Etymology

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…

‘Bolection’ and how the language of architecture was moulded

18 May 2019 9:00 am

A pleasant menagerie of words grazes in the field of architectural mouldings (the projecting or incised bands that serve useful…

Do MPs actually know what ‘fungible’ means?

11 May 2019 9:00 am

‘No darling,’ I said, ‘nothing to do with mushrooms.’ My husband had responded to my exclaiming ‘What does she think…

A duck ducks and a swift is swift – so what about the lapwing?

4 May 2019 9:00 am

Some birds seem inherently comical. I can’t help being amused by the duck taking its name from its habit of…

Did ‘haggis’ steal its name from thieving magpies?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

Someone on The Kitchen Cabinet remarked that sambusa, as samosa is known in Somalia, came from Arabic. Perhaps it does,…

Epics are hard and dull – but today’s are ‘great’ and ‘nice’

20 April 2019 9:00 am

Spoiler alert: in Henry Fielding’s play Tom Thumb, the hero is swallowed by a cow ‘of larger than the usual…

‘Shame’ is no longer one’s greatest fear, it’s offence culture’s default response

6 April 2019 9:00 am

In 1663, just before Samuel Pepys visited the stables of the elegant Thomas Povey, where he found the walls were…

Can you really interrogate a plate? Credit: istockphoto.com

There’s a lot of interrogating going on – and not just by policemen

23 February 2019 9:00 am

My husband sat in his usual chair, interrogating the contents of his whisky glass with his old, tired nose. In…

Illeism: the weird habit of talking about oneself in the third person

12 January 2019 9:00 am

Someone has been putting about reports that Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, refers to himself in the third person as…

Word of the week: ‘Granular’, a word used to suggest in-depth analysis

1 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Just two sugars,’ said my husband as I passed him his tea. He is cutting down. I doubt he would…

Collins dictionary has got ‘gammon’ all wrong

17 November 2018 9:00 am

In the annual dictionary wars to nominate words of the year, in the hope of attracting publicity, Collins has made…

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…