What the world wants to know about Britain, part I’ve-stopped-counting

It’s time to see what questions the currents of the internet have washing onto our shores. 

Why? Because we’re in the midst of a global pandemic,I’ve gone ever so slightly out of focus, and yet the blog must be fed. So here we go. The questions appear in all their original oddity, and I feel free to make fun of them because I am 609% certain that the people who asked them haven’t stuck around long enough to read what I write. In other words, no human feelings were harmed in the making of this post.

I hope.

Irrelevant photo: Alexanders–a forerunner of celery, brought to Britain by the Romans as a vegetable and still edible although I admit I’ve never gotten around to trying them.


corona virus vs bubonic plague

Before I try to answer this, I need to establish whether it’s one of those irresistible force vs immovable object questions, as in who’d win in a matchup between them, or one of those  which would you prefer if you had to make a choice questions.

Based on no evidence at all, let’s decide it’s the second. I’d go for the plague, myself. It’s curable these days and the question didn’t come with any fine print saying we’d have to be back in a pre-antibiotic century. 

funny sign for door coroba virus notice

Don’t. It’s not going to work. Especially if you can’t come up with some humor of your own and have to borrow other people’s. 

my husband is in self isolation but does not have corna virus do i need to stay away from him?

I’m not a relationship counselor, so take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt: I don’t think this bodes well for the relationship.

did the eyam isolation work

Define work, please. It didn’t save the residents of Eyam, but then no one thought it would. The goal was to save the people around Eyam. So yes, it worked. At great cost. It’s something we all need to keep in mind. Benefiting ourselves isn’t always the goal. The story’s worth reading if you don’t know it.


did the tudors smoke

Tobacco first arrived in England in 1586–or possibly earlier, but that’s the most commonly cited date. Elizabeth I–the last of the Tudors–died in 1603, so we’ve got an overlap here. She’s said to have had a puff or two in 1600, but I have it on good authority that she didn’t inhale.

By the 1660s, smoking had become common but by then the Tudors were very dead.

why is britain wonderful

I’d have said that any country’s wonderfulness is a matter of opinion. Wonderfulness isn’t something you can measure on an objective scale. 

the enclosure movement is enacted in england-1760 to 1832

Serious question–I’m impressed–but the enclosure movement wasn’t something that got enacted. It happened

how would beer be compared to england

Well, beer’s an alcoholic drink. England’s one of the component parts of the United Kingdom. That mismatch makes them hard to compare. If you’re in a bar, my advice is to go for the beer. If you’re buying a ticket, go for England. You’ll probably mean Britain, but you’ll be understood.

what do brits call cats


what do the british call brownies?


why britain

Why not Britain?

legacy of the feudal system

A baffling habit of electing aristocrats with no identifiable skills that would make them competent in government. 

Me? No, I have no political opinions whatsoever.

is (gt) britain really going down the stank,asit seems

First, I’m going to need a definition of stank, not as the past tense of stink but as a noun. Lord Google had nothing to offer me.

After that, I’m going to need to know why whoever you are thinks it is. That’ll give me some vague idea about whether I agree. Are we talking about austerity destroying the infrastructure? Are we talking about the deplorable habits of resident American bloggers who don’t say please and thank you anywhere near often enough, not to mention the way they contribute to the adoption of words from that inferior dialect known as American English? Are we talking about kids today and everything that’s wrong with them? Y’know. Give me some specifics before we argue about how serious it all is. Or isn’t.

why was church of england referred as dark satanic mills in blake’s jerusalem

Nice try and I admire your subject, but he wasn’t talking about the church. The dark satanic mills were the mills–those early, deathly workshops of the Industrial Revolution that ate the lives of the people who worked there. 

when did berwick on tweed end the crimean war

Every time I assemble a set of search engine questions, I find at least one question about Berwick on Tweed being at war with Russia. And the more often I reprint them, the more of them I get, so I have no one to blame but myself–and possibly John Russell, who first got me writing about the topic. Berwick on Tweed has not been at war with Russia since the Crimean War. It didn’t end the Crimean War. It also didn’t start the Crimean War. You can read the tale here.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS QUESTIONS [yes, this gets a category of its own]

why do we cross sprouts

To get to the other side

what is behind the english obsession of brussel sprouts for xmas dinner

Timing. They ripen just in time for the holidays. The real question is, what’s behind the obsession with why the British eat them at Christmas. Everyone seems to be looking for some deep meaning. People, there isn’t one.

sprouts christmas why

The nation’s sprout-haters ask this pretty much every holiday season, raising their hands to the heavens as they cry out, “Why?” It doesn’t help. Someone dumps sprouts on their plates anyway, and they have to pretend to eat them.

why are brussels sprouts british

I’m tempted to say it’s because Brussels is the capital of Britain but someone’s going to take me seriously so let’s take the question apart instead: What does it mean for a vegetable to have a nationality? That its ancestors immigrated there legally, or before anyone started keeping records, so at least not demonstrably illegally? Or do other countries have to pay a tax when they eat the vegetable, or at least give appropriate amounts of thanks? 

