Mind your language

The strange language of this year

5 December 2020 9:00 am

‘Forget coronavirus,’ said my husband, ‘the word of the year is strange.’ The strange thing is he’s right. This wasn’t…

Do civil servants need to be 'robust' or 'resilient'?

28 November 2020 9:00 am

‘Why do they keep saying they need Brazilians?’ asked my husband, coming up for air from a hazy mixture of…

The language of lounging around

21 November 2020 9:00 am

At the Austrian embassy in Naples, a German diplomatist asked the great beauty Madame de Ventadour if she had been…

What’s the difference between ‘gifting’ and ‘giving’?

14 November 2020 9:00 am

Boris Johnson, the Telegraphsuggested last week, is understood to have a personal interest in rewilding, ‘recently gifting his father beavers…

Alas, ‘alas’ is losing its irony

7 November 2020 9:00 am

Boris Johnson looked unhappy, as well he might, standing at his indoor lectern last Saturday to announce the new lockdown:…

The real problem with the Fatima advert

31 October 2020 9:00 am

An advertisement from GCHQ provoked angry comment because it seemed to suggest that some ballet dancers would be better working…

The truth about Adrenochrome

24 October 2020 9:00 am

QAnon, the conspiracy theorist’s conspiracy theory, teaches that President Donald Trump is in secret warfare with a worldwide network of…

Are you guilty of ‘genteelism’?

17 October 2020 9:00 am

‘Everyone’s been very kind to my husband and I,’ said someone behind me in a (spaced) queue. That is the…

Let’s talk about sex: the brilliance of ‘bonk’

10 October 2020 9:00 am

I take it personally that a word I practically saw being born is now unrecognised by people almost old enough…

Ask Jeeves: who first came out with ‘What ho’?

3 October 2020 9:00 am

In the First Act of Othello, just as things are getting interesting, the audience hears someone calling from offstage: ‘What…

Where did ‘herd immunity’ come from?

26 September 2020 9:00 am

‘It was the pyres,’ said my husband. He meant the effect of television pictures of cattle, hooves silhouetted against the…

How a ‘back’ gets confused for a ‘bat’

19 September 2020 9:00 am

My husband may not often be right, but he had some cogent criticism of the much-quoted words of Geoffrey Howe…

From Covid to football, the rise in ‘upticks’

12 September 2020 9:00 am

Political commentators love talking about the optics — the way something looks to voters. Just at the moment, though, everyone…

The hijacking of the Scots language

5 September 2020 9:00 am

A teenager in North Carolina has been revealed as the creator of a fifth or even a half of the…

What’s the difference between ‘reticent’ and ‘reluctant’?

29 August 2020 9:00 am

Anna Massey had no dramatic training before appearing on stage in 1955 aged 17 in The Reluctant Debutante by William…

Why ‘The’ Queen should not be capitalised

22 August 2020 9:00 am

I complained mildly seven years ago that the Court Circular, the official source for the doings of the British monarchy,…

Did Taylor Swift really ‘overthink’ her album release?

15 August 2020 9:00 am

Sometimes when I ask my stertorous husband in his armchair whether he is asleep, he replies with a start: ‘Just…

Why must we ‘live with’ coronavirus?

8 August 2020 9:00 am

T.S. Eliot adopted a method of criticism that I am not aware of any other writer using: he imagined what…

Might ‘may’ kill ‘might’?

1 August 2020 9:00 am

‘I’m with the King,’ said my husband. The king in question was Kingsley Amis, whose choleric The King’s English was…

The Chancellor’s strange connection to cancel culture

25 July 2020 9:00 am

The cancel culture wants to obliterate people who do, or more often say, the wrong thing (for example, that there…

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…

Was Priti Patel really ‘gaslighting’ MPs?

20 June 2020 9:00 am

Gaslight has been a useful word meaning ‘to manipulate a person by psychological means into questioning his or her own…