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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Category archive: Language

Monday April 07 2014

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.

Very singular.

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.

Saturday April 05 2014

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:

image image

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.

Thursday April 03 2014

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.

Wednesday March 12 2014

From The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling (already mentioned here on Monday), p. 172:

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.

Tuesday January 07 2014

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.

Monday December 23 2013

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:

image

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.

Sunday December 08 2013

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.

Thursday December 05 2013

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.

Friend on telly
Sidwell (and me) on selfies
Fat bastard!
Heroes?
Hampers can be annoying
TIL
Monty Panesar: “I piss on your short pitched fast deliveries aimed at my body!”
The Alex Singleton blog
The right sentences but not necessarily in the right order
There are cranes and there are cranes
BMdotCOM mixed metaphor of the day
So painters also used to “take” pictures
The ups and downs of English
Kissa yrittää mennä laatikkoon
Literally the light switch of leadership
BMdotCOM Headline of the week
Thrashing India
Choosing a Clean Food Outlet in Lawas is as easy as ABC
Emmanuel Todd’s latest book - in English
Misspelt (correction: Italian) signs of the times
Multilingual signage
Excellent new word
Pronouncing on the Six Nations
BM.com quote of the day
More signage
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom spam comment spelling mistake of the day
The Humpty Dumpty Learning Channel
Obamanomics dod not work
English will not last for ever shock
Another strangely punctuated headline and a depressing television play
K Street - metonym - synecdoche
To Serve Man
Reading various bits of Roger Kimball
I flipping told him
Brian Sickle-feather?
Sounds like a brothel with film star lookalikes
One of the many signs of aging
BrianMicklethwaitDotCom modified cliche insult of the day
Stepping forward into the abyss!
Old-school media versus (or becoming) new-school media (again)
All your Quite Interesting questions answered
What a difference a g makes
Spelling Micklethwait wrong and Googling for Brian Micklethwaite
Inappropriate?
Long platform ticket
I am not drunk - I just didn’t know what to put so I just started
Some neologistics
Excellent mixed metaphor
I need to get out less
“I will cause a boy that driveth a plough to know more of the scriptures than thou dost.”
Metaphor muddle alert
Brought?
Today I have been blogging elsewhere and also doing other things
Computer blues
Signs of civilisation
It’s true what they say about how hard it is to pronounce Chinese – oh beansprouts!
New word alert
Robots will transform education
On the appeal or lack of it to Young Europeans of “capitalism”
When inimitable means very imitable
Today I ate something that disagreed with me
Refuting decimation