Mind your language

Existential threat: the birth of a cliché

24 January 2015 9:00 am

In the endless game of word association that governs vocabulary, the current favourite as a partner of existential is threat.…

The changing meaning of 'prolific', from Orwell to the Premier League

17 January 2015 9:00 am

I read somewhere recently of a Soho artist who was a ‘prolific drinker’. The meaning is clear, but hasn’t the…

What parenting meant in 1914

10 January 2015 9:00 am

‘Not still War and Peace!’ exclaimed my husband on 1 January during the all-day Tolstoy splurge on Radio 4. In reality…

How ‘data’ became like ‘butter’

3 January 2015 9:00 am

Someone on Radio 4 said she had heard about the sexism of Grand Theft Auto on ‘Women’s Hour’. It is…

The curious language of Christmas carols

13 December 2014 9:00 am

I could never understand as a little girl why we sang: ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed.’…

Control

6 December 2014 9:00 am

In his speech on immigration last week, David Cameron said a couple of funny things. I’m not talking about the…

Why ‘respect’ is the last thing we should want from politicians

29 November 2014 9:00 am

‘Respect!’ cried my husband, drop-kicking a cushion with a picture of the Queen Mother holding a pint of beer on…

Does Joey Essex know what ‘reem’ actually means?

22 November 2014 9:00 am

Joey Essex is a celebrity who appeared in the ‘scripted reality’ programme The Only Way is Essex, named not after…

Why must every ‘accident’ be an ‘incident’?

15 November 2014 9:00 am

I had thought that the saying ‘Accidents will happen in the best regulated families’ was a vulgar reference to children…

Should ‘suicide’ mean pig-killing?

8 November 2014 9:00 am

There was a marvellous man in Shakespeare’s day known as John Smyth the Sebaptist. ‘In an act so deeply shocking…

Why you might not want corridors in your historical novel

1 November 2014 9:00 am

I read C.J. Sansom’s novel Dissolution on the train recently with pleasure. For an historical novel narrated in the 1530s,…

How Ebola got its name

25 October 2014 9:00 am

It should perhaps be called Yambuku fever, since that was the village in Zaire (as it was then, now the…

What’s good for the goose is bad for the proverb

18 October 2014 9:00 am

‘Goosey, goosey gander,’ my husband shouted at the television, like someone from Gogglebox. It’s not so much that he thinks…

The fascinating history of dullness

11 October 2014 9:00 am

At least I’ve got my husband’s Christmas present sorted out: the Dull Men of Great Britain calendar. It is no…

How did Mark Reckless get his surname?

4 October 2014 9:00 am

When I first heard ‘Wonderwall’ being played in a public house, in 1995 I suppose, I thought it was some…

Dot Wordsworth on language: Why do we call it ‘Islamic State’?

27 September 2014 8:00 am

I’m puzzled by the dropping of the one part of the name of the Islamic State that seems certain. That…

The rhetorical power of ‘never’, from Ian Paisley to King Lear

20 September 2014 9:00 am

He won’t be remembered as Lord Bannside, but Ian Paisley will be remembered for shouting: ‘Never, never, never, never.’ The…

Knee-jerkers vs knee-tremblers

13 September 2014 9:00 am

A little joke by Paddy, Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, turned upon something to be shunned. Conservative ministers, he said, had…

‘Escalate’: an exciting new way to say ‘pass the buck’

6 September 2014 9:00 am

Shaun Wright, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, spoke to Sky television last week about how little he…

A bitter struggle with the dictionary

30 August 2014 9:00 am

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ is one of husband’s stock phrases — jokes he would think them — in this…

What’s humanitarian about a humanitarian crisis?

23 August 2014 9:00 am

‘Our first priority,’ David Cameron said this week, ‘has of course been to deal with the acute humanitarian crisis in…

Is Boris Johnson standing for Parliament — or running for it?

16 August 2014 9:00 am

‘Boris Johnson broke cover yesterday to declare that he will run for parliament,’ the Times reported last week. The Mirror…

Should you be prejudiced against ‘pre-’?

9 August 2014 9:00 am

‘Pre-diabetes is an artificial category with virtually zero clinical relevance,’ said an American professor in the Times. A friend of…

The mystery of the missing Mrs

2 August 2014 9:00 am

I don’t much care for being called Wordsworth. Oh, the name is rather distinguished, though it came from my husband,…

Does 'autonomy' mean anything any more?

26 July 2014 9:00 am

My husband is constantly amused by talk of patient autonomy — for people who want to have a limb lopped…