Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Whipsmart

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Whipsmart

Article excerpt

A friend of my husband's asked me to explain why the usually impeccable critic Francine Stock had recently used the term whipsmart . That I cannot tell, but I do know that he has identified a cliché in the casting. Everyone is suddenly using it.

Joaquin Phoenix gave a 'whipsmart performance as a genius philosophy professor'. Of the heroine of the film Juno another critic wrote that 'at 16, the whipsmart schoolgirl finds herself pregnant after one encounter with her best friend'. Someone who seems unclear about the meaning of verbose wrote about the 'whipsmart, verbose political drama' of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle . And what should be 'chock-full of whipsmart dialogue' but Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated , would you believe?

I had not noticed whipsmart before and hardly know what it is supposed to mean. I take it that most people who use it mean 'clever' by smart . That goes with the American origins of the term. But even in America, whip-smart (as it was generally spelled) has often been applied to clothing over the past 70 years or so. …

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