UK paperback


Putting pseudonyms to server statistics

Happy New Year, readers! One of my favourite blogs, Cosmic Variance, occasionally runs a “delurking thread”, in which regular readers who don’t participate much (or ever) in the discussions are invited to post a brief note to say hello, introduce themselves, explain why they like the blog or what they think could be improved about it, etc. Naturally, it would help me to service my audience more sensitively if I knew a little more about them — especially about the silent majority. So please take this as’s inaugural delurking thread. Leave a comment, especially if you usually don’t!

  1. 1  Peter Jackson  January 4, 2009, 11:28 pm 


    I am a regular reader and lurker, and would like to say hello. I read the original Unspeak book, and found that it annoyed me as much as I agreed with it; and the blog tends to do the same, although the annoyance proportion is now somewhat higher.

    I always have the feeling (as I do with Chicken Yogurt) that my morality is just not good enough for the writer, and that any attempt to explain my views would result in a sarcastic backlash that I don’t actually want to get. I am not a neo-con, or a BNP supporter, or whatever the current bogeyman may be. But I do find the self-righteousness often expressed here offputting.

    Best wishes in any case; I shall carry on reading, as I don’t believe in following only those sources that confirm my prejudices.


  2. 2  Tom  January 5, 2009, 4:56 am 

    Good day,

    I originally became a Poole fan while perusing your column in Edge mag, free access to which was one of the only perks of working in a games store. One day a randy old pervert-type (he would make love to the window display for Dead or Alive Volleyball) told me I must read your book. This recommendation was one of the only perks of the many hours I spent listening to said pervert discoursing on games, sexuality in.

    While doing an MA in creative writing (hah, I know), I found that Steven Poole had once again written a book about the widgets of my trade, and found myself enjoying it just as much. While it seemed at times like the text was not quite standing up to its own rigorous standards of linguistic forthrightness (I can think of no examples off the top of my head), I was perfectly willing to wave this off as a form of writerly gamesmanship, thus tying together nicely the two things I enjoy about your writing.

    In conclusion, keep up the good work. That’s some words done for the day; I’m off to play XBox.

    – T

  3. 3  sonofajoiner  January 5, 2009, 6:30 am 

    Hello there,

    I’m a fairly regular reader of and committed lurker on this blog. I don’t comment as I’m one of those deeply insecure people who worries constantly that even complete strangers on the internet will find out I’m stupid. Also I’m partly with Peter Jackson wrt being unsure whether anything I contributed to a debate wouldn’t end up being dismissed in an unhelpful way, largely because I’m not very good at expressing myself clearly and am frequently terrible at justifying my opinions. This feeling is especially true of sites such as Unspeak where comments appear to be smarter than your average bear. So I choose to sit on the sidelines and shout impotently at the screen instead.

    Having said all that, I really, really enjoy your posts (I would definitely love to hear more about hilarious fictional creation Melanie Phillips) and visiting the Unspeak forum and will continue to do so. Anonymously, of course.


  4. 4  Patrick  January 5, 2009, 2:37 pm 

    You told me about your blog once over beers at the Rendezvous des Amis and I’ve been lurking here ever since. Patrick

  5. 5  LongHairStu  January 5, 2009, 4:55 pm 

    Hello Steven et al,

    Who’d’ve thought that this is all it would take to get lurkers out of the woodwork? Kind of you to extend the invitation.

    I’ve come here via videogames. Long time Edge column and Trigger Happy: The Book reader, I once had a good chat with you on a gaming forum about ‘amplification of input’ in relation to the Wii (Update: World of Goo and Boom Blox working out fairly well lately).

    At some point amongst all this I read Unspeak, and I found it to be very interesting and often useful. Don’t know if I can spot examples out in the wild, or even if I can use all of the ones from the book, but I’m glad to have had the book open my eyes even a little bit.

    Regards, all the best, take care etc.

  6. 6  Chris  January 5, 2009, 9:37 pm 

    Another lurker acquired via Edge (the first time round, before you left to finish the Unspeak book). I don’t understand everything you write but pretending that I do is enough to make me feel more intelligent for a while.

  7. 7  Matt  January 5, 2009, 10:31 pm 

    Greetings all.

    Unspeak was a Christmas present a few years back. I love it and foist it on others. Edge is an addiction dating back 15 years or so, despite the often infuriating up-its-own-arseness of some of the writing. Someone needs to tell those writers that plain speaking does not necessarily make the message easier to dismiss.

    I subscribe to the RSS feed, and am also a great fan of Mark Steel, Jonathan Meades and Greg Palast. I’m 35, have two children, and enjoy playing co-op Halo 3 on x-box with the wife.

