The joys of pre-metric measurements

Anyone who thinks I’m kidding around when I talk about the insanity of pre-metric weights and measures needs to read April Munday’s post on the medieval versions of the slippery little beasts.

I offer eternal gratitude to anyone who can explain why there aren’t a hundred of something–I don’t much care what–in a hundredweight. (I should warn you that eternity doesn’t last as long as it used to. It’s one of those inconsistent measurement things.)

What I learned from spam lately

Let’s go for a quick dip in the spam bath, everyone, because our lives aren’t absurd enough already.

But first, a health and safety warning. Britain’s big on health and safety warnings. One I heard recently consisted of, “Don’t do anything stupid out there,” and I appreciated how quickly it got to the point.  I’d been thinking of doing several stupid things at once and it saved me from all of them. The warning I’m about to issue is this:

A lot of spam is written by people whose first language isn’t English. (Some of it doesn’t seem to be written by humans at all, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue.) I don’t make fun of people for not writing or speaking perfect English–at least not unless they’re trying to correct mine, as one spammer did. I’ve wrestled with enough languages to have great respect for people who can communicate even marginally in languages they didn’t learn as kids.  But if you’re sending out spam–messages that are meant (I assume, although I’ve never really understood the strategy behind them) to appear professional, or at least coherent–then sorry, but everything’s fair game.

For the record: I speak Spanish just well enough to hear how badly I speak it. I panic in several other languages so effectively that all I can hear is the sound of my brain moving the furniture to look for lost words. I do not send out spam in any of those languages.

Enough of that. Here’s what I found in the blog’s spam folder recently:

“We spent most of my puerility and all of my teenaged holidays near Land’s End, and we visited a few of the ancient monuments.”

Now, I do know puerile‘s a real word, but I’ve never really been able to believe it means childish. I keep thinking it should have something to do with pork. (That’s probably because I learned the Spanish word for pork, puerco, long before I saw the English word puerile, and if the connection isn’t obvious to you, don’t worry about it; it doesn’t have to make sense.) Puerility‘s also a real word, although I’ve never seen it used or heard anyone breathe life into it, so I’m going to guess it’s not on anyone’s top ten most used words list.

In spite of that, I’m prepared to testify that it’s not supposed to be used this way.

Still, I might’ve thought this was a real (if awkward) comment if it hadn’t opened with “Because, permit’s font it, back then the suspect ones would give been those anti-social weirdos who (then as now) opt to sopor alone – always assuming that they could yield their own(a) beds, of class.”

To which I can only say, “Listen, buddy, some people like to sopor alone, in their beds or in the damned kitchen if the mood takes them, and who the hell are you to get all judgemental about it?”

Irrelevant photo: field patterns near the Cornish coast

Whew. I feel better having said that.

Next up: “naturally like your web site but you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I in finding it very bothersome to inform the truth on the other hand I will definitely come back again.”

I in finding it very bothersome myself. Will somebody hire this person as a proofreader, please? The English language will never be the same.

After that came: “It is essential that women that are pregnant make a labour program ahead of the wedding event arrives. It is because when a girl is at labor, she may possibly struggle to make selections like she generally does. Make sure you possess a handbag stuffed, opt for that you want in the room whenever you give birth.”

Whenever? Excuse me, but giving birth isn’t a whenever kind of event. I know some people have lots of kids–my grandmother had eight–but even then, it’s not something you do on a whim. It’s a big deal, people.

But there’s more here than just that. I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think the writer’s recommending that the woman give birth into the handbag. Or possibly in it. I admit I’ve never given birth, but neither of those seems like a good idea. I haven’t carried a handbag in decades, but I do remember what mine was like when I did. The backseat of my cab would’ve been more sanitary. So would the pavement at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Seventh Street.

I don’t actually know anyone who’s scheduled a wedding for a time when she was likely to go into labor. But if you’ve got a wedding coming up, it’s something you might want to consider when you get to the part of the brochures that say, “Are you looking for a way to make your big day truly memorable?”

The next comment may be related to the previous one, in a backward sort of way: “Will not spend your money on bedbug bombs. Alternatively, get some good Alpine Dust or some Phantom Aerosol and apply these products to your mattress. These no-repelling merchandise is toxic to sleep pests along with other pest however are extremely hard to identify, which means the insect is not going to conceal from it.”

I’m past the age where it’s is an issue anymore, but there was a time when I’d have paid good money for a phantom aerosol that repelled pests from my bed. Where the hell was this advice when I needed it?

