Monday, 22 May 2017


Time for another of my periodical looks at Harmless Drudgery‘s vital statistics.
In  Oct 2016 I wrote of the previous 2 years and 3 months:
It would be unrealistic, I think, to expect a similar near-doubling readership over the coming 9 quarters;  and, besides, it takes quite a bit of (writing) effort to maintain interest – which is at odds with the original purpose of the blog [which, longer-term visitors will know, was to support my other writing efforts].
In April 2015, in a PS to this) I had written of a record average of daily visits of 55. Well, 55 schmifty-five. The average for this month so far is about four times as much – over 200. The trend started about Christmas 2016, followed by another up-tick at Easter 2017, leading me to think that maybe my key demographic was teachers, who saved their recreational blog-reading for the school holidays, but page visits in May are already (after about two-thirds of the month) almost as high as the total for April (5,147).
HD stats, courtesy of Blogger
And while we're on the subject of numbers, I have long felt something that grates on my ear as "just American"...
(pace Susie Dent, whose Americanize!: Why the Americanisation of English Is a Good Thing on Radio 4 last Saturday neither was  particularly persuasive nor had to be; I don't need persuading. I prefer -ize myself where admissible – certainly NOT in the lamentable cases of *televize or *analyze, for example  And incidentally, I suppose the inconsistency of that programme's title [Americanize but Americanisation] was intentional)
...needed further attention – preferably on the basis of numbers. My source as usual is the British National Corpus (BNC) and its much bigger and more recently updated transatlantic cousin the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). My first three searches seemed to confirm my prejudice:

sooner rather than later (just click and sit back while BNC does its thing) 65
sooner than later (just click and sit back while BNC does its thing)
sooner than later (just click and sit back while COCA does its thing) 105.

QED. Sooner than later could be assigned, along with I could care less (and incidentally I don't buy Steven Pinker's irony argument – but I don't have time to trace the reference, given the length of the grass) to the Expressions that don't make sense in American English pile.

But COCA is more than five times the size of BNC, so I might have expected a frequency for the preferred form of more than 5 times 65 – well over 300. So I looked again in COCA.
sooner rather than later (just click and sit back while COCA does its thing) 486
So what was demonstratum was not what was demonstrandum. Based on those corpus figures, sooner rather than later is more than 10 times as commonly used by British English speakers/writers than sooner than later. But among American English speakers/writers the predominance is similar; just more less pronounced – less than half the ratio of sooner rather than later to sooner than later. And perhaps the preference is on the wane – taken up by a smaller proportion of linguistic ground-breakers on this side of the Atlantic; the sort of comparative-historical corpus query that could prove that though is beyond me.

Enough. Biomass destruction is the hors-d'œuvre of the day, and the mower awaits.


PS – a clue to be going on with:
  • VIP? Mark; a nut, when crushed. (6,5)
Update: 2017.05.22.22:40 – Added PPS

PPS – Whoops; got the polarity of the comparison wrong, fixed in bold.

Update: 2017.05.26.14:10 – Added PPPS

PPPS – I said I'd write more about Americanisms. I find it hard to say anything new, because I've been fighting this prejudice for so long and in so many different forums.
(And there's another one – pluralizing of words with a clear Latin provenance. I'm with Fowler on this one, as I've said before. He wrote:
 ...that all words not English in appearance are in English writing ugly and not pretty, and that they [HD: Latin plurals] are justified only (1) if they afford much the shortest or clearest, if not the only way to the meaning ... or (2) if they have some special appropriateness of association or allusion in the sentence they stand in.
A consequence of the practice of using English endings is that you avoid solecisms such as syllabi; incidentally, for what it's worth – not a lot for writers of English – the Latin plural of syllabus is syllabūs [or a u with some such diacritic – we didn't need them for the exam, so like any self-respecting school-child I ignored them.)

A few years ago I wrote here:

...Less well-informed commentators go so far as to say - when asked the difference between authorise and authorize -
No difference at all ... only that americans spell it different cos they feel the need to be different . The correct spelling is with an -s-

Oh dear. In one such discussion I said
There's nothing unBritish about the spelling 'apologize'. It has been the house style of The Times for well over a hundred years, and is used by many large and influential publishers (Oxford University Press, for example). I'm tired of being accused of flirting with modernity and excessive American influence, just because I use a spelling that millions of British people use (so long as they haven't been got at by generations of school-teachers peddling misinformation).
That may have been true of The Times at the time of writing, but 'the times they are a-changin''. A few cases of '-ize' pass the scrutiny of the subs' eyes - especially when there is a strong etymological justification - as in the case of 'baptize' (where there is a zeta rather than a sigma in the original Greek); but fewer and fewer.
But to quote the Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors

The first line is crucial:

WHERE verbs can be spelled with either an -ize or -ise ending...

American and British English speakers simply disagree over that can: not, say we, in a case like televise; to give it a z would be to suggest that there was the noun or adjective telev - and if you televized something you made it either more like one (in the case of the noun) or just more televvy (in the case of the adjective).

The rest, as Professor Brian Cox might say, is science (sic).

    Thursday, 18 May 2017

    And only man is vile

    (But the island in question is not Heber's "Ceylon" (isle...vile is the rhyme); it is on Henderson Island that

    In vain with lavish kindness

    The gifts of God are strown

    Besides, that lavish kindness doesn't really work, and I doubt if The Big Fellah would be in a hurry to claim discarded Tizer bottles as part of his bounty.)

    But I'm getting off the subject. Ahem...

    I spotted this sub-head in a Guardian article on Monday.
    Henderson Island, part of the Pitcairn group, is covered by 18 tonnes of plastic – the highest density of anthropogenic debris recorded anywhere in the world
    Anthropogenic debris. Take a moment to consider that phrase. The article goes on:
    The largest of the four islands of the Pitcairn Island group, Henderson Island is a Unesco World Heritage Listed site and one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by humans.

    The island exhibits remarkable biological diversity given it covers only 3,700 hectares, with 10 endemic species of plant and four land bird species. Its isolation had, until recently, afforded it protection from most human activities...

    ...The threat to biodiversity posed by plastic debris has come under increased scrutiny as findings reveal the extent of the problem, with millions of tonnes ending up in the ocean every year.
    The natural world has put up a brave response  to this assault.  Hermit crabs, for example, have started using bits of this debris to stand in for empty shells. On the face of it, this is a Good Thing – reuse rather than refuse. But a member of a research group working on the island, interviewed for the Guardian article, reported finding
    ...  hundreds of crabs living in rubbish such as bottle caps and cosmetics jars, and has been told of one living inside a doll’s head.

