Mind your language

Why is a book like a sarcophagus?

25 May 2019 9:00 am

‘Is it like a packet of fags?’ asked my husband, less annoyingly than usual, but still in some confusion. I…

‘Bolection’ and how the language of architecture was moulded

18 May 2019 9:00 am

A pleasant menagerie of words grazes in the field of architectural mouldings (the projecting or incised bands that serve useful…

Do MPs actually know what ‘fungible’ means?

11 May 2019 9:00 am

‘No darling,’ I said, ‘nothing to do with mushrooms.’ My husband had responded to my exclaiming ‘What does she think…

A duck ducks and a swift is swift – so what about the lapwing?

4 May 2019 9:00 am

Some birds seem inherently comical. I can’t help being amused by the duck taking its name from its habit of…

Did ‘haggis’ steal its name from thieving magpies?

27 April 2019 9:00 am

Someone on The Kitchen Cabinet remarked that sambusa, as samosa is known in Somalia, came from Arabic. Perhaps it does,…

Epics are hard and dull – but today’s are ‘great’ and ‘nice’

20 April 2019 9:00 am

Spoiler alert: in Henry Fielding’s play Tom Thumb, the hero is swallowed by a cow ‘of larger than the usual…

(istockphoto.com)

‘Augury’ is to do with birds? That’s a flight of fancy

13 April 2019 9:00 am

Was the cascade of water that made the Commons suspend its sitting an omen or augury? When I asked that…

‘Shame’ is no longer one’s greatest fear, it’s offence culture’s default response

6 April 2019 9:00 am

In 1663, just before Samuel Pepys visited the stables of the elegant Thomas Povey, where he found the walls were…

Coining a phrase does not mean stealing it

30 March 2019 9:00 am

My husband has been doing something useful but criminal for the past two years. He reads the sports pages, mostly…

Does a dark lantern give out light?

23 March 2019 9:00 am

‘Does a dark lantern give out black light?’ asked my husband as if in delirium. He was reading a book…

Why the OED says ‘coloured’ is offensive

16 March 2019 9:00 am

‘The term coloured, is an outdated, offensive and revealing choice of words,’ tweeted Diane Abbott last week in response to Amber…

‘One fell swoop’ has become a cliche, but where does it come from?

9 March 2019 9:00 am

The Sun, reviewing a new laptop from Huawei, mentioned a combined fingerprint sensor and on-switch that lets users ‘power up and…

Where on earth does ‘kibosh’ come from?

2 March 2019 9:00 am

‘What is a kibosh?’ asked a German medical friend of my husband’s, when the word cropped up. No one knew,…

Can you really interrogate a plate? Credit: istockphoto.com

There’s a lot of interrogating going on – and not just by policemen

23 February 2019 9:00 am

My husband sat in his usual chair, interrogating the contents of his whisky glass with his old, tired nose. In…

What the sports pages mean by ‘marquee’?

16 February 2019 9:00 am

Ordinarily my husband is punctilious in keeping the pages of the Telegraph straight, especially when it is read by other…

Word of the week: Chronograms

9 February 2019 9:00 am

Jan Morris in her book Oxford enjoyed the Greek lettering on the floor of the rotunda entrance to Rhodes House,…

Names, like drink, go by fashion

2 February 2019 9:00 am

‘Sounds like fun,’ said my husband, wearing a hat with the sign ‘Irony’ in its band. He had read a…

There’s something grotesque about the jargon of Universal Credit

26 January 2019 9:00 am

The government (if it hasn’t fallen yet) has found difficulty moving people onto Universal Credit from the benefits that they…

What lies behind John Bercow’s use of the word ‘colleagues’?

19 January 2019 9:00 am

The parliamentary press gallery has in the past given a pair of silver shoe buckles to the Speaker as a…

Illeism: the weird habit of talking about oneself in the third person

12 January 2019 9:00 am

Someone has been putting about reports that Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, refers to himself in the third person as…

Word of the week: Moral hazard

5 January 2019 9:00 am

‘Heads. Heads. Heads. Heads,’ said my husband, tossing an imaginary coin. The same improbability was amusing when Rosencrantz won the…

Word of the year: shouty

15 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Remind me what incel means again,’ said my husband. There was no point, since he’d forgotten twice already. I suspected…

The real reason people say ‘I text him’ instead of ‘I texted’ him

8 December 2018 9:00 am

Martin Allen has written with a very interesting question. It follows on from his initial query, which is why people…

Word of the week: ‘Granular’, a word used to suggest in-depth analysis

1 December 2018 9:00 am

‘Just two sugars,’ said my husband as I passed him his tea. He is cutting down. I doubt he would…

Word of the week: ‘cakeism’

24 November 2018 9:00 am

Latest despatches from the Dictionary Wars bring news of Oxford’s words of the year, a counterblast to last week’s words…