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


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


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

Lumpen’s journey from Marxism to nonsense

8 February 2014

A publisher, Kevin Mayhew, has written to The Tablet, which is not a computer journal but a weekly magazine of interest to Catholics, complaining that the newly revised translation of… Read more


Big changes in little words

1 February 2014

I managed to grab the TLS last week before my husband stuffed it in his overcoat pocket and lost it at his club. It had a very enjoyable review by… Read more

Where did ‘No justice, no peace’ come from?

18 January 2014

The chant No justice, no peace by supporters of Mark Duggan, the drug gangster shot dead by police in 2011, sounded more like a threat than a prediction. No one… Read more


Dot Wordsworth: How online shopping is changing English

11 January 2014

How do you play the lottery? The National Lottery website has a handy guide. Step No. 1 is: ‘Go into a store.’ But in my experience, lottery tickets are sold… Read more


Dot Wordsworth: Is M&S really 'Magic & Sparkle'?

16 November 2013

‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle,’ says the Marks & Spencer television Christmas advertisement. The phrase is meant to suggest the shop, but it seems rather distant to me, either verbally… Read more

Dot Wordsworth's week in words: Did William Empson have the first clue what 'bare ruined choirs' meant?

5 October 2013

I am shocked to find that William Empson, famous for his technique of close reading, was no good at reading at all. A paragraph of his in Seven Types of… Read more

Dot Wordsworth: We've been self-whipping since 1672

7 September 2013

Isabel Hardman of this parish explained after last week’s government defeat that a deluded theory among the party leadership had held that Tory backbenchers were now self-whipping. When she aired… Read more

24 August 2013

Some doctors write Sir: Professor Meirion Thomas (‘Dangerous medicine’, 17 August) may be an excellent surgeon but he is uninformed about the nature of GPs’ work. For many older consultants… Read more

After ‘literally’, is it time to start a Neighbourhood Watch for the OED?

24 August 2013

There was outrage last week when it was found that the Oxford English Dictionary had listed one sense of literally as ‘virtually, as good as’ — in other words, the… Read more

Mind your language: Frack vs frag

10 August 2013

‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a frack,’ replied my husband unwittily when I asked how he’d feel if shale gas was discovered at the bottom of our garden. But… Read more

Mind your language: The springs before the Arab Spring

3 August 2013

Two hundred and forty-years ago next Tuesday, Thomas Gray was buried in his mother’s grave in Stoke Poges churchyard. In his ‘Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College’ (published… Read more

Mind your language: Who says there's a 'correct name' for the penis?

27 July 2013

In a very rum letter to the Daily Telegraph, the Mother’s Union of all people joined with some other bodies to demand that ‘primary schools should teach the correct names… Read more

Mind your language: How the Dreamliner got its name

20 July 2013

‘Planes don’t run off batteries,’ declared my husband, his finger unerringly on the pulse of technology as ever. I had merely mentioned that two Dreamliner aircraft had earlier this year… Read more


It’s vital that children translate English to Latin at GCSE

22 June 2013

One of the most rewarding exercises a Latinist can attempt is to turn a piece of English prose into Latin. The reason is quite simple: it means getting under the… Read more

Mind your language: Hobson’s choice

22 June 2013

An Iranian on the wireless was complaining that disqualification of presidential candidates had left voters with ‘Hobson’s choice’. No doubt this idiom was learnt from a careful teacher, but I… Read more

How much did you start off with?

Check my privilege? I have, thanks. You’re still wrong

8 June 2013

This week, I bring you a dispatch from the frontline of pseudo-intellectual, metropolitan navel-gazing. This is, after all, what you pay me for. So right now the big thing for… Read more

What, exactly, is a 'red line'?

8 June 2013

Last August President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a red line. He repeated the phrase in December: red line. Why should the… Read more