More from ‘Is it good English’ (1924)

Jot 101 Is it Good English cover‘Case’.

Today, one of the commonest colloquial uses of the word ‘ case ‘, as in ‘This not the case’ is, according to one writer on correct grammar, an incorrect use of the word. Nearly a hundred years ago John O’London made his case, as it were, but this use of the word is still common. Let Mr O’London explain:-

‘The word ‘ case’ is a capital example of the words which, rightly used, mean something, but, wrongly, nothing at all. Mr R. W. Chapman, in…The Portrait of a Scholar and Other Essays writes: ‘ Case and instance are the commonest and most dangerous of a number of parasitic growths which are the dry rot of syntax’.

‘The word case implies a conjunction of affairs, an opposition of interests, a relation of circumstances to one another. Thus you may write of ‘ a case of conscience.’ But we are not to write, ‘ That is not the case, when all we mean is’ That is not so’; for a case is a position of things, relative to the things themselves or to the way in which they affect men. We shall find the word correctly used in the tenth verse of the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew, ‘ His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry.’ The word is used with correctness by the Friar in ‘ Much Ado about Nothing ‘ when he is advising Leonato how to act for the vindication of his daughter: ‘ Pause awhile and let my counsel sway in this case.’ But, as Mr Chapman points out, it is wrong to write, ‘ It is not the case that Napoleon died of a broken heart,’ because no case has been stated.’

Up and down.

Today we casually use the words ‘up’ and ‘down’ in conjunction with a destination without really being aware of why we choose one or the other of these two words. In 1924 a reader asked Mr O’ London what was the significance of this choice of word. ‘ Should ‘up’ be used when one is going to a larger town or is it geographically used—i.e. if the place be north or south of your position?’ Here is Mr O’ London’s reply:-

‘I do not think that ‘ up’ or ‘down have any original association with north or south. These terms originated in railway, or coaching parlance, and are governed by the relative and conventional importance of the two ends of a journey. Thus in railway speech, a Manchester man would say ‘up to London’, and a London man ‘ down to Manchester.’ But whether a Manchester man would say, in practice, ‘ up ‘ to Birmingham may be a solemn question. Personally, I should not say ( in London) that I was going ‘ down to Liverpool’, but ‘ up to Liverpool.’ ‘ Down to Liverpool’, though correct in railway language, seems a thought glib and pompous. I should consider it an impertinence to announce to a Scot my intention to go ‘ down to Edinburgh,’ even though Edinburgh is on the ‘ down’ line from London.’ Continue reading

The future of Latin


Recently the University of Roehampton announced that it is to close its Classics department. Leaving aside the surprising revelation that such a small and undistinguished seat of learning actually boasted a Classics department, this is part of a trend towards abolishing certain disciplines in the Humanties, principally ( one supposes) due to lack of interest from prospective students. We have also learnt that graduate with degrees in English Literature are now finding it harder than their fellow graduates in most other branches of the Humanities   to secure jobs. In view of this, the ultra-vocationally inclined Sheffield Hallam University, has decided to abolish its department of English Literature. Doubtless, many other Universities that were former polytechnics, will follow suit.

The reassessment of the Classics as an academic discipline worth sticking with has been going on in and outside the Academy for a hundred or more years. Sometimes an insistence on a qualification in Latin seems absurd. When your Jotter was being groomed for Oxford at a State grammar school in Wales by his history master, it was discovered that if he wished to study English, an O level in Latin was the minimum requirement. Because he had switched from the Science stream to the Arts after ‘O’ levels, he had no such qualification, unlike those who had remained in the Arts all their school careers. Had he wished to study English at Cambridge, however, a qualification in Latin was not stipulated, thanks partly to the efforts of people like F. R. Leavis.  In the end, your Jotter opted for Cambridge, but failed to get in, mainly because, unlike those from public schools preparing for Oxbridge, he was not offered special guidance on past exam papers etc. Not that he is bitter in any way!  Continue reading

John O’London on good English

Taken from Is it Good English ? by John O’London (1924)

 Jot 101 Is it Good English cover

Words whose meanings have changed over the years

1) Evince

John O’ London complained in 1924 that the word ‘evince’ should be avoided. Since then your Jotter has seen it used several times, but usually not by journalists or by others whose job it is to  write lucidly. Here is Mr O’ London’s case for rejecting it out of hand:

‘A word which careful editors are constantly striking out of accepted manuscripts is ‘ evince. ‘It is used unbecomingly in all such phrases as “ he evinced a great desire “ or “ his passion for study was evinced by his fine library.”. To evince means, in its primary but now obsolete sense, to subdue or conquer, and is so used by Milton: “ Error by his own arms is best evinced.” Its proper meaning, now, is to prove, to make manifest, to show in a clear manner. It is too strong a word for either of the above phrases. A man may” have”, “ show”, or “ reveal” a desire ; his passion for study may be “ indicated “ or “ betoken “ by his library. Good writers have little use for the verb “ evince.”

1)  Phenomenal

A word that has all but turned somersault. It is now widely used —but never by good writers—in the sense of unusual or wonderful, and we even meet with the phrase ‘ almost phenomenal ‘. A phenomenon is not a wonderful event or spectacle, but simply an event, spectacle, or observed process, as in the sentence ( Huxley’s): ‘ Continue reading

ABC of Plain Words Revisited

Plain Words cover pic 001When some BBC journalists don’t know the difference between reticent and reluctant, and use the word enormity to mean an enormous event, popular grammarians, such as Liz Truss or Ernest Gowers, who was her equivalent in the 1950s, are needed more than ever. That’s if these pisspoor journalists can be bothered to read their books.

Sir Ernest Gowers was a senior civil servant whose best-selling popular grammar Plain Words (1948), was devised to help his fellow civil servants write clear and correct English. In 1951, admitting that its format could be improved, Gowers brought out ABC of Plain Words.Nearly 70 years on this guide can still be used alongside other more recent grammars, such as Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Most of the advice proferred by Gowers still applies, but some might raise a few eyebrows among the journalists of today. Here are a few words and their definitions that might provoke discussion today.

Deadline.This is a word known to all hacks, but  Gowers chooses to define deadline conventionally as ‘ a line drawn round a military prison beyond which a prisoner may be shot down’. I don’t know which dictionary Mr Gowers was using, but the Chambers dictionary we use here at Jot HQ gives two definitions besides this one—1) ‘ the time that newspapers, books etc going to press’ 2) ‘a fixed time or date terminating something’. Gowers doesn’t even mention what ninety percent of people nowadays (and probably in 1951 too) would recognise as the most common definition of deadline.

Decimate.Gowers is right about the word decimate, however. He defines it as meaning to reduce by one tenth, not to one tenth. No writer today should get away with saying that troops were decimated, mainly because no-one would possibly know that soldiers in a battle could be reduced by exactly one tenth !

Dilemma.This is another word of precise meaning. It does not mean that someone has a number of difficult courses of action. He or she has exactly two. Continue reading

A Victorian Dictionary of Blunders c 1888

Blunders dictionary 001

This is a useful pocket guide to some extent, but is frequently supercilious and downright patronising. Often the compiler treats the reader as if they were a halfwit, especially in the matter of pronunciation.’ Reindeer is pronounced rain-deer ‘ it advises. ‘ Salver is pronounced sal-ver, not sar-ver’, apparently. Then it warns readers not to confuse one word with another with a similar spelling. Thus ‘ corpse ‘ should not be confused with corps. Nor should anyone write continential ( which doesn’t exist as a word ) when they mean  continental ? Has anyone ever done that ?


The corrected pronunciation of some words is questionable, to say the least. We are told that with ‘ abdomen’ , the emphasis should be on the second syllable, not the first . With ‘ mediocre ‘the first syllable should feature a short ‘e’. Today, there is no agreement on these two examples. In other instances the suggested pronunciation is bonkers. The word ‘retch ‘ according to this book, should be pronounced ‘ reach’. ‘Rabies has three syllables ‘we are informed, and should be pronounced rar bee ez. Sheer madness! Even if the word has a foreign derivation, by 1888 its place in the English language should have been assured. Disappointingly, it has nothing to say about the vexed question of whether ‘poor ‘ should be pronounced poo-er, as some grammarians insisted, or ‘pore’. Ghost-writer M. R. James famously derided those who favoured the latter pronunciation in his story ‘The Mezzotint ‘. But doubtless the Provost of Eton was a bit of a snob.  Nor does the Dictionary suggest how ‘economics ‘ or ‘controversy ‘ should be pronounced. It ought to come down heavily on two of the worst solecisms of our own time, ‘less’ for ‘fewer’ and ‘reticent’ for reluctant, but it doesn’t. However, it is good to see that in 1888, 34 years before the BBC was founded, and many years before newspapers had a role in forming   popular opinion, we are told that the plural of ‘medium’ is ‘media’. It is also interesting to note that back in 1888 common speech was as plagued as it is today with the ubiquitous ‘ you know ‘. ‘All these “ you knows “ would be better left out ‘ advises our author. Quite.


Disappointingly, and indeed, rather predictably, the booklet perpetuates the grammatical correctness of the gendered pronoun, as in the correction to ‘I do not think anyone to blame for taking care of their health’. ‘Their’ should be ‘his’, it advises, rather chauvinistically.  Today, you don’t have to be a feminist to prefer the use of the gender-free ‘their‘ in this case.


All in all, A Dictionary of Daily Blunders contains almost as many blunders masquerading as truths as it does corrections to perceived blunders. No wonder the author, who also compiled A Handy Book of Synonyms,wanted to remain anonymous.


Neurasthenia cured by electricity

Used as early as 1829, the ‘ medical ‘ term neurasthenia to describe nervous weakness was quickly taken up in America forty years later when  neurologist George M. Beard formally introduced the concept of ‘ nervous exhaustion ‘.

neurasthenia advert 1921 001

With symptoms that included anxiety, headache, palpitations, high blood pressure and mild depression, neurasthenia became associated with the pressures suffered by  middle-class businessmen, politicians,  and others sold on the American Dream. Indeed, it was nicknamed ‘Americanitis ‘ and claimed President Roosevelt among its sufferers. William James, Proust, Wilfred Owen and Virginia Woolf were also neurasthenic. By the 1920s it had definitely become a fashionable condition among certain groups in Western society ( it was virtually unknown among the labouring classes, assembly workers and shop assistants) and its popularity engendered a whole industry of quack cures. In an earlier Jot we learned that the regular imbibing of a nerve tonic could banish neurasthenia. Mrs Woolf swore by lengthy ‘rest cures ‘. But in this advert from a January 1921 issue of the British magazine The Review of Reviewswe are shown how electricity administered through the Pulvermacher Appliance might be the answer.


But before the poor sucker, sorry, sufferer , was asked to shell out to The Pulverbacher Electrologial Institute ( established 1848)  of Ludgate Hill, London,  he/she was asked the following questions:

Are you nervous, timid or indecisive ?

Do you lack self confidence?

Do you dread open or closed spaces?

Are you wanting in Will Power?

Are you ‘fidgety’, restless or sleepless?

Do you blush or turn pale readily?

Do you shrink from strange company?

Are you subject to sudden impulses?

Do you crave for stimulants or drugs? Continue reading

Maledicta—the International Journal of Verbal Aggression

Maledicta cover 001‘…Once a year he’d get the latest issue of Maledicta,a journal of scatological invective and insult, unashamedly incorrect, wilfully scurrilous, and pretty funny, and read me the highlights…’

Interview with Stanley Kubrick by screenwriter Michael Herr,published in Vanity Fair.


Maledicta : the International Journal of Verbal Aggression, edited since 1995 by the German-born chemical engineer-turned- philologist, Reinhold Aman, comes out of Santa Rosa, California. In the UK the nearest we have to it is the Profanisaurus section ofViz magazine, which has been edited for several years by the fictional TV presenter Roger Mellie ( ‘the man from the telly’). Both Viz and Maledictainvite readers to contribute scurrilous material, but while Mellie publishes scurrility usually made up by himself and his readers, Maledicta is a serious academic journal, despite the fact that in his frequent and furious attacks on the politically correct Aman  is liable to describe  prison authorities as ‘ sons-of-bitches ‘ and female opponents of free speech as ‘ militant lesbians ‘.


