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

Share
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

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition