Dot Wordsworth

Why I’m a convert to singular ‘they’

3 December 2016 9:00 am

‘When I asked the bank,’ said my husband, ‘they were no help at all.’ My attention was distracted from his…

Oxford dictionaries are talking nonsense on stilts about fear of clowns

26 November 2016 9:00 am

There’s something suspicious about the name for a fear of clowns which was on the shortlist of words of the…

The secrets of the Queen’s Sword of Mercy

19 November 2016 9:00 am

At the Queen’s Coronation, the Duke of Northumberland carried the Sword of Mercy called Cortana. I mention this for three…

Girl drinking hot tea and reading book in bed

Hygge: the most annoying word of the year

12 November 2016 9:00 am

‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand,’ said my husband, ‘it’s scented candles.’ Now, we have never knowingly harboured a…

No one is safe from ‘post-Brexit’

5 November 2016 9:00 am

Staring at a brown envelope, my husband said: ‘I’ll deal with that post-breakfast,’ and then laughed as though he had…

When jargon is essential

29 October 2016 9:00 am

I’m very glad I followed a friend’s recommendation to read The Bird of Dawning by John Masefield, an author neglected…

The origins of Marmite and Bovril

22 October 2016 9:00 am

‘How can Bovril be suitable for vegetarians?’ asked my husband. ‘Bo- comes from bos, Latin for an ox.’ He was…

Polari a ‘secret language’? Nonsense

15 October 2016 9:00 am

Of the contribution to English that Polari is claimed to have brought, perhaps naff is the most current-sounding. An older…

I was wrong about ‘critique’. You may be too

8 October 2016 9:00 am

‘Americans,’ said my husband in much the same tone that Betsey Trotwood said ‘Donkeys’. It was his way of explaining…

Home is where is the hearth is

1 October 2016 9:00 am

Home is where the heart is, but some poor languages have no word for ‘home’. For them, home is where…

Niche: an English word that turned into a French one

24 September 2016 9:00 am

Jonathan Swift, in his satirical poem ‘An Epistle to a Lady’, says modestly: ‘If I can but fill my Nitch,/…

What do you say to someone who is killing you?

17 September 2016 9:00 am

What do you say to someone who is killing you? It is seldom possible to decide in advance. We are…

Four Gruffalos, one language? The strange case of Scots

10 September 2016 9:00 am

I’d seen The Gruffalo in Latin, so I was delighted when Veronica showed me a version her daughter had been…

Where ‘taxi’ really came from

3 September 2016 9:00 am

Old Quentin Letts was on the wireless the other day asking ‘What’s the point of the London black cab?’ Between…

What the OED gets wrong about pelican pie

27 August 2016 9:00 am

Revisers of OED have made a pig’s ear of pelican pie, I fear. I’ve been reading for pleasure Peter Gilliver’s…

Who’s afraid of Chrononhotonthologos?

20 August 2016 9:00 am

When I ran out of space last week, I was about to mention the way in which some people relish…

Honorificabilitudinity: the very tall story of a very long word

13 August 2016 9:00 am

My husband told me with glee that Nicholas Byfield had a great big stone ‘like flint’ in his bladder, weighing…

Whatever happened to dustcarts?

6 August 2016 9:00 am

Bin lorries and garbage trucks have routed the old southern English term

Although its use goes back 500 years, we could do with less ‘wow!’ factor

30 July 2016 9:00 am

Veronica has become quite an addict of Twitter, just as the rest of the young are forsaking it. ‘It’s easy…

Words the Oxford English Dictionary struggles to define

23 July 2016 9:00 am

What is a bee? ‘A well-known insect,’ says the Oxford English Dictionary, passing the buck rather. Similarly, an ash is…

The gig economy and why steady jobs are more recent than you think

16 July 2016 9:00 am

In the same song where the brilliant lyricist Ian Dury gave the world the couplet, ‘I could be a writer…

It’s not sexist to say ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’

9 July 2016 9:00 am

Bustle, an online newspaper ‘for and by women’, has published ‘six common phrases you didn’t know were sexist (that you’ll…

Why the plural of ‘referendum’ must be ‘referendums’

2 July 2016 9:00 am

‘One referendum, two referenda,’ chanted my husband. ‘No, no, it’s a gerund. The English plural is referendums,’ interrupted Veronica, red…

Do you know the meaning of Burchfield’s eight hard words?

25 June 2016 8:00 am

I was humiliated in trying to make out the meaning of eight hard words. See how you do: claustration, edulcoration,…

The original Little Englanders were anti-imperialists

18 June 2016 9:00 am

In the art of insult, the sting lies in the adjective, no matter how derogatory the noun. So it is…