What people really want to know about Britain, part 19-ish

The search engines have been kind lately, washing all manner of collector’s items onto my shores. So let’s see what people want to know about Britain.

But first, for the sake of clarity: It’s in the nature of search engines to wash people to places they’ll never visit again, so I trust I’m not insulting anyone by being just a touch a wise-ass about their question. If I am, take heart from knowing that at this very minute someone somewhere else is making fun of the questions I left behind.

 

Irrelevant photo: A tree. Pointing–as trees around here do–away from the coast and its winds. Also, incidentally, a repeat, since I forgot to toss in a photo until the last minute. But who’ll notice?

The endless search for knowledge about Britain

why is two fingers an insult in britain

Why is anything an insult? It all has to do with intent, and with the conviction behind the words or gesture. If you can pull together enough toxin, you can insult someone by calling them a fish fry, but it’ll be more powerful if the weight of social agreement says that fish fry is an  insult, or that you’re part of a category of people who can be freely insulted. We’re social creatures, and it makes us vulnerable to hostility from our fellow humans. Even if we don’t share the assumptions their insults are based on, they get to us.

Take the word fat. These days it’s an insult, but only because of the culture’s belief that thin in good. At different times and in assorted cultures, being fat was good. It was healthy, it was sexy, it meant you were rich, or at least solvent. Being skinny? That was the insult. 

As for the two-finger insult, it’s not clear why it’s an insult. The generally accepted explanation is generally accepted to be bullshit. It’s an insult because it’s an insult. And because it’s understood as one.  

sticking two fingers up as a greeting in different cultures

As a general rule, if you’re wandering around a culture you don’t understand, don’t try out a bunch of random hand signals to see if one of them turns out to be a greeting. I can’t prove this, but (humans being what we are) I’m pretty sure the world contains a lot more insulting hand signals than friendly ones. That would mean that, the odds are against your coming up with anything friendly.

british understatement

I keep getting these questions, and in the midst of the Brexit uproar it finally hit me: British understatement? How did the country ever get a reputation for that? MPs in the House of Commons bray and roar at each other and call it debate. The Brexit mayhem has included a prime minister accusing the opposition of surrender at a time when the country isn’t at war. The word betrayal is flying around often enough to pierce the serenest citizenly moment. So understatement? What would happen in public life if the country’s reputation rested on over-reaction? 

Which brings us to the next question.

brexit forgetting evrything you blieved in

Yes, a lot of people have done that.

And that takes us to the next question.

why is britain so great

Well, it invented the scone. And the shortbread, thank you very much. Not to mention the two-finger insult, Brexit, and understatement. If I’d done any of those things–.

No, if I’d done the first two things, believe me, I’d brag about it. In an understated sort of way, and since I’m American no one would expect that.

It’s also managed to con a lot of people into thinking that a geographical description is a statement about its general wonderfulness. 

cuntegrope

Well, of course this question found its way to me. I attract strange questions. It’s part of my understated charm.

I have a vague memory of writing about British street names at one point, and Cuntegrope Alley, or something along those lines, came into the discussion. Along with an Isis street, alley, or place, named after a nearby river and causing no end of trouble for the residents in these twitchy days.

was the uk always called the uk

No. Once upon a time, it wasn’t called anything. No one who used language lived here–or anywhere else. Then people came. We’ll never know what they called it, but the place wasn’t united and it wasn’t a kingdom, and English hadn’t been invented, so almost surely something else. Besides, the area we’re talking about had no reason to think of itself as a single country.

After a while other people came and called it other things. We’ll speed this up because I’m getting bored. The place has been called a lot of things, and oddly enough it still is, with varying degrees of formality: Britain, Great Britain, the United Kingdom. Check back with us in a decade or two and we’ll let you know if we’re still using the word united.

enclosure movement 16th century

Holy shit. This is a sensible question. It’s more than a little frightening to find myself passing as a source for genuine information. I do everything I can to keep this mess accurate–really, I do–but I’m no historian, and posting something weekly means my research is necessarily shallow, even when it’s wide. Cross your fingers for me, folks. Or wish me luck. Or wish the rest of the world luck. I do my best. Let’s hope it works.

isuk road are nartow

Probable translation: Is UK road are narrow. 

No. In most places, they’re wide enough for two conjugations of the same verb to pass each other with barely a scrape.

can i drive a ninefoot wide vehicle on british roads?

That’ll depend in part on how well you drive.And on where you plan to find a 9’-wide vehicle. A Hummer (the widest thing I could find in a short and uninteresting search, although I’ve never seen one in Britain) is roughly seven feet wide. If we jump out of the car category–you did say “vehicle,” not “car”–your standard semi (called an articulated lorry here) is 8’ 4” wide, plus a few decimal points. I’ve seen them squeeze through amazingly tight slots, and one of them did it backwards. 

On the other hand, periodically one or another of them gets stuck between two houses that are less than 8’ 4” wide. And shows up in the papers.

If you’re holding out for the full 9’, though, you could load a prefab houses on the trailer. They’re wide enough to travel with escorts carrying  Wide Load signs. 

Can we assume you have a license to drive one of these things?

photo of wooden floor in tudor times

Taken with an actual Tudor camera, please. Post in the comments section. Reward offered.

photos of british female wigs

Wigs are not, strictly speaking, either male or female. They reproduce asexually.

what are brussel sprouts called in britain

Brussels sprouts. The real question is what they’re called in Brussels.

 

Questions using the U.S. as a reference point

american in britain “legally obliged” brought weather with you talk about weather

Americans are not legally obliged to bring their own weather to Britain. Even in its most nationalist and mean-spirited phases, the country invites visitors and immigrants alike to share in whatever weather the country has going–all the more so because the British generally figure that anything the weather offers will be terrible. So why not share?

Neither are the British legally obliged to say anything about Americans having brought the weather with them, although the occasional Briton may fall back on that old joke because she or he can’t think of anything else to say. 

I have a hunch–and I can’t support this with anything like data–that the joke about bringing the weather with you is usually made by men. As always, I’d love to know if I’m completely wrong about that.

The British are also not legally obliged to talk about the weather. That would be like passing a law requiring everyone to respect gravity. 

Visiting Americans are welcome to talk about the weather, but they’re not legally obliged to either.

As always, I hope I’ve been able to clarify things. I do think it’s good when we learn about each other’s cultures.

alcohol content us vs uk

Are we talking about the alcohol content of the people? At what time of day? Do we exclude children under the age of five? Or is that the alcohol content of the countries themselves? The first question’s tough, but I don’t know how to even approach the second one. The land–the rock and soil and so forth–I think we can safely exclude. The water–or at least the sewage–may show some second-hand alcohol content. I’m not sure what’s left once the body processes it. I know it shows traces of cocaine, estrogen, antibiotics, and other fun stuff. 

Sorry. I don’t think I’m the right person to answer this.

what do brits really think of americans?

Really, really think of Americans? You mean, when they’re not being understated or hopelessly polite? I could gather up a random patchwork of things people have told me and pretend they stand for what one entire country thinks of another one, but the real question is why you care. I can’t help wondering if this is a particularly American form of paranoia –a sense that the world beyond the borders is hostile territory. 

Does any other group of people worry as much about what other nationalities think of them as Americans do? If anyone has any experience with this, I’d love to hear from you. 

what brits like about americans

  1. Our accents.
  2. The chance to make fun of our accents. In the kindest possible way.
  3. Our brownies.

 

Questions about the U.S.

why does america have saloon doors on toilets

Because there’s no feeling like swaggering out of the toilet cubicle with your jeans newly re-buttoned and your hands on your six-guns, ready to shoot everyone washing their hands at the sinks. 

Yeah, I watched too many westerns as a kid. The person asking the question did too. May parents warned me.

do canadians talk louder thena americans

No.

how do us mailboxes work

They’re magical. You drop your letter in. Someone who works for the post office comes along and takes it out, along with all its newfound friends and acquaintances, and delivers it to the post office, where someone asks where it wants to go and sends it on its way.. 

What an amazing system.

 

Mysteries

what do brits think.of pulisic / what nationality is gulibion

I thought these were both typos, but it turns out they’re questions about sports figures. I have a severe sports allergy and have no idea how either question got here. 

What the world wants to know about Britain, part 19-ish

The butterfly net I use to trap strange search engine questions has been filling up quickly, so even though I did a what-the-world-wants-to-know post just a few weeks ago, I can’t let riches like these go to waste. The questions are in italics and appear in their original form, however odd it may be.

The search for important information about Britain

england is not another name for great britain!

A-plus for the answer (or in British, A*, pronounced A-star). But what’s your question? And more to the point, why are you bothering Lord Google about something you already know?

Irrelevant photo: roses.

do brits just talk about weather

Before we can answer this, we have to figure out what it means. This should depend on which word just is hanging off of, but English-language writers dump just into sentences according to what sounds good, then figure that what they’ve written means what they think it means. But any grammar obsessive could tell them that the location determines the meaning. I’m not going to rant about that. The language is used the way it’s used, regardless of what the grammar books say, and I’m on both sides of these issues anyway. Passionately.

Still, it leaves me not knowing what the writer meant. So what are the possible variations here? 

Do Brits just talk about the weather as opposed to doing anything about it? Well, pretty much, yeah. You know how it is. We’re all like that when you come down to it. Talk, talk, talk. And the damned rain keeps coming down.

Or, in defiance of the order the words come in, do they talk just about the weather as opposed to, say, talking about feel-good topics like Brexit and global warming? Well, no. The British talk about all sorts of things. Shoes and ships and sealing wax. Brexit and potatoes and school buses.

Okay, not so much about sealing wax these days. And that’s a Lewis Carroll poem that I’m mangling. His version rhymes.

Or–I’m stretching a point here, but what the hell–do just Brits, as opposed to other people, talk about the weather,? No, it’s  a pretty common topic, given that most of the world’s countries (and therefore people) have something that passes for weather.

I’d go on, but the question only gave me three words to dangle just off of.

I hope I’ve been able to help.

why are we called great britain

Am I the only person who hears something plaintive in this? It has a kind of Mom-why-are-they-callling-me-names? quality.

It’s okay, sweetheat. They don’t mean anything by it. It’s because you’re big. Why don’t we sit down and have  a nice cookie?

Or maybe we should call it a biscuit.

ceremonail position in british government black rod

I’m tired of Black Rod, probably because I’ve heard entirely too much about parliament lately, what with Brexit and all. But yes, Black Rod has a position in the British government. Whether you consider it ceremonial or essential is probably a matter of opinion. Me? I’d call it ceremonial to the point of silliness, but I would, wouldn’t i? 

P.S. You misspelled ceremonial. I nevr misspell anything.

ploughman’s lunch history

It starts as a full plate–cheese, a roll, a pickled onion, chutney, butter if you’re lucky. Three grapes and a twisted slice of orange you’ve gone someplace fancy. Then it gets eaten. Or most of it does and the odd bits get left and someone takes them back to the kitchen and scrapes them in the trash and that’s it. End of history. 

It’s wasteful. I ordered a ploughman’s once or twice because it sounded more appealing than a cheese sandwich, but it’s nothing but a do-it-yourself cheese sandwich. 

characteristics of an aristocrat person how do they act

All aristocrats have exactly the same characteristics, to the point where every morning they call each other to work out what they’re going to wear. 

Okay, I shouldn’t get put off when people ask about this, because I wrote a snarky post about some titled idiot behaving badly and I gave it a clickbait heading about behaving like a British aristocrat. So it’s my own doing if I get search engine questions about it.

