Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Be My Valentine

Though Spring certainly hasn’t sprung, and the birds and bees (and poor old Somerset cows and sheep) are so waterlogged that there’s little love action going on, the arrival of Valentine’s Day still naturally turns one’s thoughts to love. And thus, last night, in the Pig’s Ear in Chelsea, the topic of conversation did just that (more specifically, it turned to the reasons why our friend Richard has yet to find it).

Love heartIt’s not that he’s a bad catch: Richard (who bought the night’s first bottle of Claret) is a sweetheart: generous, warm-hearted, diffident, and charming. Still in his 30s, he’s tall and well-built (verging on nicely cuddly), and makes up for the paucity of his hair by having lovely, expressive, soulful eyes. A successful entrepreneur, he’s comfortably off, so doesn’t have to worry about the rat race, which means he has time to pay attention to friends and family. He even loves kids, for God’s sake, and is the go-to-guy when his beautiful girl friends are looking for a godfather for their offspring.

So, what’s going wrong?

Well, by the time the three of us (me, Richard and our friend Annie) had downed our second bottle of wine, the reasons had become a little clearer…

Text talk

Light started dawning when he shared an ongoing text conversation he’d been having with a prospective date – a close friend of one of his many girlfriends, who’d  decided they’d be perfect together. A couple of dozen texts, sent and received over a three-month period, with many a tentative plan to meet, had all come to nought. What had gone wrong? Well, firstly, why not just ring her, and have a proper conversation? Who wants to chat about nothing very much to some stranger they’ve never seen and not yet talked to? You have to act sometimes, rather than keep life at a distance.

The perils of being a wing-man

We remembered then that his best friend is a charmer: handsome, and far from diffident. They hang out together all the time, and Richard always takes the role of wing man, and, as is traditional, never gets the girl.

Online dating


So we asked him about internet dating, something I have positive personal experience of, as nine years ago I was lucky enough to find my true love on a dating site (Dating Direct, since you ask). We were early adopters, and the scene has developed massively since then, with one in five UK relationships now estimated to have started online, and more than nine million Brits registered with a dating site. There’s a plethora of sites to choose from, from Guardian Soulmates to Match.com, eHarmony to My Single Friend. And, of course, there are special interest sites, such as Be Naughty and MySugarDaddie (sic), PositiveSingles.com (for the HIV positive), farmersonly.com (with all this rain, they need a little sunshine in their lives), uniformdating.com. There’s even one called DiaperMates.com, to bring those who like to dress up in diapers, and those who like to change diapers, together…

Anyway, I digress. What’s clear is that there are lots of options for those looking for love. So, we asked Richard: which dating services do you use? Match.com? eHarmony? Dating Direct? It turned out that this wannabe family man was trying to find love on Tinder. Tinder! The straight equivalent of Grindr, an app whose every pouting picture contains a promise of commitment-free shagging, mind-numbing hangovers and long-lasting regrets.

We asked Richard if he was just looking for a shag. But even as we asked it, we knew that wasn’t it true. He’s an innocent. An old-fashioned guy, more interested in companionship and family than in pulling.

Speed dating

Then Richard mentioned that he’d tried speed dating, and we laughed: we couldn’t imagine how a date like that would go. So, laughing, I persuaded him and Annie to role-play a speed date.

Richard started, and his questions were perfectly polite: “How are you?”, “What do you do?”, “So, what are your plans for the weekend?” Somehow, though, they dead-ended the conversation. So I got Annie to ask the questions, and she turned out to be a natural: “If you were given £10k tomorrow, what would you do with it?”, “If you could live anywhere in the world, money no object, where would you go?”. Faced with such unexpected questions, Richard’s conversation flowed, although his answers were rather eccentric – he said, for instance, that he’d like to live on the back of a whale, and travel around the world and hang out with other whales, ending up in Antarctica, carving himself a fishing hole. But though this whimsical answer is fun, there are few girls not of the Inuit tribe who’d want to marry and raise kids with a a guy who lives by an ice fishing hole…

The moral of the story

If you’re looking for love, it helps if you know what you’re looking for and look for it in the right places…

Here, from TED, is an investigation into love: http://www.ted.com/playlists/143/in_the_mood_for_love.html.

And, if you need some encouragement, here are a few good reasons to search for it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/14/this-is-your-body-on-love_n_4780934.html?ir=GPS%20for%20the%20Soul.

