Meaning – To yammer on about trivial details – pendantry. Example:

Tabula can be translated as ‘wring board’. So tabula rasa would be a slate to use as a writing board. Maybe the concept ‘tabula rasa’ meant clean slate to someone spoke latin. You’d have to be a latin speaker to know.
It’s a problem with all languages. A series of words may convey a concept. But you can’t necessarily translate those words over into another language & retain the concept. My ex wife would accuse me of coming in in my big shoes. I know what that means in french. I’m damned if I can think of an equivalent phrase in english gives the same concept. Certainly nothing containing either shoes or big. “to walk all over someone” is close.

How language changes

Becciu has denied any wrongdoing. But this did not stop Italians from speculating about his relations with Cecilia Marogna, 39, like him a native of Sardinia. Dubbed a “Mata Hari” in the press, she reportedly introduced herself in the Vatican, inaccurately, as his “niece”.

Upon meeting an actual billionaire a friend of mine was introduced to his niece. The billionaire’s niece that is. Who did seem to be employed more to engage in the activity that produces families rather than was a product of the billionaire’s wider family.

Among Cardinals the meaning is traditionally different, referring to the family produced more directly by the Cardinal in breach of his vows.

So, which of these meanings is, umm, meant here?

Cecilia Marogna denies that she acted behind Rome’s back: “I have a letter from the cardinal authorizing me to travel and have diplomatic relations to help the Church in difficult territory” such as the Middle East, Uganda, Mali or Burkina Faso

Ah, that explains that then. An expert in Ugandan affairs……

They seem to be making this a bit complicated

Scientists at University College London, working in conjunction with colleagues at Yale University in the United States, succeeded in identifying important changes in the part of the brain that deals with speech and language.
Increases in activity in the left frontal lobe, are thought to have developed in order to help humans identify and overcome bias and prejudice when communicating.
It means that people with strong regional or working class accents have a tendency to speak more correctly when in mixed company, while members of the upper classes are more likely to tone down their accents when talking to those from a different background.

The oiks are poshing up and the nobs are poshing down their accents. Which perhaps could be more easily explained by both moving closer to a common language. You know, the point of language being to communicate?

And whatever we call it, RP, BBC or just middle class English does have that merit of being the most widely understandable variation of the language. As someone who has spent much of adult life speaking in calm and clear tones, in English, to Johnny Foreigner, I would insist this is true in fact. I sound a little archaic in English English these days as I’ve not kept up with the last 30 years changes in pronunciation etc. But it’s not uncommon for one or other J. Foreigner to ask why they can understand me in English and not all those other people from the same place. Further, I’ve been asked a few times why can they understand me when I speak to them but not when I speak to my other half, or some English friend?

Because, you know, I’m not doing that code-switching thing maybe?

Perfectly happy with the idea that those mental changes take place as we do the switch, even that the need to do so often enough corresponds with class differences. But balk at the idea that it is because of class that it is done.


The UK has failed to uphold its treaty obligations to promote the minority languages of Cornish, Irish and Ulster Scots, a council of European ministers has found.

A report by the Council of Europe, a civil and legal rights body, has accused the UK of failing to support indigenous minority languages in schools, the media, public life and in government, despite signing the European charter on regional or minority languages.

Cornish isn’t an indigenous language. Haven’t been any native speakers for generations.

The point at which I disagree

The BBC defended its decision, saying the inclusion of the racial slur was made with the approval of the victim and his family, who wanted to show the severity of the attack. It said the decision to broadcast the word followed discussions involving “senior editorial figures” and was preceded by a warning to viewers.

The use of the word prompted more than 18,000 complaints to the BBC.

On Saturday, the Radio 1Xtra presenter Sideman quit his job, saying he could not work with the BBC allowing “the N-word being said on national television by a white person”.

Using the N word, sure, impolite at very best. Not what we would encourage from our national broadcaster. In explanation – no, not mitigation – it was said in a news report, to show what the attacker was shouting as he attacked. With the active support of the victim to the word being used in said description.

Maybe the right decision, maybe not.

