Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Michael Jennings on Jiaozhou Bay Bridge (aka Spaghetti Junction on Sea)
Maria Adams on Amusing cats versus important people
Brian Micklethwait on Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
6000 on Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
Simon Gibbs on Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
6000 on Painted people
Michael Jennings on Painted people
6000 on Painted people
Michael Jennings on The Mayor and the towers
Michael Jennings on T20 fun and games
Most recent entries
- Jiaozhou Bay Bridge (aka Spaghetti Junction on Sea)
- Photographing while on a skateboard
- National Theatre Boo
- Red arrow?
- James II dressed as a Roman
- Ten years ago today
- Mark Littlewood photoed by me and by this other guy
- Guardian online is a group blog that trolls its own readers
- VC DSO DSO DSO DSO
- Vauxhall bus station now – and when it was being constructed
- Painted people
- A slightly foreign part of London
- Spot the owl
- Anton Howes – James Lawson – Will Hamilton
- Happiness is a wallet that I didn’t lose after all
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6000 Miles from Civilisation
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Category archive: Language
The English language is strange.
Consider this. We’re talking football, not something we often do here, but we are.
Suppose one of us says: “Liverpool are back.” This means that Liverpool, as in the single club Liverpool, is now doing very well, and much better than they have been doing for the last couple of decades or so. Which it is. Top of the Premier League as of now.
But suppose someone says: “Liverpool is back.” It would be clear from that remark that what is meant is that the entire city of Liverpool is on the up-and-up, footballwise. And it is. Both Liverpool (the club) and Everton, the other big club in Liverpool, are doing well just now. And Everton … are.
So, “are” is singular, and “is” is plural.
In other soccer news, check out the new Spurs stadium that they are going to build, which is to be called the Naming Rights Stadium.
Prediction: Spurs will do surprisingly badly (i.e. they’ll be eleventh rather than seventh, their current default position) for the next few years. Why? Because of this syndrome.
Big Ben is the most famous Big Thing from among all the London Parliament buildings. But the other Big Thing, almost as famous, is “Victoria Tower”, by which I mean the one that’s a bit thicker than Big Ben, as tall, and with about five big spikes on top rather than just the one. Until now I had supposed that Victoria Tower was St Stephen’s Tower, but St Stephen’s Tower is another name for Big Ben. Certain wankers are fond of saying that Big Ben is really only the clock in the tower. But the rest of us long ago decided that Big Ben is Big Ben, all of it, tower, clock, the lot.
Or then again, maybe “St Stephen’s Tower” is really ”Elizabeth Tower”, because just recently they decided to call it that, instead of whatever the hell they used to be call it.
I say, screw the damn name changes imposed by the damn politicians. If everyone out here in Human World thinks that Big Ben is actually Big Ben, the clock and the tower, then I say the clock and the tower are Big Ben. Usage trumps political mucking about. What something is called is discovered, not decided from on high. Elizabeth Tower my arse. Nobody I know calls it that. Nobody I know even knows that anyone else thinks it’s that.
Here’s a bloke who says: ”It’s called St Stephen’s Tower”, and a commenter then says: “Don’t call it Big Ben”. But the test is, do you want, when talking, to be a wanker, or do you want to be understood? If you want to be understood, you’ll say Big Ben.
That Big Ben is Big Ben is a fact reinforced by all the stupid name changes flung about by the politicians. The “Big Ben is not Big Ben” tendency can now no longer agree about what Big Ben is supposed to be called instead of what it is called, so: they lose.
So anyway, forget about Big Ben. Here are two recent snaps I took of “Victoria Tower”, both of them containing other things besides the Tower in question, which is how I like to photo London’s Big Things:
In each case, the other stuff has come out very clearly, and the tower is present only as a backdrop, in one case rather too strongly lit and in the other case not strongly enough lit. But that’s the thing about these Big Things. They are totally recognisable even if they don’t come out that well. That’s almost a definition of a Big Thing.
Why the brightly lit Union Jack umbrella? Well, I just like it.
As for why I have become so fascinated by chimneys, I think I can answer that. For me, chimneys represent a, yes, fascinating staging post between the kind of purely decorative and impressive roof clutter that the Victoria Tower makes such resplendent use of, and on the other hand the entirely utilitarian roof clutter, to do with the sending and receiving of electronic information, the accommodation of lift shafts, equipment to clean windows, as such like, that prevails now. Chimneys of the sort to be seen above are both there to do a job, and yet are also shaped to look somewhat elegant. For me, chimneys of this sort are an interesting moment in architectural history.
The umbrella photo was taken from Westminster Bridge, far side of the river from Parliament, just behind the tourist crap kiosk as you cross the river going south, on the right hand side, on July 6th of last year. The chimneys photo was taken from within the Millbank Triangle, i.e. in a spot in the middle of the triangle with, as its edges: Victoria Street, Vauxhall Bridge Road and the river, on December 12th of last year.
By the way, “Victoria Tower”, as I have been calling it, has sneer quotes attached because that used to be called “The King’s Tower”, but They (sneer capital T) renamed that in honour of Queen fucking Victoria. No wonder nobody has any idea what to call the fucking thing.
I seem to have turned into The Devil’s Kitchen.
I often cheat about timings of late night postings, by doing them in the very early morning and then subtracting enough time to time them at just before midnight. Perhaps you’ve noticed. You may even have got very slightly angry. This began when I was writing, just after midnight, about something had just been to, and wanted to put “earlier this evening” rather than “last night”. Last night is until you have gone to bed, no matter when. Today starts when you wake up, not at midnight last night. By this somewhat foul but on-the-whole fair reckoning, I have managed to post something-every-day-however-crap for the last several months.
But last-night-stroke-this-morning I was unable even to do this, because from 0:24am exactly until around 4am-ish (guess), earlier “today”, i.e. last night, brianmicklethwait.com was out of action, which meant that not only couldn’t anyone read it, but that I couldn’t post to it.
It being so late, I couldn’t politely ring The Guru, but I did email him, and he emailed me back at once. It turned out that he was even then Working On It. (Something to do with changing IP addresses, for some reason or other.) He was even able to tell me, with a second email, exactly when the problem had begun, which I hadn’t known.
Anyway, my basic point is: sorry.
“Sorry” is one of the most complicated words in the English language, especially here in England. Sorry is by no means the hardest word to say, in England. We say it constantly, to mean any number of apologetic and non-apologetic things. So make of this sorry whatever you will.
They were both as pristine and polished as life-size dolls recently removed from their cellophane boxes; rich-girl thin, almost hipless in their tight jeans, with tanned faces that had a waxy sheen especially noticeable on their foreheads, their long, gleaming dark manes with centre partings, the ends trimmed with spirit level exactitude.
I claim no expertise in the matter of the differences between male and female writers, but might not paragraphs like that have caused suspicions that “Robert Galbraith” was really a woman, even if the information had not been revealed on the front cover? It’s the detail. The waxy foreheads, the centre partings, trimmed like that. I don’t think a man would have gone into quite such detail, nor - in this age of male timidity about being anti-female – been as wonderfully rude about it.
I could be imagining all that. I don’t read much fiction by men either, and maybe the best men writers are just as exact about the women they describe and can be just as rude when doing it. And maybe most women writers would not refer to a spirit level in such a context. Really, I just liked it.
I’m reading Boris Johnson’s book about London. It’s good fun. I don’t know how much Boris is to be trusted about things like historical facts, but I doubt it is that bad, even though he is a politician.
The thing is, for years I’ve been looking for a brief history of London, but all the others seem to be too long, and too solemn, or worse, they exude literary pretension. I think I own this book, but have never been inclined to read it.
I’ve just finished the Chaucer chapter. I hadn’t realised quite what a swell Chaucer was. Him writing in English was a rather generous - or maybe rather patronising - gesture from a man whose first language was Norman French. It was during his lifetime that English supplanted French as England’s language. Johnson mentions the Black Death, of course, but not one of my pet theories about the Black Death, which is that the Black Death actually helped to cause English to take over, by killing half the royal administrators, who then had all to be replaced, because clearly the bureaucracy couldn’t get any smaller. That would be against the laws of everything. So, what remained of the teaching profession was sucked into the bureaucracy. At which point the English turned to home education. Guess in which language. But I digress.
I am greatly looking forward to reading about the time of the English Civil War, and then the stuff about John Wilkes, who is someone I keep hearing about but have never really got to grips with. I anticipate a good, quick, potted biography. I am expecting the arguments swirling around Wilkes to be a bit like those that now rage around the figure of Edward Snowden.
The book passes my basic test, which is that having started it, I find that I want to finish it. I am reading the book, despite merely needing to read other books.
In the shop (a remainder shop), I read the beginnings of the chapter on Shakespeare, and bought it on the strength of that. You can buy it for £2.82.
