In a newspaper I was reading at the barber’s shop recently (I didn’t need a haircut – it was a cold day, his salon is warm and I’m too mean to buy a paper), I read that in 100 years’ time, due to a variety of reasons, including the slow eradication of local dialects, an ageing population, immigration and emigration, 90% of the words we use in 2015 will have become obsolete.
It made worrying reading.
Until I realised I probably won’t be around in 100 years.
And then another realisation hit me. And it was a big one, so it left me with a nasty bruise. Word obsolescence has already started.
You may not be aware of it because it’s happened so gradually, but words, sentences, phrases and questions once in common use, have begun to fall by the wayside and there’s little likelihood that the next generation will bother to retrieve them from the forgotten grass verges of the recent past, where they’re already starting to be hidden from view by the thick overgrowth of indifference.
Still with me?
Take the word ‘Cheers!’.
There was a time when there were only two occasions when we used it. Either when referring to the long-running American sitcom of that title, set in the Boston bar where everybody knows your name, or when we raised a glass of whatever we fancied in company.
We’d clink glasses, say “Cheers” and when we’d finished, we’d order more drinks and say “Cheers” again.
After three or four drinks, it sounded more like “Cheese!” but that’s irrelevant – another word you couldn’t pronounce after three or four drinks.
Then 20 years or so ago, “Cheers” snuck under the barbed-wire of pub ‘life and escaped into the everyday world. It began to replace the words “Thank you” or “Thanks” in our conversations.
“Do you want mushy peas with your chips?”
You can see what I’m getting at now, can’t you?
There are hundreds of examples but I’m limited to 500 words, so here’s one that’s really annoyed me in recent years.
When I entered a shop, bank, fast food establishment or nudist colony (just checking you were still awake) I would be greeted thus…
“Can I help you?”
A polite enquiry which requires just one answer.
The equally polite “Yes, please!”
So why is it, everywhere I go today, it’s been replaced by the cold, indifferent question “Are you alright there?”
How has it seeped into every area of retail and banking? Did the Health and Safety Executive issue a secret edict, ordering shop assistants and banking staff not to say “ Can I help you?” in case…shock, horror…it turns out they can’t?
So they replaced it with a question that doesn’t commit staff to actually helping customers.
Next time a shop assistant asks “Are you alright there?”, I’ll answer. “Here? No. I’ll be more comfortable moving three feet to the right!”
Stupid? Yes. But not as stupid as the question!