Words: run-up, n.

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"LENT IS now `the run-up to Easter'," notes Alan Bennett in his 1989 diary, and something similar can be said of Advent and Christmas.

Except, of course, that Christmas now begins in August rather than a mere four Sundays before the Nativity. The scrum in Toys 'R' Us can hardly hope for speed amid the shouts and proffered credit cards. As such, the term derives perhaps less from greyhound racing than the cricket pitch or, perhaps, the wartime exploits of bombers and fighters. But the first recorded (1966) perpetrator of the usage was . . . The Sunday Times, which was not writing of Easter but, as crassly, of some preliminary drawings by Picasso - "the crucial run-up to the Desmoiselles d'Avignon". Let it henceforth be banned from these pages.