That survey cleaned the best stuff out of my spam folder, but (since we all know you hang on my every word) I thought I owed you more, so I dipped back in over the next couple of weeks and eventually I found this:

“A dog’s label must basically be employed when positively getting together with the animal. Contact the dog’s brand to have him to come to your part or call his brand while you are serving his supper. Don’t, even so, contact your dog’s name if you are unhappy with his or her measures. The canine would in a negative way relate by using penalty.”

Now I do understand that a lot of people on the internet think of themselves (or their pets) as brands and have vague hopes of money flying through their windows if they sell themselves (or their pets) hard enough. And we have two dogs. So far, though, they’re completely innocent of all commercial activity and don’t think of themselves as brands. And for good goddamn reason. No one’s going to look at them and think, If only I had a dog like that my life would be complete. They’re dogs, and most of the time, they smell like dogs. Give them a chance and they’ll roll in dead fish and steal dirty underwear. If they can do both at once, they’ll be in ecstasy.

The point is, I don’t want to contact my dogs’ brand. I’d rather deal with the dogs directly: Bad dog. Put the underwear back where you found it, and no, we’re not going to negotiate this through your agent. Until you learn to dial the phone yourself, you don’t have an agent.

A survey of British surveys

Let’s take a quick survey of the stuff people survey in Britain. It won’t tell us much about the country, but it might keep a few of you from hanging out on the street corners and getting into trouble.

Recycling

Anytime stuff gets collected, someone has to come along and report on everything that shouldn’t be part of that particular collection. What this means is that, no, you’re not invisible. The entire world knows about the purple lipstick the dog chewed that you tossed in with the recycled paper because it seemed to makes sense at the time.

But other than your purple lipstick, what else do people in Britain try to recycle?

Vaguely relevant photo: A bunch of junk I collected on a local beach. We have a village beach clean every week, and once you start noticing plastic junk on the beach, you find yourself collecting it everywhere. This is from a different beach–one that’s hard to get to and rarely cleaned. Nobody tossed this stuff into the recycling bins–they just tossed it into the sea instead.

The Guardian reports that recyclers found a car door, a full Christmas dinner (plates, tablecloth, dessert, and everything else; if I’d been invited I might’ve been dumped in with it), and (yes indeed) 1,000 Greenpeace buttons, which are called badges here. Somebody sat down and counted them. Or made up the number as a poetic way to convey the idea that there were a lot of them.

Business Waste’s website (do I read the exciting parts of the web or what?) lists a human skull (the cops said it was from a play and called off the hunt); a voodoo doll covered in blood (allegedly; convince me that the people who found it really recognize a voodoo doll; or blood); money, in both large and small amounts; dead animals (pretty common, they say); a box of Free Nelson Mandela tee shirts that were thrown out long after he was not only free but dead, making the call to free him, um, problematic; a wedding dress, together with an engagement ring and a wedding cake (who says romance is dead?); a box of breast implants (unused, mercifully); a box of equally unused condoms (not, presumably, in the same place); and winning lottery tickets.

Most of us, I’m going to assert, since none of you are here to argue as I type this, would agree that recycling’s a good thing. So what this proves is that no idea is so good that someone can’t come along and screw it up.

 

Laws

The rule of law is also generally considered a good idea, and it’s easy to screw that one up too. Someone’s collected a bunch of obscure laws that are still on the books  in various parts of Britain. People all around the world love to do that. The ones here ban:

  • MPs from wearing armor in parliament. 1313.
  • Carrying a cask, tub, hoop, wheels, ladders, planks or poles on a footway (that’s what I’d call a sidewalk) unless it’s to load or unload a cart or carriage. 1839.
  • Being drunk in a pub. 1872.
  • Being drunk while in charge of cattle. 1872.
  • Handling salmon in suspicious circumstances. 1986. I’ll leave you to interpret that. The salmon consider all human handling suspicious.
  • Beating carpets on the streets after 8 a.m.
  • Getting into a “public conveyance” with the plague and not warning the driver. I don’t have a date for this one. I suspect that being on the wrong side of the law won’t be your most immediate problem if you find yourself wandering around with the plague.
  • Causing a nuclear explosion. 1998. Being on the wrong side of the law isn’t going to be your biggest problem here either. Or anyone else’s.
  • Honking to let someone know your opinion of their driving. You’re only supposed to honk only in dangerous situations. If this were enforced everywhere, I know of entire cities that would be in jail.
  • Jumping the queue (that’s called butting into line in the U.S.) on the London underground (and possibly overground) trains. Seriously. But getting arrested isn’t half as bad as being tutted—and if you butt into line anywhere in Britain, you will be tutted.

