Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Government Minister seeks to change the English Language

According to a report in The Grauniad, the Department for Transport has issued a five page document offering grammatical advice for civil servants and MPs. Given that many of them are barely literate, this is long overdue. However, the quality of the advice proffered is open to question. For example, the guide states that the word ‘firstly’ should not appear anywhere other than the start of a sentence. The word ‘firstly’ should not appear at all! Rather, the word ‘first’ should be used.

The newspaper article claims that Canny Linguist's MP, Theresa Villiers, the Minister for Transport, has forbidden the use of the words ‘whilst’ and ‘with regards to’ within her department. CL has written to Ms Villiers seeking confirmation of the report.

Whilst MPs are, of course, entitled to their views on language usage, CL was not aware that Orwell's prophecy with regards to ‘newspeak’ formed part of the Coalition agreement. This situation is reminiscent of the attempt by former Prime Minister, Tony B Liar, to have Latin words such as ‘writ’ and ‘habeas corpus’ removed from our vocabulary.

English is a rich and diverse language, constantly changing, with some words falling out of favour through natural evolution. However, when politicians start dictating which words can and cannot be used, it is a clear sign that democratic civilisation has formally ended.

Monday, 12 December 2011

The secret ingredient?

Hot on the heels of Cock Soup, now comes a range of products made with…er Aborigines. Unless the manufacturer has developed a food range suitable for cannibals, perhaps they should fire their advertising proof reader? Once again, a salutary reminder for writers not to rely on spill chuckers.

(Click on image to enlarge)

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Harry Potter and the Universal Translator

Canny Linguist has just taken delivery of the complete 8 film DVD box set chronicling the adventures of Mr Harold Potter and his chums. A £20 bargain from Amazon (less 5% student discount). The Met Office has predicted a mild winter which means, of course, that we need to batten down the hatches and stock up on movies to while away those winter evenings.

Due to the preponderance of the incidental music, and the tendency of modern film stars to mumble their lines, CL often watches DVDs with the subtitles turned on. He was interested, therefore, to note the language choices available to him:

English, Arabic, Greek, Icelandic, German, Hebrew, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Romanian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Russian.

Most of the DVDs are also dubbed into other languages which means you can, for example, watch the film in Russian and follow with English subtitles. What a brilliant way to learn a new language!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Scabs and cu*ts: the language of choice for swivel-eyed Trots

Warning: this blogpost contains very strong language which some readers may find offensive.

The English Language is rich and colourful, especially in the choice of words we use to insult each other with.

Citizen Barnet, a left wing blogger, recently posted an article entitled: Support the pensions strikes! Don't scab!

According to the Cambridge University on-line dictionary, a scab is defined as: "an insulting word for a person who continues working while other people in the organization are on strike."

Citizen Barnet, aka VickiM57, admitted that she doesn’t actually like the word but used it anyway because “that’s the word people use.” As Catherine Tate’s Gran would say, what a load of old shit! There are countless alternative and polite ways of describing people who choose not to go on strike. The word ‘scab’ is clearly designed to be offensive in order to intimidate those not willing to be pushed around by left wing militant thugs. VickiM57 used the word ‘scab’ deliberately and without remorse.

It is somewhat ironic that a few days earlier, the loony left in Barnet were complaining about offensive remarks made by Conservative Councillor John Hart at a public meeting. Cllr Hart was undoubtedly wrong to mimic and mock a member of the public, but that didn’t stop the hypocrites of the left in using offensive language themselves when it came to criticising their opponents.

Which brings us on to the Jeremy Clarkson incident. Clarkson suggested that public sector strikers should be “taken out and executed”. This was self evidently intended as a joke, but the excerpt repeated by some sections of the media was taken out of context because it did not include his comment leading up to the now infamous remark in which he had given his support to the strikers.

There cannot be anyone on the planet who does not realise that Clarkson frequently makes similarly provocative comments simply to create a reaction. If you don’t like what he has to say, or the way that he says it, you don’t have to listen to him. But the swivel eyed Trots simply cannot bear the thought of anyone expressing an opinion that is contrary to their deluded and misguided belief system.

Former Daily Mirror Editor, Piers Moron, posted a Tweet calling Clarkson a “nasty little twerp”.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. Moron is an odious turd and quite possibly the only human being on the planet who proves that even controversial councillor Brian Coleman has some redeeming features.

Canny Linguist tweeted about the hypocrisy of those who attacked Clarkson’s choice of words but were happy to use offensive language themselves. Citizen Barnet took umbrage at this, complaining that she had not hitherto given her views about “that cunt Clarkson”.

She subsequently Tweeted that the ‘cunt’ comment was only a joke.

Fair enough, but it does rather prove CL’s point. People with right wing views are not allowed to make jokes. That’s the preserve of the loony left who conveniently forget that freedom of speech includes the right to be provocative.

