You didn’t really laugh out loud, did you?

Quite aside from Prime Ministerial embarrassment at having the raven-haired harridan of Wapping reveal to all the world that he thought “LOL” stood for “Lots of Love”, LOL marks yet another wearisome low in the general downward trajectory of linguistic development.

LOL is a weird creation: an abbreviation that is part-emoticon, part word.

What may have started as a convenient shorthand to convey in text what may indeed have been a guttural, involuntary guffaw, has quickly made the transition to verb, one which is now used almost exclusively to pretend to find something funny.

Surely nobody who ever writes LOL in a text, email or Lync / Messenger conversation has actually laughed out loud while doing so. LOL has moved from being an abbreviation to a shorthand for “I Imagine You Expected Me To Find That Funny In Which Case I Acknowledge Its Entry-Level Hilarity”. Or IIYEMTFTFIWCIAIELH for short. It’s a signifier of acknowledged humour, used when the reader has picked up on the writer’s irony-sans-serif.

A simple “Ha!” would do the job so much better, closer to the most likely sound generated by the comment that prompted the LOL, and a rare example of where the exclamation mark can be excused and even encouraged.

LOL is now being used in speech. Saying “LOL” instead of laughing, or referring to people “LOLling” is one of the single greatest acts of linguistic vandalism there has ever been. Worse, even, than that early-2000s habit of referring to text as TXT or tee-ex-tee.


A fine toothcomb


Combs for the teeth don’t exist. That fine toothcomb is probably a fine-tooth comb.

“We need to go through these figures with a fine toothcomb,” says pretty much everyone, all the time.

Toothcomb is more than a curious bit of intonation; it appears to be something that people say as if it were a thing rather than, say, a huge misunderstanding made by almost everyone. Because presumably, in the normal run of things, nobody is actually proposing to check through a spreadsheet using the dental structure of a lemuriform primate. Can they really mean some kind of miniature dental hairbrush?

No-one has ever seen a comb for their teeth, and strange indeed would be the dental problems that would make such a comb essential. A similar number of people – practically zero – seem to have thought through what they’re actually describing.

There’s a world of difference between ‘a really great example of a dental comb’ and what they actually mean, which is a fine-toothed comb, a phrase rendered all the more understandable if it is pronounced in a normal way without stresses and accents in all the wrong places: all three syllables of its description said with equal emphasis. Not vocally up and down, like an Australian asking where the toilets are.

A comb, with fine teeth. The ideal implement to get all the bits out, perfect for any detail-related analogy where lemur teeth or a tooth cleaning implement would just be a bit weird.

We would no more use a fine toothcomb than we would eat some Cajun Spicedchicken or drink a glass of ice coldcoke. Just putting that hyphen in the right place and leaving it there is all that was ever required.

Actually, Cajun-spiced anything isn’t a thing either.

Pear cider


Pear cider is ‘perry’ although you’d not know it from its desperate reinvention.

Several years ago, during a time when it wasn’t entirely ghastly to attend parties with the primary intention of meeting “new people”, a friend of mine was introduced to someone.

“What do you do?”
“I’m a C…A…N…C…E…R……D…O…C…T…O…R…,” she replied, putting a very deliberate slow emphasis on the words as if cancer was the subject of a CBeebies special.
“Oh. An oncologist then”

And so to Perry which, despite having been in existence since somebody noticed that fermented pear juice got you really clattered, and which had a perfectly acceptable name for the majority of that time, has now had a zingy new makeover in the guise of Pear Cider.


But hang on, isn’t cider made with apples? So pear cider isn’t a thing. Pear cider is ‘not cider’. Apple cider is a thing, and that thing is just called ‘cider’, which has now had be be reinvented as well to distinguish it from the pear non-variant. I’ve started to hate brand people more than ever.

What with Stella’s “cidre not cider” campaign and those folksy brands where they spell it with a ‘y’ to make it sound more scrumpily rustic, not to mention the curiously overseas-sounding strawberry cider, there’s a lot to hate in the cider reinvention industry.

