Tag Archives: expressions

English, as she is herd -


I blame the Beeb.  And yes, there are worse offenders – Sky News, ITV, Four, Five, politicians, bureaucrats, executives, business schools, Uncle Tom Cobley and all. But, Oh Auntie! It really is up to you to set an example. No one expects you to keep wearing the twinset, pearls and horsey headscarf.  Something classic and tasteful from M&S or John Lewis would be perfectly acceptable, linguistically speaking.  Or even a mini skirt or skinny jeans from Top Shop for Radio 1 listeners – but a shell suit and faux Burberry and all that bling! It’s just not on.

New expressions and new influences keep the language alive. Shakespeare misused grammar to great effect and some current expressions add wonderfully to its richness. But that’s not what I’m talking about.  What I’m talking about is laziness, sloppiness and the need to rush through everything at the behest of the programme schedulers – the modern equivalent of the hounds of hell. The broadcast media is always in such a hurry, trying to fit too much into too short a time. You only need to listen to the poor breathless weather people – trying to cram their spits and spots into the 15 seconds allotted to them.  Hence the fashion for turning verbs and adjectives into nouns and vice versa.  You do not ‘task’ someone to do something. ‘Task’ is noun, not a verb. And ‘conference’ is a noun, not please, oh please not a verb as in ‘lets conference.’ Add all this to the herd mentality and you end up with the sort of language that has me thinking fondly of the National Rifle Association.

Misuse of language is like a rash – it spreads. It only takes one politician to say ‘going forward’ and next thing you have is an epidemic. Before you know it expressions such as ‘in the future’, ‘looking ahead’ and even ‘from now on’ have become like Monty Python’s parrot – deceased, they are no more. ‘Going forward’ isn’t the only example, indeed there are so many that I could fill in a thousand posts, and given time, I probably will.

When did you last hear a newsreader, politician or businessman say that something was going to happen ‘before’ the meeting, the summit, the statement? Bet you can’t remember. ‘Before’ has vanished into outer darkness. Nowadays it’s all ‘ahead of this’ and ‘ahead of that’. Happily, I’m not alone. Lucy Kellaway has written a great article on the subject And there’s a bunch of people so annoyed at the way the expression has crept into business in general and their organisation in particular that they tracked its use in their meetings.

Not everyone cares about the way language is used.   And of course, expressions that drive me nuts don’t bother others and vice versa. Nor am I suggesting that we follow rules blindly. I’m all for embracing new words, new forms and new uses. Provided they make sense.  Provided you know what you’re doing.  As long as there’s a positive result – more clarity, more nuances, more invention.  What I can’t stand is sloppiness and the herd mentality.  We are not sheep though I’m of the opinion that some among us are not as intelligent. Sloppy language leads to sloppy thought.  And sloppy thought leads to all sorts of bad things. So if we can’t look to Auntie Beeb to set an example, then we might as well pack up our bags, put out the lights and learn to speak Esperanto.



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In Ireland, being petrified has nothing to do with being scared

When the Cute Hoor party finally drives you to drink, there are plenty of ways to describe the state you’re in. It’s hardly surprising that a country renowned for its great drinkers as well as for the richness of its language should have a wealth of expressions for drinking and being drunk.

Mangled, rat-arsed, cabbaged, hammered, ruined, scorched or trolleyed – and the rest. The list is pretty long.  Different counties have their own expressions. In Waterford, where I was born, you’re in the horrors, in Kerry you’re flaming, in Donegal steaming and in Limerick, you’re said to be out of your tree. There are, of course, degrees of drunkenness with corresponding attitudes to match. Someone who’s rubbered or flutered may be quite a jolly drunk although talking utter shite.  If you’re slaughtered you’ll be pretty much in bits, but still more or less coherent. On the other hand, if you’re ossified you’re likely to pick a fight.  Twisted is when you’re off your head and need help getting home. Poteen, home made potato spirit, will make you first polluted, then petrified and finally paralytic.

Many of these expressions have crept, or maybe I should say staggered, into everyday use in England and America.  Others are still found mostly among the Irish.  Locked is one of my favourites. Stocious is another great word, which I heard a lot when I was a kid though I’ve been unable to trace its origins. Perhaps the best of all is  ‘circling over Shannon’, derived from the visit of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president, to Ireland when he was apparently too drunk to get off the plane.  As his aides desperately tried to sober him up, the plane circled six times over Shannon airport before landing briefly, though Yeltsin never made it off the plane.  Ultimately pleading ill health, he might well have admitted to being ‘melted’ – in other words very tired.  Which is what you get when you have, as they say, ‘had the drink taken.’

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More Amadán than Leprechaun

One of my favourite words in the whole wide world is the Irish word amadán, often written as omadhan and pronounced as it looks – om-a-th-aan. It means fool or idiot (eejit in the vernacular!). Someone who steps straight in front of a bus, while texting – that’s an amadán. The cretin who drives at a steady 70 down the middle lane on the motorway, when there’s absolutely nothing in the slow lane. That’s an amadán. Anyone who does something daft or foolish qualifies. But somehow examples and translations fail to convey the real essence of the word. Maybe you just have to be Irish.

My mother had a desperate amount of great expressions and sayings. Desperate being Irish for terrible which could also mean great. Sometimes it could mean both, as in ‘he had a desperate thirst on him, sure he had.’ If someone messed up she’d say ‘he’s made a hames of it’. For a long time I thought this was something she’d invented – perhaps there’d been some friend of the family called Hames who was always screwing up. But no, I have recently discovered that it’s a genuine Irish expression, sadly falling out of use, with origins that are thought to date back to the days of working horses. A hames, it seems is a support for a part of the harness and if you put the wrong bits in the wrong places you end up in a mess.

‘Chancer’ was another favourite and could apply as equally to that eejit in the middle lane as to someone jaywalking, sailing close to the wind financially or just generally taking risks. Get me behind the wheel of a car and you’ll hear me mutter, or yell, ‘chancer’ whenever some fecker cuts in or overtakes stupidly. There are plenty of other possible examples – all those MPs who fiddled their expenses. They were chancers.

They were also ‘cute hoors’. I’ve only come across this one lately, and I love it. It’s a joy – beautifully illustrating the creativity and wit, as well as the scepticism, of my fellow countrymen and women. The description ‘cute hoors’ is usually applied to politicians. It implies deviousness and crookedness. In Ireland the word ‘cute’ means clever and hoor – well it means what it says on the tin, except with a different spelling.

A cute hoor is a rogue or a charlatan, someone who seems respectable and upright but who never misses a chance to rip you off. It’s no surprise that the phrase is used to describe cowboy builders, corrupt politicians, tax evaders, bankers, senior civil servants and the like. Indeed, currently, the whole lot of them are lumped together as ‘the Cute Hoor Party. The excellent blog, Crooked Timber, has a fascinating article about the sorry lot of them.

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