Language

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…

Letters: What would be the point of a second referendum?

2 November 2019 9:00 am

Another referendum? Sir: Matthew Parris’s article ‘What question should a second referendum ask?’ (26 October) occasioned a wry smile from me…

An ‘I’ for a ‘my’: why we’re terrified of getting our grammar wrong

26 October 2019 9:00 am

Sometimes it’s not wrong to be wrong

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…

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…

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…

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…

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…

‘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…

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…

Why the OED says ‘coloured’ is offensive

14 March 2019 9:00 am

‘The term coloured, is an outdated, offensive and revealing choice of words,’ tweeted Diane Abbott last week in response to Amber…

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…

Names, like drink, go by fashion

2 February 2019 9:00 am

‘Sounds like fun,’ said my husband, wearing a hat with the sign ‘Irony’ in its band. He had read a…

What lies behind John Bercow’s use of the word ‘colleagues’?

19 January 2019 9:00 am

The parliamentary press gallery has in the past given a pair of silver shoe buckles to the Speaker as a…

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…

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…