Old Words That Sound New

Jan Huntingdon said she has a tattered 1790 edition of the K-Z volume of Thomas Sheridan’s ‘Dictionary of the English Language’, and the first word under Z is the first on this list, defined as: ‘One employed to raise laughter by his gestures, actions, and speeches; a merry Andrew, a buffoon.’

  1. Zany, 16th century From French zani or Italian zan(n)i, Venetian form of Gianni, Giovanni (John), stock name of the servants acting as clowns in the commedia dell’arte.
  2. Synthesis, around 1600 From Richard Morris.
  3. Unfriend, 1275 As a verb, dates back to 1659; the noun is even older, according to OxfordWords. Suggested by Politics and Tea.
  4. Hipster, 1941 OxfordWords, Oxford Dictionaries’ blog. From Politics and Tea again.
  5. Interactive, 1833 Nominated by Malcolm Redfellow.
  6. Trash, 1603 “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing.” Iago in Othello. Nominated by Stig Abell.
  7. Fanboy, 1919 And fangirl. 1934. OxfordWords blog. Another Politics and Tea proposal.
  8. Advertorial, 1914 A headline in Rotarian, 14 May: “A word to the women folk. An advertorial.” Nominated by Jem Stone.
  9. Freak, 16th century Originally dialect: sudden, arbitrary change of mind. Four hundred years later, in 1978, Chic’s “Le Freak” reached number one. Proposed by Nedemus.
  10. Baseball, 1755 From the Diary of William Bray, Guildford. Jane Austen’s Catherine in Northanger Abbey, (written 1797-8), prefers “cricket, base-ball, riding on horseback” to books. From Sarah Brown.

Originally published in the Independent on 19th October 2014


Songs Named After Days of the Week

This list was Tom Doran’s idea. I thought we might be able to do it using David Bowie alone (‘Drive-In Saturday’, ‘Thursday’s Child’ and ‘Friday on My Mind’), but had to allow some lesser artists in to make up the numbers. And, obviously, the week starts on Sunday.

  1. ‘Everyday is Like Sunday’ Morrissey, 1988 Nominated by Adam Huntley. (I still think “every day” should be two words.)
  2. ‘Sunday Girl’ Blondie, 1979 Breezily ushered in by Tim Mickleburgh.
  3. ‘Manic Monday’ The Bangles, 1986 Nominated by both Adam Huntley and Tom Doran.
  4. ‘Blue Monday’ New Order, 1983 Nominated by the same Monday- obsessed pair.
  5. ‘Ruby Tuesday’ The Rolling Stones, 1967 A gem from Tom Doran.
  6. ‘Wednesday Morning, 3am’ Simon and Garfunkel, 1964 Yet another from Tom Doran.
  7. ‘Thursday’s Child’ David Bowie, 1999 From that man Doran again.
  8. ‘Friday on My Mind’ The Easybeats, 1966 David Waddington, Marc Blanc and Rob Marchant agreed that the original beats the Bowie cover.
  9. ‘Friday I’m in Love’ The Cure, 1992 Sarah pitched in with Robert Smith’s paean to enduring amour.
  10. ‘Drive-In Saturday’ David Bowie, 1973 The grand finale and final word from, yes, Tom Doran.

Originally published in the Independent on 12th October 2014.


First Sentences of Non-Fiction

After an online debate with Brian Moore over the opening sentence of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (best of lines, worst of lines), which I would have rejected for my Top 10 First sentences of novels even if it had not been too long, I thought we should turn to non-fiction.

  1. ‘The traditional disputes of philosophers are, for the most part, as unwarranted as they are unfruitful’ Alfred Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 1936. Thoughtfully nominated by Man Ray.
  2. ‘L’homme est né libre, et par-tout il est dans les fers’ (“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.”) Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du Contrat Social, 1762. Chris Sladen tied himself to the original French.
  3. ‘A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe’ Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, 1848. Issy Flamel put forward Helen McFarlane’s 1850 translation.
  4. ‘We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones’ Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow, 1998. Nominated by Emma Hutchings.
  5. ‘No comet blazed when I was born’ Denis Healey, The Time of My Life, 1989. Brought to light by Mark Bassett.
  6. ‘The great English novelists are Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad’ FR Leavis, The Great Tradition, 1948. Adam Lent does not say whether he agrees.
  7. ‘There are idiots’ Larry Summers, US Treasury Secretary 1999-2001, unpublished paper on efficient markets. Offered without prejudice by Ian Leslie.
  8. ‘Louvain was a dull place, said a guidebook in 1910, but when the time came it made a spectacular fire’ Margaret MacMillan, The War That Ended Peace, 2013. From Ian Johnston.
  9. ‘We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold’ Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1972 (it’s partly autobiographical). Nominated by Twlldunyrpobsais.
  10. ‘We wish to suggest a structure for the salt of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA)’ James Watson and Francis Crick, “A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid”, 1953. From Damian Counsell.

Originally published in the Independent on 5th October 2014


Misleading Definitions

This list started with a conversation on Twitter. Aric Gilinsky (respectfully) disagreed with Tom Doran’s opinion on the meaning of irony. Tom had said: ‘It means ‘a bit like iron’. Everyone knows that.’ Aric asked: ‘Is this part of a Top 10 false meanings of words that you could totally convince a foreigner are true?’ It is now.

