Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`DIDN'T think much of that stuff about gerunds,' said my husband from behind a fascinating new paper on ablation of the hypothalamus, or something.

`Better than cutting up brains,' I retorted, but inside I suspected he was right.

May we then return for a moment to the lexical test list that was sent to me from Noosa Heads, Queensland (Mind your language, 22 February)?

`Improve your word-power' as the Reader's Digest used annoyingly to put it (and still does, for all I know). What, then, does chance-medley mean, and how did Milton get it wrong?

It is a pleasant-sounding term, and it comes from the Anglo-French chance medlee `mixed chance', where medlie is the adjective, of course. In law it meant an accident that was not purely accidental, chiefly applied to manslaughter: `the casual killing of a man, not altogether without the killer's fault, though without evil intent'. …

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