You buy fish from a fishmonger, so you buy iron from an ironmonger, right? Well, not exactly! Tim Bowen spreads a few rumours with this political Word of the week.

When they first encounter the word fishmonger, many learners of English might ask themselves exactly what a monger is or was. This would be a perfectly logical question, given that in terms such as 'car dealer', 'bookseller' and 'market trader', the activity can more or less be worked out. Regrettably monger, which derives from a Latin word meaning 'dealer' or 'trader', no longer survives as an independent word but only in combination with other words, normally as fishmonger and ironmonger (the latter being defined by The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners as ‘someone who owns a shop that sells tools and other metal goods’). The term costermonger, which originally meant someone who sold fruit and vegetables at a street market (coster was a corruption of an old French word for a type of apple) is now rarely used.

A much more widespread use of –monger is to add it to words with negative connotations. The most common of these are rumour-monger, for someone who spreads rumours, and warmonger (defined as ‘a politician who tries to start a war'), as in “Many people regard the president as little more than a warmonger”.