Like a ton of bricks

I overheard a colleague tell a second colleague that a third colleague had told the first colleague that the third colleague was going to do something otherwise than by standard procedures. The first colleague then said:

If he does that, I’ll jump on him like a ton of bricks.

My first thought was that bricks don’t jump, even a ton of them. 

At home I first searched for jump ton bricks (without quotation marks), which found no exact uses of the expression in any form, but, not surprisingly, dictionary entries and uses of be/come (down) on sb like a ton of bricks, hit sb like a ton of bricks and jump down sb’s throat. Searching again for “jump on him like a ton of bricks” (with quotation marks for an exact match) found a small number of exact uses, as did most combinations with jumped, me, you, herit, us, them, someone and somebody. I was surprised to find that some people even jump on it like a ton of bricks. 

So I’ll say that jump on sb like a ton of bricks is used, just not very much. Pre-internet, would there have been any way of finding those? 

(Would anyone say “The wall came down on him like a ton of bricks”, or is that too literal?) 

pro- and anti-

Everyone agrees that abortion is a Bad Thing, so no-one is “pro-abortion” – at least I’d thought until I researched current usage. There are enough usages to be noticeable. Most of them are part of “pro-abortion rights” or “pro-abortion-rights” (which is awkward however it’s hyphenated) and “I’m not pro-abortion; I’m pro-choice”, but Google’s first page of results includes “pro-abortion Christians” and “pro-abortion protesters”. But those are those writers’ description of other people, not those other people’s self-description. Another result is the Cambridge Dictionary, which defines it as “supporting the belief that women should have the right to have an abortion” (my emphasis).

Equally, everyone agrees that life and choice are Good Things, but equally “anti-life” and “anti-choice” are used. The first seems to be a distraction, because most of Google’s results are references to the Anti-Life Equation in DC comics, which I didn’t know about previously and won’t pretend to understand. But I can easily imagine some people in the current debate referring to other people as “anti-life”. (And no-one is “pro-death”, either. In my state of Australia, the current debate is about voluntary assisted dying.) “Anti-choice” seems to be the most used, but similarly by some people about other people. 

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that no-one self-describes as “pro-abortion”, “anti-life” or “anti-choice”. 

“anti-” relates variably with nouns that follow. Google Ngrams’ top 10 results are Semitism, corruption, slavery, poverty, trust, Christian, climax, Catholic, chamber (a mistake for ante-chamber) and freeze. Notable here are -Semitism, -trust and -climax. Semitism doesn’t seem to be a thing; Google took me straight to anti-Semitism. (Compare, in earlier times, Zionism (rather than pro-Zionism) and anti-Zionism.) Trust is a Good Thing, so being anti-trust is surely a bad thing. But the term refers to the use of corporate trusts in certain bad ways. A climax is a good thing, but an anti-climax isn’t against that; it either doesn’t happen at all or happens to lesser degree than anticipated.

Note that being anti-something doesn’t necessarily mean being pro-the-opposite or even pro-anything-else. Anti-government protesters probably aren’t pro-anarchy (though some may be); they are either pro-some-other-group-being-the-government or pro-a-change-in-the-system-of-government. And anti-freeze does not mean pro-boil. 

On the other hand, Ngrams’ top results for “pro-” are slavery, cess, duction, tection, vide, vision, visions, portion, ceedings and fession, which means that there’s something wrong with either their programming or the way I’m using their search terms. I was surprised at the use of pro-slavery. I hope that no-one is pro-slavery these days.

Note: this post is about language usage. Any comments otherwise will be deleted.

That’s a moray

A document referred to someone transgressing the social morays of his community. Morays for mores is not a knew misteak. The Eggcorn Database (2005) and Language Log (2004) have both discussed it. I was surprised to find that mores is far moor common in general than morays – more often the misteak is using a moor common word in place of a less common one. That has to be wayed against the fact that morays is a moor obvious spelling. The traffic seems to be all one weigh – I can’t imagine that anyone writing about Muraenidae (I had to look that up – I am not a marine biologist) types mores by misteak. 

