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I overheard two people having a conversation in a pub today; and the woman said something along the lines of ‘Are you going to Jake’s tonight?’ and the man replied ‘A hundred per cent.’

This curious way of saying ‘Yes’ appears to be gaining ground. I don’t like it much. I suppose it adds some enthusiasm to the affirmative, but it always sounds over-the-top and slightly insincere to me. Why has it caught on? I don’t know, but I’m speculating it’s from programmes like Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor, where the judges say ‘A hundred per cent yes!’ to acts they like. (They never say ‘A hundred per cent no’ to the acts they don’t like – why is that?)

Anyway, it sounds enthusiastic but it doesn’t necessarily indicate real commitment. It’s not at all uncommon for the judges to mercilessly pan and send home the acts they’ve previously hundred-per-cented when it comes to the next round; and by the same token I wouldn’t be surprised if I learned that that bloke never turned up at Jake’s.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

A new mondegreen

I’ve always enjoyed mondegreens, that is, creative mishearings of song lyrics, and I came across a good new one the other day. It was in a piece of life writing from a student which I was marking, and it quoted the Lightning Seeds/David Baddiel football song about England’s European Championship bid: “jewels remain still gleaming”.

Of course that should be “Jules Rimet still gleaming”, referring to the 9-inch high solid gold World Cup trophy. But unlike most mondegreens, “jewels remain still gleaming” does actually still make good sense in the context of the song, if we interpret jewels metaphorically, to mean “precious memories” or something of the sort.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

The grammar vigilante

I’m late to the party on this one, but I thought I should comment on the ‘grammar vigilante’ of Bristol who was in the news last week. He goes around correcting signage which has misplaced apostrophes on it. I have a lot of sympathy with him because I used to do exactly the same thing; whenever I saw a sign outside a shop that had an aberrant apostrophe I would neatly circle it with a board marker (as a teacher I always had board markers in my bag). This was back in the 80s when I lived in Kentish Town. I never got on the news for doing it, though.

Strictly speaking I suppose the grammar vigilante is really a punctuation vigilante; but then, you need to know quite a bit of grammar to know the rules for apostrophes. I can see how the confusion arises. People who misuse apostrophes have in their minds a rough sort of rule, which is that when a word ends in an s which is not always there, then an apostrophe is required to signal its addition. I remember when I was at school in the 70s, a boy once wrote Sex Pistol’s on the cover of his history exercise book, and when challenged by the rest of us over his illiteracy, defended himself by saying “There’s got to be an apostrophe there, ‘cause you could have just one Sex Pistol, right?” How we laughed.

The point is that the rule is not totally wrong; it’s just incomplete. The fact is that there are three reasons for adding an s to a word in English: when the s is added to form a plural; when the s is added for the third person singular of a verb; and when the s is added to signal possession. The rule that you put in an apostrophe when an s is added is thus correct for the last of these, but not for the first two.

To add to the confusion, an apostrophe is also used to indicate missing letters in contractions, and the most common of these do just so happen to end in s: what’s, that’s, it’s, he’s, she’s (in all these cases the apostrophe-s can indicate either is or has); and then there’s also let’s (for let us).

To make it even worse, once you’ve learned the rules you have to learn the exception for possessive personal pronouns. We might reasonably expect his, hers, ours, yours, theirs and its to have an apostrophe, since they indicate possession; but they don’t. And to make it more confusing still, the impersonal pronoun one does take an apostrophe in the possessive: one’s.

Faced with all this it must seem simpler just to stick an apostrophe in whenever you see an s. But I do wish they’d just decide to leave it out every time instead. They’d be right more often and it wouldn’t be so annoying when they were wrong.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

A Sign of Spring

I noticed this morning that the butter was soft and spreadable – one of my favourite signs of spring – and I remembered a poem I wrote on this theme some years ago. Not strictly to do with the English language, I suppose; still, it’s in English.  Here it is:

A SIGN OF SPRING

The creamy yellow pat obediently

flattens beneath the pressure of the blade

and smoothly coats the surface of the bread.

