It’s the same every year. A couple of news stories appear, designed specifically to make a certain type of person tut-tut, glance around and wonder what the world is coming to. One of them is the appearance of the Brown Thomas Christmas Department in height of summer. Given the few years they’ve had and the batterings they get from rent, rates and VAT, who could blame the shopkeepers for trying anything to drum up business? I wouldn’t mind if the retail industry drove carriages pulled by pandas across Croke Park.
The other annual event is the publication, by the Oxford Online Dictionary, of the list of new words they have added to the English language. I suspect it’s less of a lexicographical event, more a surreptitious piece of market research. By telling the world the most egregious examples of yoof-speak that are being validated, then monitoring the outrage, it proves a handy way for them to identify the world’s pedants. Don’t be surprised if a few weeks after expressing your ‘seething anger’ online at the inclusion of “jorts” (a type of denim shorts), you get a letter, postmarked ‘Oxford’ which says: “Our research indicates you may be interested in some of our other publications such as ‘APOSTROPHOCALYPSE: The Death of the Language’ by Algernon Tweedblazer.”
There’s no point in getting angry. The English language is fluid and resists all attempts to contain it. Dr. Samuel Johnson himself admitted this. In his preface to perhaps the greatest single-handed feat of compilation, ‘A Dictionary Of The English Language’ he said “… may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language. “
If it’s good enough for EssJo (as he would be called now) it’s good enough for me. I haven’t raged about the ‘selfie’ (a photo you take of yourself posing – duckfaced for women, flexing muscles at the mirror for men). I’ve turned the other cheek at twerking (a type of dance move that looks like a speeded up toilet visit to a music festival portaloo).
The introduction of ‘vom’, ‘apols’ and ‘srsly’ have almost tipped me over the edge but again, I will not rise to the bait.
I will however need to take some deep breaths before choosing my response to the news that the Oxford Online Dictionary now accepts that “literally” can now be used to mean “figuratively”. You can now say with confidence “I was literally over the moon”. (Although I can also say “You are literally A SPANNER”, so it’s an ill wind etc.”)Word misuse has, by the frequency of its occurrence, changed the meaning of the word.
One way to deal with a defeat is to change the game. If we are to literally – and I mean that figuratively – suffer the pain of ‘derp’ and the ‘phablet’, then maybe we can get some relief by looking for new words of our own or better still, bring back some old ones. There are lovely old words whose meaning could bring back a more reflective time. Take ‘lunting’ for example. It means walking while smoking a pipe. We would be a far more thoughtful and wise people if lunting was still a regular hobby. Imagine a boardroom meeting at an Irish bank ten years ago on the day when someone brings a proposal for 100% mortgages to the table. The reply would be swift. “I don’t think we can agree to that old boy, not at least until we’ve all had a good lunt about it.” (NB: It’s best not to look up lunting in urbandictionary.com … You looked didn’t you?) There are thousands of these marvellously musical words out there. You will be unable to avoid the anodyne and rather soulless ‘internet of things’, ‘FOMO’, ‘TL;DR’ and ‘BYOD’. Admit defeat and win your own game. Let your mouth caress a ‘twattle’ a ‘quockerwodger’ and a ‘jollux’. Gorgonize your companions with your new vocabulary. They’ll give you ‘grats’.
Colm O’Regan’s book ‘That’s More of It Now: The Second Book of Irish Mammies’ is published in October.
This article was first published in the Sunday Business Post on September 1st