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Posts from the ‘words’ Category

9
Mar
oxford gargoyles by Chris Creagh

5-a-Day I: Detested & Loved words

Hate is a strong word. In fact, one of my favourite aphorisms of Graham Greene (taken from his astonishing The Power and the Glory) is that “Hate was just a failure of the imagination.” It is precisely because we are all such conflicted and complex people that the hatred of individuals is such a blight – there are always extenuating circumstances (even if they are not sufficient to justify actions). Read more »

17
Jun
Václav Havel (Chris Niedenthal/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

Václav Havel’s 1978 warning to the West

I’m trying to understand power – what it means, how it’s wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I’m increasingly convinced that we can’t understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and its abuses).

This has drawn me to someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I’d only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel‘s masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth. Read more »

3
Jun
George Orwell at the BBC

Let the meaning choose the word: Orwell on political language

It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell’s Politics and the English Language (the whole essay is online), is prophetic. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay’s great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all. Read more »

16
Mar
Painted Lady on Creeping thistle

Thistles by Ted Hughes

Came across this highly evocative reflection on the archaeological secrets hidden under fields, in a sublime little book from Eland, The Ruins of Time (in their lovely Poetry of Place series).

This is what editor Anthony Thwaite has to say about it: Read more »

24
Feb
may-contain-nuts-460x300

MAY CONTAIN NUTS: Food labelling = GOOD; People labelling = NOT SO

You’ve got to label food these days. It makes sense. In these days of pre-packaged, pre-cooked food, you naturally want to know what’s in the package. So it’s a bit of a shame when it tells you you’re eating cow when all the time it’s horse. The remedy is not to ditch the label; just make sure it’s telling the truth. Labels are essential for consumer confidence and even, at times, to stay alive. For let’s face it: nuts can kill.

Read more »

29
Dec
2012-Review-Puzzle

A Cryptic Review of 2012

As another year draws to its inevitable demise, I’ve been occupying my little, rather trivial mind with trying to create a cryptic crossword to commemorate some of the big moments. Obviously, it’s not been possible to ensure that every clue is strictly relevant – but a fair number of them are. So that’s good, then. I have already spotted at least one error (though it’s more one of cryptic tightness than incorrect lettering or numbering) and no doubt the eagle-eyed will find others.

But it’s a stab – and although I say so myself, there are a handful that I’m quite pleased with. It will, therefore, no doubt bring joy and delight to countless millions. Read more »

11
Dec
Sadness - Cameron banner

When ‘sorry’ seems the most ambiguous word

Many bloggers have touched on this subject in recent years, but here’s a little thought to throw into the mix. And it all revolves around the ambiguity of language. People often exploit it, whether intentionally or not; because at the very least, such ambiguity gives us wriggle room, or even a place to hide.

I’m talking about the problem with ‘saying sorry’ Read more »

22
Nov
Picasso's 1972 Self-portrait

So Tired – some post-vote, not particularly comic, doggerel

I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of synodical votes this week. It’s all very sad, and for a whole range of reasons, and I’m frankly fearful of the future. Obviously, things can’t remain as they were. Read more »

16
Nov
no nuclear

Friday Fun 31: The Traveller’s Life lost in translation

Never one to lose the momentum of a bandwagon, here are some more great moments from Charlie Croker’s Lost in Translation. All very silly and as I said last week, very unfair.

But quite fun nonetheless.

Read more »

9
Nov
no nuclear

Friday Fun 30: Hotel Life lost in translation

Just for a change, here are a few choice quotations from this rather fun tome, Charlie Croker’s Lost in Translation. Of course, it’s never fair to make fun of people’s mistakes in a language not their own. After all, I dread to think of all the terrible errors I’ve made when speaking French.

However, it’s a slightly different matter when it happens on official signs or notices. So here are some taken from hotels around the world.

Read more »

2
Nov
churchill_1024.jpg

Friday Fun 29: Winston takes his stand on foreign place names

A real gem this week. It’s on display in the painting studio at Chartwell, Churchill’s much-loved home in Kent. I couldn’t resist getting down his points verbatim when we paid a return visit over the summer.