Perry’s reinvention has come about off the back of that annoying habit of pouring cider over a load of ice cubes, because there are only so many ways to make 350ml look like a pint, and reflects the fact that the UK produces an awful lot of manky pears that nobody wants to buy.

Years ago, perry was sold as ‘Pomagne’ in elaborate champagne-style bottles that fooled a certain segment into thinking they were buying something luxurious rather than a product that was made from the cack end of a harvest that didn’t end up in tins.

Now it’s marketed as if the brilliant recipe people at Gaymers have hit on a brilliant new flavour. They haven’t. They’ve just hit on another way of referring to something that already existed, and appealing to people who aren’t quite ready to move from fruit drinks onto beer.

Having an ‘issue’ with…


Problems became issues in about 1995. But most ‘issues’ aren’t a thing.

Issues used to be major political things like third world debt, climate change and feminism. But gradually, every flimsy bit of office tittle tattle has been transformed into an issue.

If something is described as an “operational issue” you know the shit has hit the fan, but in a really dull way. Otherwise, issues are generally just annoying things whose major modern purpose is not to be campaigned against by Bono, but are instead just there to fill up slots on a meeting agenda.

The word ‘issue’ gives the impression of a businessy efficiency and of urgency but – crucially – does not admit to anything being an actual problem. That would obviously be a sign of weakness, of lack of control, of essentially not being in the ball. Imagine losing control of your staffing rota. How much do we pay you, again?

Nowadays entire meetings can be taken up with the subject of ‘issues’, giving all participants maximum opportunity to repeat over and over one of the most irritating words in the English language.

Issues go hand in hand with risks which, again, are not normally of the magnitude of proper risks. The risk of a photocopier being delivered late is not in the same league as, say, reducing the budget of the Environment Agency and causing the devastation of the Somerset Levels and most of the Thames Valley. That’s a proper risk. Turns out it’s an ‘issue’ as well.

When a meeting has covered issues and risks there’s not much time left for anything else. Luckily there’s always an opportunity to ‘take this offline’, a self-consciously modern phrase from the era when it was cool to prefix everything with ‘e’ if it involved a computer, and when the cost and expense of being connected to the internet prohibited its frivolous, continuous use.

Taking things offline turns out to mean that it will be discussed separately. Sometimes the offline discussion will counterintuitively happen online. Meetings don’t need to be conducted online in order for their spin-off elements to be taken offline. In fact they can be conducted in the same room once you’ve got rid of the idiots with the issues, taking up your valuable time with their endless banging on about their trivial problems.



Homeopathy is a thing based on something that isn’t there anymore. That’s the absolute epitome of something that is literally not a thing.

So let’s be clear. We take an apparently antagonistic ingredient and dilute it until such time as it’s effectively not there any more. Then we put the diluted ingredient in an ingestible format at which point the placebo effect kicks in and persuades us that whatever we’ve taken is having a positive impact in curing the thing the ingredient was meant to cause.

Then we launch a product range off the back of this utter fraudulence. It certainly isn’t science, although it is tremendously good business.

Homeopathy is so ludicrously counterintuitive to anyone with even a basic grasp of how things happen, that it’s astonishing that it ever took off.

It taps into the current vogue for believing, or at least singing, that repeated yet ludicrous claim that ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger‘. Except with homeopathy, what doesn’t kill you isn’t actually present except in microscopically small doses. It can’t kill you. Because it’s not there.

But it should come as no surprise that the public falls for it. After all, they’ll happily fall for printer ink scams and pay twelve quid for rechargeable toothbrush heads.

But of all the world’s gullibility traps, it’s not homeopathy on its own that’s the biggest scam of all. No. That honour goes to homeopathy for dogs.

Fourteen quid for a pack of water drops to cure dog anxiety. Your dog is anxious? Are you sure it’s the dog?