    “From the looks on people’s faces, it was quite grotesque,” she said. “That was how I felt about all these crabs – we are not providing them a home, this is not a benefit to them.

    “This plastic is old, it’s brittle, it’s sharp, it’s toxic. It was really quite tragic seeing these gorgeous crabs scuttling about, living in our waste.”
    Hermit-crab chain, about 6/7 minutes in
    By the way, while  we're on the subject of hermit crabs, I recommend this Natural World programme, part of which deals with an  informal house-swapping chain formed by a sequence of different-sized hermit crabs, with the biggest finding a new shell and all the others swapping theirs for the next size up.
    But a solution could be provided by the natural world. At the end of April 2017 in an article in Current Biology reported on Polyethylene bio-degradation by caterpillars of the wax moth Galleria mellonella a title that rather telegraphs the message (and promises a less than inviting overview of the research). I admit that I was more inclined to read about a Caterpillar found to eat shopping bags, suggesting biodegradable solution to plastic pollution in a research review in the University of Cambridge's Research review.

    This very hungry caterpillar produces "something that breaks the chemical bond, perhaps in its salivary glands or a symbiotic bacteria in its gut", says Paulo Bombelli, a Cambridge researcher and co-author of the article.
    ...the degradation rate is extremely fast compared to other recent discoveries, such as bacteria reported last year to biodegrade some plastics at a rate of just 0.13mg a day. Polyethylene takes between 100 and 400 years to degrade in landfill sites.  "If a single enzyme is responsible for this chemical process, its reproduction on a large scale using biotechnological methods should be achievable," said Cambridge's Paolo Bombelli...

    ...As the molecular details of the process become known, the researchers say it could be used to devise a biotechnological solution on an industrial scale for managing polyethylene waste.
    So it looks as if we might not need to go as far as Mars to do our terra-forming. Maybe we can do it on Earth. Hang on though, that doesn't make much sense: TERRA-forming on Earth?  Holy pleonasm, Batman.

    And here's a clue:
    • Buy on favourable terms – in other words, credit. (7)

    Monday, 8 May 2017

    Unwitting puns

    The oldest secular building in Rye is the Ypres Tower. It's been many things in its time, particularly a prison. One part of the prison was built on in the 19th century.
    ...Only a few stone buildings survive, one being the one we known as Ypres Tower. . The Court Hall was one casualty of this raid, and while a new one was being built, the Tower was used for Corporation business and the various courts. In 1421, all offenders were ordered to attend here on pain of a fine of 12 pence which suggests that part of it was also used as a prison.

    However, in 1430 the Tower was leased to one John de Ypres (hence the name), for use as a private residence, with the proviso that ‘the Mayor Jurats and Commonality’ could enter it at a time of hostility or war for the purpose of town defence. Fortunately the attack never came.

    In 1484 or 1494 the Corporation rented the Tower for use as a prison, and in 1518 bought the freehold — for £26; shortly afterwards a new roof and new floors were added.


    And in a later addition ("changes follow[ing] the 1830′s legislation to improve prison conditions: a new exercise yard (the present Medieval Garden), four additional cells, and a tower for housing women prisoners (the focus of the ongoing Women’s Tower Project...)" on a recent visit I saw what may have been a 20th-century pun by a garden designer with a sense of humour – although quite possibly the pun was unintentional and the garden designer was as po-faced as they come....

    A feature of spoken English is often known (misleadingly) as Cockney Rhyming Slang – "misleadingly" because much of the known (and growing) corpus of terms has no links with Cockney. While Tom may well have originated in Cockney criminal cant as meaning jewelry (Tom foolery/jewelry), the professional wrestler's Doin' yer Gregory (meaning feigning an injured neck [Gregory Peck]) did not.

    But one word that is a good candidate for having a criminal background is porridge (meaning time in jail) –  borage and thyme/time... which brings us back to that waggish garden designer. One of the main herbs in the Medieval Garden was borage. "Why no thyme?" I hear a doubting mutter. O ye of little faith. Thyme prefers to grow in full sun. Imagine an aetiolated thyme seedling reaching up forlornly for
     that little tent of blue
      Which prisoners call the sky

    The Ypres Tower is managed by the National Trust – a marvellous institution though  possibly natural home of  folk etymology. Unquestioning "derivations" I have heard from tour guides include
    • face the music – turn round and sing a solo, facing the music from the back of a chapel
    • nod off – from church pews designed with a sloping seat to prevent worshippers from  going to sleep
    • learn the ropes – what growing gentlemen had to do in the nursery (using model ships) before taking a commission in the Navy
    • Humpty Dumpty  – English Civil War gun
    • one that's so improbable I can't remember it – it was something to do with a hangman: kick the bucket, maybe...
    • etc etc... They are a well-intentioned lot, but one has to carry a large block of rock-salt...(Hmm, is it pinch or grain...?)
    <digression type="certainty versus uncertainty">
    The Phrase Finder seems quite sure about Learning the ropes...
    A nautical term, from the days of sailing ships when new recruits had to learn how to tie knots and which rope hauled up which sail. After which of course they would know the ropes.
    ... but less so about knowing them:
    There is some doubt about the origin of this phrase. It may well have a nautical origin. Sailors had to learn which rope raised which sail and also had to learn a myriad of knots. There is also a suggestion that it comes from the world of the theatre, where ropes are used to raise scenery etc [HD: see PPS].

    During that visit to Rye I went to Hastings,    where in another museum I saw what a deadeye  was. The picture on the right shows a single one (alias bull's eye). But more  ambitious sailing ships had the more complex triple deadeye shown below. When, as a 10-ish year-old I went to my big sister's school production of The Captain of the Pinafore I assumed ...
    (probably anachronistically, as the Wiktionary definition of Deadeye Dick as "An especially accurate marksman" probably  post-dates the days of sail [and certainly post-dates the days of accurate marksmanship])
    ---that W.S. Gibert's character Dick DeadeyePS was a sort of Butch Cassidy.

    A triple deadeye

    Which (oh do keep up – theatrical scenery) brings me to my other unwitting pun (although I wouldn't put it past the speaker to have known what he was doing). A recent Book of the Week (start here, but it went on all week) was Nicholas Hytner's Balancing Acts  (which unaccountably didn't mention me, his near-contemporary at Cambridge; we may have bumped into each other at an ADC party).