These militants simply cannot bear the fact that the majority of people in this country do not share their deluded views, and they will use whatever language they can to try and denigrate, belittle or humiliate their opponents. They care not that we have been driven to the verge of bankruptcy by Gordon Brown and his rabid economic policies. They think that money grows on the tree at the bottom of the garden. They refuse to accept that we cannot have what we cannot afford. They are quite happy to force our children and grandchildren into a life of penury, simply so that they can continue to receive unaffordable and unfunded pensions which are not available to the majority of workers in the private sector.

For ten years and more we borrowed money to gorge ourselves on cheap goods from China. Is it any wonder that we are now broke and have no manufacturing base to speak of? Our ancestors knew that you had to earn money before you could spend it. We must now reap what we have sewn. The austerity measures will be painful, of that there is no doubt, but we have had the good times and now they must be paid for.

The pensions crisis has been looming for generations as life expectancy continues to increase at a rapid rate. Successive governments have ignored this problem for short term political expediency. It cannot be ignored any longer. If the left refuse to understand this simple concept, they won’t need to be taken out and shot. We will all die from poverty instead.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

We have ways of making you laugh!

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under attack for his recent attempt at an Australian accent. According to the Daily Torygraph, the attempted impersonation of Australian PM Julia Gillard is being described by some as a diplomatic insult.

It is not the first time that Mr Cameron’s impersonation skills have been called into question. In 2009, he attempted a German accent in a discussion about ID cards.

Of course, these two examples pale into insignificance when compared to David Cameron’s quite horrendous impersonation of a Conservative MP.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Hard to swallow?

The secret ingredient doesn’t bear thinking about!

This soup is made in Jamaica. The salutary lesson for manufacturers is always to check whether your product needs to be renamed for overseas markets where seemingly innocuous words often have a different meaning.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Drat! Spiffing old words dying out.

A report in the Daily Telegraph claims that many English words are dying out due to the popularity of texting.

Click here for the full story - although it's probably balderdash.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Where I have and have not been

I have been in many places, but I've never been in Cahoots. Apparently, you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone.

I've also never been in Cognito. I hear no one recognises you there. I have, however, been in Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family and work.

I would like to go to Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on physical activity anymore. I have also been in Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit there too often.

I've been in Flexible, but only when it was very important to stand firm. Sometimes I'm in Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older.

One of my favourite places to be is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Four and twenty virgins

Once upon a time it was claimed that rugby was a game for hooligans, played by gentlemen. Inappropriate behaviour was confined to the signing of lewd songs such as this:
Four and twenty virgins came down from Inverness,
And when the ball was over there were four and twenty less…
The composer of this ditty was clearly not a linguist. Four and twenty less? Four and twenty fewer!

Can anyone think of a place name that rhymes with fewer?

Monday, 3 October 2011

Pinker joins the ranks of loopy linguists

Canny Linguist has a very low opinion of Noam Chomsky, considered by many to be a linguistic genius.

In the late 1950s, Chomsky developed his innateness hypothesis which promulgated the concept of a genetic disposition to acquire language. This innate ability is widely referred to as the Language Acquisition Device. However, students of classical Greek philosophy will recognise that Chomskian theory is, in fact, based on work by Socrates who, through a series of experiments, demonstrated how a young slave was able to solve a geometric problem despite not ever having been taught geometry.

Taking the credit for someone else’s research is not new, but CL’s real issue with Chomsky is the latter’s abhorrent political views. Or, rather, the way that Chomsky seeks to intellectualise every issue, and belittle and vilify anyone who dares to hold a contrary position.

Which leads us on to Steven Pinker, another renowned linguist. Pinker has won considerable praise for his numerous books on language, written in a style accessible to linguists, students and the general public. In his latest book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ he argues that, contrary to popular belief, society has become less violent over time. Statistics are used to support his theory; for example 150,000 Iraqi deaths compared to 2 million in Vietnam. Atrocities such as the Nazi Holocaust are merely statistical blips. Well, that’s all right then.

When interviewed by Tony Allen-Mills for the Sunday Times, Pinker explained that the reason we mere mortals are prone to challenge his book’s rather startling conclusion is simply because we do not understand the facts of the matter. He is a very clever man, don’t you know, and, unlike us, he has studied this subject in great detail.

Pinker is, of course, entitled to his opinion but once academics start claiming that non-academics cannot possibly understand the argument, it is a sign that perhaps it is they who do not understand. Not every question can be answered by mere statistical analysis.

Watching the current BBC series on Language with Stephen Fry, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that he, too, has become consumed by hubris as he pontificates in an insufferably pompous and patronising manner.

CL wonders whether there is something about the study of linguistics in particular which makes people say stupid things. If so, will that be a valid excuse if his next English essay fails to meet the mark?!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Don’t Hari back

Disgraced journalist Johann Hari, who has now apologised for his acts of plagiarism - and finally admitted the wanton alteration of his opponents’ Wikipedia entries - is taking a leave of absence from The Independent newspaper in order to enrol on a journalism training course. Hopefully not the same one attended by Andy Coulson.

