Do you speak politics? Can you string a whole series of political buzzwords together and mean, pretty much, nothing at all?
Politics-speak is the art of saying nothing, but with fancy words that sound impressive. At least, they sound impressive to some listeners. And it’s not only politicians who use them.
Often, it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes—often, there’s nothing there at all.
For those who aren’t politics junkies, it may be useful to know that when a newspaper runs a story criticising an organisation (or a government), the organisation is usually given a right of reply. That reply often appears in full at the end of the critical article.
Those replies are great places to find political buzzwords. Or bromides, if you prefer. Gives you a chance to count them. Or to laugh at their absurdities?
Recently, I was stopped in my tracks over female language. Specifically French female language. And then I thought about English, and how different it is. Or is it?
What do I mean by “female language”? Well… I suppose I mean the words and phrases used to signify that we are referring to someone female rather than male. It’s an issue in French, because it’s a gendered language. In English, we’re increasingly moving away from gendered language. For example, we don’t talk about actors and actresses any more, just about actors. And in cricket, we have batters, not batsmen. In the fishing industry, we have fishers, not fishermen. Back before the war, the women who painted china were called paintresses. I can’t imagine anyone using that word now, can you? Or—pace Jane Austen—authoress.
The issue arose because, in the book I’m currently working on, there is a reference to a female examining magistrate in Paris. Now, the French for judge is “le juge” and an examining magistrate (the one who oversees the pre-trial enquiry) is “le juge d’instruction”. So far, so fairly OK. One would address such a magistrate as “monsieur le juge”. But what if he is a she? Continue reading →
Did you know that INTO and IN TO are not interchangeable?
Recently, I read the paragraph below in Jonathan Bouquet’s weekly column in the Observer. Jonathan Bouquet (a subeditor on the paper) is almost always on the side of the language angels, but this time…?
Oxford University Press has announced its shortlist for word of the year. Its choices are #IStandWith, Metaverse and goblin mode. The first two I am familiar with, but the last… completely stumped. I’ve never seen it or heard it. Apparently, it is “a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives into and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations”. I think it used to be known as slobbishness. (Observer, 27 Nov 2022)
The source of the definition is not specified in the column. It appears to be dictionary.com but the Observer (or Jonathan Bouquet himself?) has misquoted it. See my added red emphasis. The dictionary.com definition is actually:
Goblin mode is a slang term for a way of behaving that intentionally and shamelessly gives in to and indulges in base habits and activities without regard for adhering to social norms or expectations. (dictionary.com entry dated 7 Jun 2022)
Subeditors hanging head in shame? Oh dear.
One would have thought that such an august organ—the Observer was first published in 1791—would know better by now. But in the same edition, I read the following in an opinion piece by no less a person than Isobel Hardman, the Assistant Editor of the Spectator:
…more planning reforms are on the brink of failing, with ministers and whips alike expecting Gove to cave into rebels led by Theresa Villiers who want to make top-down housing targets merely advisory.
If you thought I was missing in action lately, you were partly right. It is nearly 18 months since I last posted here. Indeed, it is nearly 2 years since I was last in the UK. Duty calls, you understand, and sometimes overseas. But I am back now, you’ll be relieved to know.
And I can see that things have been going rapidly downhill while I’ve been trapped in southern climes. Britain is much in need of strong and clear leadership and communication.
I am raring to go. It is right up my proverbial street, after all.
And now that I am back, I intend to See That Things Improve.
Let me start with an admission: I love inventive punctuation. Of course, you can do an awful lot, just by changing a comma into a dash. But some people go the whole hog into brackets, asterisks and the wild excesses of the exclamation mark. It all fascinates me.
Most people, of course, ignore it. Well, readers pick up the writers’ signals, I hope. But they don’t actually play around with the stuff. Why should they?
For some people, though, punctuation is a real headache, indissolubly tied to (horrors!) grammar. It’s a terrible shame.
That was the reason that, several years ago, Elizabeth Hawksley and I wrote a simple guide. Its working title was Punctuation for the Petrified, which the publisher vetoed for excellent reasons. It reflected our feelings, though. We wanted people to learn a few principles, have a source book to check things that worried them and, above all, relax and have fun. Continue reading →
Many years ago, around about my fourth book, I created a town called Maybridge. It was an amalgam of the town I grew up in and a much larger town a few miles away.
Since then, it has provided the background for many stories. It may be no more than a brief visit by the hero or heroine. A shopping trip, a visit to the bank manager, a visit to A&E.
In a couple of books the heroine lives there, and we see her set off on an adventure that will change her life.
Image by Trang Dang from Pixabay
Sometimes I set a story in the town and, over the years, I have created a world with a river (the River May), a thriving foodie area with independent shops, a huge old coaching inn that has become a great craft centre (owned by one of my heroes, naturally), parks, major companies and history.
This week, in connection with something unrelated to this blog, I came across a lot of book descriptors. By that, I mean the kind of words that are supposed to identify types and genres of fiction. Now I think I know what’s meant by romance or historical or saga. But some of the others? Um. Not so much.
So this blog is about a failing in my education. I need to get my head around these new and unfamiliar words to describe fiction. Who knows, I may even be writing some of them? But if I don’t understand the book descriptors, how will I ever know?
Uplit, or Up-Lit, or Up Lit (Take your pick on spelling)
One of the first book descriptors I fell over was Uplit. I tried the dictionary. Nope. (It asked me if I’d meant to type uplift. Sigh.) Continue reading →
I was prompted to write this blog by some of the reactions to my post about habit words, a couple of weeks ago. So this week’s post is about anachronisms of various kinds.
Anachronisms? The standard definition is something out of its time—an object, an expression, an attitude—something that does not belong in the period of the story.
We wouldn’t put electric light in a Regency setting, for example. That one is easy to spot. But how am I, as a historical writer, supposed to spot the ones that lurk in the undergrowth of my ignorance? Continue reading →