Mind your language

Is the Duke of York’s title really ‘untenable’?

22 January 2022 9:00 am

‘Nurse! The tenaculum!’ exclaimed my husband in the manner of James Robertson Justice playing the surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt. I’m…

The elementary misuse of ‘alumni’

15 January 2022 9:00 am

My husband is forever being sent magazines from his Oxford college inviting him to give it money. I suggest he…

Backlash

8 January 2022 9:00 am

‘Lashings of ginger beer?’ asked my husband when I mentioned backlash. He thought the phrase came from Enid Blyton, though…

2021's word of the year: 'cis'

18 December 2021 9:00 am

Cis

What do Millwall supporters and internet alt-righters have in common?

11 December 2021 9:00 am

My grown-up friends don’t use based in its new slangy sense, so I asked Veronica (whom I still think of…

The six ways to pronounce ‘Omicron’

4 December 2021 9:00 am

‘There once was a curate of Kew, / Who kept a young cat in a pew,’ began my husband when…

Should we ramp down ramping down?

27 November 2021 9:00 am

Language change outdoes nonsense, just as misbehaviour outdoes satire. In Through the Looking-Glass Alice mentions to the Gnat that, where…

How are you meant to pronounce Uranus?

20 November 2021 9:00 am

I had thought there were two pronunciations of Uranus. My husband, still capable of distinguishing the anatomical from the planetary,…

Has Boris Johnson really ‘trashed’ parliament’s reputation?

13 November 2021 9:00 am

‘When they posted the closing-night notice for his first Broadway play, Comes a Day, he went into a drunken rage,…

The real ‘scallop’ war: how do you pronounce it?

6 November 2021 9:00 am

‘You say scallops and I say scallops,’ sang my husband in his best Ginger Rogers accents. Since we both pronounce…

Can men be witches?

30 October 2021 9:00 am

‘No, darling, I certainly wouldn’t call you a witch,’ said my husband. ‘You’re not thin enough.’ The Oxford English Dictionary…

Can a criminal really be ‘prolific’?

23 October 2021 9:00 am

The BBC made a documentary about a man sent to prison for being the ‘most prolific rapist in British legal…

The ground rules, from coffee to marriage

16 October 2021 9:00 am

There’s a rude gesture in Pickwick that I don’t quite understand. Mr Jackson, a young lawyer’s clerk in conversation with…

What exactly is the ‘festive season’?

9 October 2021 9:00 am

‘Here you are, darling,’ I said to my husband. ‘These lines might have been written for you: “Drinke, quaffe, be…

We are in a perfect storm of perfect storms

2 October 2021 9:00 am

When my husband’s whisky glass fell off the little table next to his chair on to next door’s cat, which…

The problem with ‘bame’

25 September 2021 9:00 am

In its coverage of the shuffled cabinet, the BBC added a note: ‘BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) is a…

Why do ministers – and bakers – love a rollout?

18 September 2021 9:00 am

I was rolling out some pastry that had been cooling its pudgy heels in the fridge when voices on the…

What does Peter Quennell have to do with fish?

11 September 2021 9:00 am

When Peter Quennell was sent down from Oxford for consorting with a woman called Cara (by Evelyn Waugh’s account), he…

How Shakespeare became ‘problematic’

4 September 2021 9:00 am

‘This crossword is problematic!’ exclaimed my husband, tossing aside the folded newspaper marked with a ring where his whisky glass…

The language of the victimhood war

28 August 2021 9:00 am

Language is used in a weird way in the victimhood war, where those who see themselves without agency bravely speak…

Aleatory, fate and a rolling of the dice

21 August 2021 9:00 am

‘What do they mean, “Guess”?’ asked my husband, staring suspiciously at a page of the Daily Mail that had been…

The dramatic evolution of ‘actor’

14 August 2021 9:00 am

‘That chap in Line of Duty. That’s what I’d call a bad actor,’ said my husband with vague certainty. He…

The dirty truth about ‘wash-up’

7 August 2021 9:00 am

‘They asked me if I wanted to wash up before we even went in to dinner,’ my husband recalled with…

Double dutch: the many meanings of ‘Holland’

31 July 2021 9:00 am

The title of the keenly awaited volume of memoirs by John Martin Robinson sounds like a crossword clue: Holland Blind…

The poetry behind ‘leather and prunella’

24 July 2021 9:00 am

‘Oh, yes,’ said my husband, enthusiastically, ‘a loathsome disease. The tongue goes black and dry.’ He was referring to an…