Category Archives: Language

Lagom (in 1 minute)


Lagom is a popular Swedish phrase that takes ages to describe, even when you do it incorrectly.

I shall spare you the grammar lesson. Instead let’s rely on the irrepressible Pippi for an example:

Det är inte ille, jag har ju apa, häst och villa!

– Pippi Långstrump (Longstocking)


It’s not so bad, I have a monkey, a horse and a house!

That’s pretty much all Pippi needs, so everything is just fine: lagom.


P.S. Saved you 30 mins, you’re welcome.

How One Tiny Text Tweak Helped Me Meet My Wife

After dating random friends of friends for a year, I decided to get serious.

How can I increase the chances of finding someone I really like?

Time to try internet dating. Guardian Soulmates.

Spent a couple of hours looking all sorts of profiles (girls and boys) to see how people used the site, and what stood out.

Found that 80% of guys wrote essentially the same thing:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and playing [sport]. I like going on holiday to exotic places. My friends tell me I have a good sense of humour. I enjoy [hobby] in my spare time.

Around that time I watched a Peep Show episode in which Mark is mocking bland dating profiles:

I enjoy breathing air and turning protein into muscle energy.

One thing that stood out in several profiles was when some humour showed through. So I decided to write a spoof of all the boring profiles by combining the generic spiel with the Peep Show joke:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and playing tennis. I like going on holiday to exotic places. My friends tell me I have a good sense of humour. I enjoy playing guitar in my spare time. I enjoy breathing air and turning protein into muscle energy.

Then – once my prospective ladyfriend had been seduced by my witty spoof first paragraph, I would hit them with the real sizzle – something more unique and interesting. I can’t recall the whole thing but at the time I was working in TV, so at least I had a cool first line:

I make up games and gameshows for a living, but…

A celebratory sip of beer, then put the profile live and wait to be covered in messages…

Still waiting one week later…

No messages.

I went back to the site and scrolled through the list of suggested matches. Hmm, hard to get to know them when there’s not much text in the search results…

Ah. I had hidden the unique, personal stuff behind a generic first paragraph. The search results view showed so little text that even my Peep Show joke was not visible. I counted characters and worked out that the text I appeared with in anyone’s search results would be:

I like going out with friends, but I also like staying in with a DVD and a bottle of wine. I like going to gigs and…


So I cut the whole first paragraph and started off with the games and gameshows instead. One small text tweak.

A few days later, I had met my wife-to-be.


More stories like this via the mailing list and @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Got a new phone for Christmas? Impress your friends with these emoticons from the year 2000

In the year 2000 I got my first mobile and my friend Beth got me this book.

The intro tells new phone owners why the book will be useful:

The sub-text of your words, acronyms or abbreviations will become crystal clear to anyone reading them if you punctuate your messages with emoticons, whenever and wherever you feel like it.

I rediscovered the book this week and now I’m the sickest yoof on the block.

So turn off your Westlife minidisc, put your Razor Scooter back in the box, pick up the phone you wish was really a Nokia 3310, and make like it’s Y2K:

*8=(:      I am a blithering idiot

%+{        I was the loser of a fight

:^Y      I turn my poker face away

o’!       I am feeling pretty grim (profile)

:-”     I am whistling casually

*L*    I am drunk (sideways)

%-<|>     I am drunk with laughter

%*@:-(    I am hungover with a headache

(,’%/)    I have slept too long on one side

:-L    I have a blank expression with a cigarette or pipe

===:[OO’]>:=== I have been railroaded

#!^~/      I am kissing while wearing shades (profile)

(><)      I am anally retentive

When you want to squeeze a pun in there too:

>–COD     I am ‘floundering’ for something to say

When you’re kicking it old school:

g-)      I am wearing pince-nez glasses

When you needed Instagram but only had SMS:

O-G-<     Me, me, me (pointing to self)

:-)-8     I am a big girl

:-)^<    I am a big boy

(:-{~    I am bearded

:-)##     I am seriously bearded

:-(>~     I just washed my goatee, I can’t do a thing with it

{:-)     I am wearing a toupee

}:-(     My toupee is at risk from a high wind

When you want people to focus a bit lower down:

:-)   .     I have an innie belly button

:-)   ,     I have an outie belly button

{:-| 8()>     You are going to be a father!

When you have a mythical revelation to make:

:-[    I am a vampire

:-E    I am a buck-toothed vampire

<*(:-?    Wizard who doesn’t know the answer

+-:-)     I am the Pope

When your tech is stuck in the wrong time:

[:-)     I am wearing a Walkman

When you need to cut someone down to size:

:-8(     Condescending stare…

i-=<***i     Caution: I have a flame thrower

When the animal instinct is strong:

<:3 )~~~     Mouse

#B<>     A duck with a spiky haircut and Ray-Bans, quacking

:-D*     I am laughing so hard that I did not notice that a 5-legged spider is hanging from my lip

>8-O-(&)     Message about/from someone who has just realised they have tapeworm

And let’s finish with a few seasonal ones:

*|:^)(.)(…)     Snowman

<:>==     Turkey

*<|<|<|=    Christmas tree

Got all that? Gr8. 

Merry Christmas! *<:-)

~ Todd


I couldn’t find the book for sale on the original creator’s site (Michael O’Mara books), but it is still available second-hand on Amazon (and probably elsewhere) – see here.

Thanks to Michael O’Mara for such a treat!

A Lex Icon

Wikipedia tells all the best stories.

The Oxford English Dictionary was started in 1879, and predicted to be finished in ten years.

Five year later, in 1884, the editors had only reached ‘ant’.

In 1928, it was finally finished… but by then it was so outdated, they had to start all over again.

Imagine being James Murray, the gentleman pictured at the top: editor of a book that would take 50 years to finish. A project that would stretch beyond his lifetime. Running a crowdsourced team that, unknown to him, included a gifted madman imprisoned for murder. And building a book which he must have known was already outdated, and would have to be renewed.

There’s only one word for that: remarkable (adj.).


Title from Anu Garg. The Wikipedia article is here.

Get more lexographical lunacy via @toddmgreen on Twitter.

Shall I take my clothes off now?

I was living in Germany and I had a new boss. Time to move desks.

Soll ich mich jetzt umziehen?

My boss laughed so hard that she fell on the floor and wept.

By adding ‘mich’ I had changed the question from ‘Shall I move now?’ to ‘Shall I take my clothes off now?’.



I was 22 when I moved to Germany from the UK. I was working at a TV company and went to Cologne for six months on a graduate placement.

I had never been to Cologne before. I had no friends, no favourite hang-outs, non-fluent language skills, no colleagues that I knew from before, no support network on hand – nothing.

I was starting from zero. And it was really scary.

But I got lucky (a great flatmate, fun colleagues), and I tried hard to improve my German. I made a bunch of new friends, learnt about a new city and a new culture, and (this was 2006) experienced an incredible World Cup. By the time I left, I was sad to go and I’ve been back almost every year since.

So with a bit of luck and a bit of work, starting from zero worked out ok. Phew! But offering to get naked for my boss was not my only mistake.


Another unfortunate incident happened at a house party a few weeks later. My flatmate told me the day after that I had really offended a girl I was talking to – turns out not all Germans are tuned into to English sarcasm, so she took one of my ‘jokes’ a little too seriously.


But it was fascinating to be an outsider. As an outsider you can observe much more acutely what’s happening around you.

Plus people expect the outsider to make mistakes (like I did at the party). But I could patch it up because the outsider also has a good excuse for getting things wrong (heh heh).


One day I was on the train, reading my book. I’d started the book before moving to Germany and was keen to finish it.

I got a few funny looks, but hey ho – I didn’t really understand what the people around me were saying so it didn’t trouble me.

Only when I got home did I realise my mistake – I’d been reading a biography of Winston Churchill.



Changing your location – a new place, a new job, a new career – changes your context. You probably shouldn’t offer to get naked at work. It’s not ok to be sarcastic if the person you’re talking to doesn’t get sarcasm. And it’s not ok for some people if you read a Churchill biography on the train in Germany.

But each of these mistakes was fun, and the whole experience of living and working abroad was formative. I’d recommend it to anyone. And if I can offer three things I learnt from my time in Cologne, they would be these:

  1. Starting from zero is perfectly possible
  2. Being the outsider is fun
  3. Changing your circumstances changes everything

I’ve tried to keep those things in mind over the last few years.

Perhaps they’re useful for you too.

So go forth, and offer to get naked.

Do you find it hard to describe your job?

Today I spoke to a colleague who is thinking of quitting. But she’s afraid.

Not afraid she won’t find something else (she’s very employable).

But afraid she won’t be able to explain what she does, so she won’t be able to explain why her skills make her a good fit for another role.

Here are some tips if you find yourself in the same position:

1. Forget your job title

Job titles reflect internal structure – they are relative to your colleagues’ titles. So they’re of no use if you want to leave.

2. Steal from others

Maybe your current industry doesn’t have a good description for what you do. So what? Maybe another industry is better at descriptions. Example: much of my work over the last few years was as a Product Manager. I didn’t know what a Product Manager was until about 18 months ago. But it’s close enough that I can read PM job descriptions and figure out a good one for myself.

3. Word to your grandmother

Your grandma should be able to understand your description. So no jargon or buzzwords.

4. Customise

Change it if you change what you’re aiming to do. What makes your description good is its relevance to what you want to do next.

5. Practice

Get your description down-pat. It should be short and sharp (I am bad at this). That way you will sound confident and capable.

It takes time – for me, about 100 people have to hear a crappy job description before the 101st gets a good one. But I know from listening to my own crappy descriptions those first 100 times that it makes a big difference when you get it right.



Image credit: Tyler Shields – Mouthful

Universally Speaking

Recently I was writing up a post on studying the history of our time, and how different it would be to when I studied History at university. It struck me that one of the most interesting changes would be that students will be able to access lots of materials in foreign languages.

Clearly, non-book materials will be much more important, and video especially. Google Translate on the web does a passable (but improving) job of translating text. But the idea of studying using foreign-language video got me thinking – wouldn’t it be cool if you combined Google Translate with Siri to make something that would translate speech on the fly?

Turns out I’m about a year behind on this one. In January 2011, Google announced a new feature in the Google Translate mobile app that enables you to translate conversations. And a company called Vocre is way ahead even of them right now.

The possibilities are amazing. You would no longer need to speak the same language as the person you’re talking to in order to have a conversation!

Here’s a video of the Google’s version:

And here’s Vocre, via TechCrunch: