Wednesday, August 10, 2016


                                    The Britishisms are coming


                                            Howard Richler

“I think it’s fair to say maybe some point down the line, but it’s not going to happen any time soon because our focus is on negotiating with the E.U… The U.K. is going to be at the back of the queue.”
Barack Obama. April 23, 2016
Obama’s use of queue was regarded as suspicious in some British quarters. Was the use of the non-American “queue” a sycophantic attempt to curry favour with the British public? Or even worse, did Obama hire some Brit to write the speech?
Truth be told, Obama has used the term queue previously (instead of “line”) on several occasions which might partially explain why many Republicans don’t believe he was born in the USA. In 2010, in a White House transcript, he stated, “There were several people who were still in the queue who didn’t have a chance to speak prior to breaking, The next year, we have hin saying “Could I just say that Chuck is the only guy who asked two questions  –  so far. So just  when I cut off here, whoever was next in the queue- I’m messing with you Chuck.”  In 2013, POTUS declared “We’ve got to make sure that we have a legal immigration system that doesn’t cause people to sit in the queue for five years, ten years, fifteen years – in some cases, 20 years.”
Actually, there has been an upswing in the usage of British terms in the US for many years, particularly in the northeast. Whereas at one point, employing a British accent was seen as classy nowadays the peppering ones speech with Britishisms in the US is seen as intellectual.
Here are some other examples of Britishisms that have become popular.
bespoke-   Bespoke is often used by Americans to refer to  high-quality items and services.  In the New York city area there are over twenty “bespoke” companies including “Bespoke Books,” “Bespoke Surgical,”  “Bespoke Barber Shop,” “Jasmine Bespoke” and at least one store simply called “Bespoke.” Also, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office lists over forty active registrations and applications for “bespoke” brand names with the majority of the patents being filed in the past eighteen months. If you have a USA bespoke product or service to offer you better act quickly. One person wanted to use as their web address but as this belonged to Bespoke Software, he had to settle for Bespoke Innovations.
chav- The OED defines chav as, “In the United Kingdom (originally the south of England): a young person of a type characterized by brash and loutish behaviour and the wearing of designer-style clothes (esp. sportswear); usually with connotations of a low social status.”
This term is increasingly being used in probably due to the insidious influence of You Tube videos. Here are two examples stemming from the U.S, that I spotted on the Internet:  “Nah I'm not buying those sneakers man, they are so chavvy.”   Someone from Boston posted the following on a language newsgroup:“Chav is gaining currency as Americans understand that not all British people are posh. Boston/Cambridge is rife with international college students, so it may just be a blip, but I've heard it in a suburban grocery store to refer to some hooligans outside the store.”
kit –When  American science-fiction author John Scalzi wrote on his blog some years ago that the latest IPad  was a “lovely piece of kit,” he was deluged by many followers who thought his using the expression was highly pretentious. Scalzi retorted:  “Apparently being an American, I should have settled on “Dude, this tablet is bananas,” or something else equally comporting with my nation of origin.” This usage appears to be popular with techies and tennis fans who might refer to a player’s “kit,” whose gear might change depending on the surface of the tennis court.
Similarly, the words “toff” and “gobsmacked” are being used much more in the US in recent years. “Toff” is a mildly derogatory term for someone with an aristocratic background or someone who exudes an air of superiority.” During the 2012 presidential campaign is was used by American journalist Daniel Gross who took pains in an article to declare that Mitt Romney was not the “bumbling toff” he was made out to be. “Gobsmacked,” is oft heard these days in North American circles and the person who seems to have popularized the word is singer Susan Boyle whose appearance on Britain's Got Talent in 2009 quickly went viral.

Richler’s book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was published in May 2016.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


(Lexpert Magazine)

                          The Keys to QWERTY
                                Howard Richler

Quiz-What common 10-letter word is composed solely of letters found on the top letter line of a typewriter*?

