Sunday 10 January 2010

Perverts on the rampage in Mill Hill Broadway?

Well that got your attention didn't it? Sadly for all of you who were expecting salacious tales of bondage and spanking parties, possibly featuring senior members of Barnets Conservative elite, this blog will have none of that whatsoever. Nope, this blog is just a wry look at the changing use of our language. It was prompted by a throwaway comment on facebook by  Caroline Gold, an old schoolfriend of mine. Caroline comments "I've just groomed my dog, that makes me sound like a pervert"

If you went back ten years and mentioned the word "grooming", people would either think you were referring to a dog washing parlour or possibly talking about nurturing and mentoring a talented youngster for success. These days anyone expressing an interest in "grooming a youngster" will receive a completely different response.

Many words have seen their meaning change over the years. If Dr Who gave you a lift back to the 1940's and someone told you that "Quentin has a gay nature" they'd mean he was happy and carefree. If they told you they were "feeling queer" they'd mean they were feeling unwell.

Other words which we don't hear so much. I asked my son if he'd heard the term "Borstal". Nope. These days we have "young offenders institutions". The term borstal was abolished in 1982. It seems to me that in the modern world we don't use one word when three will do. For songwriters it is a nightmare. Would the Sham 69 hit "Borstal Breakout" have reached number one as "Young Offenders Institution Breakout".

Another thing which is interesting are the way new terms are coined when an old term doesn't suit the political agenda of an organisation or institution. In the glorious 1970's we had a term for people fleeing persecution and it was a sympathetic term "refugee". In the 1990's the Daily Mail and it's brothers in arms realised that this wasn't a good way to refer to people who end up in the UK to escape persecution. "Asylum seekers" was coined. The rule is generally if someone is escaping persecution and coming to the UK, they are an Asylum seeker. If they are going somewhere else they are a refugee.

George Orwell predicted much of this in "1984" with the advent of Newspeak. One of the clasic rules of Newspeak is described as follows :-
There are no negative terms; the only way to say "bad" is with ungood. Something awful or extremely terrible is called "doubleplusungood".

I wonder what Orwell would have made of the way the English language has developed. It seems to me that English has divided into two language - "common english" as spoken by the man on the street and "official English" as spoken by politicians and political commentators.

Oh well, onwards and upwards. I guess that thanks to Carolines comment, I'll never walk past Petmania  Dog Grooming centre in Mill Hill Broadway without chuckling. Oh and in case you were wondering, my dog is a short haired Boxer, so we keep her well away from such institutions.

1 comment:

Citizen Barnet said...

I used to live in Borstal - the village near Rochester where the first 'young offenders institution' (YOI) was opened in 1902 (it says here in Wikipedia).

You're right. These days, not many people raise their eyebrows when I say that.