All posts by John Farrow

The fan-bloody-tastic world of grammar

All of you  know all about prefixes and suffixes. Prefixes are added to the front of a word to change its meaning (ex-, pre-, anti-). Suffixes are added to the end of a word to create a new word (-ism, -acy, -ship). English speakers love to be creative with language and constantly invent new words.

But even the most ghastly grammar ghouls among you probably don’t know about infixes?. Far rarer, this is when a part of speech is inserted into an existing word.

The most common example of this is when an expletive is added in this way. e.g. abso-bloody-lutely. This is known as Timesis. Extra-bloody-ordinary what you can learn, eh?
This article explains it all.…

Thousands of people do this all the time but very, very few of them know the grammatical term. Now you do!

Want to have some fun with prefixes and suffixes? Try this BBC site:

Ombudsman – a common English word!

Back in Viking times many Scandinavian words entered the English language. But in recent times,  there have been far fewer. But, as you may know, ombudsman is now a commonly used word in English.  When and why did this Swedish word first enter the English language? It’s an interesting story. I

The word itself is quite old. In medieval times in Scandinavia it was used to describe the messenger who delivered the king’s message to the local chieftains. The first modern Swedish ombudsman was created in the constitution of 1809 (justitie ombudsman), They had broad powers and had the right of an extraordinary prosecutor who could take legal steps against officials for failure to discharge their duties properly. In the early 20th century, Denmark, Norway and Finland also established ombudsmen.

In the post WW2 world, the idea of having a parliamentary watchdog of this kind was very attractive and the term began to appear in quasi-official use in several countries in the early 1960s. In 1962, New Zealand was the first country outside of Scandinavia to appoint one, and four years later the UK created the first Parliamentary Ombudsman. Many countries followed suit. Since then the idea has spread and there are ombudsmen in many walks of British life. It’s worth noting though that the British version has a narrower, weaker range of powers than the Scandinavian equivalent. Complaints can only be submitted via your MP.

One would have thought the word would have settled in and been accepted by now.

Not if one is to believe some of the comments on the UK Financial Ombudsman’s site. They asked the public what they thought of their name. There were some quite reasonable comments. But Enraged of Tunbridge Wells was foaming at the mouth:

“Ombudsman” is an unintelligible, lugubrious, pretentious, imported name, which should have been stifled at birth!”

Xenolingophobia of the first order!

Venice Golden Lion for Roy Andersson

The culture vultures among you will know that the wonderfully idiosyncratic Swedish director, Roy Andersson, has just bagged the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival with his new film A Pigeon sat on a branch reflecting on existence. A well-deserved win by all accounts:…

You may not know that Roy used to moonlight and do TV ads. One of his customers was the Social Democrat party. Here is a selection of his work.

Very witty and each of these ads displays his very personal visual style

Thatcher’s favourite TV show?

If you haven’t had enough of politics, there are some wonderful TV shows which are well worth investigating.

For example, if you really want to know how US politics works, you could do a lot worse that invest in a The West Wing boxset. Drama and human interest brilliantly combined by scripwriter Aaron Sorkin. In a strange case of reality imitating art, the Obama administration actually had an online Big Block of Cheese Day, copying the fictional President Bartlett’s initiative to open the doors of the White House to the public.

Current hit show Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus from Seinfeld offers a far more satirical perspective on the White House.

Talking of satire, the classic British sitcom about politics was Yes Minister (1980 -84) which was followed by Yes Prime Minister (1986-88). Set in Whitehall ,it followed the wheelings and dealings between the hapless Minister of Adminstrative Affairs, Jim Hacker, and devious Whitehall mandarin, Sir Humphrey Appleby. Thatcher was a keen viewer: a dubious testimony to its authenticity.

Armando Ianucci. the genius behind Veep, also wrote the wickedly funny, The Thick of It, a viciously accurate portrait of British political life. With the gloves off. Actor Peter Capaldi became a national anti-hero as Number 10’s psychotic, pitbull-like policy enforcer, Malcolm Tucker.

Sci-fi Anglophiles will know that Capaldi has just taken over the title role in the world’s longest running sci-fi series, BBC’s Dr Who. I feel sorry for those daleks.

Here’s a wonderful spoof trailer which combines the two shows:

Election pork and porky pies

The General Election here  on Sunday, has meant that valfläsk has been on the menu a lot this week. Literally, that means “election pork”: the rather airy promises that politicians make to get votes. Back in the day, political parties actually used to bribe the electorate with meat.

I can’t think of an equivalent to this expression in British English.

Americans talk about “pork-barrel politics.” That’s the ear-marking of funds to carry out projects which will benefit one particular group in society such as a new bridge or a road. The politician behind such an initiative hopes to be rewarded by the votes of those who have benefitted.

This trend has become so prevalent that certain right-wingers and libertarians have set up a movement to expose the more flagrant examples of government money being used in this way. It’s called (wait for it!): Porkbusters.

UK politicians may not offer election pork but their opponents would argue they are not averse to telling a few porkies.

Porkies?  It’s truncated rhyming slang. Porky pies are lies.