The weather today has been particularly vile. Rain and wind in a horrid combination, far worse even than the day I took the first of these two pictures, of three of London’s Big Things. So here, to cheer me up, is a picture of the same Big Things, from a bit nearer, and in nicer weather, taken in July:
These Big Things, in this random clump, fascinate me. Architects have obsessed about the aesthetics of each individual Thing, but seem to have paid no attention at all to how they will look in a group. They are just plonked down next to each other, like a child playing with bricks.
Well, it may be a bizarre aesthetic jumble, but partly because of this, no other city on earth has anything quite like it.
What is particularly unique about London’s Big Things is that they are funny. They are tongue-in-cheek. They’re havin’ a larf.
The names – affectionate rather than grandiose – reflect this air of comedy. Gherkin. Cheesegrater. Walky-Talky. These names are chosen by the people of London, not imposed upon us by our rulers.
I notice that in this posting, about Maggie Thatcher telling Botha to get rid of Apartheid in 1984, Guido uses the phrase “Comrade Blimp”.
I like to think I may have put this meme into his head, with this, which was published in 1984. (If I don’t link to my ancient writings, nobody will.) But then again, maybe in 1984, the phrase was already doing the rounds, and I merely plucked it out of the breeze myself. Or maybe he said it first, and I stole it from him.
Either way, it’s good, I think.
And not just any old telly. BBC1, The One Show, no less, watched by millions. I was and I am impressed. Watch Elena Procopiu in action 25m30s into it, here, while it’s still there. (For future reference, this was on Tuesday December 3rd.)
Elena was born in Romania and did a piece to camera about Romania and about Romanians in England, entirely in a Romanian accent until right at the end, when she said in her regular English voice that lots of Romanians have been here for years. Many Romanians have already seen this performance, on the www. Some, who missed the bit at the end, were surprised that someone who has been in England for so long still has such a strong Romanian accent. None said that the Romanian accent was not a proper Romanian accent, which is not that easy to get exactly right, if you no longer have such an accent.
Like the space in an Elizabethan court masque that the performers left for the courtiers themselves to step forward and take part, today everyone needs to work out how to create a stage on which the constellation of divas formerly known as the audience will strike their own pose.
That’s to be found under this headline:
The Long View: Bob Dylan and the selfie: The world’s now a stage and we’re all performing
And under this photo:
Are yes, selfies. Says Sidwell, re this new word:
Even as I cling to my old-fashioned desire to take photographs of the things that I see, “selfie” – the new nickname for a photographic self-portrait – has been declared Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year, following a 17,000 per cent increase in usage year-on-year.
I have been long been studying this phenomenon. We may not have had the word “selfie” in 2007, but there were already many, many people doing selfies:
That being one of my all time favourites from my selfies archive.
LATER: Incoming from Michael Jennings:
Taken, says Michael, on a ferry between Greece and Albania in July.
Last night, at Chateau Samizdata, I and all others present drank this:
Until last night I did not know that there was any such thing. Well, I knew there was Sauvignon Blanc, but not called that.
Sadly, I failed to properly include the hippo at the top of the label on the left, but you can see plenty of the hippos here, because of course there is a website and you can read all about it.
Clever marketing, I think. The real wine buffs will like it, if they like it, regardless of the name. “Oh yes, it’s actually rather good, you know” blah blah. And the wine unbuffs like me will like it too, because it’s a laugh, and a bit of a tease of wine buffs of the sort who expect wine not to be called such a thing. So, win win.
Today being Remembrance Sunday, but not having got out and about during it, I instead looked for Remembrance photos past, and came across the archive containing these.
I was struck by one in particular, in which we see the phrase “To All Our Heroes” inscribed on a cross with a poppy on it. That word “heroes” makes me slightly uneasy, especially in the plural. Were they all heroes? Similarly, the way all these dead are so often described as having “given” their lives for freedom, or for their country, or whatever. It must surely be more accurate to say that many of these men were victims, and that their lives were taken from them. It might be rather insulting to describe them thus in public displays honouring their memory, but maybe more accurate.
The cross on which the word “heroes” is inscribed is surely rather more accurate, as a description of what really happened, to most of these dead. I do not deny that there were indeed many heroes, in all these wars. But surely, for most, war, and death in war, were things they endured. That is a kind of heroism, of course, but is not quite what is usually meant by the word.
