Extraneous Adjectival Inflation


'Frantic Semantics' - with thanks to Daily Telegraph and John Morrish

From Fareham in Hampshire, of Hanover House (www.hanoverhouse.org‘Very enjoyable – a unique B&B, not to be missed….

On my drive into work this morning, on Radio 4 I heard a female of unknown age outside St Paul’s Cathedral telling her audience with a microphone, that how ‘amazing’ they were with their recycling. It made me ponder on the regular use, or I should say, misuse, of adjectives these days, particularly amongst younger people. Is the process of carrying out recycling – no matter how laudable – actually ‘amazing’?  I.e. is it truly a cause of amazement, typified by jaw-dropping stupefaction?  My musings are more observation than ‘rant’ as language and vocabulary moves on and one cannot stop progress (unless one is a guardian of the French language!), but it is nonetheless a pity that we have to invent ever more expressive adjectives to describe what are sometimes relatively mundane, normal or nondescript events.

Words such as ‘stupendous’, ‘incredible’, ‘fantastic’ are in common parlance, but  particularly now in the modern era with the proliferation of social and digital media.  We hear many more young people’s voices, frequently the modern generation of ill-educated ‘celebrities’ setting bad examples to the media-hungry, often using excessive slang, dropped consonants (that goes for some ballsy Labour Front Benchers too) and murder of the language as a whole. In their remarks and often inane conversation, some words seem to have moved a long way from their original meanings.  Another bête noir of my own, which I regrettably occasionally use myself, is the bastardisation or merging of ‘horrific’ and ‘tremendous’ or ‘stupendous’, to make the horrendous word ‘horrendous’. In my opinion, none of these epithets actually describe the extremity of the event.

Financial, exam grade and university degree grade inflation are constantly in the eye of the public, but the constant and gradual degradation of the vocabulary in our language, except by a few pedantic or scholarly persons, seems to go unnoticed. A small group of broadcasters and writers have noticed, however, and the Cheltenham Literary Festival has hosted several of these, pushing books on various aspects of the subject. Examples include Simon Heffer with his ‘Strictly English’, John Morrish of the Daily Telegraph with ‘Frantic Semantics’ and Howard Rheingold’s ‘They Have a Word for It’.

A number of words, seen as archaic, but usually because they have a more ‘shaded’ meaning and are not used by the vocabulary-deficient popular press and writers, drop out of the dictionaries each year, replaced by the new, usually financial, technological or business-orientated new terms and jargon. A ‘news’ item on Radio 4 and elsewhere, recently highlighted some of the words that have gone – as also mentioned in one of my earlier blogs. As time goes on, if hard-copy dictionaries still exist in 50 or 100 years, I would guess that they will be rather thinner, a bit like the slimmed-down ‘Yellow Pages’ which lose more and more of their customers to the internet every year.

English, unlike French, is seen as a dynamic language borrowing from all others, but as a pedant, I can see some attractions in French conservatism…

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