The Dodgy Bullshit from the 5th of September

1 across: Small fortune with strings attached? (4, 5)

I wouldn’t flinch at anyone claiming $5 “is a fortune” to pay for a potato cake, but that doesn’t mean that fortune should mean grand in a cryptic crossword.

9 across: Mark in Vietnam — or Romania — rejected drug action (5)

This could have been Gold if not for the incorrect action = verb. Instead, it’s clearly Bullshit.

20 down: Pulse climbed with old exercise regime (3, 2)

If I remember correctly, I’ve heard DA himself complain about the tendency British cruciverbalists have of using initials for words that do not ordinarily go by their initials (for instance, having cold = c is fine, but trampoline = t is pulling the other one).

But regardless of whether or not it was DA who expressed that opinion, one with which I wholeheartedly agree, old = o is just not on.

10 thoughts on “The Dodgy Bullshit from the 5th of September

  1. I’ve seen O for OLD so many times I thought it was standard code. O as the hills, even. No idea where it comes from, tho.

  2. I’m with you, AS, on this one. The last few Guardian crosswords I’ve tried have included p=pressure, h=husband, r=recipe. I reckon it’s a lazy way out when the setter has one letter left over in the wordplay.

  3. Most simply, because action and verb are not substitutable terms.

    Cryptics work on the principle of word substitutability. So when a clue says “Skin getting lighter while dancing”, the answer has to be “tangoing” and definitely not “tango” because the words have to be substitutable in a sentence.

    Similarly, if the direct clue is “colours”, the answer must be similarly plural, such as “blues”, but never “blue”.

    Now, with “action” and “verb”, although they are both nouns, they aren’t substitutable in a sentence — I simply can’t think of a single sentence where one word could be substituted for the other without it sounding nonsensical.

    Furthermore, the common meaning that verb has is of an “action word” or “doing word”. That’s kinda bullshit and rather misleading. Verbs describe a grammatical function which a whole bunch of words, even those not ordinarily associated with “doing”, can fulfil.

    So in the sentence “I love to email you emails about love and skiing”, “love” and “email” are both nouns and verbs, and the only word more commonly associated with doing anything, “skiing”, is actually a noun.

  4. Re O = old: this usage is very old in cryptics, and is more or less universally accepted. In Chambers Crossword Manual by Don Manley there is an appendix of commonly used abbreviations, and it’s in there. Manley sets for the Guardian as Pasquale, and is well known as a Ximinean, which means he’s something of a fuddy-duddy when it comes to pushing the boundaries of acceptable clueing, and even he accepts it.

  5. Regarding the Ximenean/Libertarian divide, I have no particular leaning…… I don’t mind a bit of envelope pushing. But I’m with AS on the wantonly indiscriminate use of initials. (OK, these abbreviations may have found their grubby way into a Chambers tome, but who wants to be constantly burrowing into that work to look for little-used abreviations?). Ironically, the one that started off this rant (o=old) I find fairly inoffensive.

    The Brits definitely overdo this tactic. How about these I came across in recent Guardian crosswords? As well as the ones I mentioned above (p=pressure, h=husband, r=recipe), I’ve seen s=succeeded, ar=Arab.

  6. My point is that Pasquale is known to be a very conservative setter, and has been setting since at least the sixties, so he can be taken as an authority on what’s acceptable. We can depend on him to avoid the grubby. He mentions in his appendix h for husband, and w for wife. I imagine these are used in genealogies. P for pressure is a no-brainer if you’ve done any science at all. R for recipe is usually handwritten with a little cross on the tail, and is latin for prescription. Ar is an accepted abbreviation for arabic, and is used in dictionaries (when giving derivations). Look up algebra on dictionary.com for an example. None of these are frivolous.

  7. Oh, and s for succeeded is used in the context of dynastic succession. Again, mentions in Manley’s book

  8. Yeah yeah I know most of these abbrevs can be “justified”. But that’s not my point. And I note you were struggling a bit with ar=Arab.

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