Oh My Guardian #8

“When it comes to Harry Potter, JK Rowling just can’t leave it alone. This is not necessarily a bad thing – fans have got to see Harry and friends all grown-up in the Cursed Child plays – but she’s also managed to muddy the waters by her constant rejigging of the original narrative furniture.” — Fantastic Beasts isn’t racist, but JK Rowling should stop tweaking the source material, Hannah Flint, The Guardian, 28ix2018.


Oh My Guardian #7 — the previous entry in this award-winning series
Reds under the Thread more on mixed metaphors… in terms of The Guardian
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Prior Analytics

In terms of ugly, pretentious phrases used by members of the Guardian-reading community, the “signature” phrase is undoubtedly “in terms of”. But there’s another phrase habitually deployerized by Guardianistas that is perhaps even worse in terms of its core Guardianisticity. To get to it, let’s first engage issues around the title of this post: “Prior Analytics”. I took it from the title of a book on logic by Aristotle, Prior Analytics, known in Latin as Analytica Priora.

Are you surprised to learn that Prior Analytics has a companion called Posterior Analytics, or Analytica Posteriora? No, of course you aren’t. “Prior” and “posterior” are high-falutin’ words that go together: when the first appears, the second naturally follows. And you might think that this obvious pairing would alert Guardianistas to the ugliness and pretension of another of their signature phrases, “prior to”:

• Foreign press warn over dangers of new UK media laws prior to Leveson report — headline in The Observer, 24xi2012
• “Prior to its emergence the trend was not to talk truth to power but to slur the powerless.” — The Great Gary Younge in The Observer, 6xi2011
• “Prior to a prang outside Tesco which, for insurance purposes, wasn’t actually my fault”… — The Great Zoë Williams in The Guardian, 8ii2005

Why do I think “prior to” may be even worse than “in terms of”? There are times when “in terms of” isn’t particularly bad English. I don’t like to admit it, but there are even times when it’s the best phrase to use. But “prior to”? It’s almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”. I say “almost always” because you can make an exception for a technical usage like “Existence is logically prior to essence.” But that’s a rare exception, so I repeat: “prior to” is almost always just an ugly and pretentious way of saying “before”.

And guess what? You’ll find this in the Guardian and Observer style guide under “P”:

prior to, previous to

   the word you want is “before” (see Guardian and Observer style guide: P)

Guardianistas should be able to realize that for themselves, because “prior to” naturally suggests “posterior to”. However, even Guardianistas don’t habitually say “posterior to” instead of “after”. Even a Guardianista’s ugliness-and-pretension-o-meter is tripped by “posterior to”. But only in the flesh, as it were. Guardianistas are apparently incapable of two-step logic: first, noticing that “prior to” rather than “before” naturally suggests “posterior to” rather than “after”; second, deciding that because “posterior to” is ugly and pretentious, they shouldn’t use “prior to” either.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

All posts interrogating issues around “in terms of”
All posts interrogating issues around the Guardian-reading community and its affiliates

Oh My Guardian #6

[…] the whole vintage package – which started as essentially a rediscovery of simple skills, tying generations together and serving as a visual cake-based bulwark against modern turbulence – has been used to sugar-coat a free-market nationalism that isn’t sweet at all. — Zoë Williams, Let’s ditch the nostalgia that’s invaded our TV and seeped into our politics, The Guardian, 30iv2018.


Elsewhere other-engageable:

Oh My Guardian #5
Zo with the Flow
Reds under the Thread (more on mixed metaphory)

Oh My Guardian #5

‘We’re stepping out of a binary’ – celebrating the art of marginalized LGBT Muslims

[…] The show features artwork themed around issues of Islamophobia, racism and homophobia to “highlight the struggles common among contemporary Muslim queer, trans and gender non-conforming communities,” said co-curator and activist Yas Ahmed. — ‘We’re stepping out of a binary’, The Guardian, 22/i/2018.


Elsewhere other-accessible:

Oh My Guardian #1
Oh My Guardian #2
Oh My Guardian #3
Oh My Guardian #4
Reds under the Thread

Noise Annoys

“Noise” may have an interesting etymology. Some think it comes from “nausea”, which itself comes from Greek naus, meaning “ship”. Neither the putative etymology of “noise” nor the undisputed etymology of “nausea” would have been news to J.R.R. Tolkien. He was, after all, a professional scholar of literature and languages.

But that’s why The Lord of the Rings is often a puzzling book. Why did someone so interested in words and languages write so clumsily? As I’ve said before: I wish someone would translate Lord of the Rings into English. But perhaps if Tolkien had been a better writer I wouldn’t have read Lord of the Rings so often. And perhaps if he’d been a better writer there would have been no Lord of the Rings at all. Even so, it’s hard to excuse writing like this:

He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping sound. […] There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling noise. – “Fog on the Barrowdowns”, Book One, VIII

Why did he use “sound” and “noise”? They’re redundant, because creak, scrape and snarl already describe sounds or noises. You could argue that the additional words are there to balance the sentences, but if they hadn’t been there I don’t think anyone would have missed them:

He heard behind his head a creaking and scraping. … There was a shriek and the light vanished. In the dark there was a snarling.

Later in the book Tolkien gets it right:

At that moment there came a roaring and a rushing: a noise of loud waters rolling many stones. – “Flight to the Ford”, Book One, XII

Then he gets it wrong again:

Turning quickly they saw ripples, black-edged with shadow in the waning light: great rings were widening outwards from a point far out in the lake. There was a bubbling noise, and then silence. – “A Journey in the Dark”, Book Two, IV

This would have been better:

There was a bubbling, and then silence.

It’s crisper, clearer and doesn’t strike an ugly twentieth-century note in an archaic setting. And it should have been what J.R.R. Tolkien wrote in the first place. I don’t know why he didn’t and I don’t know why his editors or those who read early drafts of Lord of the Rings didn’t point out his error. That’s why I’d like to visit the Library of Babel and find a copy of Lord of the Rings written by Clark Ashton Smith.

Zo with the Flo

I had high hopes when I engaged issues recently around a Zoë Williams article in the Guardian interrogating issues around notions of rape in popular culture. And Zoë — what a thinker! — nearly fulfilled those hopes. I nearly had another scintillating sample for my award-winning “Oh My Guardian” series. This is nearly a perfect opening for a sentence of echt Guardianese:

In terms of narrative tropes…

But it should of course have been:

In terms of core narrative tropes…

So near — and yet so far. Still, “In terms of narrative tropes” is pretty darn good, worthy of the Great Gary himself. And it prompted me to interrogate issues around one of the core linguistic enigmas of our day. Here are two graphs from Google nGrams:

In terms of (UK English)

In terms of (US English)


What on earth is going on? Why have ITO usage metrics continued to rise in British English while peaking and falling in American English? This hasn’t happened with other core items of progressive English, like “issues around”:

Issues around (UK English)

Issues around (US English)


And “notions of authenticity”:

Notions of authenticity (UK English)

Notions of authenticity (US English)


And “engagement with” (in its progressive sense):

Engagement with (UK English)

Engagement with (US English)


If those keyly core items of Progressivese are “spiking” so healthily on both sides of the Atlantic, why is the even keylier corer “in terms of” not doing so? At least, I would say ITO is keylier corer, but does the ITO fall in America suggest that it isn’t?

Maybe not. One possibility is that “in terms of” has been depreciated in an influential (and anti-progressive) American manual of style that hasn’t been influential in the UK. However, American speakers have failed to see that the same grounds for rejection apply to “issues around” and so on.

But it’s hard to see why American progressive would take any notice of sensible advice about rejecting ITO. It’s also hard to see why the American drop in “in terms of” shouldn’t have influenced the UK even if this hypothetical style-manual (or arbiter) isn’t influential in the UK.

