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to cause; to incite; to bring to pass
assemble
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Newsletter January 28 - 2008FREE email English course
My first task I suppose is to explain what on earth the title is all about. Let's start with one of these twins on its own: hush. As a verb it is used to tell someone to be quiet, in the nicest possible way, of course. You know what it's like when you are listening out for a particular sound and people, well-meaning enough as individuals on their own, continue babbling away when you want them all to stop making a noise. You could perhaps be an avid birdwatcher (known popularly as a 'twitcher') and you think, but you're not absolutely sure, you can hear the characteristic call of the great-crested whatever and that's when you say 'hush', which is a friendly way of asking them to stop talking. Then you can take the verb and make it phrasal by adding 'up'. If someone doesn't want anyone to know about a particular scandal in their lives, colourfully described sometimes as a 'skeleton in the cupboard', they try to suppress it, keep it secret or hush it up.

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No doubt over the next 11 months during the laborious process of choosing a replacement for George W Bush, there will be candidates up and down the land wanting to hush up bits of their past lives. I won't mention any names of course because I am aware of the passion for litigation in the USA. But I am wandering from the point and ought to come back to what our twins, 'hush hush' mean when they are side-by-side, together. They form an adjective suggesting great secrecy when referring to activities undertaken by spies or 'spooks' as we call them now. The sort of work carried out by the likes of James Bond and of course I am only referring to his official affairs as part of the Secret Service and not those involving the incredibly glamorous young women he just can't help meeting. Recently there was a recruitment drive in the UK to find more male spooks who wanted to work in this area and there was a huge response - I wonder why. Another expression to describe this type of work belonging more to the 19th century, somewhat in the style of Sherlock Holmes, is called 'cloak and dagger'. The idea was you wandered around or lurked disguising yourself in a cloak and when danger struck, out came the dagger.

Of course I suppose it's part of the human condition to enjoy a mystery, keep things dark, keeps things secret and even, as we say, keep them under our hat. And how we despise those who reveal everything, blurt things out, let the cat out of the bag and even spill the beans. What they should be doing is keeping their lips sealed and not going and doing the opposite, which is to blow the gaff.

Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, devices and methods were created so that your enemies wouldn't know what you were planning. Herodotus, the Greek historian who was active in the fifth century had to write everything on wax tablets because in those days everyone was very 'green' and when you'd written your stuff, you'd heat up the wax and start all over again on the wax tablet. Herodotus recorded the earliest example of what is known as steganography or secret writing. The Greeks apparently wrote messages on wooden boards and then covered them with wax so that the messages could not be read. Herodotus describes how a certain Histiaeus took his steganography a stage further and ordered one of his slaves to come and have a hair cut, a very close shave as it were. He then tattooed on the poor chap's shaved head a secret message intended for his son-in-law to warn him of an uprising. The slave was then told to take it easy for a week or so until his hair had grown back after which he set off with his 'covered' message and the intended recipient had to shave the head again and read the message. The sad thing is that the slave never knew what had been written on his head at all. All you could say really was that he had a lot on his mind!

As the centuries went by secret codes were invented and in the early part of the 20th century during the two world wars other methods were devised ranging from the use of pigeons carrying messages to the world of trickery and deception and what was called disinformation when you persuaded your enemy to accept false information as fact. Everyone during wartime is somewhat edgy - anxious and nervous. Certain expressions came into being during the Second World War. People were recommended not to talk to strangers in case they might give away vital information. They were told that Careless talk costs lives - what you say to someone might put someone else in danger. Another threatening warning was Even walls have ears. But the one I like best is a pun (a play on words) and I'll explain it. Keep as a verb can have two meanings: it can mean 'look after' in the sense of 'caring for' and it can also mean 'remain' The word mum can be a friendly word for 'mother' and it can also mean 'quiet'. So here we go and I do hope it raises a smile with you after all this because the full expression is: Be like dad and keep mum. Yes?

Later in the 20th century George Orwell wrote a novel entitled 1984, where the world is run solely by dictators and the one we hear about is Big Brother who watches you all day and every day. In fact every house and flat has a big TV screen that you can never turn off and which is a means of seeing what you are doing and saying. In fact there are even so called Thought Police, so you can imagine what they do for a living.

Nowadays we also have our close circuit cameras watching us to see whether we are misbehaving. In one city in the UK they have introduced a system whereby the camera not only watches you but even starts to talk to you saying things like: Don't throw rubbish on the ground. Pick it up and put it in the litterbin! Now that is spooky! When we switch on our computers, we have to use passwords to enter and are worried about whether a Trojan Horse will come galloping in and steal all our information. When we pay at the cash desk in the supermarket and use our credit card, we have to enter our PIN (personal identification number) and dread someone looking over our shoulder in case they are memorising our number. Oh dear, I really must stop worrying. I'll just have to stop talking right now or in the context of my letter I'll simply have to HUSH UP!

Best regards,
Alan Townend


Dear friend,
I'm sure you liked Alan's essay and as usual we look forward to hearing your feedback regarding the newsletter here on the forum.

Hush hushEnglish goes to America
How good are you at managing your time?All about poets
Figuratively speakingTake your time
Looking aheadMore haste, less speed
I didn't mean to do that, honestlyA bit of a laugh
Come fly with me 
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