If the Scots have hundreds of words for rain, and Eskimos have as many for snow, why should not us grumpy people have as many words again for grumpiness? For life is veritably a rich diapason of variegated experience, and there are as many ways of being truthfully grumpy as there are stars in the sky, and just because the world is going to pot in the evening as well as the morning does not mean we feel the same way about it. And honesty is important: why say we are 'grumpy' about something when we may be either 'apoplectic' or 'mildly dissatisfied' with it?

Observe, if you will, a typical grump's face. (If you are of the sort that prefers animation to still life, and movies to art galleries, say something to get into an argument with them—which, if they truly are grumpy, will be anything at all.) There are curves and folds, there are wrinkles and crinkles, there are turns and gurns, the marks of past frownings and growls and poutings and scowls and harrumphs; a grumpy face is truly a lived-in face, a face that has been put to exercise in the broad and curvaceous Fields of Grump. And, just as a cheerful person has 'laughter lines', a grumpy person has 'cranksome crinkles': true marks of the richness of a life well-grumped.

And the rich inner emotional life of the grump, the many nuances of his or her crankiness, do not go unnoticed and unremarked: why, already in this note, I have used the words 'grump', 'cranky', 'gurns', 'frowning', 'growl', 'pouting', 'harrumph', 'scowl', 'apoplectic' and 'mildly dissatisfied'. To these we may add: 'cantankerous', 'curmudgeonly', 'fuming', fretting', 'gloomy', 'grumble', 'grizzly', 'grouchily', 'grudgingly', 'gruching', (what a lot of lovely 'g' words for grumpitude there are), 'quinsical', 'flabberghasted', and more.

Yes, what a wealth of experience we have here! For while it may always suffice to say that one is 'grumpy' about something, imagine how much more precise—how much more particular—it is to specify that one is 'cantankerous'. Or perhaps you are merely 'a tad dyspeptic', that is, on your way to being 'apoplectic', but by no means there yet. Or—subtler yet—'discombobulated'. Indeed, it is a masterstroke, this word, for you are not only 'disgruntled' (presumably some 'gormless' party has caused you to lose your 'gruntle', though never yet have I known of a person with gorm, or a person be adequately gruntled), but you are truly 'discombobulated'. To this day, nobody may be able to say quite what 'combobulation' is exactly, but we know very well what 'discombobulation'* is.

In short, just about the only thing a grumpy person truly is not is 'angry'. Grumpiness is too much fun for all that.

But I want more! For grumpiness is truly like the weather, and while there are occasional storms—'her brow was thunderous', 'He raged and stormed',) and general states of un-ease ('I am unhappy', 'This is a sorry, sad state of affairs'), there are a thousand thousand states in between. Why, for instance, should we not be able to split the difference and pinpoint the moment between a 'scowl', a 'growl', and a 'howl'—a 'scrowl'? And what intermediate stage lies between 'crankiness' and 'cantankerousness'? Perhaps 'crankrantiness' and 'canktankeriness'? (There is a very fine moment in that Roald Dahl minor masterpiece, The Twits, in which, in a moment of passion, Mr Twit cries out to his wife, 'Grumpers and grojags, woman!' This wonderful phrase from Dahl is a blessing to us all. I still use it to this day.)

It is interesting, too, how some stages of grumpiness seem to go in pairs or triplets: as we have just seen, a 'grumper' goes with a 'grojag'. Hence, 'growl and howl', 'fume and fret', 'rant and rave', 'moan and groan'. But does 'scoff' go with either 'sneer' or 'snort' or even 'cough'? And what of 'gurn'? For there is far more than one gurn. Let us, then, essay some new pairs and triplets: 'gurned and globbered', 'scoff and scroff', ‘grumbled, rumbled, and harrumbled'.