Does it mean it grew there? Or does it just mean it’s eaten in that country? 

What, for that matter, does it mean for a person to have a nationality? Is it a real–as in, innate–thing or do we make it real by our conviction that it is real?

Oh, people, we’re getting in deep here and we’re still only at vegetables. We haven’t started on the fruit. In the interest of saving what little sanity some of us have maintained in the face of global pandemic, the incompetence of most governments, and the downright evil of some others. 

Where was I?

What I was trying to say is that I’m going to skip over the question in the interest of keeping us all marginally sane.


on way put kettle idioma

I’ve taken this apart and put it back together six different ways and still can’t make sense of it. Is someone asking about the idiom “put the kettle on”? If so, what’s “on way” got to do with it? Why is the world such a strange place? 

What does it all mean, bartender?

what does legend say while king alfred was there

It says, “Alfred, put the kettle on. I’m stopping by with some burned cakes.” You can read about that here, although I don’t think I mentioned the burned cakes. They are part of his legend, but they’re a relatively late addition and roughly as reliable as Washington chopping down the cherry tree. 

gower cottage brownies japan us

If these words have anything to do with each other, I haven’t figured out what it is. I suspect they’re part of a joke that starts out, “Five nouns walk into a bar…”

You’re welcome to leave the rest of the joke in the comments section. I’m welcome to censor your contribution if you go over the edge.

Where’s the edge? I don’t know yet but I’m sure we’ll find out and I’m sure it’ll be interesting.


A delayed thanks to Autolycus for pointing me in the direction of last week’s post. You can find his blog here. He has a light approach that I enjoy.

95 thoughts on “What the world wants to know about Britain, part I’ve-stopped-counting

    • It may, depending on the state of your digestion, have something to do with the Brussels sprouts, of course.

      A propos of which, one of the biggest laughs the late lamented Victoria Wood ever got was on the line (in her song Reincarnation) which runs

      “I’ll control each family member;
      Make them gather round the Christmas table;
      And eat until to move they are unable;
      They’ll wish that Joseph never found that stable;
      I’ll put my sprouts on in November!”

      Liked by 4 people

      • Somehow you’ve made it all come full circle. Thanks for the lyrics. They’re brilliantly awful.

        You know Ogden Nash’s work? At some point early on, he realized he could be a bad (or maybe mediocre–I can’t remember which) good poet or a good bad poet. The chose the latter and became a brilliant bad poet.

        Some primal termite knocked on wood
        And tasted it and found it good.
        And that is why your cousin May
        Fell through the parlor floor today.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, yes! The lovely thing about stupid and irrelevant questions (from a Mastermind point of view) is that since there’s no possible right answer, there’s also no wrong answer. (I’m not sure that really follows, but don’t look at it too closely.)

      Liked by 3 people

  1. I don’t want to go down the stank, please don’t make me!!

    I momentarily worried that I just typed that into the work teams chat group…

    Now I want to do that just for fun.

    This comment has got away from be a bit! I blame the stank!

    I am concerned that people don’t know what we call cats… I mainly call mine fuzzy menaces mind you…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I blame the stank as well, when I’m not blaming the current government, or the two before it. Or was it three? Sorry–higher mathematics just kill me.

      They are fuzzy menaces. Fast Eddie brought in a shrew (dead) and a bird (live) on Tuesday early morning. We got the bird out alive–or arranged for it to get itself out. I’ve had better night’s sleeps and happier wakings. I think the person who shot that question out into the ionosphere was probably looking for the word moggy, but what the hell.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I blame all the governments… I grew up in the Thatcher era :-/

        They definitely are fuzzy menaces, I am always having to remove wildlife from the kitchen, or half wildlife…
        Possibly they were after moggy, or Mr Tibbles… but asking for all the cat names in Britain is quite an in-depth question.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, well, let it not be said that the people who find their way to this bizarre corner of the virtual universe aren’t deep thinkers. (Did you find your way through that sentence? Thought you’d manage.)

          I thought it was Tiddles, not Tibbles. Am I mishearing it? It’s an odd thing, but most people don’t write their cats’ names down and cats–in my experience–can’t spell for shit.

          Liked by 2 people

          • That sentence makes sense to me, it is much more comprehensible than many engineer sentences!

            I think Tiddles is a separate name, I might have made up Mr Tibbles, Tiddles is title-less as far as I know, but Mr Tibbles is always Mr, funnily enough I have never heard of Mrs Tibbles, so it might be honorary.
            If I carry on like this I am going to be googling what people call cats in Britain…

            I blame the stank!

            Liked by 3 people

              • It doesn’t yet, I presume that means we need to talk about it more…

                It does talk about moggies a lot. I have never called a cat a moggie, apart from one in a childrens book called Meg and Mog, but that was just Mog. Mog it was her name not her designation.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Back in Minnesota, our Kiwi friend me our new (and still nameless) cat and said, “Oh, you’ve got a moggy.” We’d never heard the word and said, “A what?” She–the cat, not the friend–ended up being called Moggy, Then she moved to Britain with us , so we basically had a cat named kitty.

                Actually, she wasn’t nameless when we got her. She was a rescue cat called Angel, but believe me, she was no Angel. I keep thinking about the person who names a cat Angel and then abandons her–although in fairness, maybe her life fell apart in some way and she had no choice.

                Okay . Enough of that. Let’s pretend to do some work.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. In my childhood – I remember more of it the older I get – we had two cats. We called one Jeep and the other Tibby. Not sure this is relevant. The one called Jeep was black and was, my mother told me, named that way because of a wartime cartoon in the Daily Mirror that featured a boy and his cat called Jeep. Go on, I dare you, check to see if Lord Google is aware of this. If he isn’t it’ll be because he’s down the stank.
    Thanks for keeping us amused – actually, no, thanks to all the people who test the limits of Lord Google’s knowledge with incomprehensible search terms.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m left with one abiding thought after reading all those questions: the internet shouldn’t be entrusted to illiterate morons. Whatever next? They might start voting in those elections you mention, touching their forelocks and doffing their caps to the toffs as they shuffle into the polling booths – 2m apart, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t complain about the 2 meters apart. I might complain about elections not being done by mail until this mess ends–assuming it ever does. The rest of it–

      Actually, I’m not sure the morons in question are necessarily illiterate. We tend to blame stupid choices on a lack of education, but if you’ll study some of the folks in charge you’ll find that educated people can make extremely stupid decisions. Some are about profit, of course, but a whole shitload of them are just plain stupidity.

      Sorry–I’m not managing to be funny, am I? We’re experiencing a temporary funniness gap. Please try again later.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Susie,Freeway,T.C, E.D, Whisper, Hercules and Iolus, Skye and Storm, and when Mum died took on Einstein and Peanut, all gone now, but all great cats throughout my life. Brussel sprouts are lush roasted with chopped bacon, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese. Stay frosty and safe and keep making us laugh.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This was entertaining — like when I read through my spam filter (just in case something slipped there by mistake) and enjoy all those lovely compliments. Thanks for keeping the file. And do stay healthy; stay home.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. gower cottage brownies japan us

    Everything’s in lower case, so I’m guessing their shift key is broken. Japan is a black ink that drives quickly, so my guess is that the Brownies who live in cottages in the Gower Peninsula are, for some reason, applying a quick-drying black ink on the US. Hopefully just on a map of the US and not the actual country. But what worries me most is that this is being done by Brownies – why do England’s young Girl Guides hate the US so much? Is it because we don’t give the same reverence to Brussel sprouts last they do?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m fairly sure that I remember Ruth Goodman picking and eating Alexanders in Tales from the Green Valley.

    Lord Google is sending a lot of people interested in the Black Death my way. I’m not quite sure what help or comfort they’re expecting to find.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Five nouns walk into a bar, one noun leaves immediately upon realizing it’s a lesbian bar, three nouns race for bar to order happy hour margaritas because happy hour is almost over, and the fifth noun slowly clomps to the bar in her cowboy boots, pushes her cowboy hat back and says gimme Jim Beam straight at which time the bartender jumps over the bar and throws her out.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. five nouns walk into a bar. a giraffe and a rhino walk into a bar. which leads me to the question – who in their right mind thinks all these limbo accidents are so funny ? now if and i do say if well anyway if i were an abolitionist the phrase ‘we really need to raze the bar on humor here.’ Or something nearly like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tomato a fruit ? Why ?
    Did Brussels Sprouts get their name the way “Spanish Influenza” did ? Just to blame someone.

    Thanks for Autolycus. The” Icy Sedgwick” blog you referred to a couple of posts ago is fascinating too .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the sprouts actually did have something to do with Brussels. Or at least the country around it. The problem is, I looked it up too long ago and my memory is basically decorative instead of functional, so I don’t know for certain anymore.

      Besides, I like the things.

      And tomatoes, for what it’s worth, are both a fruit and a vegetable. Nutritionists consider them a vegetable. Botanically, though, they’re a fruit–they ripen from the ovary of a flower and contain seeds. By that definition, zucchini are both fruit and vegetable. https://www.britannica.com/story/is-a-tomato-a-fruit-or-a-vegetable

      So there.


