COLUMN: February 23, 2011

READERS of the Liverpool Daily Post are probably unfamiliar with the television series The X-Factor. Our research shows that you are too busy listening to Radio 3 or disproving Fermat’s Last Theorem to watch that sort of guff. Thankfully, that’s what I am here for.

Then take it from me that one of the most beloved/derided acts on this talent show in the past few years was the brother-sister duo Same Difference. If you can imagine a camp blonde Donny and Maria Osmond, but much more sinister, you wouldn’t be far off.

Every week I would watch the group and hate them. Hate is not too strong a word, I would despise them. Not because of their perky smiles. Or of their perky dancing. Or of their perky maulings of perfectly decent songs.

It was their name: “Same Difference,” a phrase which, when falling upon my ears, provokes the same sort of physical revulsion as a Michael Winner lapdance. It makes my ears retract into my skull and my spine fuse.

Imagine hook-handed militant cleric Abu Hamza grumpily having to write the line “Some aspects of Western life are actually quite admirable” on a blackboard 50 times WITHOUT CHALK, while Janet Street-Porter sings Delibes’s Flower Duet* with a Dalek. That is what it sounds like to me.

I refuse to believe that I am the only person wound up by a particular phrase, although I am happy to accept that I am uniquely troubled by “same” and “difference.” I know that you, gentle reader, will have your own bugbear phrases. And I apologise if your bugbear is the word “bugbear.”

I am happy to use these words separately, but they vex me severely when used in conjunction. Partly, I think it is because of the occasions on which the phrase is uttered.

This is when somebody has used faulty facts to back up a spurious argument. And when they are caught bang to rights, they use the phrase to gloss over their error, rather than addressing it.

“Churchill was a disgrace. All those men being killed in the trenches while he’s in 10 Downing Street just because he was eating a Big Mac and listening to his iPod . . . ”

“Erm, you know Churchill was Prime Minister in World War II?”

“Yeah, well, World War I, World War II, same difference, innit?”

“And they didn’t have Big Macs then. It was all Spam in those days.”

“All right, a Big Mac made out of Spam and Camp coffee. Same difference.”

“And – and I don’t want you to think I’m any sort of history anorak – as far as I know they didn’t have iPods either.”

“Oh, all right! An earlier model of MP3 player. Same diff . . . argh!”

That’s the point at which the hurting starts.

But it’s not just the intent behind the phrase, it is the phrase itself. It is utterly meaningless. Let’s just examine it for a moment. Same difference. Same, which denotes an identical nature. Difference, which denotes a non-identical nature.

How in the name of Patrick Moore can something be both the same AND different? It’s a paradox like hot ice, cool jazz or a good Jennifer Aniston movie. Only the sort of person who would gloss over errors by saying “Same difference” would use the phrase “Same difference.”

A family friend used to use the phrase “same horse, different jockey” which at least addresses the paradox, if not the faulty facts.

So if you are in my presence and you want to backtrack while keeping your dignity intact, then I will allow you to use that phrase. And I promise I won’t use any words or phrases you find odious.

What do you mean, “it’s Marie Osmond, not Maria”? Oh, well, same difference.


*That’s the old British Airways theme tune for viewers of The X-Factor.


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