A view backstage at Beverley Minster

More new words

Flushed with triumph after introducing a brand new joke Neil Pickford aims even higher this week.
Oh yes and indeed, have no doubt about it. The word ‘purridge’ or ‘purr-age’ is already making its way around the globe, I feel very confident about this.
All right, so I haven’t actually heard anyone saying it yet but you must be aware I don’t get out much. I’m sure it’s already entering the language in little hotspots all around the globe, wherever this blog is read in fact.
So I remain convinced that the word ‘purridge’ will be uttered in my presence, by a total stranger, some time before I die.
No rush – I don’t plan on dying any time soon by the way.
Mind you, it’s not as if creating new words is difficult. People are doing it all the time.
What’s more difficult is getting other people to accept the definition you’re trying to attach to it.
Let’s take a few recent examples: ”redacting” for instance. The concise dictionary definition is: “to put into suitable literary form; revise; edit.”
However, this was the word used to describe the process whereby large chunks of MPs’ expenses were blanked out to prevent inspection by us, the taxpayers. In consequence it has now a sort of: “greedy so-and-sos trying to hide embarrassing details” meaning as well. 
Words are powerful things – people might say that a picture paints a thousand words, but certain key words can convey a whole range of emotions, assumptions, preconceptions and even smells.
Take the word “house”. By the time a child is old enough to hold a crayon then many already seem to know that a house is a square box with a door in the middle, a window in each corner, a pitched roof and a chimney with smoke coming out of the top.
A ‘church’ is a building with a pitched roof and a spire – in local children the word may also create a flash impression that is reinforced by memories of visiting Beverley Minster and going on a tour to see our enormous hamster wheel. It may even remind the person of the distinctive smell you encounter in our nave roof.
These words are forms of shorthand, instant communication, which is why politicians and power-hungry charlatans try to use and abuse them. Look how left wing politics appropriated the word: ‘fascist’ Thanks to Hitler everyone knew that fascists were evil, so hurling the term at an opponent was an easy way to discredit them. On the right the word ‘communist’ had the same function.
It’s a thin line between starting to use a word carelessly and actually abusing it (or lying, as I should say). Take the word ‘democratic’ – used as a national name by the most undemocratic countries in the world.- the Congo, for example, Vietnam or, most laughably of all, North Korea.
Before you get to that bare-faced extreme of misuse, however, there is also the tool of exaggeration, designed to achieve an emotional response that the situation doesn’t deserve. 
Recently some senior members of the Church of England, active and retired, have been quoted as saying that Christians are being ‘persecuted’ in this country – with all the implications of arrests, violence, confiscation of property and even murder that this word evokes.
Cobblers – the situation is nothing like the 1930s in Germany with the Nazi campaigns against the Jews. Yes, it does appear that symbols and customs of Christianity are being discriminated against in comparison with other religions – at least, according to the result of certain well-reported recent tribunals, but that’s a long way short of ‘persecution’ – and I don’t feel that anyone has benefited from this misuse of the word.
Words ARE important – the precise meaning of words is vital because the human race is distinguished from all other species by its flexible skill with languages. Being able to make multiple connections from the briefest of verbal cues enables us to develop and advance faster than mere evolution could.
That’s why, in my book, the ultimate sin is committed by someone who deliberately misuses words in pursuit of selfish ends – a liar, in other words. It’s not just that they are attempting to mislead, it is also that they are polluting the medium by which humanity develops and provides the potential to improve.
The first objective of Big Brother in George Orwell’s significant tome 1984 was to simplify and direct the language. If this was achieved it would be impossible to think an unofficial thought, because there would be no words left in which to articulate them.
Before that point is reached, however, all progress and hope would have died.
And on that somewhat ponderous note I reach my objective this week, which is to introduce another word into the language.
For this I am indebted to my elder son who said, in all innocence: “Oh, my beloved and most learned Father, may I ask a question?”
Of course I graciously lowered my fluted crystal goblet of finest champagne beside a sterling silver bowl of breakfast cereal and gave him my full attention.
 “Dearest Papa,” he continued in a suitably respectful mode: “is it not true that we call a peer’s title a ‘peerage’? Is not the money in my pocket ‘coinage’? Is a collection of random distorted items after an accident ‘wreckage?’”
“Yes,” I vouchsafed cautiously, seeing where this might be heading.
“Then, revered ancestor,” he concluded triumphantly. “Should not the process of solicitors advertising legal services, as seen in the many no-win, no-fee television adverts, be described as ‘Sue-age’?
Hmmm – yes, somehow it just sounded right. I hope you agree.
First published May 2010


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