It’s time to read the tea leaves that search engines leave in the bottom of the cup after they drop in at Notes from the U.K.
You didn’t know search engines drink tea? This is Britain. Of course they drink tea.
Why do we want to read the tea leaves? So we can predict the future of humanity, of course.
Too depressing? Don’t worry about a thing, we’ll just change the question and ask what people want to know about Britain. Or at a minimum, what strange questions lead people to Notes from the U.K.
Why is it time to do that? A) Because I’m bored, B) because I have a shitload of small tasks I don’t want to tackle, and 3) just because.
Why am I asking so many questions and then answering them? Because it’s a quick, lazy way to organize a piece of writing. I don’t recommend it, I just use it now and then.
As always, the search questions appear in their original form, without question marks or (except in rare cases) capital letters. I’ve added the italics, but only so I can pretend to have done something useful with myself.
Variations on the usual questions
do brits realize hoew stupid the wigs look in court
Probably not. Silly people, the whole nationful of them.
Does the person who asked this realize that misspelling a simple word has a bounceback effect when he, she, or it is calling other people stupid?
Also probably not. Some people shouldn’t be turned loose with a keyboard.
Yes, they have them. So do other nations. Don’t let it keep you up at night.
Irrelevant photo: Starlings in the neighbors’ tree. They were gathering in larger and larger flocks in late February and early March, probably getting ready to migrate. The Scandinavian starlings spend their winters here and consider it the sunny south. The starlings that spend the summer here consider it the frozen north and head south for the winter. If they were bureaucrats (see below) we’d say this is inefficient. Being as how they’re birds and all, we say it’s impressive.
great britain why is it called
This is so simple that it’s profound. The place has to be called something. Back when we let countries wander around nameless, they couldn’t tell who was being called home to eat supper or go to bed. It was confusing. Plus when they went to war, it was hard to crank their people up about who they were supposed to hate. “The people over there.” “Where?” “There. You know, the tall, ugly ones we were friends with last time.”
So, yeah, the place needed a name and Britain was as good as anything else. So was Great Britain. So was the United Kingdom. So, if you don’t understand the situation, was England, although calling it that does tell everyone else that you’re clueless.
So there you go. The country was so impressed with the need for a name that it assigned itself damn near half a dozen.
A semi-serious answer’s available here. Just so you know I could answer the question if a bear was chasing me.
Comprehensible but less predictable questions
potatoes in the mould and its taters outside
These are Cockney rhyming slang—the meaning of the phrase rhymes with its last word, which usually drops away (as it has in the second question) so an outsider doesn’t stand a chance in hell of guessing the meaning. Which is the point.
Both phrases mean it’s cold, as does the version I heard one morning, “It’s parky.” (“In the mould” was implied but not mentioned, and no taters were involved.) Being American, I heard “mold,” without the U, but in deference to the guy who said it was parky, I’ve added the U. I’m sure that’s how he would’ve said it if he’d added the moldy bit. He’s not responsible for what I would’ve heard if etc.
I had no idea what he was talking about and he had to translate for me.
For an effort to make sense of parky, go here. I’d send you to my own post about the incident, but it wouldn’t add anything to what I just told you.
why in the uk do they wear hair wigs in court
Those would be hair wigs as opposed to spaghetti wigs? Or seaweed wigs? They use hair because it’s less messy. And you can wear them longer before they start to smell.
As it turns out, the wigs they wear in court are made of horsehair. (That’s not one of my posts–it’s from a wig maker.) That is a kind of hair, although probably not what the questioner had in mind.
For an actual answer—or as close to an answer as you’re likely to get here—I’ll refer you to that expert on nothing much, myself. The post brings in a steady trickle of readers from search engines, but then so do my posts on beer. This is what people really want to know about Britain: Why do they wear those silly wigs in court (I’m quoting, not giving my opinion, which would take much more space) and how’s the beer? It’s enough to make a person despair of humanity.
cock womble origin and british slang cockwomble definition not to mention curse word that ends in womble, british insults phrases and define sock womble
In spite of what I said in the last paragraph, these prove that intellectual curiosity isn’t quite dead. Let’s start with by tackling the depressing question: How do we define sock womble? Well, I don’t know about your sock drawer, but when mine’s closed, my socks wiggle out of the matches I’ve made for them and form love matches and when I open the drawer in the morning, there they all are, wombled up next to what they swear are their true and lasting loves.
