How about an alliance of writers and broadcasters to preserve key aspects of the English language?
I had a tiny frisson this week (at my age that’s about all I can handle) as I wrote the penultimate paragraph of my post on well-being surveys. It came from using the phrase ‘cocking a snook’. Apparently its literal meaning is the internationally recognised gesture of placing one's thumb on one's nose with extended palm perpendicular to the face and fingers raised and stretched (any maybe even wiggling about).
I love old time phrases like this. Another – which was suggested to me in the context of English batsman Ian Bell following the Aussies’ example and not walking when he nicked a catch in the last test match - is ‘hoist by their own petard’.
Both phrases apparently hail from Shakespearian times.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not reactionary, nor merely even a traditionalist, when it comes to language. I love listening to my teenage sons speaking Sarf London/grime with all their talk of ‘endz’ (your neighbourhood) , ‘butters’ (unattractive) and ‘par’ (to insult or make look foolish). To their utter chagrin I even occasionally try it out myself from time to time, isn’t that right fam?
Also I think there are some rules which really don’t matter – such as not ending a sentence with a preposition (even if it’s the best word you can think of). Although I do tend to correct people when they say less instead of fewer or disinterested when they mean uninterested.
Anyway, bruv, this is hardly a new topic. But I do have a new idea. How about a panel of people who frequently write or speak publicly agreeing every year a short list of words and phrases they intend to try to use over the next 12 months in order that these bon mots stay alive? (Although I‘m less bovvered by this, they could also suggest a few correct usages they would seek to enforce.)
The list should be kept quite short and its mere publication would be an annual talking point.
I don’t have time to think it through properly but along with cocking a snook and hoist by your own petard, my other three candidates for preservation would be:
‘Oh my giddy aunt’
‘All fur coat and no knickers’
‘Fine words butter no parsnips’
So come on Melvyn Bragg, Polly Toynbee and Adrian Chiles how about it? Will you become founder members of the ‘RSA verbal conservation network’? And if so what are your endangered phrases?
We shouldn’t underestimate how far our societies have pulled apart. Yet there is hope for renewal, says Anthony Painter. The question is not whether we come together – but how.