Not quite frictionless, but the level

of resistance is subtle and pleasurable.

It doesn’t tear the bread violently

to shreds, as if it had an ancestral grudge,

as if the bread’s insulted its mother or sister,

as in the unforgiving winter months.

Nor is it a gleaming, glistening, glutinous mess

as in the oily days of summer, melting

like an iceberg drifting towards the Tropics.

Mollified, not melted, for this brief time

it’s in its precious and precarious prime.

 

 

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

 

The great Easter egg controversy

I see that Theresa May has said it’s “absolutely ridiculous” that Cadbury’s and the National Trust have decided to re-label a planned Easter egg hunt as a mere egg hunt. Judging from the reaction I’ve seen on Twitter, her wading into this affair hasn’t increased her popularity. She’s been criticised from two angles: one, that she should have more important things to think about, and two, that eggs don’t have any theological connection with Easter anyway.

Both those charges are true. Nevertheless I find myself in sympathy with May here. No doubt she does have more pressing concerns to attend to, but we can’t always be talking about the most important thing in the world. And whilst chocolate eggs are not part of the story of the Passion, I am quite sure that that’s not the reason Cadbury’s and the National Trust removed the word ‘Easter’. I really don’t think they thought, “Oh, it would be misleading to say ‘Easter’ because people might think our egg-hunt had some connection with Christianity, so we’d better avoid that confusion”.

So why did they do it? First, we should note that the issue isn’t quite clear-cut because Cadbury’s and the National Trust emphasise that, although the actual hunt is not described as an ‘Easter egg hunt”, the word “Easter” does appear in their promotional literature and on their website. So they haven’t de-Eastered it completely. Leaving that aside, though, what reason could there be for not calling it an Easter egg hunt?

I am speculating, but I suspect it was because they did not wish to offend followers of other faiths. If so, that’s a pretty spavined reason, because followers of other faiths (or none) are not offended by references to Christianity. They just aren’t. And why would they be? I think this is an example of someone trying to be politically correct but getting it wrong. I should say I’ve got nothing against political correctness per se; it’s commendable to be sensitive and avoid needless offence in one’s use of language. But sometimes people just aren’t very good at it.

The fact is that Easter eggs simply are called Easter eggs, just as Christmas puddings are called Christmas puddings. We don’t have to get rid of all the Christian references in English just because we are no longer all Christians. I actually like the way a nation’s history and traditions are preserved in its language. Our days of the week, for example, commemorate Norse and Roman gods, but I hope nobody will propose re-naming them on that account.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come!

funk

I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday and the song Funkytown (by Lipps Inc) came on. What a good song that is. Anyway it got me thinking about the word funk. We don’t hear that word so often these days but in the 70s it was ubiquitous, appearing in song titles like Play that Funky Music, Funky Stuff and Funky Chicken, the names of bands, like Funkadelic, and expressions like strut your funky stuff (ie dance). But what does “funk” actually mean? Well, according to wikipedia it’s a style of Afro-American music which appeared in the 60s, influenced by jazz, characterised by a strong beat decorated by complex rhythms, in which the drums and bass are prominent, with small emphasis on melody and chord progressions but making use of repeated rich complex chords, often in minor keys. (By this definition Funkytown is not actually a very good example of funk.)

But where did the word come from? I was once told by a friend (a certain Mr Rob Lemkin) that it originally meant “pubic sweat”. I have no idea if this is true but it sounds as if it ought to be true. And when you consider that funk in British English is also an old slang word for “fear”, the idea that it has a connection with sweat does seem plausible.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

When Barbie Met Action Man: Chapter Two

Good morning, everybody. Chapter 2 of When Barbie Met Action Man is now available: see here – https://whenbarbiemetactionman.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/chapter-two/