He do the police in different voices

Photo: Feeling My Age – Flickr (Wikimedia Commons)

Cheltenham’s newest literary venue is the Suffolk Anthology, and yesterday I braved the post-race Cheltenham Festival revellers to walk up to Suffolk Parade to give a talk about The Word Detective. The owner, Helene, holds events such as these in the basement of the bookshop. It’s a cosy venue, with a friendly crowd ready with comments and questions if you give them a chance. We started off talking about stereotypes (the word and the thing, especially as it relates to dictionary editors) and then moved off onto Cheltenham words (promenade, spa), to see what a historical dictionary like the OED finds to say about them. I think I must have veered off piste somewhere as, before I knew it, I was halfway through my allotted time. But it didn’t matter – what I really wanted to do was to talk about words, not about the mechanics of publishing a dictionary.

While I was talking, I was missing the fourth instalment of The Word Detective as Radio 4’s Book of the Week. Still, there’s always i-Player. The voice and tone aren’t mine by a long way. I thought I had written the book to dispel some of the old dictionary stereotypes, but the production tends to reflect them – including the Jeeves and Wooster-ish music at the beginning and end.

Next week I’m giving a lunchtime talk to the Friends of The Wilson in Cheltenham – a slightly different type of presentation on roughly the same theme. So it won’t matter if someone inadvertently goes to both. On that occasion there will be pictures as well as words.

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