John Maidment's Blog
Monday 17 December, 2007
I have just been reading a copy of Scryfa, a
twice-yearly magazine of contemporary Cornish writing. It contains
essays, short stories and poems, mainly by native Cornish people, and
mainly on Cornish themes. In the issue I have (Volume 6, 2005,
published by Giss 'On Books, Callington, Cornwall), there is a comic
dialect poem entitled Bucca's Computer, written by Ben Batten from Newlyn.
Bucca (also called a Knocker), by the way, is the Cornish name for a
mischievous imp-like character found in mines, who is likely to pinch the
miners' tools and food and who makes knocking noises to scare the miners
into thinking a roof collapse is going to take place.
Anyhow, in the poem a character called Bucca gets a
computer, but takes offence at the red underlining that WORD inserts every
time he uses a Cornish dialect word. Here is a brief extract:
"I'll type in the expressions my dear old faather
And also my dear mawther." These are the words I choosed:
Dreckly, sheevo, wet leakin, fantod, skeet, flink and chaw,
Scat-off, coose and tifflins, scrovy, shegee and daw.
I thought, "these lovely local words do still belong
I'll add them to the word bank, so everyone can see
That no-one from out foreign in this progressive age
Can hope to spurn a-purpose our Cornish heritage."
Key (for those words I have been able to find):
fantod ridiculous notion
skeet a heavy fall of rain
flink to throw
chaw to chew
coose to chat
tifflins loose ends
shegee cuttle bone
Saturday 15 December, 2007
Howl, howl, howl, howl, howl
in the quiz in the colour supplement: Of what does
the Rorschach test comprise? One can only sigh and pass on.
in a supplement of magic tricks: Cutting a rope in
half only for it to magically become whole again is a trick which never
fails to disappoint. Er....hello?
A couple of my favourite verbal infelicities are due to
on a bottle of white Rioja: Excellent with chicken
or any sort of fishfood
on a compressed air can used for cleaning cameras,
made in Korea, if I remember right: Attach tube to nozzle for to
clean up at nook.
Finally, the other morning I happened glance at bottle
of bathroom cleaner. It bore the startling message: Best ever
cleaning power! Call me picky if you will, but I have always
thought that the prime reason for writing anything, or saying anything, is
to convey information. In order to do so, the message should
contrast with other messages which are more or less equally likely to
appear. Let us put this to the test:
Not quite as good as the cleaning power we had
About the same cleaning power as ever
Pretty good cleaning power, but not as good as
that in 1953
Absolutely awful cleaning power
No? I thought not. I rest my case.
The depressing thing is that people got paid for thinking about this
message. People got paid for making decisions about the font, the
colour, the placement on the bottle. Ink was wasted printing it.
I shall now go and lie in a darkened room for a while
and burble quietly to myself.
Friday 14 December, 2007
who made an appearance at Golowan in 2007
Today is the start of Montol in Penzance and it will
run until 22 December. Montol (or Mantol in Common Cornish) means
"balance" and is also used for the Winter Solstice Festival. The
festival has been revived this year, following the great success of the
Golowan Mid-summer Festival in Penzance over recent years.
Many of the old solstice traditions will be revived,
such as the appearance of Penglaz, the Winter Hobby Horse, the burning of
The Mock (Yule Log) and Geese (Guise) dancers and players, performing
traditional short folk plays such as St George and the Turkish Knight
and Duffy and the Devil. This is the first celebration of Montol
for over 100 years.
The Lord of Misrule and other Geesers
Thursday 13 December, 2007
I do not believe it, and neither will you
One of things I did today was proofread a few pages on
Distributed Proofreaders (see blog for 5/12). The text was from the
Warren Commission report on the assassination of JFK.
You may remember that on Sunday 24 November 1963 Lee
Harvey Oswald was shot to death by Jack Ruby in the basement of the Dallas
Police Department in Dallas City Hall. The pages I proofread were
from the deposition of Captain Talbert, who was the Squad Duty Officer in
the department that morning.
