There’s nowt so hard as fops

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© Trustees of the British Museum. (This version cropped.)

We tend to think of fops as weak, coddled, over-groomed, and lacking in mettle. A man wearing make-up, a powdered wig and silks, speaking with an affected drawl and striking artful poses; a woman with towering hair and a lapdog, fanning herself with infinite boredom and leisure. The 18th-century gentry must have been be soft, lacking in grit, surely? Continue reading

Do they know Xmas isn’t wrong?

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Christogram (chi rho) on a mid-4th-century Roman coin. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Some people get awfully sniffy about Xmas as shorthand for Christmas. Wretched modern world, proto-textspeak, irreligious, ahistorical, next they’ll be calling it Pepsi-day.

As it happens, Xmas has been in use in English for centuries, and is recorded in a letter by the poet and polymath Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The ‘X’ stands for the Greek letter chi; in (ancient) Greek Christ is ‘Χριστός’. This abbreviation for Christ (often using the first two letters, chi and rho, Xρ) was common in ancient Christian artwork; it has an exceptionally long pedigree.

It may not be recommended for use in formal writing, and most publishers’ style guides are agin it, but it isn’t illiterate or crudely secular, a symptom of the commercialisation of Christmas.

Merry Χριστόςmas, everyone.

Paul Fishman (Bristol, December 2014)


(For more on the coin and Christogram see here.)

Do they know what they’re asking you not to do?

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Credit: Pixabay.

I’ve been deleting e-mails. I don’t do it often, but when your e-mail weighs in at 1.5 GB it’s time for a slimming diet. There was an old one from a colleague asking about the passive voice; an editor had issued a New Year diktat saying that henceforth X didn’t want the passive voice to be used in their web copy, all writers should stop using it. Continue reading