    He was talking about the NT version of Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy. In this they had to represent the characters' daemons – played by puppets (which the NT players had no experience of dealing with). For the later production of War Horse, he said, they didn't confront the problem in the same "cavalier" fashion. The word cavalier has an obvious connection with horses, although this usage (arrogant/disdainful) presumably relates to the demeanour of a Cavalier (right but romantic) (as opposed to a Roundhead – wrong but revolting).

    But I can't put it off any longer: HMRC – need I say more? (Probably, for non-UK readers: HMRC is otherwise known as the taxman.


    Update: 2017.05.0916:25 –Fixed a clutch of typos, and added PS

    I got the words the wrong way round yesterday, but the Deadeye comes second.

    Update: 2017.05.10.17:10  – Added PPS.

    According to this there's a link between the two. If theatre technicians were out-of-work sailors who whistled signals to each other (because a whistle is more audible than a shout in stormy weather),  this explains the superstitious avoidance of whistling backstage. In the days before head-sets and radio mikes, a rogue whistle could reward the siffleur with a sandbag or flat in the face – or on the head.

    Tuesday, 2 May 2017

    Being in two minds

    My attention was caught (while I was making other plans, as usual :-)) by a blog about bilingualism and its correlation with personality. I have to admit, though, that the distraction from those other plans was not as great as I'd hoped. Like many academic blogs it's more of an amuse-bouche than a main course.

    It starts out with the less than flabbergasting observation that
    You might think of the shy person who becomes much more extroverted when talking to family or close friends. Alternatively, we could think about someone who acts in one manner with his co-workers but acts very differently when having a drink with former college dormmates.
    Well GOSH. Next he'll be telling me the Pope wears a big hat. This observation seems to me like that Einstein line about time seeming to speed up when you're with a pretty girl [Einstein's sexism, yer 'Onner] and slow down if your hand's on a hot stove; it's  true but its relevance to Relativity (in the physics sense) is tenuous at best. What I wanted to be told about was whether processing different languages favoured distinct character traits (a point I touched on here, referring to a personal experience):
    ...[T]his has resonance in my own experience selling magazines in Spain. I found it much easier to be deceitful (not lying but painting a rosy picture of the future – I was selling subscriptions). My initial belief was that this was a feature of the language; this belief fitted in with vocabulary that related to my own position, back in England.
    <autobiographical_note blush_factor="10">
    I was a boy-friend to someone who thought I was a fiancé; the one word novio blurred the distinction. Did I love her?  I doubt it; but I was happy to say Te quiero, because – past-master as I was in the field of casuistry [fruit of an RC education] – I did want her, and querer can mean 'want' (cf. Kant's 'murderer at the door' dilemma, and this  [specifically 'All men are false']).
    But maybe it's to do with speaking in foreign languages generally; maybe it works for any L1/L2 combination.
    But, returning to that blog [do keep up] that disappointing aperçu was followed by a more promising  later reflection:
    As I thought about it more, I realized that language might serve as a form of context that triggers certain memories. One interesting analogy comes from work with deep-sea divers. Divers often seem to forget what happened to them underwater. Follow up work on this observation has found that when divers are taught a list of words underwater they are better at recalling more of those words later underwater than they are outside water. The opposite was also true. They exhibited better memory for words learned above water when they were asked to remember outside of water. Hence, a particular context serves to elicit memories relevant to that context. In this view, memory is driven by a set of cues that elicit certain responses from us. 
    Source [My emphasis]
    But this is just about speaking different languages, not about bilingualism (growing up in an environment that uses two languages). Is a Catalan child cheekier, say,  when using Catalan than they are when using Castilian? And, given the same context, if they are being cheeky, are they more likely to use one language than another?

    Dunno –  Maybe I'll have to take the course mentioned in that blog.


    Friday, 21 April 2017

    The little things of life

    I have mentioned diminutives before; and they're always lurking quite close to the surface when you think about words. In my last post, for example:
    ...bacilli  [Latin baculum  'little staff'; there's that '-ulus/m' again, denoting a diminutive...]
    Spaghetti are little spaghi ["strings"]; cigarettes (and cigarillos) are little cigars. A scintilla is a little piece that's been cut off (from the irregular verb scindere [whose part participle is scissus, recognizable in the English scissors]). Often, their meanings diverge widely from the mother-word: a tabernacle) ultimately from tabernaculum doesn't have much of an obvious link with a tavern (> taberna); the altar wine doesn't even go in  the tabernacle...
     (at least not in my day, when catering was easier [just a mouthful for the celebrant]).

    The reason for this focus (on diminutives) is a chance reading of the title of an Italian board game: Il gioco dell'oca.  In Italy (and much of the Romance world) they don't have Snakes & Ladders (although Google Translate says that Snakes & Ladders is an English "translation" of Gioco dell'oca. Un' oca is thought to have derived from the Vulgar Latin *AUCA(M) (the preceding asterisk signifies that the word is not attested, but is the source of other Romance words that require it to have existed).

    On the right is a rather mangled excerpt [cobbled together from the foot of one column and the top half of the next] from the Romance philologist‘s bible Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. The book was compiled more than a century ago, when the centre of the philological universe was in Germany, (Grimm's Law, remember)  so it's not a light read. And it says so much about auca, avicella and avicellus that I missed out an elision after the first four lines on avicellus: Section 828 goes on, but my interest ran out after the French oiseau.
    <tangent status="just thrown out there">
    I wonder if Pooh's Woozle owes anything to A.A.Milne's knowledge of Chaucer's ousel... So little time, so many speculations.
    Anyway, oca means "goose", and there are diminutives in its back-story. But when I first (knowingly, as I imagine I may have come across the word before I saw that Italian board-game) saw the word I wondered whether it might have any connection with the English word ocarina – this odd-looking musical instrument:

    I went to my usual source for this sort of information, Etymonline:
    ocarina (n.)
    1877, from Italian ocarina, diminutive of oca "goose" (so called for its shape), from Vulgar Latin *auca, from Latin avicula "small bird," diminutive of avis "bird" (see aviary).
    My guess was right (though I'm not sure I buy the so-called for its shape. The instrument comes in all sorts  of shapes, but the most common one doesn't remind  me of a goose; perhaps the noise it makes comes into  it).

