Misleading Translations (Top 50…)

This one was Jeremy Thompson’s idea. He offered ‘In loco parentis’ – ‘Dad’s an engine driver’; and ‘Sic transit gloria mundi’ – ‘It was a rough crossing yesterday but it is a lovely day today.’ It’s always hard to capture the spirit of the original, and Alan Beattie had a slightly different version: ‘After a heavy weekend, Gloria threw up in the van.’

  1. ‘Pas de deux’ No, I only want one, demands Hopi Sen.
  2. ‘Jeux sans frontières’ Juice with no bits, as drunk by Fiona Laird. I thought that was “Deus ex machina.” Jeremy Thompson thought it was “Entente Cordiale” – juice for camping.
  3. ‘Ex officio’ I work alongside my former wife, offers Robert Wright.
  4. ‘Mañana’ A larger-sized fruit for the gentleman, suggests Ben Stanley.
  5. ‘J’y suis et j’y reste’ I am Swiss and I’m having a lie-down, says Mark Colvin.
  6. ‘Coup de grâce’ Lawnmower. Thanks to Jeremy Cliffe.
  7. ‘Pro bono’ A fan of the U2 frontman, offers Citizen Sane.
  8. ‘Doppelgänger’ Changes in perceiving someone as a potential criminal as they move towards and away from you. From Alan Robertson.
  9. ‘Potpourri’ A teapot that doesn’t drip. From Mark Bassett.
  10. ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ I want my money back, and so does my mum, says Ben Stanley.

This was a popular list, and I received many more nominations that were worthy of publication, so I have compiled the rest of the Top 50 below.

Qui custodiet ipsos custodes. My custard diet put pounds on my hips. Thanks to Simon Landau.

Schadenfreude. The joy of shutting the curtains. Robert Wright.

Lèse-majesté. A minor member of the royal family. Mark Bassett.

Entre deux mers. Between two mothers. Fiona Laird.

Je m’appelle. Juice with my own apples. 54 Beats 44.

Moi aussi. I am an Australian. Nick Short.

L’escargot. Reduce the amount of luggage on that craft. Citizen Sane.

Coup d’état. Let’s get rid of this crappy stock. Ben Stanley.

Deus ex machina. OMG, my laptop’s died. Robert Wright. (Although other translators render it as “juice without bits”.)

Noblesse oblige. You don’t have to say “bless you” after someone sneezes. Robert Wright.

Übermensch. An outrageous tweet even Louise Mensch wouldn’t send. Mark Bassett.

Ad nauseam. Sick of that John Lewis commercial. Citizen Sane.

Schmaltz. A slow dance. Graham Kirby.

Magnum opus. A large Irish cat. Graham Kirby.

Ersatz. Denoting someone used to sit here. Alan Robertson.

Bauhaus. Sheep enclosure. Alan Robertson.

Glockenspiel. Tendency of police officers to tell long stories once they join the firearms squad. Alan Robertson.

Auto da fé. Instantly charged. Alan Robertson.

Bossa nova. Under new management. Alan Robertson.

Antipasto. The opposite of spaghetti. Alan Robertson.

De gustibus non est disputandum. High winds and no mistake. Claudia Pritchard.

Sotto voce. In a drunken voice. Christina Demetriou.

O sole mio. It’s only me. Christina Demetriou.

On y soit qui mal y pense. I honestly think I’m getting a headache. Gary Twynam.

Ich bin ein Berliner. I throw away anything German. Adam Huntley.

Gerard Depardieu. Steven Gerrard is leaving Liverpool. Adam Huntley.

Modus operandi. Orchestral version of Quadraphrenia. Adam Huntley.

Ad hoc. Mix with cheap wine. Adam Huntley.

Caveat emptor. Stone Age refuse collector. Adam Huntley.

Dieu et mon droit. God is my finger. Julian Archer.

Suivez la piste. Follow the drunken lady. Julian Archer.

La vie en rose. The pink aeroplane. Charles Oglethorpe.

Esprit de corps. Embalming fluid. Lloyd Bracey.

Schadenfreude. Sunglasses belonging to Sigmund, Lucien or Clement. Brendan Barnes.

Krankenheit. About four and a half feet tall (like the little one dressed as a schoolboy). Brendan Barnes.

Fruits de mer. Release Boris. Brendan Barnes.

