The English

xx gun salute

So we\’ve got the guns firing off in the park with a salute about the opening of Parliament.

I\’ve sort of lost count but it\’s at about 29 or 30 at the moment.

I thought the tippy toppy level was a 21 gun salute?

Dear Lord

Town hall staff have been banned from using the phrase \’singing from the same hymn sheet\’ because it could upset atheists.

Oddly, I\’ve just been reading one of Douglas Adams\’ essays, where he describes himself as a militant atheist. He also addresses the question of his use of religious imagery ("some bloke got nailed to a tree two thousand years ago" for example).

The point is that such images, certain phrases ("giving up the ghost" comes from the King James translation of Genesis) are in the very bones of the language and the culture. Any writer is going to use these as they reverberate, come laden with resonances.

I\’m sure we could find all sorts of bits and pieces from Polly T\’s columns where she uses such phrases and she\’s the President (or High Punkah Wallah, whatever title they use) of the National Secular Society. Dawkins I\’m sure also uses them.

This is inevitable as there are really only two works which created the English language. Yes, it\’s a delightful mongrel tongue, taking words from everywhere, but it\’s Shakespeare and the King James Bible that helped to codify it. In a way, the KJB is one of the founding documents of the written language and thus there are religious overtones to many well known phrases.

Something which a "militant atheist" like Adams was well aware of, indeed revelled in.


Women, eh?

The world\’s greatest pub crawl, 14,000 pubs and counting, and look what happens:

He said there have been up to twenty drinkers in their team but most have fallen by the wayside after getting married.

Why is British food so terrible?

Michelle Hanson and Jamie Oliver rather want to know.

The best explanation I\’ve ever come across was Paul Krugman\’s:

Maybe the first question is how English cooking got to be so bad in the first place. A good guess is that the country\’s early industrialization and urbanization was the culprit. Millions of people moved rapidly off the land and away from access to traditional ingredients. Worse, they did so at a time when the technology of urban food supply was still primitive: Victorian London already had well over a million people, but most of its food came in by horse- drawn barge. And so ordinary people, and even the middle classes, were forced into a cuisine based on canned goods (mushy peas!), preserved meats (hence those pies), and root vegetables that didn\’t need refrigeration (e.g. potatoes, which explain the chips). But why did the food stay so bad after refrigerated railroad cars and ships, frozen foods (better than canned, anyway), and eventually air-freight deliveries of fresh fish and vegetables had become available? Now we\’re talking about economics–and about the limits of conventional economic theory. For the answer is surely that by the time it became possible for urban Britons to eat decently, they no longer knew the difference. The appreciation of good food is, quite literally, an acquired taste–but because your typical Englishman, circa, say, 1975, had never had a really good meal, he didn\’t demand one. And because consumers didn\’t demand good food, they didn\’t get it. Even then there were surely some people who would have liked better, just not enough to provide a critical mass. And then things changed. Partly this may have been the result of immigration. (Although earlier waves of immigrants simply adapted to English standards–I remember visiting one fairly expensive London Italian restaurant in 1983 that advised diners to call in advance if they wanted their pasta freshly cooked.) Growing affluence and the overseas vacations it made possible may have been more important–how can you keep them eating bangers once they\’ve had foie gras? But at a certain point the process became self-reinforcing: Enough people knew what good food tasted like that stores and restaurants began providing it–and that allowed even more people to acquire civilized taste buds.

May or may not be true but I\’ve yet to see a better explanation.


Monolingual Brits

Well, yes:

I know what many will say: what\’s the use of learning another language when English has become a lingua franca? The knowledge of other languages, dear monolingual friends, is quite simply essential: life-enhancing, mind-blowing, even life-saving. It will make you richer; get you the girls or the lads of your dreams; spare you huge embarrassments; help you get out of tricky situations; and, most importantly of all, help you avoid being a laughing stock.

But then so will the study of economics make you rich, get you laid and enhance your life. With the added extra that it will also aid you in understanding when the politicians in your life try to rip you off.

The Olympics and sportsmanship.

Mind you, in other patriot games, the extent to which Britons have developed an unhealthy fascination with the Olympic medal table now that we\’re actually winning some events is mildly distasteful. There\’s a slightly boorish boastfulness to it all that is somewhat unbecoming. Sort of stuff one associates with foreigners, frankly. Better to permit oneself a small smile while paying tribute to the gallantry of the plucky, foreign losers.

The Germans

Most amusing.

A German diplomat has criticised a group of bundestag MPs over their behaviour on a recent visit to San Francisco, accusing them of using a racial slur and of choosing sightseeing and shopping above meetings with US counterparts……..Responding on behalf of the committee, he added that the consulate\’s service was "not of the standard we\’re used to … The people at the consulate appear to be used to getting drunk tourists out of prison, but are unaware of the sort of service they should give to German MPs."

