Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

To Many People, Spag Jargon Is a Load of Bol

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

To Many People, Spag Jargon Is a Load of Bol

Article excerpt

One November morning in the 1970s my dad suffered a sudden release of adrenalin, causing hyperventilation, tachycardia and dyspnoea, leading to respiratory alkalosis. Fortunately nobody told him this and he put it down to a panic attack resulting from having to drive to Great Auntie Hilda's funeral via the Gravelly Hill Interchange - better known as Spaghetti Junction.

Back then "Spaghetti Junction" was a term that put the fear of God into older drivers like my dad. He was far more at ease negotiating his Ford Anglia around the nation's B roads. Unravelling pasta-style motorway mergers was his worst nightmare, in a world with no satellite guidance and maps the size of bed sheets. To make matters worse, his navigator (my mum) was more interested in solving crossword puzzles than giving clear directions.

When my dad set off that morning he looked as grim as death. This is exactly how my friend Janet looks now that she's facing Spag (shorter to write but just as scarily confusing to the uninitiated). Her granddaughter, Jemima, is staying for the weekend and she's brought her English homework. "Her teacher says it will help with her end-of-year tests," Janet says. She checks the grammar police aren't hiding behind the sofa and (with no hint of irony) adds, "Only it's like a foreign language to me."

She follows me into the kitchen where I put the kettle on. "Spag is just an acronym used by teachers," I say. "It's short for spelling, punctuation and grammar. …

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