Interview: TV’s Susie Dent talks upcoming show

Countdown’s Queen of Dictionary Corner Susie Dent is set to take her ‘The Secret Lives of Words’ tour to Hampshire next month as the lexicographer and best selling author will be at The Lights, Andover on Tuesday 8th October.

Take a journey into the curious, unexpected, and downright surreal origins of the words we use every day. Susie will retell the adventures that lie hidden within such words as ‘freelancer’ (involving the old mercenary knight), and the ‘pupil’ of the eye, and explain such oddities as the silent ‘h’ in ghost and the mysterious disappearance of kempt, gormful, and ruly (and yes, you really can be gruntled). She will look to the lexicon of the past to fill some of today’s linguistic gaps – such as the frenzied fit of tidying we all do just as guests are about to descend (that’s a scurryfunge). Alongside such forgotten stories you will hear Susie’s selection of the funniest moments from her 25 years on Countdown, as well as some startling results from eavesdropping in the loo.

We managed to catch up with Susie for an interview as she talked about the tour, 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown, her upcoming book and more!

How has the tour gone down so far?

Better than I could have hoped for! I’ve had a blast – not only because the show gives me a chance to talk about a subject I love, and to share my passion, but also because my audiences have been brilliant – knowledgeable, fun, up for a laugh, and generally wonderful fellow word-nerds.

The shows have been quite spread out over the past few months, is this to allow you to concentrate on your day to day life also? 

Yes – I’m planning shows in-between Countdown and 8 out of 10 Cats does Countdown filming, and it’s also important to me not to be away from home and my children for too long.

How did this tour come about in the first place?

It was a suggestion made by a friend – I dismissed it with a laugh initially, but then couldn’t quite shake the thought of putting together something that could invite people into the wonderful world I inhabit every day, and the secret stories our language has to offer.

What inspired you to get into lexicography in the first place?

My degree was in Modern Languages, and it was through them that I came to lexicography and to my love of English. But from a very early age I was obsessed by words. You’d find me buried in a vocabulary book in the back of the car on every family trip, determined to learn as many words as I could by the time we reached our destination. I was a nerd, a geek, and a swot (and there are differences between all three!), long before any of those became fashionable.

How is your podcast ‘Something Rhymes With Purple’, co-hosted with Gyles Brandreth, going down with fans so far?

It’s been such a pleasure recording these podcasts, and people really seem to enjoy sharing in our joy of words. Never underestimate how passionate people can be about language once they get going. One thing I love about this medium is that you can be as relaxed and conversational as you like, meandering here and there as the subject takes you. It’s a lot less circumscribed than TV.

How different do you find regular Countdown to 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown?

It’s a completely different kettle of fish! Our audience always groans on my behalf when Jimmy introduces me with yet another insult, but it genuinely makes me chuckle. I just need to find some better comebacks! I’m often asked which show I prefer, and it’s a near-impossible question. Countdown is my lifelong gig and I’m so grateful for it, but Catsdown gives me a year’s worth of belly-laughs in a single episode.

Are you all good friends with likes of the regular Jimmy Carr and Jon Richardson outside the show? 

We all get along behind the scenes and the comedians have known – and laughed with – each other for years. I’ve just done a cameo on a new series coming soon with Jon Richardson and his wife Lucy Beaumont. I’m not sure about my performance but the show itself is beautifully and hilariously written.

Did you have any idea at the time when Nick Helm serenaded you for the first time? 

I think I had my eyes closed! Nick was so nervous beforehand but didn’t let on about what was coming my way, then belted the love-song out like a pro. Trying to look him in the eye without creasing up was very tricky. Since then his songs have taken us through a break-up and reunion – who knows what’s coming next?

What do you get up to in your spare time when you have any? 

I need more spare time! Kids, sleep, and walking are my general priorities.

Have you got any books in the works at the moment? 

Yes, I have one coming out next Autumn which will offer a small gem about the English language for each day of the year. It will include some of the words from the past I’m longing to bring back (like ‘mumpsimus’, for someone who insists that they’re right, despite clear evidence that they’re wrong), and some of my favourite etymologies. I hope people love them as much as I do.

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