Friday, 30 June 2006

Pongs on tap

I know it’s lazy to publish a post containing a link to an item in a newspaper without any comment. However, I was much taken with a report about the development, by one Pambuk Samboon of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, of a device that can record a smell and play it back to you, but I have absolutely nothing to say about it.

I can’t even be bothered to name the source, since I have cited it or linked to it some 35 times in the last three years.

Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Talking proper

“Her English is too good,” he said, “that clearly indicates that she is foreign
For whereas other girls are taught their native language, Englishwomen aren(‘t)….”

Thus did Zoltan Karpathy imagine, wrongly, that he had discovered Eliza Doolittle’s secret. In the period in which My Fair Lady is set, girls—other than upper class ones—weren’t taught anything much about our language. Nowadays they are taught just as much as boys, and may master it rather better. But it remains true that non-native-English-speakers who have had to learn the language sometimes seem to acquire a command of grammar and syntax (if not pronunciation) which puts to shame those who were fortunate enough to have merely absorbed it with their mothers’ milk.

[“…And although she may have studied with an expert dialectician and grammarian,

Monday, 26 June 2006

Oh, bother!

It wasn’t my fault, no-one was hurt, and absolutely everyone involved, especially me, acted with commendable calm and forbearance. Even the owner of the four-ton gatepost which had come off worse than my car shook me by the hand and expressed the desire to meet me again one day under happier circumstances. It was pleasant to find that civilised behaviour has not become quite as obsolete as one sometimes fears.

No great harm was done, but a brief holiday in Devon had to become even briefer and now I must buy another car. Coming closely after sport, fashion, antiques and the price of houses, motor cars—my own or anyone else’s—rank high among the subjects I never want to spend any time talking about, but for once here goes.

The car was an early model of a range which never captured the market it was aimed at: the sort of people who buy that sort of car saw that driving one of these would do irreparable harm to their image, suggesting that they were employed by a cheapskate company and lacked the clout to demand a Mercedes, Jaguar or BMW. So the value of the few that were sold dropped quickly and dramatically, and used ones are rare and very cheap.

This was one reason why I acquired this car seven years ago; the other reason was that it was clearly a perfect match for its driver, being large, solid, comfortable, unsporting, unfashionable, unprestigious, unexciting, giving little trouble and with enormous consumption. Anyway, I am looking for another one just the same.

God , wasn’t that post boring? I promise that Other Men's Flowers will never again feature this topic.

Saturday, 24 June 2006

Industrial news

Football has been driven from everyone’s mind by an announcement from Luxembourg stating that the board of the pan-European steel group Arcelor will decide on Sunday whether to recommend acceptance of a takeover bid from Mittal Steel. Earlier in the week the Guardian had racked up the widespread excitement over this extraordinary development by illustrating their report with this picture.
Selecting it must have been difficult; clearly the Pictures Editor was keen to avoid the one usually used to enliven such news items, which shows a great bucket thing pouring out molten steel amid showers of sparks, and chose instead a low-key approach intended to intrigue readers, who will be asking themselves:
Who is this man? What's his game? Why is he wearing a fireproof smock and a hat clearly made from thin card? Is that a gleam of wry amusement in his eye or is he just fed up after a long day in the slag vats?
These questions will provoke heated argument in the pubs and clubs over this weekend while the huge plasma screens flicker unwatched.

Thursday, 22 June 2006

Keeping it loose in midfield

I normally take the feeds from around twenty websites or blogs, though I look at the updates only occasionally, in idle moments.

I was depressed today when I logged on to my reader to find that no less than nine of them, all of which I had previously believed were being written by people with whom I had something in common, and which I had found to contain generally interesting or amusing matter, featured comments about the World Cup, as if the writers felt that they needed to add to the millions of words on the subject which are currently sloshing around the media. And, what’s more, some of them are women, a species I generally admire for their immunity to male obsessions.

Of course, male and female lads alike have every right to go into print with their thoughts on football, if that is what turns them on. Farewell, and every good wish for the future to those nine; time to thin out my feed subscriptions.

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Urban wild life

We live near the centre of a town far from the noise of tractors and the stench of broiler chicken houses; our road is quiet and we have many wild residents and visitors: badgers, foxes, squirrels and so on. We see the last two often, swanning around as if they own the place (the vixen above is particularly bold), but have never actually seen the badgers, having failed so far to carry out our plan to sit out in the dark, silent and downwind of the sett, in the hope of seeing them gambol or mate or whatever it is badgers get up to at night. When we first realised they were there we asked the local badger society about them and the man got hold of the wrong end of the stick, thinking that we wanted to know how to kill them, but when we explained that they were welcome he told us about leaving out trays of peanuts and so on. We never got round to this either, but they seem to be thriving.
And then there are the birds: assorted finches, blue tits, sparrows, dunnocks, starlings, blackbirds, wrens, robins, magpies and unidentified others. I don’t find them a big thrill myself but my wife acquired some binoculars so that she can watch them lashing into the copious banquets she provides while chirruping about in a neurotic sort of way (the birds, I mean). They can't be very bright, because our fat and lazy cat has already presented us with the corpses of two of them.

