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That’s not OK

There’s a TV ad for Facebook at the moment, trying to persuade us that they are good guys. It starts off celebrating all the wonderful things that can be done on Facebook – sharing precious memories, keeping families in touch and so forth – and then it goes all serious and the voiceover says: ‘But spam, clickbait, misuse of data…. that’s not OK.’

That’s not OK… This expression seems to have become very popular in the last couple of years; and I have to say that I do not like it very much. It’s always said in the same way: a sudden descent into seriousness, with emphasis falling on the word not, accompanied by a real or metaphorical sorrowful shake of the head. It’s delivered with a sanctimonious certainty that the speaker is some kind of moral arbiter, knowing to a jot exactly what counts as OK and what doesn’t; if the speaker was a superhero, you think, they’d be Morality Man.

Of course I do agree that misuse of data is ‘not OK’. But the expression is so annoying it makes me want to go off and misuse some data right away.



I am not a huge golf fan, but I have a mild liking for the game. I play it very occasionally (and extremely badly), and when a major championship is on I might watch it with a certain low-key enjoyment, though I would not go out of my way to do so. I don’t agree that it is a ‘good walk spoiled’ (apparently this famous saying did not come from Mark Twain, as everybody thinks, but from a writer called, appropriately enough, HS Scrivener, in a 1903 book about tennis, where he attributes it to his friends the Allens – see the Quote Investigator website for more details about the saying’s provenance:

This is all by way of preamble, simply to make the point that I quite like golf but am neither an expert nor a fanatic, in order to prepare for my main point about the use of the word charge in sports reports about golf. The newspapers today are full of Tiger Woods’ thrilling charge on the final day of the American PGA championship, when he went round in 64 to get within two shots of the eventual winner, Brooks Koepka. But what does it mean, to make a charge on the last day of a championship?

Apologies if this is well-known to you, but the golf Majors are played over four days, so each player has to go round the course four times. It’s thus possible to have a poor couple of rounds to start with and be way off the lead, but then start playing better and catching up with the field; and if you play really well on the last day then you are said to be making a charge towards the lead. I can see that the term makes this rather sedate sport sound more exciting, with its suggested imagery of an armoured knight thundering along on a charger. But really it is a ridiculous misnomer. A charge suggests there is something purposeful about it: a deliberate ploy; a strategy of lurking just behind the leaders and then charging for all you’re worth to take them by surprise on the last day. But golf isn’t like that. It’s not an interactive game. Dropping shots early on has no effect on the leaders, other than to increase their lead. Players don’t deliberately take it easy at the start and then, as a tactic, start playing well on day four. The object of golf is to take as few shots as possible on every hole in every round. You’d get a hole in one every time if only you could. And in the nature of things, you won’t play equally well every round, and sometimes the final day will be your best. But that does not mean you are purposefully executing a charge on that last day. You just happen to have started playing better.

How do you say @ in French?

In September my eldest daughter Miranda is off to Grenoble for a year to learn the lingo. The other day she asked if I would phone the university there to enquire about payment for her accommodation. Happy to dust off my French and give it an airing, I rang the number and a reasonably successful conversation ensued, which ended with the woman at the other end asking for Miranda’s email so she could send her the required information. So that was OK, until I came to the @ part of the address. I didn’t want to just say à, in case she thought I meant the letter a. But I didn’t know the word in French for the symbol @; in fact it occurred to me that I didn’t know it in English either. In the end I said ‘le symbole pour à’. And the woman said ‘Oui, arobase’.

Arobase. That’s the French for @. They actually have a word for it. But we don’t. After the phone call I looked it up, and it’s simply called the at sign, or alternatively the commercial at. Don’t think much of that. I think we should call it arobase.

An enjoyable piece of wordplay

I’m reading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, and just came across the following piece of wordplay, which I thought too enjoyable not to share:


‘And as the mustache waxes, Slothrop waxes the mustache.’

The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers

Good afternoon, everybody. As those of you who were generous enough to pledge support for my YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers will already know, the book is now out in the world – available from all good bookshops and on Amazon. Order your copy today – it’s witty, philosophical and a great beach read for you or the teenager in your life. And any Amazon reviews would be most welcome!





On the Beano’s 80th anniversary

Six years ago, on the occasion of the last ever issue of The Dandy having been published, I wrote a post about the specialist language used in children’s comics of that type. In it, I speculated that The Beano too might come to an end soon. Happily, I was wrong, as The Beano is now celebrating its 80th anniversary – five years longer than The Dandy managed. In honour of this anniversary, I re-publish here the original post:


So. Farewell, then, The Dandy, the oldest British comic, which published its final British print edition last month, 75 years after the first one came out. This was the grandaddy of a particular kind of comic, aimed at younger readers of both sexes, characterised by crude drawings, slapstick humour and awful puns. Nearly all the others have long gone: hardly anyone now remembers Buster, The Beezer, The Topper, Shiver and Shake,Whizzer and Chips or Cor!. (Of these The Beezer and The Topper were by far the best, by the way). Only The Beano remains, and I wonder how long that’s got. Anyway the Dandy’s demise got me thinking about about a peculiar set of words used in these comics, which were never said in real life but which everyone understood. They were words spoken or thought by characters to indicate some sort of attitude to a situation; here are the most common ones:

Grrr! Indicates anger.

Brrr! Indicates extreme cold.

Ulp! A gulp of nervousness or fear.

Erk! Reaction to unexpected and unwelcome event.

Eek! Squeak of fear or shock, said, for example, by female character on encountering a mouse.

Oo-er! Nervousness or anxiety.

Corks! Surprise.

It’s odd that no one ever had any trouble decoding these words, since they’d never actually heard them spoken – but maybe not so odd, in that you could always rely on the drawings for a clue. Grrr! was accompanied by a picture of the character shaking their fist. Brrr! was always said by a character with their arms folded across their chest, their knees bent, and a blue nose, with little curved lines hovering around their bodies to denote shivering.

There were also three verbs commonly used to indicate the threat of physical violence:

I’ll pulverise you!

I’ll spifflicate you!

I’ll marmalise you!

Only the first of these is an actual proper word, meaning to grind to dust. The other two were just humorous nonsense words that sounded vaguely destructive. Anyway, now all these words are gone. It’s a funny sort of loss, since no one ever said them anyway, but I do feel that it is a loss.


Yesterday I was in Blackpool, teaching a training course; and I learned from one of the trainees that the word for a native of Blackpool is a Sangronan. Or that at least is what it sounded like. I guessed it might be based on an old Latin word for the area (like Caledonian for a Scottish person) but I was wrong. I later googled it and found it is written Sand-Grown ‘Un – meaning, of course, someone who grew up in the sand.

Words for natives of particular towns or regions are called demonyms. Thus, the demonym for a native of London is a Londoner, of Liverpool a Liverpudlian, of Manchester a Mancunian, of Aberdeen an Aberdonian and so on. Most are based fairly closely on the actual name of the place, but others are less predictable. A native of Slough is called a Paludian, for some reason, while someone from Swansea is called a Jack. If you come from Sunderland, you are a Mackem.

But the demonym for a native of Goole is, I am glad to say, a predictable one. It is Goolie, which would be funny if you were talking about a pair of them.