#Grammar's Blog of Wordliness

Accidental Acts of an English Evolutionary


When discussing ‘strong’ language the c-word is childish.

In the late 1970s, Desmond Morris, the famed Naked Ape zoologist, fronted a late-night UK TV prog that promised the discerning/dissolute audience a fully adult, live discussion of 4 letter words. Back then – I confess – I was tantalised and enthused by the prospect of finding the discreet corners of my vocabulary exposed on TV.  So late at night that it may well have been tomorrow. Did I mention this was the 1970s? Sexism and racism were everyday discourse; swearing was a no-no. My expectations were on an obscene-Damascene spectrum.


The promising broadcast was on BBC2, home of the arts as was. I’ve googled for clips but, failing that, I am forced, old school style, to rely on actual memory here.

Things of which I am certain: (1) it definitely happened and (2) alongside Desmond Morris a few academic & cultural commentators were involved – their putative purpose was, obviously, to lend dignity, scholarship and respectability to the programme. Unfortunately, these experts in etymologies and social significance were to be rendered mealy-mouthed and frustrated. Their plain-spoken learning was not required by a broadcasting hierarchy that obliged them to refer to the f-word and the c-word; they were  banned from using the shameful language of grown-ups and academics, as advertised.

To be fair, pretty much anyone who tuned in was likely to be expert in the personal usage of fuck and cunt; it was a certain academic validation that our lingo lacked. At that time, of course, ‘Auntie’ preferred to avoid the language of the green room live on-air. BBC radio producers still do. Shame.

One thing I definitely remember: (3) one of the discomfited contributors said something like “Cancer is a much more offensive c-word.”  That absolute truth has stayed with me and, perhaps, coloured my vocabulary down the years. I can’t recall if Desmond Morris squirmed. It was his name in the Radio Times after all.


So, something like 40 years on: a reverie prompted by a podcast.

Nowadays, fuck and cunt have achieved mainstream familiarity without conceding outlaw status. Fuck, in all its variant evolutions and senses, is one of the most ubiquitous vocabulary items of our time. Cunt retains the greater taboo value: it may be that resistance to the separation of anatomic and abstract senses is as much a matter of sexual politics as knowing the difference between a vulva, a vagina and an idiot.  However, when compared to a dim and distant 40 years ago, both words do enjoy far greater visibility in all levels of society and many branches of the media. Double standards apply: the Daily Mail, for instance, would have its readers believe that there is no reason to admit the existence of such language, yet the paper’s recently departed editor, Paul Dacre, was legendary for his vigorous application of cunt in most situations. We’ve moved on, for good or ill, your choice.

Screenshot 2019-06-07 15.37.08

The podcast-that-prompted is Something Rhymes with Purple, an entertaining lexical confection with philologist Gyles Brandreth (in some respects the Desmond Morris of this age) and much admired lexicographer (and Countdown maven) Susie Dent.

In April 2019, Lalochezia, the third in their podcast series, discussion turned to the self-same vocabulary items that had challenged the standards of 1970s’ broadcasters. Gyles Brandreth, mischief adorning his every extended syllable, gleefully dropped a selection of fucks and bollocks into his mic. Oh the joy! But… But the podcast restricted itself to uttering the c-word as if it was afraid of soiling the nice shiny internet (or upsetting The Economist, its advertised sponsor). 40 years and we’re 50% of the way there.

Speaking of The Economist, it was a mere matter of weeks before Something Rhymes with Purple‘s delightfully sweary interlude that Why we swear?, a short You Tube film presented by Lane Greene, the Economist’s Language Columnist was released. It’s fascinating clickbait, as much for what it allows itself to say as what it says. The Economist, it seems, is OK with cocksucking motherfucker  but still troubled by cunt which gets bleeped out and subtitled c***.

(40 years ago, familial relationships aside, I don’t think I’d heard of, let alone knowingly met a motherfucker.)