    Returning to the game, its instructions were in Italian; and I suspect  – my command of Italian is more of a comma – they claimed a millennial origin for the game, though Wikipedia suggests that the author of this pooh-poohs the idea with a rather curt sniff:
    [The games]...are unlikely to have been the same
    Geese figure elsewhere in much language. The rather dated silly goose, cooking someone's goose, wild goose chase...
    <digression theme ="goose".
    In my partial soon-to-be-released new vowel book, the *IL* section says this of the expression wild goose chase:
    When Shakespeare put this expression in the mouth of Mercutio (in the first recorded use), he was probably referring to a certain kind of horse-race, with a leading horse being followed by other riders in the V-shape typical of migrating geese. When used today, it refers more directly (although figuratively) to the notion of chasing after wild geese. (It seems to me that this change in meaning may have been influenced, in days when Latin was more widely studied, by an awareness of the fact that a mission to find the solution to a question that has no anser [=Latin, "goose"] was vain; but there is no documentary proof of this – which, I admit, smacks of folk-etymology.)

    ...what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander....[I'm not sure where that "good for the goose" in the UsingEnglish version comes from. Both BNC and COCA prefer sauce as a noun in that context {before "for the goose"}... Oh I get it. I was searching specifically for a noun . BNC prefers the noun, with only a single good; but COCA has much closer balance (indeed, an ABSOLUTE balance, in its corpus – alliteration trumps gastronomy )] Geese certainly get about. But things need doing. Further reflection on ocarinas and goslings will have to wait, sine die].


    PS A clue:
    • Reportedly Spooner's porcine challenge for a sympathetic cure (3, 4, 2, 3, 3)

    Friday, 14 April 2017

    My old man said Follow the lobster...

    ... and don't Dili-Dali on the way.

    'You couldn't make it up' – said the John Waite in this week's Pick of the Week, introducing  a BBC report on a self-styled Grammar Vigilante. This masked crusader roams the streets of Bristol righting the wrongs done to Milady the Blessed and Inviolate Language of Our Forefathers the Way Mrs Thistlebotham Taught It. [Mrs Thislebotham was a stickler for proper English who inhabited Dave Barry's Mr Language Person columns, one of which observed that an apostrophe just meant Here comes an S.], The Apostrophizer's special interest was the wayward apostrophe, and the arcane/arbitrary rules governing its "correct" application. I wrote a  few years ago (here) about this:
    ... my late twentieth-century sightings of apostropho-clasm are far from original. GBS wrote
    I have written aint, dont, havent, shant, shouldnt, and wont for twenty years with perfect impunity, using the apostrophe only when its omission would suggest another word: for example hell for he’ll. There is not the faintest reason for persisting in the ugly and silly trick of peppering pages with these uncouth bacilli. [ed, 2017: the source I originally gave had papering for peppering, but this is obviously wrong: peppering is the perfect choice, whereas papering makes no sense at all; I suspevt the finger of blame points at Optical Character Recognition]
    (Isn't that bacilli marvellous? Bacilli were in the news at the time, because of discoveries in connection with these stick-like [Latin baculum  'little staff'; there's that '-ulus/m' again, denoting a diminutive, as noted in a previous post microscopic objects. Shaw was a contemporary of Fleming [HD 2017: I have no idea why I mentioned Fleming. The reason is probably a circumstantial link now lost on the cutting-room floor.] – who was born before Shaw but outlived him. One can imagine Shaw reading a newspaper or scientific leaflet illustrated with a slide covered with these things looking like chocolate vermicelli - and there's another metaphor, 'little worms', but that would be a digression too far). You can read more about apostrophes here [ed, 2017: this source is no longer there. Here's an option], if you're that way inclined. I really can't get awfully excited about this sort of thing. [HD 2017: I'd like to include a contemporary picture {mid-late 19th cent.} but for the time being you'll have to make do with this:
    A better one is TBS, but breath retention is not advised.]
    The Pedant column in The Times, responding to the BBC's story, layed into the Apostrophizer in a column entitled ...
    See rant here (the bit in red) if you're interested in my feelings about this wronged word.
    ...The Apostrophiser should Apologise. I'm not convinced the writer came up with that title; maybe a sub-editor was just attracted by the assonance
    For a start, the grammar vigilante has misunderstood his own moniker. Grammar encompasses syntax ...morphology ... and phonology .... Mr Vigilante is concerned instead with orthography, the conventions for writing a language, which has nothing to do with grammar.

    The distinction matters. [HD: Well yes. I thought as much when I first heard the BBC report but dismissed it as a bit of typical dumbing down; and eternal vigilance in this sort of thing strikes me as almost as anal as the malefactor.] Whenever you hear a complaint about “bad grammar” levelled at a native speaker it will almost invariably be untrue. We know how the rules of grammar go (real rules, I mean, like word order or inflection for tense) and don’t get them wrong. But the conventions of spelling and punctuation have to be learnt. Mr Vigilante believes it’s a “crime” to get these wrong. [HD: Well, again, yes. The self-styled Apostrophizer was making a rhetorical rebuff of the interviewer's question (about the legality of his efforts), without weighing his words more carefully, so ...] What nonsense [... it was indeed pretty silly. He needs a PR training course. But his use of "It's a crime" to refer to something not strictly criminal is fairly standard hyperbole and hardly merits this put-down. Sledgehammers and nuts spring to mind.].
    Though agreeing with a lot of what Oliver [Pedant] Kamm writes, I fear this article was not his finest hour. He talks about the history of orthography, giving loads of detail. I sympathize with his objection to being corrected by an ignoramus who thinks English should be pickled in aspic.

    Incidentally, Kamm obviously knows but has over-simplified the story:
    The apostrophe didn’t enter the English language till the 16th century. It was adopted from French as a printers’ convenience to denote an elision or contracted form. From that usage, [HD: Here's the missing bit, expanded below.]  it was adopted to denote singular possession and then plural possession. But this was no logical stepwise progression. The conventions fluctuated and they didn’t settle down in their current form till around 1800, with mechanised printing.
    The printers' convention was applied, in a case of a possessive usage, to a missing letter or  letters that had been part of the possessive inflexion. Chaucer's Pardoner inveighs against the casual use of oaths such as

    "By Goddes precious herte," and "by his nayles"...

    and the possessive ending is necessary for the metre. So those compositors weren't just inventing a convention for denoting possession, but using a trick used in other contexts (such as ñ for nn); it was just a convention for making the artisan's work easier. The apostrophe came to denote possession more-or-less by accident, by marking the elision of a possessive ending.

