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hooking up

Rosalind, my middle child, started university this year (at my old college, as it happens); and an old friend of mine, Sarah, whose son goes to the same university but in the year above, remarked to me that it would be nice if the two of them were to meet up there.

Well, of course it would. So I passed this on to Ros, saying, ‘Sarah says it would be good if you and her son were to hook up.’

I couldn’t see anything exceptionable in that, but Ros stared at me in incredulous disgust. ‘She said that?’

‘What’s wrong? I think it would be a good idea too.’

‘I can’t believe I’m hearing this.’

Explanations ensued, of course. In my day the phrase hook up just meant to meet up with somebody. But nowadays it means to have sex with them.


lucked out

There was a piece by Julian Baggini in yesterday’s Guardian – about Bitcoins and the casino aspects of our economy generally – in which the following sentence, or something very like it, appeared: ‘If you’re lucky you worry about paying the mortgage; if you’re a little less lucky you worry about paying the rent; if you’ve lucked out completely you worry about being kicked out of your hostel’.

I was brought up short by that phrasal verb lucked out. In the context it clearly means ‘run out of luck’; but I had always thought it meant to have some great and possibly unexpected stroke of good fortune.

I googled the phrase and discovered that in the USA and Canada, to luck out does indeed mean to get lucky; while here in Britain it means to be out of luck, just as Dr Baggini used it. So this is another of those words/phrases (like moot) which have opposite meanings on different sides of the Atlantic. The British usage seems more logical, yet it still doesn’t sound right to me – simply because I encountered the American use first, I suppose. I think I’ll avoid its use altogether from now on. Not that I ever used it much anyway.


I was thinking today about a word my father used to use to refer to gluttony. I remember him saying it about a friend of my older sister’s, who was in the habit of demolishing a whole family-sized bag of crisps in front of the telly each evening. When this was reported to him my dad responded: “That’s just pigwork!”

Pigwork. Isn’t that a great expression? My dad was from Yorkshire. What I’d like to know is, is that a known Yorkshire expression, or was it his own coinage?

Two new expressions

I like to keep up to date with slang (well, sort of up to date) by taking note of the expressions my son Fred (aged 13) brings home from school. One of the latest is calm, meaning fine, cool, OK, no worries. So for instance I might say “Did you get in trouble for forgetting to take your homework in?” and he’ll reply, “No, it’s calm.” I like that one.

Another is flex. This means to boast or, as we used to say, to swank. I asked Fred for an example of its use and he said: “If you put up a picture on Snapchat of yourself sitting in a new BMW which your dad had leased for the day, that would be flexing.” I like this one too, with its suggestion of flexing imaginary muscles.

Best Christmas carol lyric ever

The choir I sing in is currently rehearsing The Coventry Carol, in preparation for our Christmas concert. I did not know this carol well before; I’d heard it, and thought it had a lovely, plaintive melody, but I’d never attended to the words. I thought it was a lullaby to the baby Jesus. At choir practice last night, reading and singing the words, I realised what it was all about.

It begins ‘Lully lulllay, thou little tiny child, by by lully lullay’. The child that is being sung to is in danger; because ‘Herod the King/ In his raging/ Chargéd he hath this day/ His men of might/In his own sight/ All children young to slay’.

In other words it is not Jesus who is being lullabied, but some other innocent child, caught in the Nativity fallout: the reference is to the “Massacre of the Innocents”, when Herod ordered the slaughter of all new-born boys in Bethlehem so as to be sure of eliminating the new-born King of the Jews, as told in the Gospel of Matthew (but no other Gospel). It’s a lullaby to a child under sentence of death.

I realised this as I was singing it and developed such a lump in my throat I could barely manage to sing the words “thou little tiny child”. The carol was written in the 15th century: a time when infant death must have been very common. They didn’t feel it any less than we would, but had to endure it far more often. Somehow that awful sense of piercing loss found its way into the words and the beautiful, minor-key melody. It’s the most moving Christmas carol I know.


I am trying to get a new word off the ground. Trying to launch it. The word is ooby-dooby, and it means an Uber cab. So when you decide to get an Uber, you just say, “I know, let’s get an ooby-dooby”. The problem is that no one I’ve said it to so far seems keen to adopt it. All my family dislike it and when I use it they just tell me to stop saying it. Yet I feel this word could spread rapidly with a little help. Then eventually it will get into dictionaries and I will be credited as its originator. So maybe we could all use it whenever possible? Anyone who shares or retweets this post will have my gratitude.

Whom abuse – and David Cassidy

I was reading David Cassidy’s obituary in The Times yesterday. For someone of my age it is very sad to see all these 70s icons being harvested by the Grim Reaper. And David Cassidy led a tragic life; an archetypal casualty of stardom that came too soon. I thought the obituary missed out on the principal reason for Cassidy’s success, which was that he had a deep, breathy, masculine singing voice, startlingly at odds with his fey, delicate appearance.

But I digress. I have a grammar point to make. In the obituary I came across this sentence: “He admitted struggling to gain the approval of his father, whom he suggested became ‘tormented’ when his son became more famous than him”.

Whom? Take out he suggested, and what do we have? Whom became tormented – which is equivalent to saying him became tormented. Nobody would say him became tormented, except perhaps Little Plum in the Beano.

When someone uses whom these days they are making a sort of statement. They are saying “Look at me, I understand the intricacies of English grammar!” When they get it wrong, it’s embarrassing: like watching someone attempting a pirouette and falling flat on their face. It’s also distracting. I wanted to read about David Cassidy’s life, not get sidetracked into thinking about grammar.