(For the benefit of millennials I should explain the antediluvian word typewriter. It is a single font, mechanical system for applying ink to paper that handled only alphanumeric character.)
Notwithstanding that “repertoire,”  “perpetuity” and “proprietor” are satisfactory answers to my quiz , and that “pepperwort” “prerequire,” and “pirouetter” also work, the usual answer to this conundrum is “typewriter.”
Of course, this answer is dependent on using the QWERTY keyboard. (So called because QWERTY form the first six letters on the top letter row.)  But why do we have this configuration in the first place?  After all, it wasn’t designed to accommodate specific typing technique because at its 19th   century inception touch typing hadn’t as yet been invented.
While the earliest known typing devices date back to the 1750s, the first versions with a key for every character occurs in the 1860s, when Christopher Latham Sholes whose eclectic interests included being a Wisconsin politician, newspaper publisher and amateur inventor who various machines to make his enterprises more efficient. One such invention was an early typewriter which he developed with Samuel W. Soul, James Densmore and Carlos Glidden, and first patented in 1868.
The earliest typewriter keyboard resembled a piano and was built with an alphabetical arrangement of 28 keys. The developers believed it represented the most efficient arrangement as everybody knew the order of letters in the alphabet.  So why was the QWERTY keyboard developed?
The standard theory asserts that Sholes had to redesign the keyboard in response to the mechanical failings of early typewriters. The metal arms connecting the key and the letter plate hung in a cycle beneath the paper. If a user quickly typed a succession of letters whose type bars were near each other, the delicate machinery would get jammed. The solution was to redesign the arrangement to separate the most common sequences of letters such as th  st  or on . This theory is somewhat suspect because er is one of the most common letter pairings in the English language and the letters e and  r  adjoin on a QWERTY keyboard. Interestingly, one of the typewriter prototypes had a slightly different keyboard that was only changed at the last minute. If it had been put into production we might now be discussing a QWE.TY keyboard.
In any case, by 1873, the typewriter had 43 keys and an arrangement of letters that was designed to prevent these expensive machines from jamming. That same year, the Sholes’ consortium entered into an agreement with gun and precision machinery manufacturer Remington who with the demise of the Civil War, was trying to adapt to a peacetime economy. However, right before their machine, dubbed the Sholes & Glidden, went into production, Sholes filed another patent, which included a new keyboard arrangement. Issued in 1878, it   marked the first documented appearance of the QWERTY layout. The deal with Remington proved to be an enormous success. By 1890, there were more than 100,000 QWERTY-based Remington produced typewriters in use across the United States. The fate of the keyboard was entrenched when the five largest typewriter manufacturers –Remington, Caligraph, Yost, Densmore and Smith-Premier merged in 1893 to form the Union Typewriter Company which agreed to adopt QWERTY as the standard that dominates even in the 21st century.
While undoubtedly the partnering with Remington helped popularize the QWERTY system, its development as a response to mechanical error has been questioned. A 2013article entitled Fact of Fiction:The Legend of the QWERTY Keyboard written by Jimmy Stamp  in points out that  researchers at  Japan’s Kyoto University concluded in 2011 that the mechanics of the typewriter did not influence the keyboard design. Rather, the QWERTY system emerged as a result of how, and by whom, the first typewriters were being employed. Early users included telegraph operators who needed to transcribe messages in a timely manner. It is feasible that these operators found the alphabetical arrangement to be unclear and inefficient for translating Morse code. The Kyoto analysis suggests that the typewriter keyboard evolved over several years as a direct result of input provided by these telegraph operators.
In this scenario, the typist preceded the keyboard. The Kyoto research also cites the Morse lineage to further debunk the theory that Sholes wanted to protect his machine from jamming by rearranging the keys with the intent of slowing down typists
Regardless of how he developed it, Sholes himself wasn’t convinced that QWERTY was the best system. Although he sold his designs to Remington early on, he continued to tinker with advancements to the typewriter for the rest of his life, including several keyboard layouts that he determined to be more efficient. In fact, he filed a patent in 1889, a year before he died that was issued posthumously.
So why do we persist with the QWERTY layout? I suppose the answer is simply because by now so many people know its sequences so well and can type without even having to look at the individual keys. Adopting a different layout would be tantamount to learning a new language.
Richler’s latest book Wordplay: Arranged and Deranged Wit was released at the end of April 2016.