    PS Steve, thanks for making Trigger Happy available as a PDF. Is it/will it be available in other ebook formats (e.g. .lit, eReader?)

  8. 8  Liam  January 6, 2009, 8:33 am 


    I read the Unspeak book about a year ago now, and as I liked it a lot it was only natural to continue reading here. I find reading the blog enriches the understanding of world events I gain from the media, and I like to think it keeps me sharp, too, as of course you can’t spot me for every single piece of Unspeak out there.


  9. 9  Spyros  January 6, 2009, 9:18 am 

    Hello Steven
    As for me, living abroad and probably coming from a different era (how to put it, i had seen the still unknown Dire Straits at Machester Students’ Union, and belonged to a group called Solidarity for Social Revolution), i have no idea what the Edge is. I read your book, i liked it, for your flair and your politics, and i follow with pleasure your messages arriving at my mailbox. Being now a professor at the Politics School of a greek university, i give Unspeak to my students, even postgraduate ones, to prepare them for heavier stuff like Quentin Skinner.
    Keep on!

  10. 10  Steven  January 6, 2009, 12:53 pm 

    Hello everyone! Thanks to all for the greetings so far. In 2009 I will attempt to be less self-righteous (except maybe, y’know, when someone is wrong on the internet).

    I love the idea that Unspeak might be a gateway drug to Skinner.

  11. 11  hey zeus  January 6, 2009, 8:58 pm 

    i come here every time i internet.

    always informative. great links and sources.
    constantly widens my view.

    anyone worried to post on the forums oughtn’t be. they won’t look stupider than i usually do, and i’ve not been chastised for it. well, not in language i understood, anyway. i’d be lying if i said i always can follow the forum scraps once they really get going, but we persevere, right?

    whenever i can i drop a link to this site. i think it’s among the finest.
    and a wonderful addendum to the book. i’m looking forward to the next book, steven. i’ll even buy it in hardback- and i wouldn’t do that for naomi klein (£25? some socialist! )

    right, i’m back to yahoo answers to bait the racists. if i meet any that can spell, i’ll send ’em your way.

    Jesus H Twatbomb esq

  12. 12  darkhorse  January 6, 2009, 9:29 pm 

    Hello Steven,

    I came via AaronovitchWatch, possibly lured in by a comment about Oliver Kamm – I can’t remember. I have since read your book, which I found in a charity shop in Greenwich.

    What I would like is more posts about Johann Hari’s views on Zizek. In fact, I would prefer the entire blog to be turned over to permanent commentary on this subject.


  13. 13  Leinad  January 7, 2009, 1:40 am 

    This non-lurker wholeheartedly endorses darkhorse’s recommendation.

  14. 14  Steven  January 7, 2009, 8:49 am 

    But but but, if I devote the blog entirely to Johann Hari’s views about Slavoj Zizek, how will I write more posts about “Melanie Phillips”, as sonofajoiner wishes? Perhaps “Melanie” will express some views on Zizek at some point: if so, I’ll be right on it.

  15. 15  Tom  January 7, 2009, 8:56 am 

    Dear Steven, at the risk of looking like some sort of something, I really must ask if you have been welcomed to the gym by Slavoj Zizek.

  16. 16  Steven  January 7, 2009, 9:39 am 

    That is brilliant. My God.

  17. 17  dzman  January 7, 2009, 4:26 pm 


    I’m a new reader. I discovered your place via Jon Swift, another astute user of words.

    I shall return

  18. 18  Jeff Strabone  January 7, 2009, 4:33 pm 

    I am no lurker, but it may interest you to know how I read your blog. I don’t use an RSS reader, not because I can’t but because I worry that using one would keep me online longer. I check the Guardian, the BBC, Daily Kos, and Talking Points Memo daily, so I really don’t need the RSS. When you are blogging regularly, I try to visit regularly. When you are not blogging, I eventually one day discover that you have resumed blogging and I have missed the opportuity to comment in a timely fashion on some of your items.

  19. 19  Steven  January 7, 2009, 4:49 pm 

    It sounds as though the “Get new posts by email” link in the left sidebar might be just the thing for you!

  20. 20  abb1  January 8, 2009, 3:01 pm 

    That is brilliant.

    Nah. Not a single “Is it not that…” in the whole piece.

