One thing is certain, several hours switching between channels really gives you a great understanding of how our language is changing.
This is often not for the good. New words and phrases invade all the time. Yes, I realise all language evolves and we do not speak in the same way as we did in the days of Shakespeare, but some of the changes are annoying at best, and painful at worst.
The biggest irritation for me is when some ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ reality star uses the word ‘journey’ to talk about how they have been picked from obscurity for their 15 minutes of fame. Everything is a journey, usually said in a sympathetic voice in the hope of expressing their struggle to find the right lip filler or hair transplant.
Shackleton went on a journey as did Phileas Fogg. They were long and arduous events. The way journey is used today is just so wrong. A journey is when you spend seven hours in a car travelling to Cornwall with a two-year-old in the back asking every two minutes if we are there yet as they throw up down the back of your neck.
Sitting on a sun lounger in Dubai taking selfies with your latest cocktail is not a journey. It is a slap in the face for all of us who took lockdown seriously and stayed at home in the cold and rain. Why can’t people just say it as it is? Why can’t they talk about what is happening in their lives without using the J word?
In a way, ‘journey’ should be turned into the noun to describe the times in which we live. Everyone of a certain age appears to be obsessed with being famous. At my last school book signing, I was staggered by how many students wanted to be vloggers, bloggers or influencers. One even said that being a vlogger was the most important journey she could take.
Please, could radio producers and editors ban the J word and just beep it out? Life is not a journey, it is day follows day where millions of people work hard to do their best for their families. The J word cheapens that.
The pandemic has also brought a list of new words into our vocabularies. Lockdown, Zoom, key worker, shielding, covidiot and doom scrolling have all come into use.
It was only last week as I listened to Thought for the Day that the speaker said how he had ‘Zoomed in’ to a church to give a sermon. In my mind, I had the image of an overweight vicar in cassock and stole flying through the church window as if some troublesome Batman.
However, it spoke on a different level as well. We have become a society of Zoomers. Work, school and social interactions have all had to take place in a different way. I just wish it would all go away and the words vanish, too.
Unfortunately, I think they will be here to stay and, as time goes on, more and more annoyances will enter the language. Some we will laugh at and yet there will be words that will bring division and hate. The most fearful of these is the word ‘woke’. It was the American novelist William Melvin Kelley who in 1962 wrote: “If You’re Woke Dig It.”
It is now a word that has come to mean so much more than being aware of racism. The word is now a means of stopping discussion and dialogue. It is the standard bearer of the ‘cancel culture’ where people are erased from society for saying what they think. It was ‘woke’ that forced Piers Morgan from GMB and had JK Rowling cancelled for her views. It is a flag that the metro elite huddle under and does nothing for racial equality.
Far from bringing communities together, the word ‘woke’ is doing the complete opposite. It is a dangerous and powerful weapon in the hands of those who wish to silence free speech and artistic expression.
Words have power and their use may change over time. We may be able to avoid those that annoy us or make us cringe. However, we must be aware of new-speak. George Orwell was very clear that language can easily be used to oppress the population. Change the language and change the people.
One of Orwell’s most important messages in 1984 is that language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing.
The spoken and written word are what make us human and we should guard that privilege with every fibre of our beings. Any attempts to use it to limit our thoughts and beliefs should be fought.
GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster. He lives in Whitby.
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