To help celebrate having reached the 1400 plateau I am introducing a new word puzzle called “Split Definitives” that features words that can be defined by their constituent parts. For example, if the clue read “marijuana residue” (6)  (a), you’d be looking for a 6 letter word where one of the 2 parts starts with an a. The answer here is “potash: which can be divided into “pot” + “ash.”  I first developed this concept in a series of articles I published more than 20 years ago in National Lampoon.  These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arranged and Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.” The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon.
Here is the first “split definitive.”      1401- Conclave of Mafia bosses    (7)   (t)
1402- Name a country that has an acronymic origin
1403-Discern the convergent words:   end-stern-room     end-work-bow     end-nest-ring
Here is the second “split definitive.”      1404-Fog over Warsaw  (8)  (m)
1405-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means change what you  eat
1406- Discern the convergent words:   dance -jerk-rubber     bear-fully-idleness        rock-skin-tears  
1407-Split Definitive Puzzle     icicle (12)  (e).
1408--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that could be a slang expression for the tire industry   tread trade
1409- Discern the convergent words:   ring-shield-cream      light-      diamond-bare     family-line-money
1410-Split Definitive Puzzle     fashionable religious denomination   (6)   (s)
1411-What do these words have in common?  blurb-boondoggle-lilliputian-gas
1412-Discern the convergent words:   train-bonus-boat    up-cinnamon-tax     snap-watewr-coat
1413 -Split Definitive Puzzle    battle cry (7)   (w).
1414- What do these words have in common?  endears-costumier-hominal  
1415- Discern the convergent words:   bug-cinnamon-cat    peas-ten-hem     crossing-referee-mussel
1416 -Split Definitive Puzzle-  great hooter  (9)   (s) 
1417- What do these words have in common?  budgie-piano-cab  
1418-Discern the convergent words:   cake-claw-complain   as-sage-house     stick-borne-bite
1419 Split Definitive Puzzle-   priestly promises   (9)    (v)
1420-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a possible result of a shortage of analgesics 
1421- Discern the convergent words:   hole-wounded-brace     plant-time-about     check-less-cat
1422 Split Definitive Puzzle-  bankroll a psychic (14)    (f)
1423- What do these words have in common?  date-celery-cereal-butter-fish-pecan   
1424- Discern the convergent words:   wedding-master-burnt    garlic-up-fly    loops-less-fully
1425 Split Definitive Puzzle-   What Pizarro caused   (12)    (d)
1426-Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that represents a verbose way of saying forever   
1427- Discern the convergent words:   bad-relations-lust      pencil-hammer-arrow     pie-bean-stone
1428 Split Definitive Puzzle-  cease wrath  (8)    (a)  
1429 -Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a strapping many-headed snake 
1430- Discern the convergent words:   woman-arctic-coal     wife-white-rose     woman-walk-arctic
143- Split Definitive Puzzle-  constriction   (8)    (s)    
1432- What do these words have in common?  anger-berserk-ugly
1433- Discern the convergent words:   bare-under-down     purple-broken-less     pilot-ate-oil
1434-Split Definitive Puzzle-  in favour of conception (11)  (c)
1435- What do these words have in common?  morose-sepal-peony-defer-claim-heroin
1436-Discern the convergent words:    arm-land-girl     pole-black-vanilla     water-pickled-salad
1437-Split Definitive Puzzle-  barbecue chicken  (7)    (h).
1438-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a small hunting bird  
1439- Discern the convergent words:   sea-fat-boy     sea-whistle-sit dog     sea-boo-brain bird
1440-Split Definitive Puzzle- what you might ask an arsonist  (6)    (a)   
1441-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means  an ideal older student authorized to enforce discipline 
1442- Discern the convergent words:   waiter-war-wear        fog-freeze-fart     calf-car-coerce
1443- Split Definitive Puzzle-   anti-dog  (6)  (c)
1444-Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means part of a metallic element  
1445- Discern the convergent words:   night-speckled-white      up-loft-horse    medal-sea-gang
1446-Split Definitive Puzzle- Reagan campaign slogan    (8)    (e) 
1447- What do these names have in common?  Cedric-Fiona-Jessica-Pamela -Stella-Vanessa   