Something mysterious is going on and more research is plainly needed.


Previously pre-posted:

Septics vs Dirties
Get Your Tox Off
Guardianistas — all posts referencizing this core progressive demographic and their glossocentric performativity

Spike U Like?

Keeping out of the Hive Mind is an endless struggle. The Hive evolves, constantly throwing out toxic tentacles of glottic grotesqueness to enwrap and entwine the unwary mind. However, “in terms of” is an old and familiar tentacle. It’s easy to spot and avoid. New tentacles can be trickier, particularly when they come in cosy colloquial guise, like this:

Perrine’s brother is one of 36 people killed in Baltimore so far this month, already the highest homicide count for May since 1999. But while homicides are spiking, arrests have plunged more than 50 percent compared to last year. […]

Baltimore was seeing a slight rise in homicides this year even before Gray’s death April 19. But the 36 homicides so far in May is a major spike, after 22 in April, 15 in March, 13 in February and 23 in January.

Non-fatal shootings are spiking as well. So far in May there have been 91 — 58 of them in the Western District. […] Rawlings-Blake said her office is “examining” the relationship between the homicide spike and the dwindling arrest rate. – Baltimore residents fearful amid rash of homicides, The Washington Times, 28/5/2015.

“Spike” is a metaphor drawn from the behaviour of a line on a graph. When a variable rises sharply, reaches a brief maximum, and then falls sharply, it looks like an inverted V. A spike, in other words:

A spike

A spike

Not a spike

Not a spike


A sharp rise cannot be a spike on its own. It has to be followed immediately or almost immediately by a sharp fall. The rise and fall have to be more or less balanced. That’s why it’s nonsensical to say “homicides are spiking”. The rise in murders might level off and establish a new average. Or the murder rate might return slowly to the old level. You can’t announce a spike while a variable is still rising, so every time “spike” is used as a verb or a noun in the article quoted above, it’s being used incorrectly.

But the same article supplies a word that is correct:

At a news conference Wednesday, Rawlings-Blake said there were “a lot of reasons why we’re having a surge in violence.”

A surge can be identified while it is happening. Violence in Baltimore is surging or rocketing or shooting up or rising sharply. It is not “spiking”. But why is this simple metaphor being misused? I think it’s because “spike” conveys a sense of urgency and excitement. It gives journalists and other members of the hive-mind a buzz. They like the connotation, so they forget about the denotation.

Les Sez

In Terms of My Natural Life

(a pome crafted by Les Patterson)

I am an Australian in terms of Nation
And a Public Servant in terms of vocation,
But there’s one thing amazes my critics and that’s
How many I wear in terms of hats:
I chair the Cheese Board, I front the Yartz
You could term me a man of many parts.
I’m a Renaissance type, if you know the term
And I’ve held long office in terms of term,
Yes, I’ve long served Australia in terms of years
And in terms of refreshment I like a few beers.
My opponents are mongrels, scum and worms
Who I bucket in no uncertain terms
And my rich vocabulary always features
Large in terms of my public speeches.
My favourite terms in terms of debate
Are: “broadbased package” and “orchestrate”.
But one term I never employ is “failure” —
Especially when talking in terms of Australia!
For in terms of lifestyle we’ve got the germs of
A ripper concept to think in terms of.
Yes, in terms of charisma I’ve got the game mastered
In anyone’s terms I’m a well-liked bastard.

From the Back With A Vengeance Tour Brochure © 1989 Sir Les Patterson.


Elsewhere Other-Engageable:

Sir Les’s Website
Ex-Term-In-Ate!

Go Fig, Carr

“What they will find is a clear look into the molten core of a certain mind-set, a place where conspiracies are legion, victims are portrayed as perpetrators and so-called news is a fig leaf on a far darker art.” — “Sowing Mayhem, One Click at a Time”, David Carr, The New York Times, 15/xii/2014, viâ Steve Sailer.