Words of Expectation



These are the words of expectation
These are the words of success expectation
From a pleasing mug
From a pleasing pan (2)
Every now and then I would like to try something like this
It is the modicum of my career (3)
[I would like at the bottom of my..] (4)

These are the words of expectation
These are the words of success expectation
[Middle right or to the left
I have tears I shed tears
And I am here to enable everybody..
The whole world is large, and whatever it is
The whole trend is effective
Whether middle, right or to the left
I have tears, I shed fears, I have tears, I have fears
And I am here to enable everybody to say yes, no
Or I don't know even
Like "Leicester Polytechnic
Is scheisse, is scheisse" (5)

These are the words of success expectation
These are the words of dead direction
[Clubs for the storks
The vision is top of the clubs
Paddy McGinty's goat
] (6)
I would like deep down
At the bottom of my odour, lingering, my heart and soul
To see the government wrecked
And my LPs roll
[The government's right and my LPs wrong]

These are the words of success expectation
These are the words of complete disorientation
Think of him I was in a fix
But I show you now get out of it
Looks like an A1 predic.  (7)
But I'll worm worm right out of it
I'm the head wrangler (8)

Day will come and it won't be long
When the roof of my mouth sticks to the tip of my tongue (9)
I'm the head wrangler

The trial's drawn out and long
When the cell door slams I won't be the one
I'm the head wrangler

I'm proud of the way I've avoided prison
If we carry on like this we're gonna end up like King Crimson (10)
I'm the head wrangler

To please is a curse, and worse
At parties I'm bitter
Get presented
Am bitter - a civilian policeman (11)
Five smiles - I'm bitter
Get presented
With the pence, the reckless pence
Go to aid Halifax copter (12)
To please is the curse and nurse
To please is the curse at worst
I'm the head wrangler

Think of him I was in a fix
But I'll show you now get out of it
Looks like an A1 predicament
But I'll worm my way right out of it
I'm the head wrangler

These are the words of dead direction

Wrap it up.


1. This song was a Peel recording in 1983, and was officially released on the "Kimble" single in 1992. Huckleberry identies the phrase in the comment section below:

"'Words of expectation' is an old expression used in commercial law, especially shipping, meaning a statement describing something expected to be delivered under a contract, but which is not contractually binding. Maybe MES picked it up during his time as a shipping clerk."

In an 1873 case, McConnel v. Murphy, a precedent was set when the judges of the superior court in Quebec ruled that a promise to deliver spars containing the words "say about" (as in "say about 600") constituted words of expectation rather than a binding contract for the stated amount, and thus the seller was not liable for damages when a lesser number was delivered for sale. Thus, words of expectation are a rough estimate. If MES was indeed aware of this usage, this casts a humorous light on the narrator's "words of success expectation," as he would be promising something approximating success without guaranteeing success itself. It is arguable that the only alternative to success is its term complement, failure (since a lesser success is, after all, still a success); if we followed this interpretation all the way down the line, we'd be forced to conclude that the titular "words" are actually meaningless! It may seem far-fetched to think this is what MES has in mind; on the other hand, in the light of this interpretation the line below "the modicum of my career" (see note 3), which seems at first blush to be simply nonsensical, suddenly becomes humorously nonsensical. This kind of emergent coherence is certainly a kind of confirmation, although certainly not a conclusive one, for an interpretation. 

AA points out that this line appears in live versions: ''A knowledge of the far east gives one a certain double vision.''

Some more:

Why did you take that corny stuff I love so much and make it hip?
Everything must be on a plate for you
Everything must be like EEC for you...

And after some stuff I can't quite make out:

Your vision is a chit, a receipt for the cloaks
A receipt for your coat
A happy groat
Paddy McGinty's goat...

See note 6 for McGinty...


2. These lines may suggest that MES is speaking as a character rather than straightforwardly in the first person; it is odd for someone to refer to their own words as issuing from a "pleasing" countenance, although it is possible. 


3. MES has never been afraid to misuse words, although here, as elsewhere, it isn't clear whether this is intentional misuse or just negligence. "Modicum" means a small or moderate amount, although I think it is almost always used to mean the latter. Of course, this song is a small portion of Smith's career, although not really a moderate amount. If we consider "words of expectation" as a term of art (see note 1 above), however, the phrase points out the nullity of the title phrase--a "modicum" of a career is then something that falls just short of success (and this would be failure, would it not?).  


