Wednesday, 22 September 2021


The wonderful thing about Jagmeet

Is Jagmeet’s a wonderful thing!

His top is made out of rubber

His bottom’s made out of a spring!

He goes bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy

Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

But the most wonderful thing about Jagmeet is

He’s the only one.

(Adapted from the lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman) 

Ever since I watched the post-election speeches and saw the NDP leader bouncing around the stage with his followers, the jingle from the Walt Disney film of Winnie the Pooh has been bouncing around in my head. The leaders gave predictable speeches with rhetorical flourishes and mounting passion, but I felt that only Jagmeet really meant what he said. If only Trudeau had kept his important promise to replace FPTP with preferential voting, then many of us would have voted NDP without the risk of splitting the liberal vote and being governed by a party that doesn’t believe in climate change.

The original song is about Tigger, a wonderful character who can’t stop bouncing around, much to the concern of Piglet, who worries about being bounced upon, and Eeyore, who is bounced into the river and mistaken for a Poohstick. If Jagmeet is a tigger, then perhaps Erin is a leopard trying to change his spots.

Tuesday, 14 September 2021


fine cartoon appeared in the Globe and Mail a night or two after the English debate of the Canadian party leaders. Obviously, the viewers in the pub found the debate boring. 

The cartoon evoked a response from a reader:

Re The Knitting Channe(Editorial Cartoon, Sept. 10): Who is The Globe and Mail calling boring? We knitters take offence that our craft was used as a foil for a perceived lack of interest in the debate. Perhaps if the leaders stuck to their knitting, we’d all be in a better place! (Joe Schwarz Penticton, B.C.)

Indeed! During the debate M. Blanchet urged his Anglophone counterparts to stick to their knitting and not interfere in Quebec politics. Mr. O' Tool  is knitting his brow as he tries to stitch the extremes of his party together, and the Greens are certainly not a close-knit group. Mr. Singh is constantly needling his opponents, and Justin Trudeau has certainly dropped a stitch or two.

For other idioms and metaphors, see Nautical Metaphors and It's Not Cricket.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Alt-Right and Crtl-Left

 The current culture war between the woke members of the crtl-left and the conspiratorial nihilists of the alt-right is to a large extent a matter of social-media political dynamics colonizing our real-world institutions. (Globe and Mail, 21 August, 2021)

 Many years ago, with the rise of computer technology, I railed against one of the first computer words to cross over into the main stream: “interface”. Why not use “connection” or “communication” or “meeting”? I ranted. Even worse was the verb. “Let’s have management interface with the publicity department,” the MD might say. Since then, of course, technology has populated our language with many new words, or old words with new, often ungrammatical, meanings such as the verb "populate" itself. Sometimes, the blank computer screen will reassure us: the list is populating. “‘Populate’ is a transitive verb!” I shout.

In a fine article in the opinion section of Saturday’s Globe, Andrew Potter reflects on the interconnectedness of the various calamities facing us at the same time. (“The COVID-19 pandemic. Climate change. Culture wars. For the West, the party is over”) This article contains many powerful statements, including the one quoted above. I was struck by the political terms derived from the computer keyboard.

I was familiar with the alt right but had not come across the crtl left before. My ignorance! Google tells me that the term has been around for some years.

I wonder whether the computer keyboard offers further possibilities for political terms. In Canada it is usually the command  centre that holds the balance of power. One hopes that in the US the fn mods will prevail, but that will depend on the shift uncertains.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Another Mixed Metaphor

This year, the Biden administration began considering special protections for climate refugees – an idea that will undoubtedly face immense criticism from a Republican party that has made fear of the outsider a central load-bearing beam of its political tent.

Every so often I come upon a glorious mixed metaphor. Nothing of course to compare with the movable lens conjured up by a Victoria councillor, but a beauty nonetheless. In a fine essay in the opinion section of last weekend’s Globe, Omar El Akkad writes about the need to prepare for the arrival of climate refuges. He uses some effective metaphors to describe the effects of climate change such as “sweeping sheets” of  rain, and American states “lurching” from one disastrous fire to another, images which create clear pictures, as metaphors should. But in one paragraph he slips up, creating a clash of images which belongs in the Oxford Book of Mixed Metaphors.

