GOBSMACKED! By Trevor Plumbly

Verbal schmerbal

I feel a bit hypocritical knocking this one out under ‘Verbalberbal’; let’s face it, as a title it’s not the best use of ‘English as she is spoke’. In hindsight I would have gone for something more biting but tasteful, like ‘Wensleydale’ if you get my drift, but ‘verbal’ came up when whiz words were something of a novelty and now ‘it is what it is’ as they say, and that brings me to my point.

The legal and medical fraternity once held a monopoly of evasive language, but since the PC brigade made their presence felt, clear communication’s starting to take a pounding. No-one’s allowed a husband or wife anymore, they have a ‘partner’, a term previously applied to the professions, but thanks to the PC pack, we simple folk have to decide for ourselves whether a relationship belongs in the bedroom, the boardroom or even both. Among a few others, it’s a word I wish they’d left alone.

Sticks and stones

I’m not much for the current fad for airing the personal stuff; ‘it is what it is’ seems to apply in that instance. Shouting ‘look at me!’ to advertise whatever short straw they feel life’s dished up is a bit of a waste; most folk don’t give a toss once the soul baring shifts to another unfortunate. But my saying that would be labelled offensive, while keeping my opinion to myself is called ‘internalising’, another crime in the thin ice thinkers’ book. It’s struck me that some stuff wasn’t too much of a problem till the over sensitives decided that labels were essential; they cooked up the alphabet soup that defines sexual identity. Anything of that nature is of particular concern to the crusaders: ‘strumpet’ had a sort of wholesome 18th century ring to it, but now it’s ‘sexually active’, as if having it off is some sort of laboratory procedure. ‘Escort’ used to smack of chivalry and duty, but try introducing yourself as one in polite company now and you’d better brace yourself for a bit of ‘nudge-nudge’ and meaningful glances.


Politicians are the all-stars of wordplay, flashy, creative and as capable as Harry Houdini when it comes to verbal escapes. I heard a great example the other day: an MP in support of current policy skirted round the easy stuff like ‘transparency’ and ‘aspirational’ before declaring that it was ‘over-arching’. It was a master stroke! Nobody else knew exactly what it meant, so it silenced the opposition for a bit, which in politics is the same thing as winning. Their gift keeps on giving: ‘infrastructure’ is with us forever it seems, but the new stuff’s well on its way, ‘sunset’ has crept in lately along with ‘double down’. It’s amazing what happens to language when you let the wrong people play with it. A speech I heard the other day referred in part to Native Americans, African Americans then closed with ‘my fellow Americans’. Far be it from me to dampen cultural heritage, but what chance national identity with folks hell bent on promoting ethnic labelling?

Speaking In tongues

Years ago, before the nit pickers arrived, I remember in those old western movies the Indian chief saying with great solemnity, ‘white man speak with forked tongue’ and the old boy’s been proved right. Verbal prostitution is with us, courtesy of those too lazy to bother and, of course, the geeks. Good language used to be a roller coaster, take WC Fields referring to his co-star’s name ‘Belle’ as ‘a euphonious appellation’ and later deciding that cash was ‘the elusive spondoolix’; at his level words were an invitation to join in the fun while earlier, Tennyson, Dickens and co crafted them as gifts rather than bludgeons. We were educated to travel mentally to understand and enjoy them. It might sound a bit like ‘the good old days’ mantra, but from memory it was more meaningful and memorable than jabbing a couple of buttons on a cell-phone.

The geeks have a word for it

And they do! Most of which have done little to enrich my knowledge. What the hell is an algorithm for instance? How should I reply if someone mentions ‘interface’ or ‘webinar’? Will my ignorance in such matters leave me vulnerable to a virus or ‘malware’ (whatever that is)? In everyday terms, a lot of the fun’s gone, like stumbling across an unfamiliar word, scrabbling through ‘Webster’s’ and then the wait to drop it like a conversational bomb. Not much point in that now; Google’s killed that game and ‘textalk’ is threatening to strangle the rest. I know cyberland exists, but I’m not quite sure who’s in charge, but since they read everything, can I please ask them to leave good English and me alone. I am not your B F F nor will O M G litter my communications (comms to you). As a peace offering please add S O to your lexicon: it means sod off!

C U L 8 R

One Comment on “GOBSMACKED! By Trevor Plumbly

  1. Them Injuns got it right with the old ‘forked tongue’ eh, Plum? Said too with a painted face and a hatful of feathers – class act…

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