Tuning in to BBC2 TV that night back in the day I had expectations of definitions, etymologies and cultural impact. Oh well…

Should you still need educating – even if you don’t – I can thoroughly recommend the Channel 4 shorts that make up Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing.

This blog  is not really concerned with such detailed specifics. Not today anyway. My intention with these words is purely therapeutic. I hope to exorcise the naked ape-like ghost of Desmond Morris that, thanks to Something Rhymes with Purple, has been haunting some darkened corners of my mind.

Here’s what I have managed to learn by dint of googling: an edition of Friday Night and Saturday Morning, a BBC2 series, was broadcast on October 3rd 1980. (OK. 1980, not late -70s. I was close. It’s a long time ago.) One of the guests that night was the greatly esteemed linguist Professor Randolph Quirk. I can’t picture him. It is likely that the cancer quote can be attributed to the journalist Lynn Barber. Heady stuff.

The BBC were obviously happy with the show. Desmond Morris was invited back to present another episode in the following year. I didn’t see that programme. It was a Friday night and I was young. As far as I can remember.

Forgive me, I have taken it for granted that you know who Desmond Morris is. Maybe not. Here’s a link to his Wikipedia page in case. He’s a fascinating man with so much to his credit: author, artist, biosociologist, surrealist and zoologist. His books Gestures and Bodytalk rub shoulders on my bookshelves.


Which leaves me with just one question. Why do we pronounce zoologist as if it has an extra o?




If we are to be honest, Brexit was ill-conceived. The word Brexit that is.

You can make your own mind up on the concept of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union but the word that was contrived and compounded to carry that shedload has proved singularly unhelpful. Brexit has been easily adopted by politicians and headline writers which can never be a good thing.

Let’s break Brexit down. Adapted from a word coined by economists the Br of Brexit is taken from Britain or British or British Isles. Such a confused and partial etymology (and muddled notion of sovereignty) for a young and unsophisticated word to take on board. The exit of Brexit takes either its noun sense of ‘a departure’ or the equivalent verb sense ‘to leave’. So, broken down, the Brexit we have to work with is a word that doesn’t quite know what it represents, nor if it’s a thing or an action. Great start.

And if that was all that was wrong with Brexit that would be quite enough but the Br of Brexit is not just muddled, it’s dishonest. Uninformed, if you are feeling charitable. Britain is not a political entity, not in terms of EU membership anyway. At the very least that should be Great Britain (still wrong) or more precisely since ‘sovereignty’ has long been claimed as a point at issue in the binary debate, Great Britain & Northern Ireland. (Yep, still wrong.) It is the United Kingdom which should be at the root of our misnomial Brexit. We are definitely talking about the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Anyone for UK-xit?

It must be acknowledged that, like so much of the English language, Brexit is a word of Greek origins. Brexit derives from Grexit, a compound of ‘Greek’ and ‘exit’ that denotes a Greek exit from the Eurozone. Not from the European Union. That’s an altogether different thing. Grexit was contrived as useful economist-jargon. It was coined in February 2012 and in no time it made front page headlines.


Graccident (an accidental Grexit) was coined around the same time in case Greece should exit unintentionally. Not coincidentally, Braccident was in circulation months before the British accident actually happened in June 2016.

The B word. The bloody B word.

Brexit is:

  • A portmanteau compound based on a limited understanding of which sovereign body is involved.
  • A word that divides the nation and the nations, repeated ad nauseum until its definition is in and of itself, and its unthought-out ambitions are all but inescapable.
  • Freighted and nuanced with literally millions of varied hopes, dreams and Brexpectations, myriad fears, alternate facts and knee jerks. Brexit means Brexit.

Brexit could so nearly have been the slightly more logical Brixit, first seen in The Economist in June 2012. It didn’t catch on.

Brexit, on the other hand – What a word! It was a strong contender for the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014; wheedled its way into wider currency during campaigning for the 2015 UK general election; come 2016, Brexit was Collins Dictionary’s ‘word of the year’. Please, don’t blame the lexicographers: inclusion in a dictionary does not validate any word, it merely records the language as it stands. Blame the economists. And, if you must, blame the Brexiters. And journalists.

