Posted tagged ‘The Spectator’

Recent Revelations by Charles Moore

30 July 2014

If you are at all interested in any or all of the topics listed below, I recommend Charles Moore’s recent column in my favourite magazine, The Spectator.

UK Parliament: Routine culling of documents
Forecasts by egregious climate change doomsayers
The benefits of an Eton and Oxbridge education for writers


Christmas Book Purchases: A Few Ideas from The Spectator

30 November 2013

This is a small idiosyncratic selection from the numerous pre-Christmas yearly recommendations by book reviewers of The Spectator, London‘s multi-faceted weekly magazine founded in 1828.

From the first of two instalments in The Spectator (16 November 2013):

Nobly immune to (but enraged by) the Kindle invasion, Roger Lewis highly recommends three physical books on books, including The Library: A World History by James W.P. Campbell as “another lavish and melancholy tome”.

Two reviewers select Charles Moore’s first volume of his Margaret Thatcher biography as outstanding.

One of journalist and writer Michela Wrong’s selections is Rory Campbell’s Comandante: The Life and Legacy of Hugo Chavez. “a bracing exploration of modern-day dictatorship which contains a merciless exposition of how a complacent middle class allowed a society and economy to be hijacked by a wily egomaniac”.

As well as two positive recommendations, Ian Thomson offers an interesting counterpoint to the standard rave reviews of Clive James’s translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, which he judges to be “egregiously overrated”, mainly for “its fusty-sounding language”.

In the following issue of The Spectator (23 November 2013), the following three items caught my eye.

Philip Henscher is very enthusiastic about “an instant classic of autobiography”, the Bengali Tapan Raychauduri’s The World in Our Time (published in India by HarperCollins).

James Walton takes up the cudgels for Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life, which he feels has not sold as well as expected by previous reviewers.

Matthew Parris introduces readers to the potential delights of Rob Hutton’s amusing exposé of English journalese: Romps, Tots and Boffins. The Strange Language of News, which is the one I think I will buy myself for Xmas.

Translation 28. 2011. Annus horribilissimus so far

21 April 2011

In view of the unbelievable sequence of worldwide calamities (earthquakes, tsunamis and floods), the waves of social upheaval in the Middle East, and the latest developments heaping further media fuel on the Great Financial Fear bonfire, the year 2011 so far has left little room for media interest in anything else. So why blog? But in view of the prospect of a (real) news eclipse of at least ten days (more probably, years, to judge by the 1990s Diana mania) by the William and Kate soap opera, it may be time to return to the trenches and offer competition and viable alternatives for those bored witless by the excessive media hype surrounding next week’s event. Here is a minuscule contribution of language trivia to this surely noble cause, which should be taken up a.s.a.p. by watchdog organisations like Avaaz and Get Up if they really wish to cash in on the W & K frenzy and expand their Internet empire.

Rory Sutherland, the vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group, UK, but more importantly for blog audiences, the (fortnightly) ‘Wiki Man’ of the prestigious Spectator magazine of London, has been doing some lexicographical research on hash. That is, the # sign. It ranges far and wide and has very important advice for those who have to purchase a SIM card in a foreign language: ‘The Wiki Man making a hash of things’.
OK. That should distract you from at least one Royal Wedding news bulletin or article.

A few more Royal Wedding op-ed articles or TV pieces can be avoided by reading and reflecting on Anson Cameron’s short essay, ‘Why Everything Sounds Better in Double Dutch’.

For those desperate enough, Cameron’s thesis can be pursued well after the dreaded Royal Wedding, as this tidbit suggests: “It is, I suppose, an act of faith in humanity to assume that communications you do not understand are profound, beautiful and true. A faith largely misguided, of course.”

Think: Monsieur Jourdain, guru-spiel – or why that Latin American guy ran off with your girlfriend / wife / partner.

Sorry, I have to watch News 24 now.

For fellow bloggers who crave massive audiences (and money), take a tip from the phenomenally active and successful salaried blogger, James Delingpole. Delingpole is famous for his contributions to the the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate, but in a recent column (again in The Spectator, which is one of his employers) he announces his temporary retirement from the blogging fray, which has affected his health. See ‘Bloggings not a Job – it’s an expensive addiction’ to find out more about the perils of blogging.

Europe in Decline: The UK Contribution

4 October 2010

For several years now the media has been presenting evidence of a collective decline in European morale. Some of the evidence of the ‘late Great’ Britain’s contributions to this sad state of affairs is regularly chronicled by contributors to The Spectator. In its issue for 18 September 2010, the upmarket British magazine offers a package of “Thought Crime” special articles as further proof of the pernicious currents at work in UK which are undermining its traditional liberal values and beliefs.

The main articles of the series are:

Melanie Phillips, ‘I Think, therefore I’m guilty’.
“Britain is a liberal and progressive utopia – and the authorities will arrest anyone who disagrees.”

Alan Rusbridger, ‘How to stifle the Press’
“Numerous reports on our defamation laws have found that they have a chilling effect on free speech. Only last month President Obama signed into law an act protecting American citizens from British libel judgements.”

Christopher Booker, ‘Scientists in hiding’
“Academics who dare to question the scientific establishment’s consensus on Darwinism or global warming increasingly find themselves ostracised and demonised.”
“… fanatical intolerance, in defence of pseudo-scientific causes which reflect the prejudices of the age, has become only too common …”

Hardeep Singh Kohli, ‘Last laughs’
“With the help of the internet, politically correct vigilantes are monitoring jokes and suffocating comedy.”

(Relevant blogs on Global Warming are here, and here, and here.)

Political Correctness in UK

30 September 2010

One of the many varied treats offered each week by the British magazine The Spectator (first published in 1828) is the result of a literary Competition (currently managed by Lucy Vickery).

The Spectator issue for 8 September gives the results of Competition 2663 in which readers were invited to submit a politically correct version of a well-known fairy tale. Vickery’s inspiration for this topic was James Finn Garner’s Politically Correct Bedtime Stories: Modern Tales for Our Life and Times, “who recasts favourite yarns to take account of modern political sensibilities”. The five prize-winning entries published in this issue are up to the usual superb standard of imagination, writing and (where appropriate, as here) satire, exhibited in this column. The one which took the extra “fiver” (5 pounds sterling) is reproduced below. The enviable author is Bill Greenwell. The efforts of his co-winners, who received 30 GBP for their labours, are available here.

“An omnivorous, optically-challenged wiccan appropriates two pre-pubescent and differently-gendered siblings whose adoptive mother and natural father, themselves victims of a recession, have allegedly relinquished their custodial responsibilities. The siblings, exercising their right to roam, have nonetheless invaded the personal space of the wiccan, and defied national advisory consumption guidelines relating to body-mass index by eating her dwelling-house, which is biodegradable but high in fat content. She in turn force-feeds the male child, contrary to the spirit of Regulation Nf 1538/91 of the European Commission (June 1991), and employs the female child as a service operative, contrary to both EU directive 94/33/EC and the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The children perform person-slaughter upon the wiccan, and do not adequately dispose of the cremains. They also appropriate valuables, contrary to The Treasure Act of 1996. After returning to their father’s domicile, they live happily for an indeterminate subsequent period.”
Bill Greenwell

Thanks, Bill.

That week’s challenge by Ms Vickery was:
No. 2666: Pseuds corner

“You are invited to supply an example of pretentious, pseudo-intellectual tosh in the shape of a review of a TV or radio soap opera or any other piece of entertainment — book, play, film — aimed at the mass market (150 words maximum). Entries should be submitted by email, where possible, to by midday on 22 September.”

And the current challenge, No. 2668, if you are very quick, is to send in a poem “that contains advice from young to old” (16 lines maximum), by midday on 6 October.
Good luck!

Since September 2008 lucky Australian Spectator fans and addicts (like myself) have been able to purchase a separate Australian edition, with 12 extra pages of Australian content (mainly current political and social commentary). It is published three days after the British edition.

Translation 21: Translating @ into Other Languages

28 August 2010

Have you ever wondered how the now indispensable email term “@” translates into other languages (apart from those which merely use the term as a symbol)?

Well, Dot Wordsworth, who presents a short and always interesting weekly column on English usage in the British Spectator magazine titled ‘Mind Your Language’, has recently offered this very useful piece, which I quote verbatim below. I recommend her other pieces to readers who are unaware of her research into English usage. (Taken from

