Just checking-in.

Oops, it’s been a while since I posted here – mea culpa and all that. In my defence I have actually been getting on with some data collection for my MA, which isn’t anywhere near as boring as it might sound – well not to fellow language nerds anyway.

I am investigating the Dative Alternation; which, in a nutshell, is why we can say

I gave John a coffee


I gave a coffee to John

Do these different ways of arranging the sentence give the meaning some slightly different nuances? Do we consciously decide which we are going to use, and if so, why do we make those choices? Would we ever say

You gave an idea to me?

rather than

You gave me an idea?

From my own instinctive feeling and initial research I would say not – but why not? Anyway, back to the data collection which, hopefully, might give me some clues. In the meantime – I found this fascinating article which I thought you might like to read too:-


Linguistic Landlubber :(



Well, as I mentioned in my last post, Iā€™ve been to the Isles of Dogs and was really hoping to take a trip to La Gomera to find out more about their whistling language. They developed this, apparently, to communicate across the deep valleys of the mountainous terrain. There was the possibility of taking a ferry from Tenerife to La Gomera with an included talk about the language [and lunch with wine šŸ™‚ ] but…it was also very windy. My sea-legs are notoriously wobbly; they tremble at a slight ripple on the sea’s surface -and some of the waves were nearly 6 inches high!!!!! Sadly, for this intrepid linguist, the fascination of the trip wasn’t enough to overcome the dread of seasickness, so I went to the Hard Rock cafe instead.

By way of an apology [and to maybe inspire myself to try again next time I visit the Canaries] I did find this really interesting article on the BBC website:


Whilst busily lying by the pool instead, I did read a brilliant book called ‘I Let You Go’* Ā  Ā  which I picked up in the hotel’s library. However, it was a North American edition and it got my brain ticking…..

The book is set in England and Wales, it involves a lot of British police procedure and other such content but I was amazed that, in order to publish it in North America, they must have employed somebody to go through it changingĀ colour toĀ color;Ā got toĀ  gotten;Ā grey toĀ gray and so on. I had to ask myself ‘Why?’. I have read many US books, published in Britain, where the American spellings and grammar have been retained – it gives, IMHO, an American ‘flavour’ to the book, it reminds me I am reading a novel set in another country – in much the same way theĀ Monsieur Pamplemousse books I mentioned recently are full of French terms.

Having thought about all this, I decided that the only reason I could deduce for the changing of British English to US English is…..

We are clever enough to accept the grammatical and spelling differences whereby they can’t cope!

Or maybe you know better? I’d love to hear from you if you can shed light on the subject.

* https://www.waterstones.com/book/i-let-you-go/clare-mackintosh/9780751554151

PS, while waiting at the airport to come home again, my heart was broken! Apparently I had JUST MISSED [by about 2 minutes] bumping into Brian May and Anita Dobson. Having loved Queen, and adored Brian May, for over 40 years I’m sure you can share my distress. Mind you, they did have one of Marc Bolan’s jackets at the Hard Rock. Small consolation but still quite awesome. [They also, of course, serve the most amazing food – might have to visit their Amsterdam branch next month!]


Iā€™m off to the Isle of Dogs




Or rather, the Isles of Dogs. Yup, itā€™s a very nice place, you could well have been there yourself.

Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote etc etc.


Maybe you thought they were named after little yellow birds? The Canary Islands, or Islas Canarias are actually called that because of dogs, or so the story goes. Yet there is no evidence that when the first Europeans arrived there they were full of such animals. In fact it seems there were no canine inhabitants at all. Weird? Well Iā€™m off there in a couple of days, so ā€˜Hasta luegoā€™, and in the meantime feel free to decide for yourself why these glorious little pieces of paradise were given their name.



PS La Gomera has a very interesting linguistic feature, and although I donā€™t think Iā€™ll be able to get there during my holiday I am hoping to investigate furtherā€¦ā€¦..watch this space.


Pizza or Sausages on your Hair, Madam?


A few days ago, I took the almost unheard-of step of allowing a hairdresser access to my apology for a hairstyle. She asked me when I’d last had it done – I thought it could have been August but wasn’t too sure if it was so recently or not. Ho hum. I’ve always been what you could call ‘low-maintenance’ but even I had realised I did need something doing about the jungle growing from my scalp.

After a rather fruitless discussion about where my parting is [‘I haven’t a clue.’], what I would like doing to my hair [‘I haven’t a clue.’] and other similar questions I couldn’t answer, I was asked the killer one…..’Do you use any product on it?’

I stuttered, pondered and then asked ‘WhatĀ do you mean by product?’ To me, a ‘product’ is something that has been produced and, therefore, covers an almost infinite amount of possibilities. I was told that, to a hairdresser, it meant stuff like mousse, styling gels, hairspray and other such-like items. After recovering from my semi-hysterical laughter I did venture that I thought I might have a can of hairspray ‘somewhere’. When my poor hairdresser had done her best to educate me on the virtues of ‘product’ [and also done a rather splendid job of taming my locks] I decided to see what the definition of the wordĀ is.

A search for images produced the one above, which does, admittedly include some hairstyling goods. However there are also sausages, pizza, breakfast cereals, fish portions, ice cream and mouthwash in the line-up. One of the definitions I came across was:

A substance produced during a natural, chemical, or manufacturing process: ā€˜waste productsā€™

Hmmm, so I was quite correct in asking for a clearer definition of what was meant by ‘product’ in the context of my hair…because ‘No’ I do not want fish portions, mouthwash or chemical waste rubbing in, thank you very much!

Please Stop Writing


An hour to pass in Chorley, a walk in Astley Park. Peace. We are so blessed to live in peace when we look at the world around us – so many conflicts, so much death and destruction. As I was leavng I paused, as I love to do, by the war memorial and was saddened – no, heartbroken. I remember a while back when I was there, being struck by the empty panels on the wall which records the names of the fallen. I remember praying that they might always remain empty, that no more lost lives would have to be marked in this way. Today I noticed ‘Addendum’16763514_10154919240494566_450142057_o

It took me back to 4th August 2014 when Preston turned the lights out* to remember the onset of WW1. I wrote this piece to record my emotions after the ceremony:

Please, Stop The Candles

A beautiful August evening; pale blue sky with pink-tinged clouds as it approached dusk.Ā  In the distance, St Walburgeā€™s spire was silhouetted against the fading light.

People were gathering, old and young, waiting to honour the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. While we waited, a recording of some songs of the time was playing; Daisy, Daisy and others of that ilk. We were told how 1,956 candles would be laid by the cenotaph during the ceremony, one for each name on the Harris Roll of Honour.

The dignitaries from churches and council arrived, flanked by flag-bearers who provided a poignant backdrop to the proceedings. As the lights went out and the candles started to be placed a solitary bell tolled in the distance. People read war poems and letters out, the candles still came. Time and time again the volunteers went back to bring out yet more candles ā€“ one for each soldier who gave his life. More and more candles ā€“ each one a brother, son, husband, father. Each one leaving grieving friends and families. The candles seemed endless. I wanted them to stop. I wanted to cry out ā€˜No, no more dead, pleaseā€™. Yet they still came.

During the ceremony I gazed up to the sky and saw four Chinese lanterns floating in the distance. I was reminded that we could stand in Preston in peace and safety thanks to the soldiers of the Great War. In too many places, Libya, Gaza, Ukraine, Syria to name a few, those distant lights could herald missiles or other arms heading towards us bringing destruction.

A solemn hush had fallen over Preston, but I pray the candles will, one day, stop coming.

Again I say, please stop the writing…..

*The lights went down all around the Flag Market in the centre of Preston, apart from Nando’s, which continued to blaze its neon sign in an utter insult to the memorial. Shame on you Nando’s. I never particularly liked the food, but now I also detest the whole brand.

Twinkle On

Twinkle, twinkle, Nandoā€™s light

How I wish you were less bright.

Blaze your business, loudly shout,

As we turn the town lights out.

Twinkle, Nandoā€™s, shine your blight

On this fourth of August night.

Ā© I Flack 4.8.2014

Oh the Joys of Charity Bookshops


One of the services my business offers is English tuition, and I am, therefore, always on the lookout for educational resources. The other day I was in Chorley and decided to walk past the St Catherine’s Hospice bookshop, ‘just to glance in the window’. Yeah, right – as if I could walk past a shop like that!

There was, as always, a wonderful window display and, right in the corner, some Ladybird Read With MeĀ books. Having brought my own two up on tales from Puddle Lane, and eagerly devoured just about every Ladybird bookĀ my own school library had, I knew I had to go in and take a closer look. I decided to buy two different picture dictionaries to help a child understand the concept of ‘words begnning with…’ Yes, that was all I would buy…..

On the table right between myself and the cash till, however, some cunning person had artfully placed…to my absolute delight…..three Monsieur Pamplemousse books. These books, to anybody who might never have heard of them, are written by Michael Bond [yes, he of Paddington Bear fame] but are most definitely not for small children. They are about the adventures of a French detective, who is a gastronome par excellence, and his faithful dogĀ Pommes Frites. Basically, Mr Grapefruit and his dog, Chips.

The mystery-solving detective and his hound manage to solve the crimes in the way of all good sleuths, but never letting a meal-time pass by uncelebrated. They also get into some rather funny scrapes of the ‘Ooooh Matron!’ type, making for a jolly good romp all in all.

