They betray us, words.
Our vocabulary and daily usage hooks us inevitably to an age and an era.
Just as our understanding of phrases and even the function of objects are escapable giveaways of the decade into which we were born. There’s a kind of social history attached to words that we are not particularly aware of until speaking to someone considerably younger.
I mean, how many millennials have ever encountered the word gusset? Or understand the phrase bought on the never-never? Or saving for one’s bottom drawer? And as for the idea of saving and sticking small green stamps into your Green Shield Stamp book and excitedly looking to see what 342 carefully stored stamps will reap you – possibly a couple of tea towels or a dustpan and brush set – that’s one more concept that would entirely bewilder.
My 12 year old great niece recently came across stacks of LP records at her grandparents’ house. She was confused. What on earth were those strange flat things stored reverently and alphabetically, taking up house room for little purpose? Trying to explain their function along the lines of well, you know when you use your phone to play music and there are things like Spotify, not so many years ago we used to ..she had, of course, lost all interest at the phrase years ago.
Of course it’s the same for every generation as one shifts into the next and new words are required for new inventions or remodeled objects.
The word gramophone gave way to transistor radio and record player. Mangles disappeared with the advent of spin dryers. Manual typewriters morphed into electric ones, into word processors, PCs and laptops.
Those appalling foldup plastic rain hoods gave way to – well, the acceptance of wet hair, I suppose.
The word remote used to be an adjective rather than a noun as in the cry uttered in an exasperated tone: where’s the remote gone? Why won’t people leave it in the same place and HOW did it get underneath the sofa, anyway?
I still have the Uniform List for my secondary school where I started in the mid 1960s. That, in itself, is a startling, give- away document of age and era.
Stockings: NO NYLONS in WINTER – (Nylons!) either knee length socks or Brettles (ghastly thick brown things that made your legs look like thick gravy) NYLONS allowed in SUMMER – ONLY medium brown shade.
Quite why nylon stockings were treated as subversive in winter, but perfectly acceptable in summer is unknown …
Then there’s the P.E. kit list – and the compulsion to wear maroon knickers.
Knickers. A word not exactly associated with secondary school students today and I have a feeling we even rebelled against that one back in our bygone school days.
And of course words can change meaning or implication so it’s important – perhaps – to keep up with current usage. Think of some of the words that evolve, alter, transmute into something very other when it comes to inference. Sick can trip you up, just as in the past smashing and cool took on meanings new to our parents’ generation.
And if I started by being a little snide about the limitations of a millennials’ vocabulary I have to confess to ignorance about so many words now current and in familiar usage. And abbreviations too – the onslaught of advances in the 21st century has brought with it an entire new language that one is supposed to absorb osmosis-like.
Back to my great niece ignorant of the function of our beloved LP records and albums.
Over an afternoon Ruby attempted to instruct me in the ways of Instagram, using words and phrases and referring to other social media platforms (Twitter and Facebook rule for me – everything else is as unknown as the mangle is to Ruby) with the fluency and command (and a fair degree of patience, it has to be said) of a contemporary 12 year old.
I am going to need numerous follow-up sessions, refreshers and a dictionary of the terms she used so blithely.
And by the time I’ve absorbed all she has to teach me, no doubt something else will be in place and I shall have to start all over again.
No wonder I’m struggling with my Modern Greek classes: it’s hard enough learning the new words showing their ever so glossy and shiny new heads every single day!