February 2019


Nope, not the small furry things (although I do love a small furry lemur – the smallest one is called Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, which is a freaking awesome name. Sorry, I digress). I’m talking about lemures, which are spirits of the restless dead (nasty ones), in Roman mythology. So they’re angry ghosts, basically, often of people who didn’t get a proper burial or funeral rites. On 3, 11 and 13 May, the head of a Roman household would get up in the middle of the night and throw black beans over his (presumably) shoulder. This was apparently enough to placate the lemures for another year. Which doesn’t make them seem very frightening. Apparently you could also scare them off by banging a couple of brass pans together. Not exactly ‘The Exorcist’ is it?

Lemures were also called larvae, but again this isn’t anything to do with the animal (or rather insect) kingdom. It’s from the Latin ‘larva’ for ‘mask’ – presumably because they had scary-ass faces.

When I was young I had a book called ‘The Changeover’ by Margaret Mahy (I still have it actually – I re-read it every now and again when I’m feeling nostalgic). The villain in this is a lemur (again, not furry), who slowly sucks the life out of the heroine’s younger brother after stamping his image on the little boy’s hand. If you have a young person in your life I thoroughly recommend giving them a copy. (Netflix have also just released a film version of it which I was very excited about – obviously it’s nowhere near as good as the book, but worth a watch.)

Oh, and the furry lemurs are named after these bad boys, but not because they’re scary soul-sucking phantoms – apparently it’s only because they tend to be nocturnal. Which seems a bit mean.



I saw this in a legal book I’m proofreading and totally thought it was a typo (Microsoft Word agreed with me and gave it an angry red underline) or, failing that, an obscure Harry Potter spell, neither of which belong in a book on medical negligence. After looking it up I now know that equiparate is a verb that means ‘to compare’ (turns out that neither MS Word or I know all the words).

The reason Word and I didn’t recognise might be because it’s fallen out of fashion – the dictionary has it marked as ‘obsolete’. Just think though – if language had gone down a slightly different path, we might all have been getting annoyed with the fat opera man singing ‘go equiparate, go equiparate’ (I bet you’re doing that now, aren’t you?).

Okay, technically speaking, its meaning is actually closer to ‘equate’ than ‘compare’. But that didn’t work with my joke, so I hope you’ll forgive me.


Erinaceous means hedgehog like. So if you want to say that someone looks like a hedgehog without them knowing (something I’m sure we’ve all experienced), this is the word for you.

Now, you’d think the origins of the word ‘hedgehog’ would be simple – it’s got a hog-like nose, and it lives in hedges. And for the most part, the various dictionaries and etymology sites I looked at agree with this. But there’s one person who’s convinced that this is a fallacy (and is also a bit cross about it). According to this article, the word for hedgehog in other languages is too similar for it to have come about this way. I quote:

‘So we’re looking at a situation where … English suddenly independently invented a word that happens to sound almost exactly like the Slavic words for the same animal, as well as the shared Proto-Indo-European root to boot … The odds of that are insane.’

I enjoy the phrase ‘root to boot’.

The collective noun for a group of hedgehogs is an array. But this is basically pointless as, apart from when it’s time for a bit of how’s-your-father, hedgehogs spend most of their time on their own. Just in case that’s made you sad, here’s a video of some hedgehogs being ridiculously cute.

In the interests of balance, because hedgehogs are wild animals and we should be looking after them better, here’s some info on what you can do to help them.

In 2009, a comedian called Dan Antopolski won the prize for the funniest joke at that year’s Edinburgh Fringe with a hedgehog-related one-liner. He beat comedy gods like Sarah Millican, Jack Whitehall, Adam Hills and Rhod Gilbert. So it must be good, right?

Wait for it...

‘Hedgehogs. Why can’t they just share the hedge?’