I first came across these at a [now sadly closed] library but had given up all hope of ever finding any more [though I bet a quick scour of t’internet would have found me plenty]. So, my quick ‘glance’ resulted in 2 Ladybird books and three wonderful novels for myself, all for the princely sum of Ā£4. If you’ve never ‘glanced’ in a charity bookshop window, you haven’t lived.


Do I need a Shipping Dress?

I had to ask myself this question when an advert popped up at the side of my Facebook page. It was actually offering me a free shipping dress – wow, free clothes. I considered sending for half a dozen then putting them on EBay at Ā£15 each. Could be the start of my new fashion empire.

But, no….there was a catch. Or rather, it was a very badly worded offer.Ā free-shipping-dress

It seems there is no such thing as a shipping dress [even though there are cargo pants and boarding pants apparently]. So, the offer isn’t a free dress, but free postage and packing [I DO prefer the British terminology] on dresses which have to be paid for. There goes my business idea. Dragons’ Den must wait a while longer.

Ambiguity rears its head in all sorts of ways every day.Ā summarise-the-book

Verbally, it is easy to misunderstand words such asĀ waxĀ  andĀ whacksĀ which are linguistically called homophones. Imagine you are reclining in a beauty salon, the owner tells the assistant you are ready for your wax…and they thump you as hard as they can several times! You would certainly have had some whacks then. Context can be everything in certain situations.

Ambiguity, though, is more a case of bad syntax. The advert ‘Nothing acts faster than Anadin’ – is it informing you that your headache will go faster if you take nothing, rather than buying their product?

A hasty search of Google brought up these two examples:-

Sarah gave a bath to her dog wearing a pink t-shirt. Who is wearing the t-shirt here?

You should bring wine or beer and dessert. If you don’t bring wine, do you have to bring beer AND a dessert, or do you have to bring dessert no matter which drink you also provide?

So, maybe I should demand my free shipping dress after all? If they can’t figure out how to word their offer, shouldn’t I take it at face value? Dragons’ Den…I’m on my way after all šŸ™‚



Well, I went and did it! For no reason other than the tile-work looks amazing, I’ve booked myself on a trip to Uzbekistan in May next year. [You sort of head towards Turkey then carry on a few countries to the right]


I mean, just LOOK at the decorations! That’s SERIOUS tiling. I want these Uzbeks to do my bathroom.2839316735d3646881992b80b987300c

Anyway, whenever I visit a new country, I always think it’s polite to learn at least a couple of words of their language. I managed Poland withĀ dzień dobry [Good Morning – no matter what time of day it was!] andĀ Dziękuję [Thankyou]. Mind, I did get them mixed up when trying to thank some border control people – with guns! – for reminding me I’d left my keys at the passport control. I politely said ‘good morning’ to them, wondered why their faces looked puzzled, then amended it to ‘thankyou’. Lots of laughter ensued, and thankfully no-one drew their gun.Ā 

OK, so, back to Uzbek. I had no idea what sort of language they speak there, or even if there IS an Uzbek language, so off to good old Wikipedia I trotted. It turns out Uzbek is a Turkic language and therefore of the agglutinative variety. Don’t panic, just concentrate on the -glu- bit in the middle. These languages can ‘glu’ loads of bits together to create humungously long words if they see fit. Whereas, in English, we would have to ask ‘How are you?’ using three different words to convey each part of the question, all the Uzbeks do is ask ‘Qandaysiz?’ Ā The first part, qanday, means ‘how’ to which they simply stick ‘siz’ – ‘you’ on the end. So, Howyou?

As I said, these languages can formulate seemingly endless words; The longest word in Turkish being, arguably,

MuvaffakiyetsizleştiricileştiriveremeyebileceklerimizdenmişsinizcesineĀ atĀ 70 letters. Yup. It meansĀ As if you would be from those we can not easily/quickly make a maker of unsuccessful ones Ā https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Longest_word_in_Turkish. MakesĀ schifffahrten [see my post Tongue-Twisters and Triple Letters] seem quite innocuous.

So, a 70 letter word? Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch in Wales has a mere 58. Pffffft.Ā TaumatawhakatangiĀ­hangakoauauotamateaĀ­turipukakapikimaungaĀ­horonukupokaiwhenĀ­uakitanatahu is the place with the longest name in an English-speaking country [New Zealand] at 85 characters, but these are place names. So, what’s the longest word in the world? Back to Wikipedia, and it seems there is a Sanskrit word, which I have copied and pasted needless to say, Ā which runs to 431 letters. AAAAAARGH. Even the children on The Big Spell would balk at that. So – here it is in all its glory –



