Wednesday, October 17

Physician heal thyself

So, once again the Gnome is spending his working days discussing and writing about bowel disease at an international medical conference.

For many physicians of course, conferences are a good excuse to get away from the family to play golf, go shopping, or sleep with attractive young pharmaceutical sales reps.

Others though do actually contribute to our global scientific knowledge by publishing short abstracts on their clinical work. These abstracts are then collated into a very large book (with a very small font) designed specifically so the Gnome can experience both eye strain and headaches from trying to pick out those of genuine scientific interest.

One does occasionally come across an unintentional bit of humour to lighten the mood. An abstract presented here in Philadelphia described patients who took a drug but had a bad reaction to it. The Gnome assumes the author meant to say '10% of patients were were unable to tolerate the treatment', but what was written was '10% of patients were intolerable'.

The Gnome knows lots of doctors, and he bets every single one would say that percentage was way too low...

Fighting tooth and claw

Why do Americans have a thing about British dentistry? Actually the Gnome knows the answer to that and is ashamed to say he generally agrees with their logic. For to be born an Englishman may be, as Rudyard Kipling once wrote, 'to win first prize in the lottery of life' but unfortunately little of that windfall is spent on straightening teeth.

Even poor old Prince Charles, who presumably has no need to queue for hours with the masses in the hope of getting into an NHS practice, is known in the US as a man for whom teeth were, are, and forever will be, something used only to chew food. This is not the American way. For here teeth are a status symbol. Each one must be polished, whitened, straightened and capped until capable of taking their rightful place among their equally stylish neighbours.

An American smiling at you can be quite an unnerving experience. One is often drawn to the teeth, their shiny, glowing whiteness reminiscent of Hollywood portrayals of the gates to heaven.

As an aside, why is heaven always assumed to be a place of glowing white light? Has the Almighty no concept of colour? Presumably all interior designers go straight to hell, spending their time with Lucifer discussing how to update the torture chambers with accented use of colours such as Firestorm Red and Sulphorous Yellow...

Sorry. The Gnome is a little tired and his mind can wander under such circumstance. Back to teeth. The Gnome has returned to Philadelphia this week (no cheesesteaks or roadkill yet though...) and met a new client who had just such a smile. His first words were:

'Hey there Gnome, nice to meet you at last. Your teeth are good for an Englishman...'

The Gnome's response was, in his own humble opinion, not a bad one - although potentially damaging to his future work prospects.

'Pleased to meet you too. You're quite slim for an American...'

Fifteen all, new balls please!

Monday, September 17

Copywriting Disaster

When the Gnome was a young pup entering the exciting world of the advertising for the first time, he was shown to his desk by a character straight out of Dickens. Tall, thin and with half moon glasses perched upon a beak-like nose, this ghost of copywriters past introduced himself as 'Howard MacMahon esquire' and on arrival at the Gnome's new office, promptly sneered at the computer waiting on the desk by saying 'when I started here all that was on my desk were two pencils and a rubber'.

With the insoucience of youth, the Gnome laughingly suggested this comment immediately confirmed all the rumours he'd heard about girls who work in PR. Howard MacMahon esquire, unmoved to levity by this humourous quip sighed deeply and pointed towards the bookcase adjoining the Gnome's new desk. There, sitting alone on the dusty shelves was a dog-eared yellow paperback, its pages browned from the sunlight seeping across the windowsill.

"This book is Fowler's Modern English Useage. I know you won't read it, nor probably use the wisdom contained within it, but at least you have access to it." And with that he retired from the room to be seen again only rarely, his appearances limited to the impending arrival of a crisis, just like Harry Seldon in the Foundation books.

As it happens the Gnome did read Fowler's, and although he probably doesn't use the wisdom contained within it every day, or in every piece of writing, he has a penchant for its stuffy put-downs for those who mangle the Queen's English.

Which brings us to this advert, presumably written by someone without the unfettered access to Modern English Useage the Gnome so enjoyed in his youth.

Is anything right with it? Let's start at the top.


Why the extra punctuation of the comma? That's just plain wrong. As is the word order... Wouldn't 'see it, report it, stop it' be more appropriate? How can you stop it before you've seen it? And surely there are Health and Safety implications for encouraging passengers to become 'have-a-go heroes' with the suggestion they stop it before reporting it to the authorities?

Violence towards both passengers and members of staff will not be tolerated

Well that's good to know if you are a young hoodie looking for a little recreational violence. So long as you target only one group, be it staff or passengers, tolerance of your actions will be the reward. It's only when you behave thuggishly towards BOTH passengers and staff need you worry. One assumes 'violence towards either passengers or members of staff will not be tolerated' was the intended message, but who can tell?