    Anyway, I must start on the picnic bench in the gaps between rain showers and neighbours' bonfires.


    Friday, 7 April 2017

    Crossed wires

    Not for the first time, my Tai Chi class has set me off on what might politely be called a tangent (less politely another hare-brained reflection).
    <digression theme="hare-brained">
    Interesting metaphor, that; presumably not unrelated to the Mad Hatter: darting about, with random changes of direction. (They're not really boxing;  something to do with mating, I think. Wikipedia would know.) 
    And another thing. In Western culture we have the association of the moon with lunacy (which does what it says on the tin, as it were), but many Eastern cultures see  not a Man in the Moon  but a Rabbit in the Moon. I wonder... (For Further Study, as they used to say in the ISO world: "FFS" [meaning "interesting, but don't hold your breath"])
    My teacher often teaches in mirror image, and refers to our bodies: 'Your right hand,' she says, demonstrating with her left. This is easy enough to understand, once you know the convention and have practised a few hundred times: the body just gets used to reproducing (or, at least, trying to reproduce) the movement demonstrated. But to a newcomer it‘s not so easy. What Wordsworth called our meddling intellect gets involved, willy-nilly.

    This is reminiscent, I thought, of the Stroop Effect
    ...a demonstration of interference in the reaction time of a task. When the name of a color (e.g., "blue", "green", or "red") is printed in a color that is not denoted by the name (e.g., the word "red" printed in blue ink instead of red ink), naming the color of the word takes longer and is more prone to errors than when the color of the ink matches the name of the color.
    More here
    In short, red is easier to make sense of than green. Presumably, colour is processed in a different part of the brain than writing, and the translation of writing to meaning in yet another, and the translation of writing to sound in yet another. So there's a huge amount of processing going on here, and if two  of those domains overlap (the written glyphs' meaning and their cognitive content – R-E-D) the brain has life a bit easier.

    This crossing of wires, the interference of the intellect with a motor skill, is often apparent to a language teacher. Many years ago, when I was teaching Portuguese to a group of adults (people who've been taught at school the stifling and confusing and just plain WRONG lesson that the way to solve a problem is to turn the intellect loose on it) I drew this diagram to show what I wanted them to do:

    There are many more steps on the left-hand route, each being error-prone. So there's a Chinese Whispers effect, which means that there's next-to-no chance of the sound output of the two routes matching.

    The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to other motor skills (and speaking is unquestionably a motor skill).
    <digression theme="Underhill talk">
    I missed a recent talk by Adrian Underhill, in which he talked about decognitvizing the teaching of pronunciation to ESOL students. I must catch up with the transcript. Watch this space.
    So a teacher has to beware of the interference of intellect. On the other hand, though, it's easy (and fashionable) to go too far in what has been called, in another context, the romanticization of ... illiteracy (that "..." represents the one word musical, which is what I meant by another context. See this letter  to the Guardian from many leading musical lights).


    Friday, 31 March 2017

    the pencil-sharpenings of journalism

    Last week I was reminded of my intense dislike of rolling news (although to call it news is an unmerited compliment: EVOLVING RUMOUR might be nearer the mark). During the BBC's ravings, the phrase the pencil-sharpenings of journalism occurred to me (building on the first draught of history trope.Pencil sharpenings look like a mess, but one made of discrete chunks of apparently innocuous bits; at a first glance, one doesn't notice the dark bits at the end of each shaving. But the shavings are good for nothing; they just indicate that something, involving a pencil, has happened. It's not clear from the shavings even if the effort of sharpening worked. There's no telling what the sharpened pencil, if it was sharp in the end, was used for.

    At Westminster on that day, something happened. What it was is beginning to become clear. I imagine in a month or two we'll have a better idea.

    This reminded me of the afternoon of 11 September 2001. I was working in an open-plan office, recovering from the Y2K jollities.
    <rant flame="low-mid">
    Which reminds me of all the smart a*s (=ALECS, of course) who say things like "Remember all that Millennium Bug nonsense. The IT sales people used it as an excuse to sell a load of new kit. And what happened? Nothing! Not a thing, except that we all have to fill in 4-digit dates. I mean who needs to scroll down through dozens of 21st century dates when they're opening a new bank account, say?.... Er... maybe that's not the best of examples."

    Well no, you bozo, I think. Nothing happened, not a thing, because for the last two or three years of the 20th century IT engineers were busy making sure it didn't.
    A colleague was following rolling news on one of his many devices (he was the early adopter's early adopter – adoptio praecox was his thing, perhaps). A report (possibly the BBC, though they're not by any means the worst ...
    <digression type="mitigation">
    In a recent Media Show [correction, Feedback] a  caller compared the BBC's coverage with Channel 4's. He referred to a scoop the BBC had "missed". The presenter came back with what to me – and to Humpty Dumpty, probably – seemed like a knock-down argument: the "scoop" was a mistake.

    But the complainant was not remotely disturbed: the BBC's job, it seemed, was not only to jump on any passing bandwagon, however unroadworthy, but preferably to start its own: Nation shall speak cr@p unto nation.
    ...) and he passed on the "news" there had been several casualties and AT LEAST A DOZEN deaths.
    So, as far as I'm concerned, rolling news can just keep rolling. It seems to me interesting that – among the many possible "first uses" investigated in that Slate piece – one, Phil Graham's (not the Ur-text, it turns out), came from a speech addressed to correspondents for a weekly. Let us not get our fingertips dirty with the pencil-sharpenings.

    But I must go and learn some words, ready for Sunday's Johannes-Passion. (That story's more than two millennia old, and still people are arguing about what really happened!)


    Update: 2017. – Correction and typo-fix

    Tuesday, 21 March 2017

    Johannes-Passion, Take N

    ("Take N", because I've had the good fortune to sing it several times.)

    As I have said before, more than once, when talking about music:

    (This is an open goal for musicologists – my theoretical knowledge of music is minimal. Please comment if this needs another update.)
    When I first discussed Bach's St John Passion here I recalled many hours standing listening to the Passion story during mass;  it was standing room only in churches around Easter  (in the One True Chorch, that is):
    ... on Palm Sunday and on Good Friday ([ed. there were] dramatized readings on that day, to the extent of having separate voices for the Evangelist, Jesus, Pilate, Peter et al., but without Bach's extraordinary music).
    Later in the same post I mentioned this pelagic pun:
    from Rick Marschall's biography, p. 99 
    [I imagine the English word 'beck' – now for the most part reserved for dialects and crossword puzzles–is related.]
    Beethoven's pun ...


