This article:

The war against cliché has failed | Michael Holroyd | Books | The Guardian.

and the comments thread underneath it are quite a lot of fun. The writer is concerned about the way in which meaning seems to be being sucked out of lots of the words that he once found useful. Some apt examples are the words we use to indicate that something is good: “fantastic,” “incredible” and “awesome” all having become synonymous in usage but being entirely different in their original understandings. I sympathise a lot with his position because I really like words, and it would seem that maintaining diversity in their meaning allows for greater creativity in their application. However as many of the commenters point out, it’s an evolving language and you could argue that the invention and reinvention of words represents an important creative frontier. This tension between the desire to preserve the language in a particular way and to allow people full freedom to evolve it is drawn out in lengthy and brilliant style by David Foster Wallace in his essay Tense Present (NB it’s seriously long – I advise Instapapering. And, I may just have linked to that article before, don’t know when. Sorry if I’m boring you with repeats).

I thought I’d finished and then I looked up at the title: oh yeah. What I wanted to say was, much though it’s admirable to try to preserve words and their meanings and a style of language use that has proved successful and given a lot of pleasure to a lot of people (as Michael Holroyd appears to be doing), it’s a futile exercise. To overstretch the analogy (and cliche!) of the title, there are at least three enormous guns firing volley after volley against traditional English usage: the internet, the media and the globalisation of the language. Re: the internet, I don’t think I need to explain much how it’s affecting English, just WTF LOL kthxbye. On globalisation, have a look at this review of Robert McCrum’s Globish (or any other review, tbh). It describes how non-native English speakers communicate with one another in English better than any of them do with native English speakers. So let alone all the British, American and other English-speaking kids murdering the language on the internet, we’ve got the rest of the world repurposing (when did that become a word?) the language to its own ends as well. The role of the media is to take these developments and the countless neologisms emanating from, particularly, business, PR, technology and politics, and turn them into everyday language faster than you can say “asbo.”

Advertisements