From the grumpy nouns we also get a useful set of verbs: a 'grump' (noun) is someone who 'grumps' (verb)... although paradoxically, a 'silly old bugger' (noun) may very rarely actually 'bugger' (verb). A 'ranter' 'rants', a 'grumbler' 'grumbles'; interestingly, a 'crank' (noun) does not 'crank' (verb), though does get to be 'cranky' (adjective). But why should not a 'crank' get to 'crank', or a 'curmudgeon' (noun) who is 'curmudgeonly' (adjective) get to 'curmudge' (verb)? Why should not the lovely adjective 'cantankerous' yield us 'cantank' or 'cantanker' (noun) or 'cantank' (verb)? Conjugation, please! 'I cantank', 'you cantank', 'he/she/it cantanks', 'we cantank', 'thou cantankest'. Language really has missed a trick here.

We have now reached the end of my reflections, but that does not mean I will stop. There is a whole world of new grumpy expressions out there waiting to be discovered: why not average 'dyspeptic' and 'apoplectic' and 'discombobulated' out to get 'apocompleptobulated'? Can you be loudly 'flabberghasted', which is to say, can you 'jabberghast'? Why loudly declaim a piece of tommyrot as tommyrot when you can call it the 'tommyroot of all evil'? And why should the lovely flow of syllables in 'preposterous' stop where it does when you can denounce something truly preposterous as 'Prepostalopolous'?

So boldly go, my children: ghast your flabbers, and conjugate your cantanking. The only thing you have to lose is your combobulation!

Tim 'Grumpy' Train 

*I like to think of it as a kind of separable verb, like 'to boldly go', 'to happily eat': 'I have dissed my combobulation'.

Is this truly the face of an angry man? ( Drawing, 18th century (?), after C. Le Brun , Wellcome Collection). Or is he merely combobulated?

Is this truly the face of an angry man? (Drawing, 18th century (?), after C. Le Brun, Wellcome Collection). Or is he merely combobulated?



Ah, it’s been a while since I’ve had to review a technical paper. And sure enough the expected hyphen is found half way down the first page: 2014-15. I hastily add a comment to show my superiority. Life is good! And there’s 2015-16 a few lines further down. Bliss! Disdain for the illiterate author oozes from my every pore.

The author should have had 2014–15 and 2015–16. If email, pinknantucket’s typesetting, and the gods align, you should be able to see the difference. One dash is longer than the other. It’s simple: a hyphen is used to connect words and the longer en-dash (or en-rule) is used to connect numbers. Well, of course it wouldn’t be English if occasionally words should be connected by en-dashes. But never numbers.

Simultaneously hitting the Ctrl and the numeric keypad’s minus key in Word is a quick way to obtain an en-dash. It’s a good way to obtain a minus sign the same size as a plus sign in an equation—in Word but not Excel, I hasten to add. [1]

Anyhow, I just had to share my joy with CRANKENGRAMMAR. Bye, it's back to the paper to find another insignificant flaw. Maybe there will be a 'data are' to rant about.


  1. The author is a PC user; on a Mac an en-dash can be inserted by pressing the option and hyphen keys simultaneously. An em-dash (on which the author does not elaborate; em-dash-man is a separate entity) can be obtained by pressing shift, option and the hyphen key. 
They seek him here, they seek him this the elusive en-dash-man? A superhero for our times, en-dash-man keeps his identity secret by adopting numerous frankly quite disturbing disguises.  George Rignold , 1886. Gelatin silver photograph. State Library of Victoria, H10162/1.

They seek him here, they seek him this the elusive en-dash-man? A superhero for our times, en-dash-man keeps his identity secret by adopting numerous frankly quite disturbing disguises. George Rignold, 1886. Gelatin silver photograph. State Library of Victoria, H10162/1.



Somehow that subject line works better when spoken than when written.

In the cultural heritage industry, some say 'collections care' while others say 'collection care'. While it is not a strict rule, the convention in English is to use the singular form of a noun when that noun is used as an adjective. Most of us have little trouble choosing the better form of the following:

  • Fire truck vs fires truck (yet most of these will work on more than one fire)
  • Investment broker vs investments broker (yet most of these deal with more than one investment)
  • Nail file vs nails file (yet, you guessed it, most of these will file more than one nail)

Now, I personally find 'collections care' an awkward and bothersome homonym, and thus also related phrases such as 'collections management'. However, it has been suggested to me that the term 'collection management' is used extensively by the debt-collection industry, and therefore to avoid search result entanglement we in the heritage profession should stick to 'collections'. 