But if we’ve established that, let’s go on: Behaving like an aristocrat isn’t about having perfect manners, it’s about (a) considering that your manners, however horrid, are perfect, and (b)looking down on people who don’t behave the way you do–or who try to but who have to learn the secret handshakes from Lord Google.

Lord Google  will never tell us all the secret handshakes, just enough to leave us exposed as wannabes. But even if we find the missing bits and behave exactly like the aristocrats, we were still foolish enough to choose the wrong ancestors so we can’t be part of the club.

Silly  us.

It’s depressing to know (or think I know) that someone out there is trying to play this game. Don’t do it, folks. Aristocracy is a closed and toxic club. They don’t want us in and if we have a brain in our heads, we don’t want in. 

when will we know more about brexit sept 2019

We all wish we had the answer to that. And September’s already well in the past.

does a map show you how narrow a road is

Yes, but measuring the width of the map’s lines to the nearest micro-whatsit won’t help. You have to look at the letters associated with the roads. They won’t exactly tell you the width, but they’ll let you figure out how slow your drive’s likely to be, which is a related question. 

M roads–they have an M before their number– are motorways, the best roads the system offers. A roads–A followed by a number–come next. Some of them are hard to tell from motorways. They’re divided highways with a 70 mph speed limit and make a nice straight line from wherever you started to wherever you’re going. And other A roads are nothing like that. They’re two lanes, and they run through the middle of every town along the route. But they’re better than what comes next: B roads, which may be two lanes but may have one-lane stretches.

Then there are roads that no one bothers to give numbers to. Or they give them numbers but don’t bother to tell anyone what they are. In the summer, in touristed areas, they’re lined with nervous visitors who’ve plastered their cars to the hedges, letting the oncoming cars figure out if there’s room to pass.

There almost always is.

how do british cars pass on such narrow roads?

On the narrowest ones, everyone gets out and disassembles the lighter-colored car, moves it past the darker one, and puts it back together.

Why the lighter one? It’s a simple, non-judgmental way to choose, and it saves time-consuming arguments. 

And if they’re both the same color? Well, that’s where your arguments start. We need a better system. Everyone agrees, but we have to settle the Brexit mess first.

what was uk called before great britain

England, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall. Unless you want to go back to Latin, the Celtic languages, and Anglo-Saxon. And Pictish. For part of that time, though, we’re dealing with micro-kingdoms and it gets messy.

why do british people eat brussle sprouts at christmas?

Because it gives them the strength to face Boxing Day, that extra holiday that comes on December 26.

 

The search for important information about everything else

what is the actual date of 2019/09/04

I can answer that: It was 2019/09/04. 

But let’s talk about dating systems, since someone’s brought them up.. The American system starts with the month, follows with the day, and ends with the year, making 04/09/2019  April 9, 2019. The British and European system flips the first two elements, so the same numbers give you 4 September 2019. 

Isn’t this fun?

The British and European system doesn’t use a comma before the year. Or after, in case the sentence straggles on. The American one does.

Moving back and forth between the two systems means that you can’t be sure what date anyone–including your own bewildered self–is talking about unless they name the month or bring in a day that’s larger than twelve.

I don’t know any dating systems that open with the year, so I have no way to tell what, if anything, the date in the question means. I asked Lord Google for help but he told me I wasn’t asking the right question, so I ended up as fodder for someone else’s post about strange search engine questions.

Lord G., as is his way, wouldn’t tell me what the right question was. Dealing with Lord Google is like being trapped in one of those fairy tales where bad things happen because bad things happen and the world doesn’t reward the just and kind.

So what’s the actual date? My best guess is that it doesn’t exist.

is a vigilante sticking up for someone

It never rains weirdness but it pours it down by the bucketful. Is a vigilante sticking up for someone? Not as often in real life as in the movies. Has someone seen too many movies? Probably. Is a movie watcher having trouble finding the line between fiction and reality? Most definitely. 

For what it’s worth, friends, if you’re facing injustice and overwhelming odds, don’t look for a vigilante. And for pete’s sake, don’t become a vigilante. Vigilantes can propel decent shoot-em-up plots–or if not decent, at least popular–but in real life they end up as lone nuts with guns who leave grieving families in their wake. Try organizing. It’s slower and it’s less dramatic, but it spills less blood and it just might do some good in the long run. 

I have no idea why that question came to me. 

how to respectfully decline an award nomination

Be nice. Explain your reasons. Say thanks. Shut up. 

whats cultural about brownies

They like literature and classical music. They’re not much on visual art.

medieval catholic teaching sex

All the medieval Catholics are dead. So are the medieval everybody elses. That means none of them are teaching sex anymore. But they weren’t much good at it, so don’t worry about having missed out.

What the world wants to know about Britain, part seventeenish

I’m posting this a day early and joining 350.org and WordPress’s digital climate strike. But before that happens, it’s time to find out, yet again. what people want to know about Britain. The search engines have been kind to me lately, pouring a rich mix of oddity onto my stats page. Put on your absurdity goggles and let’s go.

Trends

entymolpgy cockwomble

I get a lot of questions about cockwombles. I’m thinking of seeing if I can’t get paid gigs talking to conferences on the subject. I don’t know much about them, but that doesn’t stop other conference speakers so why lose sleep over it?

As for this particular question, I shouldn’t make fun of it, although I will. I regularly have to look up the difference between etymology (the study of words) and entomology (the study of bugs). I look it up, I remember it for a while, then the magic wears off and I have to do a stealthy recheck on the difference between bugs and words. However, fairness isn’t  going to get in my way: The womble is not a bug. It’s an imaginary creature from a long-gone TV show, and the cockwomble is an insult based on it. If you’re interested, Lord Google will lead you to websites where you can buy cockwomble mugs and tee shirts or listen (I assume; I didn’t bother) to songs about them. 

Isn’t the internet wonderful? And no, I’m not giving you a link. If you want cockwomble mugs, go find your own.

Irrelevant photo: A gerbera daisy.

similar to cockwomble

I don’t know of anything similar to a cockwomble. Why is the internet awash in cockwombles lately? Is this political commentary?

urban slang like cockwomble

You could argue that this is urban (as opposed to what? rural?) slang, but I wouldn’t advise strutting down the toughest street you can find and thinking you’ll intimidate someone by calling them a cockwomble. It doesn’t have the punch you’re looking for. 

Political questions

does the house of commons have air conditioning

Nope. It has crumbling pipes, so many fire hazards that it has a constant firewatch, stonework hurling itself to the ground at unpredictable intervals, and little ribbons where you can hang your sword (although, let’s face it, they’re not there for you or me, they’re for someone more important, who also doesn’t have a sword). But it does not have air conditioning. 

The shape the building’s in, it’s doing well to have air.

mps who wear stockings

I’ve had a run of questions lately about MPs wearing stockings. Does some group of people have a thing about MPs in stockings and are they hoping to find a community here? Do they spend hours on the internet, panting over photos of them? We humans are a strange species, and the older I get the more fully I understand that. 

Still, it sounds harmless as long as they don’t inflict their obsession on any actual MPs.

I’m not sure what kind of stockings the people who type this into Google are looking for. Those white stockings that men wore with knee breeches a few centuries back and which, given the British gift for resurrecting outdated clothing on ceremonial occasions, can still show up here and there? Or the kind women wore before the invention of what Americans call pantyhose and the British call tights? 

If it’s the second, I’d bet a sum of money in the low single digits that no one wears them, in Parliament or anywhere else. They’re ridiculous, uncomfortable, and several other adjectives. They’re also (I’m reasonably sure) not made anymore. Or if they are, they’re hard to find.

So I can’t answer the question, since I don’t know quite what it’s about, but I can inform you, irrelevantly, that what Americans call a run in a stocking/pair of pantyhose, the British call a ladder in a stocking/pair of tights.

Yes, friends, I’m here to educate, even if it’s not necessarily on subjects you want to learn about. Think of it as a grab bag. You click your mouse and–look, we’re learning about medieval fireplaces this week! 

berwick as part of ussr

No, no, no. Even if the rumor about Berwick-upon-Tweed being at war with Russia had been true (unfortunately for lovers of absurdity, it isn’t), it never included anything about Russia or the Soviet Union having annexed Berwick. So just to be clear: At no time was Berwick-upon-Tweed part of either Russia or the Soviet Union. It was once part of Scotland–it’s one of those places that moved back and forth between England and Scotland without budging an inch. The border did all the traveling. Berwick’s now English, and Scotland, in spite of anything you may have heard and in spite of being way the hell up north, is not Russia. There’s talk that in case of a hard Brexit (or any Brexit, or–well, who knows these days?) Scotland might well leave the U.K., but no one’s suggesting that it will annex itself to Russia , much less the U.S.S.R., which is hard to join since it no longer exists. 

There’s even less reason to believe that Berwick is planning to annex Russia to itself.

How’s that for starting a rumor by denying it?

Conversational English

worcester pronunciation of wasp

Of wasp? The one word in the English language that you can look at and have a running chance at pronouncing correctly? 

And why Worcester? Do we have any reason to think they pronounce it differently there?

Sorry, I haven’t been more helpful here. I do try, but this one mystifies me.

how to talk trash in the uk

If you need instructions for this, don’t do it. Just say something you can handle. You’ll be fine.

do british people really talk about weather most

Most what? Most days? Most as in more than any other group of people? Most as in more than other topics? 

Finding what you want on the internet–not to mention in life–starts with figuring out the right question. 

derby pronunciation darby

It’s reckless to guess about the pronunciations of British place names, but I wouldn’t write this trash if I weren’t at least a little reckless, so here we go: I’m reasonably sure that the Derby pronunciation of Derby is Darby. That’s the way the rest of the country pronounces it and why change something that’s traditional and makes so little sense?

Requests for Cross-cultural Information

do the british think of the americans as brothers

Let’s turn that around: Do the Americans think of the British as brothers? 

Are the Americans aware that not every British person is male? 

To the best of my knowledge, no and yes. 

Do they understand why the second question is relevant? 

A lot of them, no, and some subset of them would find it offensive.

I despair. 

do british people like tourists

Oh, yes, every last British person loves tourists. Especially when the aforesaid tourists arrive in swarms, butt into line, and expect to be the purpose of everyone else’s day. 

americans arw blunt brits

Possibly, but they don’t spell as well.

why are the roads in france so small and no strips

Wrong country, but isn’t it interesting how people take whatever they were raised with (a road should be the width I’m used to; a grownup should eat the way I was taught to; people should talk the way I do) and then compare the rest of the world with that standard.  And silly thing that the world is, it doesn’t manage to meet it. It eats with chopsticks, or the delicate fingers of the right hand. It drives on roads that meet a whole different set of needs. And it doesn’t check with us before doing it. 

What is it thinking?

does bell rining strain yiur back

I’m going to have to admit ignorance on this. I’m not a bell ringer. For many reasons. One is that dedicating a fair chunk of time to pulling on a rope doesn’t ring my bell. Another is that bell ringing’s a church thing, and I’m not only Jewish, I’m an atheist. That makes me a bad fit. In my lack-of-tradition, we may ring the occasional doorbell but that’s about the limit of it.

I have never strained my back ringing a doorbell. Have I been living too cautiously?

I know: The question wasn’t about me personally, but I thought it might be good to explain my ignorance. My best guess is that it doesn’t strain yiur back, but that comes a footnote saying, “If you do it right.” 

Bell rining can, however, strain yiur spelling. 

