You say 'quangi' and I say 'quangos'

'We still speak of people hanging up on us, but who can remember a phone you can physically hang up?'

Every newspaper has its columnist who pontificates on the English language, but few pontificate with such authority as our own Dr Wordsmith, who I am glad to say is back again to answer all your questions on the way we speak now. Take it away, Doc!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I was struck by the word "pontificate", which was used just now in your introduction. It obviously means "to speak with authority", and just as obviously refers to papal authority, as the word for the Pope is the "pontiff", from pontifex maximus. So to pontificate is to speak with quasi-papal and therefore quasi-infallible authority. But in Britain most of us are not Catholics; most of us are, or were once, Anglicans, and see the Archbishop of Canterbury as the ecclesiastical authority. Is there a word meaning "to speak with the authority of an archbishop"? And if not, shouldn't there be?

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be right. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, You have often stressed, and rightly, that there are many things and activities that we never talk about because there is no name for them. I think I may have stumbled across another. When I buy wine from a wine shop, and take enough bottles to fill a box, the wine man tucks in the flaps in such a way as to keep the box closed, by tucking one on top of the next, then tucking the far end of that flap over the next and so on, until the result is a pleasing and stable pattern. I am sure we all know what I am talking about, but I am equally sure that nobody knows a name for the technique.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be right. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, That is not the only unnamed thing in the drink world. When we buy a bottle in what used to be called Duty Free and now seems to be called Tax Free, the woman who takes our money (it is almost always a woman) slips a protective net or piece of plastic webbing over the bottle to stop it banging against another bottle and breaking. Excellent notion, and very effective. But what is this protective item called? You would think that the people who handled them would know, but I asked a woman at a Tax Free check-out the other day, and she was baffled. "Bottle cover, I suppose," she said. "Or maybe bottle stocking. I don't know." Well, I think she should know.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be right. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, It's all very well your last correspondent referring to Duty Free as Tax Free, but even if Duty Free areas relabel themselves Tax Free areas, this will not impact on the customer, who will continue to describe it as the Duty Free. How often do we see an expression linger on when the reality it describes has passed away! We still talk about people hanging up on us during a phone call even though most people cannot remember a telephone that you could physically hang up. There should be an expression for an outmoded expression like this.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be right. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I noticed that your last correspondent used the expression "to impact on". May I respectfully suggest that this is no different from, and no advance on, the verb "to affect", and that there is absolutely no need for it at all?

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be right. And the next!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, What is the plural of "quango"? I heard someone say "quangi" the other day, which is ridiculous because "quango" is not a Latin word. But should it be "quangos" by analogy with "mangos" or "quangoes" by analogy with "potatoes"? And for heaven's sake don't say "You may well be right" again, or I shall scream.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You may well be wrong. And the next!

Dr Wordsmith will be back soon to deal with more of your problems. Keep those letters rolling in!

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