Monday, 11 January 2021

Old slang revisited

It was back at the end of last September that all the dailies published articles about how the slang of my generation was incomprehensible to the under-30s. Words not recognised included "sozzled," "bonk,"cad," "wally," "plonk" and "boogie." (Really, who do these young people blame it on?)

It turned out to be a very small sample of only 300 respondents in that age category, out of a total sample of 2,000, so maybe this was not very representative. Columnists such as India Knight of The Times seized on it though, as exemplifying the loss of all light-hearted, fun words and their replacement with dreary ones like "woke", "gaslight" and "ghost"(as verbs). "The grim-faced removal of things that bring joy."

Jilly Cooper said she felt like writing a "plonkbuster" called Sozzled, the word least recognised by millennials. 

                                                                    Credit: Allan Warren

Even more revealing are the under the line comments, as you might imagine. I have a feeling that this vocabulary reflects a time which might have been more fun for the sozzled cads and wallies than it was for the poor females they wanted to bonk. An image of Terry-Thomas, the gap-toothed would- be seducer was immediately conjured up.

                                                                        Author unknown

Of course slang words change and tend to be generation-specific. That's a necessary part of each new generation of young people coining words to define and describe their experience of life, which must be different from those of their parents.

Are there words whose passing you regret?

 

Words of the week: Insurrection, Sedition, Coup

No prizes for guessing why! An insurrection is an uprising against a sitting government; sedition is speech encouraging insurrection and a coup is a successful insurrection that overturns the government.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Two nations divided by a common language

I used to think this quotation was from Winston Churchill, he being half-American. But no, this perceptive remark was made by George Bernard Shaw (Americans would say "Bernard").

 

I have been reminded of it twice this week, first by an American acquaintance on Facebook, castigating "The Crown" TV series for making an egregious grammatical error. It was "made" by a young Prince Andrew and addressed to the Queen: "Like other second sons I could mention, I'd obviously be better at it than him." My American friend thinks it should be "than he," with "is" understood. She is right about American English but not about British Standard English, which we can assume HRH was using, where a pronoun takes the accusative form after a preposition. Sorry to have to say that Prince Andrew was correct, even in a work of fiction, but so it is.

I ran into this difference with my American editor for The Falconer's Knot (published by Bloomsbury on both sides of the Atlantic).

The other occasion came from watching my favourite TV cop show, Spiral, which returned on Saturday for its eighth and last season. It's a French series, named "Engrenages" in France, so it has to be watched with subtitles. But who creates these English versions?

                                                       Caroline Proust from Spiral by YanRB

I am sad enough to be part of a Forum discussing Spiral after every two episodes and some of us are quite exercised about the use of American terms in the subtitles, when we are watching it in the UK. There are objections to the use of "laundromat" where a young boy's body has been found, when we would say "laundrette." And then, out of the blue, Laure Berthaud, played by Caroline Proust (pictured above), when asked what she has found out, "says "nothing, nowt." Now, I'm pretty sure that's not part of American vernacular!

When I was working on a project with an American publisher, she didn't know what I meant by someone not being "a patch on his father."  But then, I didn't know what she meant by a "blowhard." Truly, divided by a common language.


 

Word of the week: Challenging

The use of this word is growing, especially during political interviews and briefings. Homeschooling your special needs child is "challenging," Coping with the latest Covid restriction is "challenging." I wish more interviewers and questioners would "challenge" the use of this word, which is rapidly becoming an anodyne euphemism for "extremely difficult" or "impossible." It implies that if people fail to rise to the "challenge," they are somehow failing.