Franglais, loan words and a grumpy Frenchman……

It was, I believe, a certain M. Étiemble who devoted a whole book to the condemnation of what he called Franglais – the long-term debauching of French by commercial English (strictly speaking, commercial American). However such a liaison may be refused benefit of academy, nothing can prevent its becoming a …

Lady jesters….

I’ve never liked the word comedienne. I don’t know exactly why, but it bugs me. There’s something about the faux Frenchiness of it. It might be condescendingly sexist, or it might be tediously feminist, and either way it rankles. So I was immensely pleased when I happened across the word …

Window licking…..

It is, perhaps, appropriate that the English word lecher comes from the French for licker, although it may rather cramp the thoroughgoing lecher’s style. The French for lick is still lecher, which is why the French for window shopping is faire du lèche-vitrine, which literally means to go window licking. …

H for handsome…..

Sometimes, the original meaning of a word is so bloody obvious that you can’t believe that you don’t use it that way any more. Such a word is handsome, which apparently is as it does – a phrase I have never understood. When you realise that handsome used to be …

Martin Luther – Constipated hypocrite……..

One of the great images of history is that of Martin Luther (1483-1546) lighting the blue touch paper starting the Protestant Reformation by nailing his famous ninety-five points to the doors of All Saints Catholic Church in his hometown of Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. This image is still very …

Thomas Austin, a bad idea and rabbits…..

History is littered with bad decisions. For example, Louis XVI’s decision to support the revolt of the British Colonies in America. This worked out well for what soon became the United States of America but not so well for him. The ideas fostered in the newly formed United States of America, …

The Dorchester…..

Built in 1931, perhaps one the most famous hotels in London- certainly one of the most expensive. In its early days it hosted Foyles literary luncheons attended by the likes of DH Lawrence, Charlie Chaplin and Haile Selassie. Sir John Gilbey of the gin distillers once spoke for one and …

Tulipmania……

Capitalism isn’t the road to riches for everyone. Take the examples of the 1990’s dot-com boom and bust, or the 1929 stockmarket crash (as well as a series of disastrous depressions across earlier decades), not to mention the imploding speculative European market disaster known as the South Sea Bubble of …

Bad lettuce….

Now that my latest book A Splendidly Smutty Dictionary of Sex has now hit the bookshops. I am returning to another project – a look at the role of vegetables in history. It may sound dull but it is certainly not. Have a quick look at the humble lettuce…. Samuel …

How to spot a lesbian…….

In Dell Richards excellent Lesbian Lists (1990), he trawled through old medical journals for ways to spot a lesbian. This was the advice given by the doctors of the day. 1800s. In the “Gay 90s”, that is, the 1890s, a sure sign of a lesbian was a woman who smoked …