One of the attractions of looking at English through the medium of cryptic crossword clues (which, I should explain to new readers, is what this series is all about) is that you are led in unexpected directions. The following clue, for example, takes us into the world of chess.
It is from the Daily Telegraph Puzzle 27,510 of 7th June, 2014 and reads:
Man on board to consider going back round Gibraltar initially (6)
If I had not given the game away (had not given you a strong hint about the answer) you would not necessarily have thought of a man on board as being a chess piece. You might have imagined the answer was something to do with a sailor (who works on board a ship) or a company director (who sits ‘on the board’ of a company). Your first thoughts might even have been that the solution was something to do with surfing, skate-boarding or snow-boarding! The way the crossword compiler teases you with possible interpretations is part of the challenge – and shows how important it is to have a wide command of the English language.
Anyway, I will tell you that in this case the solution is a chessman, but which one?
Whenever you see the word ‘initially’ it is a sure sign that one is dealing with the initial letter (ie the first letter) of the preceding word. So ‘Gibraltar initially’ just signals the letter G. The clue has nothing to do with Gibraltar as a place – although I suspect the person who made up the clue chose Gibraltar to mislead you into thinking the answer had some nautical meaning (ie something to do with the sea or sailing). The clue could equally well have read ‘ … round Guildford initially’ or ‘ … round Guinea initially’. All we need do is bear the letter G in mind.
The next thing to focus on is a synonym for ‘consider’. If you ‘consider’ something you think about it. But what is the ‘going back’ doing?
The ‘going back’ tells us that we should write the word we choose for ‘consider’ down backwards!
So if that word is THINK, we should write KNIHT!
Put those letters ’round’ the G of Gibraltar and Hey Presto! (what a magician says when he or she performs a conjuring trick) we have KNIGHT – a man on a chessboard!
If you are a chess player you will know that the knight is unique in being the only piece which can jump over others. It moves two squares forward and one to the side or one square forward and two to the side, in a pattern known as an L-shape. If you are a reasonably advanced speaker of English you will know, of course, that the initial ‘k’ in the word ‘knight’ is silent. The definition and phonetics are here. In fact, in modern chess ‘notation’ (shorthand for identifying the pieces and recording their moves) the silent ‘k’ is acknowledged by using N for knight, a convenient way of avoiding confusion with the King (K). (You may still come across Kt as an abbreviation for Knight in older chess notation.)
You will see from the definition of ‘knight’ that it can mean far more than a chess piece – and for historical reasons the word is associated only with men. In the UK, distinguished people may be recognised by the monarch for services to various causes. Men who receive a ‘knighthood’ are entitled to be addressed as ‘Sir’. The female equivalent is ‘Dame’.
Next Friday in the UK (the day after Christmas Day) is known as Boxing Day. It is a public holiday so I will take a break from blogging until the New Year. I will, however, leave you with some ‘homework’ to keep you occupied.
Try this from the same crossword puzzle as mentioned above. The only hint I will give you is that it is an anagram.
Area in front of stage where theatric pros will cavort (9,3)
I wish all readers a Merry Christmas and success and happiness in 2015.