Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

Credit: Dot Wordsworth

My husband heard me in the kitchen exclaim: 'What would I do without you?' He curiously imagined I was referring to him. But it was of you, dear readers, that I spoke, and in particular Elizabeth Maynard from Oxford, who wrote explaining the use of the Italian word basta by Danes. Well, how was I to know?

I'd supposed that Queen Alexandra, who used the word in 1901 (Mind your language, 24 May), had picked it up from the Italian opera. Not at all, Mrs Maynard tells me, since her own Danish mother's elder sister -- born in 1893 -- used it too. She would rap the table, to end arguments among the youngsters, and say sternly: 'Og dermed basta' ('And with that basta'). Professor M.J. Connolly, of Boston College, kindly wrote to say much the same, with parallels in German and Swedish.

Mrs Maynard wondered whether the Danes had picked up basta from the game of l'hombre or hombre that they played centuries ago, in which the ace of clubs is called Basto. Here we reach a pleasant complication. Bastos are 'clubs' on Spanish playing cards, in Italian bastoni . But the Italian name for clubs in our 'French' pack of cards is fiori 'flowers', or in Spanish tréboles 'clovers', like the French name trèfle (in the singular). …

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