Maledicta occupies a unique position in the academic world as a place in which international bad language—graffiti, scatology, sexual and other popular jargon — is explored by academics and interested amateurs alike. For instance, in issue XII (1996) which we found at Jot HQ, one can find a disquisition on Domino Pizza jargon by an ex employee of the restaurant chain and a compendium entitled ‘Dutch Soldiers’ Latrinalia’ by a former Dutch soldier, alongside an analysis of medieval swear words by Dr Aman, a paper on the ‘ Lexical Categories of Homosexual  Behaviour in Modern Burmese ‘ by the head of the Himalayan languages project at Leiden, and a language analysis of Yoruba EEbu by a Nigerian professor of English. Continue reading

Having pun

Puniana title 001Tim Vine and other contemporary stand-ups who base their acts on puns might take some inspiration from nineteenth century books on the subject, such as Puniana(1866), which was edited by the Hon Hugh Rowley, who also did the illustrations. Even if we recognise that many words ( such as ‘draught’ in the medical sense) have fallen into disuse over the past 150 years and that manners and morals have likewise changed, it is astonishing how well many of these mid-Victorian puns work today. Here are a few that do:

Why are cats like unskilful surgeons ?

Because they mew till late and destroy persons.


Why are cowardly soldiers like candles?

Because when exposed to the fire they run.


What flowers are there between a lady’s nose and chin?

Two lips.


Why are books your best friends?

Because you can shut them up without giving offence.


What street in London reminds you of a tooth from which you have suffered a great deal?

Long Acre. Continue reading


DONT cover 001Books on social etiquette have always proved popular. People are naturally curious about the manners of other ages. Such books also produce good talking points at parties or other social events. Don’t, a copy of which was recently discovered at Jot HQ, purports to deal ‘ frankly with mistakes and improprieties more or less common to all ‘, is no exception. Although undated, the dust jacket illustration and general design places it firmly in the early fifties, and an AA leaflet dated August 1953, which has been tucked into it, confirms this guess.

‘Censor’, the pseudonymous author of Don’tmakes no apologies for the book’s distinctly proscriptive tone. ‘ Manners maketh man ‘, he/she quotes, adding rather severely that if the rules appear ‘ over-nice’, ‘ everyone has the right to determine for himself at what point below the highest point he is content to let his social culture drop’. Ouch!

Reading certain parts of this book will make most people cry out in protest at an unreasonable ‘don’t’. For instance, why shouldn’t people wear jewellery that is ‘ solely ornamental’. What’s the point of jewellery unless it is ornamental ? Then there’s the request not to drink outside of meal times. Does this mean that one shouldn’t drink in pubs, hotels or at parties? Obviously absurd. ‘Censor’ is equally unreasonable concerning the shaking of hands: ‘Don’t …offer to shake hands with a lady. The initiative must always come from her. By the same principle DON’T offer your hands to a person older than yourself, or to anyone whose rank may be supposed to be higher than your own, unless he has extended his.’ Totally irrational. Then there is the faux gallantry: ‘Don’t forget that the lady sitting at your side has the first claim upon your attention. A lady at your side should not be neglected, whether you have been introduced to her or not.’ Even in 1953, this must have appeared preposterous, although another ‘don’t’—that men must not remaining sitting when a lady leaves the table —was still observed in some circles. Continue reading

The £400,000 comma

Foreign fruit dutyDiscovered in an 1928 issue of John O’ London’s is an anecdote illustrating the importance of punctuation in a legal document.

‘Solicitors in their private practice have evolved a language of their own, which weird though it may be, is seldom open to the reproach of obscurity. Very wisely they discard punctuations almost completely. They know that the omission or use of a comma in a legal document can be dangerous. A comma once cost the United States Government £400,000. It was nearly fifty years ago that the United States Congress in drafting a Tariff Bill enumerated in one section the articles to be left free of duty. Amongst these were “all foreign fruit-plants “. The copying clerk in his wisdom removed the hyphen and substituted for it a comma, making the clause read “all foreign fruit, plants, etc “. It took a year to rectify the error, and during that period all oranges, bananas, grapes, and other foreign fruits were admitted free of duty with the big loss to the State already mentioned…’

The loss to the Revenue of that hyphen would be the equivalent of around £20 million today. I wonder if the clerk was fired. We at Jot HQ would love to hear of other costly clerical errors.


Errors of the educated

Speeches and toasts 001Found in Speeches and Toasts by Leslie F Stemp ( 1952) is a chapter on ‘’certain besetting carelessnesses of dictum from which even our high-brows are not immune”.

Although none of the speeches or toasts in the book are as funny as Reginald Perrin’s alcohol induced peroration at the National Fruit Convention, or Hugh Grant’s best man speech In ‘Four Weddings’, Mr Stemp, a barrister for the Gas Board, does provide both mildly amusing and serious examples of speeches for most occasions. And although many remain hopelessly dated, as his use of the word ‘high-brow’ suggests, the advice he offers on grammatical errors remains useful today. Here are some of my favourite examples:

“That” and “which”.

