Language

Matajudios

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

Brugge: best not to call it Bruges

Woe betide you if you try to speak French in Flanders

27 June 2015

Usually, one of the first indications that you’ve entered a bilingual country is that the road signs are in two languages. At least this is the case in Ireland or… Read more

(Photo: Getty)

In defence of Michael Gove’s grammar guide

27 June 2015

Few things are more likely to provoke the disapproval of the bien-pensant left than criticising someone’s grammar. The very idea that one way of speaking is more ‘correct’ than another… Read more

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Elisa Segrave

20 June 2015

Off to prison to visit a writer friend, first jailed led some years ago for trying to find a hit man to kill his mother’s toy boy. My friend had… 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

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

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

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

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

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How to stop being scared of full stops

24 January 2015

Typical mother-to-mother email, January weekday, 2015: ‘Thanks so much for helping out yesterday, Jamie had a great time with you all, thanks also for bringing his games kit home, let… 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

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Check yourself: have you succumbed to this corporate speak epidemic?

10 January 2015

You know how it goes with corporate speak. A strange new habit grows and spreads, creeping largely unnoticed into the language, until one day you hear a sentence so bizarre,… 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

How ‘data’ became like ‘butter’

3 January 2015

Someone on Radio 4 said she had heard about the sexism of Grand Theft Auto on ‘Women’s Hour’. It is called Woman’s Hour, though the other is possible, on the… Read more

Joey Essex has described Nigel Farage as 'reem'. But does he actually know what it means? (Photo: Getty)

Does Joey Essex know what ‘reem’ actually means?

22 November 2014

Joey Essex is a celebrity who appeared in the ‘scripted reality’ programme The Only Way is Essex, named not after him but the well-known county. He is 24, born in… Read more

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