Etymology

Where did ‘aconite’ spring from?

14 December 2019 9:00 am

‘What,’ asked my husband teasingly, by way of an early Christmas game, ‘connects wolf’s-bane with Woolwich Arsenal?’ It took me…

What exactly is a narwhal?

7 December 2019 9:00 am

A point that many people mentioned amid the horror and heroism of the attack at London Bridge was the enterprising…

Where did ‘decuman’ come from?

30 November 2019 9:00 am

‘What made you chase that hare?’ asked my husband with rare geniality. John Ruskin was to blame. He asked James…

What’s the different between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?

9 November 2019 9:00 am

‘Why is whilst only ever used in letters?’ asked my husband, casting aside an argumentative letter from his sister written…

Why are artlessly ambiguous headlines called ‘crash blossoms’?

2 November 2019 9:00 am

‘Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five,’ ran a headline in the Times in June. When it was tweeted by the…

How the language of blackjack crept into Brexit

19 October 2019 9:00 am

In the Times, Janice Turner wrote that she had been watching Remainers and Leavers ‘like degenerate gamblers, double down, bet…

What’s the word for a word that’s been used only once?

12 October 2019 9:00 am

It is easy to speak a sentence never spoken before since the world came fresh from its mould. It’s not…

Sweaty Betty, Acne: the fashion for nasty brand names

5 October 2019 9:00 am

On my way to a party in Ealing I saw a shop called Pan Rings. A mental image popped up…

How did BBC’s Late Night Line-Up get its name?

28 September 2019 9:00 am

The title of the television review and discussion programme Late Night Line-Up is a curious one. I’d be interested if…

The link between politics, moisturiser and your air conditioning unit

21 September 2019 9:00 am

I asked my husband if I should spend £59 on 20 millilitres of Estée Lauder Advanced Night Repair Intense Reset…

Word of the week: ‘prorogue’

7 September 2019 9:00 am

It was most unlooked-for that a king should ally with Whig politicians to seek parliamentary reform, but that was what…

Is a cow always a cow?

31 August 2019 9:00 am

I’ve noticed a tendency among townies like me to call all cattle cows (which they feel they must mention in…

Are our feelings towards politics apathy or inertia?

24 August 2019 9:00 am

My husband, with a dependable appetite for chestnuts, says he would be the ideal person to start an Apathy party.…

Where did Boris Johnson’s ‘gloomsters’ come from?

10 August 2019 9:00 am

When Boris Johnson hit out at ‘the doomsters and the gloomsters’, I was willing to believe that the word gloomster…

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Is the term ‘Esquire’ U or non-U?

3 August 2019 9:00 am

‘I’m a learned doctor,’ cried my husband, pulling at the hems of his tweed coat and doing a little jig.…

From moustache to extremist – the journey of ‘bigot’

27 July 2019 9:00 am

How might an oath lend its name in England to a religious extremist and in Spain to a moustache? That…

Must Harry and Meghan’s son really learn to ‘essentialise’ race?

20 July 2019 9:00 am

‘Ha, ha,’ said my husband, as though he’d made a joke. ‘Here’s one for you.’ He waved a page of…

Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt in the European Parliament last week (Twitter)

The Lib Dems are wrong – it’s ‘ballocks’ to Brexit

13 July 2019 9:00 am

I agree with James Joyce on the spelling ballocks. The Liberal Democrats made their MEPs wear T-shirts printed with ‘Bollocks…

Who really invented the word ‘posh’?

6 July 2019 9:00 am

Two rules of grammar are certain: never split an infinitive and never end a sentence with a preposition. As for…

Watch out for ‘watch on’

29 June 2019 9:00 am

In Casablanca, Mr and Mrs Leuchtag resolve to speak English to each other in preparation for emigration to America. Mr…

The barking world of ‘doggo lingo’

22 June 2019 9:00 am

Doggy sounds childish. ‘How much is that doggie in the window?’ asks the popular song. (The song title used the…

How many words were coined by Thomas Browne?

15 June 2019 9:00 am

‘How many words will you use today, first used by Thomas Browne in the 17th century?’ asked a trailer on…

The tangled roots of ‘artichoke’

8 June 2019 8:00 am

My husband has been growling: ‘You cross-legged hartichoak.’ He tries it on obstructive pedestrians hypnotised by their mobile phones. He…

Just who – or what – are the men in suits?

1 June 2019 9:00 am

After he invented the term young fogey (in The Spectator in 1984), the much lamented journalist Alan Watkins coined the…

Why is a book like a sarcophagus?

25 May 2019 9:00 am

‘Is it like a packet of fags?’ asked my husband, less annoyingly than usual, but still in some confusion. I…