#Grammar's Blog of Wordliness

Accidental Acts of an English Evolutionary


This is a journey into the underword of my tongue. It begins in carnality with a story of gammon. Vegans and puritans may wish to look away when things get particularly meaty.

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gammonnoun smoked or cured ham, on and off the bone

From gambon, Old Northern French for the haunch of a pig.

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For further porcine detail consult a butcher source.

gammon nickname a socio-political category of pink-faced, right-wing white men of ripened maturity.

A recently coined, informal term laden with disdain. Derived by visual association with a specific characteristic of the type described: a gammon so-called will fulminate at political correctness ‘gone mad’, liberal leftiness and any criticism of a much belovéd Brexit. A stereotypical gammon will emphasise such determined commitment to the gammon worldview that he (probably always ‘he’) will suffuse his skintones with shades akin to cured ham, growing evermore puce about raddled jowl and bloody cheek as flustering disbelief tickles outraged fancy, and getting red and redder in the face whilst muttering “you lost, get over it!”. This livid combination of blustering right-wing opinion and fleshly flushing hues provide inspirational origin for a generic nickname.

Also, for these are contentious times, a disparaging hint of pig may be intended by the user.

That having been said, a well-rounded vocabulary may enjoy gammon in more ways than one or two. And not just by the culinary grace notes of a pineapple ring and glacé cherries.

gammonnoun in the game of backgammon, a particular type of victory that is worthy of a double score; also, as a verb, to achieve victory with a gammon

Probably from gamen, Old English for amusement. Comes into play in the middle of the 18th Century.

gammonnoun nonsense; also, as a verb, to hoax or con someone

Of uncertain parentage, lurking in the shadows of early 18th Century criminals’ slang.

… but, I gammon you not, chaps, it’s the epithet du jour that has inspired this blog.



Anyway, sausages, gammon got me thinking about the reconstituted meat that fills out our linguistic diet. So, here are some scratchings from the belly of the pork beast. And to add an element of sport I have invented one term in the short glossary that follows. Just the one. Can you spot it?

bacon bring home the bacon – to achieve an income

bacon and eggs; bacons noun (rhyming slang) legs

bacon and liver noun (rhyming slang) a river

bacon baps noun (rhyming slang) the vaginal labia

A visual feast combined with a rhyme for flaps.

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bacon bits noun (rhyming slang) female breasts

Rhymes on tits.

bacon bonce; bacon head; bacon noun (rhyming slang) a child molester or other sex offender

Rhymes on nonce.

bacon bowl; baking bowl noun (rhyming slang) the anus; sex

Both uses rhyme with hole.

bacon lardon noun (rhyming slang) an erection

Rhymes with hard-on.

bacon rind; bacon noun (rhyming slang) the mind

Also, as an adjective, blind.

bacon rollnoun (rhyming slang) sex; the mouth

 Both uses rhyme with hole.

bacon rollnoun (rhyming slang) a scaffold pole

bacon sandwich; vertical bacon sandwich noun the vulva

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bacon sarnie; bacon sarney; bacon noun (rhyming slang) a Pakistani

Use with care.

bacon slicer; bacon noun a cheat

Rhymes with Australian slang shicer.

bacon strips noun the vaginal labia

A visual pun also seen as bacon bomb doors, bacon rind and knicker bacon.

slaking the bacon noun male masturbation

faggot1 noun a bound bundle of sticks (used as fuel) sometimes in the context of burning heretics; may be applied more widely to other bundles

Ultimately from Greek phakelos.

faggot2 noun a contemptible woman

First recorded in the late 16thCentury.

faggotnoun a male homosexual; latterly, especially within gay culture, a sexually submissive homosexual male

Originally US slang, first recorded in 1914 (according to the wonderful OED). However, avoiding unnecessary offence, the US spelling for sense 1 ‘a bundle of sticks’ is fagot. The same way the old bassoon is spelt

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a loose etymology that links faggots 1, 2, 3, is it?  But where is the promised pork in this faggoty collation? Check out sense 4.

faggotnoun a seasoned ball of cut pork and pig’s liver

A traditional (well, since the 1850s) British dish a.k.a. savoury duck. The source of great amusement to young baby boomers and, thereby, neatly linked in wordplay to sense 3: ‘Ugh! You are chewin’ on a greasy faggot…’ Tee hee. Ah, the joys of street food.

Some more gammon slang… unless your plate is already too full.

gammon flaps noun the vaginal labia

gammon goalposts noun the vaginal labia

hamnoun cured meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg

Etymologically linked to hams.

hamnoun an overly theatrical actor

hamnoun an amateur radio (shortwave) enthusiast

ham; HAM acronym ‘hard as a motherfucker’

Other acronyms you might find: high and mighty, haul ass and move and several terms specifically suited to comics, gaming and other geekery.

ham-fisted adjective clumsy

ham and beef noun (rhyming slang) in prison, a chief warder

ham and bone; ham noun (rhyming slang) home

ham and cheesy adjective (rhyming slang) easy

ham and bone; hambone noun (rhyming slang) a telephone

ham and egger noun (rhyming slang) a beggar

Hence ham and egging begging.

ham and eggs; hams noun (rhyming slang) legs

ham roll noun (rhyming slang) a stroll

ham sandwich; ham sangwidge noun (rhyming slang) language

ham shank; ham; hammienoun (rhyming slang) an American

Rhymes on Yank.

ham shank; ham; hammienoun (rhyming slang) an act of masturbation

Rhymes on wank. You may find the verb ham shank comes in handy.

ham shank; ham; hammienoun (rhyming slang) a bank

ham shanker noun (rhyming slang) a contemptible person, a wanker

Hameron nickname the Right Honourable David Cameron (UK prime minister 2010-2016)

Derived from the alleged and indelible gossip that whilst the future Conservative party leader was at Oxford University he hid the sausage in the mouth of a pig’s severed head.

hams noun human thighs and buttocks

Linked to cured meat from the upper part of a pig’s leg but not, except by anatomical convenience, to ham and eggs.

hide the hot dog verb to masturbate the vulva and vagina

hide the salami; hide the sausage verb to have sex (so long as a penis is in there)

That’s a whole lot of ham. But no hamburgers, which are, of course, made with beef. Not sure how much pork is in a hot dog but I have no beef with that.


pickled pork; pickling pork; pickle and pork; pickled noun (rhyming slang) a talk; a walk; chalk

pork verb to have sex (from the penis owner’s POV)

pork and bean noun (rhyming slang) a gay man

Rhymes on queen.

pork and beans noun (rhyming slang) jeans

pork and brawn noun (rhyming slang) an erection

Rhymes on horn or the horn. A double helping of pig meat in this term. Brawn is a dish of potted pig’s head that puns usefully on brawn meaning physical strength.

