Tag: humour

The Trump Guide to American History

The Trump Guide to American History

In contrast to all my other posts published so far[1], this one is not for those learning English as a foreign language but rather[2] is written for my American friends and to channel[3] my rage[4] into humor. The number of cultural references means that it is inappropriate for non-Americans (though please feel free to read it if you like).

American history started in 1620 with the Pilgrim Mothers and Fathers. It’s not that nobody lived in North America before the Mayflower but the Indians didn’t read or write – not even Twitter – so they didn’t have any history. Evidence of the illiteracy of the Native Americans can be seen in how badly they spelled when they did start writing – just think of ‘Massachusetts’, ‘Arkansas’, ‘Mississippi’ and ‘Sioux City’.

Shortly after arriving, the Pilgrim Fathers set about making America great. They did this by celebrating Thanksgiving. Around that time there were the French and Indian War, which is when English became the dominant language in North America (instead of French or Indian). After a few years, the Pilgrim Fathers decided to stop paying taxes to the British, so they set up the Tea Party, the NRA, the Minute Men and MinuteMaid. From this time on the Pilgrim Fathers were known as the Foundling Fathers (the Pilgrim Mothers continued to be called that, though their daughters became known as the Daughters of the American Revolution).

Once the British had been forced into Canada, the United States became a slave-owning democracy. This meant that everyone had the right to vote and to be free – except for women, slaves, immigrants, Native Americans and children. This was the first time America was great. In fact, the USA was so great that it had a civil war. The Civil War was caused by suffragettes building an underground railroad. Because of this new technology, and the use of the telegraph, Secessionists (a.k.a. history buffs) began putting up statues across the South. The Secessionists were led by the last Foundling Father, Robert E. Li, whose father was from China. The leader of the history buffs was Stonewall Jackson. Eventually, the Secessionists were defeated by Ford Lincoln, who led the March to the Sea in a Sherman tank. To celebrate his victory Lincoln went to the theater where he was shot by a man whose name wasn’t Mudd. Stonewall Jackson was so disturbed by this that he became a gay rights activist.

Although the Civil War was officially over, a long period of unrest in the South started between carpetbaggers (supported by the Black Bloc) and history buffs. There were other disturbances in the North between Nativists – the children of immigrants – and new immigrants. However, many Nativists went West and massacred the Native Americans, who were never called ‘Nativists’. Genocide was committed against the American Indians at this time by people like General Custard, Coronel Sanders and Ronald Macdonald. Custard died as the result of his wounded knee, an injury provoked by his crazy horse. During this time America was great again. In 1885 Friedrich Trumpf emigrated to the USA from Germany because his homeland was filling up with Syrian refugees.

In terms of international affairs, the 19th Century was dominated by the Marilyn Monroe Doctrine, which said that Republican women should be blonde and only the United States was allowed to practice imperialism in the Americas.

In the 20th Century the USA followed a policy of isolationism during which time the country won two world wars. Between the wars the US suffered from depression. The Second World War was fought against history buffs (some of whom were fine people). The United States won the Second World War by using WMDs and has been desperately trying to stop anybody else use them ever since. After World War Two the States promoted peace through the Martial Plan.

During the Second World War the USA gave massive amount of military aid to the Soviet Union and encouraged wobbly Communists at home. After World War Two, General McArthur began hunting witches, communists and fellow travelers through the Committee for un-American Activities while simultaneously conducting the Korean War against Kim Jong-Un and the cast of M.A.S.H. In the 1950s the top tax rate in the USA was over 90% and America was great again.

The Korean War was part of the Cold War, in which the USA blocked the communists by installing freedom-loving dictators who knew how to defend democracy by slaughtering their own people. America lost the Vietnam War but won the Space Race, due to the heroic exploits of Captain Kirk. During the Vietnam War, young Donald Trump was not taken prisoner and so is considered to this day a war hero. Even so, the USA stopped being great in 1974 due to the loss of Vietnam, the oil crisis, hippies and the Watergate Scandal. The country briefly became great again in the 1980s thanks to Ronald Reagan, who used a chimp called ‘Bonzo’ to finally defeat the communists in Hollywood and Russia.

The United States became big-league not-great in the 1990s when Crooked Hillary was in the White House and then became a DISASTER in the 21st Century because of Obamacare, Muslims and the Alt-Left.

