NEWSLETTER 527: SATURDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2007
1. Feedback, notes and comments
Carbon footprint I was rather dismissive of the image behind this phrase in my piece last week. Several subscribers pointed out that it was almost certainly derived from the older ecological footprint. This attempts to measure the resource needs of a population by calculating the area of land needed to support it.
Bingo wings Of the various deprecatory anatomical terms mentioned last week, this one was most commented upon. Mickey Rogers e-mailed from Indiana with another term: lunch lady arms. Sandra Parker says they’re known in Australia as nana flaps — because nanas (grandmothers) have them — or as ta ta flaps, because they flap when you wave ta ta (goodbye).
2. Turns of Phrase: Television 2.0
This is a spin-off term from Web 2.0 and refers to the convergence between Internet services and television.
The term has been around for a couple of years, but is only slowly becoming known outside the business, though the rush of conferences currently being held to discuss the future of digital media may cause it to appear in newspapers from time to time. The key word here is “convergence”, one in the minds of communications companies these days, which are working towards what they sometimes call quadruple-play services (Internet, television, fixed-line telephone and mobile telephone), exploiting the possibilities of linking them together.
”It was only a matter of time,” one commentator wrote in May 2006, “before the Internet changed TV in a way more profound than color or cable.” The World Wide Web is seen as the new distribution medium for TV; companies hope to persuade their subscribers to download programmes (some call them webisodes), which can be viewed on personal computers or mobile phones, not even needing a television set. One problem is the vast amount of video that is potentially available; one challenge will be to create a reliable Internet-based filtering and search system so online viewers can find both what they want and what they might like if they only knew it existed.
But the biggest problem, everyone agrees, is how to keep the money flowing in when there are no commercial breaks in the programmes the new Television 2.0 audience is viewing. One commentator said at a media conference recently that the key issue was “revenue, revenue, revenue”.
A room full of executives planning “television 2.0” suddenly realised that the internet can come to the TV set, as well as vice versa. And panicked a bit.
[Guardian, 12 Feb. 2007]
Explore the new frontier of digital content and entertainment — user generated media, television 2.0 and the fully connected universe.
[Business Wire, 29 Sep. 2006]
3. Weird Words: Robinsonade
A novel with a theme similar to that of Robinson Crusoe.
It may sound like a brand name for a fizzy soft drink, but it appeared in all seriousness around the middle of the nineteenth century as a literary term. It describes a story with a theme like that of Daniel Defoe’s famous 1721 work about a castaway on a tropical island.
In the early days, it seems to have been a favourite of writers for Blackwood’s Magazine. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first example from that journal is dated 1847: “These outcasts from civilisation, the adventures of most of whom would furnish abundant materials for a Robinsonade.” But the term was coined in German, by the writer Johann Gottfried Schnabel, in 1731, and it was also known earlier in French, for example in Frédéric Schoell’s 1824 Histoire de la littérature Grecque profane.
In modern times, it is moderately common in literary criticism as a description of works in which a hero is snatched without warning from the comforts of civilisation and must attempt to survive in difficult circumstances through his wits and personal qualities. The Swiss Family Robinson, Coral Island, Lord of the Flies, and Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before are all in their own ways examples of the type.
4. Recently noted
Referenciness Paul Farrington and I both spotted this word in an article in the Guardian on Monday, about a British TV presenter who has agreed to stop using the title Doctor awarded by a non-accredited college in the US, following a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority. (See the full story.) The writer, Dr Ben Goldacre, used this word to suggest a supposed scholarly reference that wasn’t a real one: “The scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of ‘referenciness’ ... but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it’s shocking how often they aren’t what she claimed them to be.” Mr Farrington and I wondered if he borrowed the ending from Stephen Colbert’s truthiness, which describes things a person claims to know, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts. Dr Goldacre confirms that this was his inspiration.
5. Questions & Answers: Gas and gaiters
[Q] From Bob Ashforth: “In the P G Wodehouse novel, Joy in the Morning, Bertie Wooster uses the expression, everything is once more gas and gaiters. Could you enlighten us on the origin and relevance of the expression and its terms?”
[A] It’s a delightfully typical Wodehousian expression. It also turns up in Ice in the Bedroom, for example, published in 1961:
She cries “Oh, Freddie darling!” and flings herself into his arms, and all is gas and gaiters again.
But the original is in Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby of 1839, in which a mad old gentleman who has been paying his addresses to Mrs Nickleby arrives precipitously down the chimney of an upstairs chamber dressed only in his underwear. Then Miss La Creevy comes into the room, whom the old man immediately mistakes for Mrs Nickleby:
“Aha!” cried the old gentleman, folding his hands, and squeezing them with great force against each other. “I see her now; I see her now! My love, my life, my bride, my peerless beauty. She is come at last — at last — and all is gas and gaiters!”
This must have been incomprehensible to Dickens’s readers, who will have wondered what vapours and protective leg coverings had to do with the matter in hand. But when you consider what the old man had said immediately beforehand, incomprehensibility comes as no surprise:
“Very good,” said the old gentleman, raising his voice, “then bring in the bottled lightning, a clean tumbler, and a corkscrew.” Nobody executing this order, the old gentleman, after a short pause, raised his voice again and demanded a thunder sandwich. This article not being forthcoming either, he requested to be served with a fricassee of boot-tops and goldfish sauce, and then laughing heartily, gratified his hearers with a very long, very loud, and most melodious bellow.
Despite its being nonsense (or possibly because it was), all is gas and gaiters became a well-known interjection. The original sense — as you will realise — was of a most satisfactory state of affairs. This is how nineteenth-century speakers used it and also clearly what Wodehouse meant by it. But another sense grew up in the twentieth century in which gaiters referred to the senior clergy — such as bishops and archbishops — because of their traditional dress that included those garments, and gas alluded to their supposedly meaningless eloquence. So all gas and gaiters has come to mean mere verbiage.
There was a BBC television and radio programme in the late 1960s with the title All Gas and Gaiters, about the goings-on at a cathedral, starring Robertson Hare and Derek Nimmo, for which an alternative title might have been “fun with the clergy”.
• A headline on the Voice of America site, datelined 13 February: “Guinea Capital Largely Calm Under Curfew, Marital Law”. As finder Espen Hauglid notes from Norway, “Marriage certainly seems to be a stabilising force in Conakry.”
• Marilyn Kloss spotted an article in the Boston Globe of 12 February which states, “‘It’s a very big public health problem flying under the radar screen,’ he said.” And dangerous, to boot.
• The BBC web site featured this headline on 14 February: “Dark matters — mysteries of galaxies may be unearthed.” Bernard Abramson wonders if this was an astrophysical or an archaeological discovery. “It’s time someone said ‘Whoa!’ to the BBC’s sub-editors,” argued John MacDonald, having seen a further headline on the site the following day: “Eric Joyce explains how he has reigned in his expenses.”