You really need to see this cartoon by Martin Rowson from today's Guardian in full size to appreciate it fully. (The version in the printed newspaper is in black and white, which seriously reduces the impact.) It's another cartoon about the MPs' expenses crisis/row/scandal (no-one seems to have come up with a definitive '-gate' word yet—'Expenses-gate' is the obvious one, but it sounds rather trite).
A man dressed in a green herring-bone hunting outfit is firing an antique blunderbuss into a barrel of fish. The word 'Telegraph' is written on the barrel of the gun. This refers to the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper which broke the expenses story. (The Telegraph is a right-wing paper, hence the old-fashioned, country gent stereotype). The expression which the cartoon is supposed to make you think of is "shooting fish in a barrel". This is a fairly straightforward metaphor (or simile). If you say that something is like shooting fish in a barrel, you mean it is so easy that you can't fail. The fish are the MPs, who are easy targets for the Telegraph (it has obtained a leaked list of all MPs' expenses). Among the fish we can see Gordon Brown outside the barrel on the left (apparently already dead), and Hazel Blears (?), who has been blasted into the air. David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, thinks: "Ha, ha! Soon this barrel will all be mine!" Of course, the cartoonist is being ironic here, since the barrel is already shot to pieces. The suggestion is that when David Cameron becomes the next prime minister, as most people think he will, he will inherit a parliament which is totally discredited.
One final detail. The barrel, which is full of holes and leaking, has the words 'Rotten Apples' written on it. If you call someone a rotten apple, it means they are dishonest and cause a lot of problems for the organization they belong to—just like those greedy MPs.
If you are wondering how easy it really is to shoot fish in a barrel, watch this video!
VOCABULARY If someone says that something sucks, it means they think it is very bad. • That last Indiana Jones movie really sucks. Some people find this use of the word offensive. You can read a defence of suckshere.
This cartoon by Peter Brookes at TimesOnline shows Gordon Brown (top left) and members of his government wearing masks (to protect them from swine flu). They are trying to speak but can only utter unrecognizable sounds because of the masks. A pig in the final panel comments "Every cloud ... !"
COMMENTARY To understand this cartoon, you need to know the proverb "Every cloud has a silver lining". This means that there is something good even in an unpleasant situation. • As the trip's been cancelled I'll be able to go to the match this Saturday. Every cloud has a silver lining. The pig only has to say the first two words because most native English speakers would be familiar with the adage. (See here and here for more on this saying.) The cartoonist jokes that one of the positive points of the swine flu outbreak is that we won't have to listen to what the members of the government are saying.
This cartoon by Morten Morland from TimesOnline provides a sobering comment on the sad state of the British economy. It seems only a short while ago that the consumer boom was in full swing and people were queuing for the sales. Now, they're unemployed and queuing outside the Job Centre, while the shops are for sale.
VOCABULARY When someone comes to join the queue (pronounced exactly like the letter 'Q') they have to go to the back of the queue and wait until it is their turn. However, 'Join the queue' is also used as an ironic comment when someone has the same problem as you:
A: I'm going to have to do something about my spelling.
B: Join the queue.
The British love to queue and don't take kindly to queue jumpers. For a Brit living in France, it can be frustrating at times when a queue refuses to form. Things have improved over the years, however, with the introduction of customer flow management systems.
This cartoon by Kipper Williams from The Guardian refers to the news that Nokia, the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer, saw profits plunge more than 90% in the first three months of the year as cash-strapped consumers held onto their existing handsets. Full story >>
THE JOKE The man in the cartoon, whom we can assume to be a Nokia executive, is saying "I'm on the skids." If something is on the skids, it is in the process of decline or deterioration: His career is on the skids. The joke is that people often use their mobile phones to tell friends or family "I'm on the train". This cliche has become something of a joke in itself. The cartoonist has just changed "train" to "skids".
ORIGIN OF EXPRESSION
'Nearly every logging community of the 19th and early 20th century had their own skid row or road. So called because the road leading from a lumber camp was generally laid with wooden skids to facilitate the rolling or skidding (dragging) of freshly cut timber, usually in the direction of a river or mill. Loggers tended to build temporary shanties along the road and thus skid row came to mean "a part of town inhabited by loggers" around 1906. When all the local timber was harvested, the loggers would move on, leaving their ramshackles behind, and by 1915 skid row came to mean a cheap, disreputable district, usually populated by dives and dipsomaniacs. The term on the skids has a similar origin: skid roads were generally built on a downward slope and once you were on the skids you were heading downhill at a steady pace.' (Source: Modern Drunkard Magazine)
This cartoon by Peter Brookes from The Times uses a visual pun. If you take something in your stride, you deal with it calmly and easily. Obama's European trip is generally thought to have been a success, and the cartoon shows him striding (=walk with quick, long steps) along like a king with his robe trailing behind him. In this case, however, the robe is an American flag, and we can see Sarkozy and the other European leaders struggling to escape.
The Daily Express claims Members of Parliament have capped price rises in the restaurants and cafeterias of Westminster at a cost of £5m a year to the taxpayer. Full story >>
If you fork out for something, you spend a lot of money on it: Pop princess Britney Spears will be forking out a hefty 7.2 million dollars on her staff this year. The Express headline features a pun on the word fork, since the article is about MPs restaurants and cafeterias.
