Language

A young Rwandan scholar left a profound impression on me

21 December 2019 9:00 am

In the Rwandan Genocide Memorial gift shop I bought a handy Kinyarwanda–Kiswahili–English phrase book. The tipping point in the decision…

What were the words that defined 2019?

21 December 2019 9:00 am

‘Come off it,’ said my husband when I told him that upcycling was the word of the year. His response…

Where did ‘aconite’ spring from?

14 December 2019 9:00 am

‘What,’ asked my husband teasingly, by way of an early Christmas game, ‘connects wolf’s-bane with Woolwich Arsenal?’ It took me…

What exactly is a narwhal?

7 December 2019 9:00 am

A point that many people mentioned amid the horror and heroism of the attack at London Bridge was the enterprising…

Where did ‘decuman’ come from?

30 November 2019 9:00 am

‘What made you chase that hare?’ asked my husband with rare geniality. John Ruskin was to blame. He asked James…

From Pliny to poetry: the history of ‘ictus’ and ‘ductus’

23 November 2019 9:00 am

‘I know the difference between ictal and icteric,’ said my husband proudly, reminding me of Tweedledum in Through the Looking-Glass.…

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…