Dr Wordsmith decides to call time on the last baguette

PEOPLE ARE as concerned about the state of the English language as ever, and, to deal with the flood of inquiries about lexicological niceties, I am happy to welcome another visit from Dr Wordsmith. He has given up a few minutes from his ceaseless research into the evolution of modern English, conducted in pubs the length and breadth of the land; and here he is to deal with your latest problems. Take it away, Doc!

Dear Dr Wordsmith

I was standing in the check-out queue at my local supermarket the other day when the man in front finished unloading his purchases on to the conveyor belt and then put that little divider thing at the end of his shopping to signify I could now start putting MY shopping on to it. It occurred to me that nobody knows what these things are called. A shopping divider? A customer barrier? A purchase partition? One is not likely to need the word often, of course, but if I ever have to say to the cashier that I need one, what should I call it? Does it actually have a trade name?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I'm sure it does. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith

I recently bought a baguette at the supermarket and when I got home I started slicing it to make sandwiches - not top-to-bottom but end-to- end. Well, whether it is a property of English-style baguettes English supermarkets fob us off with or not, I do not know, but I found - as I've often found - that it is very hard to slice along the centre of a baguette without the white interior of the loaf becoming bunched up around the bread knife, and then getting carried along inside the loaf until it has coagulated into a small ball rather like compacted cotton wool. Is there a word for this process?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but I have never come across it. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith

The other day I was in a supermarket getting baguettes for a picnic and fiddling with my change, when it occurred to me that, in all the years since decimalisation, none of our coins has acquired a nickname. In the old days we called a shilling a shilling, a sixpence a tanner, and so on. Nothing like that has happened to our new coins. Is there a word meaning "a coin that has no nickname"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: It seems unlikely, but it is just possible, I suppose. Next, please.

Dear Dr Wordsmith

I was vacuum-cleaning the kitchen floor (I had just been preparing baguettes for a picnic, and the floor was littered with crumbs) when it occurred to me that, though vacuum-cleaning is generally a quite efficient process, there always seem to be something left behind that has to be picked up by hand - sometimes, indeed, it's a thing which you would have thought the vacuum cleaner would have easily picked up, such as a cherry stone or a rolled-up bit of sticky tape. Is there any word for an object consistently rejected by a vacuum cleaner? And, as a corollary, is there any word for a valuable or useful object that is NOT meant to be picked up by a vacuum cleaner, but which you realise just too late was lying in its path? A wedding ring, for example, or a false tooth?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not to my knowledge. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith

I was out for a picnic with the family the other day and I was trying to tell my children something about the technique of building dry stone walls and of laying hedges, when my 15-year-old boy, who is very articulate and observant, said: "You talk as if there were a clear-cut distinction between walls and hedges and fences, but it isn't so. If you look at many hedges, you'll find there's often the remnants of an old wall inside the hedge, which has grown up round it. Similarly, some of these hedges have the framework of an old fence in their interior. Other hedges, which have collapsed in places, have been partially patched up by lengths of fence, so they are half hedge, half fence. And some fences are a mixture of metal rods and barbed wire strands. Are there any words to express these differences, even if they are technical and agricultural?" I told him I would ask you, which I am now doing.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Oh for heaven's sake, was I dragged out of the warm and cosy snug of the Three Drunken Printers to answer this farrago of mega-trivia? In 10 minutes I shall be back there and willing to talk to any real seeker after truth who'll buy me a pint!

Dr Wordsmith will be back again soon. Keep those queries rolling in!

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
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.

    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea