Mind your language

Polari a ‘secret language’? Nonsense

15 October 2016 9:00 am

Of the contribution to English that Polari is claimed to have brought, perhaps naff is the most current-sounding. An older…

I was wrong about ‘critique’. You may be too

8 October 2016 9:00 am

‘Americans,’ said my husband in much the same tone that Betsey Trotwood said ‘Donkeys’. It was his way of explaining…

Home is where is the hearth is

1 October 2016 9:00 am

Home is where the heart is, but some poor languages have no word for ‘home’. For them, home is where…

Niche: an English word that turned into a French one

24 September 2016 9:00 am

Jonathan Swift, in his satirical poem ‘An Epistle to a Lady’, says modestly: ‘If I can but fill my Nitch,/…

What do you say to someone who is killing you?

17 September 2016 9:00 am

What do you say to someone who is killing you? It is seldom possible to decide in advance. We are…

Four Gruffalos, one language? The strange case of Scots

10 September 2016 9:00 am

I’d seen The Gruffalo in Latin, so I was delighted when Veronica showed me a version her daughter had been…

Where ‘taxi’ really came from

3 September 2016 9:00 am

Old Quentin Letts was on the wireless the other day asking ‘What’s the point of the London black cab?’ Between…

What the OED gets wrong about pelican pie

27 August 2016 9:00 am

Revisers of OED have made a pig’s ear of pelican pie, I fear. I’ve been reading for pleasure Peter Gilliver’s…

Who’s afraid of Chrononhotonthologos?

20 August 2016 9:00 am

When I ran out of space last week, I was about to mention the way in which some people relish…

Honorificabilitudinity: the very tall story of a very long word

13 August 2016 9:00 am

My husband told me with glee that Nicholas Byfield had a great big stone ‘like flint’ in his bladder, weighing…

Whatever happened to dustcarts?

6 August 2016 9:00 am

Bin lorries and garbage trucks have routed the old southern English term

Although its use goes back 500 years, we could do with less ‘wow!’ factor

30 July 2016 9:00 am

Veronica has become quite an addict of Twitter, just as the rest of the young are forsaking it. ‘It’s easy…

Words the Oxford English Dictionary struggles to define

23 July 2016 9:00 am

What is a bee? ‘A well-known insect,’ says the Oxford English Dictionary, passing the buck rather. Similarly, an ash is…

The gig economy and why steady jobs are more recent than you think

16 July 2016 9:00 am

In the same song where the brilliant lyricist Ian Dury gave the world the couplet, ‘I could be a writer…

It’s not sexist to say ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’

9 July 2016 9:00 am

Bustle, an online newspaper ‘for and by women’, has published ‘six common phrases you didn’t know were sexist (that you’ll…

Why the plural of ‘referendum’ must be ‘referendums’

2 July 2016 9:00 am

‘One referendum, two referenda,’ chanted my husband. ‘No, no, it’s a gerund. The English plural is referendums,’ interrupted Veronica, red…

Do you know the meaning of Burchfield’s eight hard words?

25 June 2016 8:00 am

I was humiliated in trying to make out the meaning of eight hard words. See how you do: claustration, edulcoration,…

The original Little Englanders were anti-imperialists

18 June 2016 9:00 am

In the art of insult, the sting lies in the adjective, no matter how derogatory the noun. So it is…

The surprising history of ‘How’s your father’

11 June 2016 9:00 am

‘Very funny, I don’t think,’ said my husband when I mentioned Harry Tate, although Tate died in 1940 and even…

Include me out of this grammatical atrocity

4 June 2016 9:00 am

Just as, in writing, many people use an exclamation mark to indicate that they have made a joke, so there…

Word of the week: 'concept'

28 May 2016 9:00 am

‘It was nothing special, but it was a pub,’ said my husband, looking up from his copy of Bar magazine…

Are exclamation marks still vulgar? Yes!

21 May 2016 9:00 am

‘Like eating in the street,’ said my husband. Astonishing! He’d said something not only coherent in itself but also connected…

The true meaning of Sadiq Khan’s claims to virtue

14 May 2016 9:00 am

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he wanted ‘the most transparent, honest and accessible administration London has ever…

The dirty jokes that tell us how Shakespeare spoke

7 May 2016 9:00 am

Sir John Harington told a story in 1596 about a lady at court asking her gentlewoman to inquire which Mr…

A puzzle for President Obama: is it really that British to queue?

30 April 2016 9:00 am

The language that President Barack Obama used was evidence of skulduggery, Nigel Farage declared. ‘The UK is gonna be in…