The power of context

I often feel uncomfortable with the way philosophers discuss words. They tend to treat them in isolation and ignore context. Here is a sentence that illustrates the power that context wields:
She had an incredulous garden
The context is tiny, effectively the single word garden. Yet you know at once that the word incredulous is being used erroneously and that it should be incredible.

Let’s be pink

The ‘good’ overtones of the word white and the ‘bad’ overtones of black have been embedded in English since early times. When the words are used in the context of race, these overtones can have a toxic outcome. Moreover, the words are contrary to everyday experience. Pink is a more accurate word – if one must have one – to describe ‘white’ people. And although there are some near-black people, the vast majority of ‘non-white’ people in Europe or America, at least, are better described as ‘brown’, even those of ultimate African descent.

As the beneficial spread of PC speech has shown, changing language really can help change attitudes. So I suggest that those of us who are non-‘non-white’ might show the way by, whenever forms permit, describing ourselves as non-white and, if possible, writing in “pink”.

(One could go further and replace the present terminology with words that have opposite connotations, say tanned instead of black and pallid instead of white. But that’s probably going too far.)

Yet more codding

My friend Clare Drummond has pointed out (quite forcibly!) that my original cod blog was not rigorous. I should have started with a single cod, not three. In what follows I always show the verbal use of cod in bold

Transitive verbs can be used without a subject, in which case they are commands:

  Cod  cod.

Or even a command with no object:


They can also be used with no object to form a generalization:

          Cod cod.

My original blog also did not discuss the number of meanings that a cod sentence can have. Such a sentence is built up as three phrases, a subject noun phrase, a verb phrase and an object noun phrase. As we have seen, the noun phrases can be empty but there must always be a verb.  So let’s consider the number of meanings that a 3-cod sentence can hav:e  

Cod cod cod.
Cod cod cod.
Cod cod cod.
Cod cod cod.
Cod cod cod.
Cod cod cod.

Six in all, and it turns out that for any given length, the number of meanings is the associated triangular number. So for 4-cod the total is ten, for 5-cod it is 15, and so on.

As part of my cinquain project (see previous blog entry, I composed a cod cinquain:

Cod cod
cod cod cod cod
cod cod cod cod cod cod
cod cod cod cod cod cod cod cod
cod cod.

With twenty-two cods this has 253 possible meanings. Without some sort of typographic intervention (such as putting the verb phrase in bold), we have a situation comparable to the superposition of quantum physics. We have also  landed quite firmly in Oulipo territory.


As a sort of lockdown project I have been sending a daily cinquain of my own composition to a small mail list. I have decided it would be convenient to have the whole set todate on line, so here they are.

A colour unknown
in northern climes until
that bitter fruit arrived to charm
and glow.

The owls
That used to call
Are silent or have they
gone? I see no joy in the eyes
of mice

If he was there
an occasion was bright
To know him was to hold him dear

A horse
from a temple
sniffs the dark London air,
grieves for a clear light, the smell of

Ants live
under my floor.
They have found my honey
and smother the jar, encrusting,
black, soft.


From Ecclesiastes 9
All things
are alike to
”. Let’s think about that.
Birth? Yes. Death? Yes. Money and fame?
Hell no.

Get this:
The living know
that they shall die
”. But some
seem not to know, some already
seem dead


St John,
obsessed with words,
said flesh began with words.
He’d shudder now: so many words,
such flesh.

A fox
parsed a pigeon
subject and predator
severed conjunctions; the lexis of
its life

she knifed
an echoed slice
of silence from the night
the shadows murmured parting from
the bone

if the sky were
we’d use a neater word,
a word that rhymes with other words,
not none

A hut:
not what you wear
on your head. That’s a hat.
Although a woolly hut would be
quite snug.

The pit
came to me as
a memento mori
but I soon forgot its purpose.
That’s life

A snake
charmed a robin
by hissing endearments
then nuzzled up to her and bloodied her
soft breast

where I have lived
now are homes for others.
How can they forget me, be so

holiday camps
opened in the thirties.
The first, Skegness, was a marvel.
But yes

The stairs
go down steeply,
the stark concrete sighing,
sullied and muddied by my

That is how long
the flames in the forest
will take to dry and consume my

Oh texts beware:
she’ll crush your very heart
But in the end she’ll render you

Ants live
and die as one
all for the common good
but half of them stand round doing

under my floor
is my alter ego.
(The sort of silly thought that spoils

and Pooh are here.
They have found my honey.
I must get my balloon and look
for bees.