Its meaning:- In it, the distress, caused by thirst, to travellers, was alleviated by clusters of rays of the bright eyes of the girls; the rays that were shaming the currents of light, sweet and cold water charged with the strong fragrance of cardamom, clove, saffron, camphor and musk and flowing out of the pitchers (held in) the lotus-like hands of maidens (seated in) the beautiful water-sheds, made of the thick roots of vetiver mixed with marjoram, (and built near) the foot, covered with heaps of couch-like soft sand, of the clusters of newly sprouting mango trees, which constantly darkened the intermediate space of the quarters, and which looked all the more charming on account of the trickling drops of the floral juice, which thus caused the delusion of a row of thick rainy clouds, densely filled with abundant nectar

from the Varadāmbikā Pariį¹‡aya CampÅ« by Tirumalāmbā,Ā the longest word ever to appear in worldwide literature [see Wikipedia][[yes, it’s Sunday evening and I feel lazy]]

-unless, of course, you know better?

I want to be Hevelled


Sitting on the bus the other day, for no reason at all I suddenly wondered to myself if there is some point wherein things aren’t deflated or inflated but just nicely ‘flated’? To my way of thinking [which few people seem to share, luckily] something deflated is rather sad and flat, whereby being inflated brings connotations of…well….Donald Trump and spacehoppers. [Yup the colour is very similar too!] Anyway, my mind wandered along happily to other words which don’t seem to have a positive or moderate form.

I have long been an advocate of the word gruntled – and it IS listed in the OED as a back-formation of its unhappier cousin. Gruntled is maybe the English version of the Danish Hygge – warm and settled by firelight with hot chocolate and a pizzaĀ or, well, whatever does it for you!

I dream of being kempt and hevelled . My usual ‘look’ is somewhere between Worzel Gummidge and an Old English Sheepdog. Actually, no, that wouldn’t be fair to those lovely Dulux dogs….they make shagginess into an art form, something I could never be accused of.

Kempt is, surprisingly, also in the OED – it relates mainly to beards and how nicely combed they are. I don’t have a beard, believe it or not, so maybe that’s why I never feel kempt? Hevelled, however, is not in the dictionary, but I reckon it’s a word we need desperately. Some women can get out of bed with not a hair out of place, then sit on a plane for hours and not have a crease in their clothes whereas I only have to breathe for all my clothes to go skew-whiff. Those people are definitely hevelled and, yes, I am jealous!


I Like Rise Pudding, or..Beware the Perils of Spell Check


I would just like to qualify that first part of the title; I do like rice pudding served a la peasant….cold and straight from the tin. I prefer my baked beans that way too, come to mention it. Maybe I have stumbled upon a whole new class of cuisine! For those who aren’t terminally offended by this revelation, read on….

In my last offering here I inadvertently mentioned Spell Check, that fiendish invention designed to lull people into a sense of false security. Yep, it’s very useful for instances where those of us with over-wide fingertips accidentally press the wrong key[s] and write a nonsense word; and it does also highlight the times where we have typed faster than our brains can cope and transposed letters by mistake. What it cannot do is tell you when you’ve written utter junk [if it did, this blog would be permanently underlined with a red squiggly line].

To see just how dumb Spell Check can be I decided to create a perfectly innocuous sentence with correct, but wrong, words. The one I came up with is in the picture…not one of the words is incorrectly spelt, but the only mistake that the squiggle noticed was ‘bee’. [OK, there is a green line where I inserted an extra space erroneously, but you get the point.] It did spot that there should not be a noun in that position and informed me that I must have meant the verb ‘be’, but apart from that it was perfectly happy with my literary creation.

Spell Check is great if you already know how to spell pretty well; it will highlight the words which we all struggle with [I can finally remember how to spellĀ necessary sinceĀ I read somewhere that it is neCeSSary for a shirt to have one Collar but two Sleeves. You may thank me on the back of fifty pound notes, ask for my address or bank details in the comments section]. What it cannot, usually, do is differentiate betweenĀ desert andĀ dessert,Ā discreetĀ andĀ discreteĀ  or, as became apparent to my surprise from the aforementioned experiment,Ā four andĀ for.Ā [I expected it to pick up on that….HA, just goes to show!]

One other problem I have found. As part of Starfish English Services’ services [for want of better phraseology] I do proofreading for students, many of whom do not have English as their first language. When writing for a UK university they need to write, generally speaking, using British English spellings, yet most computers seem to default to US English. They spell words such asĀ realize, color,Ā andĀ center and spell check happily allows them because it doesn’t know where in the world they are studying. Or, they spell these words in the UK styleĀ realise, colour andĀ centre and are greeted with a plethora of red squiggles, giving them the impression they have made a multitude of errors.

Dear reader [says me, coming over all Bronte-esque] please, please, please never think that Microsoft can replace a good knowledge of spelling. True, computer programs are getting better and cleverer all the time, but I think they will have a long way to go before they can understand why I do NOT like rise pudding four desert.