Archive | April, 2012

Idioms

30 Apr

Idioms.

Idioms

30 Apr

I don’t speak any other language fluently enough to know whether idioms are common in, for example, French, German or Spanish, but they are common in English and they make the language more colourful and descriptive.

We normally use them without thinking about their origin, but I sometimes say, “I wonder where that comes from?” Many have obvious sporting connections: “knocked for six”, “sticky wicket” (cricket), “own goal” (football), “non-starter” (racing), “a lucky break” (pool), “throw in the towel” (boxing), but others are more obscure.

Some come from our mispronunciation of foreign words – to “bandy something about”, for example, comes from a French word bander, which was a term meaning to “hit a ball to and fro” in an early type of tennis – others from trades. My favourite of these is “mind your ps and qs” (take care to speak or behave well). The Dictionary of Idioms and Their Origins, by Linda and Roger Favell, gives several alternative origins for this, but I have always believed that it is to do with breaking up a page of metal typesetting and dissing (distributing) the letters back into the type case. Because the letters are all back-to-front it was very easy to put a p in the q box, and vice versa.

(I realise that the concept of setting metal type – particularly setting it one character at a time – is totally alien to a generation brought up on computers, but that’s how it was done, “back in the day”.)

I have two new “word” books, The Story of English in 100 Words, by David Crystal, and The Etymologicon, which says it is “a circular stroll through the hidden connections of the English Language”, by Mark Forsyth. No doubt they will provide food for thought, and for blogs.

Today’s picture

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Entrance to a temple in Narlai, India

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The brilliant Robert Jay QC

27 Apr

The brilliant Robert Jay QC.

The brilliant Robert Jay QC

27 Apr

It’s chucking it down today, again, so plenty of time to read the Guardian‘s reports on the Leveson inquiry. (It was, incidentally, interesting  to read the Murdoch-owned Times‘s reports yesterday, while I was in the dentist’s’s waiting room – not factually incorrect once you got into the text, but misleading headlines, I thought, and a biased editorial.)

Back to today: Robert Jay, who had been considered by some to be, perhaps, too mild mannered, has proved to be well mannered, but tenacious. As a result of his questioning (at one point Murdoch insisted on having an answer to a question he had asked; Jay replied, “I don’t give answers to questions, Mr Murdoch. I just ask them”), it would appear that Rupert Murdoch had absolutely no idea whatever about what was going on at his newspapers – even though past employees, such as Harold Evans, former editor of the Sunday Times, and Piers Morgan, former editor of the News of the World, have been on record as saying the complete opposite.

According to Rupert, the fault always lay with his staff (Rebekah Brooks excepted). As I wrote in an earlier blog, in business you should trust no-one, particularly if it comes to the point where it is their interests vs yours. According to his father, James Murdoch was too “inexperienced” to be Chairman and Chief Executive of News Corp, Tom Crone – former legal affairs manager of the News of the World – and Colin Myler – former editor (not, Murdoch said, “his choice for the job”) – were two “strong characters” who had “shielded” him and other News International executives from the truth. “…there is no question in my mind that maybe even the editor, but certainly behind that, someone took charge of a cover-up…”.

Tom Crone said that the “remarks were a shameful lie”, a spokesman for Myler said he had “no comment” on Murdoch.

Murdoch’s view of the Guardian‘s July 2009 report that News International had paid more than £1m to settle cases that threatened to reveal the widespread scale of hacking, was that the article was “very hostile…and personalised”. Jay suggested that NI had a “visceral hatred” of the paper. Murdoch’s reply was, “I’ve often expressed admiration for them. I think they look after their audience pretty well”.

Oh yes, they do, and thank heavens for that!

Today’s picture

Back to my lettering photographs – I loved this shop-window sign in Cheyenne, Wyoming: a great use of neon.

 

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Jeremy Hunt and the Murdoch empire

25 Apr

Jeremy Hunt and the Murdoch empire.

Jeremy Hunt and the Murdoch empire

25 Apr

There is brilliant, and extensive, coverage in today’s Guardian. Political editor, Patrick White, writes that Hunt “appears to have blotted his copybook beyond repair”. Far from handling the News Corp bid for BSkyB, in a way that was (as Hunt said), “completely fair, impartial and above board”, he appears to have “handed NewsCorp commercially confidential and market-sensitive information at a time when he was in a quasi-judicial capacity, repeatedly giving insight into his and the government’s thinking. At one point, Hunt’s office, according to [NewsCorp’s public affairs executive] Michel, handed over information in a way that Michel stated was ‘absolutely illegal’.”

Michael White writes in his analysis piece: “Watching James Murdoch dumping on Tory ministers at the Leveson inquiry yesterday, the political equivalent of a Relate counsellor would probably have muttered that she always knew the Cameron-Murdoch arranged marriage would end in tears. Neither party had shown much previous enthusiasm for each other…” Now, contrary to David Cameron’s assertions, James Murdoch says he discussed NewsCorp’s bid for BSkyB with him at Rebekah Brooks’s house two days before Christmas 2010.

Apart from any other considerations, it is astonishing that government ministers are so naive. I would have thought that the first rule in government, as it is in any type of business, is be careful what you say – and don’t trust anyone to protect your interests when theirs are at stake.

I was in favour of fixed-term parliaments, but I am appalled at the thought of putting up with this government for another three years, and that has as much to do with their continued displays of incompetence as with any political affiliations.

Today’s picture

And now for a bit of cheer! It continues to hammer down with rain (April showers or April torrents?) and there was a huge thunderstorm right over London N1 not long ago. So here’s some more sunshine, taken in South Africa in January 2010.Image

 

The church of England and state education

19 Apr

The church of England and state education.

The church of England and state education

19 Apr

As a member of the British Humanist Association, I wrote to my (very good) MP, Emily Thornberry about a potential increase in the role of the church of England in education. She raised it with the Schools Minister, Jonathan Hill, and has sent me a copy of his reply.

He writes, “Currently, it is not possible for a maintained school without a religious designation to convert to become an Academy with a religious designation in a single process. Any maintained school that wishes to gain a religious designation must follow a clearly laid out statutory process, which includes a requirement to consult on that change locally. It is possible to publish concurrent proposals to cover the requirements of these two separate processes.

“The Department is currently looking at school organisation regulations with a view to streamlining processes and reducing bureaucracy, as far as possible. However, the current requirement for a maintained school without a religious designation to close and then re-open as a new maintained ‘faith’ school in order to obtain a religious designation is set out in primary legislation. Any change to this requirement would, therefore, be subject to Parliamentary process and agreement.”

As Emily Thornberry points out in her covering letter, “It is clear that discussions on this point are continuing, and it is quite possible that the Secretary of State might seek to change the regulations or the primary legislation.”

As an 11-year-old, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to a public school, unfortunate in that it was to a Methodist public school. On our first day we were asked what our religion was (a school friend remembers me saying I was an atheist!), there were prayers in assembly every morning, rather a lot of scripture lessons and the boarders had to go to chapel twice every Sunday (luckily I was a day girl).

While I believe it is important for schools to teach comparative religion so that children learn about, and are tolerant of, different faiths; I do not believe they should be teaching from the point of view of one faith. Have we learnt nothing from the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, Christians and Muslims elsewhere in the world? Religion should be taught at home, not at school.

(And the Schools Minister used the dreaded “going forward” phrase: “…we believe that using collaborative structures such as Umbrella Trusts will be important going forward.”)

Today’s picture

After that rant, I think you need a calm picture and, surprisingly, a religious one. Each afternoon at the Sera monastery in Tibet, the monks debate with their novices: they ask questions and there are formalised “yes” and “no” gestures for right or wrong answers. The monk standing on the left is giving a “yes” gesture.Image

 

 

Superfluous words

18 Apr

You may have guessed that I’m a newspaper addict, but so many people subscribe to the “why use one word when you can use three (or more)” syndrome, that it’s not really good for my blood pressure.

Today, for example, it was reported that Judge Anthony Pitts told the Southwark Crown Court “…the figure may be in excess of £200m” – why not “the figure may exceed £200m”? And in a piece about an Alfred Hitchock season “…one of the highlights…will be to fully restore nine of the director’s silent films”. Who needs “fully”? Apart from splitting the infinitive (and, yes, I am one of those dinosaurs who hates split infinitives), they’re either going to be restored, or they’re not.

The most frequent culprit is, of course, “of”: “all of” instead of “all”; and “inside of” and “outside of” instead of “inside” and “outside”.

Back in the day, as they say, with the exception of direct quotes, newspaper subs corrected grammar, cut copy to fit without losing important parts of the story, and wrote headlines, captions and stand firsts (introductions) that accurately represented what was in the piece – which isn’t always the case now.

I realise that cost precludes the use of subs now, but could we not teach people to write better English in the first place? Minister for Education please note.

Today’s picture

The weather is vile today (I think we had summer in March; in a few years we’ll be having it in December), so here’s some sunshine: the shell seller’s shelter on the beach at Trinidad del Mar, Cuba.Image

More on nouns and verbs

16 Apr

More on nouns and verbs.