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 …

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. …

Stalin and Thatcher….

I had a rather splendid day today. As regular readers are no doubt aware, I teach English during the summer months..Today saw the return of the Russians and their charming tour leader and a rather pleasant Russian English teacher. The result of which got me thinking about the English language …

Americans and speaking English….

I read recently that we British are getting rather hot under the collar about the English language. If you Google the word “Americanisms” you will find red faced pedants claiming that the Americans are swamping, killing and absorbing British English. If the British are not careful, so their argument goes, …