One of my favourite words in the English language. It means chaotic, highly disorganised, messy, confused.

How was the charity fair?

Shambolic. No one seemed to be in charge, tables all over the place, people who didn’t know where to go. Manic children running everywhere. It took ages to more or less get going such was the disorder.


The noun is shambles and can be used to describe a situation or a scene that is a total mess.  Despite it’s final ´s´, it is used in the singular, i.e.. a shambles

The beauty contest was a shambles.  Clearly they hadn’t rehearsed anything, you couldn’t hear the MC because of the shouting of the protesters and when they came to put the tiara on Miss Cherry Blossom, they got the wrong girl!

Interestingly, the word used to refer in British English to a slaughterhouse and to the mess in the place where the animals were killed.


Although it is informal, there are no taboos on use, unlike an Argentine Spanish word of similar meaning, quilombo, that not everyone is comfortable using, as it used to refer to a brothel.  Interesting where each culture finds a mess!

In New Zealand I found the word in quite common use when I was growing up and much less so when I went to Britain. However, it is appearing in both British and American press lately to describe aspects of their turbulent political scenes.


Coinkydink and picture-skew

Perhaps we don’t get enough fun in the way we use words these days. Here are two nice examples of jazzing up the way we say longer more sober sounding words.


Coinkydink I heard this word the other day for the first time in years. A fun slang way to say coincidence. It also qualifies as a malapropism (unintentional comic misuse of a word). Apparently it dates back to the 1950’s and could be seen from time to time coming out of the mouths of TV characters.

What a coinkydink! They both went to the same primary school!

 Picture-skew Another play on words as a version of picturesque. Sometimes written in the alternative version too!


We spent the weekend in a village on the shores of Lake Lugano. Very picture-skew indeed!


A noun and a verb. Unless you are a deep sea diver or into wreck salvage you probably won’t have much use for fathom as a noun. It represents a measurement of depth in the ocean equivalent to 1.8m or 6 feet.


The submarine descended to 1050 fathoms before locating the remains of the jet plane.

The verb ‘to fathom’ is in more common use particularly in the negative. It means to be able to understand someone or their motives and it implies having to think deeply about the issue. That the answer is not clear or on the surface.  When you are trying to get to the bottom of something you are often fathoming out people’s behaviour.


I can’t fathom why Hilda would throw away a well-paid job and a loving partner to join a charity expedition to save monkeys in Sumatra.  Unpaid, stinking hot and miles from anywhere!

 Can anyone fathom the reason why the President appointed a ´reformed´criminal as Minister of Police?

 Fathom can be used with a preposition – out or on its own as in the example of Hilda above.

It is apparently derived from an old Frisian word meaning outstretched arms, from which the measurement was taken.


Blancmanges and Europuddings

In British English there are some words related to pudding, which are not very complimentary. I often wondered why people would use puddings as an insult.  Let’s have a look.

I first heard of students being described as puddings and probably used it myself too. The profile of such a person would be a sort of lump in the corner of the classroom barely reacting to anything and hard to move or enthuse.  Solid and lacking in any inspiration.  I have also heard blancmange used in a similar way.

Those three puddings never opened their mouth during the whole lesson.

Alfie just sits there like a blancmange and expects everyone to entertain him.


Blancmange, pronounced /bləˈmɒndʒ/ with the ‘nc’ silent is a sort of cross between a milk pudding and a jelly.   White and insipid with a jellyish tremble if touched.  Probably an acquired taste as milk and cornstarch are not immediate partners in my book.

I believe it was the name of a successful band too.


Europudding was common in the last decade, though you hear it less seldom.  It described movies made by the combined money and efforts of various European nations. The actors would come from different countries putting up the money, the film could well have been in a “neutral” language like English even though none of the protagonists were native speakers and there was no good artistic reason to use it. Many of this type of film are stolid or heavy and unconvincing as they are built more from financial compromise than from pure artistic vision.  Perhaps the Eiffel Tower appears simply to sell the film rather than being part of the story.

Henry invested in a film last year.  Typical Europudding. Boring, incomprehensible and sank like a stone at the box office despite the cast of famous actors and the pretty landscapes in it.


Zip lining

Talk about sanitising the way we describe an activity!

The activity in question is hitching yourself to a pulley that slides down a long cable or wire stretched from tree to tree. Launching yourself from a height, gravity pulls you down and gives you an exciting and often scenic ride over tree-tops and countryside.  The ride can last from 30 seconds to a couple of minutes in general.


We always called this a flying fox and I remember going on them in school and scout camps in New Zealand and I have been on them in a couple of other parts of the world too and as far I can recall they were named this way.

Now I find them dubbed zip lining or zip wires and that they are being marketed worldwide. Zip line sounds like a plastic bag with its own zip like fastener you use for freezing food.  All very practical and hygienic but nothing like the mystery of the flying fox.  Which are, you ask?


A large bat with a wide wingspan that can soar across the skies. Much more appropriate if you ask me. But then bats are pretty ugly and not everyone’s cup of tea so you can see why those in marketing decided this outdoor activity needed a new name.

There is a South African term for the same thing – foefie slide – that sounds fun but it seems it may also be out of fashion nowadays.



I recently came across a new word to describe the reaction of the lower class white voter in the United States who voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump as a whitelash. Political commentators say that it was a reaction to eight years of rule by an Afro-American, who they feel has not done very much for them.


This type of sharp reaction against someone or some action is commonly called a backlash.

 After declaring Itself a nuclear-free zone in the eighties and questioning the presence of nuclear weapons on foreign warships, there was a considerable backlash against New Zealand from the US military, who cut most military ties with their ally.

The new word connects the ideas of race and repercussion very well. The opposite would presumably be a blacklash.  This word doesn’t exist but sounds perfectly feasible.

The huge gains by Trump in low-income white areas, long neglected by politicians, is regarded as a whitelash.

 Another colour word in the news is blackface.


This word refers to the dark-coloured make-up worn by white actors who are pretending to be black people. It derives from the vaudeville era in the United States when white singers and actors would sing songs from the period of slavery. It continued through to the 60’s and 70’s until people finally realised it was really rather racist. As a child I remember seeing a British TV series, The Black and White Minstrel Show with blackfaced actors crooning away to blonde maidens. It seemed so anachronistic as well as racist.

Now British TV has been forced to can a series featuring a white actor, joseph Fiennes, playing Michael Jackson following protests from the singer’s family. Although in the clip I saw, Fiennes still appeared white (as was Michael by the end), journalists have labeled it a case of blackfacing.





This expression, used to label politics in the last year, is one of the catchwords of the moment and is generating a considerable amount of debate. It has even been voted word of the year in some websites.

Like post-modern and post-election it has been coined to describe a period we are living in that follows something else. Before we were truthful, now we are not, hence post-truth.

Popular as it is, and despite its chances of a reasonably long shelf life, it is a good example of an inaccurate and generalised term that says less than it suggests.

First, this is because truth has not ceased to exist. To have lies you must have truth, they go together. What I guess it is trying to say is that there seems to be more tolerance of lying in public life these days.

Next, it depends what you mean by truth. For one person, something might be real and true while for another it is false. Even seemingly absolute truths like concrete tangible acts and things can be subject to debate and interpretation. Simply because each person’s perspective is different.

Thirdly, it has been initially applied to specific actions and words of certain politicians. It is still somewhat early to describe this as a trend or indicative of this period.  Or is it?

Politicians have been shown to lie since time immemorial (think of the Greeks and the Egyptians) so all that may be happening now is that our enhanced access to the political world via TV and the internet is allowing us to see the full extent of the lies!

I would go one step further and say that mankind has made the lie, or the white lie an integral part of social communication, in order to get along with each other. Telling the absolute truth is not what people tend to want to hear all the time and no one more than politicians know this.  Therefore, they give us glossy campaign promises, vague uplifting statements (Make America Great Again), which lead people to believe in things that are not depicted so clearly.

The fact that post-truth is a euphemism is a great example. Much more palatable to say we live in a post-truth political world than to say we live in a political world of lies and lying.

So, before we get all indignant about this new moment in our history, let’s ask ourselves if it is not more of the same wrapped in different shiny paper.



If you live in the Northern hemisphere, especially where there is snow, you will probably jump to the conclusion that I am talking about a winter sport using a type of toboggan, sleigh or sledge.  Most dictionary entries begin with this meaning.


But for many, sledging has a completely different use, as a verb, in places where they play cricket.  So right now in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe, India and its neighbours, there is surely plenty of sledging going on.

The captain, Archie Bloggs was fined $1000 for sledging

From this you guess that it is not regarded as acceptable.  But it happens!

sledging 2.png

Sledging is using insults or verbal abuse towards your opponent in order to put him off his game. Given that cricket has plenty of slow moments as players change positions or new players come onto the field, it is ideal for a bit of strong backchat. Of course, other sports feature sledging too but it is often much quicker and either forgotten or it escalates into something more physical.


You can imagine too that emerging from “the gentleman’s sport”, there is considerable pride in finding a particularly sharp and witty insult.  And indeed the internet has webpages where you can read some of the best in cricket (be warned that the sport has its own vernacular that can be hard to understand if you don’t know the terminology).

Some examples: A: So, how’s your wife and my kids?

B: Wife’s fine. Kids are retarded.

Bowler: I’ve been waiting two years for another chance at you

Batsman: Looks like you spent it eating

Bowler: If you turn the bat over you’ll get the instructions mate.

There are countless others with liberal use of the ‘f’ word which may not seem as funny on the page as they doubtlessly did on the field.  Just google “best sledges in cricket or in sport” and you can have a good chuckle.



Not a common word in English, it can be found in religious or spiritual writings such as the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus. A state of beatitude is one of great happiness or blessedness. Similar to the state of Nirvana in Eastern philosophies.

Although it might look tricky, the pronunciation is as it reads and would be the same as saying, “Be attitude”. Maybe there is a hidden message in there!



The number one meaning for this word as an adjective is clearly: on fire, illuminated, lit up.


By the time the fire brigade got to the old house, it was completely alight.

 What always amused me as a child was to see this word used as a verb  to mean get off or out of transport, usually public transport. It is a rather formal almost jargon-like term often used to give a legal tone.


Push button to alight.

Alighting passengers should use the rear exit.

The press are at the convention centre waiting for the President to alight.

By now you will realise that this word has to do with lighten or make less heavy, but in my young mind I started to see my fellow passengers bursting into flames.