  1. Oyster A person who overdoes Jewish mannerisms, according to Guy Herbert.
  2. Sitar A guitar on which you sit, reckons Kit Marsden.
  3. Gullible “Many years ago, when asked by my little sister the meaning of the word, I told her it was a shade of blue,” says Alan Robertson, helpfully.
  4. Lampoon Noun. A tool for whaling at night. From Elliot Adams.
  5. Discontent A marquee put up for a party, insists Robertson.
  6. Glacier More glacé; for example: “all cherries are glacé, but some are glacier than others”, suggests Marsden.
  7. Disorder Verb. To cancel an Amazon purchase, says Jack Blackburn.
  8. Timid Central Yorkshire. See also, Tabby: big church in Yorkshire; Tissues: important matters in Yorkshire. Each suggested by Tom Joyce.
  9. Antidisestablishmentarianism The movement for banning insults in restaurants, led by Tom Doran.
  10. Slippery Adjective. Like a slipper, says Lee “Budgie” Barnett.

Originally published in the Independent on 26th September 2014


One-word Lines in Films

This list was suggested by Mark Wallace, and I am taking some of these on trust as they are from films I haven’t seen and, in the case of ‘Evil Dead 2’, have no desire to see. There were a couple of nominations from ‘Withnail and I’, but I didn’t understand them.

  1. ‘Stella!’ Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, in A Streetcar Named Desire. From Omer Lev and Jess Bowie.
  2. ‘Groovy’ Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams, after he straps a chainsaw to his stump, Evil Dead 2. Nominated by Twlldunyrpobsais.
  3. ‘Bottom’ A minion’s response to Silas Ramsbottom introducing himself, Despicable Me 2. From Tony Payne.
  4. ‘Ahhhhhhh… ahh… ah… ah…ahhhhhhhhh’ Tarzan. Thanks to David Lindsell.
  5. ‘Plastics’ Career advice to the Graduate. From Western Independent and Omer Lev.
  6. ‘Rosebud’ Orson Welles as Citizen Kane. Possibly the most famous, although I’ve never seen the point. Nominated by many, including, er, Citizen Sane.
  7. ‘Attica!’ Al Pacino as Sonny Wortzik, Dog Day Afternoon. Nominated by Omer Lev and Robert Epstein.
  8. ‘Always’ Severus Snape, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. From Lutra Nippon.
  9. ‘Supercali- fragilistic- expialidocious’ Mary Poppins. Nominated by Labour History Group.
  10. ‘Madness!’ Major Clipton, The Bridge on the River Kwai. Recalled by Richard T Kelly.

Originally published in the Independent on 21st September 2014



Eponyms are words that derive from a person’s name. This idea was suggested by Rich Greenhill, a word wizard extraordinaire. He started with ‘milquetoast’ (a fictional cartoon-strip character) and ‘quisling’, the name of the army officer who ruled Norway for the Nazis. Alan Robertson mentioned Stigler’s Law: that no discovery is ever named after the person who actually discovered it.

  1. Silhouette Named after Étienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), French author and politician, although no one knows why. Nominated by Rich Greenhill.
  2. Sideburns General Ambrose Burnside (1824–81), the Union army leader who boasted “burnsides”. From Adrian McMenamin.
  3. Pander Pandare, a character in Chaucer’s Troilus and Criseyde, aka Pandarus in Shakespeare’s version. Suggested by Stig Abell.
  4. Quixotic Don Quixote, hero of Cervantes’ satire. From James Ball.
  5. Shrapnel General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), the British soldier who invented the shell. Nominated by Matt Prissick.
  6. Trilby From the name of the heroine in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby (1894), in the stage version of which such a hat was worn. With thanks to Allan Draycott.
  7. Mesmerise Franz Mesmer (1734-1815), a German doctor who propounded animal magnetism, later called hypnotism. From Josh Spero.
  8. Maverick Sam Maverick (1803-1870), the Texas politician and rancher who refused (or couldn’t be bothered) to brand his cattle. Suggested by Rich Greenhill and Steve Smith.
  9. Diesel Rudolf Diesel (1858-1913), French-born German engineer, inventor of the diesel engine. From David Head.
  10. Bloomers Amelia Bloomer (1818-1894), American social reformer who advocated such garments. From Michael C.

Originally published in the Independent on 14th September 2014


Tracks Not As Good As Their Intro

This list was suggested by my excellent former colleague Matt Chorley, who launched it with ‘Bump N’ Grind’ by R Kelly; ‘Never Ever’ by All Saints; and the Beatles’ ‘All You Need Is Love’. Someone (David Bright) tried to nominate ‘Gimme Shelter’, by the Rolling Stones, but my power is absolute.

  1. ‘Block Buster!’, The Sweet Nominated by Simon Wilder and Tom Doran, who says that “Block Buster!” is to “Jean Genie” as Poundland is to Tesco.
  2. ‘Two Tribes’, Frankie Goes to Hollywood “It’s a great song but fails to live up to the soaring air-raid/orchestral opening,” says Tim Shipman.
  3. ‘Layla’, Derek and the Dominos “I like the intro and outro but could lose the rest,” says Dave Gilmore.
  4. ‘Rapper’s Delight’, The Sugarhill Gang “Never improves after the delight of the intro rap,” claims Matt Chorley.
  5. ‘Papa Don’t Preach’, Madonna Nominated by Richard Morris.
  6. ‘Spaceman’, Babylon Zoo Paul T Horgan and Emma, who says: “Sounded ace in the Levi’s ad; crushingly disappointing in its entirety on Top of the Pops.”
  7. ‘Seven Nation Army’, The White Stripes Nominated by Lucy Hunter Johnson.
  8. ‘Benny and the Jets’, Elton John Never goes anywhere. From Patrick Hennessy.
  9. ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’, Guns N’ Roses Nominated by Martin and Marianne Talbot.
  10. ‘I Feel Love’, Donna Summer From Rob Warm.

Originally published in the Independent on 7th September 2014.