1448- Discern the convergent words:   flags-flask-friends    thumping-war-cold      chestnut-angel-horse
1449-Split Definitive Puzzle    average  bullfight cheer   (6)  (o)
1450- What do these words have in common?  robot-superman-witticicm-intensify   
1451-Discern the convergent words:   alight-ocean-bird    riot-foot-cat       fink-her-desert
1452-Split Definitive Puzzle- obvious number   (8)  (o)
1453- Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means a dry foray  
1454- Discern the convergent words:   jack-say-American    jack-pot-lemon      jack-soda-animal
1455- Split Definitive Puzzle    thrash thoroughly    (9)     (b)
 1456--Name a 2 word anagrammatic word that means solicitous defilement
1457- Discern the convergent words:   rope-snow-drive     top-atoll-string     ate- gym-shirt
1458- Split Definitive Puzzle-love boat (10)    (f) 
1459- What do these words have in common?   interregnum, transmigration, chrysanthemum
1460- Discern the convergent words:   magic-soup-cap      bad-crate-beater    pot-festival-trap
1461- Split Definitive Puzzle -    command falsehoods    (9)    (o)
1462- What do these words have in common?  mojo-celery-gravy
1463- Discern the convergent words:   mother-party-pea    islands-wharf-yellow    dung-cigarette-racing
1464- Split Definitive Puzzle-   battle room (6) (d)  
1465- What do these words have in common?   racquet-chiropractor-mandate
1466- Discern the convergent words:   art-fly-up     sandwich-Canadian-crisp       Indian-field-snake
1467- Split Definitive Puzzle    centurion’s twitch   (8)  (r) 
1468- What do these words have in common?  capital-kowtow-cabbage
1469- Discern the convergent words:   duck-off-poker    do-pin-oil      bend-cap-fore
1470-Split Definitive Puzzle    undiscovered atomic particle    (9)  (s)
1471- What do these words have in common?  chagrin-cavort-hippopotamus
1472- Discern the convergent words:   wood-whip-hook   worker-line-keeper      cavil-entry-us         
1473-Split Definitive Puzzle-What you do when you have a flat    (6)  (r) 
1474- What do these words have in common?  gruff-bumpkin-frolic
1475- Discern the convergent words:   my-east-got      pound-ash-hot      salad-spring-sweet
1476-Split Definitive Puzzle-Insect hallucinogen    (7)  (a)
1477- What do these words have in common?  adder-nickname-umpire
1478- Discern the convergent words:   page-jet-bled         page-ten-hole        nation-reich-horn
1479-Split Definitive Puzzle-  Imply negative response   (7)   (n)
1480- What do these words have in common?  homophone-monster-anode
1481- Discern the convergent words birds-wooden-roll       fore-work-boot         beach-bound-stiff
1482-Split Definitive Puzzle   Entomological quorum   (7)  (t)
1483-What do these book titles have in common?  House of Mirth, The Sun Also Rises    Go Set a Watchman
1484- Discern the convergent words   in-dial-on     cap-fracture-numb        stem-cramp-less
1485-Split Definitive Puzzle-Fashionable religious denomination  (6) (i)
1486- What do these words have in common?  Clerihew-bowler-Pilates  
1487- Discern the convergent words up-need-my   flour-a-flower    almond-tea-dog
1488- Split Definitive Puzzle Run of the mill petty quarrel (9)   (p)
1489-Name a 2 word palindromic phrase that could describe what Canute tried to do 
1490- Discern the convergent words at-on-fruit     cinnamon-baiting-tolerate    crossing-fly-hunter
1491- Split Definitive-Start of the pot  (9)    (d)
 1492- Name a 2 word anagrammatic phrase that explains who gets what
1493- Discern the convergent words   a)man-corn-bad b)per-blue-wood c)black-oil-horse
1494- Split Definitive Puzzle - harberdashery holdup   (9)    (h)
1495-Name 3 words of at least 8 letters  only comprised of letters that occur twice
1496- Discern the convergent words     university-inner-shrine      tennis-grease-macaroni      tissue-pizza-pale
1497- Split Definitive Puzzle –Owns sled (7)   (h)
1498-What do these words have in common?preternatural-antemundane-idiosyncratic   
1499- Discern the convergent words   ballet-glass-house    pin-clip-rod        eye-sweat-hop
1500- Split Definitive Puzzle-barer  (6)    (o) These “split definitive” are now featured in my recently released book Wordplay:Arrangedand Deranged Wit in the chapter “Word Definitions.”The book is now available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble and online at Amazon