21 August 2010

“I found myself in a fine pickle trying to give my email address on the telephone in Spanish. It was bad enough with W, an uncommon letter in Spanish. They have their own version of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie (or Able, Baker, Charlie for older readers), but I didn’t know it. Whisky for W seemed to work, but I dried up when it came to the @ sign.
The newly useful @ sign is called apestaartje, ‘little monkey’s tail’ in Dutch, and Germans follow suit. It is chiocciola, ‘snail’ in Italian, and a snail is also apparently what Koreans name it after. The Danes and Swedes liken it to an elephant’s trunk, but the Norwegians think of it as a pig’s tail.
The Spanish for ‘at’ is a, but a is also the name for the letter A. At last a nice friend of Veronica’s tells me that the Spanish for @ is arroba. I asked: ‘What does that mean?’ If I had asked that of a Frenchwoman, who would call @ arobase, she would have answered, ‘It just means that sign in email addresses.’
In Spanish, though, it had a meaning already, a measure of weight, a quarter of a quintal. If that sounds obscure, remember that quintal is an English word too, pronounced kwintl, formerly meaning ‘100lb’, later ‘a hundredweight’, which schoolgirls of my generation learnt was 112lb or a 20th of a ton. That means that an arroba is the same as our quarter: two stone or 28lb. Both the Spanish and the English words quintal come from Arabic, qintar. The dear old Arabs got that word from Latin. They borrowed lots of words from Latin, and qintar came from centenarium. From the same Latin word, we English derived centenary, a measure of weight as well as of years. (The Oxford English Dictionary gives the ‘regular’ pronunciation with the stress on the first syllable, which no one uses today.)
On a website called Purnas, partly devoted to the Aragonese language (there is such a thing), I found a learned article proving that the earliest use of the @ sign for arroba was not in Seville in 1536, as someone claimed last year. An example is given from a document written in 1448 in the Aragonese town of Ariza, recording a shipment of wheat.
Although arroba comes from the Arabic ar-rub, ‘a quarter’, modern-day Arabs call @ by the Arabic word fi, meaning ‘at’ — and ‘in’, ‘on’, ‘near’, ‘by’, ‘to’ or ‘times’, as in multiplication — which is a sort of correlative of ‘@’.”

Any other translations would be of interest if readers care to send them in.

Translating and Interpreting – 13. The Ultimate Sacrifice

13 December 2009

One or two previous blogs in this series have described some of the potential difficulties and disadvantages which may face interpreters (or translators), especially those who work in newsworthy national and international environments and occasionally find themselves being used as scapegoats to save the face of their prominent employers. Number 13 of the series deals briefly with the most negative consequence of this career choice: death on duty.

The conduct of the seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and their close (“in our face”) reporting by the international media – would have been impossible without the contingents of intrepid cameramen and local interpreters, translators and ‘fixers’ who have helped the American and allied forces and the battalions of foreign correspondents. A small proportion of these civilian interpreters (etc.) have paid the ultimate price for their work: death. (Others, as in other foreign wars, may well pay a similar price, when the coalition forces finally depart.)

On assignment in North Iraq in March 2003, Eric Campbell, a correspondent for Australian ABC TV was injured and his cameraman was killed in a terrorist attack (virtually on camera). When New York Times correspondent Stephen Farrell was taken hostage recently in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, he was freed in a subsequent commando raid but his “translator”, Sultan Munadi, was killed.

In an account of his own experiences in South Lebanon, another war correspondent, Sam Kiley, narrates the death of Abed Takoush, the fixer for the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen. Kiley also provides this background information on the unique job description of a fixer and an insight into the close bond between foreign correspondents (or the military) and their invaluable local assistants, referring also to the case of Sultan Manadi. (See The Spectator, 16 September 2009)

“Abed was a “fixer”, like Sultan Manadi, who was killed last week during a NATO operation to free the British journalist Stephen Farrell from Afghan kidnappers. ‘Fixer’ is an ignoble title. The word is sleazy and demeaning: it implies the local people hired by the foreign media are mere higglers. The reality is that without a worldwide network of local freelance drivers, translators, and general all-round fixers, there would be a lot of dead journalists, and pretty soon no foreign news at all.

Any nitwit, and I am living proof, can be a ‘war correspondent’ if they are lucky enough to come across a great fixer. These men and women usually earn no more than $100 a day. For that they provide introductions to gangsters, war lords, terrorists, politicians – as well as navigate, drive and give instant tutorials on Albanian politics, Somali clan rivalries and Balkan history. More important, they keep us alive. Behind our backs they apologise for our cultural insensitivity, anticipate our needs before we know that we’ve got them, and from time to time literally lead us through minefields.”
(The Spectator, 16 September 2009)

A happier ending: 30-year-old Australian SAS Trooper Mark Donaldson was recently awarded the Victoria Cross (Australia’s first for 30 years) for rescuing an Afghan interpreter under heavy fire in 2008. He was subsequently received by Queen Elizabeth II in Buckingham Palace.

Note: Sam Kiley is the author of Desperate Glory: At War in Helmand with Britain’s 16th Air Assault Brigade (London, Bloomsbury).