Pork and Cheese; Pork; Porker; Porky; Porko; Pork chop noun (rhyming slang) a Portuguese; the Portuguese; the Portuguese language. Also used, where appropriate, as an adjective

pork chop noun (rhyming slang) a police officer, a cop

pork link noun (rhyming slang) a Chinese person

Racially sensitive. Also pork linky for a Chinese meal or takeway.

pork pie; porky pie; porkie pie; porky; porkie; porker noun (rhyming slang) a lie

Also available, where appropriate, as a verb. This definition does not preclude fake news, or an alternative truth.

pork pies; porky pies; porkies noun (rhyming slang) the eyes

pork pocket noun the vulva

pork scratch noun (rhyming slang) a match (the type you strike for a flame)

pork sword noun (rhyming slang) the penis

pull pork verb to masturbate the penis

salami noun the penis

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sausage noun the penis

A cocktail sausage is an especially small penis. So is a chipolata. And so on, small or large (or average), depending on the type of sausage you have to hand.

sausage adjective (rhyming slang) ostentatious

From sausage and mash, rhyming with flash.

sausage verb (rhyming slang) from a male POV, to have sex

From sausage roll, rhyming on pole.

sausage and mash noun (rhyming slang) a crash or a smash; cash; hash (drugs not #); a slash (an act of urination)

sausage dog noun (rhyming slang) fog


sausage roll; sausage; saus noun (rhyming slang) a pole; a Pole; the dole; (in football) a goal or a hole

Also, in football, a sausage roll keeper. They do like a halftime sausage roll.

sausage tax noun (rhyming slang) a poll tax

From sausage roll as a rhyme for poll (the head).

 saveloy noun (rhyming slang) a boy

Also, in the greeting or announcement oi oi, saveloy!

Scotch egg; scotch noun the leg

spank the salami verb to masturbate the penis

I would open my language larder to the wider world of meat (and all that baloney) but we’d be here all week and more. This is no time to slip through the beef curtains. Yes, I may well have missed a few pork-related pleasures en route but as a vegetarian (honestly) I have suffered quite enough on this piggy parade, so why should I care? Stick that in your pork-pie hat. I did it for the gammons.

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For another way to look at gammon visit Tony Thorne’s blog.

There’s a lot of rhyming slang in this blog. If you want more info I can thoroughly recommend A Dictionary of English Rhyming Slangs.



Did you spot the made-up word, by the way?








A bloody quick blog about the bloody word bloody. It’s a bloody good word.

Last night I watched Lady Windermere’s Fan. It was broadcast live from the Vaudeville Theatre – in ‘London’s West End’, as they used to say – as part of a year-long celebration of Oscar Wilde’s plays

In his 5-minute introduction to the treats in store, Dominic Dromgoole (artistic director of the season but not the play) explained that his overarching ambition was to match ground-breaking plays written for proscenium arch performance with the Victorian architecture in which they were first produced.

Alas, in the pursuit of a cheap laugh such noble principles don’t always survive. There came a moment in the first half when a jarring anachronism shook loose a smidgen of bloody artistic integrity.

One of the minor characters in Lady Windermere’s Fan is Mr Hopper, a successful Australian businessman. He is merely spoken of in Scene 1. His arrival on stage is in Scene 2.

“Capital place, London! They are not nearly so exclusive in London as they are in Sydney,” he declares.

In the current, capital production, that line has been amended to include ‘the great Australian adjective’.

“Capital place, London! They are not nearly so bloody exclusive in London as they are in Sydney.”

The nomination of bloody as the ‘great Australian adjective’, in recognition of its every-other-word status in some Australian speech, was made in 1897. So, OK, it is fair to say that by the time of Lady Windermere’s Fan – 1892 – bloody was widespread in Australian expression and, therefore, the use of bloody to underscore Mr Hopper’s backstory is not, as such, anachronistic.

Bloody has been in British circulation as an intensifying adjective and adverb since the mid-sixteenth century. By Victorian times, however, and despite widespread usage, bloody was most definitely considered taboo and, given that Australians in general were not especially familiar to Victorian theatre-goers, it is doubtful that Wilde would have felt any desperate need to include the bloody word. Well, let’s be honest: he bloody didn’t.

In fact, if bloody had been heard in ‘polite society’, or even on the London stage, in those days there would have been an outraged reaction.  Yet, here it was in 2018 reinforcing a dated racial stereotype: more  bonza 1970s’ Australian ocker than Wildean wit or modern PC mores. Worse:  its use is theatrically anachronistic. It jars. Because bloody is one of those words. It has a famous history. When it pops up in the wrong place it’s hard not to notice.

By the way, the bleeding Sergeant in Macbeth – “What bloody man is that?” – is literally bloody, so he has nothing to do with this.

Overlooking the less respectable and unrecorded excesses of music hall, the first spoken use of this sense of bloody on the London stage was, famously, in George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, which opened in London at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1914. When Eliza Doolittle said “Not bloody likely” it caused something between a stir and a riot. It is the stuff of theatrical and linguistic legend. Oscar Wilde doesn’t need any more grief.

So, here’s a couple of questions: where does bloody come from? & why is/was bloody (when used as an intensifying adjective or adverb) ever thought to be offensive?

Bloody derives – well, possibly derives; no one is absolutely sure – from the phrase ‘drunk as a blood’. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries a ‘blood’ was a name by which an aristocratic roisterer might be known. ‘Drunk as a blood’ became synonymous with an over-enjoyment of the privileged highlife which, inevitably, became ‘bloody drunk’, and ‘bloody drunk’ was very drunk, and so bloody came to mean very. Perhaps. After which gloriously dissolute origins it seems that bloody was rendered taboo, having suffered from religious persecution based on a misbelief. The pious were bloody certain that it must have something to do with ‘the blood of Christ’. Or some such. Or, since it seems clear that Christians can never agree on a single unfounded interpretation, it was suggested that bloody may be a sly and secret way of slurring ‘by our lady’. Nonsense. Absolute bloody nonsense.

Anyway, Lady Windermere’s Fan, whilst it has a surfeit of quotable lines, does not have bloody. And its use in the current production, to my ears, does Domininic Dromgooles’s ambition to create a holistic Victorian theatrical experience a disservice.

This is not in any way intended as a review of the Vaudeville Theatre production which I saw on a cinema screen. The live stage techniques obviously broke the proscenium 4th wall but, not always, the cinematic 5th.  That notwithbloodystanding, I should say that I enjoyed Gary Shelford’s portrayal of the Australian, Mr Hopper.

Also, it may or may not be bloody relevant but both Wilde and Shaw were Irish.

World Book Day. Hurrah!

Normally I blog and chunter about matters grammatical and wordy. This is stepping slightly (not that much) off my usual liberal straight and narrow. I am on about books here. Those things that nearly all the words in the world come in. And, more particularly, how we go about celebrating those repositories of facts and fictions, truths and greater truths, and the people who write them.

The truth is I wrote this in response to an unsold rack of dressing up costumes hanging in a supermarket.

This time last week it was World Book Day.  Hurrah! Well, it was World Book Day and it wasn’t. It was World Book Day in the UK. And Ireland. Not the rest of the world.

Here in the UK, Thursday last week was the first Thursday in March. That’s the day we celebrate as World Book Day in these islands. This year – what are the odds? – it fell on March 1st. That’s 2018 for you. The rest of the world won’t celebrate World Book Day for weeks.  Not us. We’ve already got it done and dusted. Gangsta Granny and Matilda with her bag of books rule UK! I know, right?

Why April 23rd?

It was UNESCO’s choice. In 1995 they got behind the idea of a World Book Day and chose April 23rd because it is ‘a symbolic date for world literature’.

April 23rd, man! Talk about a red letter day. It resonates down the years: the anniversary date of the birth or death of a significant number of hugely important and prominent writers. Look at them – and if you don’t know them look them up. Let’s start the list with the couple of giants on whose shoulders we all stand.

William Shakespeare – died April 23rd, 1616.

Miguel de Cervantes – died April 23rd, 1616.

Thanks to the quixotic wrinkles of Gregorian and Julian calendar-keeping, however, and regardless of the order I have shown them here, Cervantes actually predeceased Shakespeare by 10 days. It was an altogether bad day for the world of Spanish literature.  The chronicler Inca Garcilaso de la Vega died too. That’s what you get for tilting at windmills. Go figure.

