Political Interviewers

This list was compiled by Oscar Pearson, inspired by news of Evan Davis’s appointment to replace Jeremy Paxman on ‘Newsnight’.

Pearson set up chatpolitics.org last year, featuring interviews with politicians, writers and comedians. The rankings were decided by a straw poll on Twitter, and are therefore completely unreliable.

  1. Andrew Neil When MP Diane Abbott said West Indian mums would “go to the wall for their children” he asked if she would like to make clear they were no better or worse than other mums.
  2. Eddie Mair “You’re a nasty piece of work, aren’t you?” he asked Boris Johnson.
  3. Cathy Newman Told George Galloway, “I think you got a little bit carried away,” when he compared his Bradford by-election victory with the Arab Spring.
  4. Martha Kearney Ed Miliband struggled with her repeated, polite question: “Your solution to producing more growth is to spend more, is it not?”
  5. Nick Robinson Expertly cornered Ukip’s Nigel Farage into saying, in a live interview, that no British person could do the job of his secretary – his German-born wife.
  6. Adam Boulton Has interviewed every British Prime Minister from Alec Douglas-Home onwards, and even swallowed a fly live on air in July 2014.
  7. Krishnan Guru-Murthy Dismantled then-MP Jim Devine on his expenses. “I moved money around, as I was told I was entitled to do.”
  8. Laura Kuenssberg Asked Harriet Harman about her past link with the Paedophile Information Exchange: “It’s a very simple question. Yes or no? Was it a mistake?”
  9. Fi Glover Told Jeffrey Archer that, according to a computer analysis, “Your book is worse than a Sun leader.”
  10. Jon Snow Spent the first six minutes of a live interview debating whether or not Tory MP Zac Goldsmith had agreed to do the interview. And the ties.

Originally published in the Independent on 31st August 2014.



Eggcorns were named in 2003 by Geoffrey Pullum, a linguist, because this mishearing of ‘acorn’ is quite common.

This list was suggested by Georgina Wragg, who nominated ‘cold slaw’, ‘dough-eyed’ and ‘wipe board’ (for whiteboard). One correspondent said, ‘From little eggcorns do mighty irks grow,’ but these are charming.

  1. Curve your enthusiasm Nominated by Citizen Sane
  2. Damp squid Set off by James Chapman. Squib is an obsolete word for a firework or banger.
  3. To all intensive purposes From Matt Prisseck and Andy Willetts.
  4. Ex-patriot Nick Morris’s favourite: “Someone who previously loved their country but became so sick of it they relocated.”
  5. Eaten mess From Luke Hildyard, who has also seen “mould wine” on a pub menu.
  6. Duct tape Amazingly, it was originally duck tape – strips of cotton duck cloth (from Dutch doek, canvas) made adhesive on one side. With thanks  to Ben Stanley.
  7. A doggie-dog world A former colleague who shall remain nameless.
  8. Foe par Citizen Sane says he saw an email at work in which someone apologised for one.
  9. Card shark For card sharp: David Artley thinks this must be the most common eggcorn.
  10. To be pacific Heard by Lisa Markwell. Also, “pacifically”– Iain Dale

Originally published in the Independent on 24th August 2014.


Once-common Sounds

This list was suggested by this magazine’s editor, Mike Higgins, who proposed dial-up modems and electric milk floats. Telephone-related noises, including the pips when you needed to insert more coins in a phone box (Terry Stiastny), were popular, and I cannot find the old pre-digital UK dialling tone on the internet.

  1. The ratchet and clicker-back of a rotary phone dial Nominated by The G-Man and many others.
  2. Clatter, bell and carriage return of a typewriter From Tom Joyce.
  3. A bus ticket being printed Suggested by Citizen Sane (although I received an appeal from Hull, where the sound is still heard).
  4. Pulsing, grating hum as a dot matrix printer swings back and forth Rob Marchant. (And the noise of a fax machine connecting, adds Lesley Smith.)
  5. Snowstorm sound on TVs Nominated by both Judith Rose Attar and Robert Epstein.
  6. ‘Cldumpf…clpdumf…cldumpf…’ of an LP going round with the needle in the middle. From Martyn Williams. Jake Wilde also nominated scratches on vinyl.
  7. Whistling (of tunes, by people) Suggested by Big Gaz.
  8. ‘Ding-ding’ on buses From Guy Herbert. I also liked the “ding-ding-ding” when the conductor told the driver not to stop.
  9. Library date stamps From Labour History Group.
  10. Clackety clack, clackety clack, clackety clack Nominated by Maggie Lavan: railway tracks are continuous now.

Originally published in the Independent on 17th August 2014.


Horrible Buildings

These are mostly British, and indeed many of them are in London, because I stick with what I know and I’ve a few long-standing grudges to settle. Some of these were nominated for last week’s Top 10 Great Buildings, but this is where they really belong.

  1. Preston Bus Station “The Brutalist masterpiece that has always reminded me of a concrete lasagne,” says Conor Pope.
  2. Buckingham Palace “I’ve always found it uninspiring and unkingly,” says Simon Wilder. Matt Prissick and Michael Harris agree.
  3. South Bank Centre, London Suggested by Ned Donovan. All right inside, I accept.
  4. National Library of Kosovo, Pristina Joseph Willits was not sure for which category to nominate this: “Great” or “Horrible”. He loves it; I think it is hideous.
  5. Lock Keeper’s Cottage, Queen Mary University of London
  6. Seeley Historical Library, Cambridge The history faculty library.
  7. University of York Central Hall Nominated by Peter Noble, who adds that, “The whole original campus is pretty bad.”
  8. Kensington Town Hall I have to cross the road with my head turned to one side on my way to work to avoid catching sight of it.
  9. Old Home Office building, now Ministry of Justice, Petty France Nominated by Carl Gardner.
  10. New Home Office building, Marsham Street From the Brutalism of the 1970s to the plasticky tat of the 2000s.



Great Buildings

This list was inspired by Tom Wilkinson’s ‘Bricks & Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made’, published by Bloomsbury last month. A lovely book that starts with the Tower of Babel and ends with Oscar Niemeyer’s 2010 footbridge to Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro’s biggest favela, which I think is hideous.

  1. The Pantheon, Rome Still the largest unsupported concrete dome in the world, two millennia after its construction, says Mark Wallace.
  2. Rocamadour Medieval monastery in the South of France, built into the side of a cliff. Nominated by Tom Doran.
  3. The Romanian Parliament building Hideous but also sort of impressive, says Daniel Knowles. Started in 1984 and almost finished by Ceausescu’s fall in 1989.
  4. La Mezquita de Cordoba Built as a mosque, converted to a cathedral. From Matthew Knowles.
  5. Cambridge University Library The 15th century building comprises the main University library plus fifteen affiliated libraries. Nominated by David Boothroyd.
  6. King Ludwig’s castle at Neuschwanstein The original for all Disney fairy-story castles. Suggested by Simon Wilder.
  7. King’s College Chapel, Cambridge
  8. St Paul’s Cathedral I know it’s obvious. There is a reason for that. Thanks to Josephine Formby.
  9. Taj Mahal Ditto. From Mark Lott.
  10. Edwin Lutyens’ Liverpool Catholic Cathedral Started in 1933 but never finished; would have been beautiful. Nominated by the Labour History Group.



Invented Words

Thanks to Paul Dickson for this collection. His book Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers has just been published by Bloomsbury. To a word nerd (a word that first appeared in 1950 in Dr Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo, in which Gerald McGrew wants “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too…”, for his collection) it is a delight.

  1. Blurb Gelett Burgess created a character called Belinda Blurb, who enthused about a book of his on its jacket in 1907.
  2. Brainwashing First used by Edward Hunter in a report for Miami Daily News in 1950.
  3. Boredom One could be a bore before 1852, but it was Charles Dickens in Bleak House who gave us an English word for ennui.
  4. Cyberspace First used by William Gibson in a short story in 1982, it became popular after reappearing in his sci-fi novel Neuromancer in 1984.
  5. Chortle Coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass, 1871, a blend of chuckle and snort.
  6. Gobbledegook Invented by Maury Maverick, a Democratic Congressman from Texas, who banned it in a memo in 1944: “Anyone using the words activation or implementation will be shot.”
  7. Oxbridge Originally it was a fictional university in William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel Pendennis, 1848. Later used to describe Oxford and/or Cambridge.
  8. International First used by Jeremy Bentham in An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, 1789.
  9. Stereotype Initially a printing plate, first used by Walter Lippmann in Public Opinion, 1922, to mean a simplified idea of character.
  10. Scientist Coined by William Whewell, replacing “philosopher”, in The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, 1840. He also invented “physicist”.