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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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This $15 million woman can teach you to punctuate English sentences correctly

Susan Feehan has written a book about punctuation.

Called Make Punctuation Your Bitch: Punctuation Wrangling Without The Fuss.

The paperback is already on Amazon and the e-book comes out on Friday.

I talked to her. This is what happened.

Any punctuation mistakes are mine, not her’s… erm… hers.


JOHN: So you won’t be a fan of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses… Does punctuation matter? I don’t think spelling was uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary, was it? Before that, all that mattered was that other people understood what you meant. Same with punctuation, isn’t it?

“Not a book for GrammerNazis. They would take offence”

SUSAN: It’s not a book for GrammarNazis. They would take offence at the levity. I’ve done a couple of opening sections about Tribe 1 and Tribe 2. Tribe 1 are the GrammarNazis and Tribe 2 are the rest of us.

JOHN: So who is going to buy the book? The GrammarNazis are not going to buy it because they think they know everything and the illiterates won’t buy it because they can’t read.

SUSAN: It’s for people who just need a quick answer. I wrote it because, as a tutor, doing training courses, I have always wanted to look for examples.

JOHN: Examples of… ?

SUSAN: Say, for instance, brackets. You don’t want to wade through a whole load which has everything you DON’T want to know about brackets but one thing you do. So I have split everything into sections. It is quick and easy.

If it takes two minutes to look something up, you will do it.

If it takes ten minutes, you will blag your way through.

JOHN: You are a tutor. Whom do you tute?

SUSAN: I did have a stint at university mentoring students in newspaper production and, well, there’s publishers’ staff. People who just need a bit of a refresher. When they’re editing. Grammar, punctuation, whatever.

JOHN: Surely sub-editors should not need tutoring? If they don’t know it, they shouldn’t be employed.

SUSAN: Well, the thing is, sub-editing is now an entry job. When I was first training on newspapers, you started as an editorial assistant or a junior reporter – you started as a junior writer in any form, served your time – your apprenticeship, so to speak, of about three years – and then they considered you expert enough to be paid full wage. After that, you could segue into subbing.

But, once it all became digital, the software became the prerequisite – It became Must be Quark friendly or, now, it’s Must be InDesign friendly. The software became the reason you were getting employed and the language skills became secondary.

Often, now, people are taking or are given a job as a sub-editor so they can do a hop-over into the writing side. It doesn’t make any sense to me – or anyone else I know. You’ve got juniors put in the position of changing the work of writers who are presumably more experienced. And they now do need to know more than they once would have done. In the past, the sub-editors would have been much more experienced.

JOHN: So we have all these illiterate sub-editors?

SUSAN: I wouldn’t call them illiterate.

JOHN: Different publications have different house styles, so punctuation rules don’t really mean anything, do they? For example… Single quotation marks or double quotation marks?

SUSAN: Well, some of that is house style but often, in the UK, we would generally use single quotes first, then doubles within singles. The Americans would do singles within doubles.

JOHN: Oh… I always do the American way, alas.

SUSAN: And how do you introduce a quote? With a colon or a comma? A colon is very journalistic.

JOHN: I do whatever looks better in a particular sentence.

SUSAN: Ah…

JOHN: You started off as a…?

SUSAN: A lowly junior reporter on a magazine called Display International and another one called Do It Yourself Retailing.

JOHN: You did that because you wanted to be a great writer?

SUSAN: Well, I found out very quickly that I wanted to be a sub-editor. On a newspaper or magazine, if you find a subject you are prepared to write about for the next 30 years – medical, cinema, crime, whatever – then you are fixed. If you can’t find that subject, then you are better off being a sub-editor, because there your joy is in the process and the language not the subject. You can do your job on any subject and still love the process of writing.

JOHN: You wanted to be a sub for the rest of your life?

SUSAN: I certainly did for a hefty while. Then I thought: Aaah! Perhaps I should write something myself. And that’s when I started doing the screenplay thing. There was The Kiss, a romantic comedy.

JOHN: Was that filmed?

SUSAN: We raised the money for it about four years ago – all $15 million of it – but the trouble was it all came from one investor and the trouble comes when one investor thinks he’s been hanging around too long and he takes the money elsewhere.

JOHN: You have written five screenplays.

SUSAN: I have, but I am turning them into novels. One I am going to do as a play.

JOHN: Three are already award-winning and they have not even been made.

SUSAN: You can win lots of screenplay awards without them getting made.

JOHN: Make Punctuation Your Bitch is not your first book.