But the incontinent seagulls (properly, herring gulls) are another matter; I wish we could poison the filthy beasts, like Tom Lehrers’s pigeons:
We’ll murder them all amid laughter and merriment,
Except for a few we take home to experiment…

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Ladyfingers & Nun’s Tummies

The other day an internet friend in Wisconsin kindly sent me a copy of a book with this title. It is a fascinating and exhaustive treatise about the origin of the names used for things we eat, thus combining two of my main interests: words and food.
The author, Martha Barnette, is a journalist but also clearly a serious etymologist, and the derivations she lists have been carefully researched, but this does not inhibit her from including a bit of folk etymology when it’s amusing and at least possible, if not proven. She gives caveats for these: for example, she says “many etymologists believe” that pumpernickel comes from the German for devil’s fart; well, maybe, but the OED makes no mention of this and gives the origin as uncertain, while noting that before 1663 the word referred to a lout or booby. And lampoon, “many etymologists believe”, comes from lampons!, meaning let’s drink, a common exhortation in boozy French songs, while the OED says rather sniffily that French etymologists believe this, but prefers to derive it from lamponner, to ridicule, which indeed seems more likely.
But there's no doubt about carpaccio, a dish in which the main ingredient is served, usually raw, in extremely thin slices: the OED confirms that it comes from "...Vittore Carpaccio (c1460-1525), Venetian painter, who used a distinctive red colour similar to that of raw beef. The dish is said to have been created by Giuseppe Cipriani of Harry's Bar in Venice in 1961, inspired by an exhibition of Carpaccio's work at the Doge's Palace".

Friday, 16 June 2006


The OED gives as alternative spellings: hullo, hallo, halloo, halloa and others (some used only as verbs) and a rather perfunctory etymology mentioning only the Old French haloer.
Most variants are pronounced more or less the same, but effete and pretentious English people have developed a different way of greeting their effete and pretentious friends: Hellair!

Wednesday, 14 June 2006


No, nothing to do with hormones; as Damon Runyon would say, that is not such a topic as I am wishing to give the large hallo to.

It is evidence of the prevalence of the High Rising Terminal that this is the first of the ten meanings of these three letters listed by Wikipedia. Hampton Roads Transit, Hrvatska Radiotelevizija and the others need not detain us because it is the High Rising Terminal that is by far the most interesting of the ten, unless you are postmenopausal, transgendered, an inhabitant of Virginia, or deeply involved in Croatian broadcasting.

I didn’t know, until I read a review of Anne Karpf’s new book The Human Voice, that this HRT is the technical name for a rising intonation at the end of a sentence—“upspeak”, or “uptalk”.

Apparently it is uncertain where it originated or is most commonly used: Sydney? Southern California? Bristol? Northern Ireland?—but it was noted as early as World War II in Australia, New Zealand and England. And the sort of people who use it most?—teenagers, women, fans of Australian soaps… oh, and people in rural North Dakota and Minnesota who have come under the influence of the Norwegian language (how's that again?).

And various functions for it have been suggested: it may encourage the addressee to participate in the conversation, or it may exhibit the speaker’s insecurities about the statement; but recently it has been shown that assertive speakers (peer group leaders) are more likely to use HRT than junior members of the group since it indicates that the speaker is not finished yet, and thus perhaps discourages interruption. Which of these accounts for George W Bush’s extensive use of it is uncertain.

This speech habit is unattractive and misleading. Now that is a clear and resolute declaration: apply HRT to the last word and it becomes a feeble query, inviting the response: "No it isn't".

Monday, 12 June 2006

Don't give it to me

O Sole Mio is a nice old song if you like that sort of thing, and it is a great pity that a generation has grown up all over the world which associates it not with ardent Neapolitans but with a sweet fatty gunk called Cornetto. This irritated me enough to make me complain about it twenty years ago, with possibly some small result, and again last month, with none.
The other day I wrote to the Advertising Standards Authority suggesting that a phrase in the recently re-cycled jingle was misleading. Their reply assured me that “the ASA is extremely careful to monitor any broadcast advertising that may be misleading”.
However, they also explained that a manufacturer who misleads the public is not breaching their code: for the ASA to act there must be “serious viewer detriment” and lots of complaints about it. They went on: “…we could not justify any further [further?] intervention but we will continue to monitor any future audience response… sorry if you are disappointed… thank you for raising this matter…”
I replied:
Thank you for your reply of 25th May.
When Walls first started to use a version of this commercial, some twenty years ago, the jingle went “….Delicious ice cream from Italy.” I had some correspondence about this at the time but I do not know whether or not it that was that which caused Walls to change it to “…of Italy”.
I do not think this is much less misleading than their first try. I mentioned in my letter to you the possibility that, in response to your query, Walls might say that it just means “Italian style”, only in order to pre-empt any attempt on their part to justify their words in this way, not to suggest that if that was what they mean then their claim is honest.
I guess that few consumers, or even the manufacturers, have any idea what “Italian style” means. The authoritative website Made in Italy Online says
“What is the art of Italian-style ice cream and what are the ingredients? …it can have either a fruit or a custard base…For ice cream with a custard base, it is the custard that is common to all the varieties, and the different flavors are added to it: chocolate, vanilla, hazelnut, etc. To make the custard only fresh eggs and fresh skimmed milk should be used…”.
If Walls were to claim that “of Italy” means “Italian-style” then, when the product is manufactured outside Italy with ingredients very different from what is described above, the claim is clearly false, and the words of the jingle are clearly misleading, though suggestio falsi rather than a downright lie. However, I note that you appear to believe that this is of no concern to the ASA unless there is “serious viewer detriment”. This is disappointing.
I note that you do not intend to raise the matter with the manufacturers, though you will “monitor any future audience response”. I can well appreciate that you are not keen to tangle with Unilever, the multinational which owns Walls, and you are unlikely to receive any substantial volume of complaints because very few people realise what Walls are claiming, so I must accept that as far as the ASA is concerned the matter is closed. So it must be for me, though I shall be publishing our correspondence on the internet and elsewhere. Yours, etc.

So that's that.

Saturday, 10 June 2006

Sweet Saviour, Bless Us Ere We Go

I had always assumed that the chant often used as a prelude or accompaniment to mindless violence was derived from this lovely old hymn, but apparently not.
Anyway, ‘ere we go: the World Cup has started. My wife has announced her intention of following it all closely, so it is fortunate that we have more than one TV set.
I am pleased to see that Gary Younge in the Guardian will be giving advice on Who to Cheer for When the Football Doesn’t Matter. This to me means all the time, so I shall read the articles carefully. I mean, I don’t want to have nothing to say when people engage me in conversation on the current topic to which I am totally indifferent; almost nobody I know wants to talk about anything else and it would be frustrating to have to remain mumchance for the next few weeks. But if I can comment from time to time on where my sympathies lie at least I can appear to be taking an interest.
Take yesterday’s Germany v Costa Rica, for example. Costa Rica is “a tiny strip of Central America that has no army, universal health care and a recently-elected centre-left government led by a president who refused to let the US use his country as a base for the Contras in 1980”. Sounds good to me, so they had my support and I was sorry to hear later that they lost.
Today things were more complicated. I know England is a greater nation (or part of a nation) than Paraguay—the most corrupt and impoverished country in South America—and I don’t need a bunch of millionaire louts to prove it to me by kicking a ball about, so I shan’t much mind who wins.

Thursday, 8 June 2006

Something interesting not easy to find in the dross of Other Men’s Flowers, even though it now contains 430 posts amounting to 100,000 words. Blogger provides no facility for listing categories, and I cannot be bothered with any of the various clever ways of implementing them with a bit of coding.
However, those seeking an item which might conceivably be of interest to them can always type a keyword into the space at the top left of the page, click on Search this blog, and see what comes up, though Blogger Search covers only the last 300 posts so they will miss earlier gems.

Thus, for example, words will give you a list of 17 posts, music 13, women 12, food 7, sex 7, love 7, poetry 5, Jesus 5, Canada 3 and so on.

Obviously, the figures in no way indicate the relative level of my interest in these topics, because the lists will not be exhaustive: there are dozens of posts about, say, food, which don’t actually use the word: you would have to search for butter, mussels, etc, etc, to find the lot, and most readers will have something more exciting to occupy their time, like making an inventory of their socks, or worming the dog.

Anyway, Other Men’s Flowers is, after all, a personal blog: searching for I or me will produce utterly pointless lists totalling over two hundred posts.

November 2006: OMF now has categories.

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

And now for something…

A couple of years ago I imposed upon myself the obligation of making a new post to Other Men's Flowers every second day. I have not found this difficult to fulfil, my writing being untrammelled by considerations of accuracy, originality or taste. That’s the advantage of maintaining an obscure personal blog with no reputation for quality to keep up, or fastidious readers to satisfy: when inspiration flags, I can shovel in any old codswallop and no-one will complain or even notice.

In recent days absolutely no new subjects for calumny or mockery have come to light: there have been no idiotic new initiatives from the government, no new pronouncementations from Dubya, no new evidence of our moral degeneracy or the squalor of our politics.

Anyway, I am in no mood for my usual poking around in the midden of our public life, or the media, or the celebrity world, for little bits of discreditable information on which to make snide comments, for today the sun is shining, the hounds of spring are on winter’s traces, and, unless I have been misinformed, a livelier iris changes on the burnish'd dove.

So here is a nice unseasonal picture:

Pieter Bruegel I (c1525-1569): Hunters in the Snow 1565 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)

Sunday, 4 June 2006

Phoebe and Nathan are both at No. 35

The top five baby names for 2005 in the UK were Jessica, Emily, Sophie, Olivia and Chloe for girls, and Jack, Joshua, Thomas, James and Oliver for boys. If you really want to know more on this gripping topic, such as how the popularity of names is changing over the years (Libby has climbed four places since last year, up to No. 48, wow!), and the extent to which the soaps and sport are influencing it (in 2005 Eastenders’ Ruby went up 16 places to No 15, wow again) then look here.

Things are different in the USA, where it is unlikely that Jack has been in top place for eleven years as he has here. In a fascinating piece about lifestyle choices, Joe Queenan in the Independent (see, I read more than one paper) reports that "a friend of mine found that in Boise, Idaho—recently designated by the previously sane Forbes magazine the best place to live in America—the children in her daughter’s ballet class were called Melynda, Kelsee, Chelsea, Caitlan, Aidan, Ciera, Allegra, Hailey, Courtney, Collette, Cataline, Shelby, Sarraye, Maren, Koreen, Oakley, Adelle, Sadi, Marisa, Natania, Jade, Raquel, Kinsey, Leela, Elia, Kendall, Michaela, Ayla, Cami, Becca, Alyson, Arianna, Tymer, Kaitlynn, Kieron, Taylor, Morgan, Amari, Whitney, Brittany, Storm and Ireland, and this is a town where even the downscale non-lifestyle girls have names like Tira, Denae, Bailey and Salix, and where the lost boys have names like Cree, Piute and Leaf”.

Of course, once a made-up name has been attached to someone famous we get used to it: Rudyard (a lake) never caught on but was probably not thought to be extraordinary at the time. Nyree (Dawn Porter, Irene in the 1967 Forsyte Saga) and Ngaio (the writer Dame N. Marsh, named after a tree) were famous New Zealanders so there may be some others with those names down there.

Wendy is in a class of its own: now unremarkable, it was thought to have been invented by James Barrie, but actually wasn't; three of them crop up in census records in the nineteenth century. Barrie's god-daughter Wendy B became an actress and, later, so did Wendys Hiller, Craig and Kweh.
It is doubtful whether the two Chinese Emperors called Wendi (or Wen-Ti) are really part of the history of the name, since it disappeared for a long time after the Han dynasty one (179-157 BC) and the Sui dynasty one (501-564 AD). mis2

Friday, 2 June 2006

Worth a thousand words

Some of James Thurber’s cartoons don’t actually need the drawing: the caption on its own tells the story.

Examples are:
“Well, if I called the wrong number why did you answer the phone?”
“It’s our own story exactly! He bold as a hawk, she soft as the dawn.”
“What do you want me to do with your remains, George?”
“I thought you’d enjoy Miss Perrish, darling. She has a constant ringing in her ears, too.”
“I wouldn’t rent this room to everybody, Mr Spencer. It’s where my husband lost his mind.”
“You wait here and I’ll bring the etchings down.”
“I can’t get in touch with your uncle, but there’s a horse here wants to say hello.”
“What do you want to be inscrutable for, Marcia?”
“I was voted the biggest heel in school, Mamma!”
“What do four ones beat?”

……though perhaps this only works for those who know the drawing and can bring to mind the grumpy, dismayed, angry, lecherous, drunk, tearful or simply blank expressions he drew so brilliantly.

Others, including most of the famous ones, mean nothing at all without the picture:
“You and your premonitions!”
“Perhaps this will refresh your memory!”
“What’s come over you since Friday, Miss Schemke?”
“Ooooo, guesties!”
“Have you no code, man?”
“What have you done with Dr Millmoss?”


"I come from haunts of coot and hern!"