Give me an E!

I can't stand what seems to be the new transatlantic craze for spelling all progressive forms of a verb without an e -- so we have 'binging', 'aging', and 'cringing'. There is no verb, 'to bing'. There is no verb, 'to ag', and likewise there is no 'to cring'. I want the E to soften that G, as it has always been, especially in Britain, until lately: bingeing, ageing, cringeing. That to me looks right. And I'm sticking with it!

Never mind the Chinese, even native speakers don't speak English...

I have just read a comment by someone that claims to understand how people read web pages: by 'scanning'. This is rubbish. They 'skim' -- meaning that they read quickly, glancingly, and skipping much material that appears to be irrelevant to their inquiry. To 'scan', by contrast, means to read closely and intently: it's exactly the opposite.

Never mind: the other day an intelligent writer for a pre-eminent news commentary magazine wrote of someone getting behind a podium. I doubt it: a podium (as in podiatry and chiropodist) refers to the foot: its a platform you stand on, the better to address an audience. It's not a lectern: that's the thing you read from once up on the podium.


Chinese English is so much fun

On you can learn how to operate your new 'Gycinda Energy Saving Environmental Protection Handpush Sweeper, Broom & Dustpan & Trash Bin Three-in one, Mechanical Braking No Need Electricity (Blue)'. That's the product description: it makes most 16th-century titles of treatises seem fairly snappy by comparison. Anyway, operation is simple, according to the 'Use Manual': '1. Use hand press broom when clean the floor, it will take more rubbishes. 2. When broom take some rubbishes we need Bring up the broom make rubbishes go inside, then continue clean the floor'. The idea of 'rubbishes' is intriguing, as is the oddly sporadic punctuation. But it must be said that their English is better than my non-existent Chinese, though the potential for misunderstandings with anything more complicated than a broom is considerable.... (Note: I did not in fact buy one, opting instead for a non-electric silicone broom, which is most satisfactory.)

The mystery of the primitive toothbrush...

Collection of the Wellcome Trust, London, England.

Collection of the Wellcome Trust, London, England.

Apparently, the primitive toothbrush that a caveman -- or Napoleon, much the same thing in some respects -- would recognize is fashionable, trendy, and romantic for contemporary consumers. If not, why else would Pottery Barn and Anthropologie feature toothbrushes not seen since Gone With The Wind was a new film? Is there a secret and profitable market in hawking ludicrously outdated bad toothbrushes to modern retailers who think that good ones look gauche? Or do they import their props from Borneo, or what?

Anthropologie, again. They ain't kidding. This one looks like it's been used by a Neandertal for six months.

Anthropologie, again. They ain't kidding. This one looks like it's been used by a Neandertal for six months.

I like the toothbrush holders (under $16 for four at The brushes are quaint, are they not?

I like the toothbrush holders (under $16 for four at The brushes are quaint, are they not?

My dog's [human] toothbrush is more sophisticated than this.

My dog's [human] toothbrush is more sophisticated than this.

We all know that toothbrushes have moved on since Napoleon's time. He had a silver gilt one, monogrammed with the letter N (how bourgeois!) and stuffed with horsehair bristles, the bastard. You can see the front of it here, and the back as well. 

From a current Anthropologie collection.

From a current Anthropologie collection.

Pottery Barn, this time. A brush that Julius Caesar would have been proud to own. Or possibly Genghis Khan.

Pottery Barn, this time. A brush that Julius Caesar would have been proud to own. Or possibly Genghis Khan.

The amazing disappearing adverb

I remember the days when it wasn't considered baroque and extravagant to add -lily to the end of words that were meant to describe (or 'modify') verbs: 'we had a leisurely drive' but 'we drove leisurelily'. But if you look for it in the dictionary, it won't be there: why not? Why is OK to say 'livelily' but not 'leisurelily' on the same principle? Yes, it's a bit awkward, but adding 'lily' for the sake of a grammatical distinction always was. But the thing is, I still feel, when I read that benign tumour cells 'tend to grow more slowly and orderly' that something is missing. The 'slowly' part is all right, since it has an adverbial capacity built in, if you like. But 'orderly' is an adjective without that adverbial reach. I feel that it ought to be 'slowly and orderlily'. Perhaps that sounds too floral and fussy for our era.