Read more »

12
Oct
Q's US-civil-war-amphibology

Friday Fun 27: The delights of political Amphibology

Well, the US presidential election is in its final month at last. Will any of us sleep safely in our beds again?

History has been full of people who have hedged their bets and emulated the venerable Vicar of Bray. And in smaller ways, politicians are doing it all the time. Saying things that don’t actually say too many things in case they be accused of actually saying things they don’t want to be heard actually to be saying. Read more »

31
Jul
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Context is king: the perils of dislocated sentences

Not quite sure what got me hooked on this New Yorker article (sadly the full article is behind a paywall), but I was gripped. Using linguistics to help solve crimes seems pretty counter-intuitive – but the Unabomber was caught by analysing his manifesto – as was Joyce Meyer security chief Chris Coleman who was found guilty of killing his family. Read more »

25
May
DTMP.J15.JPG

Friday Fun 20: The Poet’s Schadenfreude

Humourist, polymath and wordsmith, Clive James has written this rather glorious articulation of the Schadenfreude felt by a writer at a rival’s failures. But as the poem concludes, it is clear that, as ever, there is more than simple consolation motivates him. Read more »

11
May
John Smith

Memento Mori: Matthew Parris, The House of Commons and the 1994 Death of John Smith

John Smith MP was one of those tragic political should-have-beens. But while Leader of the Opposition riding on Labour’s 23% point lead over the Tories in 1994 and widely assumed to be Prime Minister in waiting, he died 18 years ago tomorrow from a pair of massive heart attacks. He was only 55. For those concerned with public life, it was one of those remember-what-you-were-doing-moments. But the reason for picking up on it here is that I was blown away at the time, and recalled in conversation last week, the piece written by the great Matthew Parris, at the time The Times’ Parliamentary Sketch-writer and oft-quoted by Q. Read more »

14
Oct
Bombaugh Curiosities

Friday Fun 14: Bombaugh’s The Lovers

Another outing from Bombaugh’s genius. The perils of the English past participle. It speaks for itself. Read more »

30
Sep
rowan-atkinson vicar

Friday Fun 12: An Indignant Letter to an “Impetiginous Acroyli”

It seems that church ministers are fair game and always have been. Rowan Atkinson is certainly not the first to lay into clergy as people “of such extraordinary smugness and arrogance and conceitedness who are extraordinarily presumptuous about the significance of their position in society”. Ho hum. Much of it is no doubt deserved. Read more »

8
Sep
Christopher & Lucinda Reid wedding

Christopher Reid’s A Scattering

Christopher Reid’s 2009 anthology A Scattering won many plaudits, all entirely deserved, including the overall Costa book award (which is very unusual for a book of poetry). It is an anthology of grief – poems written in the process and aftermath of Lucinda (his wife of 30 years) dying of cancer. But it is a wonderful, if deeply poignant, book. I found myself frequently shaken up and having to pause for long periods – which is precisely what the best poetry is meant to do. It’s full of beauty, humanity and above all the wonder of life. Read more »

12
Aug
texting and driving

Friday Fun 10: Who ever said text-speak was new?

It’s everywhere – you’d better get used to it. It’s a language we all must learn – both to be able to understand messages sent to us and to avoid ending up paying far too much for text messages. But the interesting thing is that the language of text-speak did not originate with the mobile phone and SMSs. It’s been around for around 150 years!

Read more »

4
Aug
reflections-on-the-thames,-westminster,-1880

“Our Flag is a union of Black and Blue” – Daljit Nagra’s Black History

Any walk along the Thames Embankment or the South Bank is bound to conjure up memories and evocations. This ancient river is observed/guarded/ignored by countless buildings created at different moments in British history: the proceeds of empire and the fates of peoples are all reflected in their facades. I came across this wonderful poem by Daljit Nagra in the last New Yorker of July. And it captures it all perfectly, far more articulately than we non-poetically-gifted mortals could manage.

Read more »

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