Prose & Cons - by John MacDonald


"Prose & Cons began life in 1990 as a weekly column in The Mercury, the morning paper in Durban, South Africa. The pen-name Wordsworth is self-evident – you got your ‘word’s worth’ from the read. The column ran for about 10 years and pre-dated the internet, when not everyone had access to the full Oxford English Dictionary and other etymological reference books. Now, of course, anyone interested in the origins of words and phrases can find all they need to know with a few strokes of the keyboard. Many websites are dedicated to the theme and my thanks are due to Project Tesseract curator, Rohan Roberts, for bringing the Prose & Cons archives into the electronic era."  - John MacDonald


John is the host of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature Talking of Books (103.8 Dubai Eye Radio). He is a journalist, a raconteur, and a voracious reader of books on science, literature, philosophy, and art. It is no exaggeration to say, John is one of the most interesting personalities in Dubai. 

29 Jan 2015


Ask a snob to dance the can-can and he/she will probably consider it an affront to their self-appointed dignity. And a suggestion that snooty pretentiousness and frothy French leg shows are linguistically related will only add to their mortification.


But pretensions apart, the fact remains: snob and can-can do share common roots, along with crony, chum, wrangler and wooden spoon.


All are derived from university slang, origina...

22 Jan 2015

A REFERENCE in the last week’s column to the “phoney war” leading up to the British general election campaign has prompted a reader to ask for an explanation of “phoney” itself.

With pleasure, sir, especially at St. Patrick’s Day is just behind us and phoney has a fascinating Irish history.


Most dictionaries define the word “false, sham, or pretended” but a few venture a derivation other than “obscure and uncertain.” Some sugge...

15 Jan 2015

A Durban secretary explains her boss’s regular mid-week absences from the office with the justification: “He’s away on a course.”


Callers are impressed with his devotion to further education and are always wary of challenging his assertions .all these courses must make him a man of vastly superior knowledge and an intellect not to be trifled with.


What they fail to realize is that the course is invariably of the 18-hole variet...

8 Jan 2015

 The complexities and inconsistencies of English spelling and syntax pose major difficulties for those who claim the language as their mother tongue ‒ far less learners.


Reader PJW Henderson therefore makes a good case by highlighting the advantages of Basic English (Foram, November 4).


An acronym for British, American, Scientific, International and Commercial, Basic English avoids the artificialities inherent in so-called “in...

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