I lost an uncle in World War 2, although it happened before I was born. He was the victim of a training accident. I respectfully mourned him from time to time throughout my childhood and have gone on doing so ever since. But there was nothing especially heroic about his death, and that has just seemed to me to be yet further cause for sadness. Many times I wished that Uncle John had died heroically, if he had to die at all. But, he did not die heroically. War is like that.
The cross seems to me to be a somewhat more accurate representation of what happened to these countless men than does the word “hero”. This was surely more like a catastrophe which swallowed people up, in the manner of a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a flood or a fire. Some who suffer or die in the course of events like that are very properly called heroes, because they did indeed behave, and perhaps die, heroically. Most, however, are merely described as victims. No disrespect is intended with that label, and I intend no disrespect in suggesting that many of these war heroes were really just war victims. Their deaths are no less worthy of being remembered and reflected upon, merely because we describe their deaths that bit more accurately.
A lot hinges on whether you consider the fights and wars that all these dead people died in were worth it. There is something inherently somewhat unheroic about dying in a fight that could not accomplish anything good. Part of being a true hero is that you choose the fight in which you will risk and perhaps lose your life, and that you choose it well.
If anything in the above angers you in any way, the chances are that this is because I didn’t say it right. I’m trying to say something that is somewhat hard to pin down, and maybe said it wrongly. I am not trying to say anything demeaning or disrespectful, either towards the dead themselves, or towards the feelings of those who still, like me, mourn them.
Incoming from Michael Jennings:
But, you know what they mean.
Michael, where are you? Or rather, where were you when you took this? (You will presumably be somewhere entirely different by the time you read this.) Georgia was it? Moldova? Az ...something? Something-istan? I think he did say.
Anyway, good luck with the hydro power guys. Dam I love hydro-electricity. Sorry, I have been out, and there was drink.
TIL that TIL stands for “Today I learned”.
I was trying to understand this posting, about big cats. 6000 says big cats are lazy, and that he has the photos to prove it.
My understanding is that it’s big male cats that are the lazy ones. Their bitches, or whatever is the proper expression for female felines, work far harder.
Alas, not that kind of bouncer.
My friend Alex Singleton dropped by the other day. He often does, after or between appointments that bring him near to my home. He has a blog, which I recommend, and Alex himself recommends blogging as a good way to spread ideas or sell products. I sort of knew Alex had a blog for a quite a while, but did not really register this fact. I am now digging backwards, and finding things like this, from someone called Harold Burson:
The term communications has become synonymous with PR but this does a disservice to our profession by making it tactical … The best term for what we do is public relations.
I recently read a book where “PR” meant photo reconnaissance throughout. It described a different world entirely from ours, in which misdirected photographic efforts could easily cost your your life. But yes, good to encounter someone who is not ashamed of what he does.
Too few practitioners have even heard of the legendary figures of PR, such as Ivy Lee and Sir Basil Clarke, let alone read about them. But it does mean that those who put the time in to study how PR works – practically, not academically – quickly shine.
That’s Alex himself. There are, throughout his blog, regular references to and quotes from old dead guys, another who is frequently mentioned being David Ogilvy. Why reinvent the wheel? A particular theme of Alex’s thinking is that the new social media don’t render all the wisdoms of the PR and advertising past obsolete.
I like how Alex writes. He prefers short and clear sentences to longer and wafflier ones, clear words to the vaguer words so loved by PR-ists. Everything he writes exudes confidence in his ability to help enterprise do their PR better. Which would explain why he is not afraid to have as his latest posting an admiring piece about Rudolf Flesch. Quote:
Flesch writes: “while we don’t need so many words any more to express our thoughts, the words we do use carry a much heavier load of ideas… as far as ideas are concerned, our sentences are usually much longer and fuller than those people wrote two or three centuries ago”.
The danger, he says, is that “our more heavy-handed writers don’t care much for the modern short sentence either; and so we get prose that consists of overlong sentences packed to the brim with long, overloaded words”.
And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with so much material that comes out of big organisations today.
You don’t put stuff like that up if you fear that your earlier postings will then be scoured by envious rivals, successfully, for great gobs of longwinded nonsense.
Alex, just like all these old dead guys, dresses smartly, as he explains in this posting, i.e. more smartly than he did in this photo of him (by me with me also in it) here. I particularly like that one.
Talking with Alex also helped me to think through an enterprise of my own that I am now contemplating. He supplied some very helpful ideas about how I could do this more easily and effectively.