Mind Your Language

Mind your languagerss

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


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


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 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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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