Etymology

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…

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…

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…

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…

When did ‘pikey’ become offensive?

12 February 2022 9:00 am

A policeman sent a colleague who was house-sitting for him a WhatsApp message: ‘Keep the pikeys out.’ He was sacked…

What does ice cream have to do with ‘late capitalism’?

5 February 2022 9:00 am

‘More to my taste is Trockenbeerenkapitalismus,’ said my husband with an intonation that indicated a joke. The joke was a…

What’s so funny about ‘helpmeet’?

29 January 2022 9:00 am

‘What’s so funny?’ asked my husband, accusingly, as I made an amused noise while relaxing with a copy of the…

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…

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…

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…

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 timeless appeal of Latin

14 August 2021 9:00 am

The government’s promise to fund a pilot scheme promoting the teaching of Latin in secondary schools is music to the…

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…