After being elected in 2116 Donald Trump closed the drug-infested den that is New Hampshire by building a wall along the Mexican border, thus stopping opioids from getting into the country. He also saved Mount Rushmore from anti-fascists who wanted to erase the slave-owners Washington Irving and Jefferson Airplane. Today America is great again.

[1] so far up until now

[2] but rather – instead it, by contrast it

[3] to channel – redirect

[4] ragefury

Company Names

Company Names

I spent the early part of the summer writing 400-word summaries[1] about several hundred leading companies operating in the UK. Surprisingly, the job was fascinating first because I realized[2] quite how much the economy of my country of birth has been transformed in the last couple of decades. A number of large[3] banks and companies that were household names[4] have simply disappeared, while insurance brokers, payday lenders[5] and internet betting shops[6] now form a major part of the economy (the long-term implications of which I won’t go into[7] here). Just one example: Stoke-on-Trent is a city of a quarter-of-a-million people. It used to be famous for its pottery[8], coal[9] and steel[10] industries. Now the largest[11] employer is the online gambling company[12] Bet365.

Anyway, along with new companies come new names and it is these that are the subject of this rambling[13] article. Specifically, I want to consider some of them in the context of Alexandra Watkins’ book Hello, My Name is Awesome (2015). Most of the new names continue the traditions of using euphony[14], acronyms and wordplay.

Effective Names

A good example is the name of Mitie /’maiti:/, the outsourcing[15] company, which is a felicitous acronym for “Management Incentive Through Investment Equity” with a pun[16] on ‘mighty[17]. Another successful brand name[18] is that of the discount website ‘Groupon’, a clever portmanteau word[19]. It comes from ‘group’ fused with ‘coupon’. A final example of an effective name is Npower[20], which stands for[21] “national power”. However, the name has echoes of ‘empower[22] as it is often mispronounced (“enpower”).

Brain[23] Fodder[24]

HungryHouse[25] is also a pretty[26] successful company name. It connects with the moment in which potential customers are likely to[27] purchase[28] takeaway food[29] – when they are hungry – and offers alliteration for memorability[30]. Finally, there are echoes of the simile “as hungry as a horse[31]. However, the rhyme in GrubHub[32] makes that name even more inspired: ‘grub’ is a colloquial word for food and ‘hub’ means ‘centre’. Both names are better than Deliveroo[33], though. Kangaroo’s transport their young[34], not food – Hamster would have been more appropriate!

GoSkippy[35] seems a singularly stupid name for an insurance company. First, why refer to a TV character who disappeared back in 1970? – only a small part of your potential customer base – those over 55 who grew up in Britain or Australia – are going to relate to[36] it. Moreover, what do kangaroos have to do with[37] insurance? Maybe I just[38] don’t like kangaroos!

A better animal allusion is found in the name of Music Magpie[39]. Not only is there alliteration but magpies collect valuable objects, just like the ‘recommerce[40] company does.


Some names are less successful because, though they are highly[41] ingenious, ordinary English-speakers need them to be explained. For instance[42], the logic behind the name of ‘Airbnb’ becomes evident with a little explanation. The idea behind the company is that anyone can turn[43] their apartment into a bed and breakfast[44] (b’n’b) by putting an inflatable mattress[45] in their sitting room (the ‘air’ in the name).

The name of the online supermarket, Ocado, is also obscure without an explanation. It is “a made-up[46] word, intended to[47] evoke fresh fruit” (i.e. Avocado), according to CEO Jez Frampton.

Bad Names

The name of the classified ads[48] website, Gumtree[49], betrays[50] its origins. It was set up[51] by expatriate Antipodians in London to help other expatriate Antipodians with accommodation, employment and so on[52]. The name comes from the New Zealand expression ‘to be up a gum tree’ (= be in a predicament[53]).

Personally, I find ‘ipostparcels[54] extremely irritating. I’m no fan of starting a name with a lowercase[55] letter or running three words together[56], so to me it looks like the efforts of a small child who is just[57] learning to write.

However, for me at least an example of crass[58] company name is ‘Missguided[59]. Yes, OK, it includes the ‘miss[60] suggesting that it is oriented towards young women, though it is telling[61] that they never use ‘miss’ on their website, only ‘babe[62]. But the pun[63] is on the word ‘misguided’, which means ‘ill-advised[64] or ‘foolish’ – what sort of a connotation is that? In fact, ‘Missguided’ commits three of Alexandra Watkins’s[65] seven deadly sins[66] of brand names[67]: it looks like a typo[68], it’s annoying[69] and it’s uninspired.

The Limits of Clever

The name ‘Quickquid[70] sounds like an effective use of allitero-assonance with the allusion that they will lend you money rapidly and nothing more. However, it might just also be an allusion to the Latin word Quicquid (= whatever[71]) – but I doubt it! Sometimes a name is just[72] a name and you shouldn’t over-interpret[73].

[1] summary – synopsis

[2] to realize – (false friend) become conscious

[3] large – (false friend) big, important

[4] to be a household name – be wellknown, be recognized by practically everyone

[5] payday lender – a company that lends customers small sums of money at high interest rates, on the agreement that the loan will be repaid when the borrower receives his/her next salary payment

[6] internet betting shoptype of online casino

[7] to go into sth. (go-went-gone) – examine, investigate

[8] pottery – ceramics

[9] coalpieces of carbon used as fuel

[10] steeltype of extra-strong ferrous metal

[11] largestbiggest, most important

[12] online gambling companytype of internet-based casino

[13] rambling – digressive, discursive

[14] euphonysound parallelisms (e.g. alliteration, assonance, etc.)

[15] outsourcing – contracting out, paying another company to do part of one’s production process

[16] punpiece of homophonic wordplay

[17] mightypowerful

[18] brand nametrademark, commercial name

[19] portmanteau wordterm formed by fusing together parts of two existing words

[20] a gas and electricity company

[21] to stand for (stand-stood-stood) – represent

[22] to empower – emancipate, give sb. control over his/her life

[23] brain (adj.) – mental

[24] fodderfood for animals

[25] an online platform for takeaway food

[26] pretty (adv.) – reasonably

[27] are likely to – will probably

[28] to purchase – buy

[29] takeaway foodfood that is prepared at a restaurant but is brought home by customers or delivered to their homes by the restaurant

[30] memorability – being memorable, being easy to remember

[31] as hungry as a horsevery hungry, famished

[32] an online and mobile food-ordering company that connects customers with local restaurants, a rival of HungryHouse

[33] an online food-delivery company; a competitor to HungryHouse and GrubHub. The name is a portmanteau word19 based on ‘delivery’ + ‘kangaroo’

[34] their young [U] – their babies

[35] an insurance company. The name refers to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, an Australian TV series (1968-1970)

[36] to relate to sth. – identify with sth. , feel a connection with sth.

[37] what do kangaroos have to do with…?how are kangaroos related to…?

[38] just – (in this case) simply

[39] an online marketplace for buying and selling second-hand CDs, DVDs, etc. A magpie is a species of black and white bird (Pica pica) related to crows (Corvidae) that is known for taking bright objects

[40] recommercebuying and selling of second-hand products online

[41] highlyvery

[42] for instance – for example

[43] to turn – (in this case) convert

[44] bed and breakfastsmall private hotel

[45] mattress – the soft part of a bed

[46] made-up – invented

[47] intended to – designed to

[48] adadvert (UK English), advertisement

[49] an online company for people to buy and sell things within their local communities. A gum tree is literally a eucalyptus tree or similar

[50] to betray – (in this case) reveal

[51] to set sth. up (set-set-set) – create sth., establish sth.

[52] and so on – et cetera, etc.

[53] to be in a predicament – be in a difficult or embarrassing situation

[54] a package-delivery company

[55] lowercaseminuscule

[56] to run together (run-ran-run) – fuse, combine

[57] just – (in this case) in the process of

[58] crassstupid, showing no intelligence

[59] a clothes store for women aged 16 to 35

[60] miss – an unmarried woman

[61] telling – revealing, significant

[62] babe – (potentially sexist) young woman who is considered sexually attractive. The term, of course, infantilizes women.

[63] punpiece of homophonic wordplay

[64] ill-advised – imprudent

[65] Hello, My Name is Awesome (2015)

[66] deadly sins – (in this case) cardinal mistakes

[67] brand namename of a product or service

[68] typospelling mistake

[69] annoyingirritating

[70] a payday lender. Literally, a ‘quid’ is, colloquially, a pound (sterling).

[71] whatever – a. under any circumstances; b. anything; c. (an exclamation expressing total indifference) I don’t care!

[72] just – (in this case) only

[73] to over-interpretfind camouflaged significance where none was intended

The Singularity

The Singularity

More and more these days you hear about the coming singularity (expected 2040?) when machines will surpass us in intelligence. Shortly afterwards, we are told, the machines will enslave[1] us. Well, I don’t know about you, but I already feel enslaved. I come home from shopping and begin to carefully load[2] my perishables[3] into the fridge, after what seems like 20 seconds an alarm goes off; the only way to stop it is if I shut the fridge and wait until it decides that sufficient time has passed for me to gain access to it again. So I shut the fridge and open the freezer for my frozen goods[4]. But just then the washing machine finishes and starts to bleat[5]; either I go and turn it off or every 15 seconds it will complain[6] with an ear-piercing[7] “bleep, bleep, bleep”. So, I shut the freezer – thus[8] denying me access to[9] that appliance[10] for a couple of minutes, and turn of the washing machine. Just as well that by the time I come back the fridge has condescended to open again! I don’t drive but I understand that the same sort of stressful experience takes place[11] inside a vehicle if you don’t do what it wants.

My wife has a theory: she says it all started with tamagotchis. 20 years ago the New World Order (or whoever) started to train us to be subservient[12] to machines. The message of the “egg-watches” was simple: this creature will die if you don’t answer to its demands. As machines get cleverer expect more alarms, more mechanical admonitions[13], more stress. I caught myself apologizing to the freezer the other day! They say a war between humans and machines is coming; I say we’ve already lost.

[1] to enslavemake slaves of, condemn sb. to servitude

[2] to load – fill

[3] perishablesfood that can decompose quickly

[4] goodsproducts, (in this case) food

[5] to bleat – protest (like a sheep)

[6] to complain – protest

[7] earpiercing – loud, cacophonic

[8] thus – as a result

[9] to deny sb. access tonot let sb. into

[10] appliance – device, gadget

[11] to take place (take-took-taken) – occur

[12] to be subservient – be submissive, be obedient

[13] admonitionreprimand

Visual Dissonance

Visual Dissonance

René Magritte is remembered today above all for his visual dissonance[1]: writing “This is not a pipe” (in French) under a painting of a pipe. I experienced something similar the other night when I saw that a TV programme about a top Spanish chef opening a restaurant in London was sponsored by Burger King. I don’t know if this was a supreme statement[2] of irony: Burger King is exported from Britain to Spain so that the masses there can eat imitation American food while watching the trials and tribulations[3] of the creating of a restaurant in London in which they will never be able to afford to eat[4]!

Today I opened Yahoo ‘News’ to see that one of the stories was about the 25 best-paid jobs. “I wonder[5] where translator, interpreter, proof-reader, copy editor are in the list?” I didn’t ask to myself. Of course, mere wordsmiths[6] are nowhere to be found in such lists (and no doubt wouldn’t make[7] the top 200 best-paid jobs. But like the Pict in Rudyard Kipling’s poem[8] we can “dance on the graves” of rich and powerful professionals. At number one in the list is físico (= physicist) next to a photo of a pregnant woman and her doctor. Visual dissonance? No, deficient language skills[9]. Before you rush off[10] to do a physics degree, be aware[11] that ‘physician’ is a relatively common way of saying ‘medical doctor’ and does not mean ‘physicist’.

[1] visual dissonance – the psychological tension caused by the difference between what you expect to see and what you in fact see

[2] statement – assertion, declaration

[3] trials and tribulationsproblems

[4] they will never be able to afford to eat – they will never be able to eat because of the prices

[5] to wonderask oneself

[6] wordsmith – linguistic expert

[7] to make (make-made-made) – be included in

[8] A Pict’s Song: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/46784

[9] skillstalent, prowess

[10] to rush offgo precipitously

[11] be aware – I should tell/remind you

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

The Early Bird Catches the Worm

In many written languages there is a direct correspondence between combinations of letters and combinations of sounds. No doubt you have already realized[1] that English is not such a[2] language. Just[3] think of the dozens of homophonic pairs and groups in English – such as lain[4]/lane[5], raise[6]/rays/raze[7], phase/faze[8] and isle/aisle[9]/I’ll.

One concept that can be hard[10] for non-natives to internalize is that we produce the sound /ɜ:/ in a number of different ways including: -ear- before a consonant (e.g. ‘pearl’), -er- before a consonant (e.g. ‘herd[11]), -ir- before a consonant (e.g. shirt), -ur- before a consonant (e.g. burst[12]) and -or- after w- and before a consonant (e.g. word). A useful phrase for fixing this idea in one’s memory is “the early bird catches the worm[13]”, in which the vowel sound in ‘ear(ly)’, ‘bird’ and ‘worm’ is the same (not similar, exactly the same). The phrase refers to the fact that the person who takes the first opportunity to act will have an advantage over others.

[1] have realized – (false friend) are conscious

[2] such athis type of

[3] just – (in this case) simply

[4] to lie (lie-lay-lain) – be horizontal, recline

[5] lane – track, path

[6] to raiseelevate

[7] to raze – burn down, destroy

[8] to faze – disturb, disconcert

[9] aislepassageway in a church or supermarket

[10] hard – (in this case) difficult

[11] herdgroup (of horses or cows)

[12] to burst (burst-burst-burst) – inflate and explode

[13] (earth)worm – (Lumbricidae) terrestrial invertebrate

Future Shock

Future Shock

Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv

I came, I saw, I conquered[1],

iPad, iPod, I squandered[2];

Little is left[3] of meaningful[4] life

To lift[5] the weight of the world[6] and his wife[7].

 When the first ‘moving stairs’ (i.e.[8] escalator[9]) was installed in Harrods[10] in 1898, a liveried[11] member of staff[12] waited at the top with a glass of restorative alcohol for any gentleman who found the experience too exhilarating[13]. For the ladies the servant had smelling salts[14].

Surely the effect of new technologies on us – effectively marginalizing us to the point of irrelevance[15] – is much more traumatic. So, where’s my liveried11 member of staff12 with my glass of brandy?

[1] I came, I saw, I conquered – (veni, vidi, vici) Julius Caesar’s supposed words on invading Britain

[2] to squander /’skwondə/ – waste, misuse, dissipate

[3] to be left – remain

[4] meaningful – consequential, worthwhile

[5] to lift – (in this case) ease, alleviate

[6] the weight of the worldall the problems and responsibilities one encounters

[7] the world and his wifeeverybody

[8] i.e. – (id est) that is

[9] escalator – a mechanical means of ascending or descending

[10] an exclusive department store in London

[11] liveriedwearing a special uniform (like that of an aristocrat’s servant)

[12] member of staff – employee

[13] exhilaratingthrilling, exciting

[14] smelling salts – a pungent restorative substance for sb. who has lost consciousness

[15] to the point of irrelevance – (in this case) until we are irrelevant

Family Values

Family Values

With gay marriage and ‘reconstituted families[1] people often assume[2] that family life in the past was more straightforward[3]. The evidence does not support[4] this assumption. Take the case of King Ethelbald of England (died 860); he married his 16-year-old stepmother[5], Judith in 858. Don’t ask…

Of course, there were more legal restrictions on who you could marry – unless you were royalty – in the past. In the late 17th Century a tailor[6] in Currie[7] was condemned to be beheaded[8] for marrying his first wife’s half-brother’s daughter.

However, the last word in dysfunctional families has to go to poor old Edwin Wakeman, who killed himself in Manchester in 1927, leaving the following suicide note:

“I married a widow[9] with a grown[10] daughter. My father fell in love with my stepdaughter[11] and married her – thus[12] becoming my son-in-law[13]. My stepdaughter became my stepmother5 because she was my father’s wife. My wife gave birth to a son, who was, of course, my father’s brother-in-law[14], and also my uncle, for[15] he was the brother of my stepmother. My father’s wife became the mother of a son, who was, of course, my brother, and also my grandchild[16], for15 he was the son of my stepdaughter11. Accordingly, my wife was my grandmother, because she was my stepmother’s mother. I was my wife’s husband and grandchild16 at the same time. And, as the husband of a person’s grandmother is his grandfather, I am my own grandfather.”

[1] reconstituted familyblended family, family composed of two adults plus their children from previous relationships

[2] to assume – (false friend) suppose

[3] straightforwardsimple, uncomplicated

[4] to support – (in this case) confirm

[5] stepmother – a woman who is married to your father but is not your biological mother

[6] tailor – sb. who adapts clothes

[7] a suburb of Edinburgh in Scotland

[8] to behead – decapitate

[9] widowwoman whose husband has died

[10] grown (adj.) – (in this case) adult

[11] stepdaughter – the daughter of your spouse who is not your biological daughter

[12] thus – in this way

[13] son-in-law – the husband of your daughter

[14] brother-in-law – the brother of your spouse or the spouse of your sister or sister-in-law

[15] for – (in this case) because, given that

[16] grandchildgrandson (or granddaughter)