Clearly it was time to gather some evidence. On 2014 September 6, using an anonymizing program I searched 'collections management' and 'collection management' using Google, Bing, and Yahoo. Ignoring advertisement results provided the following counts:

The 'other' category mostly referred to 'intelligence collection' activities.

The appropriate statistical test for significance in differences in these results is a two-tailed Z test. With this test we find there is no significant evidence in these data of preference in the cultural collection management field for either the singular or plural form (Z-Score = 1.2484; p = 0.2113). The data do reveal a significant preference for the plural form 'collections management' in the financial (debt collection) field (Z-Score = -3.2103 p = 0.00132). The data reveal a significant preference for use of the singular form in all other fields combined, although examples from these other fields were sparse (Z-Score = 3.4392 p = 0.00058).

So, if we in the heritage industry want to distance ourselves from the popular understanding of debt collection, as revealed by search results provided by commonly used internet search engines, then we should use the singular form: 'collection management'.

Still, I do not think this is the most important consideration. Another consideration of some importance is whether the use of the term 'collections management' might seem to exclude or marginalize persons who only manage a single collection, even is that collection might contain over a million items. Although I do not take that too seriously, it is a consideration that only applies if we adopt the plural form in a situation where generally preferred English grammar would suggest the singular form be used. In other words, no one with a title of 'Collections Manager' is going to feel marginalized from the subject of 'collection management' while the reverse is at least possible, and maybe true to some degree. This is in contrast to 'collections management' in the debt collection sense, where virtually all workers deal with multiple collection transactions—perhaps that is the reason for their preference of the plural.

Most important to me, however, is that it is natural for professionals in our field to identify strongly with their responsibilities for the particular collection or collection units under their care. Unfortunately, I believe this happens to the partial exclusion of the general development of the field of collection management. I think this is a slight but somewhat insidious tendency which has contributed to a slower than necessary development of professionalism in the collection management community. Too few professionals actively engage in the development of 'collection management' as a professional field of endeavour and are content to consider their professional boundaries beginning and ending with the set of collections they are assigned to manage. In my opinion, to adopt the plural form contributes to this problem instead of nudging away from it.

However, if for no other reason, an aversion to being confused with a debt collector should steer us to the singular side!





We’re getting far too carried away with the word ‘rot’ these days—and not, alas, in the way Bertie Wooster would have used the term. (‘I mean to say, Jeeves, what bally rot!’).

We’re applying rot to all sorts of processes that do not involve actual rotting. Real rot is a process whereby organic materials (plants, trees, uneaten bean sprouts, small animals murdered by your cat) are broken down into much simpler forms, primarily through the action of bacteria, fungi and insects. Some internal chemical deterioration also occurs (e.g. in animal flesh, due to released enzymes) and warmth and humidity speed everything up. But in short, it’s all about microbes, baby.

Recently the vice-boss of Google spoke out about ‘bit rot’. Hurrah! Gobs of money will now be chucked at libraries, archives and other organisations grappling with the rising oceans of our digital heritage, right? Right…? Anyway, the unwary amongst us may therefore suppose that the innards of our computers are dissolving into puddles of fluorescent yellow slime in the manner of a neglected cucumber, but they would be mistaken. Mr Google was referring to the slow deterioration of software performance over time, due to changing operating environments—e.g. old software will run more slowly, be more buggy, or unable to be opened at all because the company that made it no longer updates it or quite possibly no longer exists. There is no rot here, only humankind's infallible failure to consider the long term.

‘Data rot’ refers to the gradual deterioration of digital storage media through a variety of processes—the dispersal of small electric charges within solid-state media, the loss of magnetic orientation in magnetic tape, or the chemical breakdown of the materials used to make optical disks—none of which involve any microbes whatsoever.

