Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

MR TIMOTHY Birch, from Queensland, by way of a New Year's game (the post is slow from Noosa Heads) challenges me to define 13 words beginning with ch without recourse to a dictionary. They are chalaza, challah, champerty, chance medley, characin, charley horse, chibouk, chiliad, chimera, chino, choli, chorion and chrestomathy.

Well, I only got four from this dumb-crambo. As promised, chance medley was a good one; it is nice to learn from the dictionary that Milton misused it. Perhaps we can return to that another time, for I was also surprised by chino. I'd assumed it was a sort of trade name for trousers. It turns out to be a generic name for khaki twill, from the American Spanish for 'toasted'; the OED first notes it being used in 1943.

I discovered from the anthropologist Michael Kenny that chino is also the Spanish for what they call spoof in Soho; I bet Mr Birch didn't know that. Chino can mean 'a pebble', which figures, but the game is usually played with coins now, and, put simply, is based on guessing how many the opponent has in his hand. In Spain I first saw it being played in a bar in Toro, on the Duero, on a Friday night.

Now we're on the Hispanic trail, I would like to ask Mr Birch what the English is for crotorar, `to make a noise like a stork [with its beak]'. …

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