Embracing the pies

English journalist and author, Marcus Berkmann

English journalist and author, Marcus Berkmann

I love this article by the ever-insightful and entertaining Marcus Berkmann. It's one of his last as music critic for The Spectator (that's the British one, of course), and the subject is fat and thin in popular music. My favourite part is this observation:

But while Jagger’s scrawniness, and the last-minute bickering over TV rights, suggest he is still as driven and uptight as ever, Keith Richards is visibly mellowing into old age. Not only has his hair been allowed to go as grey as nature intended, but for the first time I can remember he sported what can only be described as a paunch. Always useful to rest your guitar on between tunes, of course, but even so. Having eschewed the pharmaceuticals, he has embraced the pies. The Sixties are finally over. It really has been a long time coming.

I also love this:

Even the rockers who start fat don’t necessarily end fat. Meat Loaf, for one, is a shadow of his former self, a low-fat yogurt of a man.

Read it all and enjoy.



Is life better lived or imagined?

Somewhere in Allan Bloom's last book, Love And Friendship, he speaks of the promise of romantic love and its fulfillment -- my recollection is that it might have been in a discussion of Anna Karenina. Whatever the context, Bloom averred the fantasy of a life together would be 'better than any fulfillment'. In short, our dreams are a beautiful fraud that life demolishes at leisure, in the manner of a child picking petals off daisies or a lizard making a meal of an insect.

Whatever the truth of that claim in many respects, it is nonetheless true that life can surprise in the other direction -- by being better than you expected. I can think of at least three examples in my own life. In the first place, sex was nothing like what I expected -- to the extent that I was capable of expecting anything, which in my profound ignorance I was not. Still, I had expected it to be pleasurable. I had not expected it to be rapturous and utterly transporting (and no, physical spasms had nothing to do with it and were not a feature of my rapture). The fact that I have abjured such rapture for the past quarter century is neither here nor there. It was better than I expected by an order of magnitude. That's the point.

She comes first.

She comes first.

Then there is the dog. I had always thought that having a dog would be a life-enriching experience -- why else have one? But the fact is that I hadn't yet met my dog, I had only met other people's -- which is a bit like trying to judge how much you will love your own child by how much you adore children of all kinds in any playground. I expected to love Chummy when we got her, but I had no idea how much, how deeply, I would love her. Having a dog, despite the rather comprehensive restrictions -- as a free spirit I have chafed within them at times -- you can't move about with anything like the freedom of other people, for a start -- is a whole dimension of being human that I had no idea was really possible. Whatever the cost in freedom and convenience, being Chummy's parent is vastly better than I can describe. It is certainly well beyond what I imagined at the start. In fact, the reason that I am so willing to accept great restrictions on my freedom is that I love my dog and care for her wellbeing so much: one proceeds from the other. 

My third example is a bit different from the others in that it doesn't, directly, involve anyone else. It was the moment when I finally realized my years-long desire to write music. One day, I erupted with a song ('Golden Shadow') that set me on a path of songwriting and music-making that has been part of my life ever since. The pleasure and satisfaction are beyond what someone else might imagine -- and certainly I was right to want the realization of that dream, instead of cherishing the dream as something better than any reality....

In short, Mr Bloom: Though you were right about many things, I don't think you were right about this one.

Amelia Earhart's fate

A brand new American documentary about Amelia Earhart's fate in 1937 -- when her plane disappeared and neither she nor her navigator, Fred Noonan, were seen again -- has apparently been debunked by a Japanese 'military blogger'. Both National Geographic and The Guardian newspaper report that this person Googled the photo and found that it was actually published on 10 October 1935, long before the plane's last sighting on 2 July 1937.

