Sunday, 12 October 2014

Me me me me me

Most readers will know that selfie was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013, but I have to report a new development in the selfie world: the Bluetooth-connected selfie stick.

I heard recently a statistic about digital photography – something like More photographs have been taken in the last ten years than had previously been taken since the beginning of photography. But since the coining of the word selfie in 2002 I estimate that an order of magnitude more images with a thumb partly obscuring the lens have been taken. I was ahead of the curve. I took one such photo on a holiday in the mid '80s.

Are people today more soulless than the people were in the early days of photography who objected that the camera would steal their spirit? Anyone with a mobile phone is now eager for spirit removal.

The person on the tip of everyone's tongue – in the selfie arena at the moment – is Wossname M.P., he of the paisley pyjamas. I haven't read the Sundays, but I gather from Broadcasting House that he has come over all Oprah and blamed his crass stupidity on a mental condition. I must say, as a fully paid-up member of the Black Dog Tribe, that I'm inclined to cut him some slack; de profundis (or should that be in?...) one can make a prat of oneself. And I gather he's going for some spirit-replacement therapy. After all, that's where the psych- of psychiatry comes from; is a psychiatrist a doctor who replaces people's spirits after they've been photographed?

On the other hand the duplicitous 'journalist' who entrapped him should be ... I don't know, something jolly nasty. 'Public interest' my Aunt Fanny!

That said, I'd be very surprised if a spin-doctor were not involved. To a depressed person, anyone who suggests a way of making the best of a bad job is a straw to be clutched at.

And while we're on the subject of drowning men, I had my first affogato (ice-cream in espresso) after a festive meal the other day, and wondered why it was so called. Italian is not my first second language, more like Nth (where N is a large number – or mallet, as we cruciverbalists say). So I was trying to do something with the idea of 'fog' (silly, I know); maybe the ice-cream makes the coffee look misty...? 
But the Portuguese afogado came to the rescue. The ice-cream is the drownee and the black coffee is the Cruel Sea.


Some day I mean to expand this digression into a post on culinary metaphors†. Wouldn't it be cool to plan a whole menu based on metaphors (with matching wines perhaps – I'm not a wine-buff, but I'm sure lacrima Christi would be involved)? It's the sort of thing an Agatha Christie murderer might do.  But not now – it's time I put in an appearance in the Real World.


Update 2014.10.19.16:16 – PS

The Language Show – which I went to yesterday – is a good place for savouring culture clashes. My favourite yesterday was a handwritten sign for some DVDs, but written in rather curvaceous European script. So it seemed to be announcing to the world that the stack of DVDs were 'DUD's. Foolishly, I didn't take a photograph. Come to  think of it, taking a photograph could have seemed a bit tactless. So you'll just have to take my word for it.

And while I'm here, I've updated the TES stats in the footer.

Here it is.

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common pairs of vowels used to represent the /i:/ phoneme, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

I'm thinking about doing a native iBook version in due course, but for now Mac users can use Kindle's own (free) simulator.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this

Freebies (Teaching resources:  over 46,800 views  and over 6,300 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,350 views and 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.


  1. "That said, I'd be very surprised if a spin-doctor were not involved."

    Why did you not write "That said, I'd be very surprised if a spin-doctor was not involved."

    What is the name of this type of construct, and what are the rules for when it should be used?

    1. 'If...was' would have been OK. Some British English teachers would even prefer it. (Not American English teachers though).

      The 'were' there is a subjunctive - a mood that's going out of fashion in British English. But many phrases have fossilized subjunctives in them; 'if I WAS you', for example, sounds just wrong.

      I keep emphasizing the type of English (Br or Am) because Americans are MUCH fonder of the subjunctive. (I had some stats to back this up - they're somewhere on the site. Next time I'm passing - I'm not a regular - I'll try to track them down.)


    2. Thanks. I think "subjunctive" is the term I was looking for. But I had been
      under the impression that this was used in cases where you are referring to a
      counterfactual (something that is not in fact the case, such as "if
      Prince Charles were a woman" or "if I were you").

      But in the original post, you seem not to be using it in that sense - you are
      not referring to a counterfactual, but to something whose truth value is not known. E.g. I would have thought (perhaps
      wrongly) that "if Prince Charles were a woman" is an appropriate use of the
      subjunctive, but "if Prince Charles were thinking about toast this morning"
      would not be.


    3. Hmm,. I'll have to think about that. You may be right...

      The thing is, there are different levels of counterfactuality. 'If all the seas were paper' is absolutely counterfactual.But 'If I were a rich man' refers to a state that I'm not in (though I could be). And 'If I were to win the National Lottery' could be said to refer to a possible event in the same way. However, _I_ know that it's absolutely counterfactual because I'd never buy a ticket; so I'd still use 'were'.

      I think maybe you're applying an academic philosopher's criterion to decide what is counterfactual. And that degree of Absolute Rigour doesn't always apply to language use (though it may in some cases). But in fact, people switch about: The last line of the song 'If I were a rich man' is - in some covers (I'm not sure about the Ur-text!) - 'If I was a wealthy man'.

      I use the subjunctive to refer to something when I'm not asserting that it DID happen though it may have done. If it HAD happened I use the indicative (to _indicate_ that it had. This follows the French/Spanish/etc way. But, as I said, some English teachers would prefer a 'was' in my spin-doctor sentence.


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