 1960s – with staring eyes. I was talking to the Egyptian general about the escalating political problems in Belarus…

…and then I woke up.

Belarus will, unfortunately, have to do without my input.

Jo Burke – now a wiser woman after interviewing me

TUESDAY 25th AUGUST

Last Thursday, I was interviewed in the back garden of a Blackheath pub by performer Jo Burke for her upcoming series of online podcasts. She kindly said there had been ‘a technical problem’ last Thursday, rather than a case of interviewee incoherence.

So we had a second attempt this evening, via Zoom. It should be more physically editable but was no less incoherent. I should perhaps have warned her I am a terrible interviewee and should definitely have researched my own life before we started… I could not really remember the order in which things happened in my life nor how they came to happen.

Comedian Malcolm Hardee had the same problem when he wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. Perhaps his problem was even worse. He could not remember in which DECADE things had happened let alone in which year.

Immediately before his book went to press, he remembered he had once been arrested by the Special Branch when he was found on a high window ledge outside prominent Cabinet Minister Michael Heseltine’s hotel room. He (Malcolm) was naked apart from a raincoat with nothing in its pockets but a pack of pornographic playing cards. He had mistaken Heseltine’s room for a chum’s.

Until then, Malcolm had forgotten all about this incident. It was just another normal day in his life. We managed to squeeze it into his autobiography at the last moment.

Someone else who was in the hotel at the same time (Yes, it really DID happen) told me the eyes of the Special Branch men who interviewed Malcolm looked stunned and mystified.

WEDNESDAY 26th AUGUST

I must have woken up six or eight times last night. Bone dry

I must have woken up six or eight times last night, my mouth bone dry and needing to drink water.

Also, about halfway through the night, I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep with hiccups and heartburn, which sounds like the title of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

It was “painful and distracting” – a phrase which sounds like an extract from a review of an Oasis song from the 1990s.

I ended up sucking on a Gaviscon, which sounds like a mumbled lyric from some Bob Dylan song in the 1960s.

The above paragraphs are what I thought when I was having the hiccups, heartburn and Gaviscon. I wrote them down.

For some reason, the heartburn made me overdose on musical similes.

THURSDAY 27th AUGUST

We are living through the end of a historic period. Facebook Friend Matthew Wilkes spotted a newspaper item which said linguist Dr Lauren Fonteyn had Tweeted that teenagers and those in their 20s, who grew up using short messages to communicate, can see the full stop (that’s a ‘period’ to any American reading this) “as a symbol of curt passive-aggression”.

I re-posted this on Facebook and comments included one from Georgina Dick:


It’s not that we’re offended and need to grow up, it’s more of an understanding of the tone you’re trying to put across. There’s a big difference between saying “OK” “OK.” and “OK .”


Promoter Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy suggested:


We need to put a full stop to this!


Period punctuation unsourced.

…and the quoted Dr Lauren Fonteyn aka Lauren Bliksem Tweeted:


Apparently this is based on a Tweet I never sent or something I said to the Telegraph which I haven’t spoken to.


We are now well and truly fully into the 21st Century.

FRIDAY 28th AUGUST

Argh! Got to sleep around 8.00pm last night. Woke multiple times during the night including once with hiccups and heartburn (again). Gaviscon was chewed. Just woke up again – 10.30am – and still want to go to sleep but have to get train at 12.31 for lunch with performer Lynn Ruth Miller so about to get up, sleepy. Argh! Why did Einstein not work a bit harder and invent time travel?

That was written after 14½ hours of sleep.

I went to catch the aforementioned train. There was no barrier to go through as the main area at Elstree station was closed after rain brought down part of the roof. So it was not until I arrived at St Pancras station that I realised I had left my travel pass behind at home. I had to pay £13.50 for a one-day travel card.

Lynn Ruth  – an innocent in English plumbing

Lynn Ruth Miller – an American and therefore a novice in the English language – told me she had only just discovered that a ‘tap’ in Britain is a ‘faucet’ in the US.

Coming back from our lunch, it was not until I arrived at Seven Sisters station that I realised had left my thin case and iPad in the ticket hall at Stoke Newington station.

Fortunately, alert Overground staff at Stoke Newington had spotted the case and kept it for me. Including the iPad.

SATURDAY 29th AUGUST

I was standing in the front room of my house with a female friend. We were half-watching a feature film from the 1950s on my television, which was sitting on the floor atop a low wooden frame base.