That’s how Brexit started. Yet, as with so many awkward entities in this marvellous linguaverse, Brexit had a hidden superpower: a seemingly endless capacity to wriggle into diverting variations that have the ability to reduce quality of debate, and the force to overwhelm cogent argument simply by repetition of its magic formula.  Like, wow! Shazaaam!!! Brexxxxit!!! We should have seen this monster coming before it morphed into so much wordplay.

Screen Shot 2019-04-13 at 21.33.07

Now, of course, everyone has a favourite Brexit-derivative. Meet the Bremoaner aka the Remoaner. Used by Brexiteers as a derogatory term, this little mongrel word  is a groaning, weaponised pun (remoaner – geddit?) and 2016 entry in the dictionary.

Here for your delectation is an excerpt from the Brexit lexicon, in no particular order, not even alphabetical:

  • Bregret
  • Bremain
  • Bremorse
  • Brexistensial Crisis
  • Brexile
  • Brextension
  • Brexpertise
  • Brexpats
  • Brexiety
  • Brexitannia
  • Brexchosis– a compound of Brexit and psychosis courtesy of ‘Bojo’ (himself a tacky compound of Boris and Johnson)
  • Brexodus
  • Brexthrough
  • Brextra Time
  • Brexitosis
  • Brexorcist
  • Dog’s Brexit
  • Regrexit.

No! Please… No more!

And that’s not to mention the Marx brothers tribute act Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit and Blind Brexit. There’s any number of ‘em: Clean BrexitDirty Brexit, Green BrexitRed, White & Blue Brexit, and so on. And on.  Blind Brexit, in case you are wondering, would be more honestly expressed as a vague Brexit. Your nearest Brexit may be behind you.

By a process of lingo-bingo Brexit has invoked:

  • Auxit Oustria (Austria leaving EU)
  • Bexit & Byegium (Belgium leaving EU)
  • Quitaly & Italeave (Italy leaving EU)
  • Chexit & Czechout (Czech leaving EU)
  • Departugal (Portugal leaving EU)
  • Califexit & Caleavefornia (California leaving US)
  • Texit Texodus (Texas leaving the US)
  • Trexit (US residents leaving Trumpland)
  • Scoxit (Scotland leaving the UK)
  • Mexit (fotballer Lionel Messi’s retirement)

And more! There is always more. Ask the Chancellor of the Brexchequer.

The truth is that, whatever your point of view, Brexit encompasses or connotes ill-defined or dishonestly expressed nuances of process, national identity, splendid isolationism, xenophobia and outright racism. And, honestly, the Brexit word is not up to the job.

The process of Brexit itself has poisoned the water around these islands with a toxic backstop / project fear get over it / meaningful Chequers cliff edge / indicative gammon & red line snowflake cocktail. How much damage can one little word do?

Where does Brexit go from here?

Politics aside, where does the Brexit word go from here? What can we expect as our Brexit language dividend? Great Brexpectations, indeed. If, as Brino Brexpert Jacob Rees-Mogg has suggested, it could take a 50-year journey on the Brexit Bus to properly see the benefits of Brexit what further linguistic treasure might the blunderbus have delivered by then? (In case you are wondering Brino is ‘Brexit in name only’.)

There is bruited abroad a serious suggestion that -exit as a suffix may serve in much the same way that ‘-gate’ is tacked on to a meaningful noun (pig, pleb, pussy) to indicate a scandal. Except that ‘-gate’ didn’t mean scandal in the first place but exit means exit; ‘-gate’ evolved from a useful syllable caught up in a genuine presidential scandal: Watergate. Quite what an -exit suffix might be used to convey come 2069 is less clear. Any mutation will no doubt depend on political fallout.

There is an acceptance (in my social media bubble) that the promise of Brexit was missold.  There is a consensus that the Brexit process has been/is being mismanaged and, certainly, no one will get what they voted for (or what thought they were voting for). So, with that in mind, perhaps, -exit will come to mean a dishonest omnishambles. It’s quite possible. Brexit-exit. It depends on who is writing the history books. Brexit may eat itself.