The photo that all the fuss is about. No wonder it was ignored for eight decades!

I am of course no military expert nor photographic witness nor connoisseur of 20th-century working boats. Nor am I even particularly interested in Amelia Earhart (it must be said that Donald Crowhurst's story -- and disappearance -- is far more engrossing and tragic). But I do have expertise about human nature. And one puzzler about the supposed Jaluit Atoll 'Earhart and Noonan' photo is the man claimed to be Noonan.

In The History Channel documentary, Amelia Earhart: The Lost Evidence, we are told that the two aviators were captured by the Japanese and likely imprisoned by them. We are also told that three facial features of the man in the photo match those of Fred Noonan: the sharp V of the receding hairline; the prominent nose; and the look of the teeth. I don't know what about the teeth was so distinctive, but what I ask is this: If your pioneering plane had been downed and your project had been demolished -- never mind whether you had been 'captured' by a suspicious and unfriendly foreign power -- would you be grinning and showing teeth? Would you be smiling for the camera? Hardly. The psychology is all wrong. We all react to distressing events in different ways, of course. But some reactions are more likely than others. And I should imagine that when Noonan and Earhart's journey ended, there were no smiles attendant on that fate.

'Begging the Question' -- a good figure of speech?

I've never liked it, myself. A lot of people (most, probably) don't know what it means, because it's not particularly evocative of its meaning. Those three words are cut off, a fragment of the longer and more complete explanation. 'Taking as a given what remains to be proven' is a longer statement, but it has the virtue of being crystal clear. I don't think I would ever use 'begging the question' if I could make myself that clear instead.

In defence of Kate Middleton (and taut women everywhere)

Taut and talented: Alison Balsom OBE has biceps. (Source: Ms Balsom's Facebook)

Taut and talented: Alison Balsom OBE has biceps.

(Source: Ms Balsom's Facebook)

Nietzsche wrote (in Beyond Good And Evil): ‘every virtue inclines towards stupidity; every stupidity, towards virtue’.

I mention it because one virtue — that of self-control, particularly with respect to appetites — is seen as suspect and possibly even stupid when it means that your body fat is scarcely visible.

Women that are very lean are usually envied, though not always: the English writer, Julie Burchill, has often claimed that fat girls have more fun, in the sense that they can have all the sex they want (or at least she can: she’s married to a man that likes it) and eat with gusto, drink cheerfully, and still be fit and energetic (swimming is Burchill’s preferred exercise).

Even if one doesn't share Burchill's acceptance of fat (and Burchill herself admits that she would lose it if no self-denial were involved), there is still a general sense that lean women are being unkind to themselves. It's one thing to be slim, with muscles still swaddled in a thin layer of flesh (i.e. fat, and the blood vessels that feed it). It's another situation if your muscles seem the most of you, and nothing, even in jumping jacks, jiggles.

Exhibit A of the jiggle-free, extremely lean woman is Kate Middleton, now Her Royal Highness. (Sorry, Catherine: I know that you prefer that name as ‘more regal’ (William’s words), but Kate is how we think of you, and you should be glad: it’s a prettier name.) Kate was always a slender girl, but as we all know, photographs can fatten one — which is yet another reason why artists should not rely on photos to learn their craft. At some point (around the time of William’s graduation from Sandhurst?), she seems to have decided that press photos were showing her face as too rounded. So she started to get very lean, and then, after her marriage and in the months before her first pregnancy, she got even leaner. People were beginning to talk about it: how can such a fat-free woman hope to get quickly pregnant? We don’t know about the quickness, but my guess is that Kate was a metabolic expert by that point, and she knew that the body needs just enough to perform its functions — and no more. If she was to gain some fat in pregnancy, then she wanted to start out from as lean a base as possible, so that after the pregnancy she would end up pretty much where she started. And that is apparently what happened, twice. Two babies later, she is still one of the leanest people in the world. But is it healthy? And how can she be happy? What is so bad about a little fat?