  21. 21  Paul C  January 8, 2009, 5:39 pm 

    I think I’ve commented here before, but the web becomes one big blur after a while, doesn’t it? Anyway, glad to see semi-regular service has resumed on Unspeak. And Jeff, get an RSS reader – it just makes life easier…

    I’m not sure if an introduction will be much use to anybody, but the reason that I visit the site is because I can pretty much guarantee that a) I’ll disagree with at least one of the commenters, b) it won’t stop the discussion from being interesting and c) there’s enough regular commenters to make it interesting but not so many that it becomes unmanageable. The magic triangle of blog comments!

  22. 22  LongHairStu  January 9, 2009, 8:32 pm 

    On the subject of RSS readers, would they let you read posts that seem to have vanished, the way the “Get new posts by email” option does?

  23. 23  Gregor  January 11, 2009, 7:48 pm 

    Talking of Minotaur Melanie (obscure Phil-Helene joke), she seems set to win the Best British Blog Award.

    The only blog competing with her was called Made in Birmingham. What MIB is all about, I have no idea. I get the impression that it is voted because it is ahead, and many Brits would vote for anything to see Mel lose (which is why I think elections are over-rated, and not necessarily democratic).

    What always astounds me about Mel is that she thrives in the swamp of (often wrong) received wisdom that nourishes about 99% of op ed columnists and yet manages to be so crazy at the same time.

    Anyway, I’m sort of hoping she does win. As someone who is shocked by the patronizing bigotry shown against the Russians in ‘liberal’ publications, I suspect that a Melanie win might make the average centrist Brit a little less smug:

    ‘Russians: bunch of nationalistic crackpot peasants, eh’?
    ‘And our ‘best blogger’ said (insert Mel’s attacks on peer reviewed science and diffrunt people). Great to know we are an outpost of humanitarianism and enlightenment, eh?’

  24. 24  Walter Dufresne  January 15, 2009, 4:11 am 

    I picked up Unspeak because I wanted to better understand *why* so much journalism seemed so wrongheaded and manipulative. Unspeak worked. I put it back down again and gave it to my best friend.

  25. 25  C. Reaves  January 25, 2009, 7:20 pm 

    Do what I do – go to some previous posts, copy some obscure words from the Comments section and then pepper your own post with them. Posts referencing Zizek, “Melanie” and Hitchens have particularly fertile comment sections. (For example, I’m currently trying to figure a way to work “panegyric” into a semi-meaningful sentence.) Then, using your new words, arrange them in slightly unusual order in carefully punctuated sentences. Your panegyric complete (ha!), you are done.

    Although I don’t know what panegyric means, and don’t intend to look it up, it surely does look good in that sentence. Ok, I did really look it up, but only to make sure I didn’t get arrested on my next trip to the UK.

    Here is a comment idea I have been playing with – there seems to be an alarming dearth of semi-colons in the Comments for some reason. You are welcome to take that insight and run with it..

  26. 26  Steven  January 27, 2009, 1:07 pm 

    More semi-colons would be excellent.

  27. 27  Craig  January 28, 2009, 3:39 pm 

    Hi Steven,

    I’m not a regular poster, but I always have Unspeak in my Netvibes account, and read it often. I like what I read here because it makes me think critically about what I read elsewhere. I’m afraid I’ll remain a lurker for the foreseeable future since I tend to avoid discussions on forums and blogs. I spend enough time on the internet as part of my day job, and I don’t need to start finding even more reasons to move further into the virtual world of existence.

    I guess the only thing I would ask of you is to please lampoon Melanie Philips more often, and perhaps choose a few new targets worthy of the Wrath of Unspeak, as I always enjoy those posts.

    Keep up the great work!

  28. 28  Steven  January 28, 2009, 5:14 pm 

    Thank you, I will try.

    (Suggestions for new targets always welcome!)

  29. 29  Gregor  January 29, 2009, 3:54 pm 

    The list would be far too long. But this ‘throwing the fight’ article on civil liberties was one of the worst things I’ve read recently:

    As the title says, the ‘road’ to defending our liberties will not be one of those soft roads evidently. it will be hard: because people like Simon Carr are making the case ‘in their favour’. Trouble is, I don’t know if it uses unspeak, or if it is just stupid. Oddly, the writer seems to think he is being ‘quite disarming’ (to quote Roger Moore) by saying he knows his case isn’t very compelling. It may say more about the editorial standards of The Independent. Or is using the word ‘standards’ in connection with The Independent itself a piece of unspeak?

    Still this was the creepiest thing I’ve read in a long time:

    ‘Third. It all appeals to something deep in the British national character. Liberty is one strand of our inheritance – but modernity is another. For the last thousand years, England (and then Britain) has been on the progressive side of the question. The Nation State. Democracy. Industry. Enlightenment (50 years before the French, incidentally). And now, the modern thing is how to control or monitor the masses.

