Language

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…

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…

Why my husband is throwing socks at the TV during the Covid-19 crisis

4 April 2020 9:00 am

My husband has special ‘throwing socks’. They are a rolled-up pair of woolly hiking socks. He does not hike. He…

How ‘barley’ cropped up

28 March 2020 9:00 am

‘Why can’t you write about something wholesome?’ asked my husband, in a flanking move. He was in a bad mood…

Why we can’t count toast

7 March 2020 9:00 am

‘Somebody loves me,’ said my husband, waving a copy of The Spectator above his head as though pursued by wasps.…

How did being connected become ‘connectivity’?

21 February 2020 10:00 pm

Facebook recently told readers of the Sun that satellites could ‘bring broadband connectivity to rural regions where internet connectivity is…

Did Harry and Meghan step back, step down or step away?

1 February 2020 9:00 am

At this time of year in Colorado the crime of puffing is widespread. It is so cold that in the…

Babies are aware of bilingualism from birth — if not before

24 January 2020 10:00 pm

Probably most of the world is bilingual, or more than bilingual. It is common in many countries to speak a…

A young Rwandan scholar left a profound impression on me

21 December 2019 9:00 am

In the Rwandan Genocide Memorial gift shop I bought a handy Kinyarwanda–Kiswahili–English phrase book. The tipping point in the decision…

What were the words that defined 2019?

21 December 2019 9:00 am

‘Come off it,’ said my husband when I told him that upcycling was the word of the year. His response…

Where did ‘aconite’ spring from?

14 December 2019 9:00 am

‘What,’ asked my husband teasingly, by way of an early Christmas game, ‘connects wolf’s-bane with Woolwich Arsenal?’ It took me…

What exactly is a narwhal?

7 December 2019 9:00 am

A point that many people mentioned amid the horror and heroism of the attack at London Bridge was the enterprising…

Where did ‘decuman’ come from?

30 November 2019 9:00 am

‘What made you chase that hare?’ asked my husband with rare geniality. John Ruskin was to blame. He asked James…

From Pliny to poetry: the history of ‘ictus’ and ‘ductus’

23 November 2019 9:00 am

‘I know the difference between ictal and icteric,’ said my husband proudly, reminding me of Tweedledum in Through the Looking-Glass.…

What’s the different between ‘while’ and ‘whilst’?

9 November 2019 9:00 am

‘Why is whilst only ever used in letters?’ asked my husband, casting aside an argumentative letter from his sister written…

Letters: What would be the point of a second referendum?

2 November 2019 9:00 am

Another referendum? Sir: Matthew Parris’s article ‘What question should a second referendum ask?’ (26 October) occasioned a wry smile from me…