I used to match them back up the way I wanted them, but it saves time to leave them where they put themselves. And from that I’ve learned that among socks love never lasts. Next time I open the drawer, the pairs have all changed.
It’s womblin’ tragic.
On a less depressing note, the rest of the questions show us that a few people want to learn about either another culture or their own, even if all they want to learn is how to curse more efficiently.
Is cockwomble an efficient curse? Well, it’s obscure. That’s in its favor if you want a laugh. As the one search question put it (without the question mark), “a curse word that ends in womble”? That rates pretty high on the improbability scale.
On the other hand, if you’re nose to nose with a very angry other person and hoping to convince them that you’re some kind of threat, cockwomble isn’t the first word that should jump into your head. I mention this because I like Notes to be of some use in the world and this seems like the sort of thing you should all know. And you won’t learn it anywhere else.
So like most things, whether it’s an efficient curse depends on time, place, and circumstance.
But speaking of efficiency:
why is uk beaurocracy so efficient
This raises two questions: 1, is it? 2, compared to what? and, C, why is bureaucracy spelled wrong?
Let’s start and end with question 1, since I can’t answer the others.
Or no, wait, I can answer C. It’s spelled wrong because it’s in English, a language that positively begs for its words to be spelled wrong. See Murphy’s Law.
But back to question 1: How efficient is British bureaucracy? Reasonably, I think. It’s not inherently corrupt, which nudges it up the efficiency scale. If we look hard enough we’ll find examples of corruption, but it’s not endemic.
But things that go wrong are always more memorable than things that work—and they’re more fun. At least they are in this context; they’re not in real life. So let’s talk about things that don’t work.
Corruption? A Westminster city councillor whose committee had the power to approve or turn down planning applications was in the headlines lately for accepting 900 gifts and entertainment from developers. He recently became an ex-city councillor, but the story demonstrates that corruption exists. And that getting caught is awkward.
Unless of course it’s all perfectly innocent and he’s receiving gifts because he’s a nice guy.
Efficiency? When Wild Thing—that’s my partner—and I first moved here, the papers regularly ran articles about flash drives and disks holding state secrets being left on the train. Some tired bureaucrat was headed home, planning to put in a few extra hours, first on the train and then after supper. It made us wonder why anyone bothered to assemble a spy network in the U.K. All they needed was a minimally trained crew riding the trains.
We haven’t seen an article like that for a long time. Either the system’s become more efficient or that they’ve squelched the stories.
I miss them.
But bureaucratic systems have a tendency to get trapped by their own rules and become ridiculous. Not to mention ponderous. It’s one of the rules. So when Wild Thing volunteered (briefly—long story, and not one I’m going to tell) to work with a women’s center she had to fill out a form allowing a background check. It’s a legal requirement. I’m not sure how effective the system is, but it seems reasonable enough to at least try and make sure your new volunteer never kidnapped or murdered anyone.
The form required her to choose a title: Miss, Mrs., Ms., Mr. She chose Ms., because we’re Ms. kind of people, both of us.
Soon after, the organization got a call from the bureaucrat whose job it was to process the form. She—the bureaucrat, henceforth known as the twit—had a few questions. Wild Thing happened to be there, so they put her on the phone.
Ms. meant a person was married, the twit announced, so why hadn’t she filled in the information on her husband?
Because she didn’t have one. She had me, the lucky soul, and I’m many things but, being of the female persuasion, I’m just not husband material.
Besides, we weren’t married.
No, Wild Thing said, Ms. didn’t mean anything of the kind. The whole purpose of introducing it, back in the seventies–and yes, she was around back then–was that it didn’t identify a woman by her marital status any more than Mr. identifies a man by his.
But it means you’re married, the twit sententioused (that’s the verb form of said sententiously).
No, Wild Thing florided (that’s the verb form of overstated floridly). It doesn’t.
Et cetera, with Wild Thing getting increasingly florid in her explanations of why the twit was (a) wrong (b)—oh, never mind, you get the picture. W.T.’s from Texas. She understands the beauty of vivid overstatement. It’s one of the things I admire about her.
Unfortunately the twit had the power to approve W.T.’s background, so she got the final say. After exercising her inalienable right to be difficult, W.T. caved and was entered into bureaucratic eternity as Miss Wild Thing. I can’t help wondering where the conversation would’ve gone if she’d said, “Fine, then, I’ll use Mr.”
But back to our point, because we did once have one: What did that conversation cost the county in administrative time? Fifteen minutes, maybe. Half an hour if you count the time it took the twit to crank herself up for the call and then to change the form.
I said earlier that bureaucracies had a tendency to become ponderous and get trapped by their own rules, and I’ll stand by that, but I don’t want to sound like one of those people who preach that business is more efficient. The recent history of British outsourcing has been a mashup of tragic and laughable. The outsourced security for the London Olympics was handled so badly that the government ended up calling in the army.
I could go on endlessly about government efforts to rationalize what’s called the benefits system here–what in the U.S. we called welfare. It’s been a disaster, leaving people without money for food or rent. Unfortunately, I can’t find a shred of humor in it.
does the word immigrants need an apostrophe
Not if you don’t add one. Unfortunately, it means something different if you do. Or don’t. That’s why the apostrophe was invented–to mean something.
It’s all about asking the right question, isn’t it?
rude cornish drivers
Oh, dear, we’ve offended someone. On behalf of all of us, I’m so sorry. Genuinely, terribly, grovelingly sorry.
With that out of the way, let me say that if Cornish drivers are rude, polite drivers must be so nice they’re unable to enter an intersection for fear of cutting off someone who might show up tomorrow at rush hour. Admittedly, I’m originally from New York, so my standards are a little rough around the edges, but I’m in awe of how polite drivers are here. But like efficiency, it all depends on what you’re comparing it to.
how to appriopriately drive down through narrow roads
First, don’t worry about the spelling. Or the grammar. Keep your mind on the road. Second, don’t hit anything. Third, if you meet someone coming the other way, don’t get into a standoff, because if you need to ask how to drive on these roads, the other driver will be better at it and standoffs are a time when even polite drivers can turn nasty. Back up if you’re closer to a wide spot and if you’re a competent driver. If you’re frozen in fear (see “competent driver”), look helpless (and for the sake of clarity, both male and female drivers can accomplish this) and hope the other person takes charge of the situation by being the one to back up.
And finally, the kind of question I look forward to
if the mail gets put into the letterbox and not the mailbox and the dog gets it is the postman responsible
Now there’s a question for you. Never mind how it ended up here, let’s stop and admire the embedded insanity—or glory; take your pick—of the English language. It used three separate words that all describe a piece of paper that’s sent from one place to another: The letterbox is the thing in the door (or someplace else) that letters come in through; the mailbox is the thing on the corner (or someplace else) where you throw letters to send them away; and the postman is the man (or woman, English being English and language reflecting a culture’s insanities) who either picks up or delivers those letters—or possibly does both.
In British English, the stuff that comes through the letterbox is, collectively, the post. In American English, it’s the mail. And in American English the woman who delivers it would be the mailman. Or the letter carrier, since mailwoman or mailperson sounds too silly. I’m not sure how British English has dealt with that. Postperson doesn’t have a great ring to it either, but I seem to be the only person around who says “letter carrier.”
If we’ve spent enough time on that, let’s move on to the content. I’m not sure the British post office will pick up a letter if you leave it in your own letterbox—I think not—but the American one will. Either way, though, it’s your letterbox and your dog, not to mention your decision to put the letter where the dog can get it. And you want to blame the letter carrier? This is a serious question? Your hono(u)r—you with the horsehair wig on your head—I suggest this person be sentenced to drive down narrow roads full of rude Cornish drivers and apostrophes until she, he, or it learns to use search engines better.
what does the flag on a mailbox mean
It means the queen is in residence.
I can’t tell you what tickety tonk means or how the question found me. I did write a post about the British phrase tickety boo, and maybe that’s as close as the internet comes to tickety tonk.
Whatever tickety tonk means, it came through with the plus sign intact, meaning we’ve added one. So applying everything I remember from my algebra classes, what we have to do is figure out what would happen if we were minus a tickety tonk.