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Language

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

ood

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

post

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

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 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

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

5 April 2014

Chapter and verse on Islam Sir: Irshad Manji’s generally very sensible article on ‘Reclaiming Islam’ (29 March) suggests using the Qur’an sura 3:7 as a verse to challenge Islamists who… Read more

5 April 2014

Chapter and verse on Islam Sir: Irshad Manji’s generally very sensible article on ‘Reclaiming Islam’ (29 March) suggests using the Qur’an sura 3:7 as a verse to challenge Islamists who… 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

Very bad poems on the Underground

8 March 2014

My husband was surprised by quite a bit when we travelled by Underground in London the other day. Although he has a Nelson Mandela Memorial Freedom Pass, he seldom chooses… Read more

When Scotland goes, will England return?

22 February 2014

Who, my husband asked, expects every man will do his duty? He was responding to the interesting and important question that Charles Moore raised last week about the name of… Read more

Clueless

Warning: upspeak can wreck your career

15 February 2014

A few weeks ago, I accompanied my daughter to an Open Day at Roehampton College, where she is hoping to start a teacher training course in September. I enjoyed it… Read more

A learned poet's mystifying mistakes

15 February 2014

I enjoy Poetry Please, but was shouting mildly at the wireless the other day when a northern woman poet was using the whining intonation that some seem to think the… Read more