Monday, 24 May 2010

Linguistic Irritation

There are some words, or groups of words, which stimulate in me a disproportionate feeling of annoyance, irritation, and even anger. Listening to the Today programme this morning (and it’s not over yet!) I’ve been having a field day. Union men saying ‘In-no-way-shape-or-form’, economic commentators talking about ‘Low Hanging Fruit’, and another perennial, ‘...going forward’, which presumably means some equivalent of ‘from this moment on’ – in other words a phrase only useful when distinguishing the futuristic from the historic.

But just now, for me, and of course speaking very personally – (other irritating verbiage is available) – the word BIG is a contender for the big prize!

It started with Big Brother – but in its context of a voyeuristic TV programme, that phrase obviously had some legitimacy, given to it by George Orwell. But it has spawned a number of illegitimate children.

When the word ‘big’ was associated with the lottery, it was no longer a comparative word – we don’t hear about a small lottery, because that would usually be called a raffle! Here the word ‘big’ was being used to create a spurious impression of largesse; to cause gullible punters to think that they have a reasonable chance of winning a huge sum of money (compared to their daily expectations). What they actually have is a completely UNreasonable chance of winning anything near to being a ‘big’ amount of money. Nothing wrong with a small flutter for fun, but as a cause of addiction, the Big Lottery has a lot to answer for.

This damned word is now being used in curious ways. That venerable guru of the superficial, Tim Smit, is promoting for the second year something called ‘the big lunch’. What he means, I guess, is a community exercise involving big numbers of people, rather than an occasion when people eat as much as their bellies will hold. (Many of our number seem to do that without Mr Smit’s help!) I can understand what he is trying to achieve – an enhanced sense of community; a sense of occasion when we may at last meet the person we have been living next door to for the last ten years – but this use of the word ‘big’ reduces the project to the level of a tatty game show, and is therefore likely to be a damp squib rather than an explosive event.

Then, in the lead up to the General Election, (the ‘big’ election?), David Cameron launched ‘The Big Society’, and even today, people are still asking each other what on earth he could have meant! When we are in the age of localism, decentralisation, community, expenditure reduction, discredited consumerism and anti-globalisation, this seems very like a somewhat desperate and inexperienced attempt at ‘soundbite-ism’ – now there’s a word to conjure with!


Scarlett the Heavenly Healer said...

I don't like to hear 'basically' unless one is speaking about something very basic. It's grossly over-used, often when telling quite a complicated tale, so it's not basic at all!

'Major' is another 'big' that's unfortunately catching on.

timx said...

I believe we could both write a long list - but I now find myself wincing every time I hear someone slotting 'y'know' randomly into their conversation!