My serious prediction of what the word Brexit will gift to future English-speakers concerns the opening Br. Not to be confused with, ‘Brrr!’ (how cold it is!) in 100 years I confidently expect that Br! (pronounced bruh) will be used as:

  1. a nuanced expression of disappointment or dissatisfaction
  2. a dismissal of lies
  3. an exclamation of disdain.

…and that Brexit itself will serve as an archaic swear word with comic overtones.

What am I thinking? I mean Wrexit the Fixit do I know? It’s not for me to say. Obviously we can trust politicians to know what ‘the people’ are thinking.

Br! and I mean BR!!!

This blog was written in response to an invitation from BBC producer Sharif Shahwan. The plan was an in-studio on-air conversation about what Brexit is doing to the language. All very lighthearted. Until it was realised that the spectre of the EU elections was now hovering (BBC rules are very strict about that kind of thing) and it might be prudent if we were to change the subject. Anyway, Farage, the arch Brexiconman has formed a new party called the Brexit Party (he never gets invited; always has to form his own party) and I might not be able to maintain my BBC balance.

The blog draws on the following works:

  • Lalić-Krstin, G. and Silaški, N. “From Brexit to Bregret: A morpho-sociolinguistic analysis of Brexit-induced neologisms in English”, Susret kultura, 1st December 2016.
  • Sean O’Grady, “Brexicon: A full dictionary of Brexit-related jargon”, The Independent, 21st February 2018
  • “Brexit: Jargon-busting guide to the key terms”, 24th January 2019
  • Christine Ro, “How Brexit changed the English language”,, 14th March 2019


The English language really is a funny old thing. We speak it, we write it; we expect our words to mean what they say. Yet other people can and may conspire to devalue our words and presume to know better. Don’t believe me? Just take a quick troll through your social media bubble.

Today, is October 11th 2018. Florida stands in the path of Hurricane Michael. US President Trump has tweeted:

‘We are with you Florida!’

Hardly a great comfort to the affected residents, you may say, but good words nonetheless. However, the satirical riposte

‘What he means to say is save the golf course’

is quick in coming. It’s a joke, right? Depending on your point of view, it’s reasonable or snarky, right? And anyway he can’t be with you if he’s hiding in a golden tower miles away so what does he mean by using the word ‘with’?

As I write at least two are dead.

Here’s an illustration of what I am getting at (if that’s what I mean).

Do you understand?


My illustration is ‘yes’. That’s pretty unequivocal, wouldn’t you say? Yes. However, if that ‘yes’ were spoken aloud it may be expressed with a great deal more shade and nuance.

Yes, tell me more.

Yes, I am not sure.

Yes. [I am only saying ‘yes’ to be polite.]

Yes, I do.

Oh yes.

Yes, no.


In written English those shades of meaning are baldly unavailable and so it remains the reader’s choice to reinterpret words as the reader wishes.


So, let’s employ some punctuation to make ‘yes’ more explicit. Make it reader-proof. Yes, I mean, obviously a full stop won’t do the job but there’s not a lot of punctuation choice in a one-word sentence.

Do you understand?

Shall we try a question mark?


Yes? but tell me more.

Yes? I am not sure.

Yes? I didn’t hear the question.

Yes? [Can you tell I am being ironic?].

and so on.

Also, to be honest, the question mark itself can be interpreted as disrespecting the original question. If you had a mind to do so.

So, what next?  Let’s give the exclamation mark a go!


Yes, of course I do! [Don’t patronise me].

Yes, I knew you were going to ask that!

Yes, at last someone has asked the question!

and so on.

Perhaps we should give ALL CAPS a try next.


YES, what a stupid question.

YES, I am SHOUTING in frustration.


and so on.

OK. Italics

Yes, I am shouting in a loud whisper.

Yes, but

and so on, stressing or diminishing willy nilly, making ‘yes’ stronger or weaker, probably; whatever it does it changes the meaning.

