Gross misconduct

5 Dec

Unknown-3Since reading the phrase recently on a contract of employment, I’ve become obsessed with what actually is ‘gross misconduct’. Just what do you have to do to be guilty of such a crime? This is not a subject that comes up in daily banter across the desktop or dining table, so I’ve not hitherto given it so much thought. Rather,  more often it will arise as an occasional reference in a news report or as last week, a perceived threat of instant dismissal in a legal document. But now I’m fixated, and the more I ponder, the more intriguing I find gross misconduct to be. And perhaps a little hilarious, too.

Of course I realise the intellectual explanation is that ‘gross’ is simply borrowed from the German word gross meaning big. ie when it comes to ‘gross misconduct’, we’re talking about serious misdemeanour and not just being a little inappropriate during the office party. But, eschewing the rational, and maybe this is a parent thing, I am drawn to the more childish vision of behaviour that is just plain disgusting!  It’s because I’m used to hearing my teenage son’s expression of ‘gross’ to mean anything he finds revolting from the cat’s dinner, to the contents of the food-waste caddy, childbirth, kissing, his little brother’s farts, or even the semi-nudity of anyone over the age of 25 – and we could just be talking the innocent sight of a woman’s bare upper arms flailing in the wind here. Apply this more juvenile contemporary meaning of gross to the act of misconduct and my mind is racing. Are you with me?

I’m envisaging a naked-from-the-waist-up figure prancing around the office as the contents of the stationary cupboard are whisked into a cardboard box destined for the nearest car boot sale… someone discovered daubing graffiti on the lift walls using Kitty Kat gravy… audibly flatulence-laced expletive-ridden announcements over the rail station loudspeaker as another service is declared late… the entire office team taking ‘dress down Friday’ to it’s ultimate undressed conclusion! And so on. Serious, but comical in a Simpsons kind of way. Could make for more amusing proceedings at industrial tribunals?

No? It’s just me then….


25 Nov

vomit word girlMine’s vomit, what’s yours? It’s a funny thing, but apparently we each have words that we find hard, repulsive even, to use. There’s no reason to it seemingly, just an individual quirkiness that applies randomly. A young woman confessed to me recently that she couldn’t get her tongue round ‘bosoms’ (she’d need to be a contortionist to do that, ha ha). Whilst I have no problem with the b-word, I identified with her reluctance to use a noun she felt so strongly against.

My pet idiosyncrasy is ‘vomit’. Gross… I hate typing it even  – for me it’s one of those picture words that you can’t use without visualizing. See, actually gross. And the sound – just weird in a finger-nail-down-the-blackboard sort of way. It’s not the concept I despise: the forceful expulsion of stomach contents through the mouth and perhaps nose (derived from the Latin vomitāre). And I will comfortably declare myself or any other person in my vicinity to having been sick, to having chucked or thrown up, barfed (inelegant but bearable), heaved, puked (so laddish), retched and at a push, spewed although this last is borderline disturbing I have to admit. But I just can’t bear the v-word itself.

I’m not wild about womb – a tad less hateful but still I find it tricky to articulate. It starts off well then tails off into an inconsequential consonant that refuses to sound. I blame my mother and the vicar. Best explain: I recall at the age of 9 being delegated to read one of the nine lessons at the School Christmas Carol Concert. Up in the pulpit if you please, I was expected to relate how the angel told the Virgin Mary (Luke Chapter1 verse 31) she would “conceive in her womb”. I found it mortifyingly embarrassing to be addressing anatomical and gestational matters publicly at such an age. My angst was horrendously compounded as the ultimate sense of shame because at around the same time, my mother informed me she was pregnant with my sister. At such a prepubescent stage, the knowledge that mum had conceived something in her wooo…woo..womb (there, it’s out ) and what it took to make that happen was just de trop. I’ve since managed to have two children and averted my eyes from any mention of there being a place inside where they are grown.

So come on then. Let’s being having it: What is yours?


20 Nov

word nickyswordsEmbrace evolution and savour the opportunity for conversational shenanigans – Omnishambles has been declared the Oxford University Press ‘Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year’ for 2012. At four unhurried syllables and with only four vowels to eight consonants, this is a cobbled together yet hyphen-free word. I marvel at the beautiful mark it makes on the page, no descenders (bits that go below the line) allowed! How thrilling.

Attributed to the writers of BBC political comedy/drama The Thick of It, omnishambles is to be seized upon with glee. Just the right degree of onomatopoeia to indicate the disorder it describes. A cementing together of two old words to create something rambling, and messed up – it’s a bit of a mutant yet deserving of our full attention. US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticised London’s preparations for Olympics as “omnishambles” (oh how foolish he must feel now that we proved him so wrong with our British ‘spirit of the Blitz pull-it-out-of-the-bag showmanship!). And Labour party leader Ed Miliband, described the 2012 budget (which according to him had every type of tax in shambles) “an omnishambles budget”. That one I’ll leave to you to judge. So we’re in good company.. ahem, well noted company perhaps.

But despite the current fuss, omnishambles is not really such a new concept. The prefix ‘omni’ is from the Latin omnis meaning ‘all’ – as in omnipresent – and the noun shambles describes a state of confusion and bad organization. Actually, shambles is also pretty ancient in derivation. The name of a wooden stool (the Old English word scomul meaning ‘footstool’) evolved to become ‘shambles’ and by the Middle Ages, streets where stalls were set up randomly and often crammed full had become known as ‘shambles’. By the 17th Century, shambles had become a byword for chaos and disorder and so it has remained.

Enough history, back to the future. We now welcome omnishambles as a new plaything, the birth of an expression where disarray can be mixed with ineptitude perchance, and, dear reader, I for one will be making free with it. After all, how lovely to gifted the opportunity to drop it into every day conversation. Imagine the scene:

You: So how was your day?

Me: Ah… utter omnishambles!

You sympathetic smiles and nodding head as you proffer a glass of the strong stuff to calm me down after such dreadful indictment of proceedings (okay, the last bit is a bit off the point, but I live in hope.)

Or how about describing the state to behold in a teenager’s bedroom (should you dare open the door in daylight you’ll need an armory of good adjectives to utter) as grossly omnishambolic! “Get up here and sort out this omnishambles,” you will cry. Said juvenile bounds upstairs with duster and rubbish bag in hand… or not.

The possibilities are endless… so go… try it out. Have fun.


17 Nov

Automaticness… what a word! At five syllables and with an awkward ‘c’ butted right up against an ‘n’, arguably it’s a little clunky and brash. I think of it as a teenager of a word trying to out-attitude a parent. Of course like the adult-in-the-making, it’s an unofficial word; ungraded, made-up and yet to be lexicon-ised. But it sounds so cool. Don’t you love the irony of a bolshy juvenile pouting angst and fury who unwittingly delivers a word so alluring you can’t wait to get out there and try for yourself despite being positively past the teen years? 

Sadly I can’t claim to be the mother of this invention. My respect (and thanks for this linguistic gift) is due to the verbal audacity of Paul Armstrong, Head of Social Media at Mindshare, a global media network company. He put ‘automaticness’ out there for our enjoyment during his presentation at Mumsnet Blogfest 2012* recently. Speaking to a packed auditorium of bloggers, he spanked out his enthusiasm for Social Media and invited us all to embrace the newest technology available, Armstrong insisted: “Google is the way forward”. He certainly held my attention firm for the allotted 40 minutes of seminar giving on the subject of working online to best effect. His enthusiasm for his subject was palpable and infectious. “Facebook is the Daddy! – used by more than a billion people, and more than 34 million in the UK”, he insisted.  “But Google+ is the new SEO crack!”. Armstrong is a copywriters dream with his munch-size quote habit.

Working with Google/Google+ will give online wordsmiths what Armstrong termed automaticness. It made instant sense. You just get the concept wrapped within. The notion that something is possessed of the drive and energy to make things happen in the right order without further input required. Repeat it to yourself and note the gratifying roundness of sound it makes when spoken loud. Auto-matic-ness. It has a great beginning, middle and end – a lovely completeness about it. I love its precocious use of 6 vowels to 7 consonants. Of course it’s not a proper word but it should be… in fact for Nickyswords henceforth it shall be.

*Sponsored by top dog of cyber-search engines, Google, alongside high street names including Boden and Skoda, the 2012 Mumsnet’s inaugural Blogfest event was a fierce opportunity to sharpen our cyber-wits with up-to-the-minute advice on working online. A fabulous line-up of writers, journalists and speakers included Caitlin Moran, Miriam González Durántez, Doctor Tanya Byron, Suzanne Moore, Rachel Cusk, Tim Dowling, Liz Jones….Mumsnet Blogfest 2013 is a must-go-to.


