Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Magazine article The Spectator

Mind Your Language: Dot Wordsworth

Article excerpt

'You must have Tired Old Woman Syndrome,' said my husband as I fell back into an armchair with a sigh after a morning clearing out the kitchen cabinets. It had to be done. He of course had just been sitting in the drawing-room waiting for a plausibly respectable hour to have a drink. His abuse was not utterly random, for we had been discussing Tired Mountain Syndrome. It is being blamed for small earthquakes near Mount Mantap in North Korea, where they have been testing nuclear weapons underground. The rocks become many times more permeable along lines of weakness. The name Tired Mountain Syndrome was popularised by a paper in 2001 by Vitaly V. Adushkin and William Leith on Soviet underground nuclear explosions. Well, I say 'popularised', but I hadn't heard of it until last week.

Syndromes have escaped from the medical world where they have thriven since the 16th century as the name for a group of signs that are concurrent ('running together'), as the Greek origin suggests: syn 'together' and drom- 'run', as in hippodrome ('horse run') or palindrome ('a word that runs back again'). A nice new syndrome can embed one's name in the language. …

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