    I am reminded of a venial sin of mine, which I feel the need to confess. At a quiz held by my choir a few years ago, this pun was background to a question about the meaning of Bach. At the time, I didn't know; but I guessed that there might be some link between the consonants in the two languages (German and English). I scrawled my guess: book. My reputation as someone who sometimes knows stuff about language may have influenced the marker on the neighbouring table  – assuming that I'd got it right because it was the sort of thing I get right,

    The situation was quite competitive, and I accepted the ill-gotten point. (Stupid really. We didn't win – divine retribution, no doubt.)

    ...came to mind as I listened to the recit before Peter's Ach, mein Sinn, with its excruciating chromatic keening – a mixture of grief, fear, and self-pity. Not long afterwards the dramatic writing is no less oceanic when the veil of the Temple is rent 'from top to bottom' [cascade of  little black notes] and 'the earth did quake' [another three bars of frenetic black notes], until an uneasy peace is restored when 'many bodies of saints arose'
    (Ed: My memory here was at fault. Ach mein Sinn isn't sung by Peter; it's a reflection sung by an unnamed tenor after Peter's denial.)

    Anyway, the St John Passion is uppermost in my mind at the moment, because of my choir's forthcoming concert (oo-er, on Sunday week):


    Don't miss it.

    Update 2017. – Added PS


    In my subject line, both here and on the occasion of my Cambridge rendition , I said Johannes-Passion. This isn't because of snobbery (though elitism does come into it – so bite me, as I believe they say in some parts of the world). It's because the German is part of the music.

    There are, in the piece, two choruses with more-or-less identical settings. But what is matched is not just the notes. In one the mocking words are

    Sei gegrüßet, lieber Jüden König!

    In the other, the corresponding words are

    Schreibe nicht der Jüden König!

    The last two words are (trivially, of course) a perfect match, but consider the vowel sounds in the first three syllables: two are identical (Sei/schrei-, ge-/-be) and the third is similar: nicht has a front vowel and grüßet has a vowel that, though not strictly a front vowel, is fronted (the lips are forward); the same applies to König. All the stressed vowels are either front, or fronted,  or in the case of the first diphthong the tongue position is moving forwards (from [a] to [ɪ])

    The first version, which I sang (in  English) with a previous choir about 30 years ago, had "Write thou not..." for Schreibe nicht... The first syllable is a close match; not so the others. My present edition has both German and English and goes for a strangled and outlandish version: "Write Him not as our king of the Jews"; how glad I am that we're not singing that... :-)

    There's more to be said, but tempus is fugendum (or whatever). My point is that the original language adds to the drama of the original, forcing facial antics in the singers to indicate mockery/anger/hatred... as appropriate. And the sounds are part of the musical picture.

    Update 2017. – Tiny correction to PS, in bold.

    Wednesday, 15 March 2017

    Here we go steadily nuts in May

    ...Or perhaps it was April.

    Last Saturday's Times announced a revival of the National Theatre‘s original(-ish production of Tom Stoppard's Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. At least, I assume it's a revival; the 50th anniversary can't have escaped the notice of the publicity department. I say -ish because the first production of the play under this title took place on the Edinburgh Fringe in the Summer of 1966

    The following Spring the play  opened at the Old Vic (because at the time there was no bricks and mortar [or rather slabs and mastic, I suppose] home for the National Theatre). For a few weeks before the opening, the doors were open for Press Previews, at reduced prices – reduced enough for a school trip.

    The school minibus accommodated about fifteen passengers. Priority bookings went to the VIth form, and any seats left were offered to the years below. At the time I was in the fourth year (which, in new money, is Year 10), so it was a rare treat for the likes of us to be given the chance. But in the March or early April of 1967 I had such a chance. Some of us were self-assured enough to be amused by the bar-room talk at the interval, with pseuds ....
    <explanatory_note type="suspected neologism">
    (some of us read Private Eye, home of the Pseuds Corner column).

    Until writing this I assumed that the Eye had created the word. But it  turns out that it has been around since the turn of the 18th century, peaking in 1930. Then there was a lesser peak in 1953, 8 years before Private Eye was founded. The second of these mini-peaks, which the Eye might claim some credit for, was in 1967 – the year of my visit. So the word was popular at the time;  just not as popular as I once supposed (or for the reasons I imagined):
    Frequency graph from this Collins site
    (though the graph is generated from scratch when your browser loads the page,
    so you may want to have a cup of tea while you wait)

    ... who, having no reviews to bone up on, didn't know what to think). Some of us, though. were too shocked at the prices (4/6 for a bottle of Double Diamond! [bought for us by the older boys while Mr Crawford's back was turned]).

    Another visit, one that I didn't go on, was to see The Royal Hunt of the Sun – also at the Old Vic. But I did witness its fruits, as it became the school play (once in my time, but with many revivals since*).

    When, a few years later, I started to learn Spanish, I smugly laughed at the pronunciation of Pizarro with a [ts]. Though on reflection my school play's pronunciation no doubt mimicked that of the National Theatre; and they, very probably, had a dialogue coach who had done their homework.

    In my loft there may well be a moldering copy of  "The De-voicing of Mediaeval Sibilants", mentioned in a similarly Latin-American context here. A written z, which had in Old Castilian been pronounced [dz], came to be pronounced [ts]. I don't know how long this process took, or when the subsequent progression to [Ѳ] heard in some parts of mainland Spain (and on the lips of learners – of whom, at the time of the aforementioned smugness, I was one) started. But with my usual magnanimity I'm prepared to give that National Theatre dialogue coach the benefit of the doubt; besides, as Pizarro's men were adventurers, it's reasonable to imagine that they were early-adopters of the linguistic trend.

    Thassall – I must try to catch the last of this glorious weather.


    * Many years later, a contemporary of mine (and the other half – though much the more vocal half – of The Simon and Garfunkel of North Pinner), who had taken the leading part of Pizarro in 1969, visited the old school unexpectedly and unannounced. One of the directors of the play was still there. And when Albert interrupted his class he said to the boys "This is the original Pizarro".

    This is a sample of the duo's work – not precisely contemporary, but from  1969.

