Words cannot describe everyday events in modern life feels
For heaven's sake, was I hoicked out of the pub for this lot of piffling queries?
Monday 21 September 1998
Tell me, Dr Wordsmith, what the correct word is to use for the action you use with black bin-liner bags.
Dr Wordsmith writes: You fill them up and then chuck 'em in the dustbin.
No, no - I mean before that, I mean that when you get a new bag off the roll to put into the rubbish bin, you can't use the bag immediately, because it's all squashed together and not opened up. So what we normally do is put one hand down inside the bag, flapping it from side to side to open it out, sort of swooshing it from side to side. There should be a word to describe this.
Dr Wordsmith writes: But there isn't, is there? Next, please.
I have always maintained that you can tell a lot about people from what they leave in their cars. You know, if you glance in through an empty car's windows, you can immediately tell the difference between a driver who has got a National Trust carrier bag in the back and one who has got `The Sun'. Or one who's got a map of Hertfordshire and one who still has a map of the Dordogne. I can spend hours in car parks just staring at people's... But people's what? There doesn't seem to be a name for it, for the contents of a car. A word like `jetsam' or `flotsam', perhaps. Is there a word, `carsam'?
Dr Wordsmith writes: No, I don't think there is. There should be, shouldn't there? Next, please!
In all the reports that have come out of Washington recently, about the backstage dealings of Kenneth Starr and the Republicans and the Democrats etc, there has been one phrase noticeably absent, and that is, `smoke- filled back rooms'. In the old days, decisions were always being thrashed out in `smoke-filled back rooms', as if the wreaths of cigar smoke somehow added to the urgency and seriousness of the decisions being thrashed out. But in these days of the non-acceptability of smoking, these back rooms must be filled with something else. Body odours and sweat? Chewing gum, perhaps? But `BO-filled back rooms' doesn't sound right and `gum-filled back rooms' doesn't sound right either. Do you know if there is a correct modern term?
Dr Wordsmith writes: I haven't the faintest idea. For heaven's sake, was I hoicked out of the pub just now merely for this lot of piffling queries?
Now, that's an interesting word.
Dr Wordsmith writes: What - piffling?
No - hoicked. I know it's a word we often use in daily speech but I don't think I've ever seen it written down before.
Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, you have now.
Yes, but how do we know how to spell it properly, if we've never seen it written down before?
Dr Wordsmith writes: You look it up in the dictionary, dummkopf.
Okay, I will... Well, my Collins and Cassell both give it as `hoick', meaning, to raise abruptly. My shorter Cambridge doesn't give it at all.
Dr Wordsmith writes: Do they say what its origin is?
No. They are baffled. I suppose `hoick' is one of those words which we say a lot but never write down because they are not part of our literary vocabulary such as `dosh' and `gash', as in `a gash copy'...
Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, I expect you're right.
Dr Wordsmith, may I just ask why, if you're meant to be the expert, we have done all the looking up in dictionaries and all the speculation, and you have just sat there, agreeing with everyone?
Dr Wordsmith writes: Because, dear friends, nobody likes a smart-arse and everyone likes an expert who doesn't seem to know what he's talking about. It makes them feel superior. Now, I'm off back down the pub again. Is anyone coming too?
Dr Wordsmith will be back again with more language notes as soon as he has sobered up or is chucked out of the pub. Keep those queries rolling in!
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