All beached whales and sturgeons found in Britain belong to the crown. 1322. What the queen does with them I can’t imagine, or where she keeps them, since they’ve got to be smelly by the time they reach her. Maybe someone will report on odd stuff she sneaks into that collection–all those feathered hats and busted washing machines that someone dumped on the beach.

 

Parenting books

An academic study from Swansea reports that reading a lot of parenting books correlates with depression and anxiety. It doesn’t prove that the books cause the problems, but it doesn’t prove that they don’t, either. I edited a couple of self-help books during my career, and they depressed the hell out of me. I was also part of a group of freelance editors who planned to write a self-help book for recovering self-help book addicts. We had one hysterically funny meeting about it, after which we couldn’t figure out why the joke had been funny.

No, we were sober.

 

Kids’ birthday parties

The average kid’s birthday party in Britain cost around £218 in 2016. One sixth of British kids, though, never have a birthday party, and only a third have one every year. Figure them into the average and the spending’s got to be pretty wild at the top end.

I had a link to that but who really cares?

The kids’ parties I’ve seen around here are on the reasonable end of the spectrum, involving a cake, a bit of real food, and a free and active germ exchange.

 

Awkward street names

Oxford has an Isis Close. That doesn’t mean the organization called Isis is close. A close is a cul-de-sac—a dead-end street. And the stretch of the River Thames (pronounced “Tems”: don’t ask because it won’t help) that runs through the city is called the Isis. Figuring out why is as much fun as figuring out why Britain’s called Britain.

Wikipedia said, when I checked, that “’The Isis’ is an alternative name for the River Thames, used from its source in the Cotswolds until it is joined by the Thame at Dorchester in Oxfordshire. It derives from the ancient name for the Thames, Tamesis, which in the Middle Ages was falsely assumed to be a combination of ‘Thame’ and ‘Isis’”

Another site warns us not to “blindly accept the authority of something that you find on the internet” (very wise; you might want to give that some thought before you take me too seriously) and offers two apparently authoritative and conflicting derivations: Isis is Celtic for “Tranquil River” or “Smooth River” and it’s Celtic for “Dark River.” It goes on to mention rivers with similar names: the Tamar (dividing Cornwall from Devon) and the Tame (in the Midlands). Tame, it says (repetitiously repeating itself), is Celtic for “‘Dark One’ or ‘Dark One.’” Or quite possibly for “Dark One.” You can never be sure with these ancient languages.

It all gets weirder from there, with side trips into Sanskrit and Magyar (that’s the language of the Magyar people, who settled in what’s now Hungary) and words whose pronunciation is nowhere close to Isis, so we’ll stop.

Oh, hell, I can’t let us stop there. It’s all too weird to walk away from. The Magyar word Nedű, means “liquid,” it tells us. Why does it tell us that? I have no idea. Then it mentions the Szamos, which seems to be a river in Transylvania. It has problems with cyanide pollution and doesn’t, as far as I can figure out, sound a whole lot like “Isis.” Or “Thames.”

Then we get to unexplained mentions of the rivers Don and Danube, which clearly do sound a lot like “Isis” in spite of not having a single letter in common. Or maybe they sound like “Thames,” which they share a silent E with. It’s hard to tell.

At this point, folks, it really is time to leave and go back to cozy old Isis Close, where PayPal’s algorithm says you can’t buy anything online because you’re a security risk.

Somebody else’s algorithm has now added me to a new watch list because I’m writing about Isis. Oh, Great Algorithm, please know that I’m a Jewish atheist lesbian. I can be a lot of trouble, but I’m really not a natural fit for Isis the organization.

But we were doing surveys, weren’t we?

An assortment of names and words get blocked on the internet because they contain hot-button letter groups, and all sorts of people like to make lists of them, so let’s play Find the Naughty Word. Blocked words include: shitake mushrooms; the family names Cockburn and Callahan (I’ll give you some help with the second one; it contains the letters allah; really; that’s enough to get it blocked; what happens if you’re actually writing about religion I can’t imagine); Superbowl 30 where it appears as Superbowl XXX, making it sound like it’s triple X-rated; the Horniman Museum; and the town of Penistone. A blogger friend who worked at the University of Essex used to run into trouble as well. As have specialists whose resumes—because, you know, they’re specialists—(I’ll give you some help here too) include the letters “cialis.”

Devon has a town called Crapstone. I don’t know if that gets blocked or not. I just thought it belonged on the list.

In Britain, this is called the Scunthorpe problem, after a city whose name contains an awkward assemblage of letters. Lord Google defines the Scunthorpe problem as “the blocking of emails, forum posts or search results by a spam filter or search engine because their text contains a string of letters that are shared with another (usually obscene) word.”

Oxford’s Isis Academy gave up the fight and changed its name to Iffley Academy.

Other problematic addresses include Crotch Crescent in Oxford, The Butts (you’ll find them everywhere in Britain, presumably because butts were where people practiced archery), Hooker’s Road in Walthamstow; and Gropecunte Lane (now called Love Lane) in London. A Gropecunte (I’m not sure about the spelling there) Lane in York was changed first to Grope Lane and then to Grape Lane. Sherbourne Lane was once Shitteborn Lane, and since we’re going historical here, Shoreditch once had a Sound Arse Alley.

The list goes on, but having grown up with a different set of insults, euphemisms, and forbidden words, I didn’t get half the jokes so I won’t repeat them.

The Christmas cards Facebook banned

A British artist’s Christmas cards were recently banned from Facebook for having “adult content.”

Adult content? That’s prude-speak for sex.

The banned cards showed a robin, a stag, and a squirrel, none of them doing anything unconventional for Christmas cards, although in fairness these are creatures who, in the normal course of their lives will either have sex or at least try to.

So why the ban? The artist says she didn’t even describe the robin as being a red[gasp]breast, just a robin. She’s tried to get Facebook to reconsider but you can pretty well guess how well that’s worked.

It could be that the decision-making algorithm looked at some of her other cards. One reads, “No / Fucking / Ho.” But that’s not the one she was promoting, Still, thought the algorithm, There’s got to be something wrong with that robin.

The artist has a disabled husband and selling her work is a major source of income, so however funny the ban is, it’s also serious. If you’d like to see her work–or even buy some in the interest of supporting her and annoying Facebook, you can find it here.

And if that link doesn’t work, try this one. It’s her Facebook page, with no robin except where it’s part of an article on this whole flap. The link in the last paragraph worked when I first put it up, then when I checked took me to something completely irrelevant. I’ve corrected it but don’t know how long it will work this time; it’s not just Facebook; Google’s also got it in for this woman.

How to boost your stats by screwing up

Bloggers, do you want more views on your blog, preferably without putting any work into it? I’ve discovered the secret, and it’s not one that any of the experts recommend. It’s simple: Screw up.

On Tuesday, I posted a blog I meant to schedule ahead, for November. Life’s a mess right now. Giving myself some leeway looks like a smart move. So within a minute of posting it, I took it down a tucked it into the schedule, where it can slumber till the world’s ready for it–or at least till I am.

But–semi-responsible blogger that I try to be–I thought I’d let followers know what happened, otherwise I’d get helpful messages saying one of my posts had disappeared. I’ve sent a few of them myself. So I put up a three-sentence post titled “Oops.”

And what happened? It got more views than my (admittedly very long) post of why Britain’s called Britain, which I poured a shitload of work into.

What does it all mean, bartender?

A report from the Department of Deceptive Appearances

Norway

A Norwegian anti-immigrant group went into fits of online hysteria about a photo of women in burkas only to find out that they were looking at a photo of six empty bus seats. Which, to be fair—and I do want to be fair to people with despicable politics and narrow minds—did look a lot like six women in burkas.

“This looks really scary,” one comment said. “Should be banned. You can’t tell who’s underneath. Could be terrorists.”

I’ve felt that way about bus seats myself. And let’s not get started on the seats in New York subways.

Other comments were about whether bombs or other weapons could be hidden under the seat covers.

Wales

A group of Catholic seminarians were kept out of a Cardiff pub because the staff thought they were a bunch of guys on a stag night.

To understand this—and I don’t, really, but I’ll do my best—you have to understand that the British have a thing about playing dress-up, which they call fancy dress, making it sound marginally more grown up. So guys on stag nights are likely to dress up in costumes and make a complete drunken nuisance of themselves. So the bar has a policy of not letting in “parties wearing fancy dress.”

At some point, the assistant manager decided they were for real and not only let them in but bought them a round. Everyone involved seems to have decided it was funny–unlike (I’m guessing) the Norwegian anti-immigrant group members, who are still too traumatized to ride the bus.