Just what the doctor ordered (in other words, a pint)

For God's sake, was I hoicked out of the pub to discuss the pronunciati on of Hawick?
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The Independent Culture
IT'S TIME again for our linguistic expert, Dr Wordsmith, to answer some of your questions about language and the meaning of words, so it's all yours, Doc!

Dr Wordsmith writes: Thank you, thank you. First question, please?

Dr Wordsmith, in your last session you said at one point: "For heaven's sake, was I hoicked out of the pub just now merely for this lot of piffling queries?"

I expect I did. I rather think I say that every time that I appear in these pages.

There was then a bit of discussion about the word "hoick", and you said that the only way to spell "hoick" was "h-o-i-c-k". But what about "Hawick"?



Isn't that the name of a town in Scotland?

Yes. But it's also pronounced, near enough, "Hoick".

Is it?

Yes. A lot of these names get condensed with use. You'd think that Hawick would be pronounced "Hay wick", and maybe it was once, but, over the years, it's been eroded to "Hoick". A bit like Haworth, really.

Is it?

Yes. You know, the town where the Brontes lived? You'd expect it to be pronounced "Hay Worth", and maybe it was once, but over the years it's been eroded to something more like "Howarth". In fact the name Howarth and the place Haworth are pronounced virtually the same, which is interesting...

Interesting? I have never heard anything less interesting in my life. For God's sake, was I hoicked out of the pub to discuss the pronunciation of "Hawick"? Has nobody got anything more germane to discuss?

Yes. The other day I took a piece of sticky plaster off my finger and noticed that there was a patch of skin underneath that was paler then the rest because it had been shielded from dirt and the sun etc. This is a very common thing, of course, but I also noticed on my other hand that the tip of my forefinger was unnaturally brown because I had been using it with a shoe cloth to apply a brown polish to a shoe. However, I am unable to talk about this phenomenon because I cannot think of the relevant nomenclature. Is there in fact a name for a patch of skin which is either unusually lighter or darker than the norm?

A very interesting question. I haven't the faintest idea. Next!

I have a question about the use of tenses in English. I am a married lady and when I got wed I took on my husband's name, which is Archibald...

I think I see your mistake. You took on your husband's Christian name. You should have taken on his surname.

No, no. His surname is Archibald. Now, before that I was called Miss Carter, and sometimes people ask me what my maiden name was.

I should tell them, if I were you. Unless they're from the Inland Revenue, of course...

No, I haven't come to my question yet. The thing is, if I say "My maiden name was Carter", that is true, but as Carter is the only maiden name that I ever had or ever shall have, it might be as true to say "My maiden name IS Carter", because, no matter how many times I get married, Carter will always be my maiden name. So, should I say "My maiden name WAS Carter" or "My maiden name IS Carter"?

That's a very interesting conundrum. I only wish I knew what the answer was. Or, indeed, what the answer is. Next!

While we're on the subject, I have often wondered how the word "carter" got into French. As you doubtless know, "le carter" is the French word for the chain-guard on a bike or the housing of a car's gear box or even the crank case, and I wondered if there were some engineer called Carter who is long forgotten on this side of the Channel but is still remembered in France for his ingenuity in the engine...

What a fascinating speculation. I dearly wish that I could help you out...

I am wondering whether your previous correspondent, whose maiden name is or was Carter, might perhaps have any knowledge of this ...?

Oh, for heaven's sake! I've got better things to do with my time than act as a lonely hearts column for sad people like you! Get down to to the pub while it's still open, for a start! Anyone else for a quick pint?

Dr Wordsmith will be back again soon to answer all your linguistic problems, so keep those queries rolling in!