A man dressed as a spiv (Photograph via Wikipedia, Chafford Hundred, England)

Through my front window, I saw a man who was dressed like a 1940s/1950s ‘spiv’ coming to my front door. I said to my friend: “There’s a spiv coming to the door”.

She looked surprised by my use of the word. She looked out the window but couldn’t see him because he was already at the door.

I went into my front porch and he had just shoved some leaflet through the letter box.

My friend and I went back to watching the movie. She was holding a doll about eight inches high with pink hair. Not an unusual hair colour in dolls. My friend decided she wanted me to hold the top of the doll’s hair down while she coiffured it.

She moved a blue pouffe over to near the wall. This entailed turning the television round so she could still see it, But she was sitting so close to the wall by the front window that I could not get in and hold the doll’s hair.

So I got a red pouffe and put it in the middle of the room, away from the window and wall where it was more accessible – and I had to turn the TV set round again, so we could both see it. I had to lift it up and put it down because it was on its low wooden frame base.

I was about to start holding the doll’s hair down when some more people arrived at the front door. There were three of them and they tried to tell me the turf in my front garden was in a mess and I needed to buy some turf care liquid. They were obviously some sort of con artists.

Turf love – Could be better but I’ve seen worse

I said: “Oh, no no no, I like the more natural, rough look, not a highly-manicured lawn.”

One of the guys started lifting up the turf with his right foot.

Another of them was standing in the middle of my front lawn with six large – maybe six feet high – green pole-shaped things – maybe rolled turf – the girth of a small tree.

I thought I will confuse them by being surreal (something I occasionally try with cold-callers on the telephone).

“I might use some of those,” I said, “but I’m thinking of painting them. Three could be red, white and blue for Britain. Three could be red, white and blue for France. And there might be some way of working the German flag in there somehow… If I paint one black, it would be very effective. It would look very good.”

This succeeded in confusing the man who was holding the earthen post-like things.

Just before this, my friend has come out from the front room and was looking at the three men with a hint of bemusement on her face. By now it was dusk, getting quite dark, so the garden con-men went away, quite confused.

My friend and I went back into the living room.

I looked out the window and there was a man at the bottom of the garden – a supervisor who was obviously allowing salesman to come in and profer their services to people living in our square.

“…I looked at my bedside alarm clock… It was 6.49am…”

I thought this was very strange.

Then I sort-of vaguely woke up and looked at my bedside alarm clock. It was 6.49am.

I turned over and went back to sleep.

I woke up a few more times after that. On the second occasion, half awake, I drawled the details of the dream into my iPhone before I forgot it altogether which, obviously, I would have.

Possibly even more surreal was the video my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth Miller) and husband Frank sent me this evening.

This afternoon, they went to watch the Brighton & Hove Albion vs Chelsea football match. It was the first UK match since the COVID-19 outbreak started that had been played with supporters present rather than being played ‘behind closed doors’. Only home supporters in Brighton.

It is certainly a weird video, ending with what sounds to me like traditional gypsy or Turkish music and then the teams ‘take the knee’ to honour the increasing number of unarmed black men being shot by the police in Donald Trump’s USA. The last one was shot in the back seven times at close range, while bending over to get in a car door.

Strange times indeed.

… CONTINUED HERE

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John Fleming’s Weekly Diary – No 29 – NHS chaos, online cults, PC linguistics

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 28

Ariane X – ex Ariane Sherine – the palindrome queen

SUNDAY 2nd AUGUST

In my last diary blog, I mentioned that Ariane Sherine (newly aka Ariane X) said she had discovered that, since finding a new man in her life and becoming happy, she has been unable to write songs.

Inevitably, of course, as soon as I posted that, she wrote another song for her upcoming album, released on the (if you are British not American) palindromic 12.02.2021.

This is part of it:

When you’ve no money left
No love or hope or friends
And your heart it is closed
And you think that it’s the end
And you’re praying to God
Yeah to come and save your soul
Well I’ll save you instead
Bring you in out of the cold

Also last time, I mentioned Charles Aznavour’s observation that, when people are happy, they are all happy in much the same but, when people are sad, there are varied, specific reasons why, so ‘sad’ is more inspiring and more interesting.

Erudite performer and man about town Peter Stanford pointed out that Aznavour had perhaps read the first sentence of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin (or, on my Russian college course, Karenina):

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”

All I really remember about Anna Karenina is some bloke tapping the wheels of a train and maybe that was only in the movie.

MONDAY 3rd AUGUST

NHS confusion continues.

Last week, my face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man was changed to a telephone consultation but, having experienced this twice before, I disbelieved it.

On Friday, I checked with the Kidney Man’s secretary and it was indeed a face-to-face appointment.

When I arrived at the hospital at lunchtime today, the two security men checking arrivals (no visitors are allowed because of the COVID-19 restrictions) directed me to Reception just inside the door.

It was the same man on Reception as before – last time he said the entire Nephrology department had moved to another hospital – so I ignored him and went straight to Outpatients reception.

They directed me to the appropriate Consultation section’s Reception. The nurse on that Reception tried to find my details but couldn’t. Then the actual Receptionist arrived.

She told me all the face-to-face appointments had finished; there were only phone ones now. The nurse told the receptionist: “There’s no John Fleming on the list. In fact, there is no list. It may have been thrown away by accident.”

The receptionist said: “I will ask the doctor if he will see you.”

He said Yes.

The Kidney Man knew he was supposed to be seeing me masked-face-to-masked-face.

Apparently this is a micrograph showing a renal core biopsy (Photograph by Nephron via Wikipedia)

He told me I’m still “a mystery”. Nothing showed up on the last blood test. He may send me to see an Ear Nose & Throat man in case that throws up any irregularities. He also has a colleague who is “interested in calcium” so he might want to see me. And they might try a kidney biopsy, though that is unlikely.

“What is a biopsy?” I asked. Does it involve cutting me open?”

“We just stick a needle in your back, under local anaesthetic,” he replied, “and take a little bit of kidney out.”

My next face-to-face appointment with the Kidney Man is in two months, unless something bad were to show up on the blood test.

He sent me down one floor for a blood test. “They may be closed,” he told me. “If they are, just phone the number on the sheet and make an appointment.”

The Phlebotomy (Blood Test to you and me) Department was open.

I left the hospital and went to the National Express office at Golders Green to see how much a two-day coach trip to Edinburgh on 15th/16th August would cost. I want to see what the Edinburgh Fringe is like without the Edinburgh Fringe… and to see comedian Arthur Smith do his annual midnight tour of Edinburgh.

It was £76 return by coach. Much, much cheaper than a railfare.

Nobel Prizewinning Irish politician John Hume

TUESDAY 4th AUGUST

Irish politician John Hume died yesterday. He won the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for his work trying to bring peace in Northern Ireland.

A BBC commentator said that, the first time Hulme met the IRA leadership face-to-face, he (Hume) said it was like meeting a cult. They were genuinely shocked to find out people genuinely had different views to them. Before then, they had only talked to themselves and their supporters. Anyone outside that circle who disagreed were not seen as people with genuinely different opinions – they were seen as evil.

I immediately thought: Corbynistas… Brexit… almost anyone on Twitter… To hold any opinion different to what you and ALL your friends have is not valid because it is not possible. If you disagree, you must be total evil, must be silenced.

Just me on that one, then?

There was an explosion in Beirut today – around 150 dead and over 4,000 injured. It turned out to be not a bomb but fertiliser. Of the kind used in bombs. Shit happened.

I was going to book an airfare to Edinburgh, after searching cheap price comparison websites. The cheapest return was £65 via Easyjet – cheaper than a coach and a journey time of only 90 minutes as opposed to 10 or 11 hours in a face mask.

My eternally un-named friend suggested looking on the actual EasyJet website. She was right.

It was £65 on the cheap price comparison websites and £55.98p on the EasyJet site itself. (Same flights.)

Arthur Smith was scuppered and scunnered by coronavirus

WEDNESDAY 5th AUGUST

Arthur Smith cancelled his tour of Edinburgh because of the Scottish government’s COVID restrictions on outdoor events. Shit happens.

THURSDAY 6th AUGUST

I got a letter saying my next face-to-face hospital appointment with the Kidney Man is on 19th Ocober. Inevitably, a few days before this, I will get an erroneous text saying it has been changed to a telephone appointment.

Talk of dabbicals, gangbangs, carjacks, bums and fags… (Photograph by Dmitry Ratushny via UnSplash)

FRIDAY 7th AUGUST

I spent the afternoon with my eternally un-named friend.