So… Ellipsis…


… to which any number of positive or negative imaginings may be added.

When all that you meant was ‘yes’. Didn’t you?


But then if enough people are led to misinterpret the ‘yes’ you express then your intentions are overruled. It’s linguistic mob rule.

There have always been people who may judge you disdainfully on your choice of words or the accent in which your vocabulary is couched. These are the people that don’t listen to other people: these are the types who categorise by social class and use their high opinions to look down upon whole strata of society.

None of us is above that, if we are honest. We all classify, exclude or include one another in our circles by our slangs, jargons, regional variations and other such clues and impressions. But…

Is it accent or vocabulary? If that were all there was to it then that might suggest that political and practical power rest on the rhetorical facility to wield a more educated vocabulary and more expensive accent. That’s patently widespread but not necessarily true.  The sharpened pencil and sharper tongue that can reinterpret a simple ‘yes’ as a weasel word is where the damage is done. Politicians and various would-be manipulators of opinion put words into others’ mouths. More insidiously, some abusers wilfully misinterpret another’s meaning and devalue denials of the put-upon sense with knowing innuendo. It’s the tactical use of language as a weapon. Day to day, common or garden propaganda.

The answer to the question ‘do you understand?’ was ‘yes’. Trigger faux outraged shock. It manipulates a conversation and sells a point of view. Obviously, if you say ‘fake news’ often enough someone will listen and that ignorance supports discrimination.

The binary referendum question, yes or no?


Many years ago I heard a short, very funny radio sketch in which two lovers used nothing but the word ‘yes’. They conducted a complete start-to-finish relationship, from  initial hesitation and attraction, through passion, giving way to comfort, and finally hate and alienation, with nothing more than the word ‘yes’ being traded back and forth.

If you can achieve that range of coherent expression with a single word then perhaps we would be wise to never commit to whole phrases or, heaven forfend, sentences. Never risk a figurative expression, that’s for sure; that’s a whole different can of worms.

English, in its myriad forms, is one of the richest and most wonderful sources of expression. Along with body language, gestures, and so on, the mutual expression of our humanity lies in all of our tongues. Yet I am watching the way that deliberate (or narrow-minded) misunderstandings seek to hijack, manipulate, neuter and propagandise public discourse. Or simply argue that black is white. And when, for safety’s sake, we have been reduced to mumbling unambiguous clichés we will still not understand each other any better.

We are already way beyond serious here.

This is from a Tweet I found, dated 6th July this year. The content and context of the thread is apparent I think.

‘Because here’s the thing there’s NO WAY to tell that that NO was a YES. No way to be absolutely sure. You can’t stand in front of a judge and say, “she said no but I know she meant yes and just wanted me to seduce her.”’

‘Yes’ does not mean ‘I consent’. I simply means that there is a dialogue. Social intercourse.

Do you understand? If you can’t take ‘yes’ for an answer please don’t judge my use of language by your standards.

On the other hand, if you are determined to find cryptic messages in my words, this is me trolling me:

The US in US President Trump is obviously shorthand for useless.

You knew that, right?




Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty
You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city…

No, honest, your honour, this is jam hot.  These arresting words tripped and fell into the tank.

There was a story in the London Evening Standard this week (it’s halfway through September 2018). Anyway, there was this story in the Evening Standard. Oh, how I wish it was fake news.

A senior police officer – that’s a ‘senior Scotland Yard officer’ in Standard journalese. So, the story is that this officer used the phrase ‘whiter than white’ in a briefing and now, it seems, he could face an internal investigation for gross misconduct. This is serious, like big man ting. Someone somewhere has complained that ‘whiter than white’ is racist language.

My primary source here is the Evening Standard and that mighty organ reports its sources saying that this top rankin’ Scotland Yarder – a detective superintendent no less – ‘addressed colleagues about the need to be faultless and above reproach in carrying out inquiries, saying that they needed to be “whiter than white”.’

Gross misconduct!?  Not.

