My sister has a new puppy, so there’s a veritable avalanche of photos and app messages. In the last one, she wrote “She’s lovely, but she’s a wee besom”. In Scots, a besom was at one time used to describe a woman of loose morals. Later, it was used more jokingly about a girl or woman (or a puppy) who was a bit naughty. But originally, a besom (in Dutch – bezem) was a broom, of the kind witches used to fly on, made of twigs tied around a stick. That made me think of the Italian verb scopare, which means to sweep but which also has a vulgar meaning: ‘to have sex’. That in turn made me think about the Dutch verb naaien, which means to sew (clothing, not seeds) but which is also used vulgarly to mean ‘to have sex’. And to swindle or cheat someone.

Ruminating on these seemingly innocent activities which have their dark sides brought me to the word screw, which in addition to being an ingenious way of attaching two surfaces (oh wait!) is also used to mean ‘to have sex’. And to swindle or cheat someone.

Lastly (I had to stop and get on with some work) I thought about the word shag, a seabird and yes, you’ve guessed it – a word meaning ‘to have sex’.

It just goes to show how careful you have to be with words, even if you’re not a translator!