English language

Why can’t St Thomas’s Hospital spell its own name?

1 April 2017 9:00 am

Everyone praised the staff of St Thomas’s Hospital during the terrorist attack. My husband of course brought his own fly to…

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…