First of the month, so I have spent the day attempting to dissuade children from pinching and punching each other in class. With little success or indeed enthusiasm, it tickles me to admit.

I’m not sure where “pinch and a punch, first of the month” came from – the wiktionary discussion about punch cups and snuff pinching seems plausible, but the phrase still seems more likely something invented by kids to enable random violence, especially factoring in the flicks and kicks.

It was always white rabbits in our family. It has become a little rite to wake up at the start of the month and find my mum has sent a text saying “White rabbits”, to which I habitually respond “Brown bunnies”. This is a whimsical family variant that sets us up nicely for the next few weeks, thank you very much.

And of course, it’s a leap year, so we have extra February.

One of the internet news outlets I include in my Feedly subs is io9. Today there was an article covering Stephen Hawking’s latest insights into ways humanity seems increasingly likely to be responsible for its own die-off.

I don’t think Hawking’s in error on much of the main thrust, really, and the slightly desperate tone of the closing comment – basically, “Come on, brainiac, enough telling it like is already! Tell us how it SHOULD be!” – seems to misinterpret Hawking’s intent (in my view) and remit.

‘Existential risk’ seems a fascinating area of speculation for further exploration. But – and it’s a big but! – I nearly didn’t get to the rest of the article at all. I was staring agog at the headline.

image

Clickety click, what what WHAT?

image

No, it definitely calls Stephen Hawking a bummer.

In the UK*, ‘bummer’ applied to a thing has the same sense of being a bit of a drag. However, bummer applied to a person means something else completely… Let’s just call it juvenile casual homophobic slang and leave it there.

I think the most appropriate equivalent to bummer in the sense of the headline would be ‘a misery’. Downer, maybe? But – and it’s a big but!! – not bummer.

Filing this with that other great meaning-lost-in-the-mid-Atlantic phrase ‘double-fisting’.

“The end is near” …HOOT! HOOT!

*Update! In discussion, a student claims that the word bummer, in Wales, has the American usage. So, not the whole of the UK.

Content note: contains grumpy swithering and language.

Saw this recently:

'Who was it...?' 'He didn't say.'

Hmmm…

I DON’T SAY
“I DON’T SAY
[X BECAUSE Y]…”
BECAUSE IT MIGHT CONFUSE MY VALUE JUDGMENTS WITH STATEMENTS OF FACT.
BECAUSE CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING.
BECAUSE WORDS DO WHAT WE TELL THEM.
BECAUSE CAPS LOCK IS SHOUTING.
BECAUSE I JUST DON’T SAY WHATEVER IT IS I DON’T WANT TO BE SAID.

Well! It got my goat. “I was forced into parody, m’lud.”

I mean, though. Saying you don’t say something and then saying the thing… just to stick its little word head on a spike pour encourager les autres. Bah!

Stepping back a little, taking a breath, I see their point, sort of.

Fiona McCrossin, one of the student participants, told BuzzFeed in an email: “I am doing this project because language is a reflection of our culture as a whole and it contributes to a person’s understanding of what is ‘normal’ or ‘good.’ We hope to start conversations about the cultural practices that these words reflect and start to change the hostile environment that they create. I personally chose not to use these words because I want to contribute to that change as much as possible. I encourage people to do the same, but I understand if they do not wish to.”

I agree. We would all benefit from less hostility and more positivity. However, while acknowledging Fiona McCrossin’s qualifying statement on Buzzfeed, the back-pedalling implied in the final lines – “Yeah, but it’s just my choice, no biggie if you don’t want to…” – sits at odds with the hectoring certainty of the campaign proper.

AND, and, conversations are not begun by stating emphatically an opinion as fact and then standing there with your arms folded. Not effective conversations, anyway.

I dunno, it all just came across as being a bit… pompous. “Think before you talk” is an admirable tenet, but I would prefer it if people did not assume that their semantic certainties are anything of the kind.

And are our cultural practices not threatened by greater problems than a few words? Linguistic versus actual minefields…

‘Shocking paintwork,’ muttered Lord Wimpleby, gesturing at the ship’s hull as the lifeboat descended.

They’re right, though, really. It’s all part of a parcel. For want of a nail… One can admire the stance, I suppose. Well done to them. Go for it! We need enthusiasts.

“Fookin students.”paulcalf

I understand if you do not wish to see it in the same way.

Further prejudicial idiocy, as discussed on the excellent blog ’10 minutes hate’ (happy birthday Julia!) about the already-serving-a life-sentence killer John Venables, from Britain’s Brightest Tabloid ™ The Scum today.

I don’t know if recalling someone to prison as part of their sentence actually counts as post-judicial, but bear with me. I sat reading their headline on the paper opposite me all the way to work on the Tube, and I couldn’t fathom it.

ON A SCALE

OF 1 TO 5,

VENABLES CHILD PORN

RATED 4

SICKENING IMAGES CLAIM

Apart from appearing to be a direct attempt to bring back my oaty breakfast with its bilious tone and suggestive imagery, I hit a snarl after the number 5, and could not work out what it might possibly mean. Venables Child Porn Rated 4? What the fuck? Do they mean they asked him about child porn and he rated it 4? Or is it Venables making porn with children? Porn of Venables AS a child? (Swift sidebar to Rule 34) Rated 4? By whom? On what scale? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO TO MY BRAIN AT 08.34 ON MONDAY MORNING, FUCK ME UP FOR THE WEEK?

HAVING – sorry, having had chance to peruse the wild allegations behind the sensationalist headline, it emerges that the issue was one of a missing apostrophe. The story explains that there may have been claims of suggestions of a possibility that former child killer Venables might have had images of child porn on a laptop in his house, rated ‘4’ on the scale drawn up to arbitrate such matters.

Imagine, a mere 17 years later, that someone who helped torture someone to death aged 10, was in prison for eight years, and has gone around with all that since, might be a bit fucked up in the head. I can’t imagine how fucked up that would be, and I have a fairly vivid imagination.

I write ‘former child killer’… Venables (or whatever he is now called) is formerly a child, and a killer, and a child killer, and all the moral-bamboozling semantic ambiguity one might muster from just starting to think about those facts. The implications of the labels we slap on people for convenience have been widely discussed. Speaking eloquently as usual, wordy writer Will Self on BBC’s Question Time had another attempt at trying to go beyond good and evil last week.

The Scum‘s website relating to the same article which has so exercised me all morning has the slightly less syntactically stupid but still ambiguous headline HOARD OF HORROR, which is at least clear in its deranged terms of reference (specific details of which the paper headline assumes an intimate familiarity with). It is the language of true crime books, of reports of horrible activity rendered with a lingering and nauseating attention to the detail of every eyelid burned open with a cigar. ‘Hoard of Horror’, this fairy tale invocation, a trove of wickedness… that’s something that I can’t – well, let’s be clear, I do not LIKE to imagine, because it makes me feel queasy, and not at all good about what it implies about humanity in general.

However, as a phrase it is designed to appeal to a certain type of person, the kind of person who CAN imagine it, does imagine it, perhaps likes to imagine it, sees the pitchforks being wielded, relishes the destruction, pain, unpleasantness and likes to get geed up for the gallows party.

Perhaps we need to confront our dark hearts more… but. Pushing pictures of an abused child in my face and telling me it is disgusting will not make that kind of action go away, and my response would be the same as if you had offered me a cigarette. “Child abuse?” “Thanks, I don’t.”

Are we trying to make people ‘better’, as Julia suggests on 10mh, or can we not be bothered? “Back to the trees, everyone, this running water and books thing was a shit idea.”

If we have not proceeded any further, morally speaking, than the 14th century, and the ritual disembowelment, quartering and displaying of Jon Venables’ charred remains on Westminster Bridge is what it will take to shut up the witchfinder pursuivants howling at the door, perhaps we should just give in and let them have their bonfire. Here is a discarded tabloid newspaper for kindling. I will be stood at the back pressing a pomander to my nose and weeping.