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Mind Your Language

Mind your languagerss

A bitter struggle with the dictionary

30 August 2014

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ is one of husband’s stock phrases — jokes he would think them — in this case trotted out if anyone says, of the weather, ‘Bitter’.… Read more

What’s humanitarian about a humanitarian crisis?

23 August 2014

‘Our first priority,’ David Cameron said this week, ‘has of course been to deal with the acute humanitarian crisis in Iraq.’ One knows what he means, but isn’t humanitarian an… Read more

Is Boris Johnson standing for Parliament — or running for it?

16 August 2014

‘Boris Johnson broke cover yesterday to declare that he will run for parliament,’ the Times reported last week. The Mirror had him running too. The Independent and the Guardian had… Read more

Krispy Kreme doughnuts

Should you be prejudiced against ‘pre-’?

9 August 2014

‘Pre-diabetes is an artificial category with virtually zero clinical relevance,’ said an American professor in the Times. A friend of mine has even been told by the vet that her… Read more

The Conservative Party Annual Conference Concludes With The Prime Minister's Keynote Speech

The mystery of the missing Mrs

2 August 2014

I don’t much care for being called Wordsworth. Oh, the name is rather distinguished, though it came from my husband, but I mean that I don’t like to be referred… Read more

Does he have permission to be up there? Image: Getty

Does 'autonomy' mean anything any more?

26 July 2014

My husband is constantly amused by talk of patient autonomy — for people who want to have a limb lopped off to solve their feeling of body dysmorphia and so… Read more

toe

Origins of the toe-rag

19 July 2014

‘I am glad to say that I have never seen a toe-rag,’ said my husband, assuming, as unconvincingly as one would expect, the demeanour of Gwendolen from The Importance of… Read more

ane

Just how old-fashioned is Labour's 'cost of living' campaign?

12 July 2014

Labour’s appeal to the cost of living has a rather old-fashioned feel to it: as if the whole nation still heated water with a geyser over the bath and darned… Read more

(Photo: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty)

Diffuse, defuse and the damnably confused

5 July 2014

It’s funny how people hardly know what they are saying. I read recently of diplomats going to Riyadh ‘to diffuse tensions over anti-Islamic stickers’. Did the writer mean defuse? Probably.… Read more

The Egyptian goddess Isis

The bloody battle for the name Isis

28 June 2014

‘This’ll make you laugh,’ said my husband, looking up from the Daily Telegraph. For once he was right. It was a letter from the Pagan Federation complaining that the acronym… Read more

(Photo: MOHAMMED WESAM/AFP/Getty)

Terrorists still can't 'execute' anyone

21 June 2014

During the sudden advances of ISIS in Iraq, one visual image stood for their brutality. As the Daily Mail reported it, there was ‘a propaganda video depicting appalling scenes including… Read more

Why would a Danish queen say 'basta'?

14 June 2014

My husband heard me in the kitchen exclaim: ‘What would I do without you?’ He curiously imagined I was referring to him. But it was of you, dear readers, that… Read more

pkate

Square meals didn't start in Nelson's navy – but you could get one in a gold-rush town

7 June 2014

I never dare go with my husband to any restaurant that uses square plates or he will play up the horrors of these ceramic items, huffing and puffing and pretending… Read more

bra

The sinister new meaning of ‘support’

31 May 2014

When I asked my husband why paramedical professions were given to remaking the language in strange ways, he replied in a threatening tone ‘Whadya mean?’ I think he was in… Read more

‘Basta’ must be the Queen’s English — a Queen used it

24 May 2014

My chickens do not usually come home to roost so rapidly. Only a fortnight ago I wrote that ‘some people use basta in English, but to my ears it sounds like… Read more

How DO you pronounce 'Marylebone'? 

17 May 2014

‘Take a trip to Marylebone station,’ chanted my husband. ‘Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’ I had been to the station to take the rather nice Chiltern Railways… Read more

FRANCE-CULTURE-LAROUSSE-FILES

What the French now mean when they say ‘bugger’

10 May 2014

The French for tête-à-tête is one-to-one now, according to a new survey of English invaders by Alexandre des Isnards. Actually, only half of the 400 neologisms that M. Isnards has… Read more

Why –y? The evolution of a suffix

3 May 2014

Hitler was ‘dark, shouty, moustachioed’ in Churchill’s eyes, or rather, that was Jonathan Rose’s view of how Churchill saw Hitler, according to Sam Leith, writing in the books pages on… Read more

Dot Wordsworth: What is an astel?

26 April 2014

Dear old Ian Hislop was pottering around North Petherton, Somerset, on television, to talk about the Alfred Jewel, found nearby (where the king burnt the cakes) in 1693 by a… Read more

Dot

What's in a universe?

19 April 2014

‘So there are lots of universes besides ours,’ the ancient atomists concluded, in the brief account by Peter Jones (Ancient and modern, 29 March). ‘Dot Wordsworth,’ he added cheerfully, ‘will… Read more

Ping – a silly word with a heroic history

12 April 2014

In the search for the remains of flight MH370, a pulse signal was detected beneath the ocean. The BBC called it a ‘ping’, in inverted commas on its website and… Read more

Dot

Why did we ever spell jail gaol?

5 April 2014

‘Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200.’ said the Community Chest card in Monopoly. I was never sure what a Community Chest… Read more

When did we stop ‘tossing’ coins?

29 March 2014

What kind of scientists do school inspectors not need to be? ‘Inspectors don’t need to be rocket scientists.’ For what must we make sure that the school inspection regime is… Read more

When Google can't help you

22 March 2014

‘Ask your telephone,’ said my husband satirically when I made an innocent enquiry on a point of fact. My telephone was having a little rest, since it had run out… Read more

How 'de-escalate' escalated

15 March 2014

‘What we want to see,’ David Cameron said last week, ‘is a de-escalation.’ Or, as the Tanaiste of Ireland put it: ‘If the Russian authorities do not de-escalate this crisis,… Read more