I used to enjoy camping. I have fond memories of sleeping in a Eureka three-man tent with a couple of friends along the Mantario Trail in the Whiteshell. It was tall enough that I could stand up in the centre — but in the tent in this article I would bump my head on the load-bearing beam. And even if it’s a big tent — a large marquee under which Republicans of different persuasions might gather, united by their common fear of the outsider — then what load is the beam supporting? Should the writer perhaps have referred to the central pole of Republican Party's political tent?

To put it simply, how can a tent be supported by a beam? And if it’s a central beam, are there other beams on either side? What do we see when we picture this image?

That’s the trouble with overused metaphors. A big tent might seem a clever comparison for the party with a variety of polices to attract people with different beliefs. Many people can gather in this tent. But after a while, the metaphor becomes a cliche, just a word, no longer an image, and the writer uses it without thinking. And then he comes up with another image for the fear of the outsider: the central load-bearing beam. The result is a mixed metaphor.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021


Uglier and uglier

Just when you think that you’ve seen the ultimate in ugly noun-verbs ending in -ize, like “incentivize”, another one appears, so horrible that it beggars belief, and in the Guardian, no less. Why would they allow someone to write like this?

Carter is, in some respects, difficult to narrativize because he could be both startlingly conservative – financially, or in his appeal to the deep south’s evangelicals – and progressive, particularly on human rights and climate. 

“Narrativize”, presumably, means “to write the narrative about”. Why not say that, or simply, “tell the story about” Jimmy Carter?  But a story is what actually happened. A narrative is what you want your audience to believe happened: your version of the story.

In simpler times, the word was mainly found in books about literature. Now, in keeping with the times we live in, where “truth” is to be disputed and fought over, you will see it in the political news every day. 

As COVID-19 devastates India, Modi’s government tries to control the narrative.

A story is told; a narrative, controlled.

So why didn’t the Guardian writer use the noun rather than the ugly verb? She must have thought that it made her writing more effective. See also Nouns as Verbs.

Monday, 12 April 2021

Hither, Thither and Whither; Hence, Thence and Whence

 Quo Vadis

Hither and Thither sat on a fence
Hither said, "We're here," but Thither went thence.
Along came Whither, he knew not whence,
For truth to tell, he was rather dense.
In a bit of a dither, he called to Thither,
"Go not hence, but please come hither."

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Gary Mason muses on the future of the mayor of Calgary, Naheed Nenshi:

He could go back to academia, from whence he came. 

Probably without realizing it, he is echoing the wonderful line from Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills
From whence cometh my help.

I often think of the verse on a walk when I face the mountains ahead, although my help usually cometh from the valley below in the form of an ice-cold beer at the end of the day.

I have always enjoyed this family of almost archaic words, which survive only in a few expressions such as a “come-hither glance” or “get thee hence” or “whither goest thou”, and, of course, in the text of “the noblest monument of English prose”, the King James Bible.

“Hence” means “from here”; “thence”, “from there”; and whence, “from where”; and similarly, “hither”, “thither” and “whither” mean to “here”, there” and “where”. The psalm contains a redundancy: the “from” is unnecessary for "whence" means "from where", but who would delete it? The contemporaries of Shakespeare who translated the Authorized Version felt the rhythm of the language, and the preposition remains to this day.

The piece of doggerel above came to me on a walk, as I thought about a medieval city in Spain where the little narrow streets wander hither and thither, so that it’s  almost impossible not to get lost. In a medieval town, you can not simply walk around the block and get back to where you started. It is not easy to go thence and return thither. For the streets were not designed by a town planner, but grew up along ancient paths traced by people who did not walk in straight lines. 


