W4W: why your Nan can’t have a catchphrase

Laurel and Hardy

Image: Pixabay


Do you ever repeat yourself?

Maybe it’s that story about the time you met George Clooney scrabbling through packets of half-priced cereal at the supermarket – you went for the low sugar muesli while George was right at the Coco-pop-loops like a terrier down a rat hole.

Or when your cousin Maudie got married for the second time – to that funny lad with the lazy eye and the ginger sideburns that looked like big caterpillars he’d trained to lie on his cheeks – and some numpty gave your Uncle Fred a glass of champagne before the speeches and he stood up in front of a 150 people said how the bride should be done for fraud for wearing white.

Or maybe it’s just a phrase that you say over and over.

Worse things happen at sea.


It’s not me it’s you.

or the classic

Please leave me alone or I’ll call the police.

Funny thing is, it’s other people who notice us repeating ourselves. Ever had an elderly relative tell you the same story for the thousandth time? While you’re yawning with boredom, they’re launching into the anecdote about how Aunty Frankie got her glass eye  as if they’re telling you for the first time.

You’re inner tedi-ometer is so high, you’re reaching for cushions, spoons, Chihuahuas – anything to plug your ears – whilst the teller is happily relating their tale as if it’s the brightest, shiniest bauble in the Christmas box.

This is almost the exact opposite of how a



A catchphrase is the repetition of a word or phrase (in fact sometimes, the more often they’re repeated, the more entertaining we find them) and seems to date from the 1830s – a phrase that ‘catches’ in the mind.

They might not be so common now on TV in the UK now, but at one time, comics, sitcom writers – even presenters – had catchphrases. We were awash with them.

Sometimes they were accidental, something a character said that the public picked up on and the writers subsequently used more and more in later scripts due to demand. But more often they were intentional, repeated over weeks and months until everyone was quoting them, from the kids skipping in the playground to the teachers hacking over their fags and tea in the staff room.

Why does something that’s so boring in the everyday bring a TV show to life and even help its popularity and longevity?

According to Psychology Today, a study into catchphrases from comedy films suggests quoting them is a short form of communication that amuses us. It cements friendships, reinforcing our relationships with other people – it’s no fun quoting a catchphrase to someone who doesn’t recognise it, after all.

So next time Granny says, ‘No offence, but …’ try and stop yourself from smothering her with one of her own crocheted cushions. Think of it as her catchphrase and laugh.


Do you have a favourite catchphrase from TV or film? Is there something other people have noticed you say often and are now too embarrassed to ever say again?

Recognise these catchphrases? Answers below – and no peeking.

(1) I have a cunning plan.

(2) Nice to see you, to see you, nice.

(3) No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.

(4) I don’t believe it.

(5) D’oh.

(6) Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.

(7) The truth is out there.

(8) It’s goodnight from me and it’s goodnight from him.

(9) Goodnight, John Boy.

(10) Say what you see.


With thanks as always to the lovely Kat for kicking off W4W.


(1) Blackadder.

(2) Bruce Forsyth.

(3) Monty Python.

(4) One Foot In The Grave.

(5) Homer, The Simpsons.

(6) Laurel and Hardy.

(7) The X Files.

(8) The Two Ronnies.

(9) The Waltons.

(10) Catchphrase, of course!

What do Coleridge, Arabic water carriers and the American penal system have in common?


Image: Pixabay


Do you know? No? Well, come with me and let’s walk it through.

I began this post by looking up al words, intending to write a Wednesday Word Tangle about English words with Arabic roots. There are some crackers, too –

alembic, alcove, algebra, alcohol, alchemy, alkali, algorithm.

What a lovely list of interesting words – covering everything from chemistry (itself derived from alchemy), architecture, mathematics, distillation … Clever bunch, those ancient Arabic scholars. Then I stumbled across another word that I hadn’t realised was from Arabic at all and my mind got to drifting as if across a wide ocean …

… this word may derive from the Arabic al-qadus – a ‘machine for drawing water’

… which links to a British / American rock group, famous in the seventies for falling in love with each other, scrapping like Itchy and Scratchy, breaking up, writing heart-breaking songs about the whole affair, then making their now-ex sing them for years afterwards …

… which also links to an American prison situated in San Francisco Bay, now a tourist attraction, but once notorious for holding the most troublesome inmates, including Al Capone, George ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly and Robert Stroud – famous for his love of birds …

… which also links to an epic 19th century poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a seafarer who meets Death, loses his soul in a game of dice and is cursed to wander the earth, relating his tale of woe to all who will listen

Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.

… which also links to a brief sketch by Monty Python, with John Cleese in drag as a terrifyingly aggressive ice cream lady, selling the most unappetising of intermission snacks a cinema could possibly offer

Do you know what it is yet? Then allow me to explain …

Al-qadus relates to the word saqqa – the Arabic word for pelican. The word was jumbled with the Latin for white – albus – and somehow attributed to a totally different seabird – the


by English sailors.

The British / American rock band are Fleetwood Mac – they of Tusk, Chains and Go your Own Way fame. They also wrote an instrumental piece named after a sea bird with a giant wingspan …



The American prison is – of course – Alcatraz, named after the Spanish word for the pelicans that roosted there, derived from the Arabic al-ghattas (any pelicaniform diving bird), another possible root of ALBATROSS.

The poem is The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and the seaman in question shoots an ALBATROSS, thus cursing the rest of his crew to endure unpleasant deaths and himself to wearing an unweildy, seabird necklace …

And Monty Python? Watch this.



With thanks and love as always to Kat, founder of W4W.




Why it’s okay to feel utterly insignificant


Image: Pixabay

Sometimes it’s hard not to believe we’re the centre of the universe.

Not literally, of course. We’ve known the truth about the rotation of the planets since Copernicus, since Galileo Galilei was questioned by the Inquisition* and put under lifelong house arrest for supporting the solar-centric theory.

The thing is, knowing the universe doesn’t rotate around us doesn’t stop the feeling that it does.

Don’t judge yourself too harshly for believing all life would surely fall to pieces if you didn’t move among it. After all, from the second we’re born, we rattle around in out own heads, interpretting the world the only way we know how – we learn the colour of a buttercup through our eyes, a baby’s cry through our ears, the resistance of a lover’s skin through our fingertips, the flavour of tears through our tongues, not through anyone else’s … Who can blame us for having an overblown idea of our own importance.

But then, you look up …

On a frosty morning last Wednesday at around 6.20 a.m GMT, I stood on our doorstep. Frost prickled the lids of the wheely bins, the roofs of the parked cars. Some of the neighbours were up, kitchen lights too dim to have much impact on the pre-dawn darkness. I was still in my slippers, but the creeping cold didn’t drive me to the fire and a second cup of tea.

I stared into the clear, orange black sky over Bristol. There were stars – winking suggestively – and more sober planets, with their steady, unswerving gaze. I was scanning the South West, about four fists above the horizon – waiting.

Then I saw it, the brightest object in the sky – as brilliant as any star, unblinking as the nearest planet, moving fast as a jet plane in a shallow arc across the black. I called my son, who tried to take a photo and failed. I rushed upstairs to find my husband – still sleepy, still ruffled and pillow-creased – and pulled him to the bedroom window, where he glimpsed the gleaming speck before it vanished behind the houses.

It was no comet, no shooting star trailing dust and gas.

It was the International Space Station, whizzing past at 7.66 kilometres (about 5 miles) per second. Inside the station, seeing a fresh sunrise over the earth every 92 minutes, is Britain’s own Tim Peake.

It’s a lovely thing, the ISS, for not only does it show what human beings are capable of, it shows a level of cooperation between nations rarely seen on earth.

It also puts a single human life into some very deep perspective.

So today’s Wednesday Word Tangle is


meaning the universe and all of creation.

Because, when you’re standing on a frozen doorstep in Bristol and look up to see such an immense and complicated product of human endeavour – and it’s completely dwarfed by the huge, star-stuffed sky, the cosmos really puts you in your place.


*Monty Python said that you never expect the Inquisition, but considering the control the Church had over daily life in the 16th century, Galileo must have done. Which makes him a very brave man, if you ask me.

I could have snuck in the Spanish Inquisition sketch here, but couldn’t resist The Universe Song instead … Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, cos there’s bugger all down here on earth

Do visit the NASA site to find out when the ISS will next go flying over where you live. There’s also some amazing photography of the planet and tweets from the crewmen – yes they can tweet from orbit. Weird.

Thanks to Kat, the founder of the W4W feast.