Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language

Article excerpt

`SURELY it should be fine-tooth comb (one with its teeth finely spaced)?' asks Martha Crewe (Letters, 14 June). `Only a baleen whale needs a "toothcomb". '

So one might think, but it ain't so. The Oxford English Dictionary defines toothcomb as a `small-tooth comb', and illustrates it at random with a quotation from 1902: `The rake with which Mr Nield gathers together his authors is a very tooth-comb.' And the Shorter Oxford says confidently: `fine-tooth comb, a comb with narrow close-set teeth'. It even adduces fine-tooth-comb as a verb. None of this would be at all suited to a baleen or any other kind of whale.

On the occasional topic of agreeable names, Dr P.R. Newman writes to me with the news of a sighting in Fulford cemetery outside York of a stone in memory of Eva Verdun Slaughter (born in the year of Verdun fighting in the first world war). …

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