At one point, an arrangement went wrong. She said: “It’s a dabbical.”

We both looked at each other. Neither of us knew what the word should have been. I suggested it was a reasonable-sounding word so should be in common use.

Later, I was in conversation with someone totally different and it came up in conversation that, in the US, she had been told the British word ‘gangbang’ means ‘carjack’ over there.

Later still, I looked it up online and, as far as I could find, on both sides of the Atlantic, gangbang = gangbang and carjack = carjack. A very odd misunderstanding.

I do always wonder, though, what would happen if an Eastender from London said to someone in Kansas: “I want to bum a fag”.

Late night: my eternally un-named friend phoned to say: “Debacle…”

The offensiveness of phral and bhrātṛ

SATURDAY 8th AUGUST

Continuing with linguistic problems, in the new ultra-PC, non-binary world, a performer posted the following on Facebook:


QUESTION: I’ve been working very hard on replacing gendered collective terms like “dudes” & “guys” with “folks” whenever I address groups. I occasionally slip up. But I’m trying.

I was convinced that “pal” was non-gendered but I’ve just looked it up and it isn’t.

Its etymology is:
First recorded in 1675–85; from English Romani: “brother, mate,” variant of continental Romani phral, ultimately from Sanskrit bhrātṛ “brother”.

Does anyone know a non-gendered equivalent, please?

I’ve just found out that by using “pal” with a trans friend (who calls me “pal”), I’ve been unintentionally mis-gendering her and I don’t want to.

“Alright, friend?” feels odd.

There must be a non-gendered equivalent? Surely?

That said I’m struggling to think of a feminine version and the lack of that might be the reason I assumed it was non-gendered.

It’s two things:

a) Does this have the capacity to hurt someone?

b) Is it easily within my gift to avoid even the potential of causing that hurt and it cost me nothing more than the tiniest bit of thought?

If the answers to both of those questions are “Yes” then I’d feel like an utter arsehole if I didn’t at least try.

It’s my job as a decent human being to try to make extremely minor and trivial accommodations to avoid the possibility of hurting someone.


I may be revealing myself as an utter arsehole here but – admirably caring and commendably sensitive though his aim is – I think if someone is linguistically sophisticated enough to be offended by the 17th century Romani or ancient Sanskrit roots of perfectly commonplace 21st century English words, then they are probably intellectually resilient enough to cope with being called “pal”… although, frankly, I would be wary of using the word without care in Glasgow (where “cunt” is a genuinely commonly-used conversational term of affection).

… CONTINUED HERE

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John F is no more. He is transitioning.

It all started at St Pancras station…

So I was having tea with a chum at St Pancras station in London and somehow the subject of ‘transitioning’ and trans-gender came up. I can’t remember why and I can’t remember if I am supposed to type or say transgender or trans-gender or transexual or trans-sexual. I think at least one or more ways of typing or saying the words is guaranteed to offend at least one or more people.

“Actually, I was transgender when I was a teenager,” my chum told me.

“Did you have your willie cut off?” I asked.

“No,” she replied. “I never had one.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t think there was any transing involved.”

“That’s very offensive,” she said.

“To you?” I asked.

“No, not to me,” she replied. “But to some people.”

“Trans-sexual I understand,” I said. “It involves adding bits on or taking bits off. And transvestite I understand. But trans-gender sounds like some Northern rail franchise.”

“That’s very offensive,” my chum said.

“Which?” I said. “Trans-sexual or transvestite or the Northern rail franchise?”

“All three,” she told me. “I hear Eddie Izzard no longer calls himself transvestite because some people find that offensive. Now he calls himself transgender.”

“Has he had his willie cut off?” I asked.

“Not that I know of.”

“Does he sometimes wear men’s clothes and sometimes wear women’s clothes?”

“Men’s and women’s clothes are constructs imposed by the patriarchy,” my friend said.

“I’m confused,” I said.

“You are transfixed,” my friend said.

“Do I need to have my willie cut off to be transgender?” I asked.

“No.”

“Are there hyphens involved if you type the word?” I asked.

“Depends what the word is,” my chum said.

“I would quite like to identify as a slightly overweight West Indian lady,” I said. “I like the accents. Very warm and cuddly.”

“People would find almost all of that offensive,” my chum said.

