Miles Kington: A situation so tricky there is just no word of for it

I picked up a tube of toothpaste and squeezed. Nothing came out. I squeezed harder. I should have known better...
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The Independent Online

I was buying a cucumber from a vegetable stall the other day, and before the man put the shrink-wrapped cucumber into the carrier bag, he broke the tip of the cucumber off.

I asked him curiously why he had done it.

"Well," he said, "the end of the polythene makes a sort of hard, sharp spike where the wrapping is frizzled, here, see, and it often makes a hole in plastic carrier bags. I've had many women come back and complain they haven't got their cucumber, and I have to show them where the hard spike has drilled through and the cucumber has fallen out."

Interesting. But what is also interesting is that he had to explain it at such great length, because there is no word in English meaning "the hard frizzled polythene spike at the end of a cling-wrapped cucumber".

We think that English is a rich language, and so it may be compared with others, but there are many things for which there is still no name.

You know sometimes when you sit down at a restaurant table, there is a blank plate in your place which the waiter then takes away. What is that plate called? The restaurant trade must know, but they never tell us, so we can never refer to it except as to "that plate the waiter always takes away when you sit down", which is so boring that we never do.

Trivial? Then here is an example which goes right to the heart of life... I am buttoning a shirt up from the bottom. When I get to the collar I find that I must have started with the wrong button in the wrong hole at the bottom end, because I have ended up at the top with two holes trying to serve one button. I curse and unbutton the whole thing, to start again. "What's wrong?" says my wife. "Well," I say, " I've just..." Just what? There should be a single word for it. I should be able to say "I've just misbuttoned". Or something.

The other day I picked up a tube of toothpaste on the basin and squeezed to get a little out. Nothing came. I squeezed harder. And harder. I should have known better, because the little plug of dried toothpaste that had formed in the nozzle was blocking the live toothpaste, and then suddenly it shot out and whoosh! I had produced enough toothpaste for a week, curling over the basin. I cursed. "What's wrong?" said the wife. "Well," I said, "I hadn't noticed that there was a..." A what? A small plug of toothpaste which had dried up with lack of use in the nozzle of the toothpaste tube? That's 20 words. There must be one to describe that pesky little item.

Other things for which I can find no name in English:

The line of mud and dirt which builds up down the middle of a single-track country lane.

The kind of mindless smile put on by a politician on TV when he has been told to smile all the time, and so he finds himself smiling even when saying things like: "These deaths in Iraq are tragic, of course..."

A piece of wood which is nearly but not quite good enough to be used as a French cricket bat.

The overwhelming conviction, when you are sitting in the cinema waiting for the programme to begin, that the lights are finally starting to go down, which is actually quite baseless, being an optical illusion brought on entirely by wishful thinking.

The gurgling, tuneless noise made by bagpipers before they start playing, when they are merely filling their bag and pipes with air. The creaking of footsteps upstairs in an empty house. The shadowy mark of pressed flowers left behind on the page of an old book by a vanished bookmark. Those strange shapes which float across my vision when I stare at the sky, like skeletal fish drifting aimlessly in a glass tank, which are presumably tiny specks of dirt on my eyeball...

Enough of this. I am sure you all have your own favourite unnamed things. Let me know what they are, and I will see if I can't sneak them into print.

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