Towards less picturesque speech - an updated guide

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p10 pic - Credit: Archant

When was the last time you had a fortnight’s holiday?

I mean linguistically. Apparently we don’t use the word “fortnight” very much any more. It is one of the words in decline since the 90s, according to a study of changes in spoken English. It is much easier to identify the words that are on the up. Personally, I think “Yeh-no” is definitely a new feature of our everyday speech. It is generally used to answer questions which can be a tad confusing although, if you’re looking for a yes/no answer then it pretty much fits the bill.

It is not included on the list of more popular words, however. Unsurprisingly this is heavy on technology with words like Google and website wheedling their way into the language. But one annoying word that pops up more frequently is “essentially” which has overtaken “really”. That seems like a waste of energy; four syllables instead of two. Over the years, there have been many of its ilk. I spent at least a year of my teens prefixing every sentence with “actually” or, to be more precise, “acksherly”, a testament to my lazy diction.

When I returned home to East Anglia after a three year sojourn in Liverpool, my mum and dad were thoroughly fed up with my “yer know, lik(h)e” used as a suffix to most sentences, rather as the ubiquitous “innit” attaches to the end of a pronouncement today.

To be is or innit, that is the question


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Or to call out the whole thing, sort it

And get shot of the lot. Chillin’ (Hamlet R Us, not by William Shakespeare)

Other words we liked a decade ago but are no longer on trend include marvellous, fetch, poll, catalogue, pussy cat, marmalade, drawers and cheerio.

Cheerio, except in the plural as a breakfast cereal, is rare. More often we get “Cheers”, “see ya” and “laters”. Earlier this year I was involved in a production of Oh, What a Lovely War which includes the song Goodbye-ee with the lyric “Bon soir old thing, cheerio, chin chin, nah-poo toodle-oo, goodbye-ee”.

Most of them are no more. I can’t recall the last time I was bid toodle-oo and chin-chin sounds like a minor assault.

Awesome has supplanted marvellous, I imagine. It was found to have been used 72 times per million words while the use of “marvellous” has dropped from 155 twenty years ago to two per million now. I blame TV talent shows in which everyone who sings three consecutive notes in tune or manages to dance a quickstep without either falling over or treading on their partner’s feet is invariably “awesome”. I am rarely awestruck but have occasionally been borestruck or even, given sufficient encouragement, phwoarstruck. I may be 59 but my head is still turned by a six-pack set of rippling muscles and doey brown eyes. On men.

I’m guessing we “get” rather than “fetch” things nowadays. Unless we’re training dogs to being back sticks.

The disappearing words I find most bewildering are marmalade and drawers. Do we simply not eat as much marmalade? Anyone who has seen the vast array of marmalades available in supermarkets, will find it hard to believe it’s no longer a breakfast staple. Perhaps its very diversity is forcing the change. Now we have to define exactly which marmalade we want: “Pass me the three fruits” or “I’ll have the Dundee” or “a spoonful of Oxford, please”.

As for drawers. It is not made clear whether we’re talking “drawers” as in general storage or “drawers” as in buttock storage. I assume the latter. Now we buy “G”s or “strings”... and when I say “we”, I mean “they”, of course. Pants/knickers/smalls, for me, have a duty to cover the entire area between the waist and the top of the thigh. Anything less is positively dangerous. It’s undies of this kind that invite your outer clothes to work their way into the cleft, causing untold embarrassment to you and everyone else at the Buckingham Palace garden party.

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