Words: fretful, adj.

IN THE bar-parlour of the Angler's Rest, Francis Wheen rues a fortnight which will have him in his shed around the clock to polish a pacy life of Marx for autumn publication. He is only fretful over fretful. "When you read through something at a clip, you notice such tics as a penchant for fretful. Oddly enough, I've also noticed repeated fretful in one of Mark Lawson's novels. I like to give words a chance, I always work in worsted."

Fretful's complex history has a root in Old English for eat - and prompts Julian Barnes to say that "it suggests something more energetic than anxiety". He himself had a letter which pointed out several uses of parodic in Letters From London, and drolly reminds Wheen of the "quills upon the fretful porpentine".