Etymology

Word of the week: ‘prorogue’

7 September 2019 9:00 am

It was most unlooked-for that a king should ally with Whig politicians to seek parliamentary reform, but that was what…

Is a cow always a cow?

31 August 2019 9:00 am

I’ve noticed a tendency among townies like me to call all cattle cows (which they feel they must mention in…

Are our feelings towards politics apathy or inertia?

24 August 2019 9:00 am

My husband, with a dependable appetite for chestnuts, says he would be the ideal person to start an Apathy party.…

Where did Boris Johnson’s ‘gloomsters’ come from?

10 August 2019 9:00 am

When Boris Johnson hit out at ‘the doomsters and the gloomsters’, I was willing to believe that the word gloomster…

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Is the term ‘Esquire’ U or non-U?

3 August 2019 9:00 am

‘I’m a learned doctor,’ cried my husband, pulling at the hems of his tweed coat and doing a little jig.…

From moustache to extremist – the journey of ‘bigot’

27 July 2019 9:00 am

How might an oath lend its name in England to a religious extremist and in Spain to a moustache? That…

Must Harry and Meghan’s son really learn to ‘essentialise’ race?

20 July 2019 9:00 am

‘Ha, ha,’ said my husband, as though he’d made a joke. ‘Here’s one for you.’ He waved a page of…

Lib Dem MEP Luisa Porritt in the European Parliament last week (Twitter)

The Lib Dems are wrong – it’s ‘ballocks’ to Brexit

13 July 2019 9:00 am

I agree with James Joyce on the spelling ballocks. The Liberal Democrats made their MEPs wear T-shirts printed with ‘Bollocks…

Who really invented the word ‘posh’?

6 July 2019 9:00 am

Two rules of grammar are certain: never split an infinitive and never end a sentence with a preposition. As for…

Watch out for ‘watch on’

29 June 2019 9:00 am

In Casablanca, Mr and Mrs Leuchtag resolve to speak English to each other in preparation for emigration to America. Mr…

The barking world of ‘doggo lingo’

22 June 2019 9:00 am

Doggy sounds childish. ‘How much is that doggie in the window?’ asks the popular song. (The song title used the…

How many words were coined by Thomas Browne?

15 June 2019 9:00 am

‘How many words will you use today, first used by Thomas Browne in the 17th century?’ asked a trailer on…

The tangled roots of ‘artichoke’

8 June 2019 9:00 am

My husband has been growling: ‘You cross-legged hartichoak.’ He tries it on obstructive pedestrians hypnotised by their mobile phones. He…

Just who – or what – are the men in suits?

1 June 2019 9:00 am

After he invented the term young fogey (in The Spectator in 1984), the much lamented journalist Alan Watkins coined the…

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…

‘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…

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…

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: ‘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…

Collins dictionary has got ‘gammon’ all wrong

17 November 2018 9:00 am

In the annual dictionary wars to nominate words of the year, in the hope of attracting publicity, Collins has made…