I shouldn’t make fun of people’s spelling, but when people shoot anonymous questions through the blogosphere, all normal rules of good behavior are suspended.

can bellringing damage your shoulder

See above.

are englands roads all narrow

No. Has the price of apostrophes gone up?

Questions Too Deep to Answer Fully

british understatement make others silly

It doesn’t have do. Becoming silly is a choice we make, independent of other people’s under- or overstatements. 

Damn, that was profound. I may start one of those blogs where I advise people on how to live their best lives, regardless of what a hash I’m making of mine. 

Cat ate sticky toffee pudding

I’ve had a run of questions about cats and sticky toffee pudding lately. On the odd obsession list that I’ve started keeping, it’s right up there with MPs and stockings. Here’s what I know about it: 

  • Our resident cat, Fast Eddie, does not eat sticky toffee pudding. He doesn’t request sticky toffee pudding. He doesn’t recommend sticky toffee pudding to other cats.
  • The store where we buy Fast Eddie’s food doesn’t carry sticky toffee pudding. I’ve never asked if they recommend it for cats and as a result they still–silly people–consider me sane.

When I put those two observations together, I’m inclined to think that most cats don’t eat, or want to eat, sticky toffee pudding. I hope that helps.

The more I write about cats and sticky toffee pudding, the more Lord Google will funnel these questions to me, since no one else out there is brave enough to discuss it. Given the opportunity, most people will dodge controversial topics. And the more Lord G. funnels them to me, the more I’ll be convinced that it all means something. 

And the more I’m convinced that it means something, the more I’ll write about it. 

Did I mention somewhere that the internet’s wonderful?

Still, if no one was out there asking the question, Lord G. wouldn’t have anything to send me. So it’s not entirely a self-contained loop.

cotchets vegetable

I started out assuming this was a typo and that the word was supposed to be crotchets. We’ll come back to that. But just to be sure (I don’t know everything, much to my surprise), I tossed it, as spelled, to Lord G., who sent me to WikiWhatsia, which told me it was a noun, masculine, meaning a young cockerel. In parentheses, it said, “Jersey,” so I’m going to guess it’s a word used on the island of Jersey rather than a young chicken in a sweater. It’s from the French coq (English equivalent, cock–as in bird, wiseass) and –et, a French masculine diminutive. So a young rooster.

A different site says it’s Norman, so French-ish, but old. Or to put that another way, an old young rooster. 

Then Lord G. sent me to a site about last names, which told me that the origin of the name Cotchets is unknown and left the meaning blank. I asked Lord G. to tell me about a few random first name/last name combinations involving Cotchet and couldn’t find anyone to match. Which could explain why the origin’s unknown: There are no Cotchets. I think the site will accept anything as a last name–hell, it could be possible–but if it’s never seen it before it gives out no information. 

So we’re talking about young vegetarian roosters on Jersey or young roosters on Jersey made of vegetables. 

And a crotchet? It’s a bit of British musical notation. Americans (and I think Canadians) call it a quarter note.  

the guardian brits and their dogs

This is a good demonstration of why commas matter, although search engine questions almost never use them. If this is “the guardian, brits, and their dogs,” we’re talking about three things: a guardian, brits, and a group of dogs hanging around mysteriously and belonging to one or both of them. But if it’s “the guardian brits and their dogs,” then we’re talking about some equally mysterious brits who guard something–with their dogs. 

None of it makes any sense, mind you, with or without commas, but at least we know what it is that we don’t understand.

What people want to know about Britain, part twelveish

What do people want to know about Britain? The results of a highly skewed and unreliable survey, based on the search engine questions that mislead people to Notes, show that they want to know about the following issues. 

Please note: The questions have been reproduced here in all their oddity.

A rare relevant photo: This is Fast Eddie, our resident cat expert.

CATS

can cats eat sticky toffee pudding

Yes. No law of physics or biology prevents that. Will it be good for them? No, but that’s not what you asked.

Is sticky toffee pudding good for humans? Absolutely. It makes us fat and happy. And sticky, which reminds us to wash, which is good for our health if not done to excess. 

Will cats stick to the bowl if they do eat sticky toffee pudding? No. It doesn’t acti like a glue trap. It’s sticky only when compared to your average dessert. You won’t end up rushing your cat and its bowl to the emergency vet, hoping to get dessert detached from cat while one is still edible and the other doesn’t yet have PTSD.

Are cats interested in eating sticky toffee pudding? Not as far as I know, but we don’t have any around the house so I can’t get an opinion from our resident cat expert (and, incidentally, cat), Fast Eddie. But he’s never asked for any any. That’s got to mean something, because if the neighborhood cats were all talking about how good it is, he’d have come home wanting some.

Cats are protein eaters. Meat for breakfast, meat for dinner, and meat for dessert.

Me? I’m a vegetarian. And in case I don’t sound pure enough, I’m (very) gradually losing my taste for desserts. I do swear fluently, mostly to make sure I’m still part of the human race. 

cats mine myself sweet

It’s hard to know how to answer that. It’s hard to know if it’s even a question. Still, I’ll do what I can.

Fast Eddie–I repeat, in case you skipped the last answer, that he’s our resident cat–can be sweet. He can also kill things, and does. Whether that’s sweet or not very much depends on your point of view.

Eddie’s still pissed off about that mouse my partner threw away. Yesterday he accused her of eating it herself. So even if we don’t talk about the rodents and the occasional bird, he’s not all sweetness.

In contrast (and to address the rest of the alleged question), I me mine myself do (or possibly does) not, for the most part, kill things. I make a reluctant exception for slugs and some bugs. I am not, however,  sweet.

I am also not a cat, although I wouldn’t mind having fur.

I’m glad we got all that straightened out. I feel we know each other much better now.

FOOD

Most questions about food, especially as we approach Christmas each year, are from people struggling to understand the religious symbolism of brussels sprouts in the Christmas tradition.

They have so come to the wrong place.  

why do we have sprouts at christmas

Because Santa doesn’t like you.

+what year did brussel sprouts became a thanksgiving tradition

As far as I know, that year hasn’t gotten here yet, but then I haven’t lived in the U.S. for something like thirteen years and things have gotten pretty weird over there since I left. So someone tell me: Has everyone suddenly decided that brussels sprouts are a Thanksgiving tradition? Because traditions sometimes get pasted in retroactively. All of a sudden a nation decides that some small ball of green leaves always was part of a traditional meal and even though people remember that they didn’t eat them when they were kids, they can still believe that it’s a tradition because, you know, their families were a bit odd and everyone else probably ate them. So no one says anything and the next thing you know we all believe it.

But more to the point, when did the plus sign at the beginning of a question become a thing? This isn’t the only search engine question that’s wandered in sporting one.

when was did we start to eat brussels sprouts at christmas

Six pm, and everyone’s finished but you. Eat up or Santa will ask about that “when was did” and won’t let you have any Christmas pudding. 

QUESTIONABLE TASTE

We’re isolating these questions in their own category so they don’t contaminate the rest of the batch. And when I say we, of course, I mean me mine myself cats. Ready? Got a strong stomach and an ability to get disturbing images out of your mind? If not, just skip these.

You’re reading on, aren’t you? You don’t have to, you know.

breastaurant

How did this question find me? Lord Google has decided that anything too odd to go someplace else shall henceforth come to me. Some of that I appreciate but, Lord G., you’ve pushed your luck with this one and I will not leave the usual tribute of data at your portal. In the meantime, whoever sent this, either learn to type or go somewhere else. People can’t necessarily choose not to be over-interested in one or another body part, but they can learn not to pester the rest of us about it. 

sainsburys sex tots

I can only hope we’re talking about Tater Tots here. Speaking only for myself, I’ve never found frozen, shredded, prefabricated potatoes even remotely sexy, but I do understand that everyone’s tastes are different and as long as no one gets hurt, hell, go ahead. But, honest, most of us don’t want the details and there’s a thin line between enjoying your sexuality and inflicting it on other people, at which point it becomes harrassment. So keep the details for those specialty chat sites, okay? And if Sainsburys–that’s a supermarket, in case you’re not British–has a Facebook page, it’s not one of the sites I was suggesting.

CLOTHES

the origins of wig in britain

There is only one wig in Britain, and this creates real problems in the court system. You think it’s budget cuts that are throwing it into chaos? It’s not. It’s all the lawyers and judges waiting for that one damn wig to circulate. They can’t say a word in court till it’s planted on their head.

And its origins? It was made by that Stradivarius of wig makers, Anonymous, in February of 1751. All the other wigs in the country have been torched.  

And if you’re new here, please watch for statements that are too absurd to believe. You’re not supposed to believe them. And more than that, you’re not meant to quote them as fact. Ideally, you’re supposed to take them with a grain of salt and laugh, but inevitably they won’t all work.

what does an mp wear

A cluster of these questions came over a couple of days, so either that’s one person returning several times to a site that wasn’t much help to start with or it’s a class assignment and some poor kids landed here, copied out everything I said, handed the assignment in, and got an F. The world is unkind.

So why did the question landed here? I googled “MP clothes” and found an assortment of sites for clothing sold or made by companies with an M and a P in their names, including MissPap, which sells clothes that are about as sleazy as you’d expect from a fashion house named after a vaginal smear test. Since I spent ten or so seconds on the site, I’ll probably start seeing their ads on the side of the screen when I check my email.

As long as it’s not Tater Tots, I’ll be okay.

Then I changed tactics and googled the original question and I found some quite sensible information, which everyone whose question landed them here must have passed by in order to find their way to me.

So what do MPs (that’s members of parliament) wear? Clothes. They are known for not appearing in parliament naked.

What follows, by the way, is true. You can quote it safely.

MPs are expected to wear businesslike clothes. If they don’t, either the speaker pretends they’re invisible and won’t call on them to speak or someone complains and the speaker’s supposed to do something more active about it. Two women have gotten away with wearing tee shirts bearing feminist slogans, possibly because “businesslike” is less well defined for women than for men. Or possibly because they didn’t care if they got called on to speak since their shirts had already made their point.

A few men have been seen wearing the jackets and ties that are required but in eye-popping colors. Everyone pretends not to notice.

MPs are not allowed to wear hats or armor in the House of Commons. I assume exceptions can be made if anyone’s religion demands headgear but I don’t know that. It may not have come up yet. Or if their religion demands armor, although I’ve never heard of a religion that does. Armor’s awkward stuff, not to mention expensive. Even the Pastafarian Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster doesn’t ask believers to wear armor, only colanders. 

You need a link for that. You know you do.

The only person who can carry a weapon into the chamber is the sergeant at arms, whose title is spelled serjeant. MPs are expected to hang their swords on the purple ribbons provided in the cloakroom.

No, really. I did not make any of that up. 

MPs are not allowed to bring in briefcases. Female MPs, however, are allowed to bring in a small handbag and at some point male MPs demanded the right to do the same. That news came under a headline about man bags, which I almost skipped thinking they involved a bit of the male anatomy that has never really interested me. But I’m here to enlighten, so I followed the link and learned that it has nothing to do with frozen potatoes. Men may now bring in small, butch-looking (or femmy ones if they’re brave enough) handbags but they still can’t bring in briefcases.

One of the wonderful things about Britain is that it not only has these insane traditions, it takes such pleasure in making fun of them. So let’s move on to a related subject.

TRADITIONS & HISTORY

why do we not call november 5 guy faulkes night anymore

Because no one cares about Guy Fawkes anymore. November 5 is when all the wigs got burned–except of course that one fabulous one.

Salt.

history of two fingers insult in british language

No one really knows where this came from. According to one story–

But wait. Not everyone knows what we’re talking about and that’s rude. In Britain, if you hold up your index and center finger with the knuckles facing out, you’ve just insulted someone. Even if what you meant to do was let the bartender know you wanted two beers. It’s a close relative of holding up the middle finger but involves a few extra muscles because, hey, the British are tough.

According to one story, the gesture came from the Battle of Agincourt, which was fought during the Hundred Years War. English and Welsh archers did so much damage to the French that if an archer was captured the French cut off the two fingers he needed to pull the string of his longbow. The theory goes that the remaining archers held up their two fingers to show the French that they still had them.

Great story. According to Oxford Reference, unfortunately, there’s no evidence of the gesture being around any earlier than the twentieth century and the Battle of Agincourt was in 1415.

Nice try, though.

If there’s any evidence of the French cutting off fingers, I haven’t found it.

LANGUAGE

+definition of tickety tonk

I googled this and landed someplace considerably more sensible than Notes. Tickety tonk is outdated, upper class slang, meaning goodbye. The queen mother ended a World War II-era letter by saying, “Tickety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”

She also thought the Jeeves and Wooster novels were “so realistic.”

What can I tell you? This whole monarchy / aristocracy thing is surreal. Not to mention expensive.

what does it mean to tell someone your spiffing me off

It means you’ve gotten your outdated, upper-class slang wrong. And you’ve misspelled you’re

LANGUAGE & GEOGRAPHY

what the Country’s Called

That depends which country you’re asking about. The world’s full of countries. Ukraine used to be called The Ukraine. Now it’s just called Ukraine. You get used to it after a while. The United Kingdom is usually called Britain because it has fewer syllables. It’s also  less accurate, but what the hell. Its full name is the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. It also answers to Hey, You.

why is britain called britain

Because.

great britain also called as

Great Britain’s called many things, but never As.

why is great britain called uk

It isn’t. Great Britain’s that biggest chunk of land you see on a map of the British Isles. The U.K. is that plus Northern Ireland.

why was britain known as superior

Ooh, you fell for it, didn’t you? Great doesn’t mean better, superior, smarter, or better dressed. It means bigger. Although, like many (possibly all) countries, it’s capable of getting a swelled head and acting superior. Just remind it that its MPs aren’t free to wear armor to work. That’ll let it know who’s who and what’s what. 

All told, having multiple names wasn’t the U.K.’s best marketing decision. I could fill a very dull book with the questions that come in on the topic.

RANDOM OTHER STUFF

news from elsewhere

This makes an odd sort of sense. We all get tired of the same old news and gossip from wherever it is we live. The rest of the world looks more interesting. And larger. So without saying where here is, someone asked for news from places that weren’t their here. So far, so sensible. And as it happens, I posted something titled “News from Britain. And elsewhere.” So Lord G. sent the question to me.

Unless some silly person was actually looking for me. You never do know.

sample lettet to decline the award that is not deserved

“Dear Person Who Offered Me an Award,

“I am not worthy. I am so not worthy that I dare not accept this most flattering, important, and selective of awards. Thank you for thinking of me but something has got to be wrong with you that you even considered me.”

You’re welcome. See below for a note on self-respect.

bellringer for self respect

I’m not a fan of the theory that most of the world’s considerable stock of problems stem from people not having enough self-respect. Or the idea that they (that’s the problems, but it could just as easily be the people) can be fixed by surgically implanting self-respect in people who lack it. In fact,

Not that I’m discounting the idea of surgical implantation. I know some people who could do with a bit less self-respect. They could be donors. We could do transplants.

But set that aside, because no one asked for my opinion. This is about facts. Can bell ringing increase anyone’s self-respect? If you think you’re so insignificant that no one notices you, it might. Ring that damn bell, make some noise, wake the friggin’ village up at 2 a.m. There, they heard you that time.

In general, though? There’s probably some better way.

crotchetwor, minim workksheet

Oddly enough, I almost understand this. Where American music counts time in whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, and so on until the fractions get so small they swallow themselves, British music uses crotchets, minims, quavers, semiquavers, hemidemisemiquavers, and other odd fragments of sound that humans call speech, although I’ve never heard of a crotchetwor and I’m pretty sure no one else has either.

After almost thirteen years of living here and messing around with various sorts of music, I should have learned to understand what they’re talking about by now. But no, my mind pretty much shuts down when someone says anything along the lines of, “That’s actually a crotchet.” I smile radiantly. I may even look like I understand what they’re saying. I don’t. I can get as far as knowing that it has to do with timing. If they’re telling me about it, it means I’ve gotten it wrong again, but I’m much more inclined to giggle than to feel bad about it.

Do I have a worksheet to offer? Absolutely not. And if I ever create one, I advise you not to use it. 

How is spam changing?

Spam’s changing, and here at Notes we like to stay on the cutting edge.

That’s a horrible image. Forget I ever wrote it. Here at Notes we have enough sense not to play with knives. Still, things are changing and we should all keep up. I’m not sure why, but it’s a near-universal belief and we’re too intimidated to go against it, so let’s act as if it made sense.

What’s new in the world of spam? Well, I’ve just come back from playing in the spam folder, so I’m completely up to date.

Irrelevant photo: Fast Eddie, in not-so-fast mode.

I’ll give each spam comment its own line except where I got more than one version of it. And I’ve put it in italics to make it feel welcome. Also so you know I didn’t write that mess.

aBhh

aBhh’OupwUmIKSsZt

aBhh’) AND 6021=6292 AND (‘iLRH’=’iLRH

aBhh’) AND 4141=4141 AND (‘lAGH’=’lAGH

aBhh

Taken as a group, these have an interesting symmetry. Each line’s a variation on the one before, and the group resolves by repeating the first line. Is it a poem? Is it encoded instructions on how to hack an election? Is it an attempt to lure me into clicking on the address of the sender? I’d be tempted to, but I’m afraid my computer–or possibly the entire world–would blow up and it would all be my fault.

You can’t be too careful these days.

Besides, whoever sent those messages closed a couple of parentheses before bothering to open them. If there was ever a reason to not click on someone’s email address, that’s it.

But even the strangest approach gets old. After a page of so of the code / poem / effort to blow up the world, I was glad to find a newer new approach: misspellings. Not your garden variety misspellings, mind you, but garblings you can only create on purpose, probably with a program that juggles the letters for you. So what’s the plan here? That I’ll be so intrigued or annoyed that I write back, saying, hey, you spelled difficult wrong? And as soon as I do that, the world blows up?

Well, I’m not that dumb, thank you. If you woke up this morning noticing that the world was intact if a little battered, that was me, not clicking those links.

But enough. Let’s talk about content: Most of the comments tell me I’m wonderful in one way or anther. I am, of course, and I like hearing about my wonderfulosity, but please, I’d like the compliments to be a little more convincing.

Samples?

I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very knlebedgealow? / I’m impressed by your writing. Are you a professional or just very kndeeeogwabll?

Tough choice. I probably lean more toward kndeeeogwabll than knlebedgealow. If you look at the root of the word, you’ll see that kndeeeogwabll comes from the Latin for knee-deep in bullshit, and by the time I’ve finished some of these posts I’m at least knee-deep and sometimes in almost to my eyeballs–which, short as I am, are still well above knee level. 

Begun, the great internet edocatiun has.

That came from Yoda. He didn’t say so–modest, Yoda is–but I can tell.

To think I could educate Yoda. 

Another group of comments rests on the assumption that I’m here to help people figure out why their lives have gone to shit. Or maybe even tell them how to de-shittify them. A lot of the blogosphere is about telling people how to deshitify their lives by following the writer’s example and (a) letting go, (b) clinging on, (c) eating more fiber, (d) eating less fiber, (e)drinking more, or (f) buying something the blogger’s getting paid by.

That’d be beer, not water.

Me? The only advice I give is to tell people to approach Notes with caution, and that’s not advice, it’s a health and safety warning. 

Now I’m like, well duh! Truly thfnuakl for your help.

This was in response to a post about brussels sprouts.

How much help do people need with their brussels sprouts? Scads. Brussels sprouts are a subtle vegetables and at certain times of the year can be downright devious. If your life’s gone to shit lately, get your brussels sprouts straightened out and you’ll see the results within days. Hours, even. That’ll be £20, thanks.

TYVM you’ve solved all my prbmelos

This came from someone called Destry, whose prbmelos are beyond any help I could give, even if I was in the help-giving business. For starters, what does it do to a person to be named after a cheesy movie? And while we’re at it, how much time in a spammer’s day (or moments in a program’s whatever programs divide their time into) goes into thinking up new names? Did all these comments come from one person, using the same program and many names or are thousands of spammers writing to me using the same program and their own legally recognized names? If it’s the second, Destry, I apologize for my crack about the movie. I’m sure it looked just fine in 1954.

Okay, I don’t believe they’re using their own names. I get multiple copies of some comments from multiple (and equally unlikely) names.

How does anyone come up with all these names? After you’ve exhausted all the name-your-baby books, where do you look? Facebook? Old movies? Abandoned nightmares? 

And while I’m asking questions, does anyone happen to know what TYVM stands for? I could google it but the world might blow up. Which leaves me to my imagination, so we’re not going to be G-rated today. It stands for Trusting Your Vaginal Mastery.

And Destry thinks she has problems.

I was so confused about what to buy, but this makes it unandstaerdble.

This comment scares me. It was in response to a post on guns and American schools. So now the writer know what to buy. Wonderful.

Could you write about Phicyss so I can pass Science class?

No, sweetie, I don’t think I could and you should be grateful because you’d be so guaranteed to flunk if I helped you out. And it’d serve you right. I could write about not using capital letters unnecessarily, though. Or word-garbling programs.

Another group of comments works on the assumption that I’m here to give emotional support. Or to get it. Which again says a lot about the blogosphere.

At last! Someone who undedstanrs! Thanks for posting!

That was in response to a post about Cheddar Man, a prehistoric Briton (or pre-Briton, since the country didn’t exist yet, but let’s not complicate the thing) whose skeleton was found in a cave in the Cheddar Gorge. Given that his skeleton was lying around unused, I went and assumed he was dead, but apparently Ched’s still with us and I’m the only person who understands him. Ched, my apologies. I’m glad you’re still here and, yes, like you I feel that we have a lot in common, although, frankly, I tend to keep my skeleton where other people can’t get at it. Still, if I find one or two more people like us I’ll put together a support group. In the meantime, hang in there. I understand. I really do.

Then we come to the comments on my writing.

If you want to get read, this is how you shluod write.

Yuor rgthi. I’ll tyr ti.

Phmenenoal breakdown of the topic, you should write for me too! / Phamenenol breakdown of the topic, you should write for me too!

These came–isn’t it amazing?–from two different people, and I’m going to take both of them up on the offer. I’ve always dreamed of writing for an editor (or possibly publisher; who can tell?) who has two separate identities and can spell phenomenal more than one way. And who offers my fuckin’ nothing in return for my writing.

Knewgodle wants to be free, just like these articles!

Oh, hell. I thought we got Knewgodle out last week. A friend had the bail money and swore she’d get it downtown asap. I’ll sort this out today. Thanks for letting me know.

Finding this post has anerewsd my prayers

That came from someone called Pebbles, who was just a stone’s throw from getting what she or he needed, or possibly wanted, before finding my post, so I can’t claim too much credit.

Pebbles’ comment came in response to a post about what people in the U.S. and U.K. use for size comparisons. What, you ask, was Pebbles praying for? Sorry, I’m sworn to secrecy.

But it’s not all deliberate misspellings and pseudo-poems out there in Spamland. First the compliments:

Hahhaaah. I’m not too bright today. Great post!

I got that same comment from several people, which is an amazing coincidence. Let’s call the senders Queenie et al, since Queenie sent the first of them. There’s no feeling like being told your post was great by someone who also tells you she’s not too bright.

Noithng I could say would give you undue credit for this story.

I’ve spent days trying to unravel the meaning here but I end up so woozy that I have to abandon the keyboard and lie flat on the floor until the syntax stops spinning. Still, I need all the undue credit I can get, so yeah, whatever it means, I’ll take it.

Then the advice–this time not people looking for it but the ones who offer it. One comment contained a link for Cialis. It urged me to “start off your personal rich compost heap. It really works much better and is less than business fertilizers.” The connection between Cialis and compost heaps goes over my head, but it’s not like anyone ever gets to know everything about sex. There’s always something we haven’t imagined. And erectile dysfunction isn’t a topic I know much about. That’s one of the things about being with another woman: It’s not an issue.
[Sorry about the spacing. My computer’s in rebellion and frankly I sympathize with it.]
But that didn’t discourage someone else (or the same person using another name) from sending me a Viagra link. After a bit of preliminary bullshit, the comment offered me advice about snoring. So what’s the connection? Does Viagra keep men awake or put them (or possibly their partners) to sleep? The world needs to know.
Another comment offered me advice on brushing my teeth. I shouldn’t use a brush with difficult bristles and should make sure I clean my teeth “for around 2 moments.”
Spammers, beware of the thesaurus. It is a powerful but dangerous tool and that leads the unwary into deep woods where they are surrounded by people they can’t see who are laughing at them. For reasons they–the thesaurus users–don’t understand.
I know, I know, you’re going to tell me the spammer wasn’t using a thesaurus, they were using a Something-to-English dictionary, and you’re probably right, but the bilingual dictionary and the thesaurus have this in common: They give you a lot of overlapping words that have very different meanings and they don’t explain what the differences are. You go, for example, to your Something-to-English dictionary and look up the Something for hard, and the dictionary gives you English words that range from difficult to tumescent. And if you don’t cross-check those meanings with an English-to-English dictionary (or at least with the English-to-Something side of the dictionary you’re already using), you end up telling people not to use a toothbrush with tumescent bristles.
Which is probably good advice. So forget what I just said. Use the dictionary. Or the thesaurus. Send the spam. The world’ll be a better, safer place because of it.
I also got comments offered me advice on playing golf, buying stocks, coping with sleep apnea, and getting rid of zits. Because someone out there wants to know this stuff and is happy to have an imaginary stranger tell them what to do.
And finally, limping in at the end comes the flattering request comment, a theoretically surefire way to hook the target’s flagging attention.
! I realize this is somewhat off-topic but I had to ask.Does building a well-established website such as yours require a large amount of work?I am completely new to writing a blog but I do write in my journal everyday.I’d like to start a blog so I can share my personal experience and views online.Please let me know if you have any kind of recommendationsor tips for new aspiring bloggers. Thankyou!

 

That came from Alberta (an alleged person, not the Canadian province), and no, Alberta, it’s not hard at all. All you do is get yourself a clever computer program, input the letters of the alphabet (make sure you don’t leave any out–that’s the hard part), and let ‘er rip. Your blog will write itself and all you can sit back and gather up the compliments.

Using search engine questions to accomplish nothing

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.

british manners

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 womblebritish 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.

+tickety tonk               

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.

What the world wants to know about Britain, part eightish

What does the world want to know about Britain lately? Let’s take a stroll through the questions that lead people to Notes from the U.K.

Is that a fair way to answer the question?

Probably not.

Do I care?

Oh, absolutely, but not enough to keep me from writing the post.

How’d-that-land-here? questions

“I won’t answer the question polly put the kettle on answer.”

Now that, friends, is a very strange thing to type into a search engine. It’s even stranger that it led someone here, although part of it has a vaguely familiar sound, as if some bot picked up a bit of something I wrote (or that someone else wrote in a comment), tossed it in a jar with a few spare words from someone else’s blog, shook the jar until they blended, then poured them onto the keyboard and hit Send.

It’s even stranger for using a capital letter. Think of capital letters as clothes. Most search questions run through the internet bare-ass nekked.

Anyway, if the writer won’t answer the question (remind me, someone: what was the question?), I won’t either, but I will say that I understand how a phone can be put on answer, although I don’t think that’s what anyone calls the process. Still, whatever you call it, you punch a bunch of buttons and record yourself trying to say you’re out while not admitting that you’re out because you don’t want someone to hear your message and think, Aha! They just said they’re out. I’ll go break in and steal ’em blind.

Once you’ve done all that, the phone answers itself, bypassing you entirely and raising the question of whether you add any value at all to the transaction.

The kettle, though? I keep hearing that machines are getting smarter, but so far all my kettle does is boil water. I talk to it sometimes. I even sing to it. It doesn’t answer.

A final note before we move along: “polly put the kettle on” is not a question.

Irrelevant and out-of-season photo: Thrift. I really need to get out and take some more photos.

“what figure of speech is a thousand miles.”

Um, gee. I’d have to say it depends how you use it.

A figure of speech is a word or a set of words that are used to mean something other than its literal meaning. So a thousand miles can mean a thousand miles. One, two, three, and so on until you get to a thousand. That’s literal. No problem unless you get into the whole question of how long a mile is, because an old-style Cornish mile measured 3.161 etc. to nine decimal points of our current miles.

But let’s stick with the standard mile. I can sow enough confusion with needing help, thanks. Stick to the literal meaning and it’s not a figure of speech.

If you were to write, “My love is like a thousand miles,” you’d have written a lousy line but it would be a figure of speech—a simile, pronounced SIM-ill-ee, which I mention because written English contains almost no clue about how to pronounce a word and also because I have nothing better to do with myself. So sure, you probably already knew all that, but I’m having fun here.

A simile is two things compared openly, using like or as. Or possibly some other words I’ve forgotten, although I don’t think so. I’m not paid to know this stuff anymore, so I threw it all out of my head to make space for more useful things. Like the Cornish mile.

I wasn’t using it anyway and until today I didn’t miss it.

If you write, “My love is a thousand miles,” your writing would still by lousy but you’d have moved on from a simile to a metaphor, where like or as drops away and the comparison goes underground.

If you delete “my love is” and instead dropped “a thousand miles” into a sentence so that it stood for your love, it still wouldn’t make any sense but it would be a symbol. Of something.

We’ll skip the fancier stuff, like synecdoche. But aren’t you glad someone asked?

For the record, my love is not a thousand miles. She’s on the phone in the living room at this very minute, talking in a very un-thousand-mile-like way.

“guy stickney the night light linked in”

We’re going to have to disassemble that and see if any piece of it makes sense. Stickney’s a real last name, and I happen know a guy who carries it. His first name is not Guy. I don’t know him well enough to know if he uses—or even owns—a nightlight. Or if he uses LinkedIn.

Somehow I don’t think any of that is what whoever wrote that was looking for.

How’d the question get to me? I’ve used the words the, and in a lot, but I’m pretty sure everyone else on the internet has too. I’m sure I’ve used guy, night, and light, and probably even linked. As far as I can remember, I haven’t connected them in any way that would draw a search question.

Lord Google moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.

“deer plot seeds”

They do? And here I was, thinking they’re all little innocent creatures who gambol around the forest and eat grass. Or leaves. Or something vegetabilian.

No, that’s gambol, not gamble. Cab drivers gamble. Deer? No, even on the evidence of this question, they may plot, but they don’t gamble. They weigh their risks carefully and don’t make their move till their sure.

What are they plotting? I’m not sure. I don’t understand what it means to plot seeds. To seed a plot, yes. To plot in general? Sure, no problem. But plotting seeds is like plotting shoes: There just doesn’t seem to be much point to it.

Still, keep your eye on those innocent-looking creatures. They’re up to something, and we’ve been warned.

“how could smart glasses do more thing”

I don’t know. This is not a technology blog. You should talk to my kettle.

“w87g”

Yes. Or possibly no. It depends on time, place, and circumstance. Also on meaning.

“t6y6”

This is clearer, The answer is no, absolutely not.

If anyone has a theory (no matter how crackpot) about how these last two questions got to me, I’d love to hear it. The first I wrote off as a glitch. With the second, I’m starting to see a pattern. One more and it’ll be a conspiracy.

“pees women pants”

With this one, you have officially seen me speechless. Or at least you’ve read me smart-answerless. Is this a search for the kind of women’s underwear meant for people with incontinence problems? Is someone looking for highly specialized pornography?

Either way, I seriously doubt I was any help.

Let’s try a new category.

What’s Britain really like?

“british talk about weather outside.”

Weather in Britain happens outside. It’s one of the things that lets you know you’re in Britain, not Canada or Cambodia, where (as I’m sure you know) they bring their weather indoors.

For some years now, British politicians have turned themselves inside out trying to define British values—it’s one of those placate-the-anti-immigrant-lobby things—and they’ve failed spectacularly. It’s kind of endearing, the hash they’ve made of it. If they want to know what British values are, they should ask their nearest immigrant. We could tell them: British weather takes place outside, and British that people talk about that.

To get the right to stay in this country, since I am my nearest immigrant, I had to take an entire damn computerized test to prove I understood British culture. Why didn’t they just ask me about outdoor weather? Talk about wasting taxpayer money.

Next question, please.

“do british homes have mailboxes”

Yes.

What are they called? (I’m adding this. No one asked.)

(That’s not true. I asked some time ago, and finding the answer wasn’t easy. Probably because I looked in the wrong places.)

Letter boxes.

Are they boxes?

Not necessarily. Ours is a slot in the door.

Why are they called boxes?

Because. It’s English. Abandon logic all ye who hope to master this language.

“do british people eat notmal cookies”

Um, no. Some eat oatmeal cookies. Some eat normal cookies. None, as far as I’ve been able to find out, eat notmal cookies, although British English is (a) regional and (b) inventive as hell, so I’ll never be completely sure.

“chocolate chip cookies in Britain”

British people do eat chocolate chip cookies, although that should probably be some British people eat these. So many internet searches are fixated on what all British people do. Get born. Breathe. Die. Beyond that, you’ll find a lot of variation.

Chocolate chip cookies in Britain often seem—I don’t like to say this—a bit disoriented. They’re not used to the range of accents. The oven temperatures are measured in centigrade instead of Fahrenheit. They’re trying to locate their friends the Notmal family, who aren’t in the phone book. (You remember phone books, right? Am I the only one around here who’s getting old?)

Basically, chocolate chip cookies are immigrants. Adapting is never a smooth process. Be patient with them. Eventually they’ll understand that the British weather is outside and you’ll be able to have a very nice conversation with them about that.

“why doing british people know what brownies are”

Because brownies are sold here. If you buy one in a café, you may have to excavate it from under layers of ice cream, whipped cream, fudge sauce, chocolate sprinkles, and tiny American flags playing “The Star Spangled Banner,” but if you keep your nerve you’ll find a brownie down there somewhere.

“what people guy night”

Why, those people over there.

This probably has to do with Guy Fawkes night, which I did write about, and which may be responsible for me receiving all guy-related internet searches from now until forever. I’m not sure about the “what people” part of the question, though. The British ones? Probably. You can identify them by their confusion over what their values are.