4. The bracketed lyrics are a second, somewhat distorted, vocal line (also by Smith). The primary vocal line is also slightly distorted, although less so than the secondary line, and sounds a bit distant; the sound becomes cleaner with the line "The whole world is large."


5. Scheisse is German for "shit." Leicester Polytechnic, which became De Montfort University in 1992, is in the East Midlands of England, placing it a bit outside of MES's bailiwick. It is a highly respected research institution. The Fall played gigs at the Leicester Polytechnic Arena on 1/31/81, 3/24/82, and 11/19/83, the last coming the better part of a year after the inaugural performance of "Words of Expectation" (1/16/83 at Warehouse in Leeds) but a few weeks before the Peel session at which the song was recorded. It seems likely that the statement about Leicester Polytechnic refers to the venue rather than the institution as a whole (as we will see below). The phrase seems to be offered as an example of the kind of self-expression the narrator wants to "enable" so it isn't clear in this context whether MES is stating his own opinion, the opinion of the narrator, the imputed opinion of someone addressed by the narrator, or just a neutral example of saying "no" (as in "yes, no, or I don't know even") in which the content is unimportant. However, the Fall fanzine The Biggest Library Yet published a "lost interview" with MES which contains the following tidbits (thanks to Davey B on the Fall online forum):

What is the most obscene thing you can think of?

Too horrid to relate, but:
a) Culture Club lyrics and thoughts
b) Howard Jones lyrics
c) one more canned UK pseudo-beer
d) Having to play Leicester Poly for 3rd time

This would be the 11/19/83 gig, which must have been fresh in Smith's mind on December 12th when the Fall recorded the song for John Peel. The interview, by the way, is labeled as being from 1983, but MES refers to Leigh Bowery's performance in Hey! Luciani in his next answer; the play had its debut outing in 1986, so the interview must be wrongly dated. The Fall did not play Leicester Polytechnic again until 1987, which was probably subsequent to the interview above, especially since it is unlikely MES would still be grousing about his third gig at Leicester after his fourth. 

A possible explanation of the slight against Leicester is provided by Callsign 5XX on the Fall online forum:

The problem with Leicester Polytechnic arose when a local female journalist tried to seduce MES during an interview, which upset Brix & Mark. The next tour missed Leicester, but it's strong fanbase was catered for by the relatively nearby Loughborough University booking. 

It seems unlikely to me, however, that MES (or anyone) would still be complaining about a venue at least three years after a gig because he was hit on by a journalist. 

At one point it was reportedly written into the handbook of the booking committee that they had to book the Fall every year. See Dan's comments #13-15 below for more on Leicester Polytechnic.

This bit doesn't always appear; see the 1983-02-12 version from Rotterdam, where the line here is "Presentation, mode of presentation/These are the words of success expectation" followed by the bit about the "pleasing mug." This version also includes the line ''A knowledge of the far east gives one a certain double vision" (thanks to AA).


6. "Paddy McGinty's Goat" is an Irish folk song, in which the goat of the title has various (mis)adventures. The nefarious drug dealer of "Pat-Trip Dispenser" is named Pat McGinty, perhaps a pseudonym inspired by the goat ("Paddy" is a diminutive form of "Patrick").


7. "Predic." is short for "predicament," as is confirmed below. According to Richard Gardner: "Seems to me that MES is referring to the A1 motorway. This is a road that links the North and South which the band would have used while touring."


8.   A wrangler is someone in charge of herding horses, although it can also mean a disputatious or quarrelsome person. The leader of a team of wranglers is indeed referred to as the "head wrangler"; witness the following job posting for the "Girl Scouts of the Missouri Heartland":

"The Head Wrangler coordinates and supervises all riding activities to facilitate the achievement of a safe, effective riding program."

Of course, it is unlikely that the Girl Scouts are an appropriate reference for the connotations, however ironic, MES intends the phrase "head wrangler" to carry.  

The phrase has echoes of the American Old West and the general bad-assedness that one associates with that whole scene. Etymologically the word comes from a Germanic root meaning to wrestle or struggle, and is related to ringen from which the English "wring" derives, so there is enough of a hint of torsion in the etymology of the word that it chimes with the previous line's "worm right out of it."

John in the comments adds another twist: MES "wrangles" our brains (whatever that means).


9. One would expect the opposite, the tongue sticking to the palate, since this way we can't help but think that if the tongue moves, the palate will move with it, rather than vice versa. "Tongue" almost rhymes with "long," which  may be the only explanation needed for this inversion, but at the same time it doesn't strike me as unwarranted or sloppy, since MES delights in such small subversions of sense.


10. The lyrics have been drifting a bit--after proclaiming the words to be indicative of "complete disorientation," the narrator muses for awhile about how he will get out of an unspecified "fix," which either literally or figuratively will end up with someone who is not the narrator doing time. At this point it seems to me that there is a sharp break; the lyrics are speciously tied together with the partial rhyme on "prison" and "Crimson," but ending up like King Crimson is probably not an alternative dire outcome to prison, but rather another thought altogether. King Crimson is of course the famous British progressive rock band, and MES may be referring to the length of the song. However, King Crimson had recently moved in a more New Wave-inspired direction with their albums Discipline and Beat, which contained a lot of shorter songs, and "The Sheltering Sky," the longest song on either album, sits at 8:22, which is certainly not out of the Fall's range. In fact, "And This Day" at 10:08 is the longest song by either band in this era, and the early 80s Fall actually have a handful that top "The Sheltering Sky." Aside from the album-side-length suite "Lizard," which clocks in at 23:25, King Crimson, at least as of 1983, had recorded no studio songs longer than 13 minutes, whereas the Fall at this point had topped out with the aforementioned 10 minute "And This Day," so there is not much of a gap in terms of song length between the bands. And the King Crimson line comes in at 5:26, after which the Fall indeed carry on for another 3:48. Admittedly, however. I am not sure what else the line could mean (there doesn't seem to be much qualitative musical resemblance to King Crimson, the members of King Crimson were never in prison, etc.). 

In the comments below, John writes: "In live performances, he expand[s] on King Crimson and includes bands he either might like or might hate, like Echo and the Bunnymen, Fad Gadget, Wah[!] Heat, Duran Duran, Genesis, [and] Joy Division." Martin adds that he has also mentioned Crass.


11. From a 1992 interview with the NME, in which MES interviews I, Ludicrous ("WH" below is singer William Hung) :

MES: "Your song, 'C2's In Vans' - what are C2s? Is that from the Civil Service?"
WH: "Market research. It's a socio-economic grouping, they're skilled labourer."
MES: "I'm a B summat."
WH: "B is your professional classes, junior management. "
MES: "Oh, I'm definitely not a B then. Although I am a professional."
WH: "C1 is sort of someone who manages their own business and D is an unskilled labourer.
MES: "So what are you beggars, E? Ha ha ha!"
WH: "It's all for advertising. Lager companies aim their advertising at C2s."
MES: "You can see it, thematic C3 advertising. They have a violent film then they have a violent advert. These C2s are getting very clever, gradually taking over. That's why I dress like a policeman, so they don't come up to you. It's getting like that in Manchester - I was brought up not to stare but they stare at you, these workmen. I've just had me house decorated and I'm seriously thinking of becoming a serial killer of bleeding workmen, I think they're a bleeding disgrace. Yelling at women all the time, that's encouraged by adverts.

C2s refer to the taxonomy of social class devised by the National Readership Survey, an organization of advertizers and magazine and newspaper publishers (see also ). C3 may be a joke or a colloquial derivation of a further category, or just a slip on MES's part--it isn't clear to what extent he knows the taxonomy here, but he uses it later in "Middle Class Revolt"--either he's playing dumb, or he gets introduced to it here. The categories are as follows:


Social class

Chief income earner's occupation


upper middle class

Higher managerial, administrative or professional


middle class

Intermediate managerial, administrative or professional


lower middle class

Supervisory or clerical and junior managerial, administrative or professional


skilled working class

Skilled manual workers


working class

Semi and unskilled manual workers


Those at the lowest levels of subsistence

Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners and others who depend on the welfare state for their income

Thanks to Mark.



