God's recipe for squid, and other red herrings

'Leith's Fish Bible could only have been titled by someone who took religion not very seriously
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The Independent Culture
I AM constantly being deluged with letters from readers who are intrigued by the changes in meaning of the English language, and want to be kept up to date with new words and new definitions. Rather than make a fool of myself or confess ignorance, I prefer to enlist an expert, and that is why I have waited until Dr Wordsmith dropped in on his way to the pub. Or on his way back from the pub. Or en route from one pub to another. It's hard to tell, sometimes. Anyway, here he is again, and so it's all yours, Dr Wordsmith!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I sometimes think how odd it is that there are everyday things which we never talk about because they have no name. For instance, when we buy a pair of men's socks, they are often joined together by a little link which we have to snip or untie in order to part the socks. As far as I know, that link has no name. There may well be a technical term used by hosiers, but it has not percolated down to common parlance.

Dr Wordsmith writes: I seem to have missed the question. Is it something to do with socks?

No. I haven't come to it yet.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, let me know when you have.

My question is really about sticky plasters. When you are putting on a plaster, you first have to pull off two flaps to reveal the sticky ends. These two flaps are then discarded and they flutter to the floor while you get on with the serious business of putting the plaster on the right place, though in fact they mostly seem to be imbued with static electricity and stick to your clothing...

Dr Wordsmith writes: I'm sorry. What seem to be imbued with static electricity?

These things. These flaps that come off plasters. These plaster wings, or whatever they're called. That's exactly my point! They seem to have no name, that's why there are so many of them littered around bathroom floors! Nobody can say, Pick up those... things, because nobody knows what they are called.

Dr Wordsmith writes: I get your point. And what is your question?

Do they in fact have a name?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I have no idea. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I am intrigued by the role of religion in daily life. We are often told that religion means very little to most people these days, yet the phraseology of religion survives.

We talk about giving someone a sermon, or preaching to someone - often to the converted! We say that our prayers have been answered, even when we haven't been praying. We talk about things being the bible of something, even if we've never read the Bible. For instance, Caroline Waldegrave and CJ Jackson once wrote a book called Leith's Fish Bible, a very good book, but one which could only have been titled by someone who took religion not very seriously. I mean, did they imply that God appeared unto Mrs Waldegrave and spake unto her privily, telling her the best way to prepare squid?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Is that your question?

No, I haven't come to it yet. What puzzles me is that when people use the word "bible" they always refer to something which is as accurate and compendious as you can get. Wisden might be the cricketer's bible, for instance. But this is the exact opposite of what the real Bible is about. There is nothing authoritative about the Bible. The real Bible is a bundle of myths, and half-forgotten history, and scrambled facts and fiction. The Old Testament is garbled history and the New Testament is a series of conflicting stories about Jesus. The phrase "the gospel truth" is an oxymoron. You can have the truth or the Gospel, but not both.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Have we come to a question yet?

No. I was just letting off steam.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Thank you. I hope you feel better. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, The expression "letting off steam" is interesting, because most people alive today will not have seen steam being let off, and yet the phrase is still current. Is there any word meaning, "a phrase which has outlived its pictorial inspiration"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I am sure there is.

Do you know what it is ?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I have not the faintest idea.

As the pubs are still shut, Dr Wordsmith will be with us tomorrow for a further session of lexicographical wisdom. So keep these queries rolling in!

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