Mind your language

What do ‘catcalls’ have to do with cats?

6 August 2022 9:00 am

‘A law against catcalls?’ asked my husband sceptically. ‘What next, criminalising booing and hissing?’ He often gets the wrong end…

The etymological ingredients of ‘flageons’

30 July 2022 9:00 am

‘Don’t you know the answer?’ asked my husband with mock surprise, throwing over to me from his armchair a copy…

The ever-shifting language of ‘culture wars’

23 July 2022 9:00 am

‘Come on, old girl,’ said my husband as though encouraging a cow stuck in a ditch, ‘you must know.’ It…

‘Our’ by ‘our’, Boris’s resignation speech

16 July 2022 9:00 am

There was a word I didn’t understand in Boris Johnson’s resignation speech (in which he did not resign). He spoke…

‘Pinch’ has long packed a punch

9 July 2022 9:00 am

Before pinch as a verb appears in any written sources, it already formed part of surnames. Hugo Pinch was walking,…

Dominic Raab and the problem of ‘distraction’

2 July 2022 9:00 am

Dominic Raab blamed distraction forBoris Johnson’s woes when the Tories failed in two by-elections last week. ‘Hehas track records as…

Lord Geidt’s ‘odious’ remark

25 June 2022 9:00 am

Lord Geidt said in his resignationletter that he had been put in an odious position. He meant it was hateful,though…

Have we made a hash of rehash?

18 June 2022 9:00 am

My husband put one foot forward atan angle to the other and grasped his left hand with his right. ‘Occiditmiseros…

Why should Turkey be allowed to change its name?

11 June 2022 9:00 am

Turkey has told the UN it wants tobe called Türkiye. Even when it is written in capitals, it would still…

The not-so-sweet roots of ‘nice’

4 June 2022 9:00 am

‘That’s nice,’ said my husband, taking a Nice biscuit with his coffee. It was his little joke. The biscuit is…

The strangeness of station names

28 May 2022 9:00 am

In Kyiv they have voted to changethe names of some metro stations. Heroes of the Dnieper is to become Heroes…

Why nothing ever comes ‘for free’

21 May 2022 9:00 am

‘It’s not as nice as it looks,’ said my husband, not leaving time to look it in the mouth before…

Why disgraced MPs head for the Chiltern Hundreds

14 May 2022 9:00 am

I saw in last week’s Spectatorthat the tractor MP had applied for the stewardship of the Manor of Northstead. After…

Are we living in a new pornocracy?

7 May 2022 9:00 am

Are we living in a new pornocracy? The first one spanned six decades of the 10th century, during which there…

The wonder of the Metaphor Map

30 April 2022 9:00 am

‘What’s that?’ asked my husband, looking at my laptop. ‘Fibonacci fossilised?’ His question made no sense, but I saw what…

The linguistic ingredients of ‘salmagundi’

23 April 2022 9:00 am

‘It makes me hungry,’ said my husband when I mentioned the word salmagundi. That is his reaction to many words.…

The Aesopian language of algospeak

16 April 2022 9:00 am

To evade algorithms that hunt down forbidden words, users of platforms like TikTok employ cryptic synonyms. So deadbecomes unalive, and…

What’s the right way to pronounce ‘gif’?

9 April 2022 9:00 am

The man who invented gifs, Stephen Wilhite, has died, aged 74. Controversy survives him – over how to pronounce the…

When did brothers and sisters become ‘siblings’?

2 April 2022 9:00 am

I never cared much for the word sibling, though I hardly knew why. The reason must be that it was…

How do you pronounce ‘Cirencester’ and ‘Marylebone’?

26 March 2022 9:00 am

‘Half! Half! Half!’ exclaimed my husband like a performing sea lion. Not that sea lions perform any more, but you…

The ancient origins of ‘doomscrolling’

19 March 2022 9:00 am

In 2019, Boris Johnson hit out at ‘the doomsters and the gloomsters’. I was surprised then to find that the…

Why does everything ‘embolden’ Putin?

12 March 2022 9:00 am

The most emboldened man on earth must be Vladimir Putin. Everything seems to embolden him. Treating Russia as a pariah…

The complicated business of swearing in Ukrainian

5 March 2022 9:00 am

‘This will interest you,’ said my husband, looking up from the smeared screen of his telephone. For once he was…

How 'like' lost its way

26 February 2022 9:00 am

A strange crisis has befallen like. It had long been an object of obloquy and vilification in two functions. The…

Where’s the ‘mystery’ in mystery plays?

19 February 2022 9:00 am

In The Archers, Ambridge put on its own set of mystery plays dramatising the Nativity and Passion. BBC Radio 4…