Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Language of the Old and the Young


I was ticked off by my daughter one fine day earlier this year, I saluted Councillor Cowie in the centre of Leek with a “What a gorgeous day”. Phoebe took a dim view and told me that I should not use the word “gorgeous” as it was a girlie word and that boys should use words like “epic” or “cool”. “Epic”, I countered meant big or on the grand scale while “ cool” in describing a warm evening did not sound right. I was told not to use the word again as it might damage her social standing. When I mentioned it on a social network site a debate ensued on how the word “sick” had altered in modern speak now to mean “great”.

The confusion at exists between the older and younger generation has been the stuff of social commentators for many years. Perhaps an early example is demonstrated in the classically comic novel “Diary of a Nobody” written by George and Weedon Grossmith in 1892. The novel describes that North London suburban life of a member of the middle class who yearns for respectability and to be a pillar of local society, but his pomposity only invites ridicule from among others his son the contumacious Lupin on a day trip to Broadstairs.

August 17. - Lupin not falling in with our views, Carrie and I went for a sail. It was a relief to be with her alone; for when Lupin irritates me, she always sides with him. On our return, he said: “Oh, you’ve been on the ’Shilling Emetic,’ have you? You’ll come to six-pennorth on the ’Liver Jerker’ next.” I presume he meant a tricycle, but I affected not to understand him”.

Phoebe used the word “cool” to describe something that is good I have always thought that it was a word that came from jazz although it might be older than that with some dictionaries suggesting that it had 19th century origins.

It’s with jazz that the slang term was most closely associated and out of which it became more widely known throughout the English-speaking world. In the fifties cool could have a variety of meanings ranging from being restrained, relaxed, laid-back, detached, cerebral on the one hand but also meaning, stylish, excellent, or other confirmatory meanings. It became the totemic word of the Beat generation which later migrated into teenage slang in the 60s.

Another word that is older than is thought is “dude” which originally meant a snappy dresser and was coined by Cowboys to mean Easterners who visited the Wild West during the 1880s. There was in fact a “Dude” President, the 21st President Chester Arthur (1881- 1884) who was always well turned out with luxuriant sideburns. Now to quote a modern dictionary “it is a universal word, used in every possible corner of the globe, in every possible situation”.

Text language, of course, opens up another aspect, but it did amuse me to discover that the letters OMG meaning “O my God” according to Stephen Fry were coined by the First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher in a letter to his friend Winston Churchill during the First World War