Comment: A seasonal discussion with the wordlywise

IT WOULD have been sad to end the year without another visitation from Dr Wordsmith, our peripatetic expert on the way we speak today, so I am delighted to say that this unpredictable linguist has just blown into the office on his way from one Christmas-tide party to another. He has expressed his willingness to tackle your end-of-the-year queries and to raise a glass to you all, so over to you, Dr Wordsmith!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, when I was buying calendars before Christmas I noticed that these days they are almost all wrapped in cellophane, which means you can't have a look through them and make sure you like all the pictures. The only one you can be sure of is the one on the cover. That is why they print tiny reproductions of all 12 of the pictures on the back, to give you a chance to check the other illustrations.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Is this getting anywhere, may I ask?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Yes. Is there a name for these small reproductions on the back of a calendar?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I am certain there must be.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Do you have any idea what it is?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I haven't the faintest. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, By this time next week we shall know whether there really was a Millennium Bug or not. But what if there wasn't? What if nothing goes wrong, and nothing crashes? How can you use the term Millennium Bug if there is no such thing? Can you use a word to describe something that doesn't exist? Are we justified in wasting good words on non-existent things?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Well, go on, give me an example of a word we commonly use, which describes something that doesn't exist.

Dr Wordsmith writes: How about "Utopia"? How about "progress"? How about "Promotion for Fulham Football Club"? Or "A cure for the common cold"? "A tuna and peanut butter sandwich"? How about, and this is really one for my atheist readers, how about "God"? How about...?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, OK, I take your point. May I pass on to another closely related topic?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Be my guest.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I have noticed that when people want to dignify the urge to collect rather naff objects, they tend to invent posh names based on the Latin to make it sound more respectable. People who collect beer- mats or cigarette cards or postcards or chewing gum all have ludicrously inflated names for the activity. And I wondered if there was any name for the urge to give activities posh names to disguise their essential sadness?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be. Anything else you wish to know?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Yes. Is there a name to describe a person who collects carrier bags?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes - a bag lady. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, You know when a widescreen film is being shown on an ordinary TV, they have to cut off the bits at either side to fit the rest of the picture on? Well, I wondered if there was any word to describe these bits?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Why on earth would you want to have a word for them? Would you ever need to talk about them?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, As a matter of fact, yes. I am trying to sell a new quiz game to TV based on these bits. The way it works is that you show the contestants the two outside bits of a famous film scene, and they have to identify it and say what's going on in the middle bit. So, for instance, if you were showing the final battle in The Gunfight at OK Corral, all you would see would be bits of fence and sand as well as the occasional boot...

Dr Wordsmith writes: May I just say that I devoutly hope this game never makes it to the screen? May I also say that that fine pub, the Printer's Widow, will be open in 10 minutes' time, and that any reader who wishes to buy me a Christmas present in a pint pot will find me a reasonable man to do business with?

Dr Wordsmith will be back next year. So make sure you keep your questions flooding in!

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'