Social mores mostly come in plurals. A singular social more exists but is used less often. Technically, won of them is a social mos but I doubt if even the most ardent Latinist says or writes that.

Talking about this with my colleagues, I couldn’t help mentioning the song That’s amore. Many years ago I encountered the parody:

When an eel bites your knee as you swim in the sea, that’s a moray.

The next day one of my colleagues complained that the song had been stuck in her head all day. I said: 

When it sticks in your head as you’re lying in bed, that’s an earworm.  

(PS sea watt I did their?)

It was cake

I recently discovered the blog Peaks and penguins, by a young Canadian/US couple who lived in South Korea for some years (and maybe still do). They chronicled their explorations of the mountains there, guided by the lists of 100 top mountains by the Korean Forest Service and a commercial hiking wear/gear manufacturer. (80 mountains appear on both lists and 20 are unique to each, so there’s 120 in total, which I think they explored all.) I am half disappointed that I spent so much of the time I was in Korea not exploring mountains and a quarter excited and a quarter daunted that there’s so much for me to do when I go there again (when, when, when?). And that’s just the mountains, not all the other things to do.

One of their early expeditions nearly ended badly: the weather changed, they were short on warm clothing and other provisions, and they lost their way. Fortunately they encountered a Korean hiking group who warmed them up and pointed them in the right direction. They wrote: 

Our descent was cake compared to our trials on the ridge.

Was cake, not was a piece of cake, which is an established idiom.

I haven’t been able to find any equivalent use of “was cake” (in quotation marks for exact match). There are sentences like When was cake first made?, We heard/were told there was cake and And then there was cake. But I can’t say that those bloggers are wrong; it’s very clear what they mean and is a natural shortening (<haha) of the idiom. Maybe people say it or write it in places Google can’t find.

According to Google Ngrams, is/was a piece of cake rose in usage in the mid-1970s. Without context, it’s impossible to tell how many occurrences before and after then were literal usages of the phrase, and how many were idiomatic. I had always assumed that it is/was a piece of cake was, in turn, a shortening of it is/was as easy as eating a piece of cake, but Ngrams shows no particular usage of as easy as eating.

Is/was a piece of cake seems to be used/usable in singular forms: My homework was a piece of cake, ?My exams were pieces of cake, My exams were a piece of cake

Maths v math

In bookshop I saw two books:

Help your kids with maths – An Australian step-by-step guide


Help your kids with math – Revised edition

There is no particular reason why British, Australian and New Zealand English speakers say and write maths and USA and Canadian English speakers say and write math. We just do. 

Or maybe it’s not that simple. Google Ngrams shows that since 2010 math is more common that maths in BrEng, though it doesn’t show how much of that is mentions rather than uses (that is, talking about the word rather than actually using it). Conversely, maths is very rare in AmEng.

Surprisingly, the two abbreviations have been widely used only since the 1950s. Further, in AmEng, math has now overtaken mathematics.  

(Compare mathematics and the almost non-existent mathematic (either as a noun or adjective).)


An article on the Sydney Morning Herald website (and presumably in the print edition) states:

Stand-up paddle boarding lives up to the hype
I’ve discovered just how much work it takes for what I mistakenly assumed was a mainly sedentary sport.

Sedentary, as in “requiring or characterised by a sitting position” (from Latin sedēre, sedēns)? Maybe,  because’s second definition is “accustomed to sit or rest a great deal or to take little exercise” (emphasis added). Etymology isn’t destiny.

And cheers to the writer for actually doing it. Because of my (non-)sense of balance I wouldn’t be able to stand up, let alone paddle.

(Note: the writer/subeditor uses stand-up paddle boarding. The Wikipedia article is titled standup paddleboarding.)

Merry holidays

In a comment to my previous post, I mentioned spotting a question on Stack Exchange from a school music teacher whose principal had banned ‘all holiday-related music from our performances’ because one family had chosen not to attend. S/he later refers to ‘Christmas and Chanuka songs’.

From around mid-December, mainstream and social media abound with opinions as to the rights and wrongs of saying ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Holidays’, which I won’t weigh into. These reminded me something I’ve had on my ‘ideas for posts’ lists for several months. A document referred to an applicant returning to his country for ‘holyday’. Not holy day or holiday – holyday

Holidays were originally holy days, when most people didn’t work in order to attend church then feast and carouse on the village green. In Australian English, holiday now has probably three related meanings: a public holiday, on which most people don’t work but essential and service personnel do; annual leave, for most full-time, permanent employees, and a travelling vacation. I would not naturally say or write vacation; it sounds American to me, which Google Ngrams confirms. I would have to use either ‘I’m staying at home these holidays’/‘I’m having a holiday at home’ (some people use staycation but it’s still rare) or ‘I’m going away these holidays’. Because Christmas Day and Boxing Day fell on Saturday and Sunday this year, Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 were official public holidays. Most Australian businesses shut down completely between 25 Dec and 3 Jan inclusive, with 3 Jan being an official public holiday because 1 Jan also falls on a Saturday.

A vague vagary

A legal officer referred to a claimant’s claims and evidence as vague and inconsistent (which is not unusual) but also as containing significant vagary and inconsistency.

By itself it is possible for claims and evidence to contain significant vagary:

1. an unpredictable or erratic action, occurrence, course, or instance
2. a whimsical, wild, or unusual idea, desire, or action

but the closest noun equivalent of vague is vagueness. In fact, doesn’t have a separate definition for vagueness, redirecting searches for it to the definition for vague. Vagary may at one time have been the best equivalent for vague, but it isn’t now. –ness is a very common and productive noun morpheme. Also, vagaries is much more commonly used than vagary

We most often talk or write about (a/the/-) vague idea(s), sense, feeling, notion(s), term(s), way, hope (they are mostly internal), (a/the) vagary of nature, thought, fashion, fate, fortune/Fortune, imagination, taste, mine, fancy and vagaries of life, nature, weather, chance, climate, fortune, fashion, politics, fancy, imagination (they are mostly external). 

But vague/vagueness and vagary share an origin in Latin vagus, wandering,  vagārī to wander (compare vagrant/vagrancy).


Our church has been running Sunday and weekday services online for some time. Last week, one prayer leader introduced the prayers with a formula something like “For the world/particular people, we intercess”. I really shouldn’t be thinking about linguistics when I really should be praying, but obviously intercess piqued my interest. 

Without doubt, intercede is the ‘correct’ word here, but intercess is clear and makes perfect sense. It’s in Wiktionary, but not any other dictionary I searched. A general Google search takes me to intercede, intercession or intercessor, but using “intercess” in quotation marks finds a scattering of uses in the relevant sense. Also, Google Ngrams shows a flat line rather than ‘no results’, meaning some use, but close to zero compared with intercede. Pages for Mac changes intercess to internees and intercessing to interceding and red-underlines then when I change them back.  

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A document referred to someone applying for an Australian carer visa in order to care for a relative who was referred to by name and as the sponsor, the Australian relative requiring care and 

the caree

Caree, as the reciprocal of carer, makes sense and uses an established pattern of English words, and it it is difficult to think of any other suitable word, but it looks and sounds very strange, and is very, very rare. Google first asked me if I meant carer, then career, and Pages for Mac changed it to career (even though that doesn’t make sense in any likely context). 

One of the few official sources in which I found it used is the Australian government’s Social Security Guide (which was not the provision in question in the document I was editing). It simply says that a caree is “a person receiving a substantial level of care” and a carer or care provider is “a person who is providing a substantial level of care to a caree”.

Not surprisingly, Google Ngrams shows that the usage of caree is minimal. Surprisingly, it shows that carer has been widely used only since the late 1970s. I don’t know what people providing care were called before that. 

I can’t recommend or not recommend caree. I doubt if any writers of government guides are going to check my blog before they use it.