Thursday, May 14, 2009

Mind your vocabulary

The English language is a resilient beast. The mongrel offspring of Norman French and Anglo-Saxon, with a leavening of Greek thrown in for good measure, it has no formal grammar to speak of (noun cases? inflected verbs? we laugh in their general direction) and its pronunciation is totally out of whack with its spelling.
Find a continental European with a rough cough in Slough and you’ll find a very confused European indeed.
Like a lexicographical vampire, English absorbs fresh vocabulary like a swamp sucks in unwary travellers. Bring it your politically correct, your geeky or your New School Hip Hop rapper, and English will chew them up and digest them. In small, bite-size chunks.
To complain, as some people do, that English is under some sort of threat from these foreign invasions of weird words – whether they be “conflagration operative”, “boot sector” or “mad propz” – is to miss the point. English can take it. Always has, always will. Word dat.
But in the last few months a new invasion has hit our linguistic shores: of words that used to mean one thing but in these tough financial times have started to signify something quite different.
And while the English language will undoubtedly take the strain as it always does, even we regular users can sometimes get a little confused.
So here, for those who like to keep up with the times but are feeling left behind by the lingo, is a brief glossary of Words That Don’t Mean Quite What They Used To.
Flipping. Not the word you say in front of the children when you really want to say... well, never mind. This is the practice of buying a second home, doing it up on your parliamentary expense account, and then flogging it a vast profit. If you’re not an MP, this particular scam won’t work. You could always try flipping your garden shed but you’ll probably just end with it in bits on the lawn.
Scrappage. Not what you find yourself in when the wife discovers you’ve demolished the garden shed. Oh no. The Government gives you two grand for your 10-year-old banger, on condition you buy a shiny new one. This cunning economic measure revives the car industry, the environment and your street cred, all in one go. What’s not to like?
Nothing, although it’ll be even better when they extend it to cat-ravaged sofas, washing machines with motors that go SCREEEEE, old-fashioned tellies that can’t get Freeview and all the other household paraphernalia that you’d love to get replaced on the Government’s tab.
Quantitative Easing. Printing more money: the Treasury’s equivalent of maxing out their credit card. The problem is that it’s not actually their credit card at all. It’s ours, and we’ll be the ones who end up paying. For ever.
Flippage, Slippage and Ullage. Interchangeable terms for the slow decline of the Western economy. Either that or a trio of out-of-work actors who didn’t quite make the cut for In The Night Garden.
Qualitative Stoppage. The feeling you get when you sit down in front of the flatscreen TV the government has just bought for you under the Questionable Floppage scheme and realise there’s nothing on but Britain’s Got Talent, Eurovision and re-runs of Murder, She Wrote.
And there you have it. Your cut-out- and-keep guide to noughties English. Work these words into your everyday conversation and you’ll be the cynosure of all you meet. On the other hand, perhaps you’ll just get a good slappage.

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