When Words Lose Meaning

Reading & Writing

There are certain words that make me bristle when I hear them. One is ‘stylish’, which has absolutely no meaning at all, other than that it possesses a style. Another is ‘award winning’. Apparently Chris Moyles is ‘award winning’, according to the BBC website, although no qualifications are made as to what kind of award he might have won, possibly something from Caravan Monthly or an organisation set up to prove that an infinite number of chimpanzees might eventually produce a book.

At the station I was recently I was given a bottle of water labelled ‘Portable Hydration’, which brings me to another meaningless word – ‘luxury’. My bathroom soap is, in fact, a ‘luxury bar’, which is gibberish. Does it taste like foie gras? No. Has it got champagne in it? No. It just washes dirt off.

Another pet hate is ‘experience’, which once described something you did ie. ‘Gosh! Reading that Chris Moyles book was an unpleasant experience!’ Now it’s routinely tacked onto everything from restaurants – ‘a dining experience’ – to tribute bands – ‘The Abba Experience’.

The worst culprit, though, is ‘system’. Shaving foam is no longer content to merely stop your insanely overpriced razor blades from cutting your face. It’s your ‘personal moisturizer grooming system’.

A book that traces words and phrases with real meanings is the wonderful and idiosyncratic Brewer’s Dictionary Of London Phrase & Fable, which gathers together the people, places, events, culture, anecdotes, slang and catchphrases of the city.

My mother used to say our neighbour was ‘as dim as a Toc H lamp’. My father would complain that the trains were a ‘right Fred Karno’s Army’. What they meant can easily be found in this latest updated volume.

5 comments on “When Words Lose Meaning”

  1. I.A.M. says:

    Note to self: in order to better understand what others are rabitting on about, purchase copy of books above (not the one by Moyles), and carry it about at all times.

  2. Steve says:

    I’ve often admired the experience of your stylish and award winning writing. It makes me feel as if I’m immersed in a system created just for me. What a luxury!

  3. For at least a couple of years, Private Eye has been running columns that track meaningless uses of ‘solutions’ and now ‘community’… I think it was one of the solutions columns that kicked off a surreal exchange in several issues’ letters pages about Portakabins and the authority of naming!

  4. R Lane says:

    I ‘stumbledupon’ this link as I was searching for website relating to words, meanings and usage and found it helpful. I would add, however, that Chris Moyles won a Sony Gold award for his breakfast show (he often quips about it ‘only taking 6 years’). The Sony Gold award is the highest accolade in radio, an equivalent to the BAFTAs for films, or NTAs for television.

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