The meaning of strife

'Technically, you were quite right to point out his solecism. Socially, he was quite right to punch you on the nose, as I'm sure he did'
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The Independent Online

As I still have our linguistic expert Dr Wordsmith here with me, finishing off some old bottles of lager left over from our jubilee party, it seems sensible to take advantage of his presence and put some more of your questions to him concerning the state of the English language today. Fire away, everyone!

As I still have our linguistic expert Dr Wordsmith here with me, finishing off some old bottles of lager left over from our jubilee party, it seems sensible to take advantage of his presence and put some more of your questions to him concerning the state of the English language today. Fire away, everyone!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I have recently seen a strange usage in the headlines of 'The Independent', namely the expression "fed up of". Not once but twice have I spotted this. Now, we all know that the correct expression is "fed up with", so why have the subs of 'The Independent', all cultured individuals, let through a bloomer like this? Is it because the language is genuinely changing, and we are coming round to saying "fed up of"? Will "fed up with" one day sound old-fashioned? Will we look back in later years for the first examples of this usage and find them in your very own headlines, and will we then say, "Ah! The 'Independent' subs were not, as we thought at the time, guilty of a solecism, but way ahead of the game!" And do you see yourself as a descriptive language expert or a prescriptive one?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Hey, hey, there! Steady on! One at a time! You are only allowed one question each! Unless, of course, it's a very quiet day and we are desperate for questions. My feeling is that language is changing and should change and that we should not try to stop it. Nor, however, should we applaud it. I welcome each change to language by noting it down, then mocking it. I realise, for example, that people have stopped saying "should have" and have started saying "should of", and will soon be writing it that way. I hate it and I find it enthralling. Perhaps you could say I am neither descriptive nor prescriptive, but rather a proscriptive expert. That is, one who wishes to proscribe things. But can't.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Where do you stand on expressions such as "When I first came to live here"? This was uttered to me by a fellow inhabitant of our village, and my immediate response was: "Well, that's quite wrong because you have only come to live here once and therefore you can't say 'When I first came to live here', only 'When I came to live here.'"

Dr Wordsmith writes: Technically you are quite right. Socially, he was quite right to punch you in the nose, as I am sure he did. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Many famous people have been named after flowers (Rose Macaulay, Iris Murdoch, Ivy Benson, Lily Savage, etc, etc) but Rowan Williams – and of course Rowan Atkinson – are the only people I can think of who have been given their first name after a tree. Why were they called Rowan?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Because, I imagine, it would be idiotic to call someone Mountain Ash Williams or Mountain Ash Atkinson.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, You may be right. But why is the name Rowan given to girls AND boys? The new Archbishop of Canterbury is a man, but the editor of 'The Erotic Review', who is always appearing on TV and radio these days, is a woman called Rowan Pelling. Why?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Maybe she is a good broadcaster.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, No, I mean, why is the tree name Rowan given indifferently to men and women? You never get a man given a flower name, and I don't count Lily Savage.

Dr Wordsmith writes: How about Martin Amis?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Martin isn't the name of a flower.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Oops, you're right. It's the name of a bird. Next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, You once floated the theory that Stansted was named after two saints, viz St Ann and St Edward. Are there any other places named after saints in a confusing manner?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Lord bless you, yes. There's Staines, which is a contraction of St Agnes. There's Stanmore, which is named after St Ann More. There's Stavanger, which is named after the Norwegian saint, Avanger. There's Stromboli, named after St Romboli. There's...

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I don't want to be personal, but have you been at the Stella again?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Stella! There's another one! St Ella!

If you know of any well-known men named after flowers, Dr Wordsmith would like to hear from you

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