Trivia Teaser

Which word means to 'explain in detail'?


Borrowed Words


By Christine Lovatt

I am often asked which words are the hardest ones to find a clue for, and oddly enough, sometimes it’s the simplest words that give the most trouble.

Luckily the English language is well-supplied with synonyms. Words have been borrowed from almost every distant corner of the world, especially from France.

From 1066, French was spoken in England by royalty and officials, while English was used by the common folk, so that by the time French was abandoned (in 1204) many French words had crept in. After this time, French and Latin words continued to fill the gaps in English.

The word good for example, has many synonyms – such as beneficial, obedient, virtuous etc. It is related to the German gut and the Dutch goed. Yet the word wall, which is derived from the Latin vallum meaning ‘rampart’, is on its own - that is, no single word also means wall.

This makes it hard when we come to write a crossword clue.

We must keep the clue as short as possible so that we can fit them all in. That leaves me with "room divider", "brick barrier", "side of house" or "building partition".

Of course, if it’s a general knowledge type of crossword, with more space for the clues, I’d be able to write “There’s a very long one in China” or “The Berlin one came down in 1989”. For a cryptic clue, I would have even more options, but with our regular large crosswords, we are constantly updating our clues, shaping them to be as concise and accurate as we can.

Here’s a dictionary definition for you: “boxlike container in chest or table made for sliding in and out”. I’m sure you worked out that the answer is drawer. As we don’t have the luxury of space for a clue of that length, we come up with "desk compartment" or "sliding shelf", but we worry that it doesn’t quite describe a drawer.

We try to vary the clues as much as we can – because inevitably the same words come around and you solvers are not the only ones who get bored with the same old clues – we do too!

is an Old Norse word; gate, door and floor come from Old German and Dutch. They are all notoriously hard to clue.

Yet there are many words that have almost the same meaning – predict and foretell, tepid and lukewarm, power and potency etc.

Then again, a clue is just that – “a piece of evidence used in the detection of a crime” so remember in a crossword you have the advantage of the crossing letters to help you as well.


Happy Puzzling!



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Borrowed Words

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