As he left the paper, a contrite Hari said: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.” (Are you sure about this? Ed.)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Can you read this?

This is a newer version of something that's been around for quite some time. If you can read it, you have a strong mind.

7H15 M355463 53RV35 70 PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1N6 7H1N65! 1MPR3551V3 7H1N65!

1N 7H3 B361NN1NG 17 W45 H4RD BU7 N0W, 0N 7H15 L1N3 Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1N6 17 4U70M471C411Y W17H 0UT 3V3N 7H1NK1N6 4B0U7 17, B3 PR0UD! 0N1Y C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R34D 7H15. R3 P057 1F U C4N.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The language of politics

Once upon a time, wicked meant evil. Nowadays it means that something is really cool, and cool is the word commonly used to describe something previously considered to be hot.

It is a simple fact of life that language is constantly evolving with words acquiring new meanings all the time. Nowhere is this more readily apparent than in the world of politics.

As a helpful guide to linguists, below is a list of common phrases used by politicians with a translation using modern terminology. Please feel free to add your own examples.

“Good morning, I am a Liberal Democrat” means “Good morning, I am a pathological liar”

“Trust me” means “Run for the hills”

“We have no plans to….” means “We have every intention of…”

“We will give power back to the people” means “We will transfer power from Whitehall civil servants to unelected Town Hall officers”

“We’re all in this together” means “You’re all in this together”

“It’s time to stop playing politics” means “My opponent is right”

“We will have a full and thorough public consultation” means “We will kick the issue into the long grass for a few months and then carry out our plans as intended”

“I'm a conviction politician” means “I will say whatever you want to hear as long as you vote for me”

Sunday, 7 August 2011

How language transformed humanity


Biologist Mark Pagel shares an intriguing theory about why humans evolved our complex system of language. He suggests that language is a piece of "social technology" that allowed early human tribes to access a powerful new tool: cooperation.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Profanity filter cock-up

The Barnet Times uses a profanity filter on its web site to prevent the posting of obscene language. Fair enough, you might think. But what constitutes obscene language?

Earlier today, a message was posted on their web site which included the phrase ‘cock-up’. This was redacted by the software and published as ****-up.

The Cambridge University Press on-line dictionary defines cock-up simply as: “something that is done wrong or badly”. According to “The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words” published by the BBC:

“…the phrase ‘cock-up’ might appear to have come about in a similar way to ‘balls-up’, its origins are actually in beer making. If the batch went bad, they turned the cock (i.e. tap, or faucet) up to drain the barrel.”
Leaving aside the question of whether the word ‘cock’ in this context was obscene, it is clear that profanity filters are of limited use. The substitute word ‘kok’ was accepted by the newspaper’s software. Changing a few letters will beat the filters without detracting from the intended meaning.

This was exemplified in the classic Monty Python ‘Travel Agent’ sketch featuring Eric Idle as a customer with a speech impediment, which made him pronounce the letter ‘c’ as ‘b’. Upon realising that he could substitute the letter ‘k’ instead, he declared: “what a silly bunt!”

Unfortunately, the BBC cut this line from the broadcast version, although it is included in the album Monty Python's Previous Record.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Award for Chomsky critic

The British Academy has awarded the 2011 Wiley prize to American developmental psychologist, Professor Dr Michael Tomasello.

Professor Tomasello also works on child language development and is a strong critic of the generative grammar theory, expounded by Noam Chomsky, subscribing instead to the cognitive linguistics school of linguistic theory.

This blog is an ardent supporter of anyone who can trash Chomskian theory!

IVF children develop language skills faster than ‘unplanned’ babies

The British Medical Journal has published findings of a report:
“To investigate how pregnancy planning, time to conception, and infertility treatment influence cognitive development at ages 3 and 5.”
The results suggest that children conceived through fertility treatment start school with language skills up to 8 months more advanced than children born after unplanned pregnancies.

“Twitter Ye Not” says James Bond’s boss

Dame Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, claims that Twitter is stopping children from reading. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, she says:
“I think much of the Twittering and e-mailing and texting and all that sort of stuff that children go in for now may be taking their eyes off reading fiction. When I was young we read more than the average child reads now.”
Twitter requires users to compose messages of 140 characters or less and, arguably, this teaches people the value of succinctness - a trait I have yet to master! However, a beautifully crafted piece of prose is an art form in itself and if we wish to encourage future generations of writers, we must also encourage children to read more books.

Take note any councillor who thinks that closing libraries is a good idea. Your actions will lead to the destruction of humanity.

The South North divide

Bill Cosby has difficulty understanding a Southerner's accent, especially when she tries to explain that North is 90 miles South-East of Due West!

Mancs Go Home!

According to the Manchester Evening News, staff at Selfridges have been banned from saying “hi ya”, “see ya” and “cheers” to customers, as these phrases are considered unprofessional and too Northern.


Sunday, 24 July 2011


BBC Radio 2 DJ, Simon Mayo, discusses plurals with Dr Peter Jones, MBE, founder of the Friends of Classics website.

Friday, 15 July 2011

BBC English

An article on the BBC website states:
It comes after Neil Wallis, ex-News of the World executive editor, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications on Thursday morning.
Presumably the BBC meant to say that Mr Wallis was arrested on Thursday morning, not that he conspired to intercept communications that day.

A simple comma after the word ‘communications’ would have obviated the need for this blogpost.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Spelling mistakes ‘cost millions’ in lost sales

In an article on the BBC website, businessman Charles Duncombe claims that poor spelling on websites can cut sales in half, and costs the UK millions in lost revenue. However, his claims are based on the analysis of the sales figures for just one web site whose revenue per customer was doubled following the correction of a spelling mistake.

Even if there is evidence to prove that it was the spelling mistake which led to the lower sales for this company, it is entirely reckless to make a statistical analysis of the entire UK on-line economy based on just one website.

How does Duncombe know that the sales were permanently lost to the UK economy? Drawing statistical conclusions from a miniscule sample size is just as heinous a crime as poor spelling.

Hat-tip to @SueWalder for the link to the You Tube clip below on the the impotence of proofreading.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

David Crystal Lecture

Professor David Crystal delivers a lecture at the English Speaking Union about the relationship between the King James Bible and evolution of the English language since 1611.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Claire’s grammar faux pas

Retail store Claire’s Accessories is currently running a ‘3 for 2’ promotion at a number of its stores. The normal convention for such offers is that you pay for the most expensive two items and the cheapest is free. Most retailers will explain this, in a very simple form of words such as “Cheapest item free”. You can’t make it any easier to understand than that.

But some clever bod in Claire's marketing department has decided to reinvent the wheel. The sign in the window says “Buy 3 items and the third lowest item is free”. Third lowest? The third lowest out of three is the most expensive. Poor punctuation and bad grammar changes the intended meaning. Fortunately for Claire’s, their average customer is unlikely to notice, given that grammar is rarely taught in schools any more, like what it used to be.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


The Twittersphere has been in overdrive today following revelations that Socialist journalist Johann Hari has been passing off other people’s words as his own. He has been caught red-handed cutting and pasting comments from a book whilst giving his readers the erroneous impression that he obtained the quotations directly from his interviewees.

Hari explains the reason for this subterfuge on his website:
So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.
There is nothing wrong in using extracts from a subject interviewee’s book, but the normal convention when quoting from a printed source is to reference that source. Failure to do so is plagiarism. Students who fail to cite their sources in academic work risk expulsion from their course, but Hari sees nothing wrong with his approach. He writes:
I’m a bit bemused to find one blogger considers this “plagiarism”. Who’s being plagiarized? Plagiarism is passing off somebody else’s intellectual work as your own – whereas I’m always making it clear that (say) Gideon Levy’s thought is Gideon Levy’s thought.
The problem with this crock-of-shit argument is that it is fundamentally dishonest to suggest that someone told you something, when they did nothing of the sort.

According to Private Eye, it seems that the truth and Johan Hari are not happy bedfellows. They first reported of his problems with the actualité in 2003. Given that Hari has profited from his blatant and unattributed use of other people’s work, there is an arguable case that this goes beyond mere plagiarism. Taking something that belongs to someone else, without their knowledge or consent, is theft.

Update 29.06.11: Johan Harri has apologised for his actions. However, it appears to be through gritted teeth rather than a heartfelt mea culpa. Tim Worstall at Forbes Magazine remains unimpressed.

The Write Stuff

Former Daily Telegraph Associate Editor Simon Heffer was widely mocked for his often pedantic view with regard to spelling and grammar, but there is a substantial difference between lightning and lightening. Someone should tell the Ham & High!

Update: The Ham&High reporter has Tweeted an apology for her spelling mistake. The almost perfect Mrs Angry made the same mistake, so the journalist is in good company.

In fairness, and lest I be accused of hypocrisy, it was an easy mistake to make. Last year, for an academic piece of work, I wrote ‘principle’ instead of ‘principal’. The lesson learned from this was:

a) do not rely on your computer’s spill chucker

b) ask someone else to proof read your work before you publish it.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

It’s the way you tell ‘em

Karl Stefanovic from the Australian ‘Today’ show tries to tell a joke to the Dalai Lama, but it backfires. A simple lesson that words do not always translate literally from one language to another.

Bohemian Rhapsody

In a recent poll, listeners to BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs voted Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody as their favourite pop song.

Many bands have covered this song over the years. Perhaps the most original version is by the Finnish street band Porkka Playboys who perform from inside a rusty Volkswagen Polo!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

War on clichés

An interesting article has appeared in The Independent about a journalist’s war against clichés, which is still going forward at the present time.

Thanks to Mr Reasonable for the hat-tip.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Link found between spending on libraries and student learning

Research carried out by Mansfield University, Pennsylvania has concluded that children receive better grades if their schools increase spending on library provision. This is important in the light of continuing attempts by local authorities to cut library services to save money. However, for most people, the findings will be nothing more than a statement of the bleedin’ obvious.

Download the research findings here.


Former US Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin was widely mocked for her use of the word ‘refudiate’ in a debate over a proposed Mosque near the Ground Zero site in New York. However, to demonstrate that language is constantly evolving, the word has now been included in the Oxford American Dictionary.

Hat-tip to Mr Reasonable.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Tony Blair ain’t bovvered!

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair claims he was not offended at being omitted from the guest list for the Royal Wedding. Just as he wasn’t offended at being snubbed for the EU Presidency, presumably.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Official: Middlesex University isn’t crap.

Middlesex University has been awarded the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise. According to the Barnet Times, the award was given for “outstanding achievement in international trade and is a reflection of the university’s commercial success”.

In 2004, rent-a-gob Tory councillor Brian Coleman described Middlesex University as “crap”. Middlesex had applied for permission to expand the Trent Park campus in Southgate, leading Coleman to remark: “Why should the people of north London suffer in order to attract hundreds of foreign students? They are such a crap university they only attract foreign ones.”

Four years later, Middlesex awarded Coleman an honorary degree, apparently for his ‘outstanding’ commitment to the community. One can only assume that the University was being ironic. Nevertheless Coleman accepted the award, despite the obvious hypocrisy in so doing. But whilst he is renowned for being obnoxious and outspoken, he is not known for turning down a reception where free canapés are on offer.

Hopefully, Middlesex will continue to win many more such awards in the coming years, proving once again how detached Brian Coleman is from reality.

Nick Clegg. The lying liar who lies.

Nick Clegg has accused Prime Minister David Cameron of lying in the debate over the electoral reform referendum. Would this be the same Nick Clegg who promised to vote against any increase in university tuition fees before the General Election last year, only to agree to triple the cost once his grubby mitts were on the reigns of power?

The LibDems came third in the election, yet now hold the balance of power. Under AV, this nightmare scenario will be repeated at every election, irrespective of whether Labour or the Conservatives win the largest number of seats. Unless you enjoy seeing odious liars like Clegg in office, vote No on May 5th!

Friday, 15 April 2011

The evolution of language

According to an interesting article in current edition of The Economist, languages all have their roots in the same part of the world, but they are not as similar to each other as was once thought.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Oxford Debate

Prime Minister David Cameron has been widely criticised for his idiotic and erroneous claim that only one black student was admitted to Oxford University in 2009.

Typically, however, the Gruaniad has widened the ensuing debate to include the ‘disproportionate’ number of undergraduates at our leading universities who were educated in the private sector.

Universities must be allowed to set their own admissions criteria. If students from the state sector are not considered to be good enough for the rigour of academic study, then the solution must be to improve the standard of state schools, rather than lower the admissions threshold. It is not the fault of Universities if state schools are not producing enough suitable candidates.

In a civilised society, we no longer discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, gender or sexuality. Unfortunately, the trendy lefties who run this country would like to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of ability as well!

If discrimination (perceived or genuine) is to be eliminated from the university application process, then the simple and obvious solution is for all questions regarding ethnicity and previous schooling to be deleted. Instead, all candidates should be considered anonymously and on their merits alone. How radical!

By the way, Mr Cameron. How many black MPs are there in your Cabinet?

Why don’t you kill yourself?

Last week, the press reported the death of Nan Maitland, who took her own life at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland. Mrs Maitland was 84 years old and suffering from arthritis, but she was not terminally ill.

Her death re-opened the debate on assisted suicide and the ‘right to die’ and the national press has published many letters on both sides of the debate.

One such letter in the Sunday Times is of particular interest to lingusists:

It is, of course, possible that Ms MacLeod meant something entirely different, and perhaps her words were crudely edited by the newspaper. However, the most obvious interpretation of the above letter is rather shocking: “If I was you, I would kill myself.”

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Praise be to Iceland

The Icelandic people have sent a very strong message to their government who wanted taxpayers to bail out the private bank Landsbanki: “F**k Off”.

When Landsbanki (operating in the UK as Icesave) collapsed in October 2008, the British and Dutch Governments decided to reimburse depositors, and now expect the Icelandic Government to reimburse them to the tune of £3.4 billion. The only snag was that Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar refused to sign the repayment deal agreed by his Parliament. This triggered an automatic referendum in March 2010. 93% of Icelandic voters supported their President and rejected the proposed repayment deal.

Like the corrupt and undemocratic EU, the Icelandic Government could not accept the will of the people, and another referendum has now been held. Once again, the overwhelming majority of voters have rejected the terms on offer. Icelandic taxpayers have stated clearly and unequivocally that they do not wish to bail out private banks which were badly run.

People who invested in Landsbanki did so at their own risk. The reason Icesave paid much higher rates of interest than traditional banks was because of the greater risk attached. Their economy was going to hell in a handcart, but if depositors were too stupid to check where they placed their money, why should those of us who are more prudent with our finances be expected to bail them out?

In a similar vein, British taxpayers have been forced to bail out Greece, Ireland and now Portugal, whose respective governments were even more profligate than ours under the Brown/Darling regime. The British government has no democratic mandate to give our money away. We are not members of the single currency and it is not our responsibility to rescue basket case economies.

The Government has introduced an austerity package to deal with our crippling budget deficit. Domestic public spending has to be cut, yet at the same time as soldiers in Afghanistan are being made redundant whilst risking their lives, money can still be found to piss away on this failed European project.

The people of Iceland have done a great service to democracy by reminding their politicians who is in charge. To them I say: Ég heilsa hugrekki, styrk þinn og indefatigability þinn (I salute your courage, your strength, and your indefatigability).

Shock news! Reading books is good for you.

Oxford University has conducted extensive research amongst more than 17,000 people which shows that girls who had read books at age 16 had a 39 per cent probability of a professional or managerial post at 33, but only a 25 per cent chance if they had not. For boys who read regularly, the figure went up from 48 per cent to 58 per cent.

The news is likely to be welcomed by Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was mocked recently by trendy lefties following his call for school children to read 50 books a year.

Notwithstanding that this study was carried out by one of our most eminent universities, it begs the question as to the usefulness of such research. For most people, the results will be nothing more than a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. There can be little doubt that reading litereature expands your mind, even if it is only Jane Austen’s Emma rather than a proper sci-fi novel.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Middlesex University fined £1.4 million

As a Middlesex student, it was somewhat disconcerting to read that the university has been fined £1.4 million for recruiting too many students. This was part of an £8 million package of fines handed out to 19 universities by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

How will the university pay this fine? Hopefully, the money can be found by reducing bureaucracy - there is no publicly funded institution in the country which does not waste money in one area or another. However, if sufficient savings cannot be made, will Middlesex join the growing ranks of universities proposing to charge the maximum £9,000 a year to new students from next year, or will the existing teaching budgets be cut back?

Business Secretary Vince Cable has now issued a threat of further cutbacks in funding and student places. This is the same Vince Cable who stood for election last year having made a cast iron pledge to vote against any increase in university fees. For all the years the LibDems were in opposition, they argued for an increase in public expenditure for education. Once their grubby mitts were on the reigns of power, they proved themselves to be the lying sanctimonious hypocrites many of us always suspected them to be.

What is particularly unpleasant about this, is that when Labour first introduced university tuition fees, having promised not to do so, the Conservatives bitterly opposed the decision. They too have betrayed their consciences.

Every Member of Parliament who accepted without compunction a university education paid for by the taxpayer, should be required to reimburse the Treasury for the cost of their tuition now that they have voted to deny the same rights and privileges to everyone else.

Are you a cunning linguist?

Take this on line test at to find out.

Thanks to Mr Reasonable for the hat-tip.

Friday, 8 April 2011

OMG! LOL's in the OED. LMAO!

The internet acronym LOL (laugh out loud) has now entered the Oxford English Dictionary.

Those of us who are able to refrain from laughing out loud, use the same acronym to mean ‘lots of laughs’, notwithstanding that ‘lots’ is a word best avoided amongst language purists.

Writers of a more romantic disposition prefer it to mean ‘lots of love’.

For a history of the meaning of LOL and other internet acronyms, click here and you will find yourself ROFPYL!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

A bad choice of words

In an interview on Sky News (7th March 2011), Royal Photographer Arthur Edwards describes a photograph of Kate Middleton saying: “I would have killed to have taken it myself.”

Given the circumstances of her fiancé’s mother’s death, perhaps he could have phrased that better!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The King's Speech - Part 2

Evade your eyes, don’t plagiarise!

German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has resigned following allegations that he plagiarised his PhD dissertation.

Chancellor Angela Merkel described Zu Guttenberg as “someone of outstanding political ability, with a unique and extraordinary ability to reach people's hearts and get them interested in politics” before defiantly predicting that he would make a political comeback.

It is curiously reassuring to know that the German political system is as rotten as ours with cheating politicians being praised to the rafters.

For the rest of us mere mortals, plagiarism is probably the most serious academic offence which a student can commit. This is something to bear in mind with essay deadlines fast approaching. The temptation for some might be too hard to resist - as Tom Lehrer explains below.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Too many ads spoil the film?

