It gives me great pleasure to welcome back Dr Wordsmith, our wandering language expert, for his first language surgery of 2004. As you know, Dr Wordsmith spends a great deal of his lottery money doing field research, ie going into places where the British talk and listening to them, ie going on pub crawls. I am taking advantage of his visit to the office for more beer money to get him to answer some of your questions. Take it away, doc!
Dear Dr Wordsmith, I am constantly amazed by the capacity of the English language to spring words on us that we never knew were there. Before the Morecambe Bay tragedy, I don't think I had ever heard the term "cockle- picker", and I certainly hadn't come across "gang-master", meaning, an unscrupulous entrepreneur who pays poor Chinese immigrants peanuts to risk life and limb getting shellfish for the Spanish restaurant trade. (A big job for one small word!)
Dr Wordsmith writes: Do you have a question?
Dear Dr Wordsmith, No, I don't. I merely wished to draw your attention to linguistic developments which had taken place in your absence.
Dr Wordsmith writes: You don't mind if I call you a pompous twit, do you? I was well aware of these developments, all of which took place in my presence in the pubs of England. Out there, twixt the lagers and the whiskies, I have heard many jokes about cockle- picking, few of which can be repeated here. I have heard new versions of the old tongue-twister about pheasant-plucking, only now it's "I'm not the cockle-picker, I'm the cockle-picker's son" or something ruder. Believe me, it's all evolving out there.
Dear Dr Wordsmith, Have you also seen the word "cockler" which has appeared in headlines?
Dr Wordsmith writes: Yes, but that's not a real word. It's a fake headline word. "Cockle-picker" would be too long for a headline, so it has to be "cockler". "Gang-master" is an interesting word, because it is a Germanic …