How to avoid eating Alan Partridge's sweater

'A Frenchman might well translate "Des Lynam" as "lots of Lynams", which is a sobering thought'
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The Independent Online

I am more pleased than I can say to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our resident but migrant expert on the English language. English, as we all know, changes daily, if not hourly, and it takes a mighty mind to keep up with such a state of flux. Dr Wordsmith spends most of his waking hours, and some of his sleeping ones, on licensed premises all over Britain, where he claims it is easier to spot changing linguistic customs than anywhere else - indeed he is, I believe, the only modern linguist who has his bar bills accepted by the Inland Revenue as legitimate business expenses...

I am more pleased than I can say to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our resident but migrant expert on the English language. English, as we all know, changes daily, if not hourly, and it takes a mighty mind to keep up with such a state of flux. Dr Wordsmith spends most of his waking hours, and some of his sleeping ones, on licensed premises all over Britain, where he claims it is easier to spot changing linguistic customs than anywhere else - indeed he is, I believe, the only modern linguist who has his bar bills accepted by the Inland Revenue as legitimate business expenses...

Dr Wordsmith writes: OK, that's enough introduction. The pubs are open in half an hour, and I can't hang about. Can we get on with the show?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I have been slightly bemused over the years to find that two companies of the same name often make widely differing products. For instance, when we refer to Pringle's, we may be talking about the kind of chunky sweaters that the legendary Alan Partridge favoured or we may be talking about those strangely shaped discs that are called Pringles and seem to be a form of potato crisp. Now there is no danger of mistaking one for the other - one can't imagine anyone taking a bite from a Pringle sweater by mistake! - but if two firms of the same name made a similar product, there could be some confusion. For instance, I wonder if tea-drinkers ever back away from Tetley's tea bags on the grounds that Tetley's also makes bitter beer...

Dr Wordsmith writes: Is that your question?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, No. My question is this. Is there a word in English meaning: a firm that makes a quite different product from that made by another firm of the same name?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not as far as I know. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I have a slightly related query. Is there a word for an abbreviation that acts as an abbreviation for two or even more different words? The obvious example of this is PC, which stands for postcard, personal computer, politically correct, police constable etc, etc, but I have recently been struck by the fact that "Des" can mean not only "desirable", as in "des res", but also mean "Desmond", as in "Des Lynam". In fact, "des" is also a French plural article, so it is quite conceivable that a Frenchman would translate "Des Lynam" as "lots of Lynams", which is a rather sobering thought! Anyway, is there a word to describe this?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not as far as I know. Next, please.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I have a friend who claims that Stansted is the only airport in the world named after two saints. When I asked him what on earth he was going on about, he said that if you break down the name Stansted, you get "St An" and "St Ed", namely St Anne and St Edward. I told him he was talking through his hat, and he merely smiled mysteriously and said, little did I know. Is there any truth in his theory?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not as far as I know. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, As you have often said yourself, the word "celeb" now refers to a person who is famous enough to appear on other people's TV quiz programmes but who is no longer famous enough to have a TV programme of his own. Is there a word which refers to someone who has now slipped below even the level of "celeb" and will never again climb back to that level unless posthumously popular? For instance, like that guy who used to be in The Young Ones, you know the one, Oh God, I can't remember his name...

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not as far as I know. Any more for any more?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, When you are waiting at temporary traffic lights, and the lights are red, you very often get cars coming the other way that continue to come even after yours have turned green, and you know very well that they must have come past their light when it was red. Is there any word to describe this act?

Dr Wordsmith writes: None that I could mention here.

Dr Wordsmith will be back again sooner than you think.

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