Tag Archives: linguistics

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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Filed under Humor, Humour, Language

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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“Bloody Norah!” – Who was she?

Bloody Nora in Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate is totally irrelevant to what follows…

Yesterday, my eternally un-named friend mused on the origin of the phrase “Bloody Norah!” (or “Bloody Nora!”) – a British exclamation used to convey surprise, contempt or frustration.

I had no idea where this came from.

Apparently the phrase is rare or non-existent in the USA and Canada but it is common in British, Australian and New Zealand slang, with “Flaming Nora!” as an alternative.

I think, like many a bizarre saying, no-one really knows the origin.

But the Guardian’s late-lamented Notes & Queries section had a stab at it (with readers’ suggestions).

And here (risking copyright infringement) is what they reckoned…


SEMANTIC ENIGMAS

Who was Bloody Norah and why is she used as an exclamation?

  • Bloody Norah was originally called Norah and the maid for the wealthy Duke Wodingtonshire in the 17th century. She earned the name Bloody Norah after she killed a servant of the duke with a stick of celery. When the Duke caught her repeatedly slapping the bloody corpse with the stick of celery he shouted “Oh dear god, you’re all bloody, Norah….” and, after beating her, he banished her to a basement cell for 3 years.

    When the 3 years was up, the Duke set her free but Norah insisted on working for the Duke. Reluctantly the Duke gave her a job cleaning the stables only to find 4 days later she had killed another servant, this time with a kettle. When the Duke found her once again maiming her victim with the dented kettle, he cried, “Oh, bloody Norah!” and grabbed a horseshoe in an attempt to kill Norah.

    After a long struggle, Norah escapes, leaving the battered Duke cussing to himself: “Bloody Norah!”.

    The expression came from the Duke himself, as he would tell the story of Norah to all he knew and would always refer to her as “Bloody Norah”.

    As the Duke aged he grew senile, he would be heard talking to himself and shouting: “….BLOODY NORAH!!!!……”. And, as people around saw him still as a respected figure in the community, they all started saying “Bloody Norah!” as they all thought the Duke has invented a new cuss word. It has stuck until the present day.
    (Ronnie, Essex, UK)
    I think Norah’s up there with “Gordon Bennett”, “Christchurch Cathedral” and “Blood & Sand” as a way of pretending not to swear once you’ve started. Similarly “God blind me” has become “Cor Blimey” and “By Our Lady” has become “Bloody”
    (Chris Bourne, Brussels, Belgium)
    ‘Nora’ is not a woman’s name but a form of the word ‘horror’. The phrase started off as “flaming horror” (or “flipping/bloody etc horror”) as a cry of dismay/disbelief. In the normal Cockney manner, the final ‘g’ and the opening ‘h’ were dropped to produce something that sounded like “flamin-orror” and that in turn over the years became “Flamin’ Nora!”…or “Bloody Nora” as a stronger alternative. So Nora wasn’t a person at all but the result of an accent.
    (David, Weybridge, England)
    During the 1990s in England a surge of mock-Cockneys arose and with it also surged their use of the irritating rhyming Cockney slang. This was one of the expressions that came about then; you will not find reference to it before then.
    (Laura Evans, Plaistow, London, UK)
    “Bloody Nora!” has been used in the London area for many years, in the same way as “Gawd Blimey!”. In the 1970s I recall an incident in a pub when a female friend arrived inappropriately dressed. When someone remarked “Bloody Nora!”, a Durham associate asked, “Oh, is her name Nora?”. The expression had obviously not travelled that far north.
    (Rob Harrington, Leyton, London, UK)

Basically, no-one really knows…

For example, the first explanation cites ‘Duke Wodingtonshire’ – a title which, as far as I know, has never existed.

The phrase was in common usage well before the 1990s. And “flamin-orror” turning into “Flamin’ Nora!” when said in a Cockney accent sounds more like something Dick Van Dyke might say in Mary Poppins rather than a real Cockney pronunciation.

“Blood and Sand!” – which I have never of heard before – is more cocktail than Cockney.

My eternally un-named friend is also not convinced it is possible to kill anyone with a stick of celery.

If it IS possible, I can only pray she never finds out details of the technique…

…and that talented storyteller ‘Ronnie from Essex’ writes a novel or a screenplay sharpish, incorporating the celery…

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ECCENTRIVIA – Clinton death, biscuits and criminal copper PC Oliver Banfield

Hillary Clinton – What was all that about?

Last night – as I have since May last year, I woke up every hour during the night with a parched dry mouth.

Twice when I woke up I was in the middle of a dream – different narrative dreams – where someone suddenly said: “Hillary Clinton’s dead!”

