Etymology

What has ‘deadweight’ got to do with Rishi Sunak’s magic money tree?

18 July 2020 9:00 am

I was trying to understand what they meant on the wireless by deadweight costs. These were something to do with…

The increasingly irritating language of ‘love’

11 July 2020 9:00 am

It is 17 years since we began to hear McDonald’s: ‘I’m lovin’ it.’ This was always annoying, but most of…

Does ‘swathe’ rhyme with ‘bathe’ or ‘moth’?

4 July 2020 9:00 am

At Glastonbury in 2017 ‘a whole swathe of young people had a political awakening’, chanting ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’, said the…

The inappropriate history of ‘ventriloquising’

27 June 2020 9:00 am

‘What! No one told me,’ my husband shouted when I explained that the Hebdomadal Council at Oxford no longer existed…

The French have made a hash of the hashtag

6 June 2020 9:00 am

‘So my poor wife rose by five o’clock in the morning, before day, and went to market and bought fowls…

What’s the difference between ‘scaffold’ and ‘scaffolding’?

30 May 2020 9:00 am

Whenever I turned on the news last weekend, my husband took to humming the March to the Scaffold from the…

The link between spick and span, spanking and spoon

23 May 2020 9:00 am

I Hoovered on Saturday (or vacuumed as they say in newspapers eager to avoid using a trademark) while my husband…

Do we wrestle coronavirus to the floor – or the ground?

16 May 2020 9:00 am

In the game of ‘U’ and ‘Non-U’, begun by Alan S.C. Ross (1907-80) and popularised in Nancy Mitford’s volume Noblesse…

From milk to prayer: the curious connections of ‘pasture’

9 May 2020 9:00 am

‘We can now see the sunlight and the pasture ahead of us,’ said Boris Johnson on our escape from a…

How ‘odd’ became normal

2 May 2020 9:00 am

‘Is this not the oddest news?’ Harriet Smith exclaimed to Emma Woodhouse, on the news that Jane Fairfax and Frank…

How ‘furlough’ became mainstream

25 April 2020 9:00 am

In July, in its ‘Guess the definition’ slot, next to the day’s birthdays, the Daily Mail asked its readers to…

What does it mean to go ‘stir crazy’?

18 April 2020 9:00 am

My husband left a copy of The Spectator open on the table by his chair, next to the little cardboard…

Why my husband is throwing socks at the TV during the Covid-19 crisis

4 April 2020 9:00 am

My husband has special ‘throwing socks’. They are a rolled-up pair of woolly hiking socks. He does not hike. He…

How ‘barley’ cropped up

28 March 2020 9:00 am

‘Why can’t you write about something wholesome?’ asked my husband, in a flanking move. He was in a bad mood…

Why we can’t count toast

7 March 2020 9:00 am

‘Somebody loves me,’ said my husband, waving a copy of The Spectator above his head as though pursued by wasps.…

What do elbows have to do with fighting coronavirus?

29 February 2020 9:00 am

Before the Covid-19 scare I never thought that one particular Spanish proverb would come in useful. It goes: ‘Los ojos…

How did being connected become ‘connectivity’?

21 February 2020 10:00 pm

Facebook recently told readers of the Sun that satellites could ‘bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is…

The Streatham stabbing is being investigated at pace. But what does that mean?

15 February 2020 9:00 am

In Arnold Bennett’s Tales of the Five Towns, a young dog called Ellis Carter takes a girl for a drive…

Rebecca Long-Bailey is right: hyphens come and go

24 January 2020 10:00 pm

When Francis Hurt inherited the Renishaw estate in 1777, he changed his surname to Sitwell. His eight-year-old son and heir…

Pansexuality has been around longer than you think

18 January 2020 9:00 am

When an MP announced she was pansexual I didn’t know what she meant. Indeed I didn’t know what she could…

What is a ‘tergiversation’?

11 January 2020 9:00 am

Last year, someone at US dictionary Merriam-Webster noticed that lots of people were looking up the word tergiversation online. It…

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…