Malade. A very poor commercial. Brendan Barnes.

Mardi Gras. A police informant having a strop. Brendan Barnes.

Lederhosen. To sleep with ladies of ill repute. Brendan Barnes.

O tempora o mores. I could eat this Japanese food all day. William French.


Marvellous. Many thanks to you all. I am the mere curator of greater talents.

Originally published in the Independent on 25th January 2015

Prematurely Cancelled TV Shows

Channel 4 axed ‘Utopia’ in October last year and then it was nominated for an International Emmy, which prompted Martyn P Jackson (to whom thanks) to compile this list, featuring five British and five American productions.

  1. ‘Utopia’ Critical acclaim didn’t stop Channel 4 axing this stylish conspiracy theory thriller after two series and with the main storyline unresolved. At least four series had been planned.
  2. ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’ Aaron Sorkin’s follow-up to The West Wing, starring Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford, was well received, but was cancelled by NBC after just one season.
  3. ‘Ultraviolet’ Intelligent British vampire drama, featuring a young Idris Elba, lasted just one series before Channel 4’s axeman struck again.
  4. ‘Star Cops’ A terrible title hid BBC2’s best attempt at producing a believable hard science-fiction show, but it lasted just one series. Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter praised its writing.
  5. ‘Carnivale’ Ten Emmy nominations couldn’t save this Depression-era dark fantasy series from HBO’s axe. Intended to run for six seasons; only two were made.
  6. ‘Deadwood’ This foul-mouthed, revisionist Western series won eight Emmys, but HBO canned it after three seasons. Plans to tie up loose ends with two TV movies came to nought.
  7. ‘Ripper Street’ Its mix of coppers, violence and Victoriana was a hit with mainstream BBC1 viewers, but that didn’t stop the Beeb’s axe. Amazon Prime has now stepped in to rescue the show.
  8. ‘Dirk Gently’ BBC4 failed to give this comedy detective show, based on the novels by Douglas Adams, a second series. Lead actor Stephen Mangan was not happy.
  9. ‘Firefly’ Joss Whedon’s sci-fi Western was adored by fans and critics, but Fox cancelled it partway through its first season. Strong DVD sales prompted a coda, the movie Serenity.
  10. ‘Space: Above and Beyond’ Gritty, militaristic humans vs aliens sci-fi series axed after one season by Fox. Years later, a re-imagined Battlestar Galactica borrowed its template, with much success.

First published in the Independent on 18th January 2015.


English Words Without A Rhyme

Thanks to Ben Ross for starting this list (which contains more than 10 words, as you see) with ‘bulb’, ‘silver’, ‘purple’ and ‘month’. People started inventing silly words such as ‘nirple’ to try to refute some of these, and the dispute about whether lozenge rhymes with orange will never be settled.

1. Bottom “Pleasingly,” said Stig Abell.

2. Rhythm From Greg Callus, who also nominated “acrid”, which was accepted, and “balk”, which was not (it rhymes with “caulk”, as Matthew Bailey pointed out).

3. Chimney Nominated by Rob Davies.

4. False Tom Startup, who said he became “obsessed” with these.

5. Walrus Suggested by Citizen Sane, who also nominated “squadron”.

6. Width, depth, breadth From Alex Bigham. Which led us, via “sixth” (David Steele) to most ordinal numbers, such as “eighth”, “twelfth” and “hundredth” (Colin Forster).

7. Cushion From Welshornot.

8. Wasp Tom Startup, too.

9. Filth, filthy Tom Startup, three.

10. Angel Nominated by Ben Ross.

Originally published in the Independent on 4th January 2015.


TV Narrators

After praising Laurence Olivier’s narration of ‘The World at War’, one of the finest documentaries ever made – a discussion which arose out of Top 10 War Memorials – Labour History Group suggested this list.