The same Standard article reports a belief that an inquiry is running into another police officer’s use of the phrase ‘pale, stale and male’.

Oh dear. That’ll be me standardised, pigeonholed and discounted then. Should I be offended?

And all this hot news within a week of socialist good egg John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, taking offence at the phrase ‘call off the dogs’, claiming that clichéd  idiom was ‘grotesquely offensive’ because ‘our party members are not dogs’.


Woah! Tempted as I am to flounce off in a partially political huff – no, hang on a mo! – he may have a point. Dogs are legendarily loyal.

‘Good egg’ – oops! sorry John, that compliment has been rescinded on police advice. Yes, ‘good egg’ is another toxic turn of phrase, long reported as a no-no in popo ranks. Because someone somewhere decided that it should be associated with the rhyming slang ‘egg and spoon’. I’ll leave you to work that out. Or consult a dictionary.


Meanwhile, back in 2002, the Government’s Police Minister, John Denham, was admonished for using the phrase ‘nitty gritty’ at a conference. Constable Chris Jefford of the Metropolitan Police’ Directorate of Training told the then minister: “As a serving police officer, if I used the term nitty gritty, which you used a moment ago, in our modern politically correct society I would be facing a discipline charge. ‘Nitty gritty’ is a prohibited term in the modern police service as being a racist term.”

Yes, someone somewhere had convinced the police that ‘nitty gritty’ had racist overtones. A false or folk etymology placed the term’s origins in the detritus gathered at the bottom of a slave ship.

Forgive me, but what a load of bollocks. I wonder if it’s the same s*me*ne s*mewhere who puts offensive asterisks in words like f*ck and c*nt. What is going on here is a struggle to control language as a means of power. When you get down to the nitty gritty the ambitions of weaponised words and strategic censorship are not whiter than white. Not even a whiter shade of pale, however you dress it up.


In Venus and Adonis Shakespeare gives us the earliest instance of ‘whiter than white’ that we know of. His words skip the light fantastic and turn cartwheels on the floor as he gets hot and sexy with ‘a whiter hue than white’. This springing fancy of young Will’s pen is a contrast of virginity and carnality. His base colour is that of a bed sheet or, figuratively, the flesh of a virgin. Or, perhaps, the clean white sheet of an unwritten page on which the youthful poet spills his erotic metaphor.

Who sees his true-love in her naked bed,
Teaching the sheets a whiter hue than white,
But, when his glutton eye so full hath fed,
His other agents aim at like delight?
Who is so faint, that dare not be so bold
To touch the fire, the weather being cold?

Hot stuff innit. Jam hot.

‘Whiter than white’ is a time-served idiom. Closely related to keeping ‘a clean sheet’. One way or another, we use it for being above reproach. Only a time-serving idiot could possibly think it a racist phrase. Well, at a push … who else uses white sheets to make a statement?

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.03.52

No, I don’t suppose the KKK’s sheets are particularly whiter than white with all the sweat and bile they exude.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.08.47

‘Whiter than white’ is advertising nonsense, that’s what it is. Use All New Multinational Branded Household Detergent! and get your tighty-whities whiter than white.  When you stop to think about it, it’s a scientific impossibility is what it is. Persil used the slogan ‘Persil washes whiter’ on TV from 1955. It made some kind of sense when the world watched in black and white.

OK, let’s leave the sex and laundry tumbling and get back to the feds in Scotland Yard.

‘Whiter than white’ is a well-established figurative expression.  There’s a good bet that the very concept of whiter than white is a bureaucratic impossibility, eh, Detective Super? Whiter than white? Not in my spectrum of reality where the black hat doesn’t always enter from stage left.

But racist? No. You don’t have to be a Scotland Yard detective to understand that intention and expression are important distinctions here.

Now, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The basics. The essence of the matter.

The earliest reference I can find for ‘nitty-gritty’ is 1942. It’s in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, published in 2010. It antedates previous authorities by 2 years. (Ah, the benefits of hindsight.)  But everyone agrees that ‘nitty-gritty’ is a black American coinage.

