Fifth Column – Issue 30 – A Word In Your Shell-like


Doing the rounds and rounds and rounds, it is noticeable that some words of today are becoming common currency. How they are minted is anyone’s guess, or research that might take too long for us to benefit from such a project. This in itself is nothing to get our thesauruses in a twist over but, when these words appear to cover increasing numbers of situations and expressions of ourselves, as well as describing historical events, without any discernible difference expressed, is it time we stopped and thought about what other words we can still use to convey the still varied world around us and the still varied individuals we are, however accidentally and involuntarily, encountering?

When we use the same, seemingly universal word to describe our experience of life, are we not effectively emptying our own lives of nuance that could help us express ourselves as singular individuals. How do we express our personal passion for life and experiences if everyone is using exactly the same word to describe a gamut of experiences, with the resultant levelling out of the range of emotions that could be declared through lexicon rather than visual referents of such childish value? In this age of mass production of things and language use, through advertising and presenters and commentators whose remit is to extol the virtues of whatever employer is owning them and their individuality and expression, we are in danger of losing our identity in terms of selfhood and lexical description of this condition of selflessness.

When was the last time you used the word extremely, or very, for that matter? In this society of mostly peace – excepting the fear factor of imminent death while doing that old fashioned thing called shopping offline – and prosperity – however exclusive this is to those already wealthy and powerful – how is it that so much of the minutae of our mundane, repetitive and construed as efficient yet unproductive lives is a nightmare?

Just to get you thinking and reminiscing about what words might better express all the progressive elements of our lives in the modern world, here’s a list (non-exhaustive) – and don’t get listless reading it, after all, you are living longer than ever before, so you know you have the time, especially now when online and instantaneous shopping doesn’t take up much of your time anymore, especially as many of the decisions are taken by expert mediators who know you better than you know yourself, although the compensation you might get if you appoint a mediator to complain about the shopping experience – that illustrates how when we use a cypher and all encompassing cliche, we are excluding so many lovely and interesting words that we could use to fully communicate just how and who we might be to others.

Words/phrases  on the endangered list:

Very; extremely; exceedingly; too (the superlative and the co-opting, although the latter goes with the former); hilarious; tremendously; I laughed until I cried; side-splitting; chilling; terrifying; scared me witless; …

Their nemesis seem to be the two incomplete similes of, ‘as scary as…’ and ‘as funny as…’

Whether it is the case that nothing we see, hear, feel or even imagine warrants such adjectival expression or whether we don’t want to convey our experience of anything to anyone anymore, is still a moot point. However, even for the sake of individuality and difference, and because we are encouraged to think and feel we’re worth it – whatever ‘it’ is – would it kill us to engage the Pandora’s Box of lexical possibility and surprise one another with some expressions that identify us as different from one another?

Another short but significant list is one whose nemesis is that awful cliched and effectively empty term ‘unbelievable’.

It seems that particularly in the world of sport, this word has become the only expression of the ultimate achievement of the protagonists of any of the many sports that have unbelievable events and happenings on what is now a regular basis. It looks like sport is wholly unbelievable, according to its pundits, audiences and casual critics. In an age of advanced science, and internet, unbelievable is only suitably applicable to God, is it not? It seems obvious that God is unbelievable, especially to those with the vestments that suggest they should believe in the deity.

Perhaps we should sponsor the use of the word ‘unbelievable’ as at the rate of current usage, the total raised could compete with any mainstream charitable event on TV.

I wouldn’t do this sort of thing normally but I am a little, no a great deal, concerned that we seem unable or even unwilling to raise a modest simile, and this cuts a deep furrow in the countenance of Mother Earth, as we perceive her to be. Feel free to criticise but don’t, please, describe this view as ‘unbelievable’, or ‘as uninteresting as…’ or indeed as a ‘nightmare’.*

* Some possible words from an online lexicon: shallow; unfocussed; naive; opinionated; unrealistic; alienated and alienating; very dull; drab; spurious;  horrible; disjointed; discordant; disorganised;  – delete whichever are inapplicable.

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