It's a funny thing, language

'Why do the British use archaic expressions such as hostelries, libations and tinctures in the mistaken belief that they are funny?'
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The Independent Online

I expect many of you will be turning to this space to get away from the onrushing tidal water of Budget news, so I am pleased to be able to announce the return of our wandering language expert, Dr Wordsmith. As usual, Dr Wordsmith has been frequenting the hostelries and pothouses of this nation of ours to keep a check on the way English is evolving, so we are lucky to see him. All yours, Doc:

I expect many of you will be turning to this space to get away from the onrushing tidal water of Budget news, so I am pleased to be able to announce the return of our wandering language expert, Dr Wordsmith. As usual, Dr Wordsmith has been frequenting the hostelries and pothouses of this nation of ours to keep a check on the way English is evolving, so we are lucky to see him. All yours, Doc:

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I do not know who wrote that introduction to your return, but it made my heart sink to see pubs referred to as "hostelries". Why, oh why, do the British think it is funny to use archaic expressions? Why do people in pubs especially think it is funny to talk about "libations" and "tinctures" and "mine host"? And is there an expression in English meaning "to use archaic expressions in the mistaken belief that they are at all funny"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I would like to echo the sentiments of the last letter. I have to grit my teeth whenever I hear people saying things like "the weather is a trifle inclement today" or "there has been some precipitation in the night". It especially gets my goat when I hear people using the expression "ye olde village shoppe" or "ye olde blacksmith's forge", as if there was once a word "ye", when it fact it was just a way of writing "the" and nobody ever said "ye". I wonder if, in fact, there is a word meaning "a word that is falsely pronounced the way it is written"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I know exactly the kind of village that your previous correspondent is writing about. Usually it is the kind of village that is so unspoilt and picturesque (and sterile) that it is used as a shooting location for period films. I believe that there are now some villages in England that have been permanently cleared of telegraph poles and road signs, with stacks of gravel at the ready to throw over the tarmac as soon as a camera is seen. There must be a word to describe the kind of village that is perfectly suited to the 18th century yet horribly ill-equipped for life in the 21st century.

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Going back to the last-but-one letter, may I say that it is not just words that are falsely pronounced in line with the spelling? It happens to people's names as well. There was a programme on the BBC the other day about best-selling books in the Sixties, and they were reminding us how popular Robert Carrier's cook books were. Well, the young man who was doing the voice-over (Stephen Fry, probably, as he seems to do all the voice-overs that Angus Deayton doesn't do) was too young to remember those days and he pronounced his name as if it were Carrier, as in "carrier bag". Whereas I remember perfectly well that everyone pronounced it French style as Carry-ay. There should be a dire penalty for that sort of lapse.

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, My local video shop is advertising the forthcoming Harry Potter and the Scorerer's Stone video release with the curious notice "Pre-Book Your Copy Now!". Surely there is no difference between booking and pre-booking? All booking is done in advance, so is there any point in saying pre-booking?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I am puzzled by the strange expression "Way to go!", which is uttered by Americans as a sort of encouragement. What on earth can it mean? What does it come from? Is there any connection between it and the Robert Frost poem about "The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep"? In "way to go" is there an element of abbreviation of "miles to go before I sleep"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: There may well be, but if there is I do not know what it is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Is there an expression meaning "An expert who is so sozzled that he just gives the same answer to every question he is asked"? On second thoughts, don't answer that.

Dr Wordsmith will be back soon, when he is feeling better. Keep those queries rolling in.

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