One way or another, ‘nitty-gritty’ had been in circulation for around 60 years when ‘In the early 2000s, the belief that term originally applied to the debris left at the bottom of slave ships when the slaves were removed from the ship circulated with speed, certainty and outrage.’ I am quoting from The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English; well, to be honest, I am quoting me in 2005.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.17.12

The thing is, all authorities agree, if this were a term from the slave ships it would surely have been recorded by someone somewhere some time before 1942. And offence would rightly have been taken. How anyone could imagine that itty bitty ‘nitty-gritty’, this euphonious, reduplicative treasure, has a racist heritage stretches the boundaries of credulity (and, perhaps, wishful thinking).

Something along the lines of …

But ‘nit’ is the egg of a louse (do y’all see where I am going with this?) and ‘grits’ is a maize dish eaten in the Southern States of American. The slave states. So it must be racist. It’s historical.

Except that grits have been on the menu since before the New World settlers arrived and eaten by all regardless of ethnicity.

Oh and ‘nit’ is also slang for an idiot.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.21.57
Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.31.41

I started this blog with a quote from Beats International’s 1990 hit Dub Be Good to Me and I think it bears repeating.

Tank fly boss walk jam nitty-gritty
You’re listening to the boy from the big bad city

1990. A mixed race, mixed gender band from Brighton. How inoffensive.

This is jam hot

This is jam hot

Language is freedom and censorship is pernicious. You don’t have to be a Scotland Yard detective to understand that expression and intention are the important distinctions here. But, if you are too niggardly to buy a dictionary you could just rearrange the words to fit a conveniently guilty description.

We’re through the looking glass here, people. Yeah, That’s a Simpson’s quote.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.45.54

But the Simpson’s are quoting the movie JFK.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 17.49.14

Is it a conspiracy?

Here’s Lewis Carroll on the subject:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”

Speaking of egg: a ‘good egg’ is a good thing. Not in the slightest racist. It was first recorded in 1871. It’s in Middlemarch by George Eliot. (For conspiracy theorists that’s the same year as Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass…) And a ‘good egg’ has been a commendable person since 1907. ‘Egg and spoon’ doesn’t turn up as casually racist rhyming slang until 1990. And then a good few years more pass until somec*nt f*ckwhere decided that a ‘good egg’ was no longer a good thing.

It can’t be easy for the police. All those words they know and aren’t allowed to use for fear of censure or complaint. Still…

By 2005 it was no longer politically correct for the police to refer to a gypsy as a ‘Thieving Gypsy Bastard’ (More than mere discrimination, this was a learned reference to a culturally significant comic strip in Viz). Even the abbreviation ‘TGB’ was frowned upon by the authorities, once they caught on. So, keeping things whiter than white, and keen to set a good example, the police moved the linguistic goalposts and swerved any further offence with the denotation ‘Still’, a shortening of the phrase ‘still a thieving gypsy bastard’. Expression or intention?

On a brighter note and bang up to date, it has been good to see the fuzz getting down with the kids on Twitter. Around the same time as the whiter than white story appeared in the Standard a picture of a loaded whiteboard, credited to Lancashire police, was shared on social media by the jokesters at Surrey Police @ReigateBeat.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 15.46.25

It was greeted with gleeful media derision but, to be fair, it underscores the problems going forward that the police have with our evolving language.

By the by, I swear down, English is the GOAT but the Welsh have a way better word for police: Heddlu.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 18.05.39

Its literal translation is ‘peace force’.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 18.07.55

Whiter than white out.



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.

Screenshot 2018-05-27 20.06.35

gammonnoun smoked or cured ham, on and off the bone

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

Screenshot 2018-05-28 11.12.49

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.

Screenshot 2018-05-28 11.46.15


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

Screenshot 2018-05-28 11.57.51

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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

Screenshot 2018-05-28 14.29.27

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 15.32.50

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 15.54.07

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 20.41.18

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.

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 20.34.30


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.


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