“Words are loaded pistols.” John-Paul Sartre
I’m very partial to words. Not all of them, mind, but many of them. With some words it’s about the sound: extraordinary or incredible or pumpernickel. With other words, it’s about the way it looks: elephant is a great looking word, and I’m a big fan of how But looks when it’s used to start a sentence. With other words it is about a pure love of the meaning: I adore the word ironic, even though trying to explain what it means to my children leaves me floundering.
Now I’ve noticed something very odd on the Internet in recent months. Words that I used to quite like (or at least words that I didn’t particularly mind) are being ruined for me. They are being ruined because of the way in which they are being used, and the context in which they are being spoken. And where I thought I knew the meaning of certain words, they seem to have changed from the dictionary definition, to something altogether different.
Let me give you two examples.
Good: having admirable, pleasing or positive qualities, of high quality, excellent, right, proper, fit, very satisfactory. For reasons that entirely flummox (great word) me, we have reached a point in education where schools are no longer allowed to be happy with the word ‘good’. For a school to say ‘okay, thanks Ofsted, you’ve said we’re good, and that’ll do us fine’, has become unthinkable. But why? Since when did ‘good’ begin to mean ‘not good enough’?
“The trouble with words is that you never know whose mouths they have been in.” Dennis Potter
Rigour: harsh but just treatment or action, strictness in judgement or conduct. This poor little word has been abused, misused, and turned into an ideological weapon. Okay, I didn’t particularly like it to start with (it’s bit old fashioned sounding) but really, it never did anyone any harm. These days, every time I see it, I feel physically sick. Personally I blame Fifty Shades of Grey (bear with me for a moment, if you will).
You see the thing about the word ‘rigour’ is that it conjures up an image of an old-fashioned head master, tapping his cane in the palm of his hand. It brings to mind a world where children still did as they were told because someone was an authority figure. This is a traditional, back to basics kind of word that plays well to some sectors of the general public. This word lives in a world where people say things like: Bend over, lad or It never did me any harm.
I’ll leave you with some food for thought, in the words of someone I never thought I’d have reason to quote:
“The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Ronald Reagan