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;…

My word of the year is... ‘Yeah’

10 December 2016 9:00 am

My husband has an irritating habit of holding his hymn book open at the right page but obviously not referring…

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…

Why be LGBT when you can be LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA?

5 November 2016 9:00 am

Why be LGBT when you can be LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA?

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…

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…

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…

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,/…

What do you say to someone who is killing you?

17 September 2016 9:00 am

What do you say to someone who is killing you? It is seldom possible to decide in advance. We are…

Language learning: we’re more tongue-tied than ever

10 September 2016 9:00 am

When most of the world knows English, does it matter that foreign language teaching is dying out in our schools? Rhiannon Williams takes a look

Tom Wolfe at 85: still working the suit and hat look

Aged 85, Tom Wolfe discovers the key to human progress

27 August 2016 9:00 am

He might be 85 but Tom Wolfe is going strong with a new book and a dustjacket photo that still…

What the OED gets wrong about pelican pie

27 August 2016 9:00 am

Revisers of OED have made a pig’s ear of pelican pie, I fear. I’ve been reading for pleasure Peter Gilliver’s…

Who’s afraid of Chrononhotonthologos?

20 August 2016 9:00 am

When I ran out of space last week, I was about to mention the way in which some people relish…

Honorificabilitudinity: the very tall story of a very long word

13 August 2016 9:00 am

My husband told me with glee that Nicholas Byfield had a great big stone ‘like flint’ in his bladder, weighing…

Whatever happened to dustcarts?

6 August 2016 9:00 am

Bin lorries and garbage trucks have routed the old southern English term

Although its use goes back 500 years, we could do with less ‘wow!’ factor

30 July 2016 9:00 am

Veronica has become quite an addict of Twitter, just as the rest of the young are forsaking it. ‘It’s easy…

Words the Oxford English Dictionary struggles to define

23 July 2016 9:00 am

What is a bee? ‘A well-known insect,’ says the Oxford English Dictionary, passing the buck rather. Similarly, an ash is…

Do you know the meaning of Burchfield’s eight hard words?

25 June 2016 8:00 am

I was humiliated in trying to make out the meaning of eight hard words. See how you do: claustration, edulcoration,…