Do you indulge in a bit of banter with your friends or colleagues? Tim Bowen looks at the development of this good-natured noun.

The origin of the word banter remains obscure, although it appears to have started life in England about three hundred years ago as a verb. Its original meaning was to tease or ridicule, usually in an aggressive manner. Later banter came to be used as a noun and it acquired a slightly less aggressive, friendlier meaning.

Today banter is often preceded by the adjective good-natured as in 'As the evening wore on there was a lot of good-natured banter', meaning that there was a lot of friendly conversation and people were telling jokes and laughing at each other. Banter still involves pulling other people's legs but any teasing is mild in nature and no malice is intended. Here are a few examples of banter in use: 'It was just a bit of banter; it wasn't serious'; 'Don't listen to her. It's just idle banter'; 'What I like about my job is all the office banter'.