Dot Wordsworth

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…

The animal ferocity of ‘ramping up’

11 April 2020 9:00 am

My husband is fond of an old pub in Northumberland called the Red Lion, once a drovers’ inn, it says.…

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…

How to judge a book by its colour

21 March 2020 9:00 am

I pictured the Green Book (which Rishi Sunak has been urged to tear up) as a matt card-bound thing like…

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…

Is Billie Eilish really in shock over James Bond?

7 February 2020 10:00 pm

Billie Eilish, who has just won five Grammys, is also singing the theme song for the next Bond film. ‘James…

Did Harry and Meghan step back, step down or step away?

1 February 2020 9:00 am

At this time of year in Colorado the crime of puffing is widespread. It is so cold that in the…

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…

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.…

Why is a ladybird called a ‘bishy barnabee’?

16 November 2019 9:00 am

People in different regions like to think their dialects incomprehensible to outsiders, yet they can usually come up with quite…

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…

Why are artlessly ambiguous headlines called ‘crash blossoms’?

2 November 2019 9:00 am

‘Hospitals named after sandwiches kill five,’ ran a headline in the Times in June. When it was tweeted by the…

Surd

26 October 2019 9:00 am

Lewis Carroll, in his Phantasmagoria, and Other Poems (1869), constructed a poem that yielded a double acrostic, with the first…