Language

To avoid knowing the distasteful origin of ‘scumbag’, look away now

13 October 2018 9:00 am

President Vladimir Putin of Russia remarked of Sergei Skripal, whom his agents tried to kill, ‘He’s simply a scumbag.’ Scumbag…

Why ‘whiter than white’ shouldn’t get you suspended

22 September 2018 9:00 am

A detective superintendent has been placed on ‘restricted duties’ while the Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates a complaint that…

The origin and nature of teacakes

15 September 2018 9:00 am

The Sunday Telegraph has been running a correspondence on the origin and nature of teacakes. One reader averred that in…

Why would you relish an opportunity?

25 August 2018 9:00 am

The Sun gave a sad picture of British loneliness recently in a report about the national yearning to play a…

Has Boris brought ‘turd’ back into polite society?

14 July 2018 9:00 am

I have never lost my admiration for Boris Johnson’s summary of British ambitions over Brexit as ‘having our cake and…

‘Iteration’ has escaped from the computer shops

23 June 2018 9:00 am

‘They should say, irritation, not iteration,’ exclaimed my husband as a voice on the wireless spoke about men’s fashion and…

When ‘activist’ used to mean ‘Nazi supporter’

16 June 2018 9:00 am

Rudolf Eucken had a beard and a way of tucking the ends of his bow tie under his collar that…

Unconscious bias: is Starbucks like the old Met Police?

9 June 2018 9:00 am

Starbucks closed its 8,000 American coffee shops for half a day to give staff unconscious bias training. Training is to…

Is Donald Trump really bonkers?

19 May 2018 9:00 am

John Kelly, the White House Chief of Staff, has a way with words. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003…

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…

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…

Triggered by Bregret? Your guide to the new word order

2 December 2017 9:00 am

Get out of your bubble and into your safe space, you hashtag activist. Andy Shaw mansplains the latest lexicon

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…

Mind Your Language: Mechanistic insight

19 August 2017 9:00 am

No, hang on, don’t turn to Dear Mary yet. This is not as dull as it sounds. It’s just that…

Leave epiphanies to the poets and mystics

29 July 2017 9:00 am

‘I love the pumping station,’ said my husband, waving a copy of the Docklands and East London Advertiser which reported…

Mind your language: Trooping the colour

17 June 2017 9:00 am

Language is a weapon to do down others. ‘He calls the knaves, Jacks, this boy!’ said Estella disdainfully of Pip…

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…

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…

Do Daniel C. Dennett's memes deserve to survive?

4 March 2017 9:00 am

The greatest of Bach’s 224 cantatas is BWV 109, ‘Ich glaube, lieber Herr, hilf meinem Unglauben’. Its subject — the…

What Donald Trump doesn't get about rhetoric

28 January 2017 9:00 am

In his inaugural speech last week, the new President Trump said, among much else, the ‘American carnage’ of poverty, ignorance…

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…

The secret society that made ‘nativist’ an insult

14 January 2017 9:00 am

The title of America’s first woman bishop was claimed in 1918 by Bishop Alma White, leader of the Pillar of…

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…

Uh-oh: even a baby can tell you when there’s trouble ahead

31 December 2016 9:00 am

Here are the first 50 words in the order that they were learnt by a child called Will: 1 uh-oh;…