Promotes a sense of calm in pets exhibiting fear, fretting, anxious or unwanted behavior caused by any of the following situations:

Thunderstorms, Fireworks, Loud noises, Windstorms, Sirens, Gun shots (acute dosing)

All this from a diluted mixture of phosphorus, rhododendron, borax, camomile, and theridion, which turns out to be extracted from spiders. Spiders! Rhododendron!

Given that there’s no active ingredient left in a homeopathy drop, other than witchcraft, and it cannot therefore be having any medicinal effect on the dog; given that the dog is unaware of the homeopathy treatment, and therefore cannot be experiencing a placebo effect itself, the only conclusion is that any perceived benefits are on the dog owner themselves.

After all, they’ve spent £14: how can the dog still be anxious?

At £14 for 15ml, homeopathic dog remedies work out at over £933 per litre. The worried dog owner should go out and spend the £933 on 30 litres of Bombay Sapphire, and see if that takes the edge off their dog’s anxiety.

Putting ‘re-‘ in front of everything


Clumsily adding ‘re-‘ to existing words creates all kinds of things that aren’t things.

Being asked by a colleague to “resend” an email that they’ve lost, or being instructed by a food manufacturer that a packet is “reclosable“; having something “re-added” to a list or being asked to “re-look at” something that has already been looked at.

All of this is nonsense.

Worst of all is “reoccur”, a word that doesn’t need to exist because we already had “recur”. Whether through mishearing or misunderstanding, ‘reoccurring’ is like linguistic bindweed and has even made on into the dictionary even though it isn’t really a thing.



Take a letter, Miss Pringle. Actually, forget that, I’ll do it myself.

Ah, secretaries. Once the all-powerful guardians of both outbound correspondence and the discerning executive’s diary, the personal secretary has been rightly replaced by admin support functionaries supporting comparatively enormous numbers of people, since today’s modern business person is quite capable of taking their own letters and choosing a convenient gap in two online calendars in which to place a meeting.

Tell someone these days that you “have a secretary” and they will assume that you are making overblown claims about your corporate importance, or are deficient in the basics of modern office etiquette, as well as being unable to use tools which are second nature to the rest of us. Perhaps all three. At the very least, they will conclude that your employer has missed out on the democratising march of progress which has done so much to even out demeaning workplace inequality. The same march has led to the common practice of job title inflation, a process that ensures that everyone’s a director, even when they’re blatantly not.

Suggesting, in your voicemail greeting, that callers should contact your secretary is to confess to a weird seventies corporate existence, on from which you haven’t moved since Are You Being Served? was all over the telly. Even if your nominated secretary has the vaguest clue who you are or how they may be able to assist a random caller – other than by ringing you themselves using exactly the same mobile number on which your caller has just discovered your unavailability – it’s probably true to say that the only outcome will be a message taken and a delayed response. Your contact may as well leave you a voicemail.

But clearly, it’s not traditional secretaries themselves that aren’t a thing. A dying breed they may be, their usefulness curtailed by technology and their all-seeing, all knowing, somewhat subservient, housewifely relationship with the big boss character redefined within a wider team and across a highly useful set of functions, but the concept of secretary is obviously a ‘thing’, albeit an increasingly archaic one.

Rather, it’s people’s pronunciation of the word secretary that isn’t a thing. The former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, routinely refers to his time as the “Home Seckerterry”, and while getting syllable two wrong is unusual, almost everyone has started pronouncing the word as if it has four syllables rather than three: sec-re-terry rather than sec-re-tree. Well, not quite tree, exactly, but nearly tree.

If you can’t even pronounce ‘secretary’, it probably helps explain why, like almost everyone else, you don’t actually have one. Anyone worthy of a real secretary would have a PA. The personal assistant is a bit like a secretary used to be, but without the compulsory short skirt and tea-making skills.

To make people hate you that bit more you can refer to them as an ‘executive assistant’. Because you can also elevate that job title as well as your own.

And such is the positive, inclusive and very welcome influence of political correctness in the workplace, the PA doesn’t even have to be a chick.