Friday, 15 August 2014

15/08/14 - "Bants"

Language evolves by virtue of how it’s used. That’s the way it’s always been; while there are rules about what things mean, how terms or expressions represent objects or concepts, where it’s appropriate to punctuate and so forth, it’s all malleable. It’s one of the great democratic processes of mankind.
It’s also quite annoying. When words are left out to be hijacked and abused by any old Tom, Dick or Harry, they can end up being misused in a widespread fashion and ultimately refocused. This is why ‘dice’ now exists in the OED as a singular. You’d have to be some kind of cretin to say ‘a dice’ rather than the correct ‘a die’, right? Well, no – there are a lot of stupid people out there, so now what was correct is no longer so, and you can call a spotted playing cube ‘a dice’ without anyone looking at you strangely and quietly judging you.
This is happening all the time. Consider some of the other useful words that we can no longer use…

This used to be a solid, dependable sort of concept. The dictionary definition of ‘banter’ is ‘the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks’; synonyms are generally listed as ‘repartee’, ‘swordplay’, ‘sallies’, ‘riposte’, ‘jest’. It’s a classically British notion, that we amusingly jibe one another in the thrust and parry of bar-room chattery and day-to-day wisecracking.
But no. You and I both know that the word ‘banter’ is off-limits now. It’s been appropriated by chavs to become something moronic, shoehorned into an embarrassing lexicon that also features such distasteful fare as ‘oi oi’ and ‘’ave it’. ‘Banter’ – or, disgustingly, ‘bants’ – is the watchword of the despicable. If someone describes a night out as containing ‘some quality banter’, you can be pretty sure that they’re not referring to a session of gentle ribbing and entertaining wordplay. This was not an evening with Oscar Wilde. They spent the night making unsavoury comments about the barmaid’s tits, probably while she was in earshot. Then they made a load of jokes about each other’s cocks, in that ill-concealed display of peacocking homoeroticism that all true lads are prone to and refuse to acknowledge.
Which brings us on to…

Oh, it used to be so innocent. ‘Lad’ was a simple term of endearment to denote a salt-of-the-earth young boy – generally accompanied by a tousling of the hair or a ha’penny pressed into the palm.
But the same crowd who have stolen ‘banter’ from us have hauled ‘lad’ into their sweaty, goggle-eyed grasp too. OK, we were all guilty of reworking the term into the new-found boorish culture of ‘laddishness’ in the 1990s, but that was as much an aesthetically self-aware counter-culturalism as it was a means of hijacking. Nowadays, ‘lad’ is synonymous with ‘wanker’. Except that these people seem to be proud of it.
In the name of research, I temporarily suspended my principles and had a look at the 'LAD Bible’ page on Facebook (a cesspool of iniquity from the very dregs of society), to find you some key quotes… although it’s too mind-numbingly awful to replicate for you here; I started pasting in some of their linkbait titles but I was losing the will to live. Suffice it to say, pretty much every comment on the page is some variation of ‘put that bitch in her place lad’, ‘learn to count lad’, ‘one for the lad bible stop being a fucking pussy lad lol’ and so on. The lack of punctuation is a marker that the protagonist has little clue of what they’re doing, it’s actually quite helpful – like driving behind someone who’s unaware that they’ve had their indicator on for the last six miles. Gives you a tip-off that they require a wide berth.
Of course, a natural consequence is that the word ‘lad’ has become a coda to any sort of unacceptable behaviour by someone who wears such unpleasantness as a badge of honour - e.g. imagine someone walking into the pub and saying ‘my wife’s in labour, but fuck it, I fancy a pint,’ and being met with a crowd of berks cheering ‘LAAAAAAAAAAD!’. That’s the sort of subculture we’re dealing with. Pricks, basically.

Ah, this is a tricky one. I’ll readily admit that I’m an over-user of the term, but it’s just how it’s employed nowadays, isn’t it? That damned linguistic evolution we were talking about has really done a number on the word ‘awesome’.
In its most logical sense, it simply means ‘inspiring awe’; that is ‘a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder’. So when you say ‘this cup of coffee is awesome,’ you should really expect anybody nearby to stop in their tracks and gape at it open-mouthed, their mind in the process of being blown by this staggeringly impressive and somehow unbelievable beverage. The phone will be ringing off the hook with newspapers desperate to bag the story, you’ll become an internet sensation as the curator of a genuinely life-changing vessel of hot liquid, people will write songs about your drink, children will laugh and applaud, the elderly will weep at its beauty.
Or maybe it’s just quite a nice cup of coffee.
(See also: ‘epic’)

You can’t use ‘literally’ any more, even if you’re one of the 10% of people who actually know what it means. Because it’s been so diluted and misappropriated that people will assume that you don’t mean it, even if you really do.
The mistake people make is to confuse ‘literally’ with ‘figuratively’. I burst out laughing on the bus the other day when I overheard some teenagers talking about some schoolyard drama, and one of them said ‘when I saw that text last night, I literally shit myself’. They looked at me like I was some kind of crazy old looper.
Perhaps I am. Perhaps the contents of that message was sufficiently shocking to make the kid immediately lose controls of his bowels on sight. What do I know? The media are increasingly guilty of losing their grip on this word too. When the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, recently stated that women shouldn’t laugh in public as it’s emblematic of the country’s wider epidemic of moral corruption, Turkish women responded by tweeting and Instagramming photos of themselves laughing. The Guardian’s coverage of this story ran with the headline ‘Turkish women defy Deputy PM by literally laughing in his face’ (a headline that they’