    Of course we are in the vanguard, we always are. And for those who think the Database State is a self-evident abomination, the Domesday Book was one of England’s founding documents. In these days of massive state spending and unlimited demand, they say, we have to restrict health care and education to those who are eligible. There are our borders to consider, and those terrorists. These are immediate issues of money and not having our legs blown off – not abstractions of liberty and ancestral values.’

    If you are in favour of civil liberties then it is a matter of principle, not a utilitarian equation that the state should not intrude. ‘Of course’? ‘The vanguard’? The Greeks and Romanians I know think Britain is a ridiculous police state. I don’t think that they will be following us anytime soon. In fact if you look at this:
    We are lagging slightly behind the Chinese.

    ‘Liberty is one strand of our inheritance – but modernity is another’ … no prizes for guessing which will win. The British are NOT a people attracted to liberty. It is odd that this mythology came into being when Britain has no real history of freedom fighting. In fact the British probably have the highest level of state regulation outside the communist world. Abroad the British people are seen as sheep who are too stupid to disagree with what their TV sets and tabloids tell them.

    I really wish that they were wrong. But as long as our ‘broadsheets’ are written by people like Carr, then I don’t expect a drive for freedom anytime soon.

    Anyway, I wouldn’t have read it unless to title caught my eye. It is probably one appalling article amongst thousands.

  30. 30  richard  January 29, 2009, 4:38 pm 

    And you know, it was those backward Frenchies who tried to claim we’d moved past that “modernity.” I agree with Gregor: I can’t decide if the use of the word here is unspeak or mere stupidity.

    However: [quote]Abroad the British people are seen as sheep[/quote]. While I agree with this statement, can anyone think of a people for whom this is not true?

  31. 31  Steven  January 29, 2009, 5:17 pm 

    Simon Carr’s piece is remarkable. What I ended up really wanting to know was whether the dinner party he recounts took place in Islington.

    Or is using the word ‘standards’ in connection with The Independent itself a piece of unspeak?

    I was made “redundant” in one of the regular purges at the Independent in the late 1990s after it was taken over by the Mirror Group (spit). I leave it to others to decide what, if anything, that says about the Indy‘s “standards”.

    But at least they still employ Johann Hari! Who writes:

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated 60 years ago that “a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief is the highest aspiration of the common people”. It was a Magna Carta for mankind – and loathed by every human rights abuser on earth. Today, the Chinese dictatorship calls it “Western”, Robert Mugabe calls it “colonialist”, and Dick Cheney calls it “outdated”.

    I can’t find anything about Cheney calling UDHR “outdated” — can anyone else? Or is Hari perhaps thinking about Gonzales’s opinion of certain provisions of the Geneva Conventions as “quaint”?

  32. 32  Gregor  January 29, 2009, 10:54 pm 

    ‘I was made “redundant” in one of the regular purges at the Independent in the late 1990s after it was taken over by the Mirror Group (spit). I leave it to others to decide what, if anything, that says about the Indy’s “standards”.’

    Whoa… that fits in with a conspiracy theory I’ve had about The Independent, that it was bought by Tories who want to discredit liberals/ leftists through publishing mind-numbing and appallingly written articles. I think they must have ‘standards’ in that anyone who might question the neo-liberal received wisdom is barred. Anyone who might see ethical issues as complex is probably unwelcome.

    ‘But at least they still employ Johann Hari! ‘

    Speaking of whom, I thought this recent interview was amusing:

    ‘Sitting up, he moves on to the international press: “One of the reasons American newspapers are going bust is partly because of all these structural changes, but also because they are so fucking boring. If you compare them to British newspapers or French newspapers, they are just a lousy product – they are badly written, bland, horribly presented… and they have shit columnists.”

    This comes as a surprise. Hari writes for The Independent, which is criticised by many journalists for similar reasons.’

    Surely not.

    ‘And you know, it was those backward Frenchies who tried to claim we’d moved past that “modernity.”’

    Despite his ostensible patriotism, I thought that Carr’s praise of the phrase ‘I don’t care for civil liberties’ had a reek of post-modernism about it. Of course a certain Independent journalist, so I believe, also took on post-modernism.

  33. 33  curious yellow  February 8, 2009, 8:41 pm 

    I do read your blog quite often, but although I pride myself on my undertstanding of the language (compared to most people I meet IRL) I often find myself stumped and having to look words up etc. I would not even think of daring to get involved over here! I learn a lot from you and your commenters so please, keep up the good work!

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