Posts Tagged ‘90s’

Pushing the envelope

Sunday, January 25th, 2009

During my brief visit overseas (understand ‘under the English Channel’ and on to Canterbury, England) last Saturday, I dropped by the Oxfam second-hand bookshop in the main street and there I made my way, shelf after shelf, sifting through a much better selection of books than I imagined.

I almost bought a gilt-edged copy of Longfellow’s poems (and still regret not doing so, hoping it will still be there when I return in September).

Ending up in the Languages section, there, under a set of brand-new copies of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Nouveau Roman gems, I found what promised to be fun for someone interested in words, and pure torture for ordinary people. [About Robbe-Grillet, I must confess that we parted ways when I was in high school and was assigned the reading of his Manifest toward the end of the school year; I found it so excruciatingly boring that I've never read anything by him since then.]

‘A Glossary for the 90s’ was published in 1998 by Guardian columnist David Rowan. It lists words and phrases that crept up maybe not in our personal vocabulary, but at least in the media, in corporate publications, etc. in the previous decade. Some of them have become very standard, like ‘Reality TV’, ‘Social Entrepreneur’, ‘the New Black’, ‘the Defining Moment’, ‘Pushing the envelope’, etc.

The book is classified in the Humour/Reference category, and it includes many euphemisms. I’m not sure which one is the longest, but one I particularly liked (and had never heard before) was: ‘Real-time Precipitation Syndrome’. The author doesn’t cite a source, but provides a translation: ‘Rain’.

Unfortunately, there are only 9 pages in the section headed ‘Eurojargon’, that well of linguistic and sometimes incomprehensible invention. But the ‘Wheeled Child Conveyancing Vehicle’ has been included. In those Eurocrats’ heads, What’s wrong with pushchair, or pram?

I am still reading the book, there are quite a few of these phrases and words that I’d never seen before. Buying this book was a good move. Longfellow will have to wait…

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