Praise the Lord!

I follow a Facebook group called Analytical Grammar, which isn’t nearly as dry as it sounds and in fact is often quite entertaining. Take this sign seen at a church in Ullapool:

I don’t know whether my millions of international readers will quite get why it’s (unintentionally) funny, but at first sight (and second and third) it looks very much like a vernacular word we use in the UK for one’s posterior.

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Ahoy There

It’s been a long time since I’ve served up the meaning of a well-known phrase or saying, especially one with the kind of nautical flavour I know you all love. Well, thanks to a chocolate chip cookie the show is back on the road.

Before I continue, a note to Brits: chocolate chip cookies are the only instance where ‘cookie’ is allowed. We eat biscuits, not cookies, and I have photographic evidence

Proper British biscuits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image clearly illustrating the essential differences: 1. we have biscuit tins, not cookie jars 2. American cookies clearly don’t taste as good as British biscuits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where was I? Ah, the nautical saying. The inspiration for this one came when I visited my favourite cafe, where I take my laptop to write most days. For some reason that day I was in need of a bit of extra energy. The staff know me quite well by now, especially that I usually just order a pot of tea; so when I also asked for one of those big cookies I felt the need to add a few words of explanation.

My mind working the way it does I immediately fell to wondering what on earth the phrase I unthinkingly used had to do with buying cookies, so I did a little research. The term seems to have originated among fishermen with small boats which are beached when not in use. They would help each other to launch their craft at the start of the day. It was adopted in naval circles and came to mean being generous in general, especially buying a round of drinks. Nowadays it is more often used to mean treating oneself as well or others, and also implies spending a bit more than you might normally do. It is of course…

I can only see this ending one way…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pushing the boat out!

 

 

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How many mistakes…

…is it possible to fit onto one slender forearm?

(Never mind the spelling – anyone spot our old friend the dodgy parenthetical clause?)

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The Punctuation Pedant

To provide a bit of glamour and excitement for my readers, I thought I would examine the wonderful world of the parenthetical clause in today’s posting.

I was reading an article in my newspaper yesterday which unwittingly provides an example of what can happen if you lose track of your commas. Commas can be used like brackets (parentheses) as in He won the race, his first of the season, by two seconds.

The information between the commas is a parenthetical clause and if you removed it you would still have a complete sentence. Overlooking the last comma, as some do, results in a completely different meaning:

He won the race, his first of the season by two seconds.

Technically speaking you would be saying that it was his first race of the season by two seconds, ie he started his second race of the season two seconds after the end of his first one. Which would be pretty good going.

That one is pretty easy to spot, and the problem often comes in more complex sentences like the one I read yesterday about Marilyn Manson, who was squashed by falling stage scenery. Personally, I think there is a kind of natural justice in people who name themselves after mass murderers getting squashed by ‘a huge pistol-shaped prop’, although if I’d been on hand I would probably have been magnanimous enough to help him out. If he begged a bit.

Anyway, the article read:

The singer, whose real name is Brian Warner, was rescued by stage hands who lifted the structure off but did not stand up.

That seems very lazy on the part of the stage hands to me. Presumably they

One of Marilyn Manson’s stage hands trying to use the power of his mind to levitate the stage props away from our fallen hero.

happened to be sitting within arm’s reach having a cuppa or something. I dare say that from the comfort of your chair, if you were really careful you could lift the prop with one hand without spilling your tea held in the other. Or could they have been ‘taking the knee’? It’s very popular these days. The other possibility is that there’s something amiss with the punctuation. The whole thing is actually a bit clumsy. You could put a comma after ‘off’, but it would still be rather clunky and adding ‘he’ after ‘but’ would make it clearer. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a mouthful and I’d break it up into two sentences.

To be fair, newspaper production happens at a much faster pace than the kind of writing I’m used to so things like this are bound to slip through – but let it be a lesson to the unwary.

(Any mistakes, punctuation or otherwise, in this article, which was written at a very fast pace, are entirely deliberate, on my part, as a sort of test to my readers.)

 

 

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Aquila

I’ve just received the latest copy of Aquila, the children’s magazine I write for, and this month’s theme is ‘Forest Adventure’.

 

Everyone in the literary world is unanimous in describing an article about the Green Man as being the highlight of this edition – and I can modestly reveal that just happens to have been written by yours truly.

 

Although I’m a Buddhist, I’ve always been drawn to our pagan roots and the way they help us keep in touch with the natural world and the rhythms and cycles of nature. I have a little Green Man in my little garden, so as soon as Aquila asked for ideas based around forests and woodlands I jumped in with the idea and fortunately they took me up on it.

 

The Green Man represents different things to different people, but I like to think of him as watching over nature. We can find him if we only take the time to pause and appreciate our surroundings. But he doesn’t just dwell in woods and gardens. For a pagan being, he is surprisingly common in carvings in old churches and cathedrals when you stop to look, both inside and out.

 

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Happy Birthday

To me!

Well it was earlier this month actually, but I have received a belated and unexpected present in the form of a big box from the publishers Amberley. They published my collection of first-hand accounts from the Battle of Waterloo, called Waterloo Voices 1815 in 2015, but I wasn’t aware that a paperback edition was on the cards, so it was a pleasant surprise.

As those who have been following the blog for a while will know, my next book will be children’s fiction – a spooky story set in my favourite Cornish haunt (pun intended) of Polruan called The Ghosts of Blackbottle Rock.

My current project is a ‘conspiracy theory’ book about the Gunpowder Plot. But the ‘Gunpowder Plot was a conspiracy!’, I hear you cry. Yes, but this is a conspiracy within a conspiracy. All of the plotters were known to the authorities, and in fact half of them had taken part in an earlier armed rebellion against the government. The idea – which is not an original one on my part but is one which probably most people aren’t aware of – is that the government allowed the plotters to continue right up to the last minute in order to pull off a bigger anti-Catholic PR stunt. Some even believe government double-agents cooked up the whole thing. You’ll have to wait for the book to find out…

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Everything Included

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