Archive for Language

All Remaining Paper

‘Remove all remaining paper before reloading.’, it says here. It says so on the front of my printer. Being so literal minded, I find I don’t quite know what to do with this. Whilst it’s plainly something to do with the paper feed tray, the object so enlabelled, I cannot help but feel that it must apply to some greater referent.

All remaining paper? It would be such a huge undertaking even were I certain that it applied to me in particular. After all, I know I’m not the only one in the world with such a printer. I can’t even be certain that no other type of printer does not have a similar demand plasticly and blackly emblazoned upon it. Perhaps it’s intended for the first person who both feels moved to obey it and is capable of doing it? For it ought to be reasonably clear that once somebody has removed all remaining paper, whether or not they reload afterwards, that it will be no longer possible for anybody else to do so, except trivially. I mean, were I certain that someone had indeed done the necessary, and consequently that no scrap of paper remained, then I could feel easier about my inaction since my doing nothing would be all that’s necessary to remove all remaining paper.

But of course this will not do. I know I’m outcopping on the flaky rock of rationalisation. I know, and cannot unknow, that paper is produced more or less continuously in gloopy vats of sticky fibrous whiteness. And the sighing — nay moaning — of air dryers whispering with their hot sweet breath over the sheets of floppily freshformed laminas, well, it keeps me awake at night so it does. So much paper. And nearly all of it remaining. It’s just not possible for one person to remove it all. Then it hits me. The removal of remaining paper is intended as a communal activity. It’s obvious. Why did I not see this before? Why else would they mark everybody’s printer with such an exhortation? In the hope that just one of us might do something about it? Of course not. It isn’t cost-effective.

This realisation has hit me with the same dread certainty of one who discovers, when one is about seven years old, that one is supposed to join the cubs. Despite all the voices inside you which rage against it, despite all the cries, the protests, the echoes of which you can feel humming within your very teeth, you know that you must thrice dib and triply dob with all the rest of them.

They say a child has no conception of this kind of catharsis. They lie. They say it would not occur to a child to rail against such monstrosities, for it knows no better. They fib. They say a child will not question authority until it has seen its own betrayal enacted in its own parent’s humanity. They tell porkies. Children know. Adults forget — it screams for epithesis, scit infans, adultus obliviscetur.

But all of this Munchish, Baconian screamery is to no avail. We all give in in the end. We capitulate and eventually become our own internal scout, guide, soldier, wac, rear admiral, judge and Ian Drury all rôled into one. We see that everybody else is already at it. Why else would they be trying to eliminate all the trees in all the parks in all the world? Why the deliberate introduction of Dutch Elm disease? Why all this land clearance in the Americas and in Africa and in Malaysia? Why all this schlaßenbrennung? To get rid of the wood of course. To remove all possibility that any paper might remain.

Were it not such a desperate thought, that all the trees be doomed, one might easily be seduced, entranced, enraptured and bewitched by the scale of such a collective-unconscious-bogglingly grand concept. The organisation that must have gone into it. The marshalling of forces, the necessary indoctrination. In all that time it must have taken to educate entire populations for this task, imagine all the civilisations that must have fallen, risen, fallen again, like the heaving breast of some gigantic Cartlandish heroine finding herself under the spell of a still more corpulent Sir Jasper.

But we have forgotten, have we not, that all of this is merely means to an end. I feel it is up to those of us who know, who have remembered, to remind all these countless generations of actors, generals, cooks, thieves, wives and lovers, that after all of the remaining paper has been removed, we are expected to reload. There’s no point in it otherwise. We must warn everyone now, before it is too late. We rush collectively towards our own annihilation. It may not have occurred to anybody that perhaps it were wiser not to reload, that we don’t really have to remove any remaining paper, let alone all of it. We must fly, fly like the wind. We must feel the swish of hair in our mouths, the brush of furze and gorse against our bare ankles, the rivulets of sand between our toes. Will you join me in this noble task? Dare you refuse? I know you cannot.

Ye Olde

It should by now be common knowledge that the use of Ye, for the, is based on a mistaking of the older orthographic rendering of the word the as Þe. Maybe it’s odd that an almost equally common misreading of ſ – the old long form for s, as an f, hasn’t produced a bunch of Ye olde tea fop from Þe Olde Tea ſhoppe, but the shop’s h probably stops that happening.

But Ye Olde has been around a lot longer than I thought. Here it turns up on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1887. They even had the quainty-wainty f-word (that’s Fayre) back then.


This picture is an engraved illustration from The Graphic (1869 – 1932) of May 21 1887, reporting on the Newcastle Exhibition where they’d had the wherewithal to build a complete half-scale model of the heavily ſhoppe-laden medieval Tyne Bridge which had been washed away in the flood of 1771.