12. The English Halifax is in West Yorkshire, and is only about 30 miles from Manchester. A "Halifax chopper" is mentioned in "My New House." There is not a brand of that name, but Stephen Parkin helpfully made the following remarks in the comment section under that song: "I can't find an example on Youtube, but I remember TV adverts for the Halifax Building Society in the 80s that showed a field with 100 or more people standing in the shape of a giant 'X,' shot from a helicopter; I think the helicopter may have been shown landing as well." As Mark and others have pointed out, he may be thinking of a Barratt Homes ad, though. What does it mean to be presented with a reckless pence which goes to aid Halifax copter? Here I must confess I am lost, but the lyrics seem to take a more negative turn here for the man with the "pleasing mug" with a wish to enable everyone to express themselves who was introduced at the beginning. 



Comments (26)

  • 1. John | 01/08/2013
In live performances, he expand on King Crimson and includes bands he either might like or might hate, like Echo and the Bunnymen, Fad Gadget, Wah Heat, Duran Duran, Genesis, Joy Division.
  • 2. Huckleberry | 29/08/2013
"Words of expectation" is an old expression used in commercial law, especially shipping, meaning a statement describing something expected to be delivered under a contract, but which is not contractually binding. Maybe MES picked it up during his time as a shipping clerk.
  • 3. John | 17/10/2013
I have always thought "I'm a head wrangler" means what we think of him: a man who wrangles our brains.
  • 4. Martin | 31/01/2014
To John's list above (note 1) can be added Crass.
  • 5. dannyno | 20/02/2014
"I have tears, I shed fears, I have tears, I have fears"

This made me think of the group "Tears for Fears", and then to thinking about Arthur Janov's primal scream therapy, which Tears for Fears, or one of them, were very much into.
  • 6. dannyno | 29/06/2014
The Quebec case went to the Privy Council:
  • 7. Mark | 02/07/2014
Another vague "I seem to recall" re: the lines "At parties I'm bitter / Get presented / Am bitter - a civilian policeman" - I seem to recall it refers to MES not wanting to admit he was in a band when introduced to people he didn't know at parties. When prompted with the "What do you do?" question, he would state he was in the police force instead. (I wish I'd kept a note of where I heard this stuff.)
  • 8. Pete | 26/11/2014
I see you've got 1983 for the Kimble single, up there - shouldn't that be 1993?
  • 9. Mark | 24/12/2014
I wonder whether the "Halifax copter" line was a mistaken reference to this: http://youtu.be/daSqvhEcfDM
  • 10. bzfgt | 01/01/2015
Is that something I already changed, or am I missing it? I think I changed a date on this page recently...
  • 11. Martin | 21/12/2016
Just a few words about the debut performance of the song (Leeds, 16 January 1983), in case this should help in dating some of the references. No mention of Leicester Polytechnic (and as far as I can tell no mention in subsequent gigs either), but Paddy McGinty's goat is there, as are King Crimson and the Halifax (heli)copter.

With reference to the latter and the mentions in notes and comments above about various adverts being the source for the line, well, it's hard to find dates for these commercials, but most of them seem to me to date from the 70s; I've no idea if they were still running on British TV around the the time of the song itself; MES is usually pretty contemporary in his references, but this doesn't prove anything one way or the other. At least, I don't think it does.
  • 12. Zack | 13/01/2017
"Think of him I was in a fix / But I'll show you now get out of it" - MES later used this vocal cadence on "Gut of the Quantifier."
  • 13. dannyno | 10/12/2017
Notes on Leicester.

John Robb's book Death To Trad Rock, has a chapter on the band Yeah Yeah Noh, who emerged c..1985 from a "mini-scene" in Leicester (they were from Oadby near Leicester). Their guitarist John Grayland was the editor of the city's "Printhead" fanzine (the title of which is perhaps borrowed from the 1979 Fall song).

Grayland was a big Fall fan. See: http://www.angelfire.com/pop2/graycroft/jenkinsint.html and http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/magsitepages/Article/6848.

Grayland and Derek Hammond formed a band in 1983 with some members of Deep Freeze Mice and (according to Robb's book, p.365), "made a tape called "Backing tape for Mark E Smith impersonators" ".

Yeah Yeah Noh's had material released by Mark Riley's In Tape label.

And there's this amusing snippet, a quote from Hammond: "John Grayland was involved in the Poly entertainments booking - a motion was passed that they had to book the Fall every year."

Which maybe gives some context to some of the lyrics. I could do with finding Grayland's dates at Leicester poly.
  • 14. dannyno | 10/12/2017
I found Grayland on Facebook and LinkedIn. He studied Maths at Leicester Poly, apparently from 1980.
  • 15. dannyno | 10/12/2017
From: http://www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk/magsitepages/Article/6848

PB: By 1980/1981, post punk had kicked in....

DH: That was what we were into, John used to go to gigs all around the country. He was a bit more advanced than me, and he had already seen loads of bands. I had by then seen less but that's what we talked about a lot.

His number one band at the time by a mile was the Fall. I wasn't so sure about the Fall. I liked Adam and the Ants, so I used to go around his house, and he would smoke dope, and I would watch and play music. He liked Funkadelic and Teardrop Explodes. Those were John's influences, all the contemporary post punk stuff. He had everything and I taped it

PB: After listening to the records, did you decide to form a band?

DH: No, John always had a guitar, and he had an ambition to learn to play it, but he used to put on bands on at the poly, He was on the committee, and this is true – it was written in the Leicester Poly handbook to book the Fall every year.

So maybe that's why The Fall played Leicester Poly three times in a row - by 1983, of course, Grayland would have graduated.
  • 16. richard | 18/11/2018
"A1 Predicament"

Seems to me that MES is referring to the A1 motorway.
This is a road that links the North and South which the band would have used while touring.
  • 17. dannyno | 29/11/2018
I think it's "A1" as in "first class", pinnacle or peak, looking at the context: "an A1 predic(ament)" would therefore be a very difficult top level predicament. I don't think a reference to the road makes sense at that point, but your mileage may vary ha ha ha.
  • 18. bzfgt (link) | 22/12/2018
Dan, an "A1 predicament" means "a humdinger of a predicament", basically. So yes I agree.
  • 19. Jules | 11/05/2019
Note 7 and 16 above, there was no A1 motorway in the UK at this time, there's the M1 motorway and the A1 which at the time was a dual carriageway for most of it's extensive mileage. They both run North -South but on opposite sides of the country. Sections of the A1 have now been upgraded to motorway standard but not at the time this song was written, apart from this piece of useless trivia I don't think A1 refers to the road but to the quality as in something being the at the top i.e. the biggest predicament there could be.
  • 20. bzfgt (link) | 28/06/2019
Yeah I agree, the motorway reference has been expunged.
  • 21. AA | 12/08/2019
Love this add-lib (or earlier lyrics) from the Rejkavik show: ''A knowledge of the far east gives one a certain double vision.''
  • 22. bzfgt (link) | 16/08/2019
Great line. Which Rjkaziksd show?
  • 23. ton | 18/08/2019
says it's Rotterdam 83

  • 24. Robert | 22/08/2019
On the live version from 12 February 1983 in Rotterdam (on Youtube here) he very clearly sings "to see the government wrecked and my LPs roll". On the Peel session it's less clear but it seems to me that's what he says there also.
  • 25. bzfgt (link) | 23/08/2019
Yeah, "roll" is clear there. It would be good to transcribe a lot of the variants...I put a little in above...
  • 26. Martin | 15/05/2020
Here's a variant, from Chicago 24 April 1983:

"A return to the cheap and insolent of former times
These are the words of over familiarisation
These are the words of success expectation
I’m from Europe and I would like at the bottom of my lingering odour (type?) heart and soul
See the governments wrecked and my LPs roll
These are the words of success expectation
From a European state he sits by the fireplace
Lickspittle synthesiser idiot waiting for next holiday"
These are the words of success expectation
A knowledge of the Far East gives one a certain double vision
These are the words of eastern disorientation, eastern disorientation
Why did you take that corny stuff I loved so much and make it hip?
Why did you take that corny stuff I loved so much and make it hip?
Everything must be on a plate for you
Everything must be in the common market for you

Add a comment