IF the currency of communication was distilled down into its base(st) elements then three words/phrases would comfortably vie for the dubious distinction of podium positions. If these three pillars of contemporary wisdom – incorporating commonality, curse, communion, confrontation and conversational comfort blanket – were committed to an instructional Government poster they could be hung on the wall as a reference point for modern life. Forget tests on British historical figures, favourite foods and staples of popular culture… this linguistic first aid kit is what the discerning immigrant really needs to quickly assimilate and feel like one of us.
Oh-My-God! It’s the closest most people get to the Lord in this secular country – three tiny syllables that once mastered can be stretched out at their fullest effect to a less than novel exercise in tortuous playing to the gallery; predictably punctuated by open–mouthed, bottom lip-hanging, eye-bulging exclamation. Usually applied in response to, well… pretty much anything really.
Just consider the most excruciatingly tedious daily ‘events’ raised to the heights of a TV game show payoff: OMG lifts the mundane to frenzied animation purely reserved for genuine life-changing/threatening occurrences in our stiff-upper lipped past. Most often accompanied with a hand to the mouth and an expression that suggests the other hand is engaged in something unmentionable and out of sight. It is profoundly difficult to remember when it was last uttered in quiet awe at a truly memorable scene… now such associations have been permanently superceded by the throwaway histrionics of the me too generation of reality banality.
Summon up if you will a shopping mall; a less than quiet corner and a perpetrator with a mobile in hand as a conducting baton… mix in an unsuspecting audience and you have a quintessential scene for an OMG ambush. For something so filled with self-importance it’s ironic that it’s a phrase that often does little more than intrude momentarily on your consciousness as you pass by.
Similes… remember those? Easy to grasp elements of primary grammar lessons – the significance of like and as remained as two small island outposts of language indoctrination in a sea of gentle childhood remembrance. Never forgotten pin points on the map of our formative education along with dates such as 1066 and rote-learned times tables. Ah; things were all so simple then – like, as a point of comparison or expression of taste – as the song says time has now rewritten every line…
Like is er… like first resort; the filler of the conversation sandwich. Its status is now beyond ubiquitous – it actively courts notoriety. As with its god-fearing cousin explored above like is uttered in tandem with an advanced facial muscle workout for its most satisfying effect. It’s what Marcel Marceau would have said in conjunction with mime – if he’d spoken. Often ramped up with the expressive negative i.e. – “I was like so not happy.” It’s the adjectival groupie – the everyman and woman. It’s an undoubted special preserve of young girls/young women but has been getting around as casually as an STD. I don’t know about you but I was like filled with horror at the thought of potential domestic conversations as it transplants to the older generations… like cool.
And finally – deep breath – this is the big one. Shipbuilding is but a memory; the mines are all shut; the army is shrinking and the banking sector disgraced: the hurt of our national game extends toward the half-century mark leaving shopping as close as we get to an extension of national pride….
However, there is no need to despair: the superstructure of meaning we have constructed around this four-letter word; the inherent mastery of expression and the almost lottery-winning profligacy manifested in its relentless use is surely worthy of celebration?
The supreme range of inflexion displayed in its multiple formats is as complex as any Japanese word – gets you right there doesn’t it? For those who have truly mastered every nuance; who are able to attempt the thorny triple f**k – where f**k is adjective, verb and noun in the same sentence – a grateful nation salutes you! With two fingers… obviously.
It’s everywhere… a classless province of language: of high patronage and low regard. Cul-de-sac of challenge and agreement; insult and passion; sexual intention and rejection; emphasis and just – couldn’t give a toss. It’s both seized our streets and been awarded freedom of the city: yet it resides throughout this green and – through its over occupation – a less than pleasant land. And it’s never necessary to look for it… It can be heard bellowed as nocturnal emission or delivered early in the morning from out of the mouths of babes and schoolchildren. The export drive to foreign holiday beaches has only served to elevate its association with our culture – aligned with bad food and easy virtue.
Hard to believe that it was always there – like an untapped oil slick floating on a linguistic ocean viewed by a hard core only. It was a word left to the harshest of life’s situations and hardest of inhabitants. Who knows the exact moment when f**k stepped out of the dark – the back alleys and trenches, building sites, locker-rooms and basement clubs – and taking in a brief flirt with the avant-garde – to being prop of the impolite society: it’s impossible to really gauge when the crossover into modern conversational deity occurred. But – OMG – haven’t the British made up for lost time! How did the great mass of population express themselves before when it was solely the preserve of the unexalted few? Bloomin’, bloody, ruddy and others of their innocent ilk – albeit only in retrospect – were quickly consigned to the history book of oaths as the shiny sexualised tautology of f**k laid waste of all before it. Dictators would kill for the secret of such seductive domination in a word.
F**k is a team player. As with burger and bun; fish and chips or salt and vinegar it is most often seen in its classic confluence with regular partner in crime – Off . Like the latter condiment you season as required or more typically just chuck it on every meal. It’s offensive, defensive; default – and definitely not my f**king fault.
OMG! Like…. F**k!
Swear to the unholy trinity of our times… As to the future? I’ll see you next Tuesday about that – okay? Then again; ever wished you were completely wrong?