25 outubro 2004

What is it that defines the language of the moment? Is it that curious word CHAV, virtually unknown until this year and used to describe loutish young people exhibiting COUNCIL ESTATE CHIC? Or is it the creeping of text and chat-room language into every aspect of our written life? Are our favourite TV programmes and SLEBS now directing our choice of words? Or are they all SHTUPID? Word on the SHTREET is that this is the latest trend in pronunciation. Grammar, too, is on the move - or are you SO not liking that?


However short its life, each word tells a tale about its environment. larpers and shroomers selects a single word born in each year of the 20th century and the opening years of the 21st. Each of them says something about the preoccupations of their time, including DEMOB in 1920, RACISM in 1935, BIG BROTHER in 1949, BEATNIK in 1958, MINISKIRT in 1965, TOY-BOY in 1981, HAVING IT LARGE in 1993, and SEXING UP for 2003. The dates of CHEESEBURGER or MOBILE PHONE may surprise.


Only a tiny percentage of words will ever achieve permanence in the Oxford English Dictionary, but the waiting list of words is long. Among those words currently jockeying for recognition are FREEGANISM (a philosophy which promotes getting as much of one's food as possible from free sources), MOVIEOKE, (like karaoke, but when you act out scenes from a film), and RETROSEXUALS - men who spend as little time and money as possible on their appearance. How many of these will make it into a dictionary is anybody's guess, but whatever their chances, each of them reflects today's trends.


Business talk can be exciting too!Far from bland 'jargonics', how about some of these marvellously inventive phrases: PUTTING SKIN IN THE GAME (making a financial commitment to a company) and DROPPING YOUR PANTS (lowering the price of a product in order to close a sale). Work and play (or language play at least) do not always need to occupy separate spaces: MOOSE ON THE TABLE (an issue which everyone in a meeting knows is a problem but no one wants to address), and PRAWN-SANDWICH MAN (a corporate freeloader) are both terms in the modern business portfolio.


Are we less precise in our pronunciation nowadays? Have Thatcherism and therapy given way to FATCHERISM and FERAPY? Do you go to work on Tuesday or CHEWSDAY? Is LORA NORDER ('law and order') a friend of yours? Do your kids outrage you with their glottal stops? Susie Dent has been out on the street finding out if anyone still speaks the Queen's English.

Check the table for A Word-A-Year, 1904-2004

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