Leave aside the point that the consulate is indeed there to get drunk tourists out of prison rather than shepherding around politicians on a junket.

Instead, just remember the words of the Prague Captain of police when discussing drunken British tourists, along the lines of:

Yes, the British when drunk are pretty bad but they\’re still better than the Germans sober.



I mean, I know this is all just for pie-munching Northerners, but you just know that after this it\’s going to be the Morlocks, the sweaties and the web-footed Anglians. And sooner or later this shit is going to infest civilisation as well.

Defending the north

Without the north we wouldn\’t have the vote: the Peterloo protesters, the Chartists and the suffragettes were all from the north. The trade unions were born in Manchester….The joule unit of energy, Whitworth engineering standards and Peel\’s police force – all northern….And what would music be without the north? The world-famous Hallé, the Beatles, Hollies, Smiths, Buzzcocks, New Order, Stone Roses, Oasis, Happy Mondays, Arctic Monkeys. In 2012 the cockneys will invite us down to have a good old knees-up at the Olympics. Sorry my old china, but you wouldn\’t be in a position to hold the games without Manchester\’s Commonwealth success in 2002, after London messed up a bid for the world athletics championships.

It is a parade of depressing failures, isn\’t it? But the one that really grates is the idea that Manchester is responsible for the disaster of the 2013 Games.

Definitely time to close that fucker down then.


Spoling Changes

Given that English often spells identical sounds in several ways, it is little wonder that English-speaking adults always come near the bottom in international studies on literacy, he says.

The ee-sound, for example can be spelt as in: seem, team, convene, sardine, protein, fiend, people, he, key, ski, debris and quay. Yet there are no rules for deciding when to use which, so why not just spell the ee-sound simply as “ee”? To ease the switch from current spelling to a more phonetic system, the Spelling Society advocates a period of transition in which traditional and new forms are used together.

One reason why we don\’t do this could be that team and teem, while pronounced the same way and, in this new method, spelt the same way, actually mean rather different things.

Yes, Inglish Spolling is difficult, weird even, but it does allow us to be precise in our meanings.

At Least They Know Their Place

Isn\’t there something delighfully feudal about this?

I remember sitting in a campaign meeting during the Newbury bypass protests and marvelling at the weirdness of our coalition. In the front row sat the local squirearchy: brigadiers in tweeds and enormous moustaches, titled women in twin sets and headscarves. In the middle were local burghers of all shapes and sizes. At the back sat the scuzziest collection of grunge-skunks I have ever laid eyes on.

The old order seems to re-establish itself in the most unexpected places.

Observer Editorial


That is, as long as they are taught properly. Schools often fail to equip children with anything other than a fragmented, phrase-book command of foreign tongues. Language instruction is caught in a vicious cycle: grammar is eschewed for fear of putting children off and a lack of grammatical foundations means they never reach the level of actually enjoying access to the riches a language can offer – new music, new books, new friends. The subject is made harder, not easier, by learning random phrases with no framework to hold them together.

Umm, there\’s nothing in that that doesn\’t also apply to the learning of English itself. So we\’re to have grammar lessons in English are we? Perhaps elocution lessons (for the language lab repetition of phrases in French ios just that)?

Can\’t say it would be abad idea, either, but I\’m pretty certain that the Observer leader writing team would have hissy fits if that was actually seriously suggested.


If somebody has something important to tell me, he can do that in English, and if he doesn\’t want to do this, then that something probably wasn\’t that important in the first place, simple as that. The English language is perhaps the most underrated bozo filter currently in existence, silently blocking out tons of idiocy.

Bashing the Frenchies!

Yes, we still celebrate:

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers prepared yesterday to commemorate one of the greatest victories of the Seven Years’ War against France more than 200 years ago, with a traditional gesture – wearing red and primrose-yellow roses in their caps on guard at Buckingham Palace.

En route to take part in the Battle of Minden on August 1, 1759, in the area of North Rhine in Germany, allied soldiers from a Prussian-Hanoverian-British army gathered roses for their hats for good luck as they marched through the fields towards the superior French force. Among them were members of the 20th Regiment of Foot from which The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers was formed.

Today, after successive operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2nd Battalion, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Merriman, will honour the battle, when the allies defeated the French against all the odds, by wearing roses while they carry out their Palace duties.

A misunderstanding of orders in battle led to a British infantry brigade advancing against the massed ranks of French cavalry and infantry – but the British succeeded in driving them off. The 20th Regiment of Foot lost 17 officers and 304 men.

So lads, when do we march on Paris?


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