Dear Dr Wordsmith, I was in a restaurant recently where there was an item on the menu described as being "served on a pillow of lasagne". What is a "pillow" of lasagne? Is it any better or worse than being served on a "bed" of lasagne? I have often come across things being served on a bed but never on a pillow before. What's going on?
Dr Wordsmith writes: What is going on is that British cooks have finally run out of creative invention when it comes to food, so they have turned to the language of the menu instead. Chefs have tried every combination of lemon grass with everything, cumin with everything, sun-dried tomatoes with everything, so now they are trying different word combinations. It has been well established by wine writers that you can talk about wine in terms of other activities - sport, for instance, so that you can refer to a "frisky little wine" or a wine with long legs or stamina - and now the cooks have discovered this cheap source of imagery. In your case, it is the imagery of bed-making. Wait for things to be served in "their own duvet of lasagne" or "under its eiderdown of bechamel sauce".
The other day I heard a top politician saying, of someone else, "He is the sort of man who, if I was selecting the Cabinet, I would not even have him as a messenger." Isn't that atrocious grammar?
Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, but the English language is almost impossible sometimes to guide towards a successful sentence ending. I will give you an example. Yesterday I was helping my wife to sort out the washing, and I was going through a basket of clothes, some of which had to be ironed. I said: "There are some items in this laundry basket which I'm not sure if they should be ironed or not..." I then stopped, conscious that I had uttered a dreadfully ungrammatical sentence, but when I went through the sentence again in my mind, I realised that once you get as far as "There are some items in this laundry basket which...", there is NO satisfactory way of completing the sentence. The English language is not perfect. In fact, it's a bit of a mess sometimes.
Well, talking of that, I have always been puzzled by being taught that adverbs are adjectives with -ly stuck on the end.
Dr Wordsmith writes: What's wrong with that?
Well, "comely" and "miserly" are not adverbs.
Dr Wordsmith writes: Oh, I see. Yes, when you get an adjective ending in -ly, there is a confusion, and you feel the temptation to add -ly to the adjective to make it an adverb. For instance, if a "kindly" person does a thing in a "kindly" fashion, does she do it "kindlily"?
Well, does she?
Dr Wordsmith writes: No, of course she bloody doesn't.
In that case, what about gingerly? If I approach something "gingerly", does that mean that I approach it in a "ginger" fashion ? Is "gingerly" the adverb from "ginger"?
Dr Wordsmith writes: No, of course it bloody isn't. "Gingerly" is the adverb from the adjective "gingerly". There must have been a time when people were tempted to say, "He approached it gingerlily", but soon gave it up because it sounded stupid.
Is there in fact such a thing as a "ginger lily"?
Dr Wordsmith writes: I haven't the faintest idea. For God's sake, hasn't anyone got any intelligent questions?
Why do people always pronounce "lingerie" as if it were spelt "longerie"? If you are trying to pronounce it the French way, it should approximate to "langerie", surely?
Dr Wordsmith writes: You're not asking an intelligent question, are you? You're just showing off your knowledge of French, aren't you?
Dr Wordsmith writes: Next!
I heard Ned Sherrin use the expression "de rigueur" on the radio the other day, when he was saying that on some radio programmes "a posh accent is de rigueur". It's always a pleasure to hear Mr Sherrin say anything, but I did wonder why we use French expressions when there is a perfectly good English one.
Dr Wordsmith writes: Oh? And what is this perfectly good English expression which Mr Sherrin might have used?
Well, he might have said that a posh accent was a "sine qua non".
Dr Wordsmith writes: And since when has that been an English expression?
Yes, I see what you mean...
Dr Wordsmith writes: God save me from morons and imbeciles! I'm going down the pub!
Dr Wordsmith will be back again soon when he is in a better temper.