Fab! Cool! Vape! What?! Oh yes indeedy. Vape has entered the Oxford Dictionary as The Word of 2014. We vape. They vape. We have vaped. They are vaping. My, how language evolves at an alarming rate. Yet some words have staying power and they just wont go away. They are multi-generational, multi-tasking, multi-explanatory. Cool, for example. If I were to say A cool breeze blew in from the sea, I wouldn’t be extolling how utterly fashionable and impressive that breeze was, would I? I would be saying it wasn’t warm. If however I said ‘That guy is so cool’, I would of course be extolling how utterly fashionable and impressive he was. How does that happen? Not the cool guy - I mean, how does one word have so many different meanings, and how does a word born out of the slang of it’s era have such staying power? With regard to vaping, that’ll probably be around for ever, like the word Smoking, due to the fact that it is something you actually do, but other words - like Cool - seem to have arrived on a one-way ticket and refuse to budge. They are leaders of the lexicon in any language.
One of my favourite and recent changes in word usage has been the word Random. When I was still a child, in the days of the horse and cart, if something was referred to as 'random', it usually meant an unexpected development or action. The last fifteen years has seen it go from that, to an expression of child-like delight or affirmation: ‘Dave you’re just so random!’ - ‘Oh wow! That rainbow’s so random!’ And then not that long ago Random became personified almost over night: ‘The stranger walked into the library’ - ‘The Randomer walked into the library.’ Now you could argue that use of the word in this way is just slang, but it has to be said that to persons of a certain age it is an everyday word as much as bus or cauliflower are.
A recent trip into a secondary school brought me face to face with a wonderfully enthusiastic after-school creative writing class, populated on this occasion by mainly year seven boys. That’s age 11-12 for those who still think kids learn by rote. And that’s memorisation for those who have no idea what Rote means. Anyhow, I digress. I asked this group of mainly year sevens - a few 14,15 and 16 year olds had slipped in under the radar - to write me a story in six words. After the initial squawks of What?! Miss? What does that mean?! there was a deathly silence. I was kind. I gave them examples. They digested the information and set to the task, the older ones falling at the first fence, but having another go until they got it. Ah, but the boys... their creative minds went off the scale, and we had a long debate about how to create a six word story about a man stuck in a lift with an alien whom he manages to zap before the alien zapped him, turning him into a chicken. (I’ll leave that one with you.) Then the word Unicorn made an appearance, and one young lad commented that it was a funny word. I concurred, and to explain the Uni part of the Corn, I explained about the Uni part of the Verse. The writer in this boy was stirred. He loved the idea that bits of words could be used to make other words, and yet still mean the same thing. On leaving the classroom and loitering by the door, he said ‘Thanks Miss - that was really cool.’
Much praise indeed.