Etymology

What’s so funny about ‘helpmeet’?

29 January 2022 9:00 am

‘What’s so funny?’ asked my husband, accusingly, as I made an amused noise while relaxing with a copy of the…

Is the Duke of York’s title really ‘untenable’?

22 January 2022 9:00 am

‘Nurse! The tenaculum!’ exclaimed my husband in the manner of James Robertson Justice playing the surgeon Sir Lancelot Spratt. I’m…

The elementary misuse of ‘alumni’

15 January 2022 9:00 am

My husband is forever being sent magazines from his Oxford college inviting him to give it money. I suggest he…

Can men be witches?

30 October 2021 9:00 am

‘No, darling, I certainly wouldn’t call you a witch,’ said my husband. ‘You’re not thin enough.’ The Oxford English Dictionary…

Can a criminal really be ‘prolific’?

23 October 2021 9:00 am

The BBC made a documentary about a man sent to prison for being the ‘most prolific rapist in British legal…

What exactly is the ‘festive season’?

9 October 2021 9:00 am

‘Here you are, darling,’ I said to my husband. ‘These lines might have been written for you: “Drinke, quaffe, be…

We are in a perfect storm of perfect storms

2 October 2021 9:00 am

When my husband’s whisky glass fell off the little table next to his chair on to next door’s cat, which…

The problem with ‘bame’

25 September 2021 9:00 am

In its coverage of the shuffled cabinet, the BBC added a note: ‘BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) is a…

What does Peter Quennell have to do with fish?

11 September 2021 9:00 am

When Peter Quennell was sent down from Oxford for consorting with a woman called Cara (by Evelyn Waugh’s account), he…

How Shakespeare became ‘problematic’

4 September 2021 9:00 am

‘This crossword is problematic!’ exclaimed my husband, tossing aside the folded newspaper marked with a ring where his whisky glass…

The timeless appeal of Latin

14 August 2021 9:00 am

The government’s promise to fund a pilot scheme promoting the teaching of Latin in secondary schools is music to the…

The dramatic evolution of ‘actor’

14 August 2021 9:00 am

‘That chap in Line of Duty. That’s what I’d call a bad actor,’ said my husband with vague certainty. He…

The dirty truth about ‘wash-up’

7 August 2021 9:00 am

‘They asked me if I wanted to wash up before we even went in to dinner,’ my husband recalled with…

Double dutch: the many meanings of ‘Holland’

31 July 2021 9:00 am

The title of the keenly awaited volume of memoirs by John Martin Robinson sounds like a crossword clue: Holland Blind…

The poetry behind ‘leather and prunella’

24 July 2021 9:00 am

‘Oh, yes,’ said my husband, enthusiastically, ‘a loathsome disease. The tongue goes black and dry.’ He was referring to an…

The ding-dong over being ‘pinged’

17 July 2021 9:00 am

‘Ping, ping, ping went the bell,’ sang my husband, making his eyes wide and jigging in his best imitation of…

Does it matter if Priti Patel drops her Gs?

3 July 2021 9:00 am

In 1923 in Whose Body? we were introduced to Lord Peter Wimsey on his way to an auction where he…

Critical thinking: the difference between ‘critique’ and ‘criticise’

26 June 2021 9:00 am

Six years ago I wrote here about critique, as a noun or verb, and things have gone from bad to…

Critical issue: the complex language of gender

19 June 2021 9:00 am

Seeing my husband in his armchair snoozing, as his unacknowledged habit is, head back, mouth open, stertorous and blotchy, it…

The difference between ‘sliver’ and ‘slither’ is a piece of cake

12 June 2021 9:00 am

When people say a slither of cake, do they not remember that snakes slither? ‘Slither slide; sliver small piece,’ says…

Are we overusing ‘overhaul’?

5 June 2021 9:00 am

Last week, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer were overhauling their stores. Football clubs were madly overhauling teams and we…

How the Great British Bake Off inspired Great British Railways

29 May 2021 9:00 am

‘Why didn’t they call it Very British Railways?’ asked my husband. Unwittingly (as in most of his remarks), he had…

‘Level’ has a bumpy history

22 May 2021 9:00 am

‘I must level with you, level with the British public, many more families are going to lose loved ones.’ That…

The dirty truth about ‘sleaze’

1 May 2021 9:00 am

‘Sleaze, sleaze, sleaze!’ exclaimed Sir Keir Starmer in Prime Minister’s Questions last week, hoping that a triple serving might stick.…

What’s so great about ‘super’?

24 April 2021 9:00 am

‘Wizard,’ said William. ‘Super,’ said Ginger, in William and the Moon Rocket (1954). More recently we have had Alex Salmond,…