It is wrong to use the relative pronouns” that” and ”which” as if they were interchangeable, and to be varied to meet the demands of euphony. Their provinces are distinct; the boundaries between them well marked. Every defining clause whose antecedent is not a person should be introduced that that, every such clause that adds new matter by which. The test of defining new clauses is: would the suppression of them render the statement untrue? If so it is a defining clause. “We have rejected all the cases that arrived sea-damaged”. Omit the clause and what remains ios a falsehood: all the cases were not rejected: the sound were accepted.” We have received your statement, which is receiving our attention.” Even if this sentence were cut short after “statement”, if would be true. The first sentence, therefore, contained a defining clause, properly introduced by “that” , and the second an added clause , preceded, correctly, by “which”. Continue reading

James Platt—-Felixstowe’s genius linguist


Platt OED picDiscovered in an album of cuttings is this obituary of James Platt ( 1859 – 1910), one of the most distinguished philologists of his day.

‘English philology has suffered a heavy loss by the death of Mr James Platt, jun. at the age of 49 at his residence at Felixstowe.

Probably no living philologist could vie with Mr Platt for variety of knowledge. He had a thorough knowledge of all European languages, and a fair acquaintance with every known language, ancient or modern and a special taste for those which were out of the way, such as, for instance, those spoken on the American Continent, from Patagonian to Eskimo, and on the latter language he wrote a brilliant for the ‘Athenaeum’ a few years ago. He possessed a phenomenal memory and an astonishing range of reading. During recent years he had translated many beautiful Eastern poems which had not previously been rendered in English verse…’

The obituarist also refers to Platt’s valuable contributions to Notes and Queries and most notably his participation in James Murray’s Oxford English Dictionary project, where he identified ‘ strange alien words ‘.Unfortunately, Platt never lived to see Murray’s great dictionary published, and after an illness of two years he died at the age of 49, leaving a widow and a little girl named Irene. On her own death in 1990 it was discovered that Irene had bequeathed £250,000 to the University of East Anglia to establish the Platt Centre for ‘the study and teaching of modern foreign languages.’




How to Speak American

Found in the 1919 volume of the British literary miscellany Today is a beetle3bfascinating disquisition on the American use of English by the journalist J.M.C. Hampson, himself an American Anglophile. He begins his piece with a fragment of American dialogue followed by its translation:

“ Well, Dana, how do you stack- up this morning? “

“ Oh, sickabed.”

“Is that so? What’s on your system?”

“Oh, had a row with the Vrow; and look at that.” He pointed to the calendar on the wall in front of him, on which appeared in bold figures “Friday, 23.”

“Good Lord! 23—-skiddoo! Ugh! No wonder. Well, so long, I must be on my way. See you later.”

This being translated into English means that I called in at the office of my friend Dana Howard, said “Good morning “ , asked him how he felt, was informed that everything was all wrong, and that the proper place for him was in bed, that he had started the morning by an argument with his wife, and that he had just realised that it was Friday the 23rd. Be it understood that to an American 23 is the zero mark, and when it crops up all one can say is “skidoo”, meaning “get out of here”, or “away with it “; and if Friday falls on the 23rd it is even worse than Friday the 13th.All good Americans of the cities, at any rate, walk very warily before the Lord that day and pray that nothing untoward will happen . “So long “ as a substitute for au revoir is, of course, frequently used in England. Continue reading

A right hanky-spanky ad, and no mistake !

harriss-slap-up-shop-advert-001Discovered in that garden of visual delights, The Saturday Book (1960 ) is this quite extraordinary advert concocted by a working man’s outfitter by the name of Harris sometime in the mid nineteenth century. The copy is almost entirely composed of contemporary slang and cant terms. Harris’s three shops were all in central London   locations, which might suggest that some of the colloquialisms were Cockney rhyming slang, or at least slang that was restricted to the capital and its environs. A few of the terms have survived to this day ( ’ slap up ‘, is excellent, as in slap up meal; ‘no-go’, as in not accepted ; cords, for corduroys; ‘grabbed the chance’; ‘out and out ‘; ‘tick’ for credit; ‘crib’ for home; ‘swag’ for booty), while others have been lost for ever. Who the hell are Tea Kettle Purgers and Head Robbers? What was the Swan Stream and the ‘Melton Mowbray style ‘? Something to do with fox hunting, perhaps? Are ‘Trotter Cases’ shoes?