And there is so much to April 23rd than that…

English romantic poet William Wordsworth – died 1850;

Russian-American novelist Vladimir Nabakov – born 1899;

Nobel prize-winning Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness – born 1902;

English war poet Rupert Brooke – died 1915;

French novelist Maurice Druon – born 1919;

Colombian writer Manuel Mejía Vallejo – born 1923;

Spanish (Catalonian) author and journalist Josep Pla – died 1961;

… and, once again, my favourite among them all, Shakespeare who according to tradition was born on April 23rd, 1564.

Actually, Shakespeare’s birth is not recorded until April 26th so some educated guesswork (and clever marketing?) was required. But, given that degree of latitude, we might (ignoring the rest of the world) include some other big name British writers in support of April 23rd being World Books Day. To keep it cheerful these are just birthdays – the first team might also include Charlotte Brontë on the 21st; Henry Fielding, 22nd; Anthony Trollope, 24th; and Walter de La Mare on the 25th.

So, there you are, ‘a symbolic date for world literature’:  that’s UNESCO’s reasoning for April 23rd. Hurrah! for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the full name of the bureaucracy that hides behind the acronym we take for granted. And while I am getting names right World Book Day is, properly, World Book and Copyright Day, with the stated intention ‘to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those, who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.’ This is big, serious stuff: World Book Day. A ‘world-wide tribute’ and don’t forget the copyrights.

Which begs the question, why did the UK opt out and plump for the first Thursday in March?

Not sure if I’ve gotten to the bottom of it. The best I can find is that the date may have been selected in order to avoid conflict with the movable feast of Easter, which every so often may chance to fall on April 23rd. Presumably that’s the same Easter celebrated in Spain, France, Iceland etc., but, hey ho, the UK schools are definitely on holiday and it avoids the potential health and safety nightmares of chocolate eggs being used as bookmarks.

Why not April 23rd?

In England – which, for purposes of clarity, is not the UK, OK – the 23rd of April is St. George’s Day, newly dedicated to a kind of banal nationalism. That’s St. George of the mythic dragon and red cross on a white ground. By adding in the convenient anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (and, maybe, birth), and thus dragging the Bard of Avon into the gently belligerent St. George’s Day festivities, the rest of the world (for which read Europe and, lately, the Brexit dragon in particular) is presumed to understand that the English saint is way better than any foreign saint. Sorry if that sounds a bit sour; I am currently engaged (elsewhere, in a private chatroom) in an intemperate exchange of views on the pros and cons of Brexit. Cons to my way of thinking. Alas and alack! St. George, when he was merely Geṓrgios or Georgius, was a Roman, a bit Greek or, on his mother’s side, Palestinian. Nothing’s ever easy is it?

& if, like Cervantes, you prefer the Gregorian Calendar, St. George’s Day is on May 6th.

So, anyway, what with hot cross buns, big-upping the Swan of Avon, flag-fluttering (and history re-writing), one way or another April 23rd in the UK isn’t World Book Day. Not by a long chalk.

Why March 1st?

So March 1st it is and it is what it is. Who are readers of books to argue? Still, it’s a shame that there aren’t any great British literary anniversaries in the first seven days of March for us to celebrate. This is the pretty much best of it: Thomas Otway, Alan Sillitoe, Lytton Strachey. The rest of the world offers much richer pickings, but so what? Who cares if they’ve got – to pick one out of the hat at random – Dr. Seuss?

UK World Book Day is a laudable festival of books – but (I don’t know what you were expecting) it is not a very grown up affair. It may as well be called World Dressing-Up-as-a-Character-from-a-Book-and-Hoping-for-a-Book-Token Day. But this year, what with (shivers at the memory!) the ‘Beast from the East’ a.k.a. #snowmageddon2018, many of the schools planning to celebrate the occasion closed their doors in the face of the elements. Which left empty World Book Day tie-in cozzies hanging on a rack in the supermarket. I was particularly taken with those branded for Roald Dahl and David Walliams.

And now, just to confuse things…

April 23rd, St. George’s faff notwithstanding, is the date of the UK’s World Book Night. Nothing to do with UNESCO.  It’s organised by UK charity the Reading Agency. Publishers donate books. People get involved. You really should check it out at your local library. It’s a good thing, no question. More power to all their elbows (and off-the-peg reading glasses). However, to my way of reading it is UK Book Night; the word World is just tad misleading. And there’s no dressing it up.

Meanwhile, back at March 1st

This year it came around last Thursday (it’s a Friday next year if you are interested). Here’s the thing. If you really want dragons without the inconvenience of a St. George, and are looking for an excuse to wear traditional fancy dress whilst being educated, here in Wales – where Road Dahl was born – March 1st is always Dydd Dewi Sant (or St. David’s Day depending on your preference of tongue): a day that inevitably occasions the dressing up of children and packing them off to school with leeks and daffodils. Unless it’s snowing.

Two more dates…

I will be performing Well Thumbed, my personal celebration of classic books and authors, which is very much aimed at an adult audience, at this year’s Guildford Fringe Festival on July 4th and the Presteigne Festival on August 27th.

Well Thumbed 2018

& I will be dressing up for the occasions.

Us is different than US

I was listening again to a recording of Into the Woods. Music and lyrics by the great American songwriter Stephen Sondheim, book by James Lapine. It’s a marvellous piece of musical fairy-storytelling. Dark as the deepest woods, as grown up as the most troubling folk tales.

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Into the Woods is a show I know quite well. Well enough to singalong, or murder in the shower. I know it more from the stage than the screen but I liked the movie well enough. However, every time I hear it, and no matter how often I hear it, there is one song – no, one phrase, one conjunction ­– that always brings me up short. The song is I Know Things Now. It contains one perfectly correct piece of grammar that always sounds alien to my British ears.

Nice is different than good.

…different than…


In the UK I was taught, or at least got used to, to or from but, in practice, there is nothing actually grammatically amiss with than. It is simply a matter of what we get used to.  I say from or to, Americans are more likely to say from or than.

So, when I hear than it that lyrical context I do notice it and, I confess, in some strange way that I do not understand, than brings me an extra pleasure in the song. I am not in that critical chorus of tuts and knee jerks that hymns ‘Americanisms grate’. I am not even certain if than can be classified as an Americanism.

In I Know Things Now  the character Little Red Riding Hood, having experienced the Wolf and somehow lived to sing the tale, is considering what she has learnt:

…Do not put your faith in a cape and a hood,
They will not protect you
The way that they should.
And take extra care with strangers,
Even flowers have their dangers.
And though scary is exciting,
Nice is different than good.

If you try substituting from or, even, to, those words don’t do the job half as well. And those are wise words. The words of a lyrical master.

American English is often different from/to/than British English. In the than instance the difference seems to be essentially one of common practice rather than a shift in sense. On both sides of the Atlantic we agree on and use ‘different from’. We know that American (and Sondheim’s) vocabulary choices may be different than British, and we should understand that there is nothing wrong with that; one is not better than the other. Different is not bad. Our common ground is ‘different from’.


So, from is no different than than. To too. And were any difference more pronounced, so what?

One of the wise morals of Into the Woods is that we need to be tolerant of differences.

In many ways I am positively happy that Americans are different than us (and to and from each other). But, it is true that sometimes those differences do bring me up short. It’s not the words. it’s more than than: not the language but some of the culture that the language expresses. Some of the dangerous paths that get followed as the 45th American President leads the way further into the woods… Oh, hell! PLOT SPOILER: be careful what you wish for – not everyone gets out alive. Watch the movie. Draw your own political parallels.