“what are american biscuits called in england”

If this is about baking powder biscuits, they’re not called anything unless you’re at my house. They only exist if I make a batch, and I call them baking powder biscuits so people don’t take one thinking they’re funny-looking cookies and then feel disappointed.

On the other hand, if this is about the kind of biscuits you eat with cheese, they’re called biscuits. That’s to distinguish them from the things Americans call cookies, which are called biscuits.

Clear? Want to read about the Cornish mile?

“do the english get confused between the names ‘england’ and ‘britain’”

No more than the Americans get confused between the names Minnesota and Upper Midwest, or California and West Coast, or Massachusetts and New England. They leave it to Americans to get confused about. It’s a handy division of labor and it’s worked well for the country, although I’m not sure it’s done the U.S. any favors.

I suspect the rest of the world has less trouble with this, but maybe that’s just my ignorance speaking.

“why are people called great Britain”

They’re not.

“why is great and why is Britain”

Yes. Both.

“are drinks stronger in britain”

No, but water’s wetter. And the air is airier.

“letter from an English friend talking about how they bake lemon bread”

Sorry, but I didn’t get the letter. And my feelings were hurt by that.

“siri welsh placenames”

I don’t know Welsh, I’m sorry to say, so I wouldn’t trust my pronunciation and you shouldn’t either. I also wouldn’t trust Siri’s, or any other automated voice’s.

Not long ago, I caught a ride down to Hayle (pronounced Hale by everyone I’ve heard mention it) with a friend whose sat-nav called it HAY-yell. I’m pretty sure that’s wrong, but you can’t know with place names in England (or Cornwall) unless you ask someone local. And even then, you have to hope they’re not messing with you, because it’s got to be tempting.

I suspect Welsh place names are less unpredictable than English ones, but I’m saying that not because I know anything about Welsh place names but because I’m convinced that nothing matches the English ones for sheer insanity.

“how many brussels sprouts do we eat in the u.k. at christmas”

240,641, 004. But that doesn’t take account of the ones that get sliced into quarters and shoved under the leftover mashed potatoes, And the brussels sprouts monitors are still arguing whether to count the ones that get fed to the dog.

Britain and the U.S.

“british admired americans directness”

Oh, they did, did they? All of them? When was that? In my experience some do and some would just as soon send us home to be direct—or rude, if you prefer—with our fellow Amurricans.

“british hate americans” // “do brits like americans” // “british attitude toward americans” // “do british people like chocolate chip cookies”

Let’s get this out of the way first: I do understand the difference between Americans and chocolate chip cookies. I herded those complaining questions into a single group because I want to explain this once and once only: The Great British Attitude Convention—you know: the one that votes on how the entire population feels about things—bogged down in procedural disagreements this year and hasn’t been able to decide a damn thing. They’re still arguing about the shape of the table.

So Americans? Chocolate chip cookies? Right now, no one knows how the British feel. People are hugging American tourists and then hauling off and slapping them. They’re buying chocolate chip cookies, then throwing them on the floor by the cash register and stamping on them. It’s a tricky business, being on all sides of everything.

“british people think of tornado alley”

I’m not so sure they do. A few, probably, but I don’t think tornado alley’s widely known.

The inevitable wig questions

“does the government still wear those stupid wigs in england”

The government is not a living being. From that it follows from it is that the government doesn’t have a physical head to put a wig on. It’s embarrassing, but there it is. Some things we’ve just got to face up to. And the phrase “the head of state”? It’s a figure of speech. The state, like the government, doesn’t have a literal head.

“do english judges feel silly”

Constantly.

Oh, you were asking about wigs. Probably not. They’re used to them.

Gotcha questions

“how to act like aristocracy”

Okay, I admit it: When I gave that title (or something like it; I don’t really remember) to a post, I was thinking, I bet someone googles this. And they do. Not in huge numbers, but in ones and threes. It’s embarrassing. For them, not me. Do you suppose they’re really trying to act like aristocracy, and if so, why?

“how to behave like an aristocratic lady”

Keep your eye on me, kid, then do the opposite.

What the world really wants to know about Britain, part sevenish

What leads (a few) wide-eyed innocents from all over the internet to Notes from the U.K.? Let’s look at the search questions they ask–and let’s pretend it tells us something about what they want to know about Britain.

We’ll start with the strange ones, for a change, instead of saving them for dessert.

Strange questions

“why is everyone wearing pineapples”

I, my friends, am not wearing pineapples. Not as I type this and not when I read the question. That convinces me that not everyone is wearing pineapples. I don’t think I ever have worn pineapples, although there was a stretch of time when I wasn’t responsible for what I wore—or even for remembering it. But my mother wasn’t a pineapple kind of parent. I’m pretty sure she didn’t dress me in any. If this is really important to anyone, I can ask if my older brother remembers any pineapple-related clothing events–his memory kicks in a few years earlier than mine–but I’m hoping you’ll take my word on this, because it’s not going to be easy to explain why I’m asking.

And to be completely clear, it doesn’t matter if the question is about clothing with pictures of pineapples, the fruit itself (sliced or whole; canned, fresh, or dried), or three-dimensional imitations of the fruit. I am not now wearing nor have I ever worn any of them.

Why did the comment lead someone to me? Because one of my posts, “Banning Pineapples,” mentioned that a couple of music festivals had banned them, along with hand grenades and land mines. You can understand why they’re all in the same category, right?

As an article on the BBC website explained (and it’s bizarre enough that it bears repetition), “Organisers said [the ban] was because fans of Oxford band Glass Animals bring hundreds of the fruit to its gigs, in a nod to song ‘Pork Soda’ which includes the lyrics ‘pineapples are in my head.’ ”

No, I don’t understand it either. Especially the pork soda part. But nothing I wrote mentioned anyone dressing in or as a pineapple. Pineapples are not in my head. And what kind of world do we live in that people don’t make a distinction between wearing pictures of pineapples and decking themselves out in dripping slices of the canned stuff?

A very strange world, that’s what we live in. It must be time for an irrelevant photo, and then another question.

Blatantly irrelevant photo: begonia flowers

“coke fabric yard”

I not only don’t understand this question, I can’t account for it leading anyone to Notes. As far as I can remember, I haven’t written about either coke or Coke. Yard? Yes, I have mentioned yards, probably in the context of metric and non-metric measures. Fabric? In the U.S, it’s measured by the yard, so I might’ve used that word too. Plus I do tend to call that piece of ground outside a house a yard. I probably said something about ours. The British call it a garden. Even—I think—if it’s cemented over.

Coke, though? I can think of three meanings of the word, and none are measured by the yard. You might as well toss pineapples into the conversation.

Surely thousands of other people on the internet have mentioned the word yard. How deep into a Google search would you have to go before you landed here?

Well, because I take the responsibility of blogging seriously, I checked. It turns out that you can buy Coke fabric—that’s fabric with pictures of Coke (cans of, or maybe bottles, but not spills or glasses), and the first couple of search pages were all about how to buy some. So if someone wanted to buy Coke fabric by the yard, they didn’t have to go very deep into the listings–it’s all at the top. But they went past all that, so I kept going as well. And it all got strange by the second or third page. I found:

Christ to Coke: How an Image Becomes an Icon. When I followed the link, I landed midway into the thing and found a mention of fabric and a picture of the American flag. No Coke, no Christ, no idea what it’s all about. Best guess? It’s somebody’s PhD thesis and it’s all very, very deep. Too deep for the likes of us, so let’s move on.

Next came The Dangers of Kissing and Diet Coke: What Your Doctor Doesn’t Know. This leads to a book that opens by saying, “I bet you bought this book because you wonder what’s dangerous about kissing and Diet Coke.”

Well, no. I didn’t pay a damn dime and wouldn’t have. And when the author didn’t get around to either kissing or Diet Coke within the first few paragraphs, I figured it was clickbait and bullshit and I moved on to The Pollution Abatement Handbook, which mentioned both coke (a fuel used in making steel) and fabric filters to minimize emissions.

Below that I found The Reports of Sir Edward Coke KNT (1572-1617), in Thirteen Parts, which not only gives us one of the keywords in the author’s name but somewhere along the line mentions a church-yard, and that hyphen make sit look like the word yard is running around loose. No fabric. Sorry.

“KNT” may be an abbreviation of knight, but might also be a hint that the gentleman was knit. Or–as I’d have put it–knitted (or is that knot, or possibly knut?), but both spelling a grammar were different back then. I think I like it best when I’m not sure, so I didn’t try to find out anything about him.

After that came a story about cocaine being found in a Coke factory in France, which is appropriate, then one about what it’s “really” like to smuggle cocaine. Then we were back to Coke fabric.

Then I gave up.

“what does ‘feeding the bears’ mean when it comes to classroom instructional design”

Um. Gee. I have no idea. I googled it but the responses were about feeding actual bears. Or not feeding actual bears, which for most of us seems like a good idea.

The exception was the Urban Dictionary, which defined it as getting a traffic ticket. It had a second definition, but it was even less useful. I have as little understanding of how the search led to me as I do of the definition the writer was looking for.

 

Questions about Britain’s greatness

As always, people want to know why Britain’s called Great Britain. Or sometimes when it was first called Great Britain. Or—from the gullible—why Britain’s great. This version of the question comes from people who think the jumbo burger has to be big in some absolute way when in fact it could easily be bigger than a micro-size regular burger.

Great Britain is—as I say every time I write one of these posts—a geographical term. It means big.

When I slotted the question into Google, I’m happy to report that I didn’t have to work my way through pollution handbooks. Notes was close to the top of the list. Of course, Google feeds you what it thinks you want and confirms whatever prejudices it thinks you have. Still, you take your triumphs where you can find them.

If you want to know why Britain’s called Great Britain, it’s here.

I have yet to write about when Great Britain was first called that or why Britain’s called Britain, but a shallow splash in the Google pond tells me that Britain comes from the Latin Britannia, which dropped out of use when the Romans left Britain and came back into use when the Normans shot an arrow into the eye of the king of the moment and put themselves in charge, so they got to call it whatever they wanted.

I still don’t know why the Romans called it Britannia, but let’s not dive down that rabbit hole right now.

In the meantime, if you think words will make a country great, I refer you to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Full disclosure: Some versions of the quote use “cannot” instead of “can’t,” and one link claims he never said it at all. But, as Yogi Berra (is alleged to have) said, “I never said half the things I said.” So let’s not quibble.

And by way of full disclosure, I can fool myself perfectly well, so you don’t have to bother.

For the sake of variety, someone asked, “why great Britain.” This reminds me of the Marx Brothers routine, “Why a duck?” But really, why not a duck? And why not Great Britain? But all this threatens to involve us in some pretty deep thought and it’s too much for a Friday morning. We’ll leave it.

 

Knowledgeable questions

“emmits”

You have to know something about Cornwall to ask about this. It’s a Cornish word for incomers, and also for tourists, who swarm all over the landscape like ants, which is the word’s literal meaning.

When I googled emmits, I popped up at the top of the list, which is (again) meaningless since Google’s feeding me what it thinks I want to see and it knows how vain I am.

The word is also spelled emmets, and since that’s not the spelling I used, I drop out of the running if I put the word in that way. I should probably have gone with the e spelling. It seems to be more common.

What are people really trying to find out when they google this? If they’re emmits (or emmets), maybe only a definition, but maybe what the Cornish think of them. Since I’m not Cornish and came here four generations too late to ever be, you shouldn’t look to me for an answer.

“what is a cockwomble”

I’m not at the top of the list here, but in the narrow field of cockwomble experts I do at least register. I’m so proud. And proud of all the strange people who know enough to ask what a cockwomble is. What information I have is here.

