The way we use words matters. It reveals what we are thinking and who we are.

            Clearly language changes over the years.  The way we speak now is in many ways different from the way we spoke ten years ago – or less.

            But what is a particular matter of concern for me is that language is often used in ways which diminish the meaning and power of words.

            Have you noticed how many things are now said to be ‘stunning’?  Not only the views we are assured we will experience on our holidays, but also the new housing development, the most recent offer from the supermarket and seemingly endless other things that are said to be ‘stunning’?

            The trouble is that when we want to describe something which is truly remarkable and has truly amazed us, the word ‘stunning’ has lost its power by unthinking overuse.

            Nothing it seems can any longer be said just to be ‘good’ – it has to be ‘great’.  Certainly some music, some ideas, some actions are truly ’great’ but if we don’t just describe other things as simply ‘good’ but call everything ‘great’, what word can we use to refer to something that is truly exceptional, is truly great?

            The meaning of the word has been diminished.  I was told by a bank clerk on the phone to ‘Have a great day!’  What ??

            Language usage that diminishes the power of a word is careless and in the long run damaging.  It’s good to tell a child that their work is ‘good’ or even ‘very good’ but tell them the work is ‘terrific’ ‘fantastic’ unless it is truly exceptional, and we give the child a wrong sense of true value.

            These I think are important things but there are many other modern usages that don’t really matter but which are a potential cause of irritation (and it’s not good to irritate people!).  One usage that irritates me is the response to a simple request that tells me it is ‘No problem!’  I enjoyed the scene in a TV play where a character went into a pub and asked for a pint of beer and when told ‘No problem!’ replied ‘I didn’t foresee that there would be a problem!’  Good for him!

            Personally I quite like to be called ‘mate’ in a casual encounter but a friend of mine (in his seventies) finds it irritating and is inclined to say when addressed as ‘mate’ :’I don’t know you; you don’t know me; and I’m old enough to be your grandfather.  I am not your mate.’  A bit harsh but I see his point – inappropriate intimacy.

            Have you noticed the tendency for people in interview situations on TV to begin every answer with ‘So…’?  It’s a modern American usage replacing the more usual English ‘Well…’  Neither means anything – it’s just a way of hesitating before giving an answer. I had never noticed it until someone told me how irritating she found it – but now I do notice it! 

                                                                                       Geoffrey Bamford