Here's Dr Wordsmith, ready to be driven to drink by your stupid questions

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IT'S A GREAT pleasure to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our resident expert on the ever-changing English language. Drunk or sober, Dr Wordsmith is never less than lovable and instructive, so here he is now to answer all your queries on the language we all love and mangle so much. All yours, Doc!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, I've noticed that the habit of putting blackboards outside pubs, food shops, and so on, with the special of the day written on them, has spread a lot recently. I think the idea of chalk writing on a blackboard, all fresh and hand-done, is meant to reinforce the idea that the food itself is fresh and hand-done. However, I have noticed that a lot of these blackboards don't have chalked messages any more - they have messages painted to LOOK as if they are handwritten in chalk, much as the food inside is probably pre-packed and microwaved. Is there any word in English to describe fake painted writing designed to look as if it were a genuine chalked blackboard message?

Dr Wordsmith writes: No, I don't believe there is.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, The commonly accepted word for a philander is a Lothario or a Don Juan or a Casanova or a Romeo...

Dr Wordsmith writes: Hold on, hold on, hold on! That's four words already!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Well, that's the point I was going to make, actually. Why are there so many different names for a philanderer and why are they all Spanish or Italian? Have there not been English philanderers of fame? Did not Lord Byron acquire a reputation as a supreme seducer? Why do we not say of someone that he is a "real Byron"? The nearest we get is to call someone "Byronic", but the ridiculous thing is that we use this to mean "gloomy" or "introspective", and not "philandering"! Why we use the word "Lothario" I do not know, as it is based on a character in a play that is so completely forgotten I cannot even remember what it is, and I can't be bothered to look it up. Nor do I see why we call a philanderer "a bit of a Romeo", as whatever else Romeo did he remained true and faithful to old Juliet. Bit of a mish-mash all round, I'd say.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Thank you. I think that covers it very well indeed. And the next question, please ?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, We use the word "hue" to mean colour, as in "the hues and tints of autumn", but we also use it to mean noise, as in "hue and cry". Which is right?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Both. They are two different words. One comes from an Old English word meaning form or shape. The other comes from a French word huer meaning to cry out. Oddly enough, it survives in an old Cornish usage. A "huer" was someone who stood on the cliff tops and called out when he saw a shoal of fish in the sea.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, That's very impressive. Where did you get all that stuff from?

Dr Wordsmith writes: From another reader's letter, of course.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, How do you pronounce this Cornish word "huer"?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Well, the other reader doesn't say, but I imagine the same way as the Scots pronounce the word "whore". To rhyme with dour, or lure...

Dear Dr Wordsmith, So if a Cornishman whose job was to stand around on clifftops shouting out whenever he saw a shoal of fish were to go to Scotland on holiday, and someone asked him what he did for a living, and he said, "I'm a huer" ...

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, yes, very funny, I think we get the point. Next, please!

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Who was Gary Owen and why is there a long high kick in rugby named after him?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I've no idea.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, In fact, there was no such person as Gary Owen. It is spelt Garryowen, and it is the name of a rugby club in Ireland.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You mean, you knew the answer to the question already?

Dear Dr Wordsmith, Of course. No point asking a question to which you don't know the answer, or you'll never know if it's the right answer or not. Do people request records on the radio which they've never heard before? Of course not. They request ones they know well. Yet what's the point of requesting to hear something you know off by heart already?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Thank you.

Dear Dr Wordsmith, And by the way, the play in which the character Lothario appears is "The Fair Penitent", by Nicholas Rowe.

Dr Wordsmith writes: Oh God, I can't take any more of this! I'm off down the pub! Anyone coming?

Dr Wordsmith will be back soon. Keep those queries rolling!

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