Never a cross word is 21 today! I hope you are enjoying this quirky way of exploring the English language.
Last week I left you with this clue, from Daily Telegraph Crossword Puzzle No. 27,724 (13th February 2015):
Insect to escape by the sound of it (4)
Did you get it?
The answer is FLEA, which is a well-known biting insect. It is correct because it sounds, when pronounced, exactly the same as ‘flee’, a verb which means to escape or run away. The wording ‘by the sound of it’ was the hint that one was dealing with a clue of this kind.
Now let’s turn to two clues from the Daily Telegraph Crossword puzzle published a couple of weeks ago on Valentine’s Day (14th February). Both involve interesting vocabulary.
The first reads:
Break articles held by British Queen (8)
As soon as you see the Queen referred to in a cryptic clue you can be almost 100% certain that the letters ER are involved in some way. Why? Because the official title of the British Queen is Elizabeth Regina (regina being Latin for queen). Her father was George Rex (GR). If you visit the UK you can spot (see) these letters on our characteristic red Post Office (PO) boxes (usually referred to as ‘post boxes’). The letters ER or GR indicate in whose reign the post box was made and installed. To be strictly accurate, I should say that one sees EIIR, the Roman numerals II indicating that the present Queen is Elizabeth the Second.
We now suspect that ER is an abbreviation for the Queen – but what could an abbreviation for British be? I think one can reasonably guess it is BR (although this is slightly questionable – BR is normally the country code for Brazil!).
And what about ‘articles’? An article is usually an object but there are other possibilities (a newspaper article for example) – and you should know by now that cryptic clues are rarely straightforward. A less obvious meaning relates to English grammar: you will recall that the words ‘a’ (or ‘an’ if the next word begins with a vowel) and ‘the’ are called the indefinite and definite articles respectively.
If we work on the basis that the answer starts with BR and those two articles (A and THE) are then ‘held by’ (contained within) ER we have the 8 letters we are looking for. The answer is derived as follows:
BR E A THE R
Why breather? Because taking a breather is idiomatic for taking a break from work or some other activity (see here). ‘Let’s take a 10 minute breather’ could be an invitation to some colleagues to have a few minutes relaxation.
In this clue the crossword setter cleverly put ‘break’ and ‘articles’ together to make you think you were actually breaking something – worse still, an item belonging to the Queen! The answer instead meant ‘break’ in a different sense.
The next clue is also an example of a clever deception. It reads:
Hamlet character needs endless noxious drink? (8)
The first thing one thinks of is that the answer is a character in Hamlet – one of Shakespeare’s best-loved plays. However, not so fast!
In an earlier post (Never a cross word – 18) we came across the word vile meaning extremely unpleasant. It is also a synonym for noxious, defined here. If VILE is substituted in the clue for noxious and is ‘endless’ (missing a letter at the end) it could be VIL.
The final word in the clue – ‘drink’ – might be many things. An alcoholic drink could be gin, vodka, wine, whisky, rum – you name it (a way of saying that the list goes on and on). This is where we need a flash of inspiration, since if we are right about VIL we need a five letter word which can naturally follow those letters: VIL VODKA would not make much sense! But we have not considered ‘beer’ yet – so what about lager? Lager is a type of light beer which might just fit the bill (provide what we are looking for).
If we put VIL with LAGER we get:
Why is villager correct? Because hamlet means a small village (see here). A character (person) who lives in a hamlet (a hamlet character!) could therefore be described as a villager. The answer had nothing to do with the play Hamlet after all!
Although hamlet may sound an obscure word, it was used in the last main paragraph of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I have a dream’ speech, which you can read here. Furthermore, the suffix -ham is frequently found in place names since ‘ham’ was Anglo Saxon for village. Of course, what in ancient times were mere hamlets are in most cases now large built up areas – for example Durham, Birmingham, and Clapham, an area of South London.
Finally, try this clue (from the same crossword) over the weekend. The answer is a word everyone will have heard of and you will find a hint earlier in this post.
Post Office stocks exciting picture (5)
More next week.