Sir, your answers are based on licensed premises

I was told they were going to call `hotmail' `Fastnet' but there was an island called this
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The Independent Culture
I HAVE had another batch of queries about that ever-fresh topic, the English language and how we perpetually mistreat it. As always on such occasions, I drag our resident language expert, Dr Wordsmith, out of the nearest pub and chain him to his desk till they are all answered. All yours, Doc!

I have noticed in the papers recently a plethora of photographs of Lady Thatcher and Sir Edward Heath together, always with one in the foreground and the other one way off out of focus. It must have required a lot of guile for the photographer to manoeuvre his way round the auditorium so that he could line one up with the other, especially as Heath and Thatcher were probably doing their best to stay apart, and I was wondering if there were in fact a word in English meaning "to spend endless hours trying to get two people into the same frame who would much rather have no association with each other at all"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I very much doubt it. Next!

I don't know if you are at all familiar with the Internet, but I use it quite a lot and there are quite a lot of new words springing up there. For instance, there is a kind of e-mail called "hotmail", and I was told once that they originally intended to call this "Fastnet", until it dawned on them that there was actually an island called this already? Do you know if there is any truth in this story?

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

At this time of year spiders seem to be at their most active, spinning webs overnight not just in hedges and trees but across paths and gateways. In fact, every morning I can feel the faint brushing of cobwebs across my forehead as I rip through these fragile threads, though, of course, to the spider they must be the equivalent of steel hawsers.

Dr Wordsmith writes: For heaven's sake, do you have a question?

Yes. Is there a difference between a rope and a hawser?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I am almost certain there must be. Next!

Talking about webs and nets and things, I must tell you that the other day I saw a word in French I had never seen before, namely "ouebe". I puzzled over this for a while, until it suddenly dawned on me that this was the French way of writing "web"! They cannot use a "w" in French because there is no such letter. Occasionally you get it in imported words like "Wehrmacht" and "Wagen", but then it is pronounced German-style as "v". The only way you can write "w" in French is "ou", which is why "oui" is pronounced "wee"!

Dr Wordsmith writes: Do you have a question or are you just showing off?

I am merely showing off.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Thank you for your honesty. And the next!

I was told once by someone who did a lot of browsing on the Internet that originally the word for "web browser" was going to be "CastaNet" until suddenly someone realised that this already meant a Spanish musical instrument. Is there any truth in this?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Who can tell? It is certainly an attractive theory. But shall we ever know? Or indeed care? Not I! Next, please!

One of the words most used in Internet circles is "downloading", which strikes me as a strange usage because it is yoking together two words, "down" and "load", which tend to fight against each other. Actually, "down- sizing" is an even better example. Do you think this will be a new trend, to make new words by linking opposites? Will we get a word "down-lifting" to mean "drag down"? When a show is ready for the stage, will we say it has been "derehearsed"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Was I really hoicked out of the pub to listen to all this uninformed speculation?

Which reminds me, Doc, that the last time you used the word "hoick" you said that was the only possible way to spell it. But you were wrong. There is another way. It is "Hawick". This is the name of a town in Scotland, where it is pronounced "hoick".

Dr Wordsmith writes: Time for one more question, I think.

The Internet started life as a US military intelligence network - indeed, as it was a network for spying, I am told that the original name for the Internet was the "Spinet", until someone realised this was already the name of a musical instrument. Can you confirm or deny this?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I can do both, but instead I prefer to repair to the nearest hostelry. Perhaps you would like to join me there, or do you prefer to do your nerdish drinking on the Internet itself?

Dr Wordsmith will soon be back, preferably outside licensing hours.

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