They mix
his dead entrails
with herbs and rare spices,
and smother the jar, encrusting
with gold.

Her clothes
cover the floor.
I pick up her stockings
and let my fingers fondle them
black, soft.

A prisoner
must be locked up before
being locked down. We’re spared step one.
What luck.

shady walks, tea,
summer concerts, ices,
the meadow a bowl that echoes
the sky.

where seats bear names
a place is kept for you
Once you take your seat you’ll be there

In church,
solemn, quiet.
I sit there and wonder:
why do I love it when I don’t

Piss pots
can be sculptures.
So now we want to know
if somebody will name a seat
“Still life”.

I’m told
death is coming.
If I wish hard enough
perhaps it might be youth that’s coming
for me.

A horse
made of marble
cannot be feeling pain,
yet we want to show empathy.
How odd.

A bell
from a temple
can hold down papers.
So much better than holding down
our souls.

An owl
hears other owls hoot.
sniffs the dark London air,
and starts feeling frightened about
her patch.

Fast food
is death for chefs.
They spend many long hours
grieving for the smell of olives and

if the centre crumbles.
we’ll see between the left
and those strange people, right wingers,
clear light.

The owls
signed a treaty:
they’d start to live in peace
but the large still pecked the small. What
a hoot

The watch
who used to call
the time at night: if he
felt run down did he also feel
wound up?

She died
of a fever
and no one could save her,
the start in Dublin of covid-

The b’s
in bomb and tomb
are dumb now, or have they
succumbed to thoughtless poisoning,
like bees?

Of men
plans go awry.
It’s time now to try and
get better results from the plans
of mice

Why are
so many dying?
Where has good governance
gone? I see no joy in the eyes
round me.

Map out
your memories
as folders on a laptop.
Are there any that you want to

Some things
go bump at night,
some go bump in the day,
but, oh, lockdown goes bump 24/

will be happy
when they see that the year
2020 is for perfect

If youth
knew, if age could
(it’s neater in French).
But sometimes now I neither sais
nor peux.

yes, I’m throngèd:
knees, head, elbows, fingers,
chest, feet, bottom, hands, teeth, ankles,

“I’ll pose”
she said, and stood,
naked, in a proud stance.
I viewed her at length, then wrote this

hiding my pleasure,
I brought a brisk beef roast
and slapped it platterless on the

A hut,
even if red,
is too tiny, too tight,
to hold the threadings of my head,

Hume said
“Healing takes place
when we can start working
together, spilling our sweat, not
our blood”

A phrase
built round the word
“hut” refers not to huts
but to skeins of hair braiding your

found in sunsets.
but no one noticed it
before the fruit was captured for us

Now mark my words.
New colours lurk in woods.
Burn the forests – we can’t afford
new words

tang, touch, taste, tone
like nothing else you know.
Oh that the fruits of my labour
were such.

my bird book said,
but never trust females:
whatever the book says, she’s no
black bird.

In spring
passing the pond
I savoured the duck-jam.
In winter across the fields came

George Floyd:
a man murdered,
a people rising up;
the knee on their necks is in the
White House.


Look out

I think we’re right to worry about Facebook intruding into our lives. They clearly have my personality spot on.

This morning they recommenced these groups to me: Posterior Cortical Atrophy Awareness, Bristow Old Gits HeliHub (helicopter enthusiasts) and Toyota Land Cruiser Association.

Very worrying


We have learnt two interesting things about the God of Love in the last few days:

He says you cannot give assistance to a disabled person if you are standing on the wrong side of a bit of plastic wire.

He says you can walk into a room and shoot fifty people because you do not like them kissing each other.

That’s real love.

What can one do?

Some weeks ago I received a letter from a company call Martin and Co, a Camden firm of estate agents. It was made to look rather official and marked “Private and Confidential”. Of course, it was nothing of the sort, just a sales puff. I find it very irritating when people misuse the P & C convention in order to get one to open their letter.

So  I emailed them and said what they were doing amounted to lying, showing them to be a totally untrustworthy company that lied from the very first contact. And asked to be taken off their mailing list.

Now I have received another one of their tawdry envelopes. Ugh.

I, I, I

I received a letter this morning with an envelope announcing “I am 100% recyclable”. It’s like buses announcing “I am not in service”.

It doesn’t feel right but there will be more and more of this as computers and robots become more articulate. We seem to need a new first-person pronoun that can be used by non-humans. Any  suggestions?