But this idea that there is this word that a white person may not use while a black person may – that being the implication of what is being said there – is flat out racism. At which point you can fuck off matey.


Of course I know nothing at all about the Maori language but then entire ignorance doesn’t stop most economic commentators either. I think what we’ve got here is euphemism:

A Canadian brewery and a leather store in New Zealand have found themselves in a hairy situation after using te reo Māori to unwittingly name their respective brands after pubic hair.

Canadian brewery, Hell’s Basement, called its New Zealand Pale Ale Huruhuru, while a shop in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, gave its entire outlet the name.

“Some people call it appreciation, I call it appropriation,” te reo Māori exponent and TV personality Te Hamua Nikora said on Facebook, after explaining that most Māori would use the word “huruhuru” as a reference to pubic hair.

Most, use, reference……that is, the word doesn’t actually mean pubic hair at all. It’s a euphemism often used to refer to it. As with, say, the word twat. It can of course mean the female genitalia but that is a euphemism, the correct and actual meaning is “Richard Murphy”. We can see how the euphemism arose, obviously.

This though is more controversial:

“To those who feel disrespected, we apologise. We also do not think pubic hair is shameful, though we admit it may not go well with beer.”

Some portion of that beer is bought in order to gain access to that type of hair….

Oh good grief

Surely they can do better than this?

One day after announcing he had tested positive for coronavirus Jair Bolsonaro has come under fire for allegedly using homophobic language to mock the use of face masks.

The Folha de São Paulo, a leading broadsheet, claimed Brazil’s far-right leader had baited presidential staff who were using protective masks, claiming such equipment was “coisa de viado” (a homophobic slur that roughly translates as “for fairies”).

The Guardian really needs to do some work on the translation there. It actually translates – into American – as “fag thing”.

Fairy not actually being a homophobic slur. It means effeminate and is used as such. It applies to people who are not porthole pirates as well as to some who are – and not to all who are as anyone viewing the builder character in YMCA will know. It is an insult about masculinity and femininity, not sexual preference. Although, obviously, it’s used against some who are also gay at times. Just as is ginger and hellspawnofthedevilredone.

Fag thing being specific about that sexual preference and thus actually is homophobic even under the stricter definitions we all used before the Woken SS.

I actually find it amusing that the Guardian can’t bring itself to give us that accurate translation – as it would be an insult and hurt feelings – when trying to describe the insult and why it hurts feelings.

How we know they’re talking bollocks

One of those little cant phrases that reveals:

The MPs, including shadow Commons leader Valerie Vaz, rail spokesman Tan Dhesi and ex-shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, wrote to Ms Patel expressing “dismay” at the way she used her “heritage and experiences of racism to gaslight the very real racism faced by Black people and communities across the UK.”…

“Very real racism” being one of those cant phrases. Anyone using it can be, righteously, told to bugger off. It’s as with “we need to have the conversation about” and “the achievements of Winnie Mandela”.

Linguistic ticks I despise

Minneapolis has vowed to defund its police. New Zealand needs to have that conversation

A country doesn’t have a conversation. People do. And she doesn’t mean have a conversation either. She means all should roll over and do as she says. Because to disagree with someone proposing a conversation – or, perhaps disagreeing with what is conversed – is to fail to show respect to the views of others. Or some such nonsense.

It’s even true that there should indeed be a discussion as to whether to defund the police or not – I am all in favour of returning to the one, true, Peelian, path – but I still despise the construction “need to have that conversation”.

Someone shoot this man

“You might wonder why we didn’t intervene and why we just allowed people to put it in the docks we made a very tactical decision that to stop people from doing that act may have caused further disorder and we decided that the safest thing to do in terms of our policing tactics was to allow it to take place.

Very tactical decision?

Ed Colston is spinning in his grave. He did endow a number of educational institutions after all.

My window maker calls me “Lord”

As it should be of course. The bloke who comes around to put in acoustic glass for our windows calls me “Lord”.

