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

Urgently looking for Qualified Teachers and NQT's

£110 - £120 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Urgently looking for Qua...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

SEN Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you that teacher who c...

IT Auditor

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: IT Auditor , Information Governance, NHS...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The daily catch-up: heatwave update; duck tape and market socialism

John Rentoul
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

The grand plan of Tory modernisation has failed under an increasingly right-wing David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform