Thursday, 16 November 2017

Placebo - you will, eh?

“Italy, this is the apocalypse,” was the headline in the country’s leading sports paper La Gazzetta dello Sport on Tuesday morning [14 Nov.], perhaps an understandable reaction for a nation whose passion for football is so great that the same publication concluded that “a love so great must be reserved for other things [than the World Cup]”. 
La Gazzetta dello Sport, as quoted in the Guardian
Which reminds me of the word gazette's derivation;  to quote Etymonline
"newspaper," c. 1600, from French 
gazette (16c.), from Italian gazzetta, Venetian dialectal gazeta "newspaper," also the name of a small copper coin, literally "little magpie," from gazza; applied to the monthly newspaper (gazeta de la novità) published in Venice by the government, either from its price or its association with the bird (typical of false chatter),
Or both, I would surmise. I can imagine some Venetian satirist greeting the first edition  of the gazeta de la novità making a punning reference not only to its price but also to its vapidness.
Which  seems a strangely prescient reference to Twitter. :-) Anyway;  football...

In January 2011, Science Daily reported a Mumbai study:
According to recent research the color, shape, taste and even name of a tablet or pill can have an effect on how patients feel about their medication. Choose an appropriate combination and the placebo effect gives the pill a boost, improves outcomes and might even reduce side effects. Now, researchers at the University of Bombay, New Mumbai, India, have surveyed users of over-the-counter (OTC) medication to find out just how much the color of a tablet influences patient choice.     
Football.... I'm getting there. Stay with me: 

Three years later, The Atlantic  reported
...Blue pills, contrary to what Breaking Bad may have you believe, act best as sedatives.... 
When researchers take culture into account, things get a bit more complicated. For instance, the sedative power of blue doesn’t work on Italian men. The scientists who discovered this anomaly think it’s due to ‘gli Azzuri’ (the Blues), Italy’s national soccer team—because they associate the color blue with the drama of a match, it actually gets their adrenaline pumping
But this was not a novel  phenomenon. The sedative effect of blue in particular was reported in The Lancet in 1972. (The Placebo Effect, in general, of course, had already  been in regular use by shamans and witch-doctors and faith healers for thousands of years.)

A recent Radiolab programme on Radio 4 Extra brought this to  my attention;
18 minutes into the piece,  this blue/sedative correspondence is discussed. I have to admit that I took agin the interviewee, possibly because he gave gli Azurri a /ʒ/, no doubt because of what we call in the trade L1-interference: he transferred the /ʒ/ of his English "azure " to the unsuspecting (and undeserving) Italian word. But what aggravated my response to this minor barbarism was his arrogating to himself this observation. When asked what causes this he says "Well, I'm not really sure [sic – his emphasis] but my speculation is...[Azurri idea]". By "my speculation", of course, he means "the speculation of the authors of a research paper  written when I was still wet behind the ears".

But what may indeed be his speculation is the unnecessary and irrelevant gilding of the lily; Italian women aren't affected because of their devotion to the Virgin Mary, who is traditionally depicted in blue, so it makes Italian women feel calm...

WHA...? Millions of women in Catholic countries supposedly have this same association; so why should the Italians be any different?..
That claim was made over a background that featured a recording of Ave Maria [Schubert‘s], which reminded me of a recent ad I heard for Aled Jones's latest album, which has him singing both with his son and with his younger self. And in the words Pleni sunt coeli et terra I noticed with grim resignation  that the successful present-day tenor has lapsed into the lazy /eɪ/  diphthong in both the first and the third words, in regrettable contrast to his younger self (with the choir master's voice no doubt still ringing in his ears) singing a pure monophthong.
Maybe, because Italian society is painfully patriarchal (with women doing the cleaning and cooking and washing and child-rearing while their menfolk slump in front of the football) they just don't have the time to be that bothered about gli Azurri.

But if women all over the world are affected in the same way by the colour of tranquilizers, why bring the Virgin Mary into it at all? Besides, I'm not sure I buy the whole football thing. Are French fans any less fanatical about their support for les Bleus? Still, it's interesting.

And the Italians (not sure it's just the men) are certainly... distraught [I don't think  that's an overstatement] about the exit of lgi Azurri from the World Cup  Blexit?

  • Showing concern about lines of communication, and getting tooled up. (8)
  • Set a trap with son for performers of fandango or tarantella?. (9)

Update: 2017.11.16.22:35 – Specified the composer of that Ave Maria setting.

Monday, 13 November 2017

We need to talk about Kelvin

On Neil McPherson's WalkLiving with the Gods  [oops: Gods/dinosurs – easy mistake to  make] recently (not to suggest that he is an egregious source of things that make me wince – he's wise and thoughtful, and his series is well worth a listen [if not two]) – I heard an example of one of my most abhorred assumptions: that "Centigrade is always more".

In the world usually inhabited by most of us (in what is popularly referred to by the mealy-mouthed euphemism humankind)...
I‘m sorry about this. In the words mankind, womankind, etc... the  structure is  "<noun>+kind". I was mentally scarred by an English teacher who insisted that the word "human" was  an adjective: ‘If you mean "human being" SAY "human being"‘ he used to rant. I know this is rubbish; but I have drunk the Kool Aid. So whenever I see or hear the word "human"  my adjective-filter springs unbidden into action – I‘m not proud of it, but that‘s the way it is.
...there is a belief that, when talking about the weather, for a given value, Centigrade denotes a more extreme temperature than Fahrenheit – so that the word Centigrade is often used as a reinforcer: "They have to survive in temperatures of 50 or 60 °Centigrade..."  (Gosh, how hot is that?), or "Temperatures commonly reach -20 °Centigrade (Cold or what?).

In the case of weather, in contexts likely to be met by human observers, the rule of thumb Centigrade means more extreme works more often than not.  But we all know (or most us do, anyway) that something happens at -40 °C or F, which inverts the hyperbole: "Temperatures commonly reach -50 °Fahrenheit (Cold or what?) (Just to be clear, -50 deg. Celsius is -58 deg. Fahrenheit.)

In any case, though, (and perhaps in Neil McPherson‘s), the word "Centigrade" may be justified on the grounds that it's just informative and doesn't express any sense of hyperbole. I suspect, though, that anyone doing no more than conveying information would tend to say "Celsius" rather than "Centigrade". So when he said "temperatures below -50 degrees Centigrade are common" I thought the worst.

Anyway, time's wingéd chariot is doing its usual trick. Having sung to a ... not exactly packed church, though  pretty full, last Saturday, I must get learning the German for next month's concert:


PS And here are a couple more clues:
  • Lacedæmonii – (only the extremists) tear strips off, then set free. (8)
  • Showing concern about lines of communication, and getting tooled up. (8)

Update: 2017.11.14.10:30 – Corrected typo in line 1.

Saturday, 28 October 2017


Gregorio Allegri wrote his Miserere for the service of Tenebrae, to be performed in the Sistine Chapel. The service gets its name from the hour when it's sung – twilight – although the music itself is far from TENEBRAL.
Incidentally, I wonder whether the service of Tenebrae  was already commonly referred to as "Evensong" before the Reformation. I've just watched a fascinating programme on BBC Four: Lucy Worsley's Elizabeth I's Battle for God's Music, that detailed the invention of the service of Evensong based on John Merbecke's setting of the Book of Common Prayer (that's a gross [and possibly mistaken] over-simplification: it was all very confused).

But at the beginning of the programme (8 minutes in), she reads – and points out in the manuscript – an eye-witness account of the dissolution of the monastery of Evesham in 1539. And in that account the monk uses the term Evensong: 

I don't know enough about manuscripts to judge for certain whether  the E is capitalized: the first e of Evensong looks bigger than the second, but smaller than the E of Evesham (in the first hand-written line). It is clearly one word though – which suggests that it was a Thing.
There is a story about Mozart and the secretive Vatican rules that kept the music undocumented – protected, one might say, not so much by copyright but by papa-right.As Wikipedia says:
According to the popular story (backed up by family letters), fourteen-year-old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was visiting Rome when he first heard the piece during the Wednesday service. Later that day, he wrote it down entirely from memory, returning to the Chapel that Friday to make minor corrections. Less than three months after hearing the song and transcribing it, Mozart had gained fame for the work and was summoned to Rome by Pope Clement XIV, who showered praise on him for his feat of musical genius and awarded him the Chivalric Order of the Golden Spur on July 4, 1770.
Various embellishments have been added;  "At some point, it became forbidden to transcribe the music" as that article puts it; no wonder that page comes with the stern warning/plea:

The version I was sold at school was "it had never been written down, but Mozart's version, after a second visit to the Sistine Chapel was note-perfect".

Well... Let me just....hmm..? I'm sure Mozart's piece was wonderful, and his memory remarkably accurate. But, if nobody had written it down, how could anyone judge its accuracy? One could surely rely on the Vatican authorities to claim Mozart‘s version as their own.

I mention this piece because it will form part of our Remembrance Concert in two weeks.

But it is not the mainstay of the concert; that is the choral suite from  Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man, which has most of the good bits from the work originally commissioned (Wikipedia again) the Royal Armouries Museum for the Millennium celebrations, to mark the museum's move from London to Leeds
It was there (the Royal Armouries at Leeds) that I started one of my earlier posts. Strange how one keeps stubbing one's toe on these Aha moments. 
When we sang the whole piece some years ago, the only movement that struck me (apart from the choral suite, that is) was the song that gives the whole piece its name: L'homme armé.

Apart from this there are some lovely reflective pieces by composers  from Mendelssohn to Tavener, with many other gems  along the way.

Give it a go. Hurry, while stocks last.


PS Here are a couple more clues:
  • He improvised frantically, but without a bean.(12)
  • Causing a ruckus about tale I have first, making up the numbers for profit.(8, 10)
Update: 2017.10.30.16:45 – Added inline PS.

Update: 2017.10.31.12:05 – Added afterthought in red.

Update: 2017.11.07.10:55 – Added PPS.

Less than a week now to our next concert. One of the pieces on the programme that I haven't mentioned yet is In Paradisum from Fauré's Requiem. Some time ago, preparing to sing this piece, I wrote:
In can mean many things in Latin, but when followed by a noun in the accusative it doesn't mean 'in'. If the words were In Paradiso they would mean 'In Paradise'; but they are In Paradisum ... going on ...deducant Angeli : 'Angels will lead you into Paradise...' One of many other meanings of in, this time followed by the dative, is exemplified in the next phrase: in tuo adventu: that's closer to 'in' in meaning, with a sense something like 'on the occasion of', though I'd favour a simpler translation: 'When you arrive...'.
It is a lovely piece that  most people know, even if they can't place it. Knowing Lennon & McCartney's tendency to borrow from "classical" favourites (there are those metaphorical tweezers again – I'm seldom at ease with the phrase "classical music")...
It has been widely reported that the song Because was inspired by someone in the recording studio playing the easier bit of Moonlight Sonata.
</beatles_factoid> seems to me possible that the introductory bars (of In Paradisum) were at the back of someone's mind when they wrote the harp introduction to "She's Leaving Home".

Anyway, no time for more – I have words to learn for Saturday.


And here are three more clues:
  • A-courting we will go, in disarray, "Upon St Crispin‘s Day"?.(9)
  • Charm is a recipe for winning friends and influencing people.(8)
  • Reportedly misbehave at beginning of soirée, but be brilliant, (11)

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

The lesser of the two weevils

The Académie Française takes a dim view of écriture inclusive – the proposed script reform that attempts to make French gender-neutral in spite of itself. The Times last week referred to a "mid punctuation  point", a glyph that French keyboards are soon to include. And they gave as an example cher⋅es amies [HD: their impoverished fonts presumably don't go as far as an è]. You can sidestep the Infernal Firewall by looking at this Indie article.

Their one English academician, Sir Michael Edwards, calls the result "gibberish"  – missing the point rather  (écriture – the clue's in the name); I don't think the words with the mid punctuation point are supposed to be read aloud – any more than the solidus is supposed to be read aloud in our "his/her". It just lets the reader's mind skip over the gender variation without missing a beat. So when the university of Nancy addressed imminent graduates as Futur⋅es diplômé⋅es it was simply doing them the courtesy of accepting that they might be of either gender, rather than, as heretofore, even in a class of 99 diplômées and a single diplômé, addressing them all as men.
Perhaps those more sexist times should be evoked as "as himetofore". He is certainly to the fore.
One sententious self-important windbag, the philosopher Raphaël Enthoven, speaking on Europe 1 Radio, denounced it as "an attack on syntax by egalitarianism". 
Generally, I've noticed that people who complain about "an attack on <abstract_noun>" tend to be blowhards.
But language  is pretty insidious stuff. George Orwell (pace David Crystal, as I've said before) was right on the money when he warned about the influence of language on political power; Big Brother and Donald Trump have a lot in common: if something you want to be true isn't, say it is and keep saying it. If the existence of someone in history doesn't suit your politics, make them an unperson; people will stop talking about them if their identity has been erased... If you want to change a social reality, changing language is a good place to start.

And one system that has been thriving for millennia is the undervaluing and belittling of women. Which brings us to another topic (which turns out to be part of the same story). Harvey Weinstein got away with his pitiful predatory behaviour for so long because the system facilitated it; a pretty significant part of that system (hmm, "significant"... What would de Saussure have to say about that?) is language. If you want to excuse or ignore something, hide it behind a jokey euphemism, like 'casting couch', say. Many a protégée turns out to have been a victime. Disrespecting women ...
Incidentally, I was surprised to learn from Etymonline that "disrespect (v)" pre-dates "disrespect (n)":

1610s (v.), 1630s (n.), from dis- + respect. Related: Disrespected; disrespecting.
Just because I met the noun first, just because I heard the verb as a bit of a newcomer, I assumed the noun had greater "validity" in some way (not a way that a linguist should take any pride in). Of course, 20 years one way or the other in a word that goes back about 400 years is neither here nor there. But still...
</tangent> something that involves language, and the language of patriarchy (at best – a more appropriate word escapes me at the moment, that's the thing about something being unspeakable) underpins the male-dominated status quo, not only in La La Land but...well, just about everywhere.

And physical assault is just the tip of the iceberg the visible loathsomeness that is supported by a raft of tiny acts of disrespect. The other night I saw a repeat on BBC 4 of a programme made nearly ten years ago – a fascinating account of where we come from (<spoiler alert>: out of Africa) . Dr Alice Roberts was treated to this amazing exchange (about 16 minutes in to The Incredible Human Journey):
REWOP from The Incredible Human Journey
That's like a little spearhead.
Yes that's exactly what it is. We think it's actually the ... [looking for the right word, to avoid blowing her little mind with the AWESOMENESS of his findings]  ...TIP to a ...SPEAR.

Perhaps I'm being over-sensitive here; perhaps there was no slight. Almost certainly there was no slight intended. (They were two specialists, repeating something for the benefit of a less well-informed public.) But it just felt a pit patronizing to me.

It was 20-odd years ago that English-speaking female actors started to complain about the term actress. A Quora article, basing its conclusion on the Guardian's archives, said
In 1994, the word actress appears 1150 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 2418 times, so about 2:1.

In 2003 the word actress appears 1173 times in the Guardian, and actor appears 3948 times, so about 4:1. That dates the change to 10-20 years ago.
although AMPAS (as the Oscar-dispensing organization is called – not without irony ...impasse?)  has yet to catch up. But if actors in France want to be addressed as act⋅eur⋅rice⋅s what's the problem? OK, it looks a bit ugly; but there are worse things.


Update: 2017.10.17.15:50 – Added PS

PS – And here are a few clues:

  • I‘m muscular (or perhaps something like it). (10)
  • Editing...editing.., until smoke began to rise? (7)
  • Trees that bear fir cones. (8)

Friday, 6 October 2017


In a choral singer's life, the pronunciation  of Latin is bound to become an issue. People learn one way in school, and can't help being infected. Fortunately, in the Venn diagram of my life,  Church Latin (which I started to ... enunciate at the age of about 7, as described here), school Latin (there are several of course, but mine was Church-Latin-speaking), and the Latin used in the study of Romance Philology (Vulgar Latin), all coincided.

I can't claim to know the whole story, but there are at least four gross variants – old and new Classical systems, Church Latin, and Germanic or continental Latin; there are probably more. And these are further compounded by  national phonemic peculiarities (sounds that are excluded – made effectively unpronounceable – as a necessary part of the acquisition of a mother tongue) such as those I mentioned here.

I  discussed one of the many problems arising from this clash of pronunciation regimes here. But in this post I want to talk about an old system that has almost died out but was once widely taught both in the UK and of course in many schools around the world in the British Empire (ensuring that the colonies paid at least twice for the dubious accolade of the imposition of the Pax Britannica).

