Thursday, 30 June 2011

Updated words

As always, the report on the latest quarterly update to the Oxford English Dictionary is a good read:

For me, Tex-Mex food is ugh, but I enjoyed hearing about the lengthy search for the origin of "nachos".

Modern technology has some cool new words, but "digital" dates from the fifteenth century

Never forget that the original meaning of "engine" in English was ‘ingenuity, artfulness; cunning, trickery’. Google is a search engine.

Saturday, 25 June 2011


It does happen sometimes that dog-owners get to look like their dogs. I used to know a girl called Gill who kept a pair of Afghan hounds. As she was a hairdresser (mine, actually) their coat was always beautifully kempt; so of course was hers, and she shared with the hounds a friendly disposition, a lean, fine-drawn and slightly aristocratic appearance as well as a bouncy and cheerful mien, though unlike them her ears were not silky and long and her legs were not a bit shaggy, so far as I could tell.

I saw today an example of the opposite, a totally disparate dog-and-owner pairing.

It was at a little caff usefully sited half-way between the town and the gentle slope up to my home, where it is good to linger for a while to get psyched up for the climb (it's not the South Col exactly, but the last 500 yards make me think). The sun was shining and there were some tables on the pavement where I sat with a double espresso and a toasted tea-cake chatting with the owner who had come out for a cigarette; he has very little English, but he managed to tell me that he had to smoke because of the stress of having a wife and three children; I re-assured him that I once had a comparable family, but after puffing away for half a century was eventually able to give it up (smoking, that is).

Where was I? Oh yes, dogs and their owners. A few yards away there was a man giving water to his dog, using an interesting device consisting of a plastic container with a bottle of water inside; he opened it up and the lid formed a little trough from which the dog was happily lapping. The thing was obviously invented in America; I remember that when my wife and I visited some of her relatives there we found that they were obsessed with carrying water with them at all times. This was in Arizona where it is easy to die of thirst in the desert, so I suppose they were taking no risks even when shopping in downtown Phoenix.

I am digressing again. The point I set out to make was that the dog looked very young, handsome, intelligent and friendly, while his owner appeared to be none of these things. I do not want to traduce the man: he may well have been a kindly, good-natured fellow, fond of flowers and with a gentle, whimsical humour, but his brutish appearance gave the impression that if you annoyed him he would gie yer the heid without compunction.

I think that was what I intended this post to be about, but I can't be sure; it's been a long day. The above is rambling and muddled, without a trace of OMF's usual brisk precision, a feature of omfstyle much admired by omflovers around the world. I shall have to pull myself together, lest two or three of them chuck it in, leaving me with barely enough to make up a synchronised swimming team should the need arise.

Monday, 20 June 2011

D'you like my hips... hipsnotise you? Thus the great Carmen Miranda. She is better still in her native Portuguese.

She came into my mind (not that she has ever been much out of it since I first saw That Night in Rio) when Carl de Souza's picture appeared last week, since the lady at Ascot is wearing a more formal version of the sort of thing that Carmen used to wear stapled to her head.

And very nice too, both the lady and the titfer; her name is Anneka Tanaka-Svenska, which comes trippingly off the tongue. She is a well-known vegetarian Natural History presenter and writer who specialises in the Environment, Green Issues and Wolf Conservation, and has been dubbed the Green Guru; well, she would be, wouldn't she? Her website* does not mention her parentage but I suppose Swedish-Japanese would be a fair guess.

Not much doubt about Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha's parentage, though to me she has something reminiscent of a Teutonic Maria: Maria Magdalene Dietrich. Same facial bone structure, same way of narrowing her eyes. But the Brazilian was the better singer and better dancer, especially with the hands and the hips, and equally seductive in a different way: she smiles rather than smoulders. The German may have had better legs but we shall never know: Carmen never showed hers.

Dietrich was born in 1901, so was eight years older than Miranda; sadly, the Brazilian Bombshell died in 1955, while Marlene hung on until 1999.

* ...which states: "Anneka is experienced in studio, live, autocue and corporate". This statement seems to have a word missing to which each of these categories relates: presentations? talks? sex?

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Comment from the Chair of St Augustine

 As a letter to The Guardian pointed out, the colon in a recent headline was misplaced. The headline should have read: The Archbishop no-one voted for: coalition policies.

No reason why His Grace should not have voiced criticism of the policies of our coalition government, of course, and few with any sense would disagree with what he said. But it is hard to see why so many objected to him saying it: he is entitled to say anything he likes, even when has no special knowledge of the subject, for no-one would take him seriously; the man is totally lacking in charisma.

The silly hat is not his fault, for that goes with the job, but he clearly cares nothing for his appearance, not even having the decency to trim his preposterous eyebrows. Lamentable!

But recent Primates of All England have been a pretty uninspiring bunch. His immediate predecessors—Coggan, Runcie and Carey—were respectively dull, hypocritical and slimy, so I suppose Williams, mad eyebrows and all, is an improvement on them. But for a bit of style you have to go back to Ramsey, a genial old person who once very nearly gave me the immense privilege of sharing a drink and a chat. If you bother to follow that link, you will find not only a report on this memorable encounter, but also a note about John Whitgift, whose stylishness has never been surpassed since he died in 1604, though his contemporary detractors said he was just a show-off and deplored his ecclesiastical bling. 

Friday, 10 June 2011

The Firm

With this lovely bit of Photoshopping on the cover and under the title President Windsor, Dominic Sandbrook in New Statesman last month lauded the political nous of the Queen, who has spent 60 years giving the impression that the monarchy is somehow detached from everyday political life. She is most certainly a political animal, having worked with 12 British prime ministers and 14 New Zealand prime ministers, 12 Australians and 11 Canadians. Without any training for the job, she has never, almost without exception, made a false move; we often underestimate just how much self-discipline and skill ;this must have taken.

The big problem with republicanism is that it is hard for us to imagine anyone else who could possibly make such a perfect Head of State. Sadly, although her sense of duty might induce her, in the interest of the country, to give up two or three of her residences, tell her awful family to pipe down, allow her head to be removed from our stamps and drop some of the pomp (and some of the duties) surrounding her present role, the fact that if she were to stand as a candidate in our first ever presidential election she would unquestionably get the kind of majority only previously enjoyed by leaders of totalitarian countries is irrelevant: she is too old.  

Sunday, 5 June 2011

It used not to be like that, usen't it not to be?

There has been much huffing and puffing about the inclusion of such words as thang, blingy and tik (methamphetamine) in the latest Collins "official" list of Scrabble words, but of course this is a matter of total indifference except to those daft enough to play Scrabble with people who take the game so seriously that they will pay £16.99 for the book.

Real dictionaries have detailed criteria for the acceptance of new words rather than depending on mere editorial whim. The realest of them all, the OED, accepted for inclusion this year (for example) LOL, couch surfer, fnarr fnarr and OMG (about time too; this one's nearly a hundred years old).

But not yet innit. This, though, is only a question of time, for it is unquestionably in sufficiently wide and probably permanent currency to warrant inclusion, and certainly fills a lacuna in our language: we have no invariant tag other than the crude eh? or huh? enabling us to ask for the agreement of the listener, and have to use a huge number (pity the poor foreign student of English!) of clumsy phrases like don't you? or shouldn't we?. But innit, which is a rather neat contraction of Is it not so?, can be used in any context, being the equivalent of n'est ce pas?, ¿verdad? or nicht wahr?

So we should all start using it now, without waiting for the OED to catch up, innit?