Sunday, 2 December 2018

spiked, November 30, 2018

The rise of Generation Needy
The desperation of today’s young people to be ‘liked’ is deeply unhealthy.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Spectator, November 17, 2018

Spiked, November 16, 2018

Eurosceptics were right – the EU wants to be an empire
It isn’t paranoia to be worried about the expansion of EU power.

Spiked, September 14, 2018

Exiting the EU cult
The EU is terrified that other member states will follow Britain.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Spiked, September 10, 2018

Serena was no victim of racism or sexism
What we really saw was a rich person intimidating a person of lesser standing.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Spiked, September 7, 2018

What Nike and Nietzsche have in common
Both preach that it is better to ‘just do it’ than to believe in something.

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Spiked, August 31, 2018

Diversity quotas kill comedy
Michael Palin was dead right to criticise the BBC’s PC box-ticking.

Spiked, August 3, 2018

Nietzsche and the struggle against nihilism
Even the most courageous minds sometimes seek solace in fantasy.

Spiked, July 20, 2018

Why liberals bash Trump but ignore dictators
Perhaps protesters expect only white rulers to be civilised.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Spiked, July 13, 2018

We’re all Foucauldian now
How the Frenchman’s power theories gave rise to ‘snowflakes’.

Spiked, July 5, 2018

Russian football fans are human after all
The World Cup has exploded Russophobic prejudices.

Spiked, June 8, 2018

Why Brits are turning against the police
Even respectable society now hates the rozzers.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Standpoint, June 2018

All go for lingo
There's an entrenched myth that learning a second language as a grown-up is a Herculean — or even Sisyphean — task. It isn’t

Spiked, June 1, 2018

Veganism and politics of purity
The rise militant veganism reflects our misanthropic age

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The Oldie, Spring 2018

Van Gogh's happiest days - in Ramsgate
A new Tate Britain show concentrates on Vincent's time in London. But he preferred teaching in a British seaside town, says Patrick West

The TLS, April 13, 2018

Paul Anthony Jones
A yearbook of forgotten words
384pp. Elliott and Thompson. £14.99.
978 1 78396 358 4

The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones, a compendium of obscure and obsolete words, is designed to be read at a rate of one entry a day, with each word connected to the date under which it appears. For example, “pseudandry”, the use of a male pseudonym by a female writer, appears on November 22, the birth date of George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). Elsewhere, “antimetabole” (the repetition, in a transposed order, of words or phrases in successive clauses) comes on January 20, the date on which, in 1961, John F. Kennedy said:“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country”.

The most rewarding way to approach this book is to guess the meaning of the word before reading its definition. It is thus an ideal companion for etymology enthusiasts and aficionados  of  other  languages,  ancient  or  modern.Jones cites  many words  coined in  the  eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the fashion for taking or creating words from Latin was at its height. Examples include “supervivant”(a survivor), “transmural” (situated beyond a wall), “singultus” (hiccup) and “breviloquent”(pithy  and  succinct  in  speech).  Elsewhere, from Ancient Greek, we have  “epistolophobia”  (the  fear  of  receiving correspondence),“arctophile” (a collector of teddy bears) and“crapulence” (a feeling of sickness caused by overeating or drinking).

Italian  readers  will  recognize  “abbozzo”,meaning  first  draft,  which  was  directly imported in the nineteenth century, and many will discern the French origins of “alamodic”, aseventeenth-century word meaning extremely fashionable.  Spanish  speakers  will  immediately detect that “cacafuego” signifies some-thing  unpleasant.  It  was  a  sixteenth-century term for a blustering braggart.

There is a lot  of  entertaining  trivia  here.Under “basiate” (to kiss) we learn that kissing was banned in England on July 16, 1439 to prevent the spread of plague. The Arctic is named not after the white bears that live there, but after the Great Bear constellation that is so prominent in the northern night sky. We also learn that cellophane and laundromat were once proprietary  names  (see  “anepronym”,  a  trade-marked  name  that  has  come  to  be  used generically). Jones might have added “heroin”to that list. And there are legions of euphonic words that might also have deserved inclusion,such  as  “ingurgitate”  (to  swallow greedily),“rubiginous”  (rust-coloured)  or  the  now archaic “to ostentate”. That fricative, staccato verb resonates so much more forcefully than“to show off”.


The TLS, February 23, 2018

Sam Leith

How to be clear, correct and persuasive on the page
280pp. Profile Books. £14.99.
978 1 78125 476 9

The culture wars of the past sixty years have been fought in many fields, and on the matter of the correct way to write English, the battle still rages. There remain today the linguistic conservative prescriptivists, such as Simon Heffer and Lynne Truss, who believe that the rules of English must be obeyed. Facing them are the liberal descriptivists, such as Steven Pinker and Oliver Kamm, who say that the language should be allowed to evolve, and that many “rules” of grammar are merely conventions and needn’t be adhered to. (These conventions include not ending a sentence with a preposition.)

Sam Leith presents himself as lying between the two camps. His approach in this guide to improving your English is pragmatic. The most important thing when it comes to writing is to make friends with your reader, so how you write depends on who you are writing to or for. The prohibition on the split infinitive is indeed nonsense; English infinitives aren’t directly comparable to  Latin ones, which literally can’t be split. But a potential employer reading your CV might object to them – or to your using “disinterested” where you meant “uninterested”, or “like” instead of “such as”, or starting sentences with “but” – and interpret those usages as signs of a lazy, careless mind. “Knowing your audience is always more important than knowing a set of rules and prohibitions”, writes Leith. This is an eminently sensible approach.

Some may find Leith’s section on grammar somewhat forbidding, especially the part about verb tenses and moods. (Counter-intuitively, the best way to learn English grammar may well be to learn a foreign language, preferably a relatively uncomplicated one such as Italian. This teaches you what every word in any sentence is doing.)Leith’s advice on writing short, crisp sentences is sound, as is the reminder to read more. He excels especially on the importance of cadence and euphony, in making your prose sing. This, too, will endear you to your reader - and it is something that Leith achieves in this first class guide.


Spectator Life, May 16, 2018

Never trust a man in a smart suit and no tie
Patrick West on why it’s time for the neck tie to make a comeback

Spiked, May 25, 2018

Gammon: the left turns on the less well-off
Among middle-class Momentum types, it’s cool to sneer at working people.

Spiked, May 11, 2018

What Marx and Nietzsche had in common
Neither should be held responsible for the excesses of their supporters.

Spiked, May 3, 2018

Yes, there are some nice Tories
The politics of ‘all Tories are evil’ is infantile nonsense.

Spiked, March 23, 2018

Hope Not Hate: Anti-fascist authoritarianism

Well-meaning censors are the most dangerous of all

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

The Catholic Herald, March 9, 2018

Truth be told, it's easy to mislead

Patrick West on the dangers of careless reading

Truth: A User's Guide
By Hector Macdonald, Bantam, 352PP, £20

Don’t be put off by the title of this book. At first glance, you could be forgiven for assuming that it was about “fake news” or our “post-truth” society – fashionable tropes that have come to dominate political discourse. Nor is this book concerned with a more long-standing question: is all truth relative, and is your truth as good and valid as mine? You will find no postmodern philosophising here.

Rather, Truth: A User’s Guide accepts from the outset that some things are facts and others are falsehoods. But it contends that what truth you accept or assert depends upon your point of view, upon which truth is useful to you, and which truth you would prefer to accord to your point of view.

For example, in 2015, both of these statements would have been true: “A teacher on a salary of £28,000 is earning below the average income”, and “A teacher on a salary of £28,000 is earning above the average income”. Both are true because the first statement is based on a mean average income that year of £31,000, the latter on a median average of £22,400.