 

Repeat questions        

Every time we do this, people want to know about:

Why British lawyers wear [fill in the blank with a disparaging adjective] wigs in court. Recently they’ve also been asking about court wigs.

Answer: It keeps their heads warm.

Oh, hell, I suppose I should include a link. Actual information is here.

Beer. This is usually—getting right to the point—about which country’s beer has more alcohol. Honestly, who cares? If you’re worried about getting drunk on minimal volume, try vodka. Or gin or tequila. Hell, it you can go for stuff that comes in colors too if you like.

How the English (or British) feel about (or treat) American tourists. A recent version of this read “british snooty to american tourists.” If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly (to do this, you pour off the SEO and interpret the patterns left behind), this should really have its own category: Paranoia. The writers are wondering whether it’s safe to take their delicate little selves out of the United States and whether the British will be mean to them. Take the risk, folks. It can’t possibly be as bad as junior high school.

Unless you were the people who made junior high so horrible.

“Tea on the Lawn.” It took me a while to figure this out, but these questions turn out to be about a poem that must be assigned to half the schoolkids in Britain, and they’re all out there looking for a quick way to get their bored little heads around it—possibly without having to read the damn thing. A recent query was looking for a summary. Read the poem, kid. It’ll be shorter than the summary.

The post that draws these poor souls was about a fund-raising tea on the lawn of a great house near where I live. It’s a very British thing, that kind of tea, and as a rule it doesn’t involve poetry.

 

New questions

how to act like an aristocrat Mostly, as I write this drivel, I don’t think about SEO—search engine optimization, or how to game the googlemonster—but when I wrote the headline that drew the poor silly soul behind the question into my lair, I did wonder if someone wouldn’t google the phrase. And someone did, confirming my worst suppositions about human nature.

“romance, marriage, village life” I have no idea what someone expected to find, but when I google it, my post on gay marriage, romance, and village life shows up. It’s probably not what the person was looking for, but it involves all three words. A triumph.

“US mail box UK”

What can I say? Name a topic and someone out there is interested in it.

“a bit about Britain”

There’s a blog by that name, and several of its posts turn up in a Google search. A post of mine shows up at the bottom of the page, after the ones that were a closer fit, and the questioner continued down that far, leading me to conclude that some people have too much time on their hands.

 

Language

Questions about pronunciation usually ask about place names, but not long ago someone wanted “pronunciation of whoo.”

This is awkward. The English language is such a mess. I edited kids’ nonfiction (briefly, which is too bad because it was great fun), and one of the things I had to do was create a vocabulary list for each book, with not just definitions but also pronunciations. Real linguists use a set of symbols that only they can understand. If you know the code, they’ll tell you how a word’s pronounced, but our lists had to use the 26 letters of the English alphabet and make sense to the average ten-year-old.

It tells you something about the language that we need a set of symbols the average English speaker can’t read to tell us what our words sound like. But never mind them. I couldn’t use them–both because I don’t understand them and because they wouldn’t do what we needed done.

So: English pronunciation with 26 letters. Have you ever tried writing the pronunciation of an English word? Name me a vowel (we’ll leave the consonants alone; they’re not as much of a mess) that doesn’t have three pronunciations for every whim that crosses its flitty little mind. In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten avoids the whole problem by finding a word or phrase that each Yiddish word rhymes with. It works perfectly, but there must’ve been moments when he pounded his head against a wall.

So how do you pronounce whoo? Whoo. That’s  sort of like woo, but with a bit of air on the H, but that’s too long winded for a vocabulary list. It rhymes with few, but then so does woo, so that’s no damn help.

I’m happy to say, it never came up in the kids’ books.

“what do british call brownies”

Brownies. Aren’t you glad you asked? Mind you, British brownies aren’t always what I’d call brownies, because they’ll accept anything that’s baked, oblong, and vaguely chocolaty, but I’ve had some American brownies that I could describe the same way.

Semi-relevantly, the British tend to go over the top with their brownies, presumably because brownies are American and that’s what they think Americans do. So you can see a perfectly innocent brownie in a café’s display case, order it, and find that it comes to your table under a wedding gown’s worth of whipped cream embroidered with chocolate sauce. Plus, in the name of health and safety, a tiny marzipan stethoscope.

A question of my own and a bit about SEO

Before I end, I should make an opening, once again, for you to tell me what you’d like to know about Britain. Or the U.S. Or any other topic I might be unqualified to write about. I don’t promise to tackle it. That depends on whether I can be marginally informative while still amusing myself–and, with luck, you. But I will try.

And the bit about SEO? I just read that the Google searches beginning with “how to” are up more than 140% since 2004. (Sorry, I can’t give you link to prove I didn’t make this up. It was a very small item in the Guardian, and when I searched for it online, the matches were at least as bizarre as the stuff I’ve quoted above. Maybe it didn’t go into the online edition.)

The most popular searches include:

  • How to tie a tie (get someone to do it for you once, slip it off without unknotting it, and never own more than that one tie; when it gets dirty, twist it around to the back shows instead of the front)
  • How to kiss (put four lips together and see where things take you)
  • How to make money (don’t listen to anyone who charges for an answer)
  • How to write a cover letter (badly if the ones I’ve seen are typical)
  • How to make french toast (French toast? Excuse me, but I’m not answering that. It throws me so far off course that I’ve changed the structure of my answers by adding caps and periods and all that sentence-ending stuff. How’s that for intense? So let me ask a few questions of my own: Why not mashed potatoes? Why not pieroshki? In what culture is this a basic life skill?)

How people find a blog, part 5ish

Bloggers are obsessed with how people find their blog, and how to get more of them to find it. So let’s take a sensible, sober look at how people use search engines to find Notes from the U.K. Because what, I ask you, is more important in your lives than my blog?

Why nothing, thanks for asking.

First, a few notes of explanation: 1, I know how people find Notes because in the administrative background of all WordPress blogs is a page that (among other things) lists the questions that lead people to it. Most questions appear as “unknown search terms,” which annoys the hell out of me because of the fun I might be missing out on. So what follow are some of the terms that aren’t unknown. 2, For some reason, almost no questions use capital letters. I did once find a cap hidden in the middle of a word, but otherwise you can’t have ‘em. I’ve followed that style here, although I’ve had to fight Word to keep it from capitalizing all sorts of things. But when something’s really unimportant, I’m relentless. 3, None of the questions have question marks. I’ve kept that style too. Just thought I’d explain, because it makes strange reading. 4. I feel compelled to answer some of these questions, since it’s only polite. Even though, yes, I know the people who wrote them aren’t likely to still be around.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Irrelevant, and by now out of season, photo: foxgloves.

Let’s approach this by topic:

Great Britain

My most common search question is why Great Britain’s called Great Britain. This comes in various forms. Here are a few: why is england called great britain (it’s not, dear; it’s called England; Great Britain is called Great Britain); when were we called great britain (we still are; it’s a geographical term, not a compliment and not a historical judgment).

I just plonked that into a search engine myself (it’s the easy way to find my original post so I can link back to it) and, holy shit, I’m above Wikipedia, although below Quora.

This time I also found a question about great British runners—a topic on which I’m stunningly ignorant and on which I’ve never written. But the search engine found great. It found Britain. Maybe in the same post I said I wasn’t running for office. I doubt it, but it’s true that I’m not. Close enough. Match made, the search engine said. I’m outta here. Whoever asked that, my apologies. Hope you tried again and found someone sensible.

Wigs

The next most common question, although I admit this is guesswork since I haven’t bothered to count, is about the wigs British lawyers and judges wear in court, and these questions always come with an adjective. For example, why do brits wear those stupid wigs in court (only the judges and lawyers wear them; you need to know this; if you’re the defendant and turn up in one, no one will think you’re cute; except me, so let me know and I’ll be there taking notes) and why do british lawyers wear those dumb wigs (it’s only the barristers, and they have to).

What’s begun to fascinate me about these questions is that they’re mini-essays, every last opinionated one of them. People who want to know about the wigs just can’t help sounding off. They’re horrified (no one ever says those wonderful wigs) and they want the world and its search engines to know it.

And in case you landed here through one of those essaylets, whatever adjective you used, I agree with you.

Food and Drink

Most of these are about brussels sprouts. Really. The latest ones are boxing day/why brussels sprouts and how do british eat sprouts (with their feet while lying under the table, of course; I thought everyone knew that).

Now I’ll admit that this isn’t a full survey of what people want to know about British food. The only questions that lead to Notes are the ones about topics I’ve written on (with a few exceptions that will come up later), so that limits things, but I’ve also written about insanely expensive Easter eggs, Pancake Day and sticky toffee pudding. Is anyone interested? Nope. Either the search engines or the searchers themselves stare right past those. My best guess is that they’re not what the rest of the world thinks of when they think of British food.

The rest of the world, however, does think of beer when it thinks of Britain, and I get a steady trickle of questions about British beer and—getting right down to what matters—its alcohol content.

I also get a small group of questions about tea. Nothing fits the British national stereotype better than tea. This latest survey’s tea question is not actually a question. It’s a statement: i always ask for an extra pot of hot water with my pot of tea. Which is, in its odd way, charming. It’s a tiny snapshot from someone’s life. What’s it doing in a search engine? I have no idea. What did the writer hope to find? A kindred spirit? In case they did, if you always ask for an extra pot of hot water, please type me too into Google and see if you can connect. I’m just sure the spirit of the great googlemaster will be happy to connect you.

And since all the advice I usually ignore tells bloggers that they should link back to their old posts because the world is just panting to read more, more, more of them (and incidentally because if people clink onto another post they register as more page views), I’ll say here and now that I’ve written more about tea than anyone who doesn’t live in a tea-drinking nation will think is physically possible. Here’s one. If you want more, you’ll have to search. Because even though I’m tucking in an obnoxious number of back links this time, I really don’t kid myself that you want to spend your whole day here.

Intercultural Mayhem

Americans in particular want to know what the British think of them, and as far as I can tell what a lot of them are really asking is why the British hate them. There’s an interesting cultural/political lurking study lurking at the bottom of that if you’re in the mood to do it. In this latest group of search questions, the one that expressed this best was things that british hate about american tourists (oh, I dunno; maybe the assumption that they’ll all hate you?).

The flip side of that is the question what do tourists think of america (various things; it’ll depend on who they are and where they go and what thoughts they brought with them, not to mention where they’re from; it’s kind of like what tourists think of Britain; they don’t all get together and put their thoughts to a vote, then throw out the ones that don’t win).

That leads to the question what do the english talk about (the weather; all other topics are banned; it gets really boring around here sometimes).

No, that question deserves a fuller answer, which can’t fit inside parentheses. What people say here a lot (as janebasil of Making it Write reminded me at some, ahem, length in the comments section of my Absurdistan post) is either “thank you” or “sorry.” The problem is that these aren’t a topic. You can’t actually discuss them, all you can do is say them. Repeatedly. Many times during the course of a day. Or an hour. Or five minutes. Sorry to have taken your time with that, but thank you for reading it.

Someone else asked, why do the uk like narrow roads, and this is so tempting that I have to break out of parentheses to answer it. 1. The entire nation’s agoraphobic and gets anxious on wide roads. 2. Austerity. They used to be as wide as American roads but the government’s been selling off the margins in an attempt to balance the budget. Yellow lines are on sale this week. If you want one, you’d better hurry. And you get a further discount if you buy a pair. 3. It traces way back into their childhoods and would take several years of mass analysis to tease out.