    Monday, 6 March 2017

    Out of the mouths of babes and ducklings

    Some time ago, here,  I wrote this:
    To learn to speak a foreign language, we must regress to our infancy and learn to make speech noises the way a baby does. Even infancy is a bit late*; there is evidence that growing familiarity with speech sound starts in the womb. Here is just one such study).

    * To quote from a recent article:

    "The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation," said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany.
    I've just come across a much more recent source via this NY Times article .  The immediately relevant issue (language-acquisition in the womb) is summed up here:
    In the latest study, published in January in Royal Society Open Science, Jiyoun Choi, a doctoral student at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands... and her colleagues looked at Dutch-speaking adults, some of whom had been adopted from Korea, but none of whom spoke Korean. The researchers found that people born in Korea and adopted as babies or toddlers by Dutch families were able to learn to make Korean sounds significantly better than the Dutch-speaking controls who had been born into Dutch families.

    It was especially interesting that this effect held not only for those who had been adopted after the age of 17 months, when they would have been saying some words, but also for those adopted at under 6 months. In other words, the language heard before birth and in the first months of life had affected both sound perception and sound production, even though the change of language environment happened before the children started making those sounds themselves.

    This is impressive, though I‘m not sure the NY Times‘s last sentence (in that excerpt) is entirely justified: "under 6  months" is not the same as "before birth"; and how could they possibly test anything to do with sound production...? (That's a rather immature question: I need to read the original paper – although the title

    Early development of abstract language knowledge...

    doesn't inspire confidence. The continuation does though:

    ...: evidence from perception–production transfer of birth-language memory

    ... is more  promising though.)
    During last Saturday's Purcell concert – which, sadly, many of you missed – I was struck by two pre-echoes of our next (perhaps the little MD knows something about it, as  veterans of the original Bill and Ben series might think
    <digression type="cultural background">
    Bill and Ben were flower-pot-men (don't ask – it was a children's TV programme in the days when [in the UK] the BBC's Watch with Mother was more-or-less the only source of children's TV) . They caused various sorts of mild mayhem; and the narrator often finished with the words "... and I think the Little House knows something about it").
             Where was I...? Oh yes, pre-echoes:
    • The trumpets in the canzona in the overture to Come ye sons of art play a phrase remarkably similar to this tune from a very different context (J. S. Bach's St John Passion):
    • The words "Haste, haste to town" in Dido and Aeneas, which are similar in both sense and melody to this passage::
    Enough. Onward and upward: next on the agenda (perhaps that should be canenda –  from Latin cano [="I sing"]) needs work:

    PS Quite incidentally (not a COincidence, it just happened), I wonder if Evan Davies in last week's The Bottom Line knew what he was doing when he produced this glorious mixed metaphor:

    Is the white van your bète noire?


    Update: 2017. – Added PPS

    PPS And here‘s a clue:
    • Switch prison guard‘s allegiance and increase metaphorical pressure. (4, 3, 5)
    Update: 2017. – Added PPPS

    PPS: On the subject of my last point, I wonder how a white-van man might become an eminence grise. Oh, and that clue: TURN THE SCREW.

    Incidentally, for the benefit of anyone expecting sense from my subject lines, ... no, it's gone. There was a reason though.

    Tuesday, 28 February 2017

    The price of education

    ... or rather the cost of its omission.

    Some bumf has just plopped onto my doormat  (is any other verb possible, I wonder? – things might thud if they're particularly heavy, but otherwise plop it is)...

    STOP PRESS: BNC and COCA checked

     Yes; they can fall, drop or land
    and lie or be, of course,
    but I was thinking particularly of falling. 

    ... listing donors  to college funds. There is a list showing percentage participation by year of matriculation whatever that is  – presumably percentage of matriculands giving, rather than the percentage (given by each year) of the total given (which, come to think of it, can't be so, as the average for all years since 1942 [before which there are a few odd nonagenarians] is 14%).

    It would only be to be expected that there would be a bell curve, with earlier years tailing off and later years rampimg up (as graduates find either their Heavenly  reward or their feet, respectively).  My own year, 1971, does quite well: since then, only two years have exceeded its participation rate, and one has equalled it:

    But something happened in 1998 (and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows something about it: tuition fees). Since 1998 the average has fallen to single figures; graduates presumably think Pay more? I should cocoa. You've already had N thousand (where N is typically somewhere between 10 and 100 – at a guess; the NUS probabl;y has more exact figures). And that average is raised by the anomalous 2009, when the reported rate is (dubiously?) more than twice the mean.

    Of course, this is a tiny sample, and says nothing  – prima facie – about state funding or its shortfall; but it strikes me, anecdotally, as at least suggestive.
    <autobiographical_note theme="Primary School" relevance="tenuous">
    In the mid-late '50s I met my father on his return from the 2nd Unit photography for No Time to Die. I remember the BOAC bag he was carrying  at Heathrow, where I met him, but not much else; I had just started school.  The film was released in 1958, so I expect the 2nd Unit work was finished in 1957, or even 1956. At the airport I met and shook hands with Bonar Colleano, reaching up from my height of about 4ft.
    The cast and crew list at IMDB credits him as The Pole, which doesn't suggest immense stardom, but I was convinced he was (anachronistically*) a megastar and didn't hesitate to drop his name at school at the earliest opportunity. The first time, there was no sign of recognition. No accounting for the ignorance of SOME people, I thought, and went on to my next name-drop-ee. It took 4 or 5 such attempts for me to get the message that Mr Colleano's was not a name to conjure with.
    Perhaps, I have just thought (with the benefit of hind-sight and Wikipedia), that as many of my schoolfellows were Polish (my father had moved to Ealing because  of the film studios, but Ealing was also a magnet for Poles, because the local church had a "Polish Mass" even in those pre-vernacular-Mass ...
    This is reminiscent of an issue I discussed a while ago here, explaining about the introduction of  the vernacular after the 2nd Ecumenical Council in 1966, but also discussing the inherent foreignness of familiar Church Latin texts spoken with foreign phonemes.
    ...days) maybe their parents sheltered their children from this portrayal of The Pole. More likely, though, he was just a bit-part player who nobody had heard of anyway.
    That list also contains the rather enigmatic (APSEUDONYMOUS?) credit
    "Cyril J. Knowles
    ... photography: second unit (as Cyril Knowles)"