  11. I found some definitions of stank. Ditch filled with dirty water, pond, puddle or well, and in Australia it is s billabong. In American slang it is having a reputation for dishonesty.
    I would say it means sinking into a swamp. In the American south we have a lit of nasty swamps. Don’t go in tbd swamp and all who past this point abandon all hope are common expressions. In Florida they drain the swamps to build subdivision and grow oranges.

    Three noins went into a bar. The bartender said Drinks on the house if can serve you based on my observations. SThe first four his observations are positive and he gives them the appropriately name drinks The fifth one he insults with negative stereotypes and gives him his or her drink appropriately named. I will let you come up with your own images except fir the first one who looks like a farmer so he gives him a growers. Have fun with the rest.

    Don’t like to think about or picture Brussel sprouts. What a way to bring down Christmas .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stank may be American slang, but it was never used when I was around. Admittedly, it’s a big country with a fair bit of regional slang, but–well (as one of godkids used to say when she was pushing the edges of good taste or kindness), I’m just sayin’.


        • Way back when I was working as a copy editor for encyclopedias, I stumbled into a newspaper article (reputable paper, so yes, I do believe it) about a biographical encyclopedia that for edition after edition had carried a bio for someone who never existed. Some wise-ass had inserted it for reasons of their own, probably close to publication and post-fact checker, and no one caught it. Or maybe it was the fact checker, who was getting punchy or had a grudge. Anyway–

          Why am I telling you this?

          Oh. Yes. I can’t help wondering, since a startling 100% of our ridiculously small sample never heard the word in question, whether someone wasn’t slipping in a red herring (no misuse a metaphor).

          Liked by 1 person

  12. Another great post. I have to tell you that, way back in 1980 my mom, sister, and I wound up staying in Berwick on Tweed. There was no mention of a war with Russia, and no Russian influence that I could see. We did stay in a place that was allegedly haunted, whether this was by a Russian ghost or not, is difficult to say :)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think the ‘edge’ refers to the place where the ships of discovery sailed into oblivion while trying to discover a way to circumnavigate the planet.

    Plated backwards, something always necessary with British things, your five words yield,

    Sun a pajse in wor begat to crew og

    That’s all I got.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I don’t know if this is the right place I have so much trouble locating the bits of my telephone screen that are useful this looks like something though if this gets to you Alan this one was great by this one I mean the last one I read which may not be the one that this note is attached to stay strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Blake was talking about the mills but he did have some very dark thoughts about the church as well! And all those sprout questions–you know, I started eating Brussel sprouts recently. Smothered in cheese and bacon, they’re not half bad!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Remind me never to reply here on my phone. So, where were we.
    In response to Janet Givens: But skank is such a great American word. Maybe it was a typo?

    With search engine questions–well, it could be anything. But it has such an authoritative sound and it fits so well, I can’t help thinking it’s what the writer meant to say. But seriously, have you ever heard it used? Because I haven’t.

    OK, here we are. I’ve not heard STANK ever, except as the past tense of “to stink.” But your Commenter used it as a noun. One that didn’t to into a bar, I imagine. But, methinks he is a Scot, for they do indeed have STANK as a noun:

    n. a pool, a pond, a fish pond (on an estate); the area of ground around a pond; a small semi-stagnant (overgrown) sheet of water, a stretch of slow-moving water, a sluggish stream; a ditch, an open watercourse; a gutter, a drainage channel.

    Mystery solved. But I was so hoping to have a conversation about skank (a sleaze-bag, degenerate, creep, scumbag. . . you get the idea).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am seriously impressed that you found that, because I did look. Lord Google failed me and I have filed papers asking to have my data returned. I should’ve tried my dictionary of British slang, but I’ve gotten so used to looking things up online–at least passing things of this sort–that it didn’t even occur to me.

      About skanks, though–let’s have that conversation. I’ve only ever heard it applied to women. Usually young. With, I think, an unspoken suggestion that she has sex with too many people of the male persuasion, although I could be wrong about that since it’s unspoken and all about context and tone. How well or badly does that match your sense of it–or any definition you’ve found?

      By the way, I got two copies of your earlier comment. I dumped one. Don’t take it the wrong way, okay?


  17. Thanks for the laughs this morning. As a Yank (do Brits still call Americans “Yanks”?) I have often wondered about the answers to many of these questions. Well, some of these questions. A few of them. I didn’t realize Brussel sprouts WERE British! I thi=ought we invented them in the US! ;)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I think that the true story behind the Brussels sprouts is that there was a Brussels sprouts rebellion that was put down in the late fall. The victory is celebrated every year by eating the descendants of the traitors on Christmas

    Liked by 1 person

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