Regulator OFCOM has announced a 12 month trial waiver of the restriction on the length of advertising breaks within films. Commercial terrestrial broadcasters will now be permitted to show up to 12 minutes of advertising per hour during films and single dramas – an increase of five minutes per hour on the current rules.

Ironically, this decision comes one week after the House of Lords called for a reduction in the amount of advertising permitted on cable and satellite TV, where 12 minutes of advertising per hour is already permitted.

Whether the OFCOM decision receives widespread public approval remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that for many people, the adverts are better than the programmes.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Vive La Révolution!

The world has witnessed some incredible demonstrations of people power in recent weeks. First Tunisia, then Egypt and now Libya.

According to the BBC, the man credited with the strategy behind the toppling of the Egyptian government is American Dr Gene Sharp who has written a book on non violent revolution.
“His central message is that the power of dictatorships comes from the willing obedience of the people they govern - and that if the people can develop techniques of withholding their consent, a regime will crumble.”
If Dr Sharp’s methods can bring down a government, he should be invited to Barnet without delay!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Learning a second language can delay the onset of dementia

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has carried out research which suggests that the onset of dementia is delayed for up to five years in bilingual speakers. According to linguist Dr Amy Weinberg: “Speaking more than one language protects the brain against cognitive decline and makes a person better at multi-tasking.”

The study appears to have been based on 211 Alzheimer’s patients which is a rather small sample size. It is not clear what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from this.

You can read more details here or download a short podcast here. Or watch the movie below!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Grammar lesson for today

The importance of correct grammar cannot be overstated. Many people who send text messages and e-mails, have forgotten the requirement to capitalise certain words.

Capitalisation is the difference between helping your Uncle Jack off a horse and helping your uncle jack off a horse.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Blogging improves literacy

A very interesting article in The Independent reports of a remarkable improvement in literacy amongst pupils at Heathfield Primary School in Bolton following a decision by the Headmaster to host online lessons as a consequence of the disruption caused by the bad weather last winter.

The percentage of pupils getting a higher than average score in national curriculum writing tests for 11-year-olds soared from just 7 per cent to 63 per cent.

You can read the full article here.

India Knight wrote a similar piece in the Sunday Times (13th February 2010). The article is behind a paywall, but you can download a scanned copy here.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Leave Radio 4 Alone!

There has been justifiable outrage at the suggestion by the BBC Trust that Radio 4 has become too elitist and must change in order to appeal to more ethnic minorities. Such a declaration is not merely condescending towards ethnic minorities, but also offensive to the 10 million listeners who tune in each week.

The report was prepared by David Liddiment, responsible for producing such highbrow drama as Between the Sheets and My Secret Desire.

Radio 4 is a beacon of excellence, renowned the world over. Nobody suggests that Radio 1 should start broadcasting in depth political interviews about the crisis in the Middle East in order to appeal to more erudite listeners, so why should Radio 4 change its output simply because of the prejudices of a politically correct imbecile?

The BBC is regularly criticised for one thing or another, but the quality of its radio output is second to none. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Fly Fishing by J R Hartley

The classic Yellow Pages advert has been updated with the J.R. Hartley character replaced by Day V Lately, a Disc Jockey in search of a former recording. It is a nice idea but it doesn’t seem to have the same warmth of the original with its melancholic music.

The most important question, however, is will the advert work? Are the people who still use telephone directories also downloaders of mobile phone Apps? Or perhaps the question should be reversed. Would people who download Apps also download a dedicated telephone directory App when a simple search engine will, more often than not, provide them with the information they need?

It is reasonable to assume that people who download Apps are comfortable using the internet. The new advert does not really give a reason why the Yell App is a superior product to the other search engines available - search engines which were not available in the days of J R Hartley, played by the late lamented Norman Lumsden.

Regional Dialects alive and well on Twitter

According to researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science, regional slang and dialects are as evident in Tweets as they are in everyday conversations.

In many American cities, something is “sumthin”, but apparently in New York City Twitterers prefer to use “suttin”. LOL is a commonly used acronym for “laughing out loud” but in Washington, D.C. the cruder LLS is preferred (laughing like shit).

The study was carried out by Dr Jacob Eisenstein who said that:
“studies of regional dialects traditionally have been based primarily on oral interviews. Written communication often is less reflective of regional influences because writing, even in blogs, tends to be formal and thus homogenized. But Twitter offers a new way of studying regional lexicon because tweets are informal and conversational.”
The research was compiled based on the Tweets of 9,500 users during March 2010. It is estimated that there are over 100 million registered users of Twitter, so a sample size of just 9,500 is almost certainly not an accurate representation of the global Twittersphere. Accordingly, the research should be considered with caution.

Dr Eisenstein has presented his paper to the Linguistic Society of America. You can download a copy here.

