Word on the street
You’re in your office. It’s noon. Someone sticks their head in the door and asks, “Jeet jet?” If you read that as a lunch invitation, English is likely your mother tongue. No other language has more words; English has one million. There are only 200,000 French words. That’s why French was traditionally used in treaties. Everybody could take a different shade of meaning from the agreement they just signed.
Denizens of England will tell you they know best. I once attended a dinner at London’s Dorchester Hotel in honour of Cliff Thorburn, a Canadian who played professional snooker in Britain. In Canada, the game’s pronounced almost like “snucker” whereas in England they say “snooooker” as if the word had four o’s not two. There were Canadians in the audience, so during Thorburn’s brief remarks, he said, “It’s great to be among people who say snucker.” There was a riffle of knowing laughter. But as he left the podium the pompous Brit who was master of ceremonies looked phlegmatically at Thorburn’s back and said, “We say snooooker, and we invented the language.” Gotta love that British humour.
These days, anybody can invent the language. Smart-assed phrases travel around the globe before good rhetoric has a chance to put on her shoes. A few years ago, one such example was “not.” As in, “I like that movie.” Then the speaker would pause and add, “Not.” Thankfully, after a while, no one laughed anymore and that drollery disappeared.
But there is one phrase with legs that drives me crazy. You read it everywhere: “Not so much.” Bloomberg is a prime example. In the last week alone I’ve seen: “The labor data is strong. Price data not so much.” “Gold shines. The rest, not so much.”
We used to ban books. Let’s ban certain words and phrases. Here’s my list of five for the high jump: “not so much” “world-class” “The only poll that counts is on election day” “a deer in the headlights” and that favourite of head table introducers, “Last but not least.” More fresh phrases, please. Cliches not so much.