To end on a sad note. Unfortunately, in the sentence before the one with the Biblical echo, Gary Mason commits what may be the most common error of all, and one that appears too often in the Globe and Mail:

Mr. Nenshi is non-committal about what lays ahead for him.

See also Laid and Lain and Lie and Lay.  

Saturday, 20 March 2021

Nouns as Verbs

I’ll a-to-zed it.

There, I’ve said it.

It’s surely a better verb to use.


Is Greek in disguise

I prefer an “English” word to choose.

I coined a word the other day, in response to my wife’s saying that she was going to alphabetize her music. “You will a-to-zed it,” I said. Nor sure about the spelling, though.

This is not to be confused with a word from the last century, probably now archaic with the advent of TomToms and GPS:

Back in the sixties, I used to AtoZ my way around London.

Incidentally, George Orwell, the writer who preferred "English" words to Latin or Greek ones, also came up with a series of rules for good writing, one of which is frequently broken when nouns transition change into verbs

Never use a long word when a short one will do.


Parts of speech have always morphed into others, particularly nouns into verbs. Rarely are they necessary; sometimes they are creative and evocative; more often they are cold, lazy, pompous, or downright ugly, in my opinion. But language evolves.

For years I wouldn’t access my bank account, I would gain access to it, but I have to confess that more recently, I may have accessed it on occasion, and the verb no longer grates on my ears. Well, only slightly.

Nor would I use the noun “impact” as a verb, as in “The virus has impacted the economy.” A better verb, “affect”, already exists.

However, common usage has now firmly established these two words as verbs. Far worse are the more recent verbal atrocities.

One unpleasant and unnecessary new verb is to gift. For example, in the BBC news a few days ago,

Each year, the Queen gifts each of her staff of around 1,500 with a traditional Christmas pudding.

Why on earth would you gift something when the verb to give already exists. I’m sure the Queen didn’t say, “Merry Christmas, everyone, I’m going to gift you all a Christmas pud.”

Well, someone might argue, to gift has a more precise meaning. But surely, whether or not the object being given is a gift or not will always be clear from the context.

Another noun-verb that makes me feel quite queasy is “to transition”. 

I will be transitioning from the White House at the end of this month”, she (Kellyanne Conway) said in a statement.

I imagine her changing shape like Proteus. And you have to ask, what sort of person would say that she was transitioning rather than moving from the White House or changing jobs

Another ugly verb, used by people who move in political or bureaucratic circles, is used only in the passive voice, not a good sign:

On health care, I support Medicare for all, and Joe Biden obviously doesn’t. Many Democratic voters agree with me, as evidenced by the overwhelming support in the exit polls during the primaries. 

In a similar vein, and even worse, is the verb to reference. It’s ugly, unnecessary, and it’s everywhere.

During our interview, Bonnie ... references Albert Camus's The Plague.

Mr. Anastasi wasn’t referencing merely his newspaper’s storied history.

Speakers referenced voting for change in the November election...

Pollsters, referencing the president’s problem with alienating some supporters with his comments on race and gender....

Have writers forgotten that the word already has the verb form, to refer?

Some of these new verbs are lifeless. If the Olympic Games ever come to pass, we'll often hear this cold and sterile verb:

These Canadians hope to medal in the Japan Olympics.

Even worse is the verb to incentivize.

Victoria has a new bylaw coming that will incentivize deconstruction over demolition...


Recently, however, I came upon a new noun-as-verb of which I heartily approve. It’s a verb particularly appropriate here in Victoria, where the City is gradually replacing its streets with bike lanes. 

The fine for dooring a cyclist increases to $368 as of today.

I would define the verb as follows: "Door(v): to open a car door suddenly with the result that the cyclist coming up from behind crashes into it."

What an evocative metaphor! We hear the sound of the door opening and the bicycle crashing into it. We see the cyclist hurtling over the door and thudding onto the pavement, hopefully to rise again and cycle on.

Two questions I would ask about any of these neologisms. Are they necessary? Are they evocative?

Please share any noun-verbs that you find particularly abominable.