Ask the search engine of your choice about Benedicite and you will be told this:
If you're not a user of the IPA, I recommend pressing the little loudspeaker doofer (in your browser that is, not on my screen-capture).

Elsewlere I wrote:
<autobiographical note>
In a choir I used to sing in, there was a great kerfuffle about how one should pronounce Benedicite. It couldn't have mattered less, as it happens, since that word does not occur in the [Ed: English] text.  But in  Benjamin Britten's world (and particularly at the school he went to when he went there) the first "i" (but not the second) had this same /ɑɪ/ diphthong.
<PS date=2017>
Benedicite was just the name of a canticle he was familiar with in the Book of Common Prayer: "Bless ye the Lord".
</autobiographical note>

The first i has the same /aɪ/  diphthong as the mori that ends that poem: as I said here (a post that unaccountably has attracted nearly 1 in 3 of all 100,000+ page visits that all HD posts have enjoyed over the last 5 years):
... in the school where Wilfrid Owen learnt his Latin, the last two lines rhymed...
The words are "old lie/mori", but it is an internal rhyme, I now see, as "Dulce" doesn't – as I had thought – start the last line.
...(and they may have scanned as well – I dunno; even  if they didn't they probably did in schoolboy-speak, where the stress  is often inverted in memorized (and drilled) Latin. Think of aMO aMAS aMAT..., whose actual stress [Ed: on the first syllable] is attested by most [if not all] Romance languages.)
(Naturally, if you know and remember and love the poem with the sound /'mɔ:ri:/ don't let  me interfere. In my house there are many mansions/let a thousand flowers bloom/etc.)

Many examples in legal Latin show a similar vowel sound: prima facie (/praɪmә feɪsi:/), decree nisi (/naɪsaɪ/).... The same system of diphthong vowel sounds accounts for habeas corpus (/heɪbiәs.../) among others (although later "corrections" may have been made, especially in parts of the world where the English legal system was adopted).

But I have promises to keep, and files [sic] to weed before I sleep.


PS: A few clues:
  • Do about 50, not completely. (6)
  • Used up exemplary piece, in which to be used no longer. (9)
  • Publish electronic Bible version? (7)

Update: 2017.10.07.15:30 – Added PPS.

PPS Just heard one on the radio (a misquote, FWIW, but enough to remind me: anno domini (the second i with an /aɪ/ sound). In fact, this phrase may have been the catalyst for the misquote, now I think about it: it was "laudato domini" ( for "laudate dominum"): <some-latin-stuff>o <more-latin-stuff>i).

But laudato means "to|by|with|from the praised [one]"; and domini means "of the lord". Put them together and... well, I imagine a Latin scholar could find a context that they would fit in, but that ain't me, babe.

Update: 2017.10.29.17:30 – Added PPPS.

And another (recalled by a Radio 3 playing of I was glad: "Vivat Regina".

And those answers: PARTLY, DESUETUDE and EVULGATE. Sorry about the "in which", which I‘m afraid seems to have been an accidental typo.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Fings ain't what vey used to be - they're a lot better

My latest Tezzy nomination (for the meaning of Tezzy see this blog, passim) goes to this paper (and the site that it links to). The paper is called

The short history of global living conditions and why it matters that we know it

– a bit of a misnomer (as to its shortness), if you click on links within the paper, which takes you to more detail. For example, one of the first links is to a paper on Working Hours which itself is liberally spattered with thought-provoking stuff such as this:

Come on, chaps, could do better: 100 years ago, men  did about 10% as much as women did (productively) in the home. The balance is much better now, but still about 1:2. What's more, both the blue and the pink curves (see what they did there?) look pretty assymptotic: the women's "NO LESS" is droned  (sic?) out by the men's "NO MORE". But there is an irony here: are male bloggers more common than female ones?

Sadly, the

...and why it matters that we know it

bit gets short shrift. There are only four short paragraphs, none of which contains a link. Here's a taste:
For our history to be a source of encouragement we have to know our history. The story that we tell ourselves about our history and our time matters. Because our hopes and efforts for building a better future are inextricably linked to our perception of the past it is important to understand and communicate the global development up to now. A positive lookout on the efforts of ourselves and our fellow humans is a vital condition to the fruitfulness of our endeavors. Knowing that we have come a long way in improving living conditions and the notion that our work is worthwhile is to us all what self-respect is to individuals. It is a necessary condition for self-improvement.
(Come to think of it, that was quite a long paragraph. It just should have been shorter. I ran it through the text analysis tool at UsingEnglish, and here are the results:
Not bad on word-length, but not very readable; it almost qualifies for a FOGGY [see this blog, passim {again :-)}  – Average Sentence length a shade under 20, Lexical Density a shade under 60, Fog Index over 14).

So if you want some more palatable auto-back-slapping, try this video from Bill Gates.

But about that productive effort...


Sunday, 17 September 2017

A flash in the pan

The orgy of on-the-spot fruitless speculation occasioned by the IED (Ineffectual Emphatic Deflagration) at Parsons Green brought to mind a phenomenon that I have mentioned before: the way metaphors freeze in time a technology that is time-specific and doomed to being superseded. In this post I started with this observation:
A few weeks ago I mentioned (here) a possible future post about the way obsolete arms technology is used to form metaphors that persist long after the arms technology is relegated to museums; it's not just arms-related vocabulary of course. Someone who has never seen a stair-rod or heard a telephone bell may give someone a bell and report that it's coming down in stair-rods. But arms-related (and armed-conflict-related) vocabulary is a particularly fruitful source of metaphor.
 One of this sort of metaphor that I listed was this:
Flash in the pan – in a flint-lock, the trigger sparked off an explosion in a pan which itself set off the main explosion. Sometimes there was a flash in the pan, but the main charge was unaffected.
In other words, as veterans of the Parsons Green coverage will  recognize, a flash in the pan was a deflagration. Of course, the exact confugrations of initiator and explosive don't match; but the ignitio praecox of the Parsons Green bucket bomb was a deflagration.

But this was not the only case that the bomb coverage threw up. There were two more in the accounts of the expected investigation (though I suspect my memory may have added the verb). Police would be 'scouring  CCTV footage'. They would, of course, not scour anything; this is a metaphor (and not, I now realize, related to technology, so make that one more case – footage).

CCTV may once have used film, and a few possibly still do. But surely today they produce MPEG files (file – there's another one). But it's film that is measured in feet, and people who refer to footage in the context of CCTV (or other media) are evoking a past technology (not that long in the past, and I'm sure most users [today] of the expression could work out where the word comes from; but, Trump willing, to a 22nd-century user, the technological background will be much more opaque .
When I said 'make that one'  two paras ago, I hadn't thought about a new development in the field of CCTV: if the CCTV automatically sends the file to a remote site (or even to the cloud – discussed here if you're that way inclined) it doesn't really deserve to be called Closed-Circuit TV)

In fact, film or tape has spawned quite a few of these fossils (traces of a former state)...
This metaphor commonly used by linguistics academics came immediately to mind as I read Oliver Kamm's review of How Language Began: The Story of Humanity’s Greatest Invention when in the first paragraph he writes "unlike physical organisms, the languages of prehistory leave no fossilised traces". This is true, in a strictly prosaic non-figurative sense. But since philologists regularly refer to fossils, my background has led me to almost forget that it is a metaphor. (Read on, though: everything is.)
... slow-motion, cut, fast-forward, rewind, flashback, inter-cut ...
<apologia theme="inter-cut">
There may be objections to this one, as it's use chiefly to refer to film technology (although cut itself freezes a bygone scalpel-and-sticky-tape process). But it is sometimes used to refer to other sorts of story-telling – in a novel, for example, several stories may be inter-cut.
...I'm sure there are many more. It's rather like the exercise of taking a square yard of meadow and counting the different species it contains; the longer you look at film and tape metaphors, the more you find (another illustration of Guy Deutscher's reef of dead metaphors view of language):
Guy Deutscher, in his fascinating The Unfolding Of Language: The Evolution of Mankind`s greatest Invention calls language (in a brilliant metaphor about metaphors - a 'meta-metaphor'?)  'a reef of dead metaphors'. In fact, Deutscher says more; it's not just words that were born phoenix-like from dead metaphors; dead metaphors are 'the alluvium from which grammatical structures emerge'.

More here
Thankfully, though, I've just heard on the News that all but one of the victims of that flash in the pan are now out of hospital . Which is not to say that it was a damp squib (see what  I did there?)

But the pyracantha ("fire-thorn-plant") is demanding the resumption of its annual trim, suspended when the heavens opened a while ago.