31 JANUARY 2004, Page 30

English explosions

From Philip Hensher

Sir: Is Mr le Vay entirely confident, in criticising Lynne Truss, that he understands how English works (Letters, 24 January)? He objects to her use of the expression 'hoovering' on the grounds that 'Hoover' is a trademark and a noun. But what would he prefer? 'Vacuuming' is irrational: 'vacuum-cleaning' is barbarous; and why should we act as guardians of a company's trademarks in our speech? Moreover, and more gravely, there is no reason whatever to think it improper to turn an English noun into a verb. Shakespeare uses the noun 'window' as a verb; Hardy uses the adjective 'small' as a verb; P.G. Wodehouse somewhere says 'out-Fred the nimblest

Astaire', and a proper noun is perfectly idiomatically transformed into a verb. Mr le Vay is just making up rules which have nothing whatever to do with the way English has always worked.

Philip Hensher

London SW8