Although, you know, not quite. Mr., in Porkandcheese, is Signor. Clearly the same root word as Seigneur, which can indeed mean “Lord” of a type, in that Channel Islands Norman French version of something like English.

But the translate bit in Google Mail which the window maker and I use to converse with each other translates “Signor” directly into “Lord” not “Mr.” or even “Sir” which might be closer.

Not as in Sir Tim, but as in esteemed customer, Sir, type.

Yes, I know, a nothing, but just one of those little details of life which amuses.

Dear Lord, stop whingeing!

French has become a collateral victim of the coronavirus pandemic in Canada, forcing the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, to defend failures to uphold laws requiring labels and services in both official languages.

Canada is officially bilingual, but the government has allowed the sale of imported disinfectants labelled only in English because of “the extreme situation in which we find ourselves”, Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Presumably the TV announcement of the end of the world would not be valid unless equal weight was given to the bloke phlegming it out as “le fini du mondial”*.

*Yes, my French teacher was** indeed Miles Kington. Why, wasn’t yours?

**Actually, not true. A rugby master***. He was too bright to teach geography but even so, the accent wasn’t quite there.

*** And Fifi, some years later, where I did actually learn something although not entirely language.

Intricacies of language

I was wondering why they were bothering:

Supermarkets put squeeze on clothing lines suppliers

Not that may people still hang out their washing so it sounds like a pretty small market to concentrate upon.

Aha, clothing lines are different from clothes lines…..not that I could explain why in linguistic terms, just one of those things I recognise as being so.

Slightly difficult

There are times when euphemisms must be used to avoid offending maiden aunts:

We could have subsidies, bailouts, and political favors. But who gets what in such a system will depend upon the position in the political alimentary canal of the supplicant.

Can’t quite say, in a mainstream American publication, “whose lips are firmly attached to the political sphincter”, or “who gives analingus to politicians” or even “who inhabits the political colon” let alone who kisses political ass.

Fortunately English is an adaptable language.

We do have a word for this

But even after I stopped looking, I kept wondering: why did I like this? What made me want to know so much about notorious Instagram influencer Caroline Calloway in the first place? Why was I so invested in how Bachelor contestant Victoria Fuller conducted her sex life? What was it about these dramas that made me want to watch, and what was it about these women that inspired so much gleeful pleasure?


We don’t yet have a word that describes this particular online action. According to a glossary developed by Pen America, there are words for the people who interact with public figures just to be mean (trolls) and words for people who read something just because they dislike the author (hate-reads) and words for the groups that form with the purpose of harassing a single person (dogpiling).

But there isn’t a good word for these snark-based communities that spring up around a particular figure or the strange bonds that form between people based on mutual distaste.


As anyone who has actually met a few human beings knows a group of women chatting will do so in a manner very different from a group of men. This is fine, no problem. One major difference being that the women are likely to be talking about people – oft those known to, part of the group but just not there right now – and the men about things or at least subjects rather more divorced from the immediate group.

Yes, of course, this is not an absolute rule but it’s a tendency that can be observed.

Oh, and a useful theory for the invention of language is so that one can gossip about group members who are, after all, one’s major rivals in this thing called evolution and life. And, yep, we do usually find that women have better verbal skills than men.

So, birds natter better, about peeps, often enough in negative tones. So, what’s a good descriptor of a snark-based community? Female.

I wondered where this came from

The word “bad” originally meant a feminine man.

It did? In what language? When? And how commonly?

And I find out that it is – and of course it is – being entirely misunderstood.

bad (adj.)
c. 1300, “inadequate, unsatisfactory, worthless; unfortunate;” late 14c., “wicked, evil, vicious; counterfeit;” from 13c. in surnames (William Badde, Petri Badde, Asketinus Baddecheese, Rads Badinteheved). Rare before 1400, and evil was more common until c. 1700 as the ordinary antithesis of good. It has no apparent relatives in other languages.* Possibly from Old English derogatory term bæddel and its diminutive bædling “effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast,” which probably are related to bædan “to defile.”

So, no, it didn’t then. It is derived from, at best, but never did mean that.