Category Archives: Jokes and puns

Widows & widowers – and a Guardian typo

Anna Pavlovna as widow by J.B. van der Hulst / Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the last exchange of letters (unpublished) between my late father and The Guardian:

To the Guardian Letters Editor from Sir Brian Barder

I submit the following letter for publication.

I’m intrigued by your description of Brendan Cox as the late MP Jo Cox’s “widow” (caption, National, p15, 23 June). Has “widower” been banned from the Guardian’s pages as offensively gender-specific, and “widow” promoted to gender-neutral status, like “actor”? Or is it a typo?

Brian Barder
24 June 2017


Dear Brian,
Thank you for your letter which was passed on to us by the Letters desk. In this case widow was a typo. There is no entry in the Guardian and Observer’s style guide for widow/widower; widowers are male and widows are female.
Best regards,
Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Dear J.A.
Of course. My enquiry had its tongue deep in its cheek. Someone in your letters department has a sense of humour in need of a refill. I just thought that some Graundia readers might enjoy my letter if it were to be chosen for publication.
Anyway, thanks for taking the trouble to reply. 
Posted in loving memory of my father, who passed down to me his pedantic and slightly obsessive love of language and usage.

The spelling (& Jerkish) of the President: update

IMG_3905We are humbeled, Mr President.


As the great American novelist Philip Roth has recently commented to the New Yorker: “Whatever I may have seen as their limitations of character or intellect, neither [Richard Nixon nor George W. Bush] was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English.”



“I really didn’t say everything I said.”


Yogi Berra, one of America’s most famous baseball players, died yesterday. He will go down in history not just for his famous catches, but also for his catchy phrases, which came to be known as “Yogiisms”. His nonsensical witticisms took the form of obvious tautologies* or paradoxical contradictions.

Some famous Yogiisms: Continue reading

The definition and etymology of Trump



From the Oxford English Dictionary:
Trump: vt. slang break wind audibly

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:
Trump (v.): “fabricate, devise,” 1690s, from trump “deceive, cheat” (1510s), from Middle English trumpen (late 14c.), from Old French tromperto deceive,” of uncertain origin. Apparently from se tromper de “to mock,” from Old French tromper “to blow a trumpet.” Brachet explains this as “to play the horn, alluding to quacks and mountebanks, who attracted the public by blowing a horn, and then cheated them into buying ….” The Hindley Old French dictionary has baillier la trompe “blow the trumpet” as “act the fool,” and Donkin connects it rather to trombe “waterspout,” on the notion of turning (someone) around. … Trumped upfalse, concocted” first recorded 1728.


Why do Brits pronounce lieutenant “leftenant”?


Back in 2013, on The Guardian‘s Notes and Queries page, a man called Jeff Rushton from London asked this very good question:

Why exactly do the British say lieutenant as ‘leftenant’? 

Armchair linguists on both sides of the Atlantic offered up various answers and suggestions: here’s a selection for your interest and entertainment … Continue reading