Voices: The Top 10 Top 10s of 2022

Nelson Mandela, pictured with Tony Blair in 1997, appears on our list of royalty who became elected leaders  (PA Archive)
Nelson Mandela, pictured with Tony Blair in 1997, appears on our list of royalty who became elected leaders (PA Archive)

A reader wrote in recently to ask what a “listicle” was. They suspected it was an Americanism, possibly because it sounds like popsicle. But actually it is just a combination of “list” and “article”, and here is one: a selection of 10 of my favourite Top 10s during the year. Thanks to all the contributors – as ever, I am merely the curator.

Soundbites that sound good on first hearing but when thought about are revealed to be total nonsense

1. “None of us is safe until all of us are safe.”

2. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

3. “He digs deepest who deepest digs.”

4. “Brexit means Brexit.”

5. The Ministerial Code.

6. “All political lives, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.”

7. “He was the future once.”

8. “The war to end war.”

9. “People not profit.”

10. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”


1. Asymmetric and Asymimperial.

2 Portable and Starboardable.

3. Banana and Bagrampa.

4. Blairite and Blairwrong.

5. Hereditary and Thereditary.

6. Hotel and Coldel.

7. Important and Exportant.

8. Indigo and Outdigo.

9. Quill and Quon’t.

10. Random and Walkdom.

Things you would expect to see more of based on childhood comics

1. Anvils.

2. People shaking their fists. Or saying, “Bah!”

3. Quicksand. Usually marked with warning signs.

4. Magnifying glasses.

5. Single palm tree on an improbably small island.

6. Huge pile of mashed potato with sausages sticking out of it.

7. Washing someone’s mouth out with soap and water.

8. Visible skeleton when someone has an electric shock.

9. Vacuum cleaner with a suck/blow switch.

10. Cucumber slices on eyes as a beauty treatment. Or a ribeye steak to cure a black eye.

MPs better known for other things

1. Geoffrey Chaucer.

2. Dick Whittington.

3. Francis Bacon.

4. Francis Drake.

5. John Donne.

6. Samuel Pepys.

7. Christopher Wren.

8. John Stuart Mill.

9. Isaac Newton.

10. Hilaire Belloc.

Things You Understand When They Are Explained But Forget Immediately

1. Hedge funds.

2. Bayesian probability.

3. The three-door problem. (On a game show, a car is behind one of three doors. You choose a door, and the host opens another door, which is empty. Should you now switch to the remaining door? Yes, but why?)

4. First and second cousins, once or twice removed.

5. The offside rule (exceptions apply).

6. Modern Monetary Theory.

7. How to use layer masks in Photoshop.

8. The square root of -1 and why it matters even though it doesn’t exist.

9. What is happening and who people are in whatever someone else is watching on TV.

10. Why the sky is blue.

Surprisingly recently invented foods

1. Fondue. Promoted by the Swiss Cheese Union in the 1930s.

2. Skimmed milk. Waste product of making butter, rebranded as a health food in the US in the 1940s.

3. Ploughman’s lunch. Invented by the UK Cheese Bureau to sell cheese in the 1950s.

4. Tamarillo. Tree tomato renamed in 1967. They are still a bit tomato-ey, though.

5. Sticky toffee pudding. Probably 1960s.

6. Ciabatta. Invented in Italy in 1982 to stop the invasion of French baguettes.

7. Chicken tikka masala. Glasgow, 1971. (Ali Ahmed Aslam, owner of the Shish Mahal and self-declared inventor of the dish, died this month.)

8. Tiramisu. First mentioned in a Canadian tourist guide in 1973, and not in Italian until 1980.

9. Kiwi fruit. Chinese gooseberries renamed in 1974.

10. Banoffee pie. 1970s.

Royalty who became elected leaders

1. Holy Roman Emperors. Elected by prince-electors, the greatest princes of the empire, mostly in Germany.

2. Napoleon III. Born heir to the king of Holland (Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother) before becoming the first elected president of France, 1848.

3. King Haakon VII and Queen Maud of Norway. Endorsed in a referendum in 1905, when the monarchy was restored on the dissolution of the union with Sweden.

4. Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia. King 1941-55 and 1993-2004; prime minister 10 times between 1945 and 1962; president 1975-76.

5. Seretse Khama of Botswana. King of the Bamangwato people who was elected president when Botswana gained independence in 1967.

6. Otto von Habsburg. Last crown prince of Austria-Hungary on the dissolution of the empire in 1918 (he was five), elected a member of the European parliament from West Germany in 1979.

7. Nelson Mandela. His great-grandfather, Ngubengcuka, was ruler of the Thembu kingdom, 1810-30.

8. Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha of Bulgaria. Dethroned in 1946, aged nine (his uncle was regent), he became prime minister in 2001.

9. Amarinder Singh. Maharaja of Patiala and chief minister of Indian Punjab, 2017-21.

10. Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known as MBZ. Ruler of Abu Dhabi, elected president of the United Arab Emirates by the monarchs of the other six emirates.

Extinct first names

Girls’ names that haven’t appeared in the Office for National Statistics dataset since 2000.*

1. Chastity.

2. Deirdre.

3. Ermintrude.

4. Evadne.

5. Glenys.

6. Hortense.

7. Lilias.

8. Margery.

9. Mervyn.

10. Senga.

And 10 disused boys’ names:

1. Beveridge.

2. Branwell.

3. Eustace.

4. Evelyn.

5. Garfield.

6. Hilary.

7. Melville.

8. Meredith.

9. Squire.

10. Torquil. Or Torcuil.

*The dataset omits names that are recorded only once or twice in a year, on grounds of confidentiality – so “extinct” means no more than two in any year since the turn of the century.

Fake George Orwell quotations

Guest-edited by Benedict Cooper: none of these appear in Orwell’s works.

1. “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

2. “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.”

3. “The people will not revolt. They will not look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s happening.”

4. “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.”

5. “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those who speak it.”

6. “To enforce the lies of the present, it is necessary to erase the truths of the past.”

7. “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

8. “It’s not a matter of whether the war is not real, or if it is, Victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous.”

9. “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”

10. “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Words known better in the UK than in the US

The opposite list, of words known better in the US, is less interesting because most of them are food.

1. Tombola, known by 97 per cent of British people and 17 per cent of Americans (from Italian tombolare, somersault).

2. Yob (backwards slang).

3. Gazump (Yiddish).

4. Abseil (German).

5. Naff (possibly from Polari).

6. Plaice (“not commercially available in the US”).

7. Judder.

8. Chiropody (US: podiatry).

9. Korma (from Urdu).

10. Bolshy, known by 85 per cent of British and 11 per cent of Americans (short for Bolshevik).

Previous years’ compilations are here: 2021;2020; 2019; 2018; 2017; and 2016