    Foggy Nomination

    Regular readers may remember Foggies, my award for spectacularly bad writing. As I wrote here
    The idea for the name derives from Robert Gunning's FOG index, although these awards don't restrict themselves only to obstacles to readability measured by that index.
    It goes to Michael Gove for his review of Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny  in The Times of 25 February 2017. The whole thing is worth a read for its consummate display of self-serving doublethink (hoping to atone for his own craven kowtowing to The-Clown-With-The-Orange-Countenance) and obfuscation. But two notable "sentences" are these:
    He compares Trump's behaviour at campaign rallies to the deployment of the SS and brackets Trump's stump speeches with the "shamanistic incantation" [quotes sic, but what does he mean ? Hitler's incantation, or the crowd's, or the crowd saying "Hitler"? – probably Hitler leading the crowd. but in what way is this comparable with deployment?] of Hitler. He also compares Trump's attitude to any opposition to Hitler's approach to critics and feelings of fear on the streets of the US today to totalitarian terror in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
    Phew. Fifty-seven words and but a single resting place for the weary parser. The last thirty-three-word string is a labyrinth of to's (nearly 1 every 7 words ' – sort that lot out). I finally worked out that the first comparison ends at critics, and the second is between the sadly unparallel feelings of fear and totalitarian terror (whatever THAT is); only the 3rd and 4th to are the comparison  sort. Now I'm  not a stickler for "compare... with" as some language Nazis are, but since Gove did use with in the first sentence, switching to to in the second is at best mindless elegant variation and at worst an unforgivable attempt to trip the reader up.

    As Sheridan père (I think it was) said (and as I may have quoted before –it being a favourite of mine)

    We write with ease to show our breeding
    But easy writing's curs't hard reading.

    Hmm... That's enough for now. I'd like to see how Gove's writing in this article measures up to his own prescriptions (as Education Minister). But that will have to wait for an update.


    * Collins English Dictionary supplies this usage graph:

    Tuesday, 21 February 2017

    Whalemeat again

    At the weekend a story that has been around for many years... poked its head  above the parap... no, wrong metaphor in the circumstances... surfaced again: the Earth has a [proposed – not everyone agrees. although the arguments strike me as pretty sound] eighth continent.

    The Independent seemed utterly convinced, going for the indicative (There is"):

    Zealandia: There is a previously unknown, submerged continent around New Zealand, say scientists

    The Guardian, not atypically, went for the mangled idiomatic phrase (here):

    Zealandia – pieces finally falling together for continent we didn't know we had

    Surely,  things "come together" or "fall into place". I wonder what falling together involves. The British National Corpus notes 13 instances (run the search here), but they are all just juxtapositions of a verb and a preposition – not a brand-new phrasal verb.
    Which reminds me – that song I was going to write about sentences changing horses in mid-stream
    ...I must go and give some thought to a song inspired by David Crystal's IATEFL keynote on 'blends' (or as he said, to give it the $10 word, anacoluthon). It is based on the song sung, but not written, by the Beatles – Anna; the lead-singer sings 'Ana-' and the backing singers join in, to move the tune to the relative minor, '-coluthon'.
    It's still on the back-burner (a pretty crowded one).

    The good ol' Beeb (... and how DARE that clown [the incumbent, if that's the mot juste, of the Presidency; perhaps encumbrance ...] accuse them of inaccuracy?) took a more measured view, going for the question

    Zealandia: Is there an eighth continent under New Zealand?

    ... although under is not quite right, unless Europe could be said to be under Switzerland.

    Just a week earlier, a horribly sad drama had played out on New Zealand's Farewell Spit (which takes the unintended irony prize for nominal determinism). As that report says:
    The reasons for beachings remain a mystery. Explanations range from marine noise pollution to suicides, and NASA is even investigating whether solar storms could mess with whales’ navigation. But geography could certainly be a factor, considering several known stranding blackspots share characteristics.
    This site considers the possible interference of magnetism:
    Animals are known to figure out direction over long distances from the Earth's magnetic field or the direction of the sun. For instance, researchers of tiger sharks and thresher sharks recently said cues from Earth's magnetic fields may [sic. "be", probably] what enables those sharks to orient themselves and travel spot-on toward a far target.
    See more here
    <digression type="amateur_forensic_typography"> 
    Perhaps the author wrote the one word  "maybe", as I'm afraid many people do. The desk-editor marked it with a "/" to signify the word-break,  rather than use the standard symbol:

    Then whoever edited the final text (in the old days it would have been a compositor, but now it's more probably an unpaid intern) misinterpreted the – perhaps slightly misplaced – "/" mark as a deletion.

    (Reading it back for sense was above their pay-grade.)

    But this blog avers with unconvincing certainty that the problem is something to do with air pressure.
    But whales [sic scientists will not [sic – oh now I get it, it's them durn "experts" again]  tell you that barotrauma in the air sinuses of mass stranded whales and dolphins causes echo-navigation system failure. They know for a fact [ !!! my emphasis  this is the unmistakable sign of a bar-room know-all ] that the air contained in odontoceti cranial air spaces serves underwater to bounce, channel, reflect, isolate, send, and otherwise direct the returning echoes these animals use to navigate and find their food.

    Oh dear. With "writing" of this lamentable calibre, no wonder people are confused.  The "writer" must want people not to understand.
    In other words, nobody knows. And I haven't found even speculative finger-pointing at, say, micro-waves or underwater cables or any other man-made techno-pollutant. Plastic waste is the the closest candidate, but there's nothing high-tech about simple suffocation Note, this is not an Official Rumour. I don't want to start well-meaning environmentalist fanatics demonstrating against the coastal siting of cell-towers or anything of the kind..

    But certainly, to judge by the noise my computer makes when I get a text (SMS), it seems to me that it's at least worth considering the possibility that something man-made (not land forms or solar wind or any of those other inanimate scapegoats – Not me guv) might have something to do with it.

    Meanwhile the horrific and pathetic regular beachings go on, with  well-intentioned volunteers working around the clock to keep stranded whales alive until they can be refloated, just to see the disoriented beasts turn round and beach themselves again.

    So perhaps the new continent should continue to keep its head down, as it were.  Being out of the way of man-made interference seems to me like a reliable survival strategy.

    Time for bed.


    PS And here are a couple of clues, with a certain thematic coherence.
    • Herd, by the sound of it, of erzast wildebeest? Stuff and nonsense! (4, 4)
    • I'm Trump, starting to peter out, confusingly – totally unrehearsed. (9)