English language

Of course ‘girl’ can mean ‘woman’. It has done for centuries

25 March 2017 9:00 am

Sir Roger Gale sounds like an old-bufferish knight of the shires, but he once worked as a disc-jockey on a…

How I learned to live with ‘meet with’

18 March 2017 9:00 am

Don’t tell my husband, but I have been having doubts. (He never reads this column, so our secret is safe.)…

The difference between a yarmulke and a kippah

11 March 2017 9:00 am

What, asks the columnist Philologus in the online magazine Mosaic, is the difference between a kippah and a yarmulke? I’m…

The American way with ‘pick’ is over here to stay

4 March 2017 9:00 am

I have long pondered the motive with which Michael Wharton, for long the author of the Daily Telegraph’s Peter Simple…

The most unlikely origin I’ve ever seen for a common phrase

25 February 2017 9:00 am

The number of things I don’t know is infinite — or infinite minus one, if such as number exists, since…

Rocket the salad leaf has more to do with hedgehogs than fireworks

18 February 2017 9:00 am

‘It is rocket science,’ said my husband waving a pinnately lobed leaf snatched from his restaurant salad. He doesn’t much…

Why it’s time to abandon ‘trope’

11 February 2017 9:00 am

A law I’d like to see passed would exact severe penalties for the use of the word trope. It is…

Ghastly — sometimes no other word will do

4 February 2017 9:00 am

Tatler is turning its back on an irreplaceable word

Italians’ creative way with their trendy English words

4 February 2017 9:00 am

Waiting for my husband in a Rome hotel, I was reduced to reading some of the weekend newspaper supplements. The…

Sorry, President Trump, but ‘carnage’ means there has to be blood

28 January 2017 9:00 am

‘This carnage stops here,’ declared the headline in the Daily Telegraph, quoting President Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. My husband tried…

A misspelt star of the FTSE 100

21 January 2017 9:00 am

‘Look, darling, a spelling mistake,’ said my husband, looking out of the window, as he had been for minutes, like…

Eight Americanisms you won’t be able to avoid in 2017

7 January 2017 9:00 am

Here are eight invasive Americanisms to continue annoying us in 2017. Running for office. Liz Kendall was ‘running for the…

Why I’m a convert to singular ‘they’

3 December 2016 9:00 am

‘When I asked the bank,’ said my husband, ‘they were no help at all.’ My attention was distracted from his…

We live in a golden age of swearing

26 November 2016 9:00 am

Authors’ book tours are often fun but rarely easy. For me the long train journeys are a delight, but on…

Oxford dictionaries are talking nonsense on stilts about fear of clowns

26 November 2016 9:00 am

There’s something suspicious about the name for a fear of clowns which was on the shortlist of words of the…

The secrets of the Queen’s Sword of Mercy

19 November 2016 9:00 am

At the Queen’s Coronation, the Duke of Northumberland carried the Sword of Mercy called Cortana. I mention this for three…

Hygge: the most annoying word of the year

12 November 2016 9:00 am

‘If there’s one thing I can’t stand,’ said my husband, ‘it’s scented candles.’ Now, we have never knowingly harboured a…

No one is safe from ‘post-Brexit’

5 November 2016 9:00 am

Staring at a brown envelope, my husband said: ‘I’ll deal with that post-breakfast,’ and then laughed as though he had…

When jargon is essential

29 October 2016 9:00 am

I’m very glad I followed a friend’s recommendation to read The Bird of Dawning by John Masefield, an author neglected…

The origins of Marmite and Bovril

22 October 2016 9:00 am

‘How can Bovril be suitable for vegetarians?’ asked my husband. ‘Bo- comes from bos, Latin for an ox.’ He was…

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…

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,/…

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…

The bullet-ridden plaque to Nelson in Napoleon’s Corsica

3 September 2016 9:00 am

European unions come and go. Back in 1794, one of the more improbable ones was founded when Corsica joined Britain…