May 2018


Inspired by the French Open tennis tournament which is on at the moment, a tweener is a between-the-legs shot, when a player runs to return a lob and doesn’t have time to turn round, so hits the ball backward between their legs. It’s generally a last reserve in competition, although it turns up a lot when people are showing off in exhibition matches.

Beloved of modern players like del Potro, Kyrgios and Radwańska, the tweener pioneer is retired Argentine player Guillermo Vilas. He used it a lot throughout his career in the 70s, and his version was called the ‘Gran Willy’ (literally ‘the great willy’, snigger – I don’t know why). In fact, he claims to have invented it (as does a French player by the name of Yannick Noah), but it’s a bit hard to prove this. Gabriela Sabatini was also a fan, and her version was called the ‘Sabatweenie’. Famously, Federer used a front-facing tweener to get himself a match point in the 2009 US Open semi-final, and called it ‘the greatest shot I ever hit in my life’. Here’s a video of some awesome tweeners.



This week’s word of the week is in honour of a little event which took place last Saturday – Harry and Meghan’s wedding. Despite swearing that I wasn’t going to watch it, I accidentally switched over to the coverage and then couldn’t drag myself away. For three hours. Yes, there were tears. But there were also two exclamations when Rose Hudson-Wilkin did her reading at the ceremony:

  1. Yay, there’s a Wilkin at the royal wedding! and

  2. What the heck’s a prebendary?


Luckily, the internet knows everything. So, a prebendary is a senior member of the clergy, who used to be supported by money from an estate or parish, called a prebend. Nowadays only Wells Cathedral (been there – it’s lovely) and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin (haven’t been there) still call their canons (the religious kind, not the ones you shoot people with/out of – that’s cannons) ‘prebendaries’. For everyone else it’s an honorary title given to senior parish priests to recognise long service.

Oh, and if you’re a prebendary, you get a special seat in cathedrals, usually at the back of the choir stalls. It’s called, unimaginatively, the prebendal stall.


According to Rachel Riley on BBC News this morning, it’s National Numeracy Day today. So I thought I’d find an interesting word to do with maths. I failed at this (not to say there aren’t any interesting maths words – just none of them interested me this morning. I have a very short attention span).

Obviously my next port of call for an idea was the box set I’m watching at the moment – a Danish drama on Netflix called ‘The Rain’. That took me to English words we get from Danish. And one of these is femto, a prefix in the metric system from the Danish word for 15, ‘femten’. A femtometre is equal to one quadrillionth of a meter (we got there eventually). Which is really freaking small. To put that into some kind of context, a proton has a diameter of roughly 1.6 femtometers. Like I said, they’re really freaking small.


According to the internet, it was World Password Day on 3 May (although their definition of ‘World’ seems to mean ‘American’). So, this got me thinking – when did the word ‘password’ come in to being? And is its etymology as simple as it looks? Well, it turns out it is, so I decided to not make that the word of the week. Instead, I went with a word I found while doing my (very short) research on ‘password’.

A shibboleth is a word, phrase, custom, etc, that’s only known to a certain group of people, so you can use it to prove you’re a real member of that group. Think Michael Fassbender in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ when he blows his cover as a German after using the wrong hand gesture.

You’ve probably guessed from the spelling, but shibboleth is a Hebrew word. It comes from the story of the Gileadites in the Hebrew Bible. They used the word to identify Ephraimites who couldn’t pronounce the ‘sh’ sound – so if they tried to say ‘shibboleth’ it came out wrong. I’m not sure what happened to them once they were identified, but I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t good.


I worked out what last week’s word of the week was supposed to be! As mentioned last week, an anthropoglot is an animal with a tongue like a human, meaning it can mimic human speech (one dictionary I looked at said it was an ‘animal with a tongue like that of man’ which sounds gross, and a bit sexist). So, that’s parrots and that dog off the telly who can say ‘sausages’.

There’s more about anthropoglots, including an ELEPHANT THAT CAN SPEAK KOREAN, here.