12 Nov

 My words in talking to children about death and separation remind me of the books which worked well, or didn’t, for me and my boys. If you find yourself in need, or want to support another family, then check these out: 

The Sad Book by Michael Rosen is all about how the poet Rosen felt when his son Eddie died. Rosen says that books are starting points for conversations. I quoted this before but find it such a powerful sentiment, I’ll add it again: “There is”, Rosen says, “a kind of magic when you put things into words, that help you sort out your feelings and realise what you feel.”  The Sad Book is a children’s book meant for grown ups and children to share – it might help children realise how other people around them feel and actually share in their grief. Great pictures (by Quentin Blake) are also very powerful. Actually I liked this book for myself as an adult and think it’s best read together with children from about 7-years old maybe.
I Miss You by Pat Thomas – A picture book which talks about life and death in fairly clear, simple ways. It briefly covers a range of issues such as why people die, how you may feel when someone dies and what happens afterwards. It was interesting to us for suggesting how you might explain that a body remains but the persons soul or spirit has gone. It includes questions you can ask the child about their own experiences and a section at the back for adults on how to best use the book.
No Matter What  by Debi Giliori was given to us by my sister who also has young kids, and was great for trying to reassure very young children that some things do last. It’s shiny and bright and tells the story of Little Small, a fox. ‘I’m a grim and grumpy little Small and nobody loves me at all,’ says the small foxBut he finds that’s not true, and Small’s mother is determined to prove that her love is limitless — no matter what! Charming and not overtly about death but useful for very little children.
Badger’s Parting Gifts by Susan Varley is a much quoted book that schools use often I find. In it, death is portrayed as a relief and release for old Badger. His friends come to realise that their lives have been enriched by his friendship and with the passing of time they are able to remember him fondly and without sadness. Actually we found it so far removed from our situation – small kids losing their Dad – that we didn’t really find it very helpful. And I suggest it’s really a bit dated. But it does introduce the idea of death with regard to older relatives. My jury’s out on this one!

Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley & Kate Sheppard is a great activity book you can apply to kids of a broad range of ages. It’s very practical and suggest lots of ways its possible to help children particularly in building memories and marking special dates and occasions, as well as coping with new emotions. 

The Ghost of Uncle Arvie by Sharon Creech & Simon Cooper is a laugh. Hammertoe!’ shouted Uncle Arvie ‘Hammer a needle with needlinks!’ Uncle Arvie’s words had been pretty mixed up when he was alive. Now he’s a ghost, it’s a crazy business trying to work out what he wants. Actually what Uncle Arvie needs is some help from his nephew, Danny, to find three precious possessions at his old home. It’s a funny story but can also help kick off conversations about your own situations and relatives. 

Hope they help… hope you don’t need them!

Be brave, be truthful

11 Nov

I recall putting my youngest son to bed when he was three, and was taken by surprise when he piped up: “Where’s my Daddy?” It’s not an unusual question Billy has never met his Dad and until then hadn’t asked for him. I knew it was time to reveal: “Daddy isn’t here anymore, he has died.” 
Ouch. I felt horrible using such stark language but know it was the right thing to do. My husband had suffered a sudden and  fatal heart attack two weeks before Billy’s birth, leaving me with a his brother, then nearly five-years-old, and a newborn . 
My older son, in reception year at school, had no comprehension of his loss – how could he as he’d never experienced loss before  – and he seemed stuck on the bare facts. Why didn’t Daddy’s heart work? What made it break?  I quickly discovered the importance of using the right words and understanding the impact they have on young children, and most vitally, allowing them to share the bereavement. A child has shared the life of a close relative, so must be involved in their death, too, or they can feel bewildered, isolated and even frightened.
Be confident that kids are amazing. Interested, enquiring, eager to learn and join in they want to be involved in all aspects of family life. Death is one of the trickiest concepts for youngsters to grasp, and one of the hardest for us grown-ups to share. We want to keep children safe, wrap them up against hurt and pain, and protect them from upset. It’s tempting to try and be comforting by saying the person who’s died has “gone to sleep”, or are “living with the angels”  or have “gone to Heaven”. Adults – even professionals working in hospitals, schools and as social workers, often talk in vague terms about “losing someone” or them having “passed on”.  But this can be confusing.
From a child’s point of view, if Dad’s lost, why can’t we find him? Why did he want to go and live somewhere else – and can I go too? Who attacked his heart? If he went to sleep and didn’t wake up, what will happen if Mummy, or I go to sleep – will we wake up?
Be wary of firing their imagination in totally the wrong way. Saying that someone has ‘died’ or is ‘dead’ is honest, and helps to avoid misunderstandings and encourages acceptance. Professionals experienced in working with bereaved children encourage helping youngsters to understand by giving them information ­perhaps in small pieces to give them time to absorb it, and helping them communicate and express how they feel. Depending on the age of the child, you may have to repeat things many times and allow them to ask questions, often over and over. They may check it out with other adults.
In answering Billy’s question and telling him that his Daddy had died, I had to remind myself it was harder for me to say than for him to hear. At that age, Billy had no real concept of the loss that death involves, but at least he had the right words from the outset and in time will come to understand. For older children, being clear is opening the door for discussion, helping them to share their feelings and ask appropriate questions.
Books, both fact and fiction, help find words. The messages are that it’s ‘okay’ and ‘normal’ to feel how they do. It gives children something to relate to and crucially can provide a springboard for conversation with their peers or other adults. There are books that talk clearly about death and coping with bereavement, and others which are helpful in discussing feelings in more general ways which we can relate to our sense of loss.
The Sad Book by Michael Rosen is based on how he felt when his son Eddie died. Rosen says that books are starting points for conversations. “There is”, he says, “a kind of magic when you put things into words, that help you sort out your feelings and realise what you feel.”
Yep – words are magic, if they’re the right ones.

Icon be gone

7 Nov

Some words are sooo tired. Yawn. ‘Icon’ is one of them. Positively comatose with fatigue lying flat on the page. ‘Exclusive’ is another… worked to the limit and now lacking in energy. No verve, no dynamism being all puff, no substance. Snooze-ville. How about ‘innovative’, ‘luxury’ and ‘unique’? All equally applied with gusto in many a press release, product description or review, yet rarely do they stir up a sense of excitement. Devalued they have become unremarkable.
The problem is a seemingly general malaise with writers shirking their responsibility to seek out words that actually fit entirely the intended meaning. Lazily they reach for the nearest superlative, however knackered it’s become. Instead of trying words out to check if they suit, savouring nuances and carefully selecting the one most apt, we’ve become too commercial, too quick to pick up on the most sensational, most eye-catching. To attract attention, we emulate the style of advertising campaigns and news headlines and insert the nearest adjective of excellence. We confuse most popular with most appropriate. It’s a herd mentality. Baaaa…
Enough now. Move along… must try harder.


21 Oct

Amazeballs! I have discovered how deliciously liberating and uplifting it can be to add a new word to my vocabulary, and one which while seemingly slang-dacious, is now listed in the Collins online English dictionary as admissible for overt usage. Admittedly I didn’t actually say it; “amazeballs” I mean. Instead I sneaked it into a Tweet… but it felt just as good as if I’d yelled it out in a school parent/teacher meeting. In fact, my employment of such modern urban language was akin to knocking 20 years off my age – which remains classified information on a need to know basis only.
Oh how lightly I had popped the positively enthusiastic ‘amazeballs’ (denoting ‘approval’ in case you’re not familiar) into a message – using considerably fewer than my allotted 140 characters I might add which is equally youthful behaviour… and launched said missive into the ether. I smirked. How utterly frivolous.

Throughout the day I savoured the way amazeballs rolled around my tongue becoming increasingly tasteful. By teatime I was inserting an amazeballs into nearly every sentence – the kids were incredulous, half admiring half nervous about my literary adventurousness. By bedtime I’d received the  ultimate accolade: a return Tweet from a follower in New York: “We love that you can say amazeballs…” wrote my west coast American cyber-friend. Say it? I’ve moved on, since using it in conversation with the window-cleaner, scribbled it on a birthdaycard to my brother and, rather naughtily, re-named our cat (well, it seemed physically fitting). Their various responses have all been most rewarding indeed!