Some items of clothing advertised are self-explanatory ( moleskins, doeskins ),but others must be hunted down. I almost gave up on ‘broady’ until I found it online as meaning broadcloth. My reprinted Dictionary of Buckish Slang, University Wit and Pickpocket Eloquence (1811) was slightly more useful. The word ‘Quid ‘, meaning a a sovereign, dates from around 1688; to a Regency buck, however, it was a guinea, as was a ‘canary’ ; a ‘bob’ was a shilling and a ‘kick’ was a sixpence, though pluralised it meant breeches or trousers, as did kicksies. But the Slang Dictionary made no mention of Mud Pipes, Box Cloths, Plushes, Pilots, and Upper Benjamins. Perhaps these were of Victorian or purely Cockney origin. [RR]


At the Bookshop 1822 and 2016

Retrieved from our old Bookride site – this not unamusing extract from an 1820s English/ French conversation manual.  It gives an interesting insight into a vanished world. It is followed by our modern version where the translation was slightly robotic, so apologies for that…

Note the concern with the appearance and quality of the books, the perennial problems with trying to get the binder to do what the bookseller and customer wants, and on time. The eagerness of the collector to be the first to be offered fresh stock from the shop has changed very little. Still with us are the problems of delay in postal sytems…  Also it is interesting that in the early nineteenth century women bookbuyers were thought likely to be attracted to ‘Large Paper Copies’ and vellum bound books. The customer’s knowledge of book lore and binding styles has changed somewhat.

Well ! you are a man of your word, as usual: and the books that you were to send me, when shall I have them?
Eh bien ! vous etes un homme de parole, comme a l’ordinaire: et ces livres que vous deviez m’emvoyer, quand viendront-ils?
You are under great obligations to your binder; he often furnishes you with an excuse.
Vous avez un relieur a qui vous avez de grardes obligations , car il vous sert souvent de manteau.
I protest that I sent them to him the same day you came to buy them.
Je vous proteste que je les ai fait porter chez lui le meme jour que vous etes venu les acheter.

Continue reading

Catch-phrases – interjections and rejoinders

41n7A6ZEwCLThis is a list sent in by a nameless jotter. It is by no means exhaustive. It had no notes but each well worn phrase has been used as banter- a rejoinder or an amusing interruption in a conversation or during an anecdote or monologue. Almost all use irony, sarcasm or mild mockery and are cliches – but they could possibly still incite mirth if the timing was right. Thumping cliches have asterisks. I’ll get my coat.

I am now off on a bike to the Bodleian to consult Partridge’s 1977 Dictionary of Catch Phrases in manuscript (as you do). It will be interesting to see how many of these he recorded. Most are site specific but fairly obviously so – for example if someone is going on about a politician – how he should be incarcerated, hung drawn and quartered etc., you might say “tell us how you really feel..”

Amen to that!

And this affects me how?

And you know this it how?

Are you nuts?

As it were (after an unintended pun)

As the Bishop said to the actress (archaic)

Continue reading

A to Z of Zowie (Hippy Slang)

Found in an old Sunday Observer colour supplement from December 1967 this glossary of (then) very recent hippy and 'underground' slang, apparently known as 'Zowie.' In Britain 'Zowie' is mostly associated with David Bowie's son Zowie Bowie (born 1971) now known as Duncan Jones...For a comprehensive online dictionary of hippy slang check out Skip Stone's Hippy Glossary. Since the Summer of Love some of the words below have entered the language (groovy, happening, trip, vibrations, riff) and some like 'Zowie' itself and 'grey' have had very little currency. Slang authority Eric Partridge imported most of Peter Fryer's glossary into later editions of his Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
A TO Z OF 'ZOWIE' Peter Fryer offers a selective glossary of the Underground.