Help us to stop it. Report it. call British Transport police on....

Surely even the doziest of proofreaders, somnolent at their desk on a Friday afternoon after a long liquid lunch knows that a capital letter is needed to start a new sentence?

Oh how Howard MacMahon esquire, would have shuddered if this advert had left his office. The Gnome can see the old man twirling in his grave now. Perhaps by highlighting this abhorrence to the wider world he will forgive the Gnome the use of the word 'penchant' earlier in the piece. As H.W. Folwer clearly states, and Howard MacMahon esquire would no doubt agree,

"To say penchant for liking or fancy is pretension and nothing else."

Monday, September 10

An Office Moment

As part of the Gnome's freelance occupation (i.e. any job will do), he was recently the hired help arranging a meeting for a large public sector organisation. He took it, in part, for the opportunity to meet fellow non-humans - it was for the elf service - but disappointingly none turned up (although given the appearance of certain delegates he cannot be 100% certain no trolls or orcs circumvented the invitation process...)

All was redeemed though by a moment of lunacy that would not have been out of place in a script from 'The Office'.

One of the Gnome's temporary work colleagues was looking over the laminated delegate name badges so beloved of meeting organisers when he stopped and picked one up, examining it in what can only be oxymoronically described as insipid excitement.

He nodded sagely and said 'If this person doesn't turn up I will take this badge back for my colleague..."

The Gnome looked over his shoulder and replied, "Is he called Brian Jameson then?", under the natural assumption he would be similarly named to the missing delegate.

"No... he just likes badges."

Oh, how the working hours must just fly past in such a thrill seeking workplace as that.

"Alone at last Miss Søderstrøm"

The Gnome was telling someone about his favourite cartoon the other day. It was by Ed McLachlan, a regular contributor to the now defunct Punch magazine, although you can still see his work (and the Gnome recommends you do) in various publications to this day.

So enthusiastic was the Gnome about this cartoon, a framed print was presented to him on his birthday by his work colleagues. Now the thing is, the joke in itself isn’t that funny, but it took the Gnome so damned long to work it out, it has stuck with him ever since.

The set up is simple. In a small rowing boat close to shore, a Swedish man is approaching a Swedish woman, lips puckered with amorous intent. Now the Gnome immediately hears you ask how their nationality can be ascertained so exactly. Is there some graphical technique immediately bringing into mind Swedish folk? Is the boat a Volvo? Does it have several unused screws and a small ‘L’-shaped piece of metal with holes in it left over in the gunwales suggesting it was self assembled from an IKEA kit? No. The alleged Swedishness of the occupants was neatly handled with a little linguistic stereotyping in the caption

“Alone at last Miss Søderstrøm…”

So what’s funny? Exactly what the Gnome thought. He looked at the boat again, checked the fine detail of the occupants and all he could see was a lecherous Swede about to have his wicked way.

It was only after about 5 minutes his eyes moved to the shoreline where, high up on the cliff, hundreds of lemmings were about to interrupt this passionate scene with their suicide leap.

Childish perhaps, but it tickled the Gnome mightily, particularly after missing the joke for so long. Anyway, the reason for this rambling introduction is to ask a question… What is the collective noun for lemmings? When explaining the cartoon to his colleague the Gnome realised he had no idea and had to fall back on the use of ‘a herd of lemmings’ to explain what was hurtling towards the edge of the cliff.

A quick search on the internet shows even the Oxford English Dictionary has no answer, although one should expect to hear the Gnome use the phrase ‘a bellowing of bullfinches’ or ‘a psittacosis of parrots’ at the earliest opportunity…

Another overheard conversation

They keep coming! And the Gnome loves them... Overheard in a gym, this one was worthy of an Alan Bennett script.

Two lancastrian ladies of a certain age, immaculately attired in flourescent leotards so reminiscent of the 1980s were rocking up and down on one of those abdominal exercisers when the following pearl of wisdom was produced.

"I haven't managed to drink a cup of tea for ages. I think it is something to do with the menopause..."


Sunday, September 9


A long time ago, deep in the Gnome's childhood, he would often hear the word 'wireless' used when what the adults should have said was 'radio'. This always amused the Gnome, listening to those old people (some of them were as old as 35 or even [God forbid] 40...) use such an outdated word.

It was as though they couldn't or wouldn't admit technology had moved forward, and with it the associated terminology.

Now he is of the same age as they were all those years ago, he records TV programmes via his Sky Plus / TiVo hard drive thinking to himself 'Hmmm... Must remember to video that...'

Plus ça change...