Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Inspired by *that* Mumsnet thread, I have a linguistics-related query

This is a 'where can I find out about... ' sort of query.

You might have heard of the thread on Mumsnet that went viral yesterday - it got into the Telegraph and the Mirror as well as buzzfeed and a whole bunch of people's Facebook pages.

It began after someone asked a question relating to a... well, quirk really, of their... let's call it 'post-coital cleanup' routine that had all the other posters on Mumsnet (and later the 'entire internet') fascinated, amazed and amused.

I read some of it on the train home last night and giggled so much the man sitting next to me got up and moved to another seat. It is spectacular and hilarious and possibly not quite safe for work so I shan't link to it but I'm sure searching for Mumsnet and beaker will bring it up instantly!

There are several hundred posts in the thread, stretching over about 30 pages (last time I checked was this morning) and while reading I noticed the the high number of consistently amusing 'asides' using strikethrough text. Possibly I'm the only person who made that observation on reading that thread ;) Some of the faux-deleted asides made me laugh more than anything else written and they're typically along the lines of saying one thing and meaning another.

It occurred to me that strikethrough is well-used in blogs where an author writes something, someone corrects them in the comments and then the author amends their post but keeps the original error so that the comment still makes sense, and for transparency and letting people track changes. This is done a LOT by science and skeptic bloggers and is generally appreciated by the community.

Cancer Research UK wrote a great blog post two years ago highlighting a particularly controversial clinic in Texas (the Burzynski clinic) that was (I'm not sure if it still is or has now been shut down) charging patients hundreds of thousands of dollars for an unproven cancer treatment. One of the family members of a patient complained about it and CRUK agreed to amend their blog but they did so by striking through the controversial text so it was still visible, and showing the 'approved' text agreed with the family member. I thought this was rather clever - you could see exactly what the family member had objected to and the much softer terms that had been agreed. It was an extremely effective technique, a tiny bit snarky perhaps (not in a bad way) and still fair to all sides.

So I've seen it used a lot online, also in more jokey ways when someone pretends they can't spell a word, crosses it out a few times and then uses one that's simpler to spell ("Yours sincrly sincereley faithfully").

Those are also the only times I've seen it used in printed items (comical) but I'm not aware of having seen it used snarkily in print, or that widely in print either.

How / where (eg what journals / blogs) can I find out more, such as:
  • Is there a name for the use of strikethrough text in sarcasm / snark / humour - it's often a witty aside but a particular way of using text. @4tis pointed out an online example of using ^H (caret H) in usenet discussions to denote 'backspace delete' which achieved the same effect, more at Wikipedia. EDIT - there *is* a name for this sort of thing, it's epanorthosis (Wikipedia / Silva Rhetoricae)
  • When did people start using it? I daresay in a world of print-only it might not exist as that would involve someone having to create a set of letters with a strikethrough mark through them, probably expensive for limited use, or perhaps I'm wrong
  • Has anyone studied its use as a tool of mostly good-humoured snark in online communities? I got the impression the people using it on Mumsnet were both smart and technically savvy and clearly using it deliberately (I mean obviously if you just changed your mind you'd simply delete the text! So this is a deliberate form of textual and sub-textual communication). A friend of mine has done some linguistic analysis of online communities so will certainly ask them too!

Also, if no-one's researching this can I found the journal Strike Through Strikethrough Proceedings?

Also, also, there's a really obvious joke that I'm not making either ;)


  1. I remember seeing this this technique used in The Brand New Monty Python Bok [sic] (1973) in a piece called "Hamsters: A warning". In one panel, a Terry Gilliam cartoon of a volubly farting hamster is shown with the caption "They take up very little space and are very quiet" with the "very" crossed out and replaced with "fairly", then that crossed out, and finally the word "quiet" crossed out too.


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).