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A teacher’s definition of Socialism

Everyone who bothered about such things was delighted that a new young teacher, female, distinguished at the university, liberal in outlook, and an active member of the local Socialist Party would start the new term at the State school as a member of the teaching staff.

   She was perfectly able (and qualified) to teach a number of subjects. The Head Teacher gave her a notoriously difficult class, 5b, to launch her into the mine-strewn fields of elementary school teaching. The subject was History. After subduing the customary row that greeted a new teacher, by the simple method of talking in a gradually decreasing tone to the pupils until they stopped gassing altogether – so that they could hear her voice – she asked for questions. (more…)

By | 2012-06-04T06:41:08+00:00 June 4th, 2012|English Language, Humour, Philosophy, Today, World History|2 Comments

The origin of legends

‘Legend has it . . .’ and most of Man’s legends are thousands of years old. The Dragon, for instance, has been around for centuries, in art and tales told by men. Dragons do not exist, that we know for certain, and yet the fable of St. George and his Dragon gave us a patron saint of England who was not actually English, and the dragons appearing in heraldry for more than a thousand years. Did the idea of dragons, as huge lizards with wings and breathing fire come from Neanderthal (and imaginative) man finding fossils of the pterodactyl – which certainly existed – but hundred of millions of years ago. Perhaps the legendary Monster of Loch Ness is a subaqueous dragon. (more…)


From the late 18th to the middle of the 19th century there was an almost radical revolt against simple reasoning, the sciences, all authority and most traditions, against order and discipline, which overcame (and to a certain extent subdued) Western civilisation. This was the sweeping movement of Romanticism.

It meant social, political and moral reform, yes, but manifested itself above all in the arts; one could claim that the two major extremes of art are Classicism and Romanticism. Subsequent movements are generally regarded as being associated with one or the other. (more…)

Ian Fleming & the Count’s Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang

The good Count Z. in the original Chitty / commons.wikimedia.org

The good Count Z. in the original Chitty / commons.wikimedia.org

The suave inventor of James Bond had already suffered a heart attack at the age of 52 when he began writing about a magic motor car with rather a long name. His son Caspar was 8, and dearly loved tales about myth, pretence and mechanical objects. Fleming went to a seaside hotel to recover and write for his son. He remembered a certain Count Sborowski who used to race an auto with an impossibly long bonnet called ‘Chitty’ at Brooklands. (more…)

The Cabinet System

Many students are accustomed to using the terms Prime Minister and The Cabinet and even The Cabinet Rooms in their studies and essays, but do not know much more about what these words represent. The term prime minister was first used when it was invented for the first of them, Sir Robert Walpole. He became PM in 1762.

The phrase did not start as much more than a term of abuse. Cartoonists in the eighteenth century loved it, and got a lot of cynical humour out of it. The position was officially called First Lord of the Treasury, and the British had to wait until 1905 for the term ‘prime minister’ to be used on a Royal Warrant. Funnily enough, it was first employed in the Chequers Estate Act, by which a rich man donated his mansion and its park to the nation, with the nice idea that prime ministers could relax in the country during weekends, not at all a bad idea when you realise that Number 10, Downing Street is little more than a small town house with just enough room to swing a cat. It is quite likely that Chequers has seen more important politicking than Downing Street, as many PMs have preferred to do their world-shaking manoevering in the comfortable and more private atmosphere of an English country house. (more…)

Plain English

What is plain English? What it is not is only too obvious, and can be read in all British bureaucratic communication, business letters, government departments, and sadly, much of modern English journalism – anywhere where there is linguistic contact with the public. Applications, safety instructions, official letters, licences, applications for licences or passports, insurance policies, hire-purchase documents, guarantees, instruction booklets for use of electric or other machinery etc. should be presented clearly, using language that people are certain to understand. With few exceptions, they are not:

Take, for instance, this real letter about house rents:- (more…)

By | 2012-04-24T09:47:08+00:00 April 24th, 2012|English Language, Humour, Today|0 Comments

Wyclif & the Lollards

Wyclif or Wycliffe / en-wikipedia.org

Wyclif or Wycliffe / en-wikipedia.org

The name is also spelled Wycliffe: he was a religious reformer born around 1330. An intriguing thing is that for hundreds of years Wyclif was assumed to be the sole translator of the Bible from Latin into English. This is logically now thought to be untrue, since one man translating  the entire Bible (and writing down the translation) would require perhaps sixty years of daily work.

More sensibly, historians now regard him as being ‘one of a large group’ who took part in the enterprise. The result is known as the ‘Wyclif’ or ‘Lollard’ Bible, which was used as standard until the 17th century ‘King James Version’.

He was at Oxford University as an academic and ecclesiastic, publishing various works of philosophy and logic, but became best known for his theological compositions. (more…)

By | 2012-04-02T10:22:19+00:00 April 2nd, 2012|English History, English Language, Philosophy|0 Comments

The Double Negative – Articulate or Annoying?

The double negative is a peculiarly English device very much used in what might be called ‘literary’ English. It is designed to give more emphasis to a phrase. For example, the writer of a novel could say, “She was unusually attractive.” The term is self-explanatory but not very advanced. Using the double negative, the same writer could say, “She was not unattractive to men, though not pretty.”

As far as I know, this literary device is unusable in the Romance languages. In Spanish, for instance, the double negative is used to emphasise the negative, not to negate it, ie. “Ellos no tienen nada que temer”. ‘no’ and ‘nada’ are both negatives. Sensitively translated into English, it would read, “They have nothing to fear,” with only one negative. Directly translated however, the phrase would be ungrammatical – “They don’t have nothing to fear,” which in English is unacceptable. In Spanish the phrase is perfectly acceptable. (more…)

By | 2012-03-04T12:54:58+00:00 March 4th, 2012|English Language, Humour, Philosophy, Today|0 Comments

Right, Left or Centre?

In the course of publishing nearly two hundred short histories for General-History.com we have received many comments. They are a mixed bag indeed; some commentators have difficulty with elucidating their opinion of an article; some have no problem; others become a little mixed up when it comes to spelling, though that issue is being addressed at last by many Ministers of Education. Some are, as is the nature of things today, obscene. These can be treated with the humour they deserve. Others show with startling clarity that the commentator is incapable of separating his own deeply entrenched views on Life from the opinion of others. As the well- known philosopher observed – ‘El infierno es los demás’ (Hell is everybody else). Not to worry! Around 60% of the comments are complimentary, even flattering. Three lady history teachers  at university, from France, South Korea and Alaska respectively use General-History.com as material in their classes. This is encouraging. (more…)

By | 2012-03-03T12:17:36+00:00 March 3rd, 2012|English Language, Humour, Philosophy|1 Comment
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