Dot Wordsworth rss

How long is it since anniversaries stopped being measured in years?

7 March 2015

‘You must promise to be with us for our silver wedding D.V. which will be in four years,’ wrote Queen Victoria in February 1861 to her daughter Vicky in Prussia,… Read more

‘Robust’, busted

28 February 2015

‘Heart of Oak are our ships, Jolly Tars are our men,’ shouted my husband unconvincingly. He has taken to doing this every time someone on air says robust, and that… Read more

Dodginess from Tacitus to Ed Miliband

21 February 2015

‘I hate Jammie Dodgers,’ said my husband staring disdainfully at a biscuit kindly tucked into his coffee saucer at an after-church gathering. I’m glad only I heard. But the fact… Read more

That annoying ‘likely’ is more old-fashioned than American

14 February 2015

What, asks Christian Major of Bromley, Kent, do I think of ‘this new, I assume American, fad for using the word likely as an adverb’, as in the great Taki’s… Read more

Ha! vs Hahaha: the surprisingly subtle world of Twitter style

7 February 2015

I don’t know if you tweet — No! Don’t turn over, I’m not going to get all techie. I do not tweet, but my husband does, voluminously. I won’t betray… Read more

(Photo: Getty)

What Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t understand about ‘coloured’

31 January 2015

Benedict Cumberbatch apologised at length: ‘devastated’, ‘shaming’, ‘offended’, ‘inappropriate’. What had he done? Been caught in a compromising situation or stolen from a shop? No he had used the word… Read more

Existential threat: the birth of a cliché

24 January 2015

In the endless game of word association that governs vocabulary, the current favourite as a partner of existential is threat. They make an odd couple. Max Hastings managed to get… Read more

The changing meaning of 'prolific', from Orwell to the Premier League

17 January 2015

I read somewhere recently of a Soho artist who was a ‘prolific drinker’. The meaning is clear, but hasn’t the word been taken for a walk too far from the… Read more

What parenting meant in 1914

10 January 2015

‘Not still War and Peace!’ exclaimed my husband on 1 January during the all-day Tolstoy splurge on Radio 4. In reality he was glad to complain, as if it made him… Read more

How ‘data’ became like ‘butter’

3 January 2015

Someone on Radio 4 said she had heard about the sexism of Grand Theft Auto on ‘Women’s Hour’. It is called Woman’s Hour, though the other is possible, on the… Read more

PARAGUAY-CHRISTMAS

The curious language of Christmas carols

13 December 2014

I could never understand as a little girl why we sang: ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.’ I knew what a manger was, and I knew that… Read more

Control

6 December 2014

In his speech on immigration last week, David Cameron said a couple of funny things. I’m not talking about the politics. Heaven forbid. I mean the language. Why did he… Read more

Why ‘respect’ is the last thing we should want from politicians

29 November 2014

‘Respect!’ cried my husband, drop-kicking a cushion with a picture of the Queen Mother holding a pint of beer on it (a present from Veronica) across the drawing-room. I might… Read more

Does Joey Essex know what ‘reem’ actually means?

22 November 2014

Joey Essex is a celebrity who appeared in the ‘scripted reality’ programme The Only Way is Essex, named not after him but the well-known county. He is 24, born in… Read more

You'll have someone's eye out with that! Photo: Guildhall Library & Art Gallery/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Why must every ‘accident’ be an ‘incident’?

15 November 2014

I had thought that the saying ‘Accidents will happen in the best regulated families’ was a vulgar reference to children born unexpectedly. The Oxford English Dictionary records accident being used… Read more

pig

Should ‘suicide’ mean pig-killing?

8 November 2014

There was a marvellous man in Shakespeare’s day known as John Smyth the Sebaptist. ‘In an act so deeply shocking as to be denied by Baptist historians for two and… Read more

mon

Why you might not want corridors in your historical novel

1 November 2014

I read C.J. Sansom’s novel Dissolution on the train recently with pleasure. For an historical novel narrated in the 1530s, what was the author to do about language? He eschewed… Read more

The 150-mile long Ebola River is the headstream of the Mongala River in Congo. Picture: Getty

How Ebola got its name

25 October 2014

It should perhaps be called Yambuku fever, since that was the village in Zaire (as it was then, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) where it was identified in… Read more

ood

What’s good for the goose is bad for the proverb

18 October 2014

‘Goosey, goosey gander,’ my husband shouted at the television, like someone from Gogglebox. It’s not so much that he thinks the television real as that he thinks himself an unreal… Read more

post

The fascinating history of dullness

11 October 2014

At least I’ve got my husband’s Christmas present sorted out: the Dull Men of Great Britain calendar. It is no doubt intended ironically, as travelling the country photographing old pillar-boxes, for… Read more

UKIP Leader Nigel Farage And Mark Reckless Visit Rochester'

How did Mark Reckless get his surname?

4 October 2014

When I first heard ‘Wonderwall’ being played in a public house, in 1995 I suppose, I thought it was some unreleased Beatles record that had been just been discovered. The… Read more

Dot

Dot Wordsworth on language: Why do we call it ‘Islamic State’?

27 September 2014

I’m puzzled by the dropping of the one part of the name of the Islamic State that seems certain. That it is Islamic, many dispute. That it is a state… Read more

The rhetorical power of ‘never’, from Ian Paisley to King Lear

20 September 2014

He won’t be remembered as Lord Bannside, but Ian Paisley will be remembered for shouting: ‘Never, never, never, never.’ The fourth never was hardly a shout, by his standards, but… Read more

Knee-jerkers vs knee-tremblers

13 September 2014

A little joke by Paddy, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, turned upon something to be shunned. Conservative ministers, he said, had ‘indulged in a spasm of knee-jerking which would have made… Read more

‘Escalate’: an exciting new way to say ‘pass the buck’

6 September 2014

Shaun Wright, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, spoke to Sky television last week about how little he knew of sexual exploitation of young people in the area.… Read more