Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Time is of the Essence or at Large

Image result for clock antique  printI've used the phrase time is of the essence all my life without realising that it has a quite precise legal meaning. I just thought that it meant something like get your skates on or show a leg or hurry up. But it is much stronger than that. Time is of the essence because it's essential to the contract.

Contracts usually have a deadline in them, but it's not that important. If I have a contract to write a book and I hand it in a month late nobody particularly cares. The world remains quite extraordinarily calm.

Some contracts, like building ones have a deadline where the supplier is penalised a bit if they're late. But the contract itself still stands (and has usually taken all this into account).

But sometimes the whole contract is based on the deadline, and if the deadlines is missed the contract is null and void. If I'm delivering perishable goods, like milk, to you, and it arrives three weeks late and very sour: then the goods are worthless. The deadline is broken and with it the whole contract. You pay me nothing.

A wedding cake that arrives too late is no longer a wedding cake. It is mere cake. The essence of the task, the central part of it, has been destroyed.

In cases like this the contract stipulates that time is of the essence, which means that failure to meet the deadline renders the contract defunct.

The opposite of time is of the essence is the much rarer, but rather beautiful time at large. Time at large, in a contract, means that the task must be done, but it really doesn't matter when. Take your time. Have cup of tea. Go for a stroll. Wander around like a lazy outlaw who is at large.

You can find out more from these two articles on construction contracts.

A grand tip of the hat to the Antipodean for pointing this out to me. And for those who like a little light swearing:

P.S. For anybody interested. My book A Short History of Drunkenness is now out in Polish, Italian, Estonian, Romanian and Portuguese (for the Brazilian market).

Thursday, 6 September 2018

A Measure of Rudeness

Image result for dr syntax rowlandsonI've found something beautiful. The British television regulator, Ofcom, whose job it is to see that we are shocked politely, commissioned a study of exactly how rude rude words were. The poll was carried out by Ipsos Mori who went off and quite earnestly asked a representative sample of the Great British public what they thought about the word tits.

This is therefore the official British list of naughty words.

The results, in all their muddied glory, are available online here. They're rather fascinating, and very usefully arranged by subject. So if you were trying to mildly insult an old man, but couldn't think of anything to say, you could consult the survey and find:

Coffin Dodger: Mild language, generally of little concern. Seen as humorous, including by older participants. Some said that more aggression or specific intent to hurt would heighten impact, but not common enough for this to be based on experience.

Some of the words in the survey were previously unknown to me. I had never in my life heard of a bloodclaat or a chi-chi man, which shows that I am an essentially innocent person. I'd also not heard the term Iberian Salute, although a quick check on the Internet shows what it is (bend your right elbow, clench your right fist with the knuckles facing away from you, put your left hand on your right bicep. The French call it the bras d'honneur).

Anyhow, it's a fascinating read, and you can measure your opinion of a word's rudeness against that of the general public. My favourite line in it, though, came under Discriminatory Language, subsection Race and Ethnicity.

Taff: Medium language, potentially unacceptable. Some uncertainty outside Wales about how offensive it is to Welsh people.

It is time to end this uncertainty. I'm off on a research trip to Offa's Dyke with a megaphone and a pair of binoculars.

The perils of life in Oswestry

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Emojis and Emoticons

Image result for smiley faceThe etymology of emoji ought to be obvious. It's a little digital picture: hence e- like e-mail. And it expresses emotion: hence emo-. Except that that's not it at all.

First, the OED mentions that the word dates, in Japanese, back to at least 1928, when computer graphics were not up to much. That also means that it's got little to do with e-things or emo-things. E here means picture in Japanese and moji means character. So it's a pictograph, indeed emoji may have originally been a straight Japanese translation of the English word.

Emoji is therefore closely related to Kanji, which is the Japanese writing system that uses Chinese characters. Kan = Chinese and ji = letter. 

(So far as I can tell moji and ji are the same, but I don't speak a word of Japanese, I am simply relying on the clever people at the OED, who, I suspect, do.)

Emoticons, on the other hand, are emotion-icons and have been recorded since 1988. They are therefore utterly unrelated to emojis.

Image result for Choju Jinbutsu Giga
And this is from a Japanese picture scroll, or e-makimono, or emaki.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Booze, Glorious American Booze

Image result for american flagMuch has happened since A Short History of Drunkenness came out in America a couple of weeks ago. First, there's a lovely review in the New York Times. I believe it will be in the print edition on Sunday, but, like an insomniac spider, it's already on the web and you can read it by following this link. I never thought that I picture I drew would end up in the NYT.

Second, there's a review the Wall Street Journal, which you can read here.

Third, I did an interview for the lovely folks at Big Blend Radio Hour that you can listen to by following this link.

Fourth, I wrote an article for Read It Forward, that, if you are forward, you can read here. It's about great fictional drunkards.

All of which leaves no excuse for any whisk[e]y drinker. A Short History of Drunkenness is officially a "refreshingly guilt-free account of getting sloshed through the ages".

Incidentally, in case you wanted to see the original Pubai seal, here it is. The beer drinkers are at the top centre, using straws to avoid all the horrid sediment that you got in Sumerian beer.

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

The Moon May Be Made of Green Cheese

As a child I was confident that the moon wasn't made of green cheese, because, even at an early age, I could see that the moon was not green. I considered myself quite precocious in this, and imagined that my parents were proud of me.

