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Old wives' tales

Q. That is tales told by old wives and not old tales told by wives isn't it A. Yes (check out the apostrophe) - though there's nothing to say that wives don't tell old tales. The traditional01:00 Mon 04th Feb 2002


Q. Meaning A. The Latin words finis terre mean 'the end of the earth' or 'land's end'. Q. And A. Cabo de Finisterre - Cape Finisterre - is the name of a length of the Galician coast in the01:00 Mon 04th Feb 2002

Ghost ship: The Mary Celeste

Q. Hasn't the wreck of the Mary Celeste recently been found A. In summer 2001 the author Clive Cussler, a veteran wreck-finder, announced that he had found the remains of the Mary Celeste, one of01:00 Fri 01st Feb 2002

Very superstitious

Q. So what's triskaidekaphobia, then A. Quite simply, triskaidekaphobia is the fear of the number thirteen. Triskaideka is the Classical Greek for thirteen, plus -phobia. As we all know, thirteen is01:00 Thu 31st Jan 2002

Go greased lightin'...

Q. ...You're burning up the quarter mile A. Etc. Grease was one of the biggest hits of stage and screen of the 1970s - and it still won't go away. Even if you hated the film, you can probably still01:00 Thu 24th Jan 2002

Giga-numbers: what's big in zeros

Q. An obvious place to start, but what exactly is a billion these days A. That depends where you're from. In the UK a billion was traditionally 1 million million, but in recent years it has been01:00 Thu 24th Jan 2002

Unemployment link to ink shock

Q. Why is this such a burning question, then A. Because the word ink, via the Old French enque (Modern French encre) and the Late Latin encaustum, can be traced back to the Greek egkauston, which01:00 Wed 23rd Jan 2002

'That's not what I meant': Contronyms

Q. Contro-what A. Nyms, as in the suffix meaning 'name', found in other words such as synonym, antonym, eponym, anonymous, etc. Q. So A. A contronym is a word which is its own opposite. These are01:00 Sun 20th Jan 2002

What we need is a great big melting-pot...

Q. ...Big enough to take the world and all it's got A. Exactly. Blue Mink's 1969 hymn to racial harmony was a huge hit at a time when on the one hand people were being encouraged as never before to01:00 Fri 18th Jan 2002

Barbi-tonsoribus: Something for the weekend, sir

Q. Nothing to do with Barbie and Ken, then A. Nope. As the title suggests, this is something to do with hairdressing. Barbie and Ken are not being implicated in this old profession. Q. So, a01:00 Fri 18th Jan 2002

Life begins at four-X: Forty

Q. So, what's with forty A. That old saw about life beginning at forty is just one of the many examples of the use of two-score in English. However, most instances of forty have more to do with the01:00 Sat 12th Jan 2002


Q. What's an 'ism' A. The suffix -ism made its way into English from the French -isme, itself derived from the Latin -ismus, and it's used to denote a characteristic, a tendency or a syndrome.01:00 Fri 11th Jan 2002

Lost words

As languages evolve so the meanings of words change, and many common or everyday modern words may well have started out with meanings far removed from their present ones. While there are those01:00 Fri 11th Jan 2002


Q. What is it A. Metaphorically a will-o'-the-wisp is an elusive or delusive goal or spurious hope, but its literal meaning is the same as ignis fatuus. Q. What on earth is ignis fatuus A. It's01:00 Sun 06th Jan 2002

We are not amused

Q. Did Queen Victoria ever say that A. The apocryphal tale goes that a certain groom-in-waiting named Alexander Grantham Yorke was caught by the monarch in mid-imitation of her and she allegedly01:00 Sat 05th Jan 2002

Every time it rains, it rains pennies from heaven

Q. Nice thought, but where does the phrase originate A. Whether or not the phrase originated there, it was certainly popularised by the film Pennies from Heaven (1936), and in particular by the01:00 Sat 05th Jan 2002


Q. Where does the word Europe come from A. The derivation of the word is as obscure as the boundaries of Europe are ill defined. However, there are a number of theories as to how it came about. Q.01:00 Sat 29th Dec 2001

Happy New Year!

We'll all hear this a few times over the next couple of weeks, and new year is the oldest of all human festivals - though it is odd that we in Europe mark the beginning of the year on 1 January,01:00 Thu 27th Dec 2001

Geese with Stewed Prunes

Q. Sounds unusual. Surely not a culinary combination A. Could be. Roast goose with stewed prunes would probably work very well. However, in this context it has more to do with the bishops of01:00 Wed 26th Dec 2001

The car's the star

Q. First of all, why are cars called cars A. The term 'car' today refers almost exclusively to those four-wheeled metal things with an internal combustion engine that we all rely on so much. There01:00 Sun 23rd Dec 2001

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