Sunday, 24 October 2010

One Word, Infinite Uses

This week I combined photographing Cheshire with an appearance later that evening at the Wellington Literary Festival on Wednesday. Next day I was off to New Waltham near Basingstoke and snapped parts of Bedfordshire on the way south and researched around Hertfordshire on my return on Friday. Over the three days I managed to cover in excess of eight hundred miles and saw more than my fair share of traffic - be it moving or crawling, even at one stage allowing me to sip tea hot from the thermos while waiting for Eddie Stobart to edge forward sufficiently for a change of view.

On my rather lengthy travels along the motorways, highways and byways this week I found myself drawn to a single word on the side and rear of many lorries. During my days in engineering one of the many tasks I performed included ensuring the finished product reached its destination. Then we called them carriers, hauliers, transporters - today they use LOGISTICS. When I first saw this word on the side of many wagons I was intrigued as to why a word I had only ever used (or seen used) in a context such as "The logistics of dealing with so many people" required such a large container.

Of course no language is ever set in stone and it continually evolves. Uses of words change continually, what was initially a slang term grows in usage and is eventually listed in the Oxford English Dictionary along with its new definition. (Still baffled as to how "logistics" was ever a slang term!)

So while my great-aunt would no doubt have been deliriously happy to have been described as "gay", many would not find it so complimentary today. I always assumed "checking out" a hotel would be leaving, yet now I'm reliably informed such happens on arrival. I used to wear "pants", now to describe them as pants is pants, apparently. I would whistle tunes with lyrices of "Moon in June", today I'd be baring my buttocks in early summer. I still have Yorkshire pudding with any "beef" while others seem to use it as a vehicle to complain.

"Wags" was the family dog in many a children's story, now they appear at major sporting events in designer gear and criticised for "gaffs" (mistakes not hooks for landing fish), have "issues" (problems, not periodicals nor offspring), maybe "hammered" (drunk or criticised, not hit with a tool for nails), could be described as "wicked" (which is good, not devilish), or maybe "hot" (sexy or in vogue, not sweaty), "cool" (relaxed, not requiring an overcoat), "high" (under the influence of recreational drugs, not at altitude), and "sweet" (good again, not containing sugar).

I always thought "cheesy" snacks would have some sort of cheese flavour, perhaps I should now expect them to be tasteless. Turning "green" is to tap sustainable sources, as indeed it was when I was younger for displays of jealousy or potential for puking were just as inexhaustable. Once "camp" was comprised of tents (or maybe chicory-based coffee) but never anything remotely effeminate.

And spare a thought for poor "Jack", not only currently the most popular name for newborn males in the UK but he's also a lifting device in the boot of (most) cars, a sailor, a playing card, a flag, a male donkey, a predatory fish, a small ball, a kind of plug, a fruit, a small sphere with spikes, a labourer, a tosser, and even nothing whatsoever.

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