“Canadians in particular loved it…”

SUSAN: No. There was How To Write Well When You Don’t Know Where To Start. That was three years ago. For some reason the Canadians in particular loved it. It was in the Top Ten in the entire Kindle Store in Canada, not just in its niche.

JOHN: Is it on Amazon?

SUSAN: It was, but I’ve taken it down because I’m going to update it.

JOHN: Are there punctuation differences between the British and Americans?

SUSAN: Yes. And there are Canadian and Australian differences as well. Sometimes they side with the Americans and sometimes they follow us. I have some in the book. The Americans put time at 3:30 with a colon and we do 3.30 with a dot; but now we are starting to take on the colon.

JOHN: In lists, I was always taught that, if you have A, B, C and D, you should never have a comma between the last two – A, B, C, and D – because the commas are standing-in for the word ‘and’. So, by adding a comma, you are actually saying “A and B and C and and D”

SUSAN: That’s not quite true, because it’s ‘The Oxford Comma’… Called that because it was created by Oxford University Press.

The example given in my book is: “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela”. That actually means – without the second comma – that his parents are the Dalai Lama and Nelson Mandela.

But, if you put a comma after the Dalai Lama – “Tom dedicated the book to his parents, the Dalai Lama, and Nelson Mandela” – you have differentiated between them.

JOHN: But one comma isn’t worth losing sleep over, is it?

SUSAN: I have a story at the front of my book about the Five Million Dollar Oxford Comma.

There was a dairy in Maine where they had a contract that did not have an Oxford Comma in it. Their drivers sued them about what the contract actually meant and the drivers won $5 million in back-overtime.

There was another case between two telephone companies where there was a comma in dispute and, again it cost one company $2 million.

JOHN: So correct punctuation is here to stay.

SUSAN: I think, in 30 years time, apostrophes won’t exist.

JOHN: Oooh!

SUSAN: But I think the smart money is on semi-colons dying out first.

JOHN: You will have to constantly update your books. Your next one is…?

SUSAN: There might be a Make Structure Your Bitch book.

JOHN: What is structure?

SUSAN: Structure in writing. So the inverted pyramid thing will come in there. And structuring sentences and paragraphs and how to keep the reader hooked.

JOHN: What is the worst crime in punctuation?

SUSAN: Ultimately, it is inconsistency.

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Edinburgh Fringe magnifies comedian Malcolm Hardee’s testicles and objects to Charlie Chuck’s English grammar

Charlie Chuck- What the duck is the Edinburgh Fringe doing?

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Now, make no mistake, I love the Edinburgh Fringe. One thing I like about it is its freewheeling, hands-off nature. Anyone can perform at the Fringe; the Fringe Office itself merely acts as a central not-really-controlling-anything hub. They charge you to put your 40 word listing and perhaps an ad in the Fringe Programme. But it is very relaxed and freewheeling.

In theory.

Except for the fact that they appear to have thrown away the spirit of the Fringe and gone in for mindless bureaucratic stupidity this year. Two examples:

1. THE GREATEST SHOW ON LEGS

This admirably anarchic, occasionally naked-balloon-dancing troupe have already had problems, with the PBH Free Fringe refusing to allow one of their members appearing in a show on the PBH Free Fringe to appear as part of the Greatest Show on Legs in the Laughing Horse Free Festival. (It’s complicated – I blogged previously about it.)

But the Greatest Show on Legs ARE now performing (with special guests standing-in for the missing member – yes, I said the missing member) at Bob Slayer’s Alternative Fringe venue The Hive (administered as part of the Laughing Horse Free Fringe). When I left for China three weeks ago, they were going to be performing for three days in the final week (and on the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show). Now they will be performing for five days in the final week (and on the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show).

So they paid for their entry in the Fringe Programme, which includes a tiny photo. The words were:

Famed naked balloon dancers, The Legs return to Edinburgh with extraordinarily eccentric comedy sketches and surprise guests. “Surreal and anarchic comedy” (Huffington Post), “Anarchic high point” (Guardian), “Manic and riotous” (Chortle)

The photo (which I have reproduced here at the size it would have appeared in the Fringe Programme) is on the left. I say “would have appeared” because the Fringe refused to run the photo, saying:

The man on the left of image, is not fully covered by his balloon. As this is a universal publication – one that is read by adults and children – we need to be sure that every image included is suitable. We therefore require you to either use a different image, or photo shop the existing one to ensure that the balloon is covering the entire area.

This was news to me as the photo has been run elsewhere, at a more visible size, before.

