Mind Your Language

Mind your languagerss

Saints still beat Game of Thrones for baby-naming – but maybe not Mohammed

29 August 2015

We reached peak Charlie in 2012, when 5,571 baby boys were given the name. There were only 4,642 last year. Perhaps the Paris massacre early this year will leave more… Read more

‘Asexual’ used to mean something even creepier than ‘Edward Heath’

22 August 2015

There was a time when my husband, who often addresses the television, would habitually react to Edward Heath’s appearance on the screen with the greeting ‘Hello, sailor.’ Last week, though,… Read more

GMB union annual conference - Dublin

Why Liz Kendall isn't close to qualifying as 'Taliban New Labour'

15 August 2015

Toxic virus or Taleban: it’s funny how the mild-mannered Liz Kendall has attracted for her Blairite associations the most violently pejorative terms. Hardly had the Labour leadership contest begun before… Read more

Where ‘big ask’ came from, and why it still sounds barbaric

8 August 2015

‘That’s unnecessarily crude,’ said my husband, turning momentarily from the television and improving the shining minute by setting the whisky glass chinking. (He takes ice in it.) ‘What? A “big… Read more

Why I hate ‘I love that…’

1 August 2015

I had never heard the Country (Red Dirt) singer Wade Bowen before, although his latest album Hold my Beer (Vol 1) has already sold 14,000 copies. On an earlier album, he… Read more

Pluto’s moon Charon is secretly a Charlene

25 July 2015

‘What about the moon Tracey?’ asked my husband facetiously when an astronomer on the wireless, talking of Pluto’s moon Charon, pronounced it ‘Sharon’. As usual, things turn out not to… Read more

Mind your language: Bugs, bugs, bugs

18 July 2015

If my husband were an insect it might well be a bug — a squat creature imbibing nutriment in liquid form. I had not taken much notice of bugs in an… Read more


The Spanish village that thought it was called ‘Kill Jews’

11 July 2015

A village has changed its name because it seemed offensive. But I think the villagers were under a misapprehension. The village is in Spain: Castrillo Matajudíos. Of its population of… Read more

(Photo: Getty)

How a prayer became business speak

4 July 2015

No doubt you, too, have had the feeling, upon glancing at an article in a paper picked up in a train or café, that it might mean something to someone,… Read more

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


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


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


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