Enough. I’d google why do people ask silly questions but I’m afraid I’d end up on some other bloggers list of silly questions if I click through to whatever Google suggests.

Another search term was the single word emmits. (Ooh, I’m at the top of the list here, above the Urban Dictionary. That’ll change my entire life.) To do a search on emmits, you have to either be Cornish or have spent some time here, because it’s the Cornish word for ants—and by extension for tourists from anywhere that isn’t Cornwall (not just, or even primarily, Americans). Like most words meaning people who aren’t us, it’s not a compliment.

Why did someone do a search on it, given that they already knew the word? It’s another one of the internet’s mysteries.

That leads neatly to a sensible question, what’s it like being an incomer in cornwall. By way of an answer, let me tell you a story that someone who moved here several decades ago told me: She mentioned to someone Cornish that she’d been warned the Cornish wouldn’t talk to her but that in here experience they’d had been friendly.

“Well,” he said, “you talk to us.”

Which does make a difference.

Someone else wanted to know about british class system foreigners. I don’t know what the answer there is, mostly because I’m not sure what the question in, but my sense is that as a foreigner I stand outside it. I’m happy there, but if your goal is to be an insider, I doubt it’ll work. See last week’s post about black shoes if you’re wondering how easy it is to break in.

Language

inconsistency of american english, someone wrote. Inconsistent with what? British English? Itself? Nuclear physics? English is an inconsistent language, in all its varieties. Don’t expect anything else and you won’t be unhappy. Except, of course, if you’re studying for a spelling test. Or trying to memorize the grammar. Or trying to look literate in print, because English is always hiding some damn thing you aren’t sure of.

And don’t expect American English to act like British English. Or Australian. Or Liberian. Because It’s not British. Or Australian. Or Liberian.

Someone else wanted to know about british musical terminology and would be better off going someplace sensible, although I did once get dragged kicking a screaming into the thicket of crotchets, breves, semibreves, and hemisemidemiquavers that the musically competent Brits I know mention with the serene conviction that they can communicate with me. I understand that they communicate with each other perfectly well, in spite of using those words, and I have tried to make sense of them. Honestly I have. But if I inhale I get the giggles and go away knowing nothing more than when I started.

I’m not sure whether this last query goes under language or intercultural mayhem, but somebody typed in, yes tickety boo. Twice, either because they didn’t find what they wanted the first time and thought they’d try again with exactly the same phrase (and follow the same link that didn’t get them what they wanted) or because they liked what they found and wanted to go back to it. But what did they want? A world where everything’s tickety-boo? Maybe, because it means, basically, fine. As ways to improve the world go, typing that into a search engine strikes me as one of the less effective possible approaches. But who am I to criticize? We all do what we can.

Miscellaneous

One of my favorite queries in this batch is compartive of the weter. I’m going to cut this one some slack on the theory that it’s a second-language question, and you’d have to be a victim of my French to know how deeply uncritical I should be of second-language oddities. Or while we’re at it, my Italian. Even my Spanish, which isn’t bad given that Americans are, if you’ll forgive a generalization, godawful at languages, but it’s still a bit strange.

The question here is, What made a search engine decide that I knew something about this? I do use the word of. And the. Frequently. Beyond that, though, I can’t claim much expertise.

Someone else wanted to know about lupine leaf curl treatment and should really have been directed to a sensible site. I grow lupines, or I did before I stopped slaughtering slugs for about a month this summer and the horrors chewed through the leaves like a horde of locusts. I think I’m going to have to replant. But before all that happened, I took and posted a photo. And the caption used the word lupine. That’s all it takes to become an expert.

Two questions came through on topics I do know about: how to decline an award nomination and spidery corners, although the person who typed that second one may have been looking for advice about spiders, not this blog, which is about the spidery corners of British culture–or so I claimed when I set it up. But I do have spiders in the corners of our house, and I’m damned if I know how to get them out. If anyone has advice, I’d be grateful.

And there we are for another week. Now go to Google and have some fun. You’ll baffle a blogger somewhere.

Nine reasons I ignore SEO

Let’s start with basics. SEO is short for search engine optimization. Bloggers (along with other people, but never mind them) obsess about it. Our goal is to lure in innocents who are searching the internet. Won’t you step into my parlor, said the blogger to the fly. Won’t you read 107 of my posts and hit Follow and stay here forever, thus bumping up my stats.

Stats? They’re the things that tell you how many people read what bits of your blog, and what country they’re from, and assorted other stuff, and they’re never high enough. We all want more, more, more.

So to get more people to stop by, you try to make yourself as visible to search engines as possible. You optimize yourself. You dig a niche out of the crumbling riverbank of the internet. Or maybe that’s the crumbling riverbank of what was once your creativity. The metaphor’s a little crumbly itself, but I’ll come back to that issue about creativity. You do all sorts of stuff, some of which borders on the corporate (all that stuff about becoming a brand) and some of which works at least some of the time.

Yet another irrelevant photo

Yet another irrelevant photo: flowers.

If you’re good at it, you provide what searchers looking for and they’re happy and either stay or come back, and you’re almost happy, although your stats are still never high enough. Addiction’s like that. You check your stats and see that your views have shot up. Or that they haven’t, in which case you tweak your S. You maximize your O. You tone down that pesky E.

You check your stats again. You remind yourself that yesterday’s stats won’t have changed but you check them again anyway. Because addiction’s like that.

I do check my stats, partly because I’m addicted and partly because the questions that lead people to my blog can be bizarre and finding a particularly good one adds a dash of insanity to my day. The insanity I generate on my own isn’t half as much fun. But the serious SEOing? I’ve read about it. In spire of what I’m saying here, I’ve appreciated the advice and learned from some of it. I’ve even made good use of some of it. But it has a way of taking over your brain. So although I’m not arguing that anyone else should follow my example, for the most part I ignore it.

Before I go on, I might as well admit that as I wrote this I couldn’t help imagining people arguing with me. So if you want to, argue with me. Or agree. It’ll make an interesting discussion. And to the people who write about SEO and do it well, I do appreciate what I’ve learned from you. It’s just that taking it too seriously was threatening my writing.

Why am I offering you nine reasons? Because the internet loves numbered lists. Offer people three reasons they shouldn’t use nail files, eleven ways to charm wild rabbits, or five reasons to paint their walls midnight blue, and they’ll click on that link. Or a certain number of them will. Even though they’ve been terrified of rabbits since childhood, their landlord does the painting and only buys white, and because their English isn’t great they only understand file in the context of papers and file drawers, so nail file makes no sense to them. But it’s a list. It involves numbers. The just have to click.

So. I ignore SEO because:

  1. I hate numbered lists. They’re about simplicity, and life isn’t simple. The interesting stuff—and most of the good jokes—involve complexity. It’s true that numbered lists are a nifty organizing tool, but honestly, people, they’re not the only one. They’re overdone.
  2. What people are looking for from numbered lists, whether they know it or not, is advice. I don’t give advice.
  3. If I do give advice, it will be in a moment of weakness and highly suspect. I advise you to ignore it. I have your best interests at heart here.
  4. SEO is about niches and I don’t exactly have a niche. Travel? Not really, although travelers may be interested. Expat? Expats are nothing but immigrants with a coating of education, money, culture, invisible ethnicity, or some combination of the above. If other people want to call themselves expats, fine by me, but I’m an immigrant. Google immigrant blog, though, and you’ll find one or two, but mostly you’ll find sites campaigning against immigration or offering information and advice about how to immigrate. Immigrant blog is not a niche. Besides, people trying to immigrate are so desperate for a toehold in this hostile world that making jokes about it from my own safe position borders on the obscene. Or forget borders. It’s planted dead center in the middle of it. Is this a humor blog, then? There’s something dismal about hanging a sign above your work saying, “This is funny.” When I worked as an editor and a cover letter told me the enclosed was a humorous article, I counted myself forewarned. It wasn’t. Ever.
  5. Even if we were to decide that in spite of everything Notes is to some extent an expat blog (I read several, and a couple of them are funny; others are worth reading for other reasons), that doesn’t mean expats are the only people I want to talk to. Or even the main group. I write for anyone who’ll laugh at my jokes, anyone who wants to know about living in Britain, anyone who wants to read about the oddities of living in a culture that isn’t your own. There aren’t enough people in those categories as it is, so why narrow things down? I know, I know: When you define your target audience you’re not limiting it. If you know where to find your audience, you can address it. Book publishing works on the same principle. You write a cover letter or book proposal and say, “This book will appeal to 36-year-olds who have never had a manicure and who didn’t wash their dishes yesterday.” Niche marketing holds that men don’t want to read about a woman protagonist, whites don’t want to read about blacks, adults don’t want to read about children, straight people don’t want to read about gays, etc. etc., ad fucking nauseum. To sum that up, dominant groups don’t want to read about non-dominant ones. It you’re in the non-dominant group, you’re niche. If you’re in the dominant group, you’re mainstream. Unless of course a niche book breaks out, at which point we all worship it. What am amazing writer to have done that. What wisdom. What a gift it is to be so deeply rooted in a vibrant culture. Do you spot just a touch of irony in that? [If this weren’t a numbered list I’d start a new paragraph here, so take a small breath.] I have yet to find the niche that makes me think I’ve found mine. Niche-ing makes sense in some situations: if you write about blogging; about food; about parenting, which is usually code for mothering; about travel; about books; about writing; about transgender issues; about hunting wild mushrooms in Maine; about politics or a given political outlook—about any established or sharply defined category. But some of us sprawl between categories. Some of us write in small categories and want to break out of them. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re not focused—we may keep a tight focus on our awkward topic. But we don’t fit neatly into an established category, and I, at least, don’t want to narrow what I’m doing in order to fit.
  6. (And this is, really, the main issue) I don’t want my writing controlled by my efforts to game the search engines. Again, I have no quarrel with people who do. It works, and it’s a legitimate choice. To maximize my page views, I could, in theory, find out what people want to read and then write about it, repeating the key words in all the key places. I get a steady flow of people, for example, wanting to know why Great Britain is called Great Britain. They push my page views up and I like this because (a) it makes me feel good and (b) I’m hoping that when my next book starts making the rounds, the blog will convince a publisher to consider it with just a bit more respect, so my stats may have an impact on something of more use in the world than my silly damn ego. People also want photos of cats. And dogs. The appetite for them is endless. Should I be sitting at my computer, then, and wondering what else people want and how I could produce it? Possibly, but if I do, will I be able to keep my writing sharp enough to make it worth reading? To the extent that Notes works, it depends on me making myself laugh. That’s not an easy river to channel, and it dries up altogether when I give too much thought to what people think and whether I’m making them happy. Which leads to:
  7. The only reason I can keep this blog fed is because early on in the process of creating it I stopped giving a rip. I ignore much of what I learned about writing, and a good part of what, in turn, I taught. And if you were a student of mine, whatever I taught you I taught in good faith. We all change, and maybe I needed to learn it before I could set it aside. But I apologize anyway. What exactly am I ignoring? I haven’t checked in with the rules in my head long enough to be sure. These days, I pretty much let myself sit at the keyboard and riff. I can’t do that and worry about SEO. I won’t complain about people who do as long as they can do it with some subtlety, but it’s not going to work for me.
  8. If you read about SEO long enough, someone will tell you to think of yourself as a brand. I am not a brand. I’m a writer. I’m a cantankerous human being. I’m any number of other things, but I’m not a brand.
  9. I did say nine, didn’t I? I lied. It has a better resonance than eight. And I’m sure the search engines like it better.