Thursday, August 11, 2005


I blame it on the media, but someone is taking all the good words and using them over and over again so they end up dried-out, devoid of meaning, and unable to rouse the feelings they once did. My best example is passion, it used to mean a particular type of overwhelming emotion that transcended all moral constraints. Then the recruitment industry got hold of it, and now it’s not good enough to have a killer CV and all the attributes for a particular job, you have to have passion as well, passion for excellence, a passion to succeed, a passion for, uh, lathe polishing. Not only do you have to show up for work come rain or shine, sit at your desk day after interminable day, feeling your sprit slowly being crushed out of existence, you now have to be passionate about client service as well.

A perfectly good word gets ruined, because everyone’s passionate about everything. Kelly, the giant temp agency are “passionate about their people”, Pan Communications are passionate about public relations and you can’t get more debased than that. Yes, you can Tom Cruise is “passionate about life”.

Millions of people are passionate about activities involving balls, sticks and gross physical pain and there’s Boomerang Passion and passion for plankton.

The original meaning of passion was agonising suffering, having nails hammered into your hands sort of pain (which does describe some jobs). It came to mean a rousing of the passions, anger, fear, grief, pain, wonder, and in the mid-Eighteenth century it was replaced with the word emotion, and passion came to be used for reckless, earth-shattering romantic love. Now it’s used in ads for Logistics Managers and as a pump-up tool for that strange being called a Life Coach.

Here’s another word that’s been ruined, magic. It has a kind of childish innocence about it, the suspension of disbelief, now it applies to middle-aged hippies running naked through the forest, schoolboy wizards in goggle glasses and pumpkins. People believe in magic even in this day and age, they really believe that if they drink a special slimming potion the fat will melt away, they really believe that they will win the Lotto and get the chance to shit on the boss’s desk, they really believe if they send an e-mail exactly eight times they will have great sex all year.

There are lots of buggered-up words and phrases and they’ve become that way through over-use, laziness, the tendency of people under pressure to reach for the cliché. The word stunning used to mean a sight that was liable to knock one stupefied, I saw an ad in a magazine for “stunning” cloth covered bibles (with velcro clasp). Synergy, Challenge, Extreme, Timeframe, Paradigm Shift, Branding, they used to brand cows, now they brand people.

Fortunately there are new words coming in all the time, bling, the sound of sunlight shining on gold jewellery in old time cartoons, potty-mouth, hoover up a burger, wear a pelmet, avoid a chugger especially that Bob Geldorf, and paint your house a shade of greige. Lots of choice new insults like clot, chump, chucklehead, muppet, plank, fribble, gink and ning-nong.

Here’s a funny thing, the wonderful word lush, meaning an ageing women who drinks like a fish, is still with us but it's turned into an adjective meaning splendid. What do they mean? That was a lush bottle of wine we just finished? Sounds so Cape Town.

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