Monday, July 23, 2012

The Olympic visitor's phrasebook

July and August will see the UK spend two weeks enjoying the fruits of a £9-25 billion (depending on how you do the sums) investment in a Festival of Minor Sports. It has another name, but it is illegal to use it unless you are a multi-billionaire corporate sponsor.

Of course, very few British people will be at the events themselves, since most of the tickets are too expensive or have been promised to bureaucrats, politicians, sponsors or other apparatchiks and freeloaders, while unauthorised persons within a five-mile radius of any venue are likely to be shot with bazookas if they come near. Special measures have also been taken to ensure that the most important visitors need never see the vulgar plebs known as 'Londoners'. However, the more adventurous might find themselves dealing with the colourful patois used by the locals, so please cut out and keep this guide in order to save embarrassment:

Words and phrases you might encounter

"Welcome to London"
Sit down, shut up and empty your pockets. We'll be along to strip-search you in three hours.

"A good service is operating on all routes"
A train will arrive eventually. Probably.

"We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you"
We can't be bothered supplying the service you've paid for. What are you going to do?

Spelt 'tube', this is London's underground railway. For the convenience of all, it stops running just before the pubs close.

Where Londoners gather before fighting each other.

Pub grub
Something wriggling in your salad.

Night bus
Mobile vomitorium

The Bill

The Fuzz

The Filth

Thinly cut potatoes, deep fried and dusted with industrial waste, known as 'chips' in the USA.

Deep-fried potato sticks, known as 'French fries' in other parts of the world, except in France, where they are unknown.

A carpenter, or a shop selling fish, mystery-meat pies and deep-fried horse penises.

A word of obscure origin, chanted in a pub before hitting a foreigner.

Yeeearsenooooo! Cheeyelseeyee! Cmonyouspurs! Meeewor!
Names of London football teams. Chanted in a pub before hitting another Englishman. Other clubs are available, but if you hear the names 'Fulham' or 'Queens Park Rangers' chanted menacingly then you have entered a surreal plane of alternative reality.

"Do what, John?"
"Pardon?", in the sense of "Say that again and I'll lamp you."


"May I help you?"
Spend some money or get out.

"Got a light?"
Give me your wallet.

Moral: The English are charming when sober, whenever that is.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Over-egging the pudding

The Guardian seems to have a fascination with sports writers who construct sentences in much the same way a seven-year old bakes a cake. The basic ingredients are there, but then their enthusiasm gets the better of them and before you know it, a simple jam sponge is adulterated with noons, hundreds and thousands, half a bowl of Coco Pops, mashed banana and a sausage roll.

Chief football writer Kevin McCarra is the master when it comes to producing collections of thoughts that all vaguely relate to the subject but are thrown onto the page in a random order. When enough sentences have been written, the result is split into paragraphs and published as an article. 

Now the football season is over, the torch has been passed to Mike Selvey, who brings his own unique talent to the task of making cricket seem more baffling than it really is. 

Whereas McCarra uses the Random Sentence Generator®™, Selvey has his own fog machine. The result is that his sentences resemble a forgetful old man shuffling round his flat trying to find his glasses. Midway through the search, it becomes clear that he has forgotten where he started and is no longer sure exactly what he was looking for. Here's how he describes Ravi Bopara's innings in yesterday's one-day match against Australia:
He and Eoin Morgan, who was within the merest smudge of a mark on Hotspot of being lbw to the second ball he faced (Aleem Dar, the third umpire may have heard a noise as well for it transpired that the inside edge was scarcely detectable by Snicko either), had added 79 in 73 balls for their fourth-wicket partnership when, having made 82, with eight fours, from 85 balls and with the testing total of two runs needed from 29 deliveries, he attempted the sharpest of singles to Brett Lee at mid-off, who flung down the stumps with the batsman still well short in his dive. (Guardian, 2 July 2012)
The sentence starts with Bopara, but by the end Eoin Morgan, Aleem Dar, Snicko and Brett Lee have all got involved. The poor verb somehow has to make sense of 105 other words, 24 of them nouns. It's an impossible task. 

Speaking of McCarra, he seems to have an understudy in Barney Ronay:
No doubt due in part to Ukraine playing in Donetsk on the same night, but also, perhaps, appropriate tribute to that reigning-in, the one-bank-of-eight defence that here was absent from the start. (Guardian, 15 June 2012)
It's always good to remove unnecessary ingredients from a recipe, but I strongly recommend keeping the main verb. I'd also recommend learning the difference between 'reign' and 'rein'.

Moral: Put two nouns and a verb into a bowl. Stir gently. Leaven with commas and lightly season with adjectives. Add no more than one conditional clause or the mixture will not rise.