English language

Word of the week: 'concept'

28 May 2016 9:00 am

‘It was nothing special, but it was a pub,’ said my husband, looking up from his copy of Bar magazine…

Are exclamation marks still vulgar? Yes!

21 May 2016 9:00 am

‘Like eating in the street,’ said my husband. Astonishing! He’d said something not only coherent in itself but also connected…

The true meaning of Sadiq Khan’s claims to virtue

14 May 2016 9:00 am

The new Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he wanted ‘the most transparent, honest and accessible administration London has ever…

The dirty jokes that tell us how Shakespeare spoke

7 May 2016 9:00 am

Sir John Harington told a story in 1596 about a lady at court asking her gentlewoman to inquire which Mr…

A puzzle for President Obama: is it really that British to queue?

30 April 2016 9:00 am

The language that President Barack Obama used was evidence of skulduggery, Nigel Farage declared. ‘The UK is gonna be in…

Sorry, but saying ‘sex worker’ won’t lift the stigma

23 April 2016 9:00 am

‘Of course,’ said my husband in his worst smirky way, as though waiting for an appreciative chuckle, ‘as soon as…

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the shifting meaning of ‘illegitimate’

16 April 2016 9:00 am

‘The Archbishop of Canterbury has discovered he is the illegitimate son of Sir Winston Churchill’s last private secretary,’ Charles Moore…

The tangled story of dreadlocks, from Milton to YouTube

9 April 2016 9:00 am

‘Why are you filming this?’ ‘For everyone’s safety.’ Those are the last words in a 46-second video that was watched…

Mind your language: From body fluids to ‘gender fluid’

2 April 2016 9:00 am

Benjamin Franklin thought that an excess of electric fluid gave rise to positive electricity, and a deficiency of the fluid…

Why won’t the media call a cock a cock?

19 March 2016 9:00 am

On the Radio 4 news at 11 o’clock last Saturday morning there was a joky report about roosters in Brisbane. The…

The most annoying word in advertising

5 March 2016 9:00 am

It used to be ‘Your M&S’. That was presumptuous enough. Now, when you drive past Earls Court exhibition hall, pathetically…

The murky origins of David Cameron’s new favourite phrase

5 March 2016 9:00 am

‘They all laughed at Christopher Columbus,’ sang my husband flatly, ‘when he said the world was round.’ I wasn’t going…

Britain to have ‘special status’ in the EU? Careful what you wish for…

27 February 2016 9:00 am

‘Special status?’ said my husband. ‘You mean like executioners, butchers and undertakers in Japan?’ I hadn’t suggested that, but had…

Does creaky voice make you a female yuppie – or an updated Vicki Pollard?

20 February 2016 9:00 am

My husband, not surprisingly, finds it extremely annoying. It, in this instance, is the use by women of creaky voice.…

Beware of misusing ‘be aware’

13 February 2016 9:00 am

My husband pointed with his stick, which he carries not to steady himself but to cudgel pedestrians out of his…

How ‘Not even a thing’ became a thing

6 February 2016 9:00 am

Last summer Kim Kardashian, who already had a daughter called North (surname West), announced that she was expecting a boy.…

Are we at peak ‘peak’ yet?

30 January 2016 9:00 am

Near Victoria Station in London they began to build a tower-block advertised as ‘The Peak’. I expected it to resemble…

The words The Spectator gave the world

9 January 2016 9:00 am

When the much missed Frank Johnson (1943–2006), once editor of The Spectator, wrote in 1980 that ‘the peculiar need for…

Why 'safe' is Dot Wordsworth's word of the year

12 December 2015 9:00 am

‘Makes me feel sick,’ said my husband, referring not to the third mince pie of the morning (in Advent, supposedly…

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The rise of the man bun, the Mancan and man boobs

28 November 2015 9:00 am

‘Ha, ha, ha,’ said my husband, as though he had learnt to laugh by reading Twitter. ‘Now they’ve got falsies.’ He…

How education jargon hurts children

14 November 2015 9:00 am

‘Excuse me, sir. Seeing as how the VP is such a VIP, shouldn’t we keep the PC on the QT?…

Is ‘female’ still an insult?

14 November 2015 9:00 am

‘More deadly than the male,’ said my husband archly. He was knowingly quoting Kipling, though I don’t know why he…

How we ended up ‘cisgender’

7 November 2015 9:00 am

‘That’s not how you spell “system”,’ said my husband triumphantly, pointing with his whisky glass at a placard inveighing against…

Barry Humphries’s diary: My war with ‘Wow!’

29 October 2015 9:00 am

I’m counting ‘Wows!’ Suddenly everyone is using this irritating expletive expressing incredulity, amazement and nothing at all. I’ve heard it…

Should we just stop using ‘fulsome’?

29 October 2015 9:00 am

It’s funny that two much misused words end in —some: fulsome and noisome. Noisome is the less often used at…