But, indeed, when I viewed the original image at full-size, I could vaguely see something and, indeed, if I looked at it at 300% original size, I could see what I think is the shape of the bottom of the late Malcolm Hardee’s testicles. I suppose I should be more certain as, with most comedy-goers of a certain age, I saw them often enough.

Bob Slayer tells me: “I said to them (the Fringe) if they really had to Photoshop, then to do a very subtle blurring but don’t add anything to the image.”

He also asked to see the Photoshopped result, but never did until a couple of days ago, after the Fringe Office was chased-up. They had changed the photo to what you see on the left… with an entirely new third balloon plonked over the offending vague shape. A ridiculous piece of over-kill, not part of the Greatest Show on Legs’ act and, as far as I can figure, it would be completely impossible to actually perform the act with this third balloon. Ironically, the Photoshopped picture is a load of bollocks.

So, a couple of days ago, the new picture you see on the left was submitted, although it is quite difficult to find colour photos of the Greatest Show on Legs with the late Malcolm Hardee (who is obviously a marketing point). Watch this space in case this one is rejected too. The Fringe appears to have gone control-freak mad. Which brings us to:

2. CHARLIE CHUCK

Cirque du Charlie Chuck is the new Edinburgh Fringe show from a man whose act goes far beyond utter nonsense. The words submitted for the Fringe Programme were:

Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck, back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’ (Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus a latex suit.

The response from the Fringe was:

Thank you for your recent registration for the Fringe Programme. I have taken a look at your form, and the copy for the Programme is over the word limit, as some words were missing, as per below:

Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck, IS back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing AND mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’ (Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus a latex suit.

These words are required to be added to make sure the copy is in our house style.

Warm regards,

Katie McKenna
Programme Production Assistant

Note the phrase “These words are required to be added”. Not “suggested”… “required”.

It is worth mentioning at this point that Charlie Chuck was paying almost £400 (OK, it was £393.60p) to have these words put in the Fringe Programme to advertise and promote his show. I can’t imagine The Times or the Daily Telegraph or the equally respectable Guardian objecting to the grammar in a paid-for ad in their hallowed pages.

The Fringe also mounts ‘roadshows’ advising performers how to publicise their shows. One of their annual gems of wisdom is that the Fringe Programme entry is the most important and effective piece of publicity for your show and every word used should count in marketing your show. “Cut out every unnecessary word” is the Fringe’s advice. No mention of adding in an unnecessary “is” or “and” or “a” or of having to use fully-grammatical sentences.

It is also worth mentioning that Charlie Chuck is secondarily listed under “Absurdist” by the Fringe Programme and his shows often start with the words:

“Ay and beway, flippin de bow-wow. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Donkey. Woof-bark. Woof-bark.”

And that is one of the more coherent parts of his act.

I think he could justifiably argue that being forced to write a fully-grammatically-correct Fringe Programme listing would be professionally damaging to his career.

When the Fringe was pushed on this mindless idiocy, the reply came:

It seems your show copy was over the 40 word limit when you resubmitted.

(It actually was not over the limit at all and it was resubmitted via the Fringe computer which does not allow over-length entries to be submitted.)

We do attempt to make the copy grammatically correct. Looking at your show copy, I woud (sic) suggest that the first sentence needs a verb, which on (sic) of our team has put in. I don’t see the ‘and’ you refer to in the proof sent. I think ‘and a lady assistant’ reads fine. However, it largely up to you, (sic) as long as your copy adheres to the style guide found on edfringe.com, is grammatically correct and within the 40 word limit (including your show title) it can be run.

Martin Chester
Publications Manager

At the time I write this, the Fringe appears to have accepted an entry from Charlie Chuck which reads:

CIRQUE DU CHARLIE CHUCK
Vic and Bob’s sidekick, Fringe legend Charlie Chuck’s back with mixed magic, cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing, burlesque bits, French songs and lady assistant. ‘Masterpiece of oddity’
(Scotsman). More scary, more weird. Plus unexpected latex suit.

Let us hope they do not refuse to run the almost £400 paid-for ad on the basis that the last two sentences are not, in fact sentences. But, it seems, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe mindless bureaucratic stupidity rules.

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Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jane Austen – all of them bad at the English language

(This blog was later re-published in the Huffington Post)

I posted a blog (or did I?) the other day.

Someone on Google+ took offence (or did he?) and posted (or did he?) this comment:

“no offense,” he wrote, “but can we stop calling blog posts and blog articles ‘blogs’? unless you actually are composing an entire collection of articles and posts each time you say you’ve written ‘a blog’, you’re really not using the correct term and are just coming off as uninformed and just desperately trying to drop a buzzword (albeit incorrectly).”

I am not sure about this.

He is, I presume an American, because he wrote “no offense” instead of the British English “no offence”. I have a suspicion the problem may be an example of two nations separated by a common language – even in cyberspace.

I am sure I have commonly seen and heard in the UK, the word “blog” used both for the collection within which the “posts” are… erm… posted… and for the individual blogs… erm… posts… themselves.

But, some might think surprisingly, I am no great upholder of ‘correctness’ in writing. If you get too hung up on the niceties of what is ‘correct’ and what is ‘not correct’, things can get pretty mind-numbingly dull, as I am about to prove…

I think the French are mad to have an academic body which decides what words and phrases are or are not ‘correct’ French. They are mad to try stopping ‘Franglais’.

The nearest thing we have in Britain is the Oxford English dictionary which decides to include not what it thinks is ‘correct’ English but what has become common usage.

The sentence, “Men and women competed in a quiz with a £1,000 prize but the rules stated that, when the single eventual winner received THEIR money, THEY had to donate it to charity,” is clearly grammatically incorrect, because “winner” is singular but “their” and “they “ are both plural.

The Oxford English Dictionary decided several years ago that the use of “they” and “their” in this sort of sentence structure was “acceptable” usage simply because it had been so commonly used for years by everyone. The alternative would be saying “he or she” and “his or hers” instead of “they” and “their” every time the circumstance cropped up and your tongue and brain would go potty after a time.

In English, ‘good’ English is ultimately whatever way English speakers actually speak and write the language. The French are heading towards a dead language; ironically, they are stifling it by trying to protect it.

The English language is a bit like the Edinburgh Fringe. No-one actually organises the over-all thing, anyone can join in and it becomes all the more vibrant for it.

It is anarchy, but it works.

Shakespeare could not even spell his own name the same way every time he wrote it – he used various spellings. As far as I understand it, English spelling had no need to be uniform until Dr Johnson published his dictionary in 1755 – and, even now, we are in the anarchic position of having “humour” and “humor” and “colour” and “color” being correct in different places and how the fuck did “programme” and “program” and “aluminium” and “aluminum” ever come about? They’re relatively new concepts!

I share comedian Stewart Lee’s horror at the constant mis-use of apostrophes though it is a losing battle and what gets up my own personal nasal passages is the mis-use of commas around subordinate clauses and in lists.

If you have a list of A, B, C, D, and E there should be no comma before the “and” because, in a list, the commas represent “and”s – that’s what they are, so it should be A, B, C, D and E (without the fourth comma).

But I think Americans have a different usage and the comma is correct in the US.

The abbreviation Mr for Mister should never have a full stop (i.e, Mr.) because the full stop represents an abbreviation as in etc. which has a full stop because the “etera” has been cut out. It’s like the apostrophe in “don’t” or “wasn’t” – it shows there is a missing letter or letters.

People lament the change wrought in the language by the arrival of text messaging.

But who cares?

Shakespeare wrote in what was virtually a foreign language.

Chaucer certainly bloody well did.

Even some of the Victorian novelists are a bit heavy-going nowadays.

The English language is constantly changing, which is what makes it so vibrant.

I worked in Prague in the mid-1990s, writing scripts for TV voice-overs to read in Czech – a neat trick, as I did not speak, write nor understand Czech. The scripts were translated into Czech and I then had to direct the recording of the Czech-language voice-overs – giving the TV announcers direction on intonation and suchlike – another neat trick.

On several occasions, the translator came back to me and said: “I can’t translate this exactly, because I can’t translate the nuance. Czech has fewer words than English and I can’t translate what I know you want to say.”

It is like the (apparently untrue) story that Eskimos (sorry, Inuits) have 30-odd words for “snow” and we have only five or six.

English is a wonderful language because it is so rich but also because it is so fast-changing. And long may it continue to be so.

Language is about communication not rules.

According to an Oxford University professor who has seen her original manuscripts, Jane Austen was shit at grammar and crap at spelling. I happen to think she wrote dull novels as well (apart from Emma). Others disagree with me on that. But she is an example that great writers are about ideas not linguistic rules.

Grammar and punctuation can be ‘cleaned up’ by a sub-editor.

Clear ideas are what matter.

Now, if only someone could come up with a word to replace the valuable lost meaning of “gay”…

What a great word was lost there…

I am sure Jane Austen used it.

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