Mind your language

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…

Where did ‘taking a knee’ come from?

13 June 2020 9:00 am

That sympathetic physician, Sir Thomas Browne, thought himself austere in conversation. ‘Yet, at my devotion,’ he confessed in Religio Medici…

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…

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.…