What was that all about?

********

At the moment, I also have occasional vertigo problems.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent, Anna Smith, wrote to say:

Two balls – “He had them indoors, en route to his loo…”

“Sorry to hear about your health problems with the balance. I think you should make sure there is nothing too weighty or sharp that you might fall upon en route to the loo.

“A friend of mine with a similar balance problem had a couple of large stone spheres on pedestals which used to be garden ornaments. He had them indoors, en route to his loo. 

“I insisted on taking them away, saying: Larry, I’m sorry but I’m removing your balls. I don’t want you getting hurt.

Anna, alas, does not say what Larry’s reaction was.

********

Keith suggests it is mucous causing my balance problem…

Ex ITV (et al) announcer Keith Martin, suggests I have a mucous disorder causing my balance problem. 

While he was at it, he also explained to me, in a non-segue, that the origin of the word ‘biscuit’ is French and it originally meant ‘baked twice’.

Who knew? Keith did.

And now the Americans have confused it all for no discernible reason.

If anything, they should be called bi-cookies

********

Criminal coppers’ cuffs (Photo by Bill Oxford via UnSplash)

Keith had read my latest blogs about the case in which criminally-inclined PC Oliver Banfield wantonly attacked and beat a woman walking home alone. 

He (Keith) suggested that the reason for the recent spate of crime committed by serving policemen (there was also Sarah Everard’s recent murder by a serving policeman) is that the police were told they had to be closer to the people they serve.

And, of course, they deal mostly with criminals.

********

This reminds me of the Stoke Newington police who were planting drugs on drug dealers not because they were frustrated by their inability to get genuine convictions but because they were getting rid of the competition – several of the officers at the local police station had a nice little – highly profitable – business going dealing drugs in the area.

Brian Sedgemore (Photo: Wikipedia)

In 1992, there was an Early Day Motion tabled in the House of Commons in unusually forthright language. I presume one of the sponsors – Brian Sedgemore, MP – had a lot to do with that. I encountered him, between his two stints as an MP, when we were both working at Granada TV in Manchester. 

The Early Day Motion on 31st January 1992 stated:

“That this House condemns those nasty, vile and corrupt police officers at Stoke Newington police station who have been engaged in drug trafficking and perverting the course of justice; is appalled that these officers should have betrayed the trust of people in Hackney in general as well as the trust of those who live in and around Sandringham Road, particularly those represented by the Montague Residents Association; notes that these officers have made a mockery of the way in which Hackney Council has co-operated with the police to get rid of drug dealing in Sandringham Road; notes that it now seems certain that at meetings and by letter Chief Superintendent Roy Clarke from Stoke Newington police station has misled the honourable Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about the true nature of the problems because he himself has been duped by his own police officers… and calls on the Home Secretary to set up an independent judicial enquiry.”

As far as I am aware, no independent judicial enquiry was set up.

********

PC Oliver Banfield (Photo: Channel 4 video)

Which brings us back to the appalling case of 6ft 2in tall copper/criminal PC Oliver Banfield attacking a random 5ft 2in woman in the street.

Banfield has now resigned from the police before he had to face a ‘misconduct investigation’ by his employers, West Midlands Police.

Sandra Smith, comedy fan par excellence who seems to have developed an interest in the PC Olver Banfield case, drew my attention to the latest media coverage of this – a Sky News report – which includes an interview with the victim – a mother-of-two – who, understandably, says:

“It’s kind of cowardly in a way, if you ask me, because I think he’s obviously hoping to make it go away… It’s affected the way I live my life; it’s affected the way I walk round the village that I’ve lived in all of my life… He’s been put on curfew (instead of a prison sentence) in a lockdown and that doesn’t make sense. We’re all on curfew so what’s he gonna learn or what’s he gonna gain from that?”

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Filed under Crime, Eccentrics, linguistics, Police

The oddity of no sex north of London

This morning my chum, writer and songstress Ariane Sherine, Tweeted about the oddity of London postcodes. 

There are SW (south west) postcodes, SE (south east), postcodes, NW (north west) ones but no NE one for north east London. That is because NE is the postcode for Newcastle.

Likewise, there are N, E and W London postcodes (north, east and west) but no S postcode, because that is used for Sheffield.

Another quirk, designed to confuse the unwary, is that the numbering of London postcodes is alphabetical, not geographical. So a postcode area 3 is not necessarily next to 2 and 4…

However, I am more interested in sex.

So, we have or had Middlesex (the central area), Wessex (ie West Sex), Sussex (South Sex), Essex (East Sex) but no North Sex, presumably because the people of Nosex eventually died out.