Any random American reading that bit earlier where I wrote that Into the Woods is ‘a show I know quite well’ could be forgiven for interpreting my knowledge as far greater than it is. An American quite serves as an intensifier: very well. The British quite is way more subject to practiced shades of nuance. Here it was used modestly, to suggest a reasonable degree of knowledge: more than ‘not very well’ but nowhere near as much as ‘very well’.

Let me say here and now that Into the Woods is really quite good, in the positively unambiguous American sense. And I liked the movie well enough.

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Ah, here we go again, following different paths: good enough is different than well enough. And to do well enough is not good enough as you follow fools into the woods.

Will there be a happy ending?

I wish.

You Must Remember This

To quote Hot Chocolate, the most perfectly named, sweet and smooth and sexy pop band of my younger years: “It started with a kiss…”  Yep. This was way back when: then I was in my lip-smacking lip-locking prime, I must remember this, way back then when I was rarely tonguetied. Life was more full-on snog than social peck back then. I was a Love Gun who could Rock and Roll All Nite. Nary an air kiss to blight the blue skies of a rose-tinted golden age.

Play it again, Sam (a misquotation, I know): “You must remember this / A kiss is just a kiss…” Oh, I remember that mouth music. I really do. You played it for her, now play it for me.

Growing up my renewable supply of social hugs and kisses on the cheek was strictly reserved for a hierarchy of aunties, ‘aunties’, and grans. In the main I tried not to reciprocate. I was a boy. I suffered being kissed by nicotiney, lipsticky, hard-pressed lips. My mum always said, “Kiss your Gran,” but she was generous with her kisses and her hugs, at least as far as I was concerned.

As time went by, and despite the appetites of adolescence, greetings were still conventional, somewhat formal. Man to woman (my POV) the aspirational handshake was soft and gentle. Man to man, a firm grip was to be admired. These were the handshake days of yore when the limp and sweaty approximation was much despised or derided.

Now, oh brave new world, here we are: greeting each other in this bravely hugging, cheek-kissing, newly gender-blind (gender-curious?) – is-it-PC? – social grind. I have lately been mwahed so I thought I might pucker up and tender a select glossary of kiss-related words & merely tangential items of osculatory interest. What? WTAF? Oh, and because I have been working on A Dictionary of English Rhyming Slangs for the last few years there’s quite a bit of that stuff in here too. Now read on…

Let’s start with the basics. A kiss is so many things to so many people but it’s not the easiest thing to define.

A kiss is a noun. To kiss is a verb. Kissing is fantastic. You know this stuff.

Kissing is the act of touching with your lips.

A kiss may be neutral, caring, hot or cold.

A kiss may welcome a new born baby or invite the process that leads to a new born baby.

A kiss is instinctively calibrated with degrees of heat and enthusiasm.

A kiss has the power to express innocent love and hungry desire.

A kiss is an invitation and a sexual caress.

A kiss has the subtlety to express the difference between greeting and foreplay.

A kiss may aver a respectful farewell or avow ardent commitment.

A kiss might be no more than a fleeting moment of conventional contact.

A kiss is a highly nuanced form of personal communication.

A kiss may linger.


X: A kiss may be pressed but not always welcomed.

X: Some people practice on their hands.

X: Some people kiss their pets.

X: The Hot Chocolate kiss was in the back row of the classroom. Back in 1982.

air kiss

This ritualised kiss is quite the perfect way to avoid inappropriate levels of intimacy. Simply purse or pucker in the general direction of an intended kissee (or, often, kissees) and, with what feels to you like the right degree of extravagance or faux-sincerity, lip-smack the air. For pretenders and propagandists there really is no finer way to socialise.

X: It is perfectly possible to air kiss whilst in cheek-to-cheek contact with the intended recipient of your largesse.

X: The intimate noises of empty kisses may be masked with a mellifluous cacophony of mwahs.

blow a kiss

To kiss your fingertips and blow that kiss where you will. It is also possible to dispense with fingers altogether in these affectionate transactions: you can simply kiss ‘n’ blow without slipping into the air kiss category. It just takes a little practice.

X: Coming in at 1611 blow a kiss has greater and far more English history than air kiss which is first recorded in Chicago in 1887. So air kissing might just be too unorthodox for traditionalists who disdain Americanisms.


In the mid 16th Century if you had a fancy for a vigorous kiss then buss might serve your needs, both verb and noun. Nowadays, nearly 400 years later, some folk still buss a bit but nowhere near as often.

butterfly kiss

This is a kiss for which no lips or lepidopterists are required. A butterfly kiss is an intimate caress with fluttering eyelashes, an actively affectionate or flirtatious brushing by one of another’s cheek.

candy kisses

Rhyming slang for ‘the missus’, a wife. Or, if you are so inclined – and have your hands on a copy of A Dictionary of English Rhyming Slangs – you could choose from cheese and kisses, cows and kisses, hugs and kisses and love and kisses. Candy kisses are sweet. The candy kisses is sweet.

OK. I shan’t mention the dictionary again. Honest. Mwahahaha!

cuddle and kiss

A young woman. A cuddle and kiss is rhyming slang for ‘miss’ not necessarily a statement of intent. Use with caution.

cuddled and kissed

Rhyming slang for ‘pissed’, drunk.

double kiss

Right cheek, then left: as a greeting. According to Debrett’s advice on the etiquette of social kissing, the double kiss “is not appropriate in many professional situations”. Use with caution.

Eskimo kiss

A kiss for which lips are superfluous. This time your nose is the active facial feature. An Eskimo kiss is the deliberate touching of nose tips (not an accidental bumping while lips are seeking contact). A practice apparently based on a misinterpreted grain drawn from an Inuit truth.

first base

Mouth on mouth kissing. From a primarily American and necessarily vague code of measurement that uses baseball as a sexual metaphor. Shared with the world via American high school movies and other US teen culture.

X:  Second base denotes the touching or, better yet, kissing of breasts; third base involves fondling or, better yet, kissing the genitals; fourth base – the home run – is the grand achievement of sexual intercourse (and at least one happy teen). Strike out and you don’t even get to first base.

French kiss

A greeting in which a kiss is given to both cheeks. The term derives as an observation of French behaviour. It’s also rhyming slang for ‘piss’.

French kiss; French; Frenchy

A mouth to mouth kiss in which tongues are engaged. The term derives as a presumption of French behaviour. Until 2014 the French did not have a popular dictionary word for it: they just got on with it. A ‘galoche’ (French kiss) has been recorded as slang since the mid-1970s. Now, however, it’s official; and long may they ‘galocher’.

X: I cannot speak the language, but I can kiss in the tongue…

Glasgow kiss

Face to face action in the form of a headbutt: a forehead to nose collision of violent intent. In practice much the same as a Liverpool kiss but decades later in coinage.

gypsy’s kiss; gypsy’s

This is rhyming slang for ‘piss’. Kiss gets used a lot as the rhyme for ‘piss’. I could have also chosen angel’s kiss, French kiss, goodnight kiss or several others but right now I am in need of a gypsy’s, and it looks like it’s going to gypsy’s kiss down which would gypsy’s kiss me off, so no time to hang about.

hand kissing

The action of kissing the back of another’s hand as a courteous gesture that may evidence, by circumstance rather than degree, admiration, allegiance, gallantry, politeness or regard. Hand kissing may also be derided as archaically quaint and unnecessarily chivalrous or served up as a prank.

heavenly bliss

A rhyming slang kiss. Aspirational.

Hector’s pecking

Rhyming slang for necking, which is rather more than just pecking.

hit and miss

Another rhyming slang kiss, this one comes with tempered expectations.

Keep It Simple, Stupid

A design principle further simplified in the acronym KISS. With pleasing symmetry, the KISS principle may be applied to the process of kissing. Try it.

Kermit the Frog

Rhyming slang for snog.

X: Celebrity Muppet and Miss Piggy snogger Kermit the Frog actually has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


A made-up and costumed rock band from America, formed in 1973 by the Starchild, the Demon, Space Ace, and the Catman. KISS was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

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kiss and cuddle

Rhyming slang for muddle. One thing leads to another.

kiss and make up

To restore friendly relations. Nothing to do with KISS.

kiss and tell

To indiscreetly recount details of your sexual encounters; to kiss and sell the story of an intimate relationship with someone who is by some accounts a celebrity. NB: safe sex is remembering to sign that NDA before foreplay gets underway. Verb, noun, adjective and bloody annoying.

kiss arse

To suck up to someone; to toady. A British verb for the activity of ‘arse-kissers’.


Sycophantic, obsequious, oleaginous. An American adjective for the activity of ‘ass-kissers’

kiss better

To console and cure an ill or injured person, especially a young ‘un, by anointing with the best medicine known to man – the application of a kiss (or, better yet, kisses) to an area of discomfort or injury. To kiss better is to offer so much more than a mere placebo ever can.

kiss cam

An historic American sporting tradition from the 1980s, intended to fill gaps in baseball action and coverage. A broadcast camera – the ‘kiss cam’ – selects a random couple in the stadium crowd and displays their (expected) show of affection on the big screen and, often, to the viewers at home. If the game is slow, at least someone is getting to first base.

kiss chase

A playground game, from ‘more innocent times’, that normalised predatory behaviour. Once captured, the fancied prey is subjected to a kiss from whoever is ‘it’. Seconds away, round two.

X: A kiss is the price paid for a special delivery in the game of Postman’s Knock.

kiss curl

A decorative curl of hair that, subjected to spit or product, lies flat against the forehead; to the side of the cheek; in front of the ear; or on the nape of the neck. Does a kiss curl enhance the kissability of the adorned?

kiss something goodbye

To reluctantly give something up. You may have wished for an unsplit infinitive in the last sentence. Well, you can kiss that goodbye.


‘The Beat of the UK’, if you can believe your streaming ears.

Kiss me, Hardy

Rhyming slang for Bacardi rum. Mine’s a kiss me and coke, cheers.

X: “Kiss me, Hardy,” are the alleged last words of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. It’s a lovely story. Far more likely that the dying admiral said, “Kismet, Hardy”. Hardy was flag captain to Admiral Lord Nelson. Kismet is fate.


Kiss Me Kate

Rhyming slang for a romantic date. Not exclusive to Kates, Katherines or Kitties.

X: Kiss Me Kate is a Cole Porter musical based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew; it is likely that Shakespeare based his play, in part at least, on the popular ballad, Merry jeste of a shrewde and curste candy kisses.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 19.59.32kiss me quick

Rhyming slang for prick: a penis or a fool. Or dick: a penis or a fool.

X: ‘Kiss me quick’ (squeeze me slow) worn as a slogan on souvenir hats was, and maybe still is, a popular seaside invitation.

X: Kiss-me-quick has a romantic history in the hats, curls and flora of the 19th century.

kiss my arse; kiss my ass

An antique rhetorical riposte that encompasses defiance and dismissal in required measures. And if you don’t like my split infinitives you can boldly kiss my arse. That is not an invitation.

X: Irish-British celtic-folk-punk band The Pogues were originally named Pogue Mahone, an Anglophonic rendering of póg mo thóin until someone somewhere caught on and told the BBC that it was Irish for kiss my arse. That’s no way to get on with Auntie.

kiss of death

Anything that guarantees failure for a planned or ongoing activity. Or anyone.

X: Don’t never ax a grammarian supremacist to [insert adverb] proofread a blog. Kiss of death, that’ll be.

kiss of life

  1. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, rescue respiration as was once practiced by first aiders everywhere. It’s complicated but there are a number of good reasons why chest compressions are now preferred. Takes all the fun out of it.
  2. It’s also rhyming slang for wife.

X: Nellie the Elephant or Staying Alive offer exactly the right rhythm for the first aider to singalong and pump away.

kiss off

To remove, to kill. It’s a bit of dated American slang from the days when gangsters, hepcats and Hollywood spread the word and got kissed off.

kiss teeth

When the intention is to convey disappointment, disdain, dissatisfaction or irritation, kiss teeth is the action of sucking air through the teeth accompanied by sufficient tongue movement to create a sucking noise. Sort of a wet ‘tut’.

kiss the book

Take an oath (on your appropriate book).

kiss the cup

Take a drink (of your preferred tipple).

kiss the ring
Show respect. To kiss someone’s ring was originally an act of obeisance to monarchy, nobility and the Catholic hierarchy. Now kissing the ring is used more loosely and applied figuratively.

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The tempting nature of kissable lips rather than an active ability to kiss.


Kissing. Nothing more or less than kissing. Rare but rather lovely. Nothing nicer than a spot of kissage and huggage if that’s your baggage.

kisses and hugs

Rhyming slang for drugs.


Your kisser is your north and south. Your kisser is your dial. It’s slang, originally used in the boxing world. Your mouth. Your face. Your kisser.

Kissing the Pink

UK synthpop group formed in 1980. Probably, fingers crossed, named after a glancing blow on the pink ball in a game of snooker.

XXX: And that’s not to mention kiss the dust, kiss the ground, kiss the rod, kiss the stocks, kiss-cloud, kiss-cow, kiss-me, kiss-me-at-the-gate, kiss-me-ere-I-rise, kiss-my-loof, kiss-sky, kissing bug, kissing cousin, kissing-crust, kissing gate, kissing kind, kissing trap, kissingly and kissproof, all of which and more you can find in the OED should the mood take you.

kiss up to

US variation of ‘suck up to’.

Kissy Suzuki

She only lived twice. Kissy is a character in Ian Fleming’s 1964 novel You Only Live Twice who, among other adventures, gets pregnant by James Bond. Her backstory and arc in the 1967 movie You Only Live Twice are somewhat different. Kissy was played on screen by Mie Hama, dubbed by Nikki van der Zyl and doubled in the swimming sequence by Diane Cilento (who, at that time, was married to Sean Connery who, at that time, was James Bond). Kissy Suzuki appears in a 2012 list of best ‘Bond girl’ names.

Les Kiss

Rhyming slang for piss. Less sapphic and more Australian rugby league than you might have imagined.

Liverpool kiss

An intemperate tête à tête; maybe a little looser in definition but surely no less violent than the later Glasgow kiss.


  1. This may be either an overemphasised kiss or an air kiss.
  2. Used as an interjection that represents of the sound of a big, biggish or, at the very least, overly sincere kiss. Mwah!

X: Purists and traditionalists are often surprised to find mwah in a dictionary – but there it is. First recorded in 1966 in the US. It is the early 1990s before the UK puckers up and takes notice.


To kiss in an over-the-top fashion or to air kiss. Not so much a word as a spelling attempt to capture an imitation of the sound of someone making all the right noises while faking a double kiss. But, yes, it’s in the dictionary. And it’s fun to mwah-mwah.

X: What’s more, mwahahaha! as a cartoony representation of villainous laughter has been in the OED since 2012. Take that, you dictionary pedants! Mwahahaha has nothing to do with mwah-mwahing. Honest. Entirely different motivation… Mwahahaha!

mwah my ass

A nicely alliterative version of kiss my ass. As seen on T-shirts.


To kiss. It’s a bit more of a mouthful than kiss with its down to earth, keeping it real, Old English etymology cred; to osculate has Latin roots and therefore, you might think, lends a little arch dignity to the whole sloppy business.


A quick or perfunctory kiss. Verb and noun. Perhaps in imitation of a bird’s beak action.

plates and dishes

Rhyming slang for kisses. Really. Coined, perhaps, by someone with a mouthful.

raspberry kiss

The pressing of lips to skin to produce a farty sound. Blowing a raspberry, of course, may be considered disrespectful. On the other hand a raspberry kiss is somewhere between silly and intimate. Derives from rhyming slang: ‘raspberry tart’, fart.

rattler’s hiss

American rhyming slang for kiss.

riddle and kiss

Rhyming slang for piss. No, I have no idea why either. Other than the fact it rhymes.

smack; smacker; smackeroo

A noisy kiss when planted on a kissee.


An extended and full on kiss and cuddle. Verb and noun. And well worth the effort.

soul kiss

A French kiss in other words. Verb and noun.

suck face

To kiss, to French kiss, especially with youthful vigour. Very much a triumph of content over style.


Sealed With A Loving Kiss; Sealed With A Kiss. Once, this was WW2 back-of-the-envelope stuff now it’s WWW sexts that get all the coded action. But of all the well-known codes on the back of soldiers’ letters home SWALK is the stand out, the one that make no real sense as a word. What or where is a swalk?

The best-known examples of the SWALK form (apart from SWALK) adopt towns and countries as the source of saucy acronyms. Here’s just a few:  BURMA – Be Upstairs Ready My Angel; ENGLAND – Every Naked Girl Loves A Naked Dick; NORWICH – Nickers (knickers) Off Ready When I Get Home; EGYPT – Eager to Grab Your Pretty Tits. More sentimental in tone (and with Brexit in mind) you might prefer to holiday in FRANCE –  Friendship Remains And Never Can End or ITALY – I Trust And Love You.

ta-ta kiss

To take the ta-ta kiss (or the goodnight kiss) is to take the piss.

tonsil hockey

French kissing embraced with passionate vigour. To play tonsil hockey well is to demonstrate joy in the game of love.

Tooting Bec; Tooting

A rhyming slang peck.


In written communications, a kiss. There is little more pleasing than getting lots of kisses on the bottom.

XXXXX: The Bald-Headed Hermit & The Artichoke, A. D. Peterkin’s ‘Erotic Thesaurus’ offers us a long list of alternatives for kiss, including:

Box tonsils, buzz, canoodle, exchange spit, face rape, face time, give a tonsillectomy, give sugar, give tongue, goo it, grease, grub, have some lip action, have some tongue sushi, lip, lock lips, lollygag, mack, make kissy-face, make licky-face, make out, make smacky lips, mesh, MKA [major kiss action], mouse, mouth, mouth wrestle, mow, muckle on, mug, muzzle, neck, PDA [public display of affection], park, pass secrets, perch, plant a big one, play kissy-poo, play mouth music, poof (!?), scoop, smooch, smoodge, smoush, smooch, stir, suck heads, swap spit, taste, throw the tongue, tongue wrestle, zoom in.


I started this puckering peregrination with a song. So, here’s three more classics I have been humming while writing. You can tell I have not been listening to KISS or KISS.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 20.04.39Save Your Kisses for Me, Brotherhood of Man (sorry, it’s an earworm).

Purple Haze, Jimi Hendrix (for the mondegreen-inspiring line): Excuse me while I kiss the sky.

Kiss, Prince, Tom Jones/Art of Noise: I just want your extra time and your… kiss. Now, excuse me while I kiss this guy,  it’s time I was off. Mwah mwah mwah. Missing you already.



Because sometimes a picture can tell the story better than a trail of words.

Whither etymology ?

Wither the word.

Lately I have been was following some etymologies, discreetly tracking the spoor.  Please, don’t judge me. Wallowing in the ancient linguistic mire is not something I often do. I’d far rather stalk through the modern word and have something to look forward to.

Yes, I know that historians (and, possibly, etymologists) justify their hindsighted discipline (and, possibly, salaries – but that is academic) with the catchall that ‘history repeats itself’ and therefore we must learn from our past mistakes. If there is any truth in that old chestnut why do historians, in particular, often and conveniently overlook the fact that history is written by winners and propogated by those who seek favour. The histories we are taught consist of little more than propagandised kings, queens, wars and religions.  It may be that historians selectively confuse repetition with the rhythms of life, and pull on Mother Nature’s threads but, woah! Hold those horses! Bang a gong! I have digressed. That’s etymology for you.

Back on topic, I have been looking at some etymologies. In many ways this is where the three roads of communication, digression and regression meet. Trivial, I know, but there are worse puns. Anyhoo,  in this instance, I have been backstorylining particular words on mainly European tracks, wending homewards to Rome and thence Ancient Greece. It has been interesting, no question, but a tad patronising and snobby too: all a bit too provenance and pedigree for my taste.  Ah, if words could talk…

“My family of words is better than yours.”

The dictionary is not a stately home.

“Heaps of our words can trace a superior history back to the Trojan Horse.”

Straight out of the horse’s arse most likely.

“Therefore, our words are the best words, they keep the best company and look down their Roman nose and sneer at your Anglo-Saxon and Celtic roots.”

So what? It’s not like I am entering my vocabulary to Crufts.

“If you are educated enough – which is unlikely, you mongrel, peasant, mudblood bastard noun! –  you will doubtless see that our word is built like a Greek warrior.”

It’s a lot of posh tosh, of course. When grammarians make vocabulary a status thing…

Really, the heritage of words should have no greater worth in modern language than something that has just popped up. History may well be written by the winners (that’s a whole different digression) but it is being written in the language of that day. Today.

So, anyway, I have been thinking about this. I even stalked the word ‘etymology’ via Latin back to Greek etumologia with a soupçon of Old French ethimologie” and a touch of Greek etumos ‘true’. All of which may be true but that doesn’t make it right to care.

If not history then, what sparks the perfect word?

Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, it also makes for the most immediate word formations. No need for any of that ‘once whispered in the Parthenon’ nonsense. No Greek nor Latin mash up can compare to the synthesis of sound and sense demonstrated by any lexical item that simply describes something by mimicry.

There’s a word for these words that originate in echoes: onomatopoeia.


It’s a lovely word to say. “Onomatopoeia.” It rolls around the tongue in a most satisfying manner but there is some kind of double standard at work. I mean, why isn’t onomatopoeia onomatopoeic? This word, this word’s word, a word that describes words that sound like whatever the word is for, actually derives, via late Latin from Greek  ὀνοματοποιία, literally name- (onomato-) making (poeia). And that feels like a bit of a swizz, doesn’t it? If we are going for a Greek in origin why didn’t we plump for echo? Onomatopoeias are words that echo their subjects. Echoic is a near synonym for onomatopoeic which means ‘sounding like’.

Echo was a nymph in Greek Mythology. Her name is almost onomatopoeic – echo-oh-oh-oh–oh… Echo  didn’t know when to shut up so she was cursed to repeat only what others had said. If this is true then, I apologise, history really does repeat itself because this happened millennia before our social media echo chamber. As Nietzsche put it before becoming mad – Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is. Behold the man.

Dammit. I digressed again. That’s etymology for you.


Yes, I like onomatopoeias – good honest onomatopoeias. Onomatopoeias are the best. Honest words that make a sound like the thing that they describe.

I like the sound of words that sound like. True, they may have a bit of history about them but their origins are in pretence rather than pretentiousness. (I suppose it is even possible that some Greek words were formed as soundalikes but…)

Onomatopoeic words as a subset of our language are scandalously overlooked in grown up discourse. I searched online shops for purchasable info on onomatopoeias and found many, many books – all of which, well, with only one exception, were aimed at children. In this modern world onomatopoeias are treated as baby words. You know, ‘the sheep goes baa, the drum goes bang’, that sort of thing. The exception to prove the list is a 2006 paperback that records comic book sound effects. Ka-Boom!


So, here is my A to Z (minus 60) of words that represent sounds. It’s a partial list and not all of them will be in your standard dictionary.  Some of them may not be classified as onomatopoeias for that very reason.

What is more, certain letters, like B, could easily be overrun with examples so I have been very picky. Most of the examples that follow are obvious but some of these words have onomatopoeic origins in other languages and are not so easy to recognise.

Hey ho! A picture may be worth a thousand words of history but it’s not always straightforward…

Minus 60? There is no L and X. Go figure.


atishoo! (other spellings are available) – represents a sneeze, which itself may or not be an onomatopoeia. Try it. Sneeze is apparently an alteration of Middle English fnese.






bling – echoes the sound of jewellery rattling.

booyakasha! (it’s all very gangsta) – possibly a vocal approximation of the sound of a gun being readied for use and/or fired.


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cuckoo  – Dear Sirs, I have just heard the first cuckoo of spring. Am I totally cuckoo? Hurrah! Yours etc.



ding / ding-dong / dong

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Echo - Talbot Hughes (1869-1942)
Echo – Talbot Hughes (1869-1942)


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Eeyore – E. H. Shepard (1879-1976)



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hiccup (this is the original spelling) – hiccough erroneously replaced the second syllable with a cough. The OED (getting a bit above itself?) notes of hiccough: ‘…ought to be abandoned as a mere error.’




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hum – think of an earworm, now (without giving two hoots) share it in the most annoying way possible.


icky or ikky (if you are feelin’ ickypoo)



jangle / jingle – Hey! Mr Tambourine Man..






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knock – from Old English cnocian. Obviously.







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plonk / plunk – when you plonk your vin blanc on the table does it plonk or plunk? Try this at home. Make an onomatopoeia of your own.


















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My grandfather’s clock…

tut – the non-lexical sound of disapproval remade as a word


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yadda yadda – blah blah blah





Yep, imitative, echoic onomatopoeias make me happy. These are words hatched in the Foley stage of life. And we all know the Foley artist enhances our experience.

James Murray, on whose work the Oxford English Dictionary is founded, found ways to avoid ‘onomatopoeia’: echoism and echoic; the modern dictionary rattles and rings with imitative. Onomatopoeia is first recorded in 1553.

In an echo of Marc Bolan: Get it on, bang a gong.

Bureaucracy was forged in flame

Look in the flames. Squint a bit. What do you get? I see an idiot bureaucrat in a cheap brown suit getting fired for enjoying a burrito al desko.


Can you see it?

The pathway to bureaucracy starts in Greece, the birthplace of our democracy (or so we are assured).

The Ancient Greek for fire is πύρ – which may be rendered as pyr or pur. That leads to the adjective purrhós or purros, fiery red. How dramatic is that? Fiery red!

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Adopted into Latin as burros, it was simply red, or maybe reddy brown.

On the way, via the conquering influence of imperial Rome, across the centuries, many peoples ‘borrowed’ the word. The Celtic language of the Gauls (let’s leapfrog Charlemagne) gave way to Romanz – ah! the languages of Romance.

Trivia is Latin for three roads.

Where three roads – tri via – met the Romans would publish news and whatever else the local population might need to be told. Hence trivial information.

Like this.

In France, in Old French, long after the Roman empire (and Charlemagne) had crumbled, purros, once the bright colour of blood, dried and darkened on the old tongue. You can find its threads in bure, a dark brown hue, shading the ancien français of l’époque médiévale. It came to be used of rough fabrics and monks’ habits.

Next then, in this French evolutionary tale: burel, a dark brown, coarse, baize-like material. From blaze to baize. In the early fourteenth century, burel was a table-covering, specifically when that table was being used for accountancy purposes.

By 1361, recorded in the (by then, much more modern) Middle French tongue, an accounting table itself was called a bureau. And by the time another 100-ish years have passed, still in France, bureau is a table at which (according to the OED) ‘audiences are granted’. Another 10 years or so and it has become the room – containing that table – in which ‘audiences are granted’. By the turn of the seizième siècle a bureau may also be an accounting office.

… et bienvenue à sixteenth century France. Unification of the French language, into a form that we recognise today, was no doubt decreed at a bureau.

By le milieu du seizième siècle, a bureau was an office used for government business; and, by the end of the seventeenth century, it might be any office (or agency of government). This is a sense that proves equally popular in the US. The Bureau of This. The Bureau of That. Just ask the FBI.

Bureau de change isn’t coined, it seems, until the 1950s.

The plural is bureaux de change.

In the meanwhile, bureau arrived in England and furnished the language. In 1755, in his Dictionary of the English Language, Doctor Johnson records ‘Bureau, a chest of drawers’. And there’s another sense of the word that has proved particularly popular in the US. Other than a bureau where else would good folk keep a layette?

However, in the UK we preferred ‘chest of drawers’ for ‘chest of drawers’ and took to the concept of bureau as a sophisticated kind of desk job with pigeon holes and a writing surface. Bureaus or bureaux, your choice, both are correct. Here’s an especially beautiful example in flame mahogany.

flame mahogany

Bureaucracy first rears its ugly head in the mid-eighteenth century. Bureaucratie – the French model – is recorded around 1759.


Is there a semantic link between ‘French model’ and ‘large chest for sale, no drawers’?

Probably not.

In England, in 1815 (the year Napoleon got packed off to the bona parts of Elba), the Times is writing disparagingly: ‘…that complication of intrigues of wheels within wheels, which is called bureaucracy.’

In 1837 – by which time the inevitable bureaucrat had settled in as a fact of our lives  –  the philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote of ‘that vast net-work of administrative tyranny […] that system of bureaucracy’. Admittedly, Mill was writing about the French but ‘administrative tyranny’ is a pretty perfect definition, don’t you think.

The faceless bureaucrat that haunts our modern nightmares is a bogey-person spying from the shadows. What was once coloured by fire is now just the administrative tyranny of red tape.


Beware! Do not befriend a bureaucrat. That way corruption lies.

Bureaucracy is the hive mind. If not, it certainly conforms to the notion. Have you ever knowingly met a bureaucrat? What can you remember apart from the paperwork? A flaming job title perhaps? How disappointing is that?

bureaucracy noun

  1. a system of government by administrators.
  2. overly complicated procedure in administrative or governmental organisation.

But, once upon a time in Greece, bureaucracy was rooted in fire.

Forged in the same linguistic furnace as bureaucracy, less subtle origins stories lead to:



It is almost impossible to say ‘pyrotechnics’ and not sound South African.



Pyro (vs. X-Men).

PYRO actiion figue (Marvel)

Squint a bit. What do you see?


…it’s a bonfire of the mundanities.

Also derived from the Ancient Greek for flame coloured, via the redddy brown of Latin burros, we get a Spanish donkey:  a burro (or burra, depending on gender). That burro has sired Spanish slang for an idiot, and a genitally well-endowed man.


And it’s where we get a (flame grilled?) burrito too.

And oh! the satisfaction when it all comes together:

a bureaucrat in a cheap brown suit getting fired for eating a burrito al desko.