  1. Oliver Postgate Writer, producer and narrator of Clangers, Ivor the Engine and Bagpuss. Suggested by Labour History Group and Neil Walker.
  1. Veronika Hyks Co-narrator of the British version of People’s Century, a 1995 BBC documentary about the 20th century. Nominated by Labour History Group.
  1. Rebecca Front Suggested, in turn by Sam West, who says she “should be on any serious list”. Famous for The Thick of It, she also narrated Fox Wars, a 2013 documentary about urban foxes.
  1. Will Lyman Narrator of PBS’s Frontline television news feature series since 1984. “Has a perfectly portentous voice,” according to Tom Wein.
  1. Sam West Narrator of Laurence Rees’s 1997 series for the BBC, The Nazis: A Warning from History. Labour History Group again.
  1. Geoffrey Palmer Brother-in-law of Reggie Perrin, voice of “Vorsprung durch Technik” in Audi ads, narrator of BBC’s Grumpy Old Men. Nominated by Sir Robin Bogg and James Menendez.
  1. Barbara Flynn “Not for Big Fat Gypsy Weddings, but for all the best of Horizon,” says Xlibris1.
  1. Laurence Olivier Best line the opener to episode three, about the Maginot Line: “Here the guns would halt the Hun – provided the Hun came this way.”
  1. Helen Mirren Nominated by Tim Bale for her narration of Enemy of the Reich, this year’s docudrama of a Muslim woman who joined the French Resistance.
  1. Kenneth Branagh Narrator of BBC series Walking With Dinosaurs (1999), Walking with Beasts (2001) and Walking with Monsters (2005).

Originally published in the Independent on 28th December 2014.


Words In Christmas Carols That Ought To Be Revived

Here is a seasonal Top 10. I started, having sung “O Come All Ye Faithful”,* with thither, fain and oblation.

  1. Hark. Nominated by Charlie McW. Politicians should do more harking to the voters if they want to stay in touch.
  2. Herald. Nominated by Sheila Hooper. All press officers should be renamed heralds.
  3. Tidings. “We need more tidings,” says Sean Kemp, who used to be a Liberal Democrat herald himself. Instead of press releases, heralds should issue‏ embargoed tidings.
  4. Wassail. “I love a good wassail,” says Joanne Lake. Don’t we all?
  5. Yon, suggests Tom Freeman. ‏Yonder, adds Lucy Hunter Johnston.
  6. Afar. Nominated by Francis Wheen. Where’s Brimingham? Afar. That sort of thing. Opposite of nigh (nominated by Nick Perry).
  7. Affright. Also from Francis Wheen.
  8. ‏Verily. William Barter.
  9. Lowing. Sheila Hooper again. All children’s books will have to be altered, moo, moo, becoming low, low.
  10. Swaddling. Nominated by Patrick Kidd. Excellent idea for rebranding a product with an environmentally doubtful reputation: it can henceforth be sold as “disposable swaddling”.

No room, sadly for morn, spake, yea and begotten.

And the best suggestion came from Mark Bassett:

“How about starting sentences with O rather than the awful So?”

First published in the Independent on 19th December 2014.


Worst Autobiography Titles

This list was suggested by the Independent magazine’s editor, Mike Higgins, when he saw that Rio Ferdinand’s memoir was called ‘#2Sides’. Ben Stanley nominated ‘Auto Da Fay’, by Fay Weldon, while Michael Crick nominated ‘It’s About A Ball’, by Alan Ball, but those are both superb.

  1. ‘Losing My Virginity’ by Richard Branson. Nominated by John McTernan.
  2. ‘They Made a Monkee out of Me’ by Davy Jones. From Chris White.
  3. ‘Momentum’ by Mo Mowlam Lovely author; appalling play on words. Suggested by Tom Doran.
  4. ‘If I Did It’ by OJ Simpson. On grounds of distaste rather than lack of taste. From Issy Flamel.
  5. ‘Rags to Richie’ by Shane Richie. From The G-Man.
  6. ‘In the Time of Nick’ by Nick Owen. Nearly brilliant by the newsreader. Nominated by Sam Freedman.
  7. ‘Fan Dabi Dozi’ by the Krankies. To compound the horror, the foreword is by Max Bygraves. Issy Flamel again.
  8. ‘Watt’s My Name’ by boxer Jim Watt. Nominated by someone going under the name “And Pseudoreality Wins”.
  9. ‘Tosh’ by John Toshack. Footballer’s memoir nominated by Alan Beattie, who adds, “Though not as awful as his book of poetry (really), Gosh It’s Tosh.”
  10. ‘My Booky Wook’, by Russell Brand. The G-Man again. An appeal that this was a reference to A Clockwork Orange was turned down.

First published in the Independent on 14th December 2014.