Etymology

At sixes and sevens about seven and six

10 November 2018 9:00 am

Someone on the wireless was talking about marrying in the Liberty of Newgate before the Marriage Act of 1753, and…

Getting on – and falling off – the wagon

3 November 2018 9:00 am

Radio 3 tries to distract listeners from music by posing little quizzes and hearing quirky details of history from a…

The polite origins of the police

27 October 2018 9:00 am

My husband, who fancies himself as something of a classicist, was delighted to see the Turkish investigators of the Khashoggi…

Mind your language: Woman, women, womxn

20 October 2018 9:00 am

When I say that it has given comfort to my husband, you can judge how foolish the Wellcome Institute was…

Was everyone a psychopath before 1909?

6 October 2018 9:00 am

My husband is enjoying Do No Harm, the arresting memoir of the brain surgeon Henry Marsh who was on Desert…

Optics: stingy pub measures and politicians’ images

8 September 2018 9:00 am

If you’d like to buy a copy of Newton’s Opticks: or, A Treatise of the Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours…

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

‘Sorted’ has always had connotations of menace

17 February 2018 9:00 am

My heart leapt up on Newport station, an unusual place for that to happen, when I heard a recorded announcement:…

Why do so many academics write so badly?

13 January 2018 9:00 am

Why do so many academics write so badly? Those who make the study of language their life’s work are as…

The trouble with the definite article

28 October 2017 9:00 am

Veronica, who looks at Twitter, told me of an exchange she thought would interest me, about the use of the.…

Apart from any other sins, Harvey Weinstein can’t even pronounce his own name

21 October 2017 9:00 am

Before I forget, I was cheered by the letter from Keith Aitken in last week’s issue noting another sense for…

Mind your language: Boo

30 September 2017 9:00 am

In 1872, the 27-stone figure of the Tichborne Claimant was insisting he was Sir Roger Tichborne Bt, an heir thought…

Mind your language: Bacteria

2 September 2017 9:00 am

It’s like whipping cream. All of a sudden it goes stiff and you can turn the bowl upside down without…

Saying ‘one-year anniversary’ is as redundant as saying ‘pin number’

20 May 2017 9:00 am

‘It’s like Pin number,’ said my husband, drifting into lucidity. So it is, in a way. The construction under discussion…

Mind your language: Progressive

13 May 2017 9:00 am

I laughed, in a sympathetic way I hope, when I read a letter in the Daily Telegraph pointing out that…

Once ‘compliance’ was a vice — now it’s all about ticking boxes

6 May 2017 9:00 am

Ralph Bathurst was accused shortly after his death in 1704 of being ‘suspected of Hypocrisy and of mean Complyance’. I…

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…

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…

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…

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…