Some things are simply beyond words...

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I'm afraid our grasp of vocabulary is still not nearly as good as it should be - only this morning I heard a politician on the Today programme say "refute" when he meant "rebut", a mistake I have heard on that programme every day of my life - so I have brought our ever-popular lexicologist Dr Wordsmith back again to help out with all your queries on the meaning of words. All yours, Doc!

When making a pot of tea I always obey folk wisdom and put some boiling water in the empty pot to warm it up. Sometimes, though, I forget the water is in there, and without pouring it out first I put a couple of spoonfuls of tea leaves into what I think is an empty pot but which now contains tepid water! Which is very annoying, as you have to pour it out and start all over again! But I just wanted to know if there was a word for this, presumably very common, error.

Dr Wordsmith writes: You'd think there would be, wouldn't you? But as far as I can make out, there isn't.

Have you ever noticed that when you are cutting a large piece of paper with scissors, something odd often happens and the scissors start cutting without being moved? You are happily snipping across an expanse of newspaper or wrapping paper and suddenly you realise that although you have ceased to manipulate the handles of the scissors, the blades are still moving through the paper and cutting with the sheer pressure of the blades, or rather with the pressure of your hands on the scissors. It's almost as if the blades are surfing through the paper. Is there any word to describe this sort of cutting?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, I have often noticed that but never thought about it before. No, as far as I know, no word has ever been coined to describe the phenomenon.

We very often know when an electric light bulb is about to expire because it starts flickering very rapidly as if on the point of burning out. (Oddly enough, a bulb can keep up this flickering activity for several days, keeping you on perpetual tenterhooks.)

It's not exactly flickering, more a sort of electrical equivalent of stammering, or a very rapid turning on and off of a light. I just wanted to know if electricians have a term to describe this, because very often I have wanted to say to my wife: "Oh, look, that bulb must be on the verge of needing replacement because it's started to ... to..." and then I can never think of the word. Is there in fact such a word?

Dr Wordsmith writes: Not so far as I know.

When you're peeling an apple or a potato, and the peel comes off not in little bits but one long continuous strip which can sometimes measure a foot or more in length, is there a word to describe that long length of peel?

Dr Wordsmith writes: No. At least, I think not.

Sometimes when we yawn it makes a very loud noise and sometimes it is totally silent. Does the English language have a pair of words that usefully distinguish between the two?

Dr Wordsmith writes: If it ever did, it does not now.

For my sins, I sometimes have to attend posh dinners where there is an after-dinner speaker. This speaker, who is always referred to as the special guest even though he is being paid to be there, is usually introduced by another speaker who knows nothing about the guest except what he has gleaned from `Who's Who'.

In addition, this "introducer", as I suppose we must call him, is in turn introduced by someone else before him who gets up and says,"I now call upon Mr Joe Grimley, whom we all know, to introduce the guest speaker..." and Grimley gets up and says that it gives him great pleasure to introduce a man or a woman he hadn't even heard of until two days ago, and even then it isn't finished because after the speech, a man gets up to thank the guest speaker, a man who is so nervous about doing this that he hasn't even listened to the speech....

Dr Wordsmith writes: I am sorry to interrupt, but is there a question coming out of all this?

Yes. I just wanted to know if there is a technical name for the process of seating dinner guests alternately male and female all round a dinner table?

Dr Wordsmith writes: I am not sure, but I don't think so.

Is there some aspect of vocabulary that leaves YOU bothered and bewildered? Just drop a line to Dr Wordsmith!

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