Apparently, sometime during the night the officer in
charge of the preceding watch had received an urgent message from both a
representative of the FBI and someone in the Sheriff's office in Dallas.
They were both insistent that Oswald should be transferred to the county
jail as soon as possible. The FBI man had received two separate
telephone calls during the night from a man with a "perfectly calm and
matter of fact voice". This man said: "We are a hundred and Oswald
will die before he is transferred to the jail."
The night duty officer attempted to call the Chief of
Police, but there was a problem with the telephone system. When he
handed over to Talbert, nothing had been done to plan for the transfer of
Oswald, which had not even been considered until then. Moreover,
since it was a Sunday and, in Talbert's words, "police activity was low on
Sundays", the number of officers on duty was very small.
Think about that. They were holding the only
suspect in the murder of the President of the USA. Rumours of
communist plots and Russian attacks were rife. But the Dallas Police
Department did not consider it necessary to deviate from their normal
Finally, at about 7:30am, Talbert gave up trying to
establish telephone contact with the Chief, the only person who could give
permission for Oswald to be transferred, and sent a squad car to his home.
The Chief responded that he would be in the department between 8:00 and
9:00pm. So the transfer of Oswald was organised very hurriedly, at
the last moment, and with very few policemen available to secure the
building from intruders -- even though the events that prompted the
transfer were specific threats on Oswald's life.
We all know the outcome and I think we should all be
mightily depressed at the chaotic behaviour of those who supposedly are
professionally responsible for "security". It makes you think about
more recent events, doesn't it?
Wednesday 12 December, 2007
Man with heavy umbrella ahead
Signs of the times
On a recent trip to a store, I came across a door
between two sections. On the door was the following sign:
Customers are advised
that they should push the
button in order to open
these automatic doors
This sign conforms to the Loquacity Law.
Always use five words when one word will do. First, "customers".
So no-one else should push the button, huh? "Are advised"...do we
have to take the advice? "The button"...which button? There
was no button anywhere near the sign. "In order to"...why not just
"to"? "These"...er where are there any other doors?
"Automatic"....er....if you have to push the button then the doors ARE NOT
AUTOMATIC, ARE THEY? Hello?
Glad I got that off my chest.
The next sign is just strange, strange, strange.
In a pet shop: RAT STARTER KIT. I wonder how one starts a rat.
Maybe when you open the box it contains a female and male rat and a CD of
Finally, on the door of a locked public toilet:
These toilets are closed from November 1 until
In case of emergency, please call.....
Tuesday 11 December, 2007
The main street in Penzance is Market Jew Street, but
this has nothing to do with Jews at all. It is simply the road that
leads to Marazion, whose old name, Market Jew, is based on a
mistranslation of the Cornish marghas yow, meaning "Thursday
market". Leading off Market Jew Street is a now pedestrianised way
called Causewayhead. This name has always puzzled me, as I associate
causeways with water and Causewayhead is quite a distance from the sea.
However, the dictionary tells me that a causeway can simply mean a
paved or cobbled road. It seems likely then that the name
Causewayhead is a translation from the Cornish pen kauns,
meaning the end of the paved roads of the town, which then gave way to the
mud of the countryroads.
My favourite street name in St Ives is Salubrious
Terrace and Truro has the wonderfully named Squeeze Guts Alley (it is
pretty narrow). Also in Truro there are quite a few opes.
This word is not in Chambers 10th edition, and I am not sure how local it
is. I presume it is related to open, but am prepared to be
corrected on that. The opes of Truro are all covered passageways
between two buildings. There is also an ope in Penzance, called
Harvey's Ope. I haven't yet seen a large white rabbit there.
Monday 10 December, 2007
The most enigmatic antiquity in the Penwith area is MÍn-an-Tol
("stone of the hole"). This is only a few hundred yards from MÍn
Scryfa and maybe half a mile from Boskednan stone circle: see blogs 12
November and 18 November. It is known that there were once four
upright stones in the group, though one is now fallen (not visible in the
picture).. Also the arrangement seen today, with the two uprights
and the holed stone in a straight line, is not the original one. At
one time, the two uprights with the third fallen one formed a triangle
with the holed stone in the centre.
Although there is no lack
of theories about what MÍn-an-Tol is, there is no consensus. Nothing
like it is known elsewhere.
The hole in the centre of
the stone is just about big enough for a grown man to crawl through and
thousands upon thousands must have done just that. However, I bet
most of them didn't do it nine times widdershins. If they had, it
would have cured them of rickets or scrofula. That's good to know,
Sunday 9 December, 2007
A storm in Penzance in 2004
Pity the poor commuter
The wild weather continues here. 80mph gusts have
been recorded on the Isles of Scilly. Part of the roof of Penzance
station has been blown off and dumped on the tracks. The line from
Penzance to Plymouth is subject to a 50mph speed limit in case of debris
on the line.
My sympathies are with those who have to try to get up
to London. It looks as though they will have a tedious journey.
Quite few people do a weekly commute from here to London and other parts
of the South East. I did this for nearly two years. In the
summer in good weather it can be very pleasant as the line passes some
wonderful scenery. However, on a wet, windy night in winter it is
anything but pleasant.
Saturday 8 December, 2007
Tre, Chy and Bos
By Tre, Pol and Pen
Ye shall know the Cornishmen.
Pol ("pool") and Pen ("head, headland, end") cause no
problems, but Tre is a bit tricky. John Wells writes, referring to
my blog entry of 6 December:
Tre an Gwaynten ("house of springtime")
- but is this correct? In Welsh at any rate tre = town, while house =tŷ,
which ought to give Cornish chy, as in Chynoweth = tŷ newydd =Newhouse,
Chegwin = tŷ gwyn = Whitehouse..
Wellllll....yeeeees. In Cornwall what TRE seems
to mean most of the time is "farmhouse" as opposed to cottage or any other
sort of dwelling. There are many, many houses in this area called
Hendre or Hendra (from Hen + Tre) which means "old (farm)house". TRE
also turns up as just initial TR as in Trink (from Tre + Frynk
="Frenchman"). Given the fact that towns were pretty uncommon when
most of these places were named, to translate TRE as "town" seems to me to
be anachronistic. However, I guess it depends exactly what you mean
by a "town". In future, I shall avoid the problem by not
translating TRE at all, so Trengwainton means "The Springtime Tre".
John is quite right about CHY. This is the usual
word for "house". It also turns up in the forms: -dy -gy -jy -sy
-ty at the ends of compound words, so for instance, lety derives from legh
("milk") + ty and means, naturally enough, "dairy". This is the
origin of the surname Laity.
BOS means "dwelling, home" and in place-names is often
followed by a personal name. This is not true of CHY, which rarely
is. BOS can turn up as bod-, boj-, and bus-.
Friday 7 December, 2007
A totally irrelevant picture
Trivia for a winter's day
It's another day to batten down the hatches here.
So here are a couple of trivia I suddenly thought of. Please don't
ask me why.
The first is just a puzzle. It involves
palindromic numbers. Take any integer of two or more digits.
Reverse the order of the digits and add the result to the original number.
If the sum is a palindrome, stop. If not, repeat...reverse, add, and
so on. Eventually, you will arrive at a palindrome, usually in very
few iterations. Here are a couple of examples:
346 + 643 = 989
984 + 489 = 1473 + 3741 = 5214 + 4125 = 9339
All very interesting.....? However, there appears to be
one number that never produces a palindrome by this procedure, and this
number is, would you believe, 196. I've just tried 10 iterations and
still no palindrome. Actually, of course there is a whole series of
numbers which do not produce palindromes, but 196 is the lowest.
What is so special about 196? Search me.
I can no longer remember where or when I first heard of
this, but I do remember reading that the oddity of 196 was discovered
almost simultaneously (but independently) by a mathematician in the USA
and also one in the USSR. Curiouser and curiouser.
The second piece of trivia needs to be accompanied by a
warning. It could drive you mad. It is called the four fours
game. The object is to represent all the integers from 0 to 100
using expressions involving four occurrences (no more and no less) of the
digit 4 and no other digits. Any valid mathematical symbols other
than digits are allowed.
Here are a couple of examples (most numbers can be
expressed in more than one way incidentally)
2 = (4/4) + (4/4)
4 = (4/4)*(√4 + √4)
Get it? Watch out though. 4n is
illegal, unless of course n=4. Good luck, especially with the number
Thursday 6 December, 2007
Trengwainton in spring
Today's weather is foul. The wind is howling and the
rain lashing down. It is a day to make me wonder why I didn't retire
to somewhere like Jamaica. Just kidding. Anyway, I thought an
entry reminding myself of balmier days would be a good idea.
Trengwainton, the name comes from the Cornish Tre an
Gwaynten ("house of springtime"), is a property in the parish of
Madron on the edge of Penzance. It is only about 20 minutes walk
from where I live. The gardens are administered by the National
Trust, but the house is not open to the public. It has belonged to the
Bolitho family since 1857, but there has been a house on the site since
the 16th century. The present layout of the garden was started in
Apart from a beautiful woodland garden, full of
hydrangeas, camellias, rhododenrons and tree ferns, there is a wonderful
series of small walled gardens, all interconnected. Each has a small
lawn surrounded by borders containing tender shrubs and specimens
collected on an expedition to the Himalayas in 1927, which was partly
funded by the Bolithos.
Enough words. Here are a couple more pictures
taken at Trengwainton to cheer me up:
Another good thing about Trengwainton is that it has an
Wednesday 5 December, 2007
Project Gutenberg is a library of
about 17000 electronic texts of world literature. The texts are of
works out of copyright and are freely downloadable. I have known about
this for a number of years, but only recently came across a related site.
This is Distributed Proofreaders. Volunteers are
asked to compare scans of texts with OCR versions and correct the latter.
A text goes through several rounds of editing before being submitted for
inclusion in Project Gutenberg.
I've tried it and found it great fun. You can do
as much as you like, when you like, and it's in a good cause, I think.
I've learnt a couple of new words in the process. One is scanno
-- for a scanning error. The other is cacique (a West Indian
or Native American chief). I happened to start by trying my hand at
proofreading a few pages of Adventures Among the Red Indians by H.
W. G. Hyrst. Fascinating stuff!
By the way, what a beard!
Tuesday 4 December, 2007
Lancelot Hogben, FRS
Following on from yesterday's entry, I thought of those
who have messed around with language, not principally from a desire to
produce stylistic effects, but rather for pure fun, or just as a
Lancelot Hogben (1895-1975) was a man of many
achievements. He was a zoologist and geneticist. He was a
pacifist and conscientious objector during the First World War. He held
academic posts in the UK, Canada and South Africa. The latter he
disliked because of its racial policies. He became Professor of Social
Biology in the University of London in 1930 and during WWII he was in
charge of medical statistics records for the British army.
Hogben published popular science books such as
Mathematics for the Millions and Science for the Citizen.
He developed an interest in language and edited The Loom of Language,
written by his friend Frederick Bodmer. He also invented an
(unsuccessful) international language called Interglossa.
In 1967 Hogben published Whales for the
Welsh- A Tale of War and Peace with Notes for those who Teach or
Preach. This is a 97 page novel whose most surprising quality is that
it is written entirely in words of one syllable.
Another of his qualities is that he had such
a wonderful name.
Ella Minnow Pea, a novel by Mark Dunn
(San Francisco: MacAdam/Cage, 2001), has the subtitle: a progressively
lipogrammatic epistolary fable. It is a tale told in letters and notes
from and to the eponymous Ella. However, for reasons which are fully
explained in the text, the correspondents are forced to abandon letters of
the alphabet one by one. First Z is outlawed. Then Q.
And so on. The results are hilarious. However, the novel
carries a serious message about repression by lunatic authorities and
about the dangers of religious zeal and irrationality.
Monday 3 December, 2007
My Hero(in)es: Damon Runyon
Partly inspired by
recent blog about the Book of Dave (30/11), I got to thinking about
writers who re-invent English for their own purposes. One such is
Damon Runyon (1884-1946). Runyon was a journalist and sportswriter
who published a collection of short stories called Guys and Dolls
in 1932. It is one of these stories - The Idylls of Miss Sarah
Brown -- that forms the basis of the Broadway musical Guys and
Dolls. Other collections of stories of the same type followed
and at one time Runyon was one of the most famous writers in America.
What is different about Runyon's writing in these
stories is that he mixes high-flown, stylised utterances with New York
slang of the time, he never uses contractions, even in dialogue, and in
all the Broadway stories there is only one past tense form of a verb, and
this is reckoned to be a misprint. To give you a flavour of Runyon's
style, here is a short extract from the story Earthquake:
Now about this time the bench seems to move from
under me, and I find myself sitting on the ground, and the ground also
seems to be trying to get from under me, and I hear loud crashing noises
here and there, and a great roaring, and at first I think maybe
Earthquake takes to shaking things up, when I see him laid out on the
ground about fifty feet from me.
I get to my pins, but the ground is still wabbling
somewhat and I can scarcely walk over to Earthquake, who is now sitting
up very indignant, and when he sees me he says to me like this:
"Personally," he says, "I consider it a very dirty
trick for you to boff me again when I am not looking."
Runyon's stories are sometimes funny, sometimes rib-hurtingly
so, sometimes dark and horrific, sometimes quite sentimental, but they are
Anyone who can write a sentence like (or something
like. I can't locate the story at the moment):
Nicely-Nicely Jones is a guy who seriously loves
to commit eating.
just has to be a star.
Sunday 2 December, 2007
aka New Zealand Spinach
In The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas there
is an episode where D'Artagnan finds a gloomy, love-lorn Aramis in an inn.
He is about to go back into holy orders after being rejected by his lady
love. Aramis says that, as it is Friday, all he can offer D'Artagnan
in the way of food is fruit and an omelette of 'tetragon'. This is
ordered and just as it arrives D'Artagnan hands over the letter he has
brought for Aramis. Oh joy! The lady loves him after all.
"Away with that horrible vegetable", cries Aramis. "We'll have a
hare, a capon and a leg of mutton with garlic and four bottles of
A charming little scene, though I would have kept the
spinach omelette, left out all that meat and cut down (slightly) on the
quantity of Burgundy. However, there is one tiny problem with the story.
Tetragonia Expansa was unknown in Europe until 1771, more than a
hundred years after the exploits of D'Artagnan and his pals. Oops!
Source: Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book
(London: Penguin Books, 1980). A great book with many interesting
anecdotes and delicious recipes.
Saturday 1 December, 2007
/aɪ seɪ | aɪ seɪ/
A slightly phoneticky entry today.
Differences in pronunciation can sometimes produce comic or bizarre
effects. If you have ever studied English intonation, or thought
about it much, you will probably have discovered this for yourself.
Here are some sentences, which with some intonations are perfectly normal,
but there is at least one intonational treatment for each which produces
odd results. I give them in lower case and without punctuation, so as not
to prejudice you.
what is this thing called love
it's all over my friend
what's that in the road ahead
what's for dinner mother
Another one which only really works if you
see the relevant utterance in transcription (or hear it, of course) is a
Q: Do you take sugar in your coffee?
A: /aɪ dəʊnt nəʊ/
It isn't only intonation which can produce comedy.
Here is an original (I think) offering of mine, which relies on /t/
"I've lost patience with it," said the surgeon,
referring to his blunt scalpel.
Acknowledgements: 1 was told to me by Michael Ashby, 2
Barry Cryer, heard on the radio programme "I'm sorry. I haven't a
clue." 3 & 4 were from Doc O'Connor and the coffee conversation, which
actually took place, was from Olive Tooley.