The Telegraph says Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling will raise taxes in his next budget at the end of the month. Full story >>
VOCABULARY A black hole is an area in space where gravity is so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape from them. In the Telegraph's headline, the term black hole is used figuratively to refer to the gap in the UK's public finances. Click here for an interactive multimedia experience relating to black holes in space.
Businessballs is a free ethical learning and development resource for people and organizations, run by Alan Chapman, in Leicester, England.
Businessballs.com launched at the end of 1999. The concept began a few years earlier as an experimental online collection of learning and development ideas. The website is now used by about a million people each month. The philosophy of the website is intended to be ethical, practical, innovative, compassionate and enjoyable.
Businessballs is a real treasure trove of interesting resources. Here are just a few you might like to have a look at:
Schott’s Vocab is a repository of unconsidered lexicographical trifles — some serious, others frivolous, some neologized, others newly newsworthy. Each day, Schott's Vocab explores news sites around the world to find words and phrases that encapsulate the times in which we live or shed light on a story of note. If language is the archives of history, as Emerson believed, then Schott’s Vocab is an attempt to index those archives on the fly.
Ben Schott is the author of “Schott’s Original Miscellany,” its two sequels, and the yearbook “Schott’s Almanac.” He is a contributing columnist to The Times’s Op-Ed page. He lives in London.
His Web site can be viewed at benschott.com, and his Opinion pieces here.
COMMENT In fact, Schott's Vocab is a New York Times blog, from where I copied the above description. The site is regularly updated—often more than once a day—and features an interesting selection of modern words and phrases. Recent posts covered bossnapping and nag WAGS (jockeys' wives and girlfriends!) Definitely worth subscribing to if you're a lexiophile.
Plans to build hundreds of wind farms were thrown into disarray after the world's biggest investor in wind power said it was slashing its investment programme in Britain, The Times reports. Full story >>
VOCABULARY If tell someone to step on the gas, you want them to go faster. The image comes from pressing your foot on the accelerator when driving a car. In the headline there's a play on the two meanings of the word "gas": the liquid fuel you put in your car and the gas you use for cooking. The Americans use the same word for both—which I've always thought must be rather confusing. The British use the word "petrol" for the fuel you put in your car. However, they don't say "step on the petrol"—it's "step on the gas" on both sides of the Atlantic.
FOOTNOTE To confuse matters even further, the French word "pétrole" does not mean "petrol" but "oil". Petrol is "essence" in French.
Popular legend has it that the Roman Emperor Nero played the fiddle (a colloquial term for the violin) during the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64. This story has given rise to the idiom "fiddling while Rome burns", which means to occupy oneself with unimportant matters and neglect priorities during a crisis. Authentic Catholics can't understand why he (the Pope) seems to allow the perception that he is fiddling while Rome burns. The Phrase Finder has an article about this expression.
In the cartoon by Chris Riddel from The Observer, Gordon Brown, dressed as a Roman emperor, is fiddling while the City burns. He is surrounded by sheet music with titles such as "Re-Election Blues", "G20 Waltz", "Quantitative Easing Be Bop" and "Unemployment Ragtime"—all very indicative of his current woes.
FOOTNOTE The real Nero committed suicide by driving a dagger into his throat. Let's hope Gordon Brown doesn't come to such a nasty end!
This cartoon by Dave Brown from The Independent shows the EU flag. The stars have been replaced by cogs, and a spanner, in the shape of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is blocking the machinery.
COMMENTARY The cartoon illustrates an English idiom. If someone throws or puts a spanner in the works, they prevent something happening smoothly in the way that it was planned, by causing problems or a difficulty: Obama has put a spanner in the works by declaring he will not agree to Brown's world-wide ambitions for fiscal stimulus. Here it's Sarkozy who is the spanner in the works. This is a reference to the row over French protectionism which has broken out, as EU leaders hold a summit in Brussels on the economic crisis.
It's a pity Sarkozy isn't Spanish, then we could have called him a Spaniard in the works.
This cartoon by KAL from The Economist shows an angry pitchfork-wielding, torch-brandishing mob at the gates of the White House. They are waving placards with slogans reading "TAXPAYERS ARE TICKED OFF!", "NO BONUSES" and "WE ARE ANGRY INCENSED AND VERY GRUMPY". President Obama stands on the balcony and addresses the mob: "... And oh! While you are here ... we're passing the hat for the next bank bailout package ..."
The mob are angry about the bonuses paid to executives of the failed insurance company AIG, which was bailed out to the tune of $170bn by the US government. President Obama has expressed his anger at the bonus payments, referring to them as an "inappropriate use of taxpayer money".
LANGUAGE NOTES 1. "Ticked off" is another way of saying "angry" in American English.
2. If you "pass the hat", you collect donations from people. The expression is based on the literal meaning of passing a hat, i.e., asking people to put money in a hat that is handed from one person to another.
This cartoon by Tim Sanders in The Independent refers to the news Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man who kept his daughter in a cellar and fathered her seven children, has been convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Full story >>
COMMENTARY The woman in the cartoon comments ironically: "A bit over the top—he isn't even a banker." The suggestion is that Fritzl's crimes are not as bad as those of the bankers who got us into the current economic crisis.
IDIOM If you say that something is over the top, you think that it is excessive, extreme or far more than usual or expected. This phrase is sometimes abbreviated to OTT: Cher's dress was completely OTT.