Apparently, in this context, ‘sex’ turns out to be an abbreviation and corruption of ‘Saxon’, which is a disappointment.

But life is full of disappointments.

I am going to have breakfast now.

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The linguistic joy of the BBC Shipping Forecasts and the soothing Share prices

The joy of Fisher, Dogger, German Bight and sweet Rockall…

Today, my eternally-un-named friend drew my attention to the online Shipping Forecast page on BBC Sounds. She told me: “I really loved listening to the Shipping Forecast. In childhood it was on in the background… Fisher, Dogger, German Bight…”

I too have fond memories of the Shipping Forecast bulletin at the end of daily transmissions on BBC Radio 4. It was and still is the must-listen-to weather forecast for anyone in the seas around the British Isles. The sea is divided into areas including Faeroes, Fair Isle, North Utsire, South Utsire and sweet Rockall.

In the good old, long-gone days of my early youth, I not only found the Shipping Forecast soothing to listen to, but even more soothing was the now sadly abandoned reading of the latest Stock Market share prices – what were considered the main ones – at the end of (I think it was) the Radio 4 Ten O’Clock News every weekday evening.

It was so relaxing to listen to abstract words and numbers without having to concentrate on their meaning. It was like someone reading you a bedtime story in a foreign language where you understood the sounds of the words but not their meanings.

Listening to Italian-language comedy has much the same effect on me. I don’t speak Italian. But I enjoy listening to the linguistic rhythm of Italian jokes which I don’t understand.

If the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had combined the sound of the Shipping Forecast and the share prices and incorporated those into his Transcendental Meditation format, who knows how the world might have been changed for the better?

Sigh.

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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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My weekly diary No 39: self-delusion, Scots pronunciation and Janey Godley

 

… CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 38

…BEWARE! OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE AHEAD…

The Komsomolskaya (Circle Line) metro station in Moscow (Photograph by A.Savin via Wikipedia)

SUNDAY 11th OCTOBER

I remember returning to Granada TV in Manchester after a trip to Moscow in the mid-1980s and saying the beautiful metro stations were only in the middle of the city.

I had gone out to the ends of a couple of metro lines where the stations were just dull concrete monstrosities and I had gone into supermarkets where there were lots of empty shelves and only one type of anything on sale; maybe only 3 types of biscuits.

 

Someone I worked with at Granada told me I had been taken in by Western propaganda about the USSR.

They had never been outside the UK.

People hold very strong second and third-hand opinions: even moreso in the new world of social media.

MONDAY 12th OCTOBER

…and the coronavirus pandemic has brought out the worst in people, has amplified and magnified their faults.

Today I mentioned to a friend one stand-up comedian who has crossed that not-so-thin line from being self-obsessed to being an uncaring cunt. It’s school bully mentality. Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility. He doesn’t care if people die provided he gets attention and people look at him.

“Insecurity triggering a self-deluding mask of invincibility” (Image by Jon Tyson, UnSplash)

I paraphrase… slightly… from March this year: “COVID isn’t real. It’s just a panic. The panic will all definitely be over in a couple of weeks. By April 6th. Because I say so… and here’s a photo of me posing in the park. Don’t I look great?”

It’s like a 16-year-old with no conscience. Reality doesn’t exist outside himself. What he says becomes the truth in his mind because he said it.

Or like Donald Trump. You just say what you want and in your own mind it becomes reality. Then, if it doesn’t happen, you say you never said it and that becomes your reality because no-one outside yourself is a real person. They’re like bits of furniture around you, not people.

 

Self-obsession creating a genuine schoolboy bully mentality. Crossing the line from self-obsessed to uncaring, self-deluded cunt.

Great on a comedy stage. Not so good in reality.

One of the best posts I saw early in the pandemic – I wish I had copied it so I know who wrote it (not anyone I actually personally knew) was to the effect of:

I thought my friend had wasted the last ten years of his life sitting around doing nothing and being a failure. How wrong I was! It turns out he must have been spending all his time at home studying epidemiology and virology to a level which puts to shame all those academics and doctors who have spent decades practising in the practical professional medical field. And now he is sharing his wisdom with us all on Facebook.

 

He is not alone. I showed the above diary entry to another comedy industry person I know to test the reaction and they thought I was describing them… I was not…

TUESDAY 13th OCTOBER

Findochty, Findockty or Finechty? (Anne Burgess, Wikipedia)

Life is full of surprises. Today I discovered my eternally-un-named-friend – to my considerable surprise – can pronounce the Scottish ‘ch’ sound correctly. Something few English people can do. For example, they mis-pronounce “Loch Ness” as “Lock Ness” and let us not even go anywhere near Auchterarder or Auchtermuchty.

