No Complaints #16: Commas, Calendars and C-Bombs

Apologies for lateness; it turns out the coach I was on this afternoon was lying when it said it had wifi. Let’s be getting on with it.

Things to read

“There is a fancy word for ‘going beyond your province’: ‘ultracrepidate’. So much of copy editing is about not going beyond your province. Anti-ultracrepidationism. Writers might think we’re applying rules and sticking it to their prose in order to make it fit some standard, but just as often we’re backing off, making exceptions, or at least trying to find a balance between doing too much and doing too little. A lot of the decisions you have to make as a copy editor are subjective. For instance, an issue that comes up all the time, whether to use ‘that’ or ‘which’, depends on what the writer means. It’s interpretive, not mechanical – though the answer often boils down to an implicit understanding of commas.”

I just moved a comma as I quoted from an article entitled “Confessions of a Comma Queen”. I’m not sorry. Email to Pocket.


“It’s currently twenty-six seconds fast, but it used to be worse. Prior to the Gregorian reform, the calendar used in the West (the Julian calendar, named after Julius Caesar), was a whole eleven minutes fast, since the calendar’s length was 365.25 years (averaging out an extra day every Leap Year), whereas the actual time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun is actually 365.24219 days.”

Time is relative. Calendar-time doubly so. Email to Pocket.

“‘Black’ skate nights weren’t simply provided by white rink owners in the forties; they were hard won through civil disobedience. Many of the first sit-ins in America protesting racial inequality were actually ‘skate-ins’, which took place across the northern United States a good twenty years before the mass mobilisation of marchers fighting legal segregation in the South.”

A fascinating history of the part roller-skating played in the development of both the US’s civil rights movement and dance music scene. Email to Pocket.


“Because I had to put in my due diligence, I decided I’d have to read and research some of these stories, to help settle on a concept and structure for my own sex-melee. I ended up investing $2.99 in a shorty story by Olivia J Rose titled Dominated by the Dolphins (I almost couldn’t decide between this one and Humped by the Humpback). I read the whole thing and I can honestly tell you that I don’t even know what I’m talking about anymore. I’ve definitely never read anything like it. But the main takeaway was: who the hell am I to judge if someone wants to get their rocks off, and nobody’s getting hurt?”

A writer documents an attempt to become a bestselling author of Kindle-only erotica. Email to Pocket.


“A small foot in China, no different from a tiny waist in Victorian England, represented the height of female refinement. For families with marriageable daughters, foot size translated into its own form of currency and a means of achieving upward mobility. The most desirable bride possessed a three-inch foot, known as a ‘golden lotus’. It was respectable to have four-inch feet – a silver lotus – but feet five inches or longer were dismissed as iron lotuses. The marriage prospects for such a girl were dim indeed.”

The practice of footbinding has been written about many times, but this is the first piece I’ve come across that explores how the women involved felt about it. Email to Pocket.


Things to listen to

The Allusionist is a new podcast from Radiotopia and Helen Zaltzman (who you may recognise as one half of Answer Me This). It's all about language and etymology – she picks a different word each week and with the help of guests and other sources unpacks why we use said word in the way we do. There have only been four episodes so far: “Bosom holder”, in which Helen explores why there are a zillion words for pants but only really one for the thing women wear up top; “Going viral”, in which Buzzfeed’s Tom Phillips tries to explain things like why odd numbers work better than even ones for listicles; “Ban the pun”, in which Helen's wordplay-obsessed brother and father try and lure her into their pun-cult; and “Detonating the C-Bomb”, which contains a sweary version of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy that is the best thing to happen to my ears in ages. Subscribe now to avoid disappointment.

+Bonus thing: I did an interview with Helen about podcasting and Serial and other things for the New Statesman, if you fancy doing some reading about listening too.

Things to watch

Ice music.

Russian snow ploughs are crazy.

I could watch this forever.

Compulsory medieval thingamabob

Birdman. Where's his Oscar?

The guest gif

What, you thought I’d made it all the way to the end of a newsletter without mentioning Harry Potter? THINK AGAIN.

THE END. See you next time*!

*Next time will probably be next Friday. If you want to suggest things I should include in the next one of these, please do reply and send me links.