Alcohol: fun but fattening

Alcohol: fun but fattening

Here I’m going to use the word ‘complex’. The function of fat in the body is complex, and the means of successfully and eternally losing it can be complex as well — though not nearly as complex as you might think.

To be lean and healthy, you ideally need three strengths, and these are appetite control, hunger acceptance, and enthusiasm for exertion (which practically means: strong muscles). These are the mechanisms or factors that determine everything else: your microbiome (gut bacteria, mainly), your insulin response to food, your ability to fight infection and repair injuries, hormonal balance, and so on. So in a real sense, being lean isn’t something you have in addition to being healthy: it is actually, in people that have good nutrition and muscle mass (unlike, say, prison camp survivors) a sign and indicator, indeed guarantor, of that very health.

Let’s start with the importance of muscles, and the predominance of muscle tissue in lean, fit people such as Princess Kate (and…cough…me). Muscles are fat suppressors because of how they work. The benefits can be summed up as three: firstly, muscles are where the energy goes when you ingest food (in addition to your liver) — and the glucose so stored is termed glycogen. Guess what happens when the muscles and liver are full up with glycogen? That’s right, the excess energy gets stored away as fatty acids known as triglycerides (because they are packaged in bundles of three).* It stands to reason that the more muscle tissue you have, to act as immediate storage baskets for your fuel, the less your body is forced to partition that fuel as fat. 

The second benefit of muscle tissue is that it requires more calories than fat does to be maintained: it is ‘metabolically expensive’, as they say. That means that the mere fact of having muscles, never mind the calorie-burn involved in using them, results in more calories burned overall. 

Thirdly, when you use your muscles enough to encourage their development — which is to say, they become more efficient and bigger, through cellular repair — your body gets the message that those muscles are needed and therefore diverts fuel for their upkeep, which again prevents fuel from going straight into your fat cells. Working your muscles hard encourages muscle partitioning of food over and against near-complete fat partitioning of food. 

I did say the subject was complex! But in a way, it’s remarkably simple. Muscle gives your food somewhere to go before it must be stored simply as fat (a little bit of fuel will always be stored as fat, but the question is: how much?). And muscle trains your body to ‘view’ muscle as something to preserve and build — re-directing it from its project of storing fat. And when this process in any individual has been honed and well-practised over time, what happens is that the muscle, in elbowing out the excess fat, becomes highly visible. The curves you see on that person tend to be muscle curves rather than fat curves. There is tautness, and there isn’t any jiggle (except for the bosom, of course).

How do you get those muscles in the first place? By using them in a way that stresses them, which prompts them to get bigger for next time. (Filling a vase with flowers doesn’t stress your muscles, but lifting your dog off the bed very well might!) What motivates you to use your muscles in such a challenging way? Well, having enthusiasm for activities that require exertion. Or to simplify, as we did at the beginning: having enthusiasm for exertion. And Princess Kate, who is clearly a sporty sort with a love of games, has had that enthusiasm from a very young age.

Now we reach back to the other two important factors in slenderness: appetite control and hunger acceptance. The first is a willingness to delay gratification: to eat later instead of now, to eat a smaller portion rather than fill right up, and to space out indulgences between more restrained and conscientious nutritional choices, rather than eating indulgently all the time. There is nothing in appetite control that need imply an indifference to good food or the incapacity for gourmet riches. It’s just that a lean person does not feast on energy-rich food constantly, six or three or even two times a day. And — this is important — the older the person gets, the less likely she is to indulge in energy-rich foods as a matter of routine (youth does have its advantages!). Some lean people can and do eat anything they want and find as well that they ‘can’t gain weight’. By definition, such people are in energy balance and they are not over-indulging. But age, and its concomitant hormonal changes, tends to mean that what was once normal eating, under the line of fat gain, has now crossed the line to become more than enough for fat gain. As with many other aspects of life, older adults must generally be more disciplined in their habits than younger ones. This is not because there are no health penalties of self-indulgence in youth, but it is still true that young people can get away with more — for now.

Finally we come to hunger acceptance. That is related to the ability to delay gratification, but I think it deserves its own category as a factor, as truly another resource employed by the very lean person. It is no good, we can all agree, delaying gratification if it simply means a compensatory binge that undoes all the restraint you showed earlier. Hunger acceptance is the willingness to receive the body’s signals about peckishness and ignore them. I don’t mean signals of true hunger, of faintness and hypoglycemia, of headaches and weakness. I mean the hormones, chiefly ghrelin, directing you to fill your stomach with something. 

Two fruit galettes: not on your ballerina in-season diet

Two fruit galettes: not on your ballerina in-season diet

I call these the peckish hormones, which act on your mind much like holding your breath. After a short time without new oxygen, you begin to panic and gasp for fresh air. The difference is that if you don’t get that fresh air, it’s curtains — but if you don’t eat, you can carry on quite wonderfully for many, many hours. The peckish effect, when you’ve got lots of fat stored, is really a bit of a fraud. Because when you respond to the peckish urge, what you’re really doing is not feeding yourself for now: what you’re doing is feeding yourself for later. Why is your body making you do this? It’s concerned that if you don’t feed now, when food might be available (or is available, depending on the time of day, and whether you’re looking at a laden table), you may not have the option to feed later. And if you don’t feed, the effects will be far worse than any delivered by your hunger hormones (and hydrochloric acid in your stomach). Your energy system is a primitive ape still living in the state of nature. Hunger acceptance is the override that lean people don’t mind deploying when needed. And guess what (again)? Like appetite control, the more you do it, the easier it gets. This is because you realize that a little prodding in the stomach region — from the inside out — never killed anybody. And it’s also because the hunger signal, in time, becomes less urgent. We can be certain that Princess Kate, among others, has appetite control aplenty, and if peckishness strikes, she knows enough to wait it out.

You still might wonder why someone that has mastered muscle maintenance, appetite control and hunger acceptance should nonetheless be so thin. Isn’t it possible to master these and yet have a little more body fat? Indeed it is, but each individual is both alike and different. To the extent that this threesome is a package deal, it results in its own ‘set point’ or level of return. So even if Princess Kate decides to have some wedding cake, it’s not her habitual way of eating, and she’s always been slim, so it won’t have much power to shift her metabolism. Someone else, eating that same wedding cake, might find herself gaining fat — because of her history, her other habits, and her tendency to do things in twos and threes, for instance. And as a package of behaviours — exerting muscle, restraining food consumption — it’s also a way of life that is like a switch, turned either On or Off. It can be tweaked and it can be more relaxed, but essentially, you are either on a ballerina path or you are not. If you’re on that path, your body has adapted and you have achieved a fine metabolic balance — which it would be foolish to give up. Ballerinas, elite athletes, and princesses that want to look like a storybook do have seasons and cycles, to be sure. But the cycle doesn’t exist unless somewhere they return to their more ascetic, disciplined ‘base’ of eating. Slices of cake, summer vacations, and even pregnancies aside, you are either a lean, mean, fat-burning machine — or you are not.

In sum, given that Princess Kate, and other taut women like her, have found a way to keep fat at bay, the fat happily stays off because their bodies don’t need it to function. To put it otherwise: taut women have the fat they need, but it’s just not pillowy enough to see it as something discrete. They don’t have pillowy fat because they have grasped, better than most people, the almost shocking fact that we humans need quality over quantity when we feed.

*Glycogen, by the way, is stored as dense granules in each cell. Triglycerides consist of three molecules of fatty acids and one molecule of glycerol. All of these names derive from 'glucose', a monosaccharide or single sugar.

Not Just Any Old 'Ankle' Strap

I love sandals, and when I'm not barefoot I very rarely wear anything else. Even my slippers are really mule sandals (or 'slides') of one kind or another. Slidey flip-floppy sandals are fine for indoors. But when I step out, I need ankle straps, to keep me in my shoes. And a sandal looks very different depending on the strap. I don't know what the shoe industry calls each of these styles, but here are the names I use:


  • The choker strap --> the least common of the three. Looks like a choker necklace or a clergyman's collar. 


  • The bridle strap <-- which is what I wear most often. Comfortable because it doesn't rub. Resembles a horse's bridle.


  • The halo strap --> aesthetically, my favourite. It's just super sexy and elegant.. It's like the choker but is suspended above the shoe like a halo, I think. All shoes are by Clark's, the British shoe manufacturer.




Making Changes Stick

Not only do habits die hard, but more especially, pleasant habits die hardest. Life, or the School of Hard Knocks For Slow Learners, has shown me a trick or two for making change happen -- and sticking to it.

In no particular order, this is what I recommend.

1. Piggyback new habits onto old ones.

We all do actions in groups that are related to one another: we all, for instance, do a number of things under the heading of 'getting ready for bed' or 'getting ready to go out'. It can be difficult to remember to clean the dog's teeth with brush and toothpaste (it pops in and out of one's mind), but I put the dog's toothbrush next to mine and leave her toothpaste tube next to mine as well. Getting ready for bed used to mean a bunch of actions that included cleaning my teeth. Now it means a bunch of actions that include cleaning hers

2. Discover what the leading action is and do it.

$40 at Marks & Spencer: what a bargain!

$40 at Marks & Spencer: what a bargain!

Within any group of related actions, some are more important -- more leading -- than others. If you want to initiate a behaviour, such as exercising, then make the leading action 'the first thing you do'. In the morning, I wake up and put my sports bra on. That is the first step in making sure that I go to my training session, even if I make a cup of tea and check my e-mail along the way. There's no point in wearing a sports bra unless you are about to work hard. When the bra is on I don't think twice about it: on I go to work!

3. Replace large temptations with smaller ones.

For some reason, certain temptations are easier for us to limit and control than others. If I give you a box of chocolates, the allure of the package and the variety of the chocs may encourage you to eat half the box -- fondants, caramels, and all. You know you shouldn't, but one chocolate always seems to lead to another, until you've packed hundreds of sugar calories on. But what if you buy a small bar of really delicious plain chocolate instead? What if you break that bar in half and wrap it and put it away as if it's a separate bar? The ritual of the chocolate box has been broken. You still like chocolate, but the urge to have it has now been slaked by a little amount rather than by a lot. Overnight, you have cut a mass of calories and broken the magic cycle of chocolate-box enchantment. It's not just that you've taken something less pure and substituted something better. My point really is that there is something about a bar that says 'this one is enough'. The bar comes, if you like, with its own built-in limitation. The same can be said for certain drinks. I find it much easier to have just one gin and tonic than just one glass of wine, since wine easily leads from one glass to another, but I find that one G&T -- when calorie-cutting -- is enough. (I drink one bottle of tonic: I don't feel tempted to open another.) And I don't feel deprived. I still get that late-afternoon moment of reward, and I'm not heedlessly quaffing calories all night. 

4. Embrace irrationality in the service of rational ends.

Let's return to the sports bra and its powerful motivating effect. I put the bra on unthinkingly -- I don't have to hunt for it; I don't consider which one to wear; I don't ask whether I really want to wear it. I'm on autopilot: I put it on. As stated, the bra is like my Wonder Woman lasso or magic bracelets: it turns me into an athlete with muscle to go and build. That's irrational, in the sense that it's just a piece of clothing, and much of what I do could be done almost as well with just a regular bra on. I could just as easily take the bra off and save myself the trouble of training hard. The bra only has that power because that's the power I've given to it. I've made it the top half of my own personal Wonder Woman outfit. It's kind of silly when I put it like that, but it's the sort of silly that works. Training to be stronger, leaner, and healthier is a rational end. I'm not bothered if a little mind magic helps that goal on its way.

