The strange story of Goldilocks….

A fascinating early version of the Goldilocks story was written in 1837 by British poet laureate Robert Southey, under the title “Story of the Three Bears.” Southey’s Goldilocks was neither young nor beautiful; rather, she was an angry, hungry, homeless grey-haired crone, perhaps in her midsixties, who broke into the …

V for Vendetta……

Yesterday I was listening to  a choir sing some Renaissance madrigals on the ubiquitous Youtube channel. Among them was a song about how Italy was terribly oppressed in the sixteenth century. The country was exhorted to: Grasp, grasp, bold one, the righteous sword To avenge yourself of a thousand other …

Plurale tantum and Sweaty Betty….

For some unfathomable reason, I have just received an email inviting me to buy Christmas presents at a shop called Sweaty Betty, which for the uninitiated is an outlet selling fashionable sports and fitness clothes for women – in some cases so beautifully designed that customers are inspired to take …

Misopogonistic Santa`s

Christmas is the season when strange men in red hats and white beards lurk and loiter in every shopping arcade. It’s therefore the time when the word misopogonistically really comes into its own. Misopogonistically is an adverb that means with a hatred of beards. Sample sentence: “No I don’t want …

Who`s ahead in the polls?….

It is election day in the Uk today and people on the television keep asking who is ahead in the polls. The question ‘Who’s ahead in the polls?’ is a delicious and savoury pun, because a poll is a head. Or it was. Shakespeare used poll to mean a head …

Myrrh and Santa Claus….

What exactly is myrrh ? The answer is that it’s a kind of aromatic resin that you get out little thorny trees in the Middle East. The reason that the Magi turned up with a bunch of the stuff is partly that myrrh was just a nice standard gift. It …

Foolscap paper and dead lawyers…..

Foolscap paper is one of those things that I’ve never really been sure about and to which I have never devoted even the idlest of my idle thoughts. I had never, for example, noticed that it’s a contraction of fool’s cap. But it is. That’s odd because foolscap is an …

Mugwump – a brief history….

A Mugwump is a derogatory word for somebody in charge, or for somebody who affects to be above petty squabbles and faction. The plodding boss and the pompous peacemaker are both mugwumps. Mugwump is therefore an eminently useful word. It has a preposterous sound: the ug and the ump get …

Let`s talk about expletives……

  I was thinking about a recent film I saw. It was about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and at one point he was talking about how he hadn’t enjoyed training as a doctor: ‘All those wretched patients,’ he said. Hmm, I thought. Did he mean by this that the patients …