Wordy Wednesday: Fluffy la Voie

My porn star name, based on the name of my first pet and my mother’s maiden name, is Gussy Baker. This has a nicely 20s sound to it, but I must admit that my one-time boyfriend’s porn star name was even better: Fluffy La Voie. It’s so good that it makes me want to set up a porno company, despite disapproving of the industry (in broad terms).

photoI’m in the south of France with my English boyfriend Nick, my Brazilian friend Paulo, his French boyfriend Didier, and our Dutch friend Yvonne. We sat around the fire pit outside, eating samosas I’d made earlier, and drinking rose, and then retired inside to a supper of red cabbage and walnut salad, with duck breasts cooked on the fire pit by Nick (who was careful not to let the sparks carry far as, unlike Dorset, it’s hardly rained here for the last 6 months). Read more…

Belatedly: The Mysteries of Christmas…

Sestude by Chris Bird

26 Stories of Christmas

The mysteries of  my Christmas 2013 include…

  • Why I thought it was a good idea to eat my own body weight in turkey & trimmings
  • How I imagined that, after all that turkey, some Christmas pudding and a glass of port might be a good idea
  • How, after combing my sister’s house for our possessions, and doing a thorough sweep under the bed and behind the sofa, I managed to leave behind the bag of presents she gave me for the children
  • And how I could have forgotten to post up a link to 26 Stories of Christmas , on which my sestude, The Mysteries of Christmas, written in response to a wonderful picture drawn by a young cancer sufferer, was  featured on Chrsitmas Day…
  • The advent calendar was produced in support of wonderful charities, It’s Good To Give and The Teenage Cancer Trust, and if you’d like to see the site in action, and donate to these worthwhile causes, the Day 1  plus donation link still works… As the Christmas Day one no longer seems to, I’ve included my poem and the great drawing that inspired it, at left. I’ve also included some background on the project, below…

The story behind the idea

At the beginning of September 2011 Sam Gray had an idea. What if we, the writers’ collective ’26’ challenged our members to create an online advent calendar of words and images? In its first incarnation 26 Stories of Christmas paired writers with design students, inspiring 26 short stories.

How the idea grew

In 2013 we wanted to build on what we’d achieved. During our 26 Treasures exhibitions of 2011- 2013 we piloted a new literary form – the sestude. This comprises 62 words written in poetry, drama or prose. We decided this year to write our Christmas advent messages in this, shortened form. As it’s Christmas, we wanted to add an emotional core to what we were doing so we teamed up with two worthy charities – Teenage Cancer Trust and Its Good 2 Give – who asked some of the sick children and young people they help to draw us 26 inspirational Christmas images. As it turned out, the children and young people themselves proved as inspiring as the Christmas trees, snowmen, elves, reindeer, stars and even Santa submarine they came up with. And we added the ability to donate to the charity of your choice to make everyone’s daily dose of 26 Christmas stories feel even better…

Wordy Wednesday: gratitude

Feeling grateful

Feeling grateful

Happy New Year, everybody! I thought I’d give gratitude the starring role in this Wordy Wednesday, as I’m feeling incredibly grateful for all sorts of things at the moment. My lovely friend Erin sent me this picture she took of me last night as we watched London’s spectacular firework display from a friend’s boat on the Thames, and it captures how happy I was to be in that place, at that moment ,with such a special bunch of people – something I’m incredibly grateful for… I’ve also just spent Christmas surrounded by my family and other loved ones, and I’m incredibly grateful for that too, and for having them in my life.

I’ve always believed that an attitude of gratitude is one of the keys to a happy life, and it’s now been scientifically proven to have a positive effect on one’s levels of happiness. I’ve used it myself: a few years ago, if my step daughter was feeling grumpy, I’d challenge her to a rapid-fire, one minute gratitude list-making exercise: the idea being to shout out as many things as we were grateful for as we could. (Specificity is key to this, by the way, so not just ‘friends’ but ‘Jane and Edgar and Fred and Ruth’, and not just ‘my pets’ but their names, and it’s also good to include all the different aspects of yourself you’re grateful for, such as intelligence, hearing, sight, touch, taste etc, plus tthe things you love to do, and the places you love to visit.) We always ran on for far longer than 60 seconds, and she was always much happier afterwards.

Read more…

#shelfie, #26xmas

Twitter #shelfie

#shelfie, a glorious, literary take on #selfie (this year’s word of the year, according to the Oxford Dictionary), has been trending on Twitter for the past couple of weeks.

It’s the kind of trend I’d normally be right on top of (see Wordy Wednesday: Selfie), and the fact that I’ve been reluctant to add my bookshelf pic to the mix doesn’t reflect the busyness of the season, instead demonstrating that ego plays as much part in a #shelfie as it does in a #selfie (in fact, since I’m no longer a teenager, possibly more…). Ok, I admit it: I want a #shelfie that suggests erudition and hidden depths of character – who wouldn’t? Read more…

My favourite jumper

I just wanted to re-post this lovely drawing, and Faye Sharpe’s brilliant, heartwarming poetic response to it. You can find these on 26 Stories of Xmas, where they’re helping raise money for Teenage Cancer Trust and Scottish cancer charity, itsgood2give. (Read more about all this on yesterday’s post, Wordy Wednesday: sestude.)My favourite jumper




















My Favourite Christmas Jumper

by Faye Sharpe




Comes. Granny

Picks a pattern. October

Comes. Granny decides the yarn.

November comes. Granny’s nerves crackle. By

Christmas Eve she’s in a panic. But on Christmas Day

She beams. I tear open her present. All reds, blues, greens.

And I wear my favourite Christmas jumper, though its sleeves reach

my knees,


I love my Granny.


Wordy Wednesday: sestude

Rebecca Dowman's sestude: The Snowman ShowWhile this week’s word, sestude, may not be one to set a Scrabble enthusiast’s pulse racing (unlike muzjiks, for instance, the highest scoring game opener), it’s still a word that aspires to big things..

If you’re wondering how ‘sestude’ passed you by (and/or getting frustrated by my failure to supply a definition), I’ll put you out of your misery. Although, technically, sestude is in the Collins Online Dictionary, it’s in there only as a new word suggestion… 

Read more…

Wordy Wednesday: dichotomy

Platos Dichotomy (sic)

I decided to dedicate this Wordy Wednesday to ‘dichotomy’ after stumbling across Platos Dichotomy (sic), a blog which purports to be devoted to language and its origins, which, with its glaring lack of an apostrophe in the title, made my inner Grammar Nazi snap to attention. While we’re all capable of making language mistakes (I usually discover mine just after hitting Publish), the omission of the apostrophe in a standing title can only be the result of a woeful lack of basic grammar or an approach to editing that’s so slack it’s inexcusable in a language-related blog.

So, back to dichotomy… According to the Oxford Dictionary, a dichotomy is:

Read more…

Wordy Wednesday: vinegar stroke

vinegar stroke: the face you make as you're comingI’m a woman of the world.

I’ve been around a bit, read a lot of books and have a particular interest in language (after all, it’s the premise behind this blog, particularly my Wordy Wednesday posts)Yet this was the first I’d heard of the term ‘vinegar stroke’. 

An enlightening and entertaining half hour on Google followed, which told me all I needed to know and more about the vinegar stroke. If, like me, you hadn’t come across the term before (for those already in the know, sorry about the pun…), here’s a definition for you.
The vinegar stroke is a colloquial term for the final thrust in a sexual act, the one which takes you over the edge into orgasm.  Still not with me? Imagine the face you’d pull if you were chugging vinegar. Uh huh, that’s right: THAT face…
Once I’d understood the phrase, I realised that my friend Erin’s (LA writer, Erin Donovan) use of vinegar stroke to describe the final push towards finishing a screenplay was a stroke of genius (again, pun absolutely intended).
Erin seemed to think it was an Englishism, but that may be because she first heard it years ago, from her English husband, Chris Long (who these days is Producer of The Mentalist). But if it’s English English, rather than American English, surely I’d have heard it before? And as it’s such an evocative phrase, shouldn’t it have made an appearance in laddish TV programmes such as Men Behaving Badly and Fantasy Football League? If it has, there’s scant evidence of this online.
Actress Katie Aselton, from hit US TV series, The LeagueA bit of digging uncovered a reference to vinegar strokes in the cult  laddish US fantasy football series, The League. The gorgeous Katie Aselton, left, who plays Jenny in The League, gave a hilarious explanation of this and other terms used in The League, when she appeared on a talk show with fellow guest Mike Tyson. 

Other sexual terms from the show include:

  1. Eskimo brother: when guys have had sex with the same girl, they’re Eskimo brothers.
  2. Teasing stallion: a non-threatening male who you allow to innocently flirt with your girl in the knowledge that this will merely get her worked up for you.
  3. Second virginity: the faux ‘virginal’ state experienced in the immediate aftermath of a break-up, when you haven’t had more than a single sexual partner for a prolonged period.
  4. Vaginal hubris. (My favourite kind…) Talking about this, Katie says, “my character is someone with a lot of confidence in their hoo-ha.”  But when does a lot of confidence become excessive?
    I don’t know that I’ve ever thought in terms of my vagina as having moods, but I’m going to be keeping an eye on things, and if I spot it being aloof, timid or cantankerous, I’ll let you know.

Wordy Wednesday: Selfie

Aki Hoshide selfie in space

Best Selfie ever? International Space Station astronaut Akihiko Hoshide capturing Earth in his visor, whilst in space. It’s awesome.

Come on, ‘fess up: you’ve done it haven’t you? You’ve snapped shots of yourself and posted them on social media (if you’re over 18, you’ve probably tried to frame them to look like they were taken by someone else).

I, for instance, couldn’t resist taking one after my friend Didier let me try on the fabulous wig he wears when doing drag (see below). Damn, I love that wig!

Selfie in a wig

Reasons to take selfies:

  • You think you’re looking hot
  • You’re somewhere amazing
  • You’re doing something amazing
  • You’re with someone famous (selfies with Pope Francis are proving very popular)
  • You’re with your mates and you want to show everyone else how much fun you’re having
  • You’re 14 and your day wouldn’t be complete without at least one selfie posted on Instagram

Selfies have become ubiquitous, even in the most inappropriate circumstances: there’s even a Tumblr site called Selfies at Funerals.

Actress, tap dancer and comedian Charlene deGuzman stars in I forgot my phone: a smart and depressing short film about the overuse of smartphones (including a scene on selfies)…


The first recorded use of the word was in 2002 on an Australian online forum:

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

Selfie appeared on Flickr as a hashtag as early as 2004. And now everyone from Pope Francis to astronauts is doing it, and the noun Selfie has been declared the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionary.

Don’t know your duck face from your belfie? Check out this article in The Guardian, which gives the do’s and don’ts (A belfie is a bum selfie: don’t do it. Don’t even think about doing it.)

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