Friday, 11 February 2011

The Language Wars

As part of its Evolving English exhibition, the British Library held a seminar on Monday entitled The Language Wars based on the book of the same name by Henry Hitchings. Unfortunately one of the main speakers, Simon Heffer, was unable to attend and his place was taken by Bernard Lamb, President of the Queen’s English Society.

Mr Lamb was not a very charismatic speaker and you could sense that the audience were starting to tire of him because his sole mantra was that there is a correct way to write and speak, but he did not adequately explain why this should be so. This was a particular disappointment to those of us who advocate the cause of prescriptivism!

The highlight of the evening was a performance by rapper, writer and poet Dizraeli who received resounding applause for his brilliant rap The 21st Century Flux. Applause from everyone, that is, except Mr Lamb who sat with his arms crossed throughout!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Are social networks blurring the lines of reality?

James Harkin, author of ‘Cyburbia’, has written an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph in which he suggests that online social networks are diminishing us as humans.

He says: “At its worst Facebook is a snarky, always-on slide show, like arriving at the worst dinner party imaginable – one where there's too many people but no one you really like, where everyone’s trying to come up with pithy quips and hand out fliers for their latest venture at the same time. Who are these people?”

For the full article, click here.

Texting aids literacy

According to an article in the Times Educational Supplement (and widely reported by lazy journalists in most national newspapers): “pupils who send large numbers of text messages are more likely to do well in school literacy tests than their text-averse classmates.”

This is based on research carried out by Coventry University.

However, according to the University’s website, the research involved just 114 children. It is estimated that half of the world’s population has access to a mobile phone.

Clearly, the test sample is too small to be statistically significant, but reporters are not a group renowned for letting facts get in the way of a good story.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Genes play key role in classroom performance

According to a report on the BBC website, researchers at King's College London's Institute of Psychiatry claim that genetic factors are influential in children’s academic achievement.

Read the full article here.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Popular Linguistics Magazine

A new on-line linguistics magazine has just been launched. Click here for details.

Hopefully the publisher will change the layout in time for the next edition. White text on a black background is really difficult to read.

There is a reason why 99.99999999% of the world’s publishers choose black text on white.

Aussie Language Blog

The Aussies don’t know how to play cricket, but they are just as passionate as we Poms when it comes to discussing the finer points of the English language.

Take a look at Fully (sic) - an Australian language blog aimed at “word nerds”.

Put it on the agendum

The Sentence First blog discusses whether the word ‘data’ is singular or plural.

Whilst it is clearly based on the Latin word ‘datum’, which is singular, it has evolved through common usage into its current form. Borrowing from other languages is a natural part of language evolution. We don't speak Latin any more and can therefore use borrowed words however we so choose.

How do jokes work?

The answer is not that they stand for election to Barnet Council.

As part of the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library, C P Lee, Barry Cryer, Lucy Greeves, Tim Vine and Richard Wiseman discuss the mechanics of comedy in a seminar entitled: ‘What’s So Funny? The Languages of Laughter’.

Download the podcast here.

How the minds of English speakers shaped the English Language

Earlier this month, Professor Steven Pinker gave a seminar at the British Library as part of their Evolving English exhibition. It was a brilliantly entertaining and illuminating discussion about how psychological processes such as memory, mental computation and social networking, operating over many centuries, have shaped the grammar and lexicon of the English language.

You can download the podcast from here.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

The perception of accents

Stephen Fry, David Mitchell, Rob Brydon, Sandy Toksvig and Alan Davies discuss how we perceive accents.

Amongst the accents discussed, it seems that unlike Geordies, Brummies are not considered to be trustworthy. This subject was discussed at length on the Jeremy Vine radio show last December.

This segment from QI was first broadcast on BBC2, 15th January 2011.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Nominative Determinism

Nominative determinism is the idea that your name somehow influences what you do. For example, the surname of the current Lord Chief Justice is Judge.

The following article appeared in today's Daily Telegraph regarding a secretary accused of blackmailing her employer over an alleged affair. Her name? Miss Fuk.

Sometimes this blog just writes itself.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Do you speak Techlish?

The well known paragons of spelling at The Guardian newspaper report that within 100 years, we could all be speaking a new language - Techlish - which combines English with IT terminology.

The Guardian’s source for this story is The Sun newspaper which knows a thing or two about language development for the masses.

The web site Truer Words gives an example of a sentence spoken in Techlish:
“...develops Object Oriented applications using hypertext development scripting languages such as C++, ActiveX and Java.”

Life lessons from an ad man

Former classics teacher and currently Vice Chairman of Ogilvy Advertising, Rory Sutherland makes the daring assertion that a change in perceived value can be just as satisfying as what we consider “real” value. His conclusion has interesting consequences for how we look at life.

The way we speak now

An interesting article in The Independent suggests that half of the world’s estimated 4,000 - 6,000 languages will be lost within the next 200 years.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Linguistic Joke

Knock knock.

Who’s there?


You who?

I think you mean you whom.