You can make mine a Renault McGann

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It is with great pleasure that I welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our irregular expert on the meanings and derivations of words.

Dr Wordsmith spent three years at university studying the meanings and derivations of words, and thus left university completely unemployable - or would have done, had it not been for the new fashion for interest in semantics and philology, or at least the current fashion for having columns about words in newspapers. When that fashion passes on, Dr Wordsmith will again be unemployable. Till then we are always guardedly glad to welcome him, to give him a chance to answer your questions about language. All yours, doc!

I have sometimes seen the word "bistro" spelt "bistro" and sometimes seen it spelt "bistrot". Is it correct to have the "t" on the end of the word or not?

Dr Wordsmith writes: The French spell it with a "t" on the end, but the English have dropped the "t" in their version of the word. The correctness of the spelling depends on your nationality. In France, for instance, there is a new car called a Renault Megane. In Ireland, I believe, it is being marketed as a Renault McGann. Same with "bistro" and "bistrot".

But they mean the same in both languages, don't they?

Dr Wordsmith writes: No. In France a "bistrot" is an unpretentious little restaurant with shabby decor and dog-eared menus where you can get superb food, whereas in England a "bistro" is a pretentious little restaurant with superb menus and decor where you can get...

Yes, I think we get the point. But I have noticed another variation in spelling. Sometimes the word "turbo" is spelt without a "t", and sometimes it is spelt with a "t", as in "turbot". Is there any difference in meaning?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not really. "Turbot" with a "t" is a word added to restaurant menus to make them seem impressive, and "turbo" without a "t" is a word added to the backs of cars to make them seem impressive.

Is the "t" on the end of these words ever pronounced?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not in the case of words like "tarot" and "Merlot" and "Renault", except in ignorance. The "t" on the end of "gigot" is pronounced in France, but not in Scotland. The "t" on the end of "Camelot" is not pronounced in England, but in France it is pronounced on the end of the equivalent word.

What does the equivalent to Camelot mean in French?

Dr Wordsmith writes: A load of over-priced, meretricious rubbish, as it does in England.

I have noticed that the word "giro" is sometimes spelt "giro" and sometimes spelt "gyro". What is the difference?

Dr Wordsmith writes: They both mean the same thing, ie, things going round and round in a circle, usually money. The original word was "gyro", which was an acronym for "Get Your Revenue Organised", but for some reason this was changed to another acronym, "General Inland Revenue Organisation", or "giro", and this is the one that has stuck.

Where does the actual word acronym come from? I know it means a set of initial letters making a new name, but I don't know the derivation.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Oddly enough, it is itself an acronym. The letters ACRONYM stand for "Adaptable Code for Recalling or Naming Your Message".

Shouldn't that be ACFRONYM? You've missed out the word "for" in the initials.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Don't get clever with me, fish face. Do you call the United States of America the USOA?


Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, then. Anyway, these acronyms are only a kind of a mnemonic, really.

Where does the word "mnemonic" come from?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Blimey. Well, oddly enough, it comes from another acronym. It stands for MNEMONIC - My New Easy Method of Nemorising Intricate Codes.

"My" new easy method? Who does "my" refer to?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, presumably that refers to the inventor of the new easy method.

And who was he?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I haven't the faintest idea. But whoever he was, he could not spell very well, considering that he put an "n" on the front of "memorising".

In Australia, a "barbecue" is known as a "barbie". Does this mean that in Australia a Barbie Doll is a little man wearing a bloodstained apron holding a steak on a fork?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Look, I see the pubs have just opened and I'm dying for a drink. Some other time, perhaps?

Dr Wordsmith will be back soon. Keep those queries rolling in!