Word Talk

If you’re a crossword solver, you’re bound to be a word lover…

So we know you’re going to enjoy exploring Word Talk, where we look at many of the Words and Phrases in our fascinating English language, what they mean and where they came from. Filling The Gaps provides the story behind some of the people, places and events used in Lovatts crosswords.

Arms akimbo

Akimbo is a stance with hands on hips and elbows turned out, usually showing impatience or defiance.

Akimbo is an old word that is only heard in this phrase, or very occasionally and more recently, as ‘legs akimbo’. Another such example is ‘aback’, which only occurs in ‘taken aback’.

In Middle English akimbo appeared as kenebowe [more…]


Argy-bargy is British slang with the meaning ‘noisy quarrelling’.

The word appears to come from an earlier form, ‘argle-bargle’, which originated in Scotland. The first part of the doublet is a modification of the word ‘argue’ and the second part is nonsense rhyming. Oxford lists the plural as argy-bargies.

This type of playful language is known [more…]


This is a wonderful slang word for gossip and we have to thank sailors for it.

Water for drinking on a ship was kept in a butt, or a large cask. The cask was scuttled, that is, a hole was cut in it, usually with a hatch as a lid. The hatch could be lifted [more…]


If someone calls you a pompous old fuddy-duddy you will no doubt take offense.
This term meaning stuffy and old-fashioned might well sound like a stuffy old-fashioned expression, but it has only been around for a short time really – well around 100 years, which is recent when you think that so much of our [more…]


We clue this variously as ‘Alfred the Great’s kingdom’, ‘Thomas Hardy’s fictional area’ or even ‘Prince Edward, Earl of …’. So what or where is Wessex? The story of Wessex is really the story of the beginning of England.

Wessex was the Kingdom of the West Saxons, founded around AD 500 by Cerdic. The kingdom [more…]

Lazy Susan

A Lazy Susan is a revolving tray in the middle of the dining table for easy access to condiments and shared dishes.

What a strange name for this turntable that became fashionable in the early 20th century.

If your name is Susan, I am sure you are not lazy, but you are probably interested in the [more…]

As dead as a doornail

English abounds with similes in the form of  ‘as x as a y’ but where did this one come from?

The answer is not clear, but the expression has been around since before Shakespeare (and the good Bard used it in Henry IV).

Quite possibly ‘as dead as a doornail’ has survived down the centuries because it [more…]

Earl Grey

We all know of the famous Earl Grey tea but how did the tea get its name? Well this is not a simple matter.

According to Twinings, Prime Minister Earl Grey was given a case of this black tea flavoured with bergamot oil by a Chinese Mandarin and loved it so much that he asked [more…]

At one fell swoop

This means in a sudden move or all at once but started out with more sinister connotations.
The expression is often wrongly quoted as ‘one foul swoop’, or even ‘one fowl swoop’, but it doesn’t relate to chickens.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff on hearing of the death of his family says;
All my pretty ones?
Did you say [more…]