Then there is ‘red rot’, is a degradation process that occurs in leather. While leather can actually rot, this particular phenomenon is all down to acid deterioration. Do not blame the microbes, they are innocent! Various atmospheric pollutants and dodgy leather manufacturing processes are believed to be to blame. The acids break down the proteins, and the surface of the leather goes all weak and powdery and rubs off on everything nearby, especially your nice shirt. It’s quite unpleasant.

And then there are the diseases! Oh my, the diseases. ‘Bronze disease’ is not a disease—there are no bacteria or viruses or organisms anywhere—it’s just chloride corrosion of copper-based objects. (Though to be fair they did suspect the involvement of bacteria at first). And you will be shocked to learn that ‘concrete cancer’ does not involve the abnormal growth and replication of even a single cell, and is merely a term used to indicate the physical and chemical breakdown of concrete (surprise!), often due to the rusting and subsequent expansion of metal reinforcements.

I do understand, really—calling something ‘rot’ is just shorthand, a quick way to indicate that something is (in the immortal words of the Australian Financial Review) fukt. By using these verbal cheats we may save ourselves some time, but at the expense of truly understanding what is going on—within both the inanimate and the animate (ourselves). It limits our understanding of the problem and therefore our capacity to prevent or solve the problem. So don’t call it rot when it’s bally not.


Some actual rot, to compare to instances of not actual rot. 'Dangers to the health of infants: germs and bacteria. The germs in their natural state (on mouldy bread, and on a suppurating thumb) and the germs as seen through the microscope. Centre, a microscope.' Colour Lithograph from the  Atlas der Hygiene des Säuglings und Kleinkindes , plate no. 25, by Leopold Langstein and Fritz Rott, published in 1922 by Julius Springer, Berlin. Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0039196.

Some actual rot, to compare to instances of not actual rot. 'Dangers to the health of infants: germs and bacteria. The germs in their natural state (on mouldy bread, and on a suppurating thumb) and the germs as seen through the microscope. Centre, a microscope.' Colour Lithograph from the Atlas der Hygiene des Säuglings und Kleinkindes, plate no. 25, by Leopold Langstein and Fritz Rott, published in 1922 by Julius Springer, Berlin. Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0039196.



Merry Chauvinismas!

Northern Hemisphere people, for all the land mass they occupy, can be very insular. For them, it's self-evident that birds fly south for the winter, that the shadow on the sundial advances clockwise—by definition—and that the first-quarter moon appears over the southern horizon like this:

Image from

Image from

They are at their most insufferable about what seasons months should be in. Christmas, in particular, simply has to be in winter. 'Joseph and Mary were looking for shelter from the cold,' they remind us, though it would require an Act of God to make it snow in Bethlehem.  'It's a winter solstice festival,' they opine, as if Holy Roman Emperor Constantine didn't just pull December 25 out of his newly-Christian behind. 'In the French Republican Calendar, Christmas is 4 Nivôse,' they piously point out, hoping that we'll notice the month is named for the French word for snow.

This chauvinism—there, another French word—extends to so many aspects of Christmas as it is traditionally celebrated that they cannot imagine it any other way. Snowpersons, penguins (think about where penguins live) and yule logs symbolize the cold, while stars, blinkenlights and yule logs symbolize the long nights. These symbols permeate the culture of their Christmas in its carols and decorations.

But that's their Christmas, not mine. I'm a born and bred Southerner, so Christmastime for me is hot, long summer days, grevillea robusta and jacaranda in bloom, cricket, ice cream and camping holidays. This is perfectly natural to me, though I'll allow that it's a bit silly putting up Christmas lights when the sun doesn't set until half an hour before bedtime.

I did Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere once. It was educational, and a bit of a letdown: it wasn't new to me, because I'd lived it vicariously through lifelong exposure to it on TV and in music. By four in the afternoon it was dark and I found myself wanting ice cream.

I almost feel sorry for Northerners, with their Christmas monoculture, but it didn't have to be that way. If it weren't for Pope Gregory abolishing the Julian calendar in 1582, then in a mere 22,000 years December 25 would have occurred on the (northern) summer solstice. Imagine how silly the French Republicans would look then!