Category Archives: Language

Mountweazel

The sad news is that the latest series of Only Connect has finished.  What will I do now on Monday evenings? The good news is that the last programme in the series gave me a splendid word that I had never encountered before. It is ‘Mountweazel’, a fictitious entry in a work of reference. These […]

Philip Gibbs and the war-book boom

The novelist hero of Philip Gibbs’s 1931 novel The Winding Lane is an ex-soldier rather ill at ease in the literary world. At the Pen and Palette, a bohemian club catering for the artistic set, he notes the taste of some of the members: Some of these middle-aged women praised with rather hysterical enthusiasms the […]

Sassoon and slanginess

An article in the Guardian alerts us to an interesting new exhibition at the Imperial War Museum. It tells the story of a century of anti-war protest, and one of the exhibits is a manuscript copy of ‘The General’ by Siegfried Sassoon.

‘A splitarse bus’

V.M. Yeates spots a German aeroplane: It was one of the new DFWs – a nice-looking, very splitarse bus. ‘Splitarsing’ is a frequent word in Winged Victory  It appears in Arnall’s  Portrait of an Airman, too. The context makes it clear that it means ‘making a fast manoeuvre’, and the Oxford English Dictionary gives us […]

Thanatognomonic

I  like discovering words that are new to me. This is from V.M.Yeates, Winged Victory (1934): A flaming meteor fell out of a cloud close by them and plunged earthwards. It was an aeroplane going down in flames from some fight above the clouds. Where it fell the atmosphere was stained by a thanatognomonic black […]

English Words in Wartime

Readers of this blog may also be interested in ‘English Words in Wartime’, a blog that looks at ways in which the Great War changed the language. It looks especially at the words noted by that splendid diarist the Rev Andrew Clark, who set himself to describing the effects of war on everyday life, and […]

‘Pre-war’ again

It’s a long long time since I noted some interesting (to me) uses of the term ‘pre-war’. Here’s another, from the extremely entertaining 1927 novel  Crazy Pavements  by Beverley Nichols. Nobody had spoken during this brief transit, except Maurice who had said: ‘Does my face look terribly pre-war tonight?’ and had been answered by an […]

Fun with Ngrams

One of the pleasures of the British Poetry of the First World War conference (and the pleasures were many – I’ll be mentioning several over the next week or so) was Jay Winter’s talk on ‘Glory’. He traced the decline of the word in English by use of  Google Ngrams. This is a neat bit […]

New Huns

In Arnold Bennett’s 1927 novel, The Strange Vanguard (or in America, just The Vanguard), a forthright multi-millionaire talks about his immense wealth: People call me one of the new Huns, because I’m so darned rich. Well, I can’t help it. What could I do? I couldn’t refuse my royalties or the interest on my investments. […]

Non-military ‘shell-shock’

Reading Malcolm Sage, Detective by Herbert Jenkins (1921) I come across this description of a young man who has just heard that his uncle has been murdered: Malcolm Sage and Sir James between them succeeded in placing young Dane more at his ease. The haunted, shell-shock look left his eyes, and the twitching disappeared from […]