But now that I am of man's estate, I discover that green cheese isn't green either. It's merely new, unripened, unmatured cheese. Green cheese is only green in the sense that a raw recruit is said to be green. This the original sense of green cheese recorded from the C14th century onwards.

Of course, if a cheese is physically green, you can call it "green cheese". Nobody is going to stop you. I have neither the time nor the weaponry.

And anyhow, the OED records that sense too. This quotation is from 1673:

They [the Dutch] have four or five sorts of Cheese... Green Cheese, said to be so coloured with the juice of Sheep's Dung.

But the original green cheese was usually white. Moreover, cheeses, traditionally, were usually round. This makes it a near certainty that the moon is made of green cheese; and that that's why you have a new moon every month, to keep it green. That's science.

So I was wrong as a boy, those were, as Cleopatra put it:

My salad days,
When I was green in judgement, cold in blood

Cheese, of course, goes with wine and sherry, which for some reason reminds me that my new and beautiful book A Short History of Drunkenness How, Why, Where, and When Humankind has gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present is out in America, and should be bought at once by all American readers.

The Inky Fool reached a melancholy 67%, but there was nothing more at the shop.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Some Concealed Pigs

The wart is below the eye.
The pig is a curious creature. We all think we know what it is: that dear old, rather intelligent thing, rootling around in the mud and stuffed with lovely bacon.

And then one considers the guinea pig, which contains no bacon at all.

Then one thinks further and you realise that there's the hedge-hog. And the groundhog and the warthog and the road hog and that none of them, except maybe the last, contains bacon. And of course a wart-hog is just that. It's a hog with what appear to be warts. But a guinea pig doesn't look like a pig at all. Nor does a hedgehog. A hedgehog looks a bit like a porcupine.

And then, if you mull of the word porcupine enough:




You suddenly realise that a porcupine is merely a pork with spines, from the Old French porc-espin. It's enough to make a strictly kosher chap run screaming for the ocean, where of course there are no pigs at all. Unless a sea-pig existed. And there may be sea-lions and sea-horses but, surely there is no pigfish. Not even in Old French. That would be a porc peis - from the Latin pisces. Or porpais as it was by the twelfth century.

And then you realise your true porpoise in life.

The only possible way to relax is to visit the provinces and read poetry. So you quietly retreat to Swindon with a copy of Swinburne. And you know that don means hill and that burn means stream, but don't whatever you do think any further.

Incidentally, the Dutch don't say pearls before swine, they say roses before swine*, which I somehow think is prettier.

None of this has anything much to do with my new book A Short History of Drunkenness, which has just been released in America. But, if you're American and interested in history, or drunkenness, or if you're simply short, you should immediately buy a copy. You can do so by the simple expedient of following this link.

The Inky Fool found he'd been talking at crossed porpoises

*Or that's what I read, but see the comments.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

American Wino

Today is a day that will live in revelry: A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where and When Humankind has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present is released in the good ol' US of A. It's published by Three Rivers Press and you can read all about it, or even purchase it by following this link, or by toddling down to a bookstore.

The book should feel at home on that continent, as it has two chapters devoted to American drinking: one on the Wild West saloon and what it was actually like; and one on the subject of Prohibition and how, contrary to myth, it actually pretty much worked.

So in celebratory spirit, and in no particular order, here are some facts about drinking in America taken from the book.

1) In 1797 the largest distillery in America produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year. It was owned by the great distiller of early America, a man called George Washington.

2) The Pilgrim Fathers weren’t meant to land at Plymouth Rock, but the Mayflower had run out of beer. So they had to stop there.

3) American settlers, unless they lived very close to a brewery, drank spirits because they were easily transportable. A Kentucky breakfast was defined (in 1822) as ‘three cocktails
and a chaw of terbacker’.

A cocktail here is in essence exactly what it sounds like: a ‘Cock tail, then, is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters’ (1806). Whiskey for breakfast could be considered a challenge even then, so by mixing in a little fruit juice, or whatever came to hand, you
could take in all the health-giving benefits of an alcoholic breakfast (which were still believed in) and not vomit.

4) A lot of the booze sold in Old West saloons was fake. Here is a contemporary recipe for making something apparently indistinguishable from rye whiskey.

Neutral spirit, four gallons; alcoholic solution of starch, one gallon; decoction of tea, one pint; infusion of almonds, one pint; color with one ounce of the tincture of cochineal, and of burnt sugar, four ounces; flavor with oil of wintergreen, three drops, dissolved in one ounce of alcohol.

5) Prohibition didn't fully end until 1966 when alcohol became legal in Oklahoma.

6) Prohibition is a major reason that Italian food became popular in America, but to find out why, you will have to buy the book.

A Short History of Drunkenness can be bought from all good bookstores, and, I suspect, some bad ones. And purchased at all the usual sites on the World Wide Web. Follow this link for much more information.

And remember that Americans have always liked a tipple. There was a man called Frederick Marryat who travelled the USA in the 1830s and wrote a book trying to describe this new country to old Europe. He records that in the USA:

If you meet, you drink; if you part, you drink; if you make acquaintance, you drink; if you close a bargain, you drink; they quarrel in their drink, and they make it up with a drink.