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 …

A quick word on fingers and digits….

The fingers are the digits and are therefore used for counting. Thus did digits become numbers and when information is stored in numbers it becomes digital. The Old English names for the fingers are much more fun than those which have been more recently fangled. The index finger was once …

Nest egg…..

I had always assumed that a nest-egg (of the financial variety) was something that would hatch upon a rainy day. I made this mistake because I have never kept chickens. Chickens, being giddy creatures, are liable to lay their eggs and then, when they have hatched, to abandon their nest. …

Paracelsus and Gnomes…….

There was once a chap called Paracelsus. He was an alchemist, chemist, medic, and all-round clever clogs of the sixteenth century. Paracelsus was not his real name of course: that would be ridiculous. His real name was Phillippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus Von Hohenheim. Paracelsus was a moniker he acquired for …

The wonderful world of pareidolia….

Consider this exchange between Polonius and Hamlet.. POLONIUS: My lord, the queen would speak with you, and presently. HAMLET: Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in shape of a camel? POL: By the mass, and ’tis like a camel, indeed. HAM: Methinks it is like a weasel. POL: It is backed like a …

Unlucky 13….

Why is 13 considered so unlucky? Surveys show that of all bad luck superstitions, unease surrounding the number thirteen is the one that affects most people today—and in almost countless ways. The French, for instance, never issue the house address thirteen. In Italy, the national lottery omits the number thirteen. …