Said Jubilee is why Exhibition Park was born, and is also what spawned Newcastle Exhibition Ale

Instant Gratification

The long-story form of a joke was designed to enhance the communal experience for the teller and the listener. But our modern listener may become restive. Since one hopes it possible that a joke may remain funny if told another way, we try cutting to the essence. Here goes:

approaches(flood, S)

offers(TS, “truck escape?“)
demurs(ST, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, Ground floor)
relocates(S, upstairs)

offers(BS, “boat escape?“)
demurs(SB, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, Top floor)
relocates(S, roof)

offers(HS, “helicopter escape?“)
demurs(SH, “No thanks. God provides.“)
inundates(flood, S)
relocates(S, Heaven)

queries(SGod, “WTF?“)
responds(GodS, “Sent truck, boat, helicopter!“)

Does it still work? If not, there’s a long version available at radar.

Voice it

It is well known that a T comes out as a D if you speak like one from the USA. So one may hid a ball and not sound as if you’re using the past tense badly, or one could heed an oven with no fear of being in undue awe of white goods, or one might udder a word and not seem to be doing weird with a cow. You can get away with it since this ‘other’ read (in most cases) makes no sense.

So what might it be like if those of the USA also voice their, say, Ps?

The cob told me to wade over there, bud I shall flab my wings and fly. Buddy wants to bud cuffs on me now, so wad do I do? I need to take a bee, y’see.

And also their Ks –

Now the damn’ gob’s at me to worg on a wider line than I’m used to. It’s wider than the bride lights of the siddy – and it’s still much too gold to bee here.


Het spijt mij, says the Dutchman. Es tut mir leid, says the German. Aren’t they quaint, these teutons? Such archaic constructions, the inanimate doing stuff to passive old you, rather than the straightforward activity of the I’m sorry uttered by no-nonsense English speakers.

Be a man – take responsibility, don’t blame an unspecified – possibly inhuman – external agent. It bothers me that …


Hmm. OK, “I am bothered” then. But that’s not the same, is it? ‘Bothered’ remains a past participle – unlike ‘sorry’, which isn’t any kind of participle – and so still hints at an external agency having done the bothering to me. Same with annoyed, miffed, etc. And even perplexed. They’re all past participles of verbs, pointing fingers away from us. What’s going on here? What’s so special about being sorry, and how did it get there?

Is it meet it boots me wonder? (Not to go all medieval on your ass or anything).


How does one ask google to find out if there’s a technical term for the practice of deliberately leaving struck-out text in place?

There are probably two cases

  • in proof-reading, a need to see prior versions the history of the text.
  • in rhetoric, to pretend to hide an insult in praise

It’s specifically the second rhetorical use I’m after. There’s clearly no need for it. Technology has eliminated that. Why leave the ‘uncorrected text’ when you can just delete or reword without trace? Leaving it behind can only be to make a point, to amuse or to otherwise mess with the reader’s brain.

And that’s why the Ancient Greeks were invented, to provide us with those classy classical Greek terms like anacoluthon and catachresis. But it seemed unlikely I’m going to find one, principally because they didn’t have this kind of technology.

But we practiced such nonsense^h^h^h^h^h^h^h^hdeceptions on teletypes before we could tracelessly remove text. We’re not likely to see old stone carvings visibly showing explicit ‘control h’ (or some ancient equivalent of a carved mark for backspace delete). But there are many documents (including ones cast in stone) with visible corrections or amendments. Doubtless some deliberately left more unhidden than they strictly needed to be.

So the Greeks probably did have a word for it. But what is it? Are there any examples out there? And how do you ask google?

Just what the lector ordered

Words that ought to exist


If somebody says “Yeah, they would” when you say “Wild horses wouldn’t drag me there”, are they challenging your horsemanship or – more subtly – your professed distaste for ‘there’?

It may also mean they don’t ‘get’ metaphor and are thinking “Of course they would. How could you stop ‘em, they’re wild horses for godssake”.

Do watch how you use metaphor. Though intended to effect more rapid communication via a shared understanding, it can sometimes get in the way and leave the other guy stewing without your even knowing the damage you’ve done.

Yes Problem

Are you annoyed when somebody says “no problem” to you after you’ve responded with the lack of interest due to that unsolicited offer they’ve just made you? Do your eyes moisten with despair when your ordinary request – at premises specifically there to service that request – is greeted with “no problem”? Is your gast flabbered that anybody who says “no problem” to you under such circumstances does not know how rib-tighteningly inappropriate such a remark is?

Do you want to ask such people “Why would it be a problem for you to solicit my attention for something you provide in which I’ve …” either (a) no interest, or (b) an interest. Or – more briefly – “What the hell’s wrong with you?”.

If so, then you may want to calm down a bit. The phenomenon doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, and may even be growing.

Time and Space

Looking for the phrase bigger than space results in (at the time of writing) about half a million google hits. By comparison we get six times as many with longer than time.

This is, one suspects, mainly due to the romantic idea, fairly commonly expressed in song, verse and prose, that our loves will outlast time itself. It seems that having something larger than the size of the universe is not a romantic idea. Or one at least six times less frequently expressed.