“That’s racist,” I said.

“No it isn’t,” my chum said.

“Not trans-anything?” I asked.

“Transgressive,” my chum suggested.

“Can I identify as Bobo the Clown,” I said.

“That might be OK,” my chum said. “But you might need to do a clown course.”

“No,” I said. “I mean a proper clown. Not just sitting staring at people until they do something.”

“Why are you so annoying?” my chum asked.

“Practice,” I suggested.

Anyway – long story short – John Fleming is dead.

I now want to be called Bobo The Clown.

I see a bright future ahead.

With the added bonus of hair.

John Fleming is dead. Bobo The Clown lives.

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A blog written by predictive text

I thought I would see what a 7-paragraph blog would be like if I let predictive text take over and only start it off… So, with absolutely no editing by me…


The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

What I want to tell you today is gonna be a great night.

The first thing you did there is to be in the bed. The first time is a bit harsh.

The only way you could do that this app was for the iPad and it is very good for you and the free was a great way too.

The only way was a way to make it happen to you.

The first time is a bit harsh but it was the best.

You can never use Facebook for chat or later chat with a few people.

You have been an awesome person for me and you are both in a way of telling the story about the two days you were going through the door to the answer.


Having read that – written entirely by predictive text… It could almost be a Presidential statement.

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Are the Facebook PC police about to ban me because of my sexually risqué name?

I have a Facebook account in my own name – John Thomas Fleming.

On it I post links to articles which I think are interesting and/or funny.

The Daily Mash is a satirical British website.

Today I tried to post a link on my Facebook page to one of the Daily Mash articles.

The Daily Mash’s satiric article was headlined:

MUSEUM OF 1970s SEX EUPHEMISM TO OPEN IN LEEDS

My comment accompanying the link was… “Surely it should open in Bristol?”

A reference to a jolly British euphemism for a lady’s breast.

My post was blanked-out by Facebook because:

“This post goes against our Community Standards on nudity or sexual activity”

and I was banned from posting on Facebook for 24 hours.

Robin Askwith in Confessions From A Holiday Camp (1977) (Photo by Columbia/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5871814a)

I am not sure if Facebook objected to my use of the word ‘Bristol’ or the Daily Mash‘s somewhat risqué picture which was a still from one of the 1970s series of Confessions of… films… These were ‘naughty yet acceptable’ films in the genre of the Carry On… movies.

Britain has a long tradition of family filth Stretching back to Shakespeare and Chaucer and certainly including – perhaps most surprising to Americans – the traditional (ideally utterly filthy) British Christmas pantomimes for children.

The Confessions of… films were more permissive than the more innocent Carry On… films. But were still considered middle-of-the-road even then.

Obviously Facebook’s image-searching computers and more puritan-minded American tendencies need a re-tweak.

The worrying thing is that I was given the name John Thomas Fleming by my innocent parents. I was named after my two grandfathers. I believe the origin of the phrase ‘John Thomas’ is Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel which I nor I am certain my parents never read.

I now fear for the good citizens of Bristol city, who face a potential blanket ban from Facebook for living where they do: a conurbation which shares its name with an example of Cockney rhyming slang.

This is all a bit reminiscent of the early days of censorship on the internet when farmers found that innocent references to their common farmyard creatures were getting them banned as pornographers… in particular, any reference to their cocks.

Oh, alright… the bloody Facebook image-searching computers actually took exception to the photo… But, really, do me a favour.

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A fancy man at the Edinburgh Fringe confused by the English language…

Katsura Sunshine in London in his self-made denim kimono

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about Katsura Sunshine – Canadian comic teller of traditional Japanese Rakugo stories, who starts playing his last eight shows at the Leicester Square Theatre in London this week and then hightails it for New York shows in November.

Sunshine lives half his year in Tokyo and half in Camden Town in London. He always wears a kimono in the street and, usually, a bowler hat.  He tells me:

Sunshine at the Edinburgh Fringe

“I remember the first time I tried to get into a pub in Edinburgh wearing my kimono after a show and they refused me entry, saying: No fancy-dress!

“The guy was wearing a kilt, which looked pretty fancy to me.

“In Canadian English, we say ‘costume’ not ‘fancy dress’, so I actually didn’t know what he was talking about until later.

“To Canadians, ‘fancy’ just means ‘special’, so I thought he was asking me to wear something more boring.”

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