LANGUAGE is never static. Words – like hemlines – depend on the whims of fashion. One day a word will cover everything required: the next the wind of change leaves over exposure in its wake. History competes with current trends; implied and overt meanings squabble for attention and our culture gets richer or more impoverished depending on your point of view.
A copywriter exploits this tension for gain – crafting between the lines; negotiating the fine margins of meaning and cliché. Like a Private eye on surveillance the skill is to produce the desired result without visible effort: the sweat and pain involved – the mental sleight of hand – remaining hidden in the process.
Words are my friends. They’re the offspring that I send out into the world. Sometimes I’m proud of them; occasionally I’m depressed at my inability to get them into line. I’m a nurturing parent – encouraging and cajoling gently; sometimes firm but fair. Beware those who invite the neighbourhood children round only to abuse them. No one likes to see innocence corrupted but modern media are voracious and generally have no time for finer feelings. Each has their own specific linguistic demands and words often get in with the wrong crowd.
Here are some of these delinquents: words that grate; the phrases best said through gritted teeth. It’s not very scientific; it’s not very logical – these are selected because of prejudice, a gut-feeling or simply a minor irritation. Some convey little more than negative associations in much the same way as a particular Christian name. Let’s start at the top…
OUR COUNTRY: Pronounced: “RRR country…” A key phrase of our PM: initial inference – friendly chat. Feel the focus group force and the hand up the back-of-the-shirt manipulation of the media adviser. That’s it Dave; jacket off…lean forward on the lectern: shoulder to the wheel; sleeves rolled-up, work to be done style. A typical political paradox: inclusive and exclusive at the same time. Whatever you say can and will be used against you by the opposition. Central plank in the election circa May 2010 (© when we were – all in it together) but has lingered in weasel kinship ever since. Now most likely to be wheeled out in reference to our non-relationship with those sneaky Europeans.
MARMITE: “I’m Marmite Me…” Ah, ah: you’ve said it – no need to say any more we know just where you’re headed. Too late…“You either love me or you hate me!” Well; now that you mention it… Up there with – it does what it says on the tin – and a favourite stand by for those who routinely ruffle feathers. The black stuff is final home and verbal shortcut for the rude; the obnoxious; the stirrers; the ones who can’t be bothered with social niceties and those who eschew any contact/contract with the PC crowd. Salty spiritual mantra for blunt Northerners everywhere who revel in – I say what I like and I like what I bloody well say – offensiveness.
ABSOLUTELY: An overstressed media confection/invention. Annoying enthusiasm gone off the rails. Time was when this word in truncated sober form was mainly associated with the end of a marriage. Now I wish I could divorce it from the smug mouths of those who hold the microphones; most prevalent in knee-jerk introductory gambit and when signing-off back to the studio. Time was when a simple affirmative would suffice but in today’s atmosphere of hyperbole this is the effusive reply that brooks absolutely no argument.
ROBUST: Province of MPs, local councillors, square pegs, bureaucrats, Dot Orgs, financial watchdogs, quasi-governmental panels and enquiry boards. The rattle of empty vessels getting to grips with the issues. Strongest presence in opening statements: or description of approach to unfolding narratives. It’s not enough just to do the job like everyone else – you have to shout from the rooftops how you are going to go about it in a PR offensive designed to counter criticism at birth. Lives in sin with no stone left unturned, all avenues explored and we’re working hard…
WORKING HARD: Common to the same collection of justifiers as above and for many of the same reasons. A get out of jail conversation card for those uncovering uncomfortable corruption close to home. Or those putting right what they caused in the first place. As such a particular favourite of those with egg decorating their features: those who are determined to show they truly know the path to redemption – the straight and narrow to the heart of the electorate’s taste. From dilettante to Protestant ethic in one easy phrase with no actual labour involved: transformational.
PARTNERSHIP: Council mission statements made manifest. A malignant outgrowth from twinning concepts and privatisation. Attempt to personalise the kind of day-to-day transactions that are the mundane essence of capitalism. If I had money for each expensively liveried van, juggernaut, letterhead or sign that included this I could pay for tea and biscuits at all the interminable meetings there must be about this topic at local councils throughout the country. Uniquely meaningless in conception and practice. Personal favourite is – A partnership in packaging i.e. we make a box – you buy it: we deliver it – you use it for its intended purpose. Like the lowest form of sponsorship. Provides a daily thrill at the drama on the side of delivery vans for Stobart devotees and those who use Twitter to tell you of their intended purchase in the supermarket. I have a particularly fine partnership with Andrex the day after curry night but enough about that…
JOURNEY: Used to be a simple from A to B – whether intercontinental or just over the hill to the shops. Destination C and all points to X only became a consideration if it was of essence a hard-won, spiritually enriching and life-changing odyssey. Now had all the life sucked out of it by the inanities of Reality TV. A journey from here to absurdity: from one Adele cover to another Adele cover via a soft Louis Walsh put-down – ending in a fast return to the concrete reality of the pavement outside the O2. Almost always used in partnership with emotive language (and tears) about being all you ever wanted to do; the only thing in your life and an equally desperate need to deliver your Mum up from poverty via a new house.
PERFECT STORM: Overdone, overdramatic and incongruous – this is for a unique, overwhelming, once-in-a lifetime event. Not for when Waitrose and Sainsburys are both out of crème fraiche simultaneously; when United concede two in a minute; or when your freshly salon-painted nail catches in your hair extensions. Same exaggerated stable as I’m exhausted darling and OMG!!!