Monday 31 October 2016

The Egyptian Flu

A Christmas Cornucopia: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Yuletide TraditionsI've obtained a copy of Jackspeak: A Guide to British Naval Slang and Usage, which is quite as filthy as one might have hoped. The terms listed in it tend to combine those two occupants of the naval mind: faraway places and carnal embrace. It's terribly good fun, but as I like to imagine all readers of this blog to be delicate flowers I shall reproduce three of the more printable.

A pregnant woman is said to be suffering from the Egyptian flu. I have no idea why, but I shall use that term forever.

In the Navy a welsh rarebit is, apparently called a Cardiff Virgin. It's a pun, but you have to think about it.

Finally, the word Nagasaki is used to refer to anywhere strange and distant, in roughly the way we lubbers of land talk about Timbuktu (as in "It's the best thing this side of Nagasaki/Timbuktu"). Oddly, it seems to have nothing to do with nuclear weapons. So a particularly thin sailor can be called a Nagasaki greyhound, and a chap with particularly large wedding tackle is said to be rigged like a Nagasaki donkey.

Oh, and sea salt is called Neptune's dandruff.

In other news, my new book A Christmas Cornucopia is coming out on Thursday and can already be pre-ordered from Amazon, Blackwell's, Book Depository, Foyles and Waterstones. It's all about the origins of Christmas traditions and will therefore (unless I've miscalculated) make the perfect Christmas present. And it has a very pretty cover.

Friday 21 October 2016


HoratioNelson1.jpgI've just noticed that it's Trafalgar Day. So, in the interests of something or another, I feel I should comment on the great debate of whether the dying Nelson said "Kiss me, Hardy" or "Kismet, Hardy". The latter seems preposterously unlikely as kismet is a Turkish word that isn't recorded in English until 1849, 44 years after Nelson's demise. Unless he was secretly a Turk.

On another note, the great signal sent at the Battle of Trafalgar "England expects that every man will do his duty", was originally meant to be "England confides". Confide here means is confident that, rather than the usual modern meaning of telling you a secret and thereby taking you into my confidence. Anyhow, confide wasn't in the signal book and would have to be spelled out letter by letter, so expects was picked as we might pick a word for predictive texting. It was faster.

Aren't mobile phones wonderful?