Grammar Real Life as a Metaphor for

This’ll have to be some speedy blogging. I’m way too busy dancing to stand still – too ‘too’ too to get stuck in for the long blog, imprisoned in a punishing sentence. My focus here is ‘muddled grammar’ which I shall briefly discuss using the medium of – ta-dah! – muddled English. First, though, I’ll need a title. A hook to hang with. (Although, if you’ve got this far, you’ll have seen the title already… bear with me, at this stage in the writing process I haven’t yet gone back in time and space.)


How’s about Grammar as a Metaphor for Doing Life? Yeah, that’ll work for this bijou rantette. Hang on, kid. Doing? That’s trying way too hard for a pun on ‘life sentence’.

That’s life…

Grammar is a metaphor for real life. A pretty much perfect metaphor at that.

We all know enough to be getting on with doing life. When everything is going to plan, just like a perfectly constructed sentence, your every comma, verb and Capital consonant can be confidently placed.  However, some days, despite your best intentions, life gets messy ­–­ it’s all dash and no comma. Coz, sum daze,  theirs know thyme two loos sleepover an errant sub clause or aberrant homophones. Because some days life gets messy, disorganised, and there’s just no time to do the tidying up. That’s when things just get kinda thrown together… but life still makes some kind of sense.  Some days it’s hard to fit everything in because life is like that.

That’s life. It’s real. And you don’t always get it right.

And that’s grammar for you: some times there is not enough time, or need, and the more you worry about it the worse it gets.

The last thing you need at times like that/this is some grammar-botherer, grammar nazi or grammarian supremacist who thinks that their way is the only way, and that they know what’s best for you, giving you a smug tutting-over.

So, let’s go with the flow; make life a little easier for ourselves. Let’s stop worrying about grammar. We more or less know what we’re doing (even if we don’t always know the words for it). That’s why we can muddle through and kinda get life right. Most of the time. No biggie.

The thing is, life is a big thing, the big thing. Grammar, on the other hand, is a little thing, a very small thing in the scheme of things. Not worth an italic.

Write as you speak, that’s best. Let yer actual grammar catch up. Or let the reader fill in the        . Common sense ll do it everytime. Common sense and context.

Never mind that some grammar-botherers’ll get proper aereated over a misplaced word, or a stray Americanization, or a dangling preposition you wish to end the sentence with. Get a life, guys! Other people’s grammar may not be graceful but everyone understands. Life’s like that.

So, here’s my thrust: life is for living, grammar ain’t. (Think about it but not for too long; life is passing you by while you sit and stare.) Don’t be imprisoned by the strictures and rules of grammar. Let your language live a little. Sentence by life sentence.


I nearly went with ‘ballet’ as the metaphor for grammar. After all, it takes a lot of work to look that poised and graceful, and most of the time I can recognise the difference between accomplished ballet and clumping about. That’s the truth even if I can’t be certain (or care) that the chorus of danseuses are lining up in the right order. More to the pointe (and here my ballet metaphor falls down) I don’t even begin understand what the hell it is all about. Please don’t ‘tut’.

End of. Sorry not to have put word to blog for a while. Life got out of hand so I prioritised. Today I barely had the ballet time to properly punctuate a couple of paragraphs.

Meanwhile, the metaphor of life has stretched and survived. Ballet dancers and prisoners do stretches. Whatever that means.


What new madness is this?!

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The course offered by Le/La Wort (see part one of this blogged saga) is operated at the privatised pleasure of TTC 2000 Ltd.

I had promptly complied with the arrangements required of me and mere days passed before this document arrives. A whole other sheet of small print is included in the envelope but life may be too short to share that here.

I have uncovered a conspiracy.

In many ways this instalment in the Wort saga is an improvement on the original Wort document. However, there is one new element here that is trying way too hard and (oh! what a give away) makes a nonsense of the whole letter writing thing. The writer has forged the signature.


In the first blog on this topic I criticised Wort, tut, tut, for no signature but I’m not sure if what we have here isn’t worse. Unless the TTC2000 is a sentient android running a company in its own name I have to ask who or what has appended a ‘signature’ to this letter? Right now I am thinking of the T-1000 from one of the Terminator movies. You know: the shape-shifting, empathy-resistant killing machine? The situation is fluid.

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So, why would any reputable limited company use a forged signature on its communications? And then have the temerity to brand it ‘Yours sincerely’!? Companies do not have signatures, they have signatories. They may have signature brands and identifiable logos, like the TTC Group icon in the letterhead. But only a person can have a signature; an identifiable person – from the humble ‘X’ to fully-flourished John Hancock.

A signature has legal implications. A company is an entity. It has nothing more personable than a corporate identity. It may buy robot technology but it is not entitled to a signature. In the document under scrutiny, if I read the letterhead aright, this entity is is TTC 2000 Ltd. Even if the company/group should amount to little more than just one company director then that one director should be the one who puts his/her name to it (or, perhaps, directs and procures another person to pp on his/her behalf).

The eagerness of TTC 2000 to successfully sign the letter, however, is signalled halfway down the document. That’s where we stumble unsuspecting onto a clump of knotted grammar weed. I literally stumbled. Fluency failed me for a mo.

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‘Upon your arrival at the course please locate our trainer and successfully sign the register. This is imperative.’

I’ll leave you to pick the mixed nuts out of that bowl.

I Googled the search term ‘TTC 2000 Robot’.  Look what I found. In the mid-1980s there was an entity called TTC or Omnibot-TTC manufacturing the cassette driven OOM robot shown here.


The Terminator  (sent back in time by Skynet technology) began invading our screens in 1984. Can that be a coincidence? 1984… Arnold Schwarzenegger (everyone’s favourite T-800) and OOM bestriding our playtimes in those long gone days of Big Brother… Those years when Skynet and the Internet were dreams. In the event (plot spoiler!) the T-800 Terminator saved mum-to-be Sarah Connor and a world-dominating franchise was born. She would have to learn to survive in a world where machines pass themselves off as human.

In the second film in the series, T2: Judgement Day, the year is 1995. Eleven years have passed and John Connor is 10-years of age. Arnie’s back (just like he said he would be but ten years too late to stop Sarah Connor giving birth to the boy). This is the era of the T-1000 – a liquid Terminator that mimics humankind and adapts without any regard to damage or zeitgeistian metaphors. Its behaviour has been dictated by the machinery of government, programmed with an imperative to create the kind of compliant mankind that any automated/soulless bureaucracy requires.

The sci-fi is further stretched over three more cinematic instalments (and a TV spin-off) but uncanny parallels with our times survive.  The Internet is no longer a dream. Skynet is real.

So, what started out as an idle Google enquiry has revealed a devastating new question.

Is TTC 2000 an alias for Skynet?

You may think that is a tad farfetched but consider: we are faced with physical machinery here that is evidently overrunning human agency and successfully signing itself into existence. TTC 2000 exists. QED. Skynet exists. We know it exists. TTC 2000 claims to be a private limited company supplying services to law enforcement. Just one tiny slip, an unforced etiquette error and the truth has been revealed. If a machine hadn’t signed this document we might never have discovered that the world as we knew it is over. In this particular timeline.

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Now mankind must come together, evolve into a better meta-humanity. We need to revolt against this faceless bureaucracy. The Terminators, the Robocops, the Brexiteers. We are more than percentages and statistics, actuarially. I am not a Sir/Madam number. The wheels of this revolution will begin to turn at a Driver Education Course. Let’s take things slowly.

Suffice it to say I will try to comply with the TTC 2000 imperative. I hope to successfully sign the register. As myself. Although I’ll need photographic evidence to prove that I am not Sarah Connor my signature will be mechanically perfect.

This blog would not have been necessary if the powers-that-be/TTC 2000 knew how to write a letter.

Yours etc.







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