Or consider, elsewhere, the fact that Canada and Australia have the highest rates of kidnapping in the world. Their figures are higher than those of Mexico and Colombia – but only because their governments included parental disputes over child custody in kidnapping statistics. Similarly, Sweden has the second highest incidence of rape in the world, because Sweden has one of the broadest definitions of rape. 

There are many competing truths out there, writes Macdonald, and it falls to us to discern how real facts can become misleading truths through various means.

Statistics can notoriously be used to mislead. The author reminds us to be wary of graphs where the Y-axis doesn’t begin at zero – these are always designed to exaggerate falls or drops in numbers. Also, beware those who proudly declare that the “Royal Family costs you just 56p a year”, rather than £35.7 million per year to the taxpayer; or those who boast that the Government spends just 0.7 per cent of GDP on overseas development assistance. This latter figure, in 2016, amounted to £13.3 billion, more than we spend on universities or the police.

We should also think twice when using GDP figures as barometers of happiness, particularly in our digital age. A car share app or a free dating site increases the sum of a nation’s happiness, but neither will add a penny to GDP. 

Meanwhile, a natural disaster or you breaking your leg in a motorcycle accident will increase GDP figures, as a consequence of reconstruction programmes or the incurred cost of ambulance travel, insurance claims and the purchase of a new motorcycle.

Truths are concocted in other ways. One is through the misuse of language. In 2013, the housing charity Shelter put out a press release with the headline “80,000 children facing homelessness this Christmas”. The word “homeless” evokes images of people sleeping in cardboard boxes on the streets, but Shelter was using the word in a more redundant, literal sense, referring to children dependent on temporary accommodation arrangements by their local government authority, usually in a B&B – ie not living in their own “home”.

Another example of how a truth can mislead – deliberately or otherwise – is by confusing correlation with causation. Take the well-known truth that left-handers have a shorter life-expectancy than right-handers, based on a study in 1991 – a truth that suggests that life is more perilous in a world built for right-handed people. Before the late 20th century, it was common to force left-handed people to become right-handed. Only in recent decades have people described themselves as left-handed. In short, because most left-handed people these days are on average younger, they are also recorded as younger on average if they die.

This confusion between correlation and causation was brought into relief in January, when a report in the Sun said that people called Mohammed were more likely to be quoted higher car insurance than people called John – a report which didn’t relate that men called John tend to be far older than men called Mohammed, and likely to live in suburbs or the countryside.

Not everyone is out deliberately to deceive us. Macdonald says that there are three types of communicator: the Advocate, who simplifies facts to communicate a positive message; the Misinformer, who passes on dubious truth by accident; and the Misleader, who does so on purpose. 

Each chapter concludes with advice on how to spot those using suspect means, but also on how to get your own truth across successfully in the eternal battle of competing varieties. Truth: A User’s Guide is not so much just a handbook on how to spot misleading truths as a field guide in how to propagate your own. 

Such a Machiavellian work is what you’d expect from a strategic communications consultant. Nonetheless, it’s an illuminating, judicious and lucid affair. It will surely change the way you read the news and see the world. 

Spiked, February 16, 2018

Why ‘moving with the times’ is overrated
The idea grid girls should be banned ‘because it’s 2018’ makes no sense.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Spiked, February 9, 2018

What Marty Crane can teach us
John Mahoney’s character pre-empted today’s culture clash.

Spiked, January 26, 2018

From fake news to fake truths
Lies aren’t the only problem. The facts can also be made to tell false stories.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Spiked, January 19, 2018

Blue Monday: why unhappiness is good for you
Nietzsche knew the score: joy is impossible without pain.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Spiked, January 12, 2018

Why the left loathes the Mail
Bashing the Mail has become the ultimate virtue-signal.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Spiked, January 5, 2018

Meet the new pearl-clutchers
Today it’s the liberal-left who punish moral transgressors.