When you use a well-known phrase or saying, you had better remember what it means. In Wednesday's paper a familiar piece of folk-wisdom was misapplied.
A news story remarked that British curries have evolved a distinctive national style. It told of a festival of British curry cuisine in India. The story began thus: "In the great tradition of taking coals to Newcastle, a group of British chefs have travelled to India to cook curry for the locals."
That was half right. These days the energy to heat your home comes through gas pipelines from Russia. Any time from the 16th century to the early 20th it came, if you were a Londoner, in ships from the coalfields of the north of England. Hence, to take coals to Newcastle is to take something to the place it comes from, an exemplar of futility.
Certainly, curries come from India, but there was nothing futile or absurd about taking them there. The point of the story was that the Indians liked the British curries.
Who goes there: On Monday Stephen Glover wrote in his media column about Rupert Murdoch's attempt to make people pay for reading his newspapers online: "That is why all of us – including you, dear reader, who understandably does not want to pay – must hope that the 79-year-old tycoon succeeds." "Does" should be "do". Obviously, it is "you do", not "you does". But when the relative pronoun "who" comes in between, people can get confused, for they are so used to seeing "who" followed by a verb in the third person.
Don't like it: Why does everything have to be like something else? This is from Monday, about the rebuilding of cities after disasters. "Down one side street in Port-au-Prince, a 12-foot-tall mangle of twisted metal and rubble lies along the edge of the street. The crumpled concrete and steel was once a three-storey secondary school. It now resembles a collapsed house of cards."
Why the house of cards? When the earthquake hit, the building may have collapsed like a house of cards – suddenly. But a collapsed house of cards doesn't look like a collapsed concrete building at all. The cards simply lie flat on the table. When you have already given a perfectly good description of the pile of steel and rubble, why resort to a simile? And further, "mangle" looks wrong. I guess it should be "tangle". A mangle is an old-fashioned domestic device for squeezing water out of laundry. The twisted metal and rubble may be "mangled", but that doesn't make it a mangle.