That, not coincidentally, is what all of these ends or goals have in common: Not doing them is not an option. Letting my dog's teeth fall out: not an option. Developing metabolic syndrome: not an option. Having to change my dress size: not an option. Accepting a loss of physical power: not an option. And that brings us to number 5:

5. Allow yourself to be obsessed.

For many excellent reasons, obsession is viewed with suspicion by wise people. It can obviously be distorting, and fanaticism leads one to neglect that which also deserves our respect and attention. Obsessives, never mind the compulsives (isn't it really the same thing?), seem to place undue value on certain things (in the case of Imelda Marcos, shoes). And yet, it's singlemindedness that gets the job done. It's intentness that prevents distraction and the weak yielding to any obstacle that pops in our path. If something is important, don't let it struggle for eminence by making it sit in the back of the bus. Put it on the front burner. (I love metaphor.) Put it center-stage in your life. Magnet notes to the fridge about it. Write it up in your calendar. Track your progress day by day, week by week, in a journal. Put reminders in your handbag or wallet. Be relentless in saying NO to pitfalls, which is really saying YES to triumph!

6. Realize that grim determination often turns into enthusiasm.

This is another take on obsession -- that obsession, which starts out as grim determination -- about chosen goals can often become great enthusiasm. If you've set yourself a challenge, you can embrace the whole process as a sort of game rather than as a chore. You are in competition with yourself: 'can I do better today?' / 'How far can I go?' / 'What will be my best result?' / 'Can I surprise myself a little bit more?'. You're not on a course of self-punishment; you're on a trek of self-improvement or self-building. Things that once you saw as 'hard' you now see as 'rewarding', or as essential for gaining future rewards, at any rate. If your goal is really right for you, it will not only look like the right thing at the beginning, but it will also start to feel right, a bit later on.


Portabella or portobello -- or what?

I looked it up some time ago, and came to the conclusion that the correct name for the usual mushroom we eat in the West (unless you're in England, in which case Field mushrooms could be on your plate) is portabella. What we often see, of course, is portobello -- the masculine form of the same word. I happen to prefer portabella, perhaps because that's how I heard it first (perhaps because it's correct?). But 'portobello' is at least consistent, as you'd expect an Italian word to be.

What I wonder at is the linguistic ignorance of people that mix and match: 'portabello' or 'portobella', which is like handing a monkey an unbrella instead of a banana: they just don't go together. A word is either masculine or feminine in its components: you can't have it both ways. Though in our anything-goes culture, I suppose a lot of people think you can!

Why do we call it 'white wine'?

A non-committal please-everybody glass of rose.

A non-committal please-everybody glass of rose.

White wine, so called, is usually a shade of yellow. The yellower it is, in general, the more likely it tastes like Chardonnay (the capital is kosher: that's the official region) and the less likely it is to be like Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris in France) or Spanish Albariño, or other mineraly wines. 

But again the question is: why are yellow(ish) wines called 'white'? And why, given that they come from green grapes and that grape skins are known to colour wine, are they not in the least bit green?

Politics is the new show business

I don't know who said that 'politics is show business for ugly people' -- perhaps it was the same wit that spoke of faces 'perfect for radio'. 

But clever as it is, it's dated now. It's not true any more, is it? Show business people have for many years been into politics, not just as activists doing their bit on the side but as actual, portfolio-holding, elected politicians. There are no longer clear lines between vocations and fields of passion. Nobody feels any longer that to be loved as an entertainer -- or any other famous figure -- you must never muddy the waters with political commitment and outspoken attitudes. Indeed, apolitical geniality seems to be out. These days, if you kept quiet on matters of importance -- Brexit, the American presidency, or whether Chick-fil-A should be allowed to close on Sundays -- the public and its media shepherds would be more likely to paint you as a mouth-breather who reads books on Twitter. 

Far from being show biz for dowdy unknowns, politics is where the Hollywood types and high-flown academics aspire to go -- and show biz is the new apprenticeship for politics.