acid/LSD. Acid-head/one who uses LSD.
be-in/hippy meeting.
bust/police search, raid.
cool/unruffled, admirable (but see groovy); not carrying illegal drugs.
dig/understand. Diggers/idealist hippies undermining capitalist economies by giving away free clothes, washing-machines to needy.
drag/bore, dissapointment.
drop-out/one who opts out of society.
flip/arouse enthusiasm. F. one's wig/lose one's head.
Flower Power/from Flower Children or Beautiful People.
Revolutionary philosophy akin to ideas of Young Liberals, e.g. Make Love Not War. Characteristic: bell.
freak/arouse or share collective enthusiasm (freak-out).
gig/single paid performance.
grey/middle-aged, conventionally dressed/minded person (orig. US Negro term for a white).
groove/make good progress, co-operate.
groovy/admirable, sexually attractive.
happening/spontaneous eruption of feeling/ display.
hippy/product of Haight-Ashbury ('Hashbury') dist. of S. Francisco. Anarchic successors to Beat generation. Essential beliefs: protest, legalised drugs, opting out. Not to be confused with plastic hippies/mostly conventional youth who like to dress up at weekend.
hung up/annoyed.
love-in/gathering associated with groovy scene.
mind-blowing/ecstasy producing.
naturals/non-hip people.
plug-in/turn or switch on.
psychedelic/mind-expanding. Psychedelia/drugs, flashing lights, sound, colour, movies, dance – usually experienced simultaneously.
riff/repeated background phrase in music.
scene/Underground, or specific part of it.
stoned/very high on cannabis.
straight/conventional person, one who does not use cannabis.
teeny-bopper/anything from 11–16–average age of record-buying public.
think-in/poetry session, discussion group.
trip/LSD experience.
turned on/(1) accustomed to cannabis. (2) aware.
UFO/(pronounced 'yoofo'). Unlimited Freak Out – a hippy club.
vibrations/atmosphere; reactions, with sexual overtones.
Zowie/a new import from San Francisco, meaning hippy language.

Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations

Found - a handy little book Point It Out: The Picture Speech For All Nations by one Walter Sefton. It was published 'by authority of the War Office Welfare Department' (Leicester, 1944.) The title page notes that the book was '…designed to make help all men and women of the Allied Services in making their needs easily understood in foreign countries - a guide and comfort and friend when in any difficulty.' This type of book is still published (The Wordless Travel Book and the Point it Traveller's Language Kit),and there may even be an app - although now people probably just find an image on their phones and show it to a helpful foreigner..

The page shown is for use on board a steamship, possibly to answer requests such as 'Where is my car?' and 'Can I smoke in the bar?' 'I need a rug for sitting on the deck chair' and 'Where is the ship's library?'


Found in the Haining collection - this article from 1936 on pickpockets. The author Louis Mansfield has much advice,most still relevant. The bit about a 'dip's' long, tapering fingers may be fanciful but certainly it is not a profession for one with fat fingers...

PEARSON'S WEEKLY, May 30, 1936



Pickpockets will be busy among the crowds. It is their best time of the year. Louis C. S. Mansfield, detective and crime investigator, lets you into secrets of the "dip's" profession – and they have some good ones. You have been warned!


  I have worked against pickpockets for years. Here's my advice to you if you want to return home with your notecase.
  Be careful when you see men carrying, and not wearing, their overcoats, or holding newspapers which are open–not folded.
  Grab your wallet quickly if a stranger starts brushing paint or dust off your coat.
  If somebody hits you on the back and says "Sorry," look for a touch in front–because you won't feel it.

Continue reading

Edward Balston—the man in love with Eton College

It’s bad enough to learn that nineteen British prime Ministers attended Eton College without learning recently, as I did, that one Eton man was so enamoured of the benefits of a classical education that he seriously suggested that Latin and Greek were the only subjects that should be taught in the classroom.That man was not, incidentally, Boris Johnson, but Edward Balston.

Balston—the son of William, that famous papermaker familiar to all students of palaeography—attended Eton in the 1820s and early 30s and then entered  King’s College, Cambridge in 1836. Awarded the Browne Medal for Latin verse every year from 1836 to 1839, he was unusually elected Fellow of King’s in 1839, two years before he  graduated, though why it took him five years to gain his B.A. is not adequately explained. In 1842 he became a priest.

Balston loved Eton so much that he couldn’t wait to return there. In 1840, before he had even graduated, he became an assistant master at his alma mater. Twenty two years later he was chosen as Head. In July 1862, not long after his appointment, Balston came up before the Clarendon Commission on Education. On hearing his views on the primacy of classics in the classroom Lord Clarendon was appalled:

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