Mind your language

Petrichor: an awkward word for a pleasant phenomenon

18 August 2018 9:00 am

I’m not too sure about the word petrichor, invented in 1964 as a label for the pleasant smell frequently accompanying…

‘Crest’ and the absurd language of heraldry

11 August 2018 9:00 am

A friend of my husband’s, yet a well-educated man, said in conversation as we walked to Tate Modern: ‘Is that…

Signage

4 August 2018 9:00 am

My husband, in company with a similarly superannuated medic on the unfamiliar London Underground, was bidden at Baker Street to…

Mind your language: County lines

28 July 2018 9:00 am

We are suddenly all expected to know that county lines are to do with the selling of illegal drugs in…

‘Living with’ is now a thing – usually followed by something nasty like Alzheimer’s

21 July 2018 9:00 am

I’m not at all sure about the formula a person living with, followed by something unwelcome, such as Alzheimer’s disease,…

Has Boris brought ‘turd’ back into polite society?

14 July 2018 9:00 am

I have never lost my admiration for Boris Johnson’s summary of British ambitions over Brexit as ‘having our cake and…

Ideation, from suicide to management speak

7 July 2018 9:00 am

‘Suicide!’ yelled my husband, while performing an inappropriate mime of a hangman’s noose. That was his reply when I asked…

The origins of the famous blue tiles of Portugal’s buildings have been misunderstood

30 June 2018 9:00 am

A friend sent a nice postcard from Portugal showing the outside of a church covered with old blue tiles. She…

‘Iteration’ has escaped from the computer shops

23 June 2018 9:00 am

‘They should say, irritation, not iteration,’ exclaimed my husband as a voice on the wireless spoke about men’s fashion and…

When ‘activist’ used to mean ‘Nazi supporter’

16 June 2018 9:00 am

Rudolf Eucken had a beard and a way of tucking the ends of his bow tie under his collar that…

Unconscious bias: is Starbucks like the old Met Police?

9 June 2018 9:00 am

Starbucks closed its 8,000 American coffee shops for half a day to give staff unconscious bias training. Training is to…

Like ‘gammon’, ‘spasmodic’ was a term to put down a despised tendency

2 June 2018 9:00 am

To find out why the poetry of Ebenezer Jones was thought execrably bad, I turned to The Spectator of September…

Similar to (as opposed to like, as with, such as)

26 May 2018 9:00 am

I’m often annoyed by like being misused in different ways. (In place of as, for example: ‘Like I expected, he was…

Is Donald Trump really bonkers?

19 May 2018 9:00 am

John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, has a way with words. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003…

Paranoia and The Woman in White

12 May 2018 9:00 am

I sat up with a jerk, after contemplating the wallpaper in the television dramatisation of The Woman in White, when…

Terf wars and the ludicrous lexicon of feminist theory

5 May 2018 9:00 am

Fiore de Henriquez, a sculptor, had a wonderfully high-windowed studio at the bottom of Cadogan Square, where I sometimes visited…

When is an aubergine not an ‘aubergine’?

28 April 2018 9:00 am

In the warm weather, I had an al fresco hit with my mad-apple bruschette. Mad-apple shows the tangle to which…

That Beano word ‘scoff’ was first coined in the mid-19th century

21 April 2018 9:00 am

Scarcely a sober breath has been drawn in my house all week for celebrating the 90th anniversary of the completion…

Around v about: British English v American – not to mention across

14 April 2018 9:00 am

Crooning is I think the word to describe what my husband was doing to the lyrics of a Beach Boys…

He, they, fae, fer or ze? Check your pronouns

7 April 2018 9:00 am

Jay Bernard won the Ted Hughes Award last week. I managed to hear a snippet of the winning poem on Today…

Word of the week: dot

31 March 2018 9:00 am

With the sensation produced by hearing one’s name, I jumped when I saw mine on a poster advertising an Amazon…

Why should the body be immune from being hacked about?

24 March 2018 9:00 am

A 72-year-old Australian called Stelarc, the BBC reported, has an ear growing from one arm. He hopes to connect a…

We’ve been saying ‘wrap up warm’ for a thousand years

10 March 2018 9:00 am

In June 1873, Oswald Cockayne shot himself. He was in a state of melancholy, having been dismissed by King’s College…

Trahison des clercs — a phrase that dates back all the way to 1927

3 March 2018 9:00 am

I had long associated the phrase trahison des clercs with the writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft, though I can’t put my finger…

From Jeeves to Johnson: language and literary references in Boris’s speech

24 February 2018 9:00 am

In Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Bertie is moved to reward his inestimable valet for solving the unsolvable. Before requesting the…