The explanation seems to be that my eternally-un-named-friend, as a child, was partly brought up in Aden with an Arabic-speaking local as her childminder. A similar sound to the Scottish ‘ch’ turns up in Arabic. For example, though the English call the Gulf state Ba-rain, the locals pronounce it Bach-rain with a sound not too far from the Scottish ‘ch’ or the Welsh double-L as in Llandaff or Llanelli…

So, like me, my eternally-un-named-friend can correctly pronounce the Moray/ex-Banffshire town Findochty… even if the locals themselves pronounce it Finechty.

You can seldom second-guess the pronunciation of British place-names.

WEDNESDAY 14th OCTOBER

 

As if things could not get more bizarre in the current world of coronavirus, a BBC Location Man rang my doorbell mid-afternoon today. He was looking for a location for a forthcoming drama about an ex-SAS man and thought my house looked like somewhere an ex-SAS man would live.

Clearly the ex-SAS man in the drama must be on a downward spiral!

My next-door neighbours have the advantage of a recently-built conservatory at the back. I think I may have scuppered my dramatic chances by telling the Location Man this.

THURSDAY 15th OCTOBER

A comedian of my ken told me today that they are having a bad time in the current world of coronavirus semi-lockdown.

Always look on the bright side of life… Really… No shit…

My words of little wisdom were to suggest that, for a creative person, when things are shit, that’s the time to write it down or to pour it out onto your mobile phone voice recorder for cold creative use later.

Shit requires therapy and is raw material for creativity which is self-therapy. The act of creating can distract and distance you from the shittiness of reality by making it more abstract.

I then looked in a mirror and saw a man with his head up his own arse.

FRIDAY 16th OCTOBER

Janey Godley, Have I Got News For You & Nicola Sturgeon

My Scottish hyphenate chum Janey Godley – the stand-up comic-author-actor-Twitter star-viral YouTube sensation – appeared tonight on both BBC1’s Have I Got News For You AND, in Scotland, on the STV Children’s Appeal in which she performed a comedy sketch with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Janey has just published her latest book Frank Get The Door!

She has another book (possibly two) out next year.

Anyone who has read her jaw-dropping best-selling 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark knows that she came from abject poverty with little chance of succeeding in anything except possibly getting put in prison.

The fact that, in a single evening, she appeared on one of BBC TV’s long-established, widely-watched peaktime entertainment shows AND appeared on ITV in tandem with the political leader of Scotland is a tribute to her talent, dogged determination and increasing public popularity. And she has done it all herself.

It is also a reflection on the mindlessness of London-centric Oxbridge-educated executives and commissioners that she does not have her own TV series.

SATURDAY 17th OCTOBER

 

Showbiz, though, is full of scarcely-believable OTT life-stories.

Constance Smith – from Hollywood to homeless – a scarcely-believable OTT true life story

I stumbled on Impulse (1954) on Talking Pictures TV this week. The leading lady in this Hollywood movie was Constance Smith, an English actress I had never heard of. So I looked her up and… Wow!

For starters she was Irish, not English.

She was born in 1928, the first of 11 children, won a Hedy Lamarr lookaline beauty contest in Dublin when she was 16, got a contract with producer Darryl F. Zanuck in Hollywood…

… married British actor Bryan Forbes in 1951 and was a presenter at the 1952 Oscars. By the time her contract expired (she was sacked) in 1953, she had undergone an abortion forced on her by the studio and the first of her three marriages was on the ropes. She divorced Bryan Forbes in 1955.

As the years went on and she failed to get the parts she felt were commensurate with her abilities, she began an embittered descent into a life of drugs and alcohol.

She acted in a run of minor films in Italy between 1955 and 1959 and, during her time in Rome, she first attempted suicide by overdosing on barbiturates.

Back in Britain, in 1962, she was sentenced to three months in prison for stabbing her then boyfriend, the documentary maker and film historian Paul Rotha.

In 1968, she stabbed Rotha for a second time and was charged with attempted murder. She and Rotha married in 1974. She also tried several times again to kill herself.

Her last few decades were spent, dissipated, in and out of hospitals. When able to get herself together for brief periods, she worked as a cleaner.

 

She died in June 2003 in Islington, London, aged 75.

Some people win in Life. Some people lose.

Vīta brevis,
ars longa,
occāsiō praeceps,
Experīmentum perīculōsum,
iūdicium difficile.

Life is shit and then you die.

I just looked in the mirror again.

Yup. You guessed right. That man is still there, with his head still up his arse.

… 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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