Peter Rhodes on memorable words, a puzzling letter and the use and abuse of 'up to'

The latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock

Cometh the hour, cometh the memorable quote. Summing up the disaster of the collapsing apartment block in Florida and the massive rescue effort, the local mayor, Charles Burkett declared: “We do not have a resource problem. We have a luck problem.”

One snog and you're out. Matt Hancock knew the rules and paid the price, quitting as Health Secretary. But I couldn't help contrasting his solitary embrace with the industrial-scale chasing, hugging and face-to-face celebrating indulged in by hundreds of professional footballers and managers over the lockdown months who, despite endless warnings, seemed quite unable to keep their hands off each other.

The day after Hancock was forced to resign following That Photo of his office kiss in the Sun, Extinction Rebellion dumped horse manure outside a newspaper office in London and declared: “We are running out of time and the Press isn't holding the Government to account.” Do these people ever read a newspaper?

Have you noticed how the oldest phrase in advertising is cropping up in marketing the newest technology? We are assured that this or that electric car will cover “up to” 250 miles on a single charge or, after a five-minute charge, will keep on rolling for “up to” 60 miles. “Up to” is a much-loved staple of advertising copywriters because it allows you to use big figures in a meaningless way. Like the ad for shampoo which claims to cure “up to 100 per cent” of your dandruff. “Up to” ought to come with a warning: Beware of “up to” because all it actually means is “not as much as.”

Talking of meaningless gibberish, if you're a Green Flag customer trying to make sense of the vehicle-recovery company's latest letter – the one explaining the difference between having your policy administered by something called UKI or Green Flag Limited - you are not alone. I've been sent a paper copy plus two email versions and still don't understand it. From a number of confused comments online, I suspect this customer is closest to the truth: “It looks like a technical point that is irrelevant to the users, but which the powers-that-be have said you have to be advised of, even if the customers do not understand it, nor are they affected by it.” And thus a new noun is born to describe a collision of cobblers and lawyers: Greenflaggery.

We have bought our 16-month grandson his first ride-along toy – a bright yellow tractor. He loves it even if he has yet to figure out how to get into the seat without facing backwards. But how will history judge this innocent toy? Farmers, once national heroes, stand accused of pumping emissions into the atmosphere. How long before toy tractors become as politically incorrect as golliwogs?

Headline alert. Australia's biggest city is responding to a new variant of Covid-19. This is for the benefit of readers who saw: “Greater Sydney under lockdown” and assumed someone had been jailed.

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