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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried