Dodgy, manky, naff and yucky - the joys of the English language

Related Topics
I am very glad to welcome back our language expert Professor Wordsmith, who has agreed yet again to emerge from the saloon bar and answer your questions on the ever-fascinating English language.

All yours, Prof!

I am intrigued by the presence of a clothes shop in my local high street called Naf. Why would a shop want to call itself by such a name? We don't get shoe shops called Slipshod or hairdressing salons called Unkempt, so why a clothes shop called Naf?

Professor Wordsmith writes: My understanding is that the Naf shops have an overseas origin, and wherever they come from, they probably didn't know the unfortunate connotation of the word "naff" in English. They couldn't really change the name of the chain just to please the English, so they presumably decided to brazen it out.

It is interesting, incidentally, that the word "naff" is one of a select few slang words which are peculiar to England and unknown in America.

Are there many others?

Professor Wordsmith writes: I started making a list of them the other day, and I got as far as "dodgy, manky, naff, yucky, yonks, tacky, kinky, skive, stroppy, khazi, cazh and bolshy", when something happened.

What happened?

Professor Wordsmith writes: I ran out of examples.

Oh, right. What's "cazh", by the way?

Professor Wordsmith writes: It's the only way I can think of of writing the abbreviation for "casual". By the way, I was going to say that the misfortune of calling a clothes shop something like Naf is not confined to overseas people. We British too have made some strange errors in trade names.

Such as?

Professor Wordsmith writes: There was a kind of lorry called Foden - may still be, for all I know - which didn't sell well in Portugal.

Why not?

Professor Wordsmith writes: Because "Foden" is a very rude word in Portuguese. Again, in German the word "mist" means "dung" or "shit", and I gather that Rolls-Royce had trouble selling quantities of their Silver Mist car over there. How the makers of Irish Mist get on, I do not know, but not well, I should imagine.

Next question, please!

We are often told by the intellectuals that rhyme is old-fashioned. But it seems to be a powerful popular instinct to use rhyme, in expressions like "pub grub", "ragbag", "razzle-dazzle" and so on. Why haven't the intellectuals noticed this?

Professor Wordsmith writes: Oh, but they have. They do it themselves. Listen to a programme such as Melvyn Bragg's Start the Week, and as soon as they start rehearsing the heredity vs environment argument, someone is bound to say, "Oh, nature vs nurture". And it's a rare week that nobody says "descriptive, not prescriptive". What I am waiting for now is "Nature vs Nietzsche".

Mr Will Wyatt was quoted in this space yesterday as saying: "I hope we didn't overly suggest ...". Is this word "overly" a new one coined by the BBC, or is it legit?

Professor Wordsmith writes: Oh, no, it's a proper word all right, as long as it is used in front of an adjective, as in "his films were overly violent". Mr Wyatt's usage was incorrect, because he used it before a verb. The BBC is not what it was, I fear.

It certainly isn't. I noticed not so long ago that Sue Lawley on `Desert Island Discs' pronounced Gervase de Peyer's surname as "Pay-yay", whereas Radio 3 announcers always call him "de Pie-er". Is it possible to pronounce a name two different ways?

Professor Wordsmith writes: Yes. The right way and the wrong way. Miss Lawley was wrong. But I have noticed that Radio 3 gets things wrong as well. There is an American composer called Gottschalk who is often pronounced by them as "Gott's chalk". In fact, it should be pronounced "Gottshalk', as it comes from a German word Schalk, meaning "rogue". In the same sort of way, we always pronounce the name Rothschild wrong, as if it were "Roth's child". But the German origin is rot Schild, which means something like Red Shield. So we should really say "Rotshild ...".

Isn't this all incredibly pedantic?

Professor Wordsmith writes: Of course. Pedantry is my game. It is how I get my kicks, and also, I am glad to say, make my living. Incidentally, Dr Webster of Aberdeen, thank you for your letter, and my answer is that the word you are thinking of is not "out tray" but outre. Both are, of course, pronounced exactly the same in your part of the world.

Do you want to help Professor Wordsmith stay solvent? Then keep those queries rolling in!

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas