Mind Your Language

Mind your languagerss

On the cusp: a cliche with a hidden astrological side

27 June 2015

‘A stalker who dressed a pillow “mannequin” in his ex’s nurse’s uniform, then sent her a picture, has been told he is “on the cusp” of jail,’ reported the Scottish… Read more

What kind of life-form boasts that it can ‘speak human’?

20 June 2015

The next Labour leader will have to be able to speak human, said a piece in the Observer. This, it argued, is because Ed Miliband was taunted for always speaking… Read more

Trigger warning: this is an article about the word ‘trigger’

13 June 2015

A notion is going about that, just as readers of film reviews receive spoiler alerts, so readers of anything should get a trigger warning. Otherwise something nasty in the woodshed… Read more

The rise and rise of the brain fade

6 June 2015

‘Aa-aah,’ groaned my husband, ‘we fade to grey.’ He had never been much of a Young Romantic, even when Visage was vigorous. I had merely told him that Oxford Dictionaries… Read more

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The real contest at Eurovision: worst lyric

30 May 2015

Like a reluctantly remembered nightmare, last week’s Eurovision Song Contest already seems very distant. But, in the manner of the Sand people in Star Wars, the nations of Eurovision will… Read more

Mind your language: Heritage this and heritage that

23 May 2015

Benidorm has applied for World Heritage status. To achieve this, says Unesco, a site must have ‘outstanding universal value’ in one of ten natural or cultural categories. Perhaps Benidorm is… Read more

That irritating use of ‘progressive’ is more than a century old

16 May 2015

I was interested by the widespread annoyance at the use of progressive by the lefty parties before the election. Irritation is not the essence of a love of language (philology),… Read more

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Don’t want a Princess Charlotte? Try Violant, Fatima, Davina, Senna…

9 May 2015

It could have been much worse. Someone had pointed out that among the new baby’s ancestors was Queen Violant of Hungary, which would make a splendid name. If that sounds… Read more

English cities don’t have quarters – whatever the executives say

2 May 2015

‘No quarter given,’ yelled my husband as he stabbed at a cushion with his stick, spoiling the cavalier effect a little by catching his foot in the loose rug, about… Read more

Does the English language need a Norwegian lesson?

25 April 2015

‘Ten Norwegian phrases that don’t exist in English but should,’ said the headline. So I had a little look, as the writer on the internet, one Kenneth Haug, intended. Here’s… Read more

Why do politicians go potty for ‘passion’?

18 April 2015

‘I long for spontaneous passion but I will never get it with my husband because I think he has Asperger syndrome,’ wrote a reader of the Sun to Deidre last… Read more

Nick Clegg at Westminster School

Nick Clegg’s public-school insult

11 April 2015

Married to a public-school man (I almost said boy) for many a long year, I can’t bring myself to disqualify politicians for that crime alone. But during last week’s party… Read more

The new Fowler still won’t grasp the nettle on ‘they’

4 April 2015

I’ve been having a lovely time splashing about in the new Fowler. It has been revised by Jeremy Butterfield, an OUP lexicographer. There’s a new usage in it that I… Read more

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Where ‘poop’ came from

28 March 2015

Danny Alexander recounted in the Diary last week his daughter’s efforts in making unicorn poop. This is something of a historic marker. Most members of the cabinet in previous generations… Read more

(Photo: Getty)

The lost words of John Aubrey, from apricate to scobberlotcher

21 March 2015

Hilary Spurling found a certain blunting of the irregularities of John Aubrey’s language in Ruth Scurr’s vicarious autobiography of the amiable man (Books, 14 March). It is true that his… Read more

Are you negatively impacted by business-speak? It’s time to escalate

14 March 2015

Maureen Finucane of Richmond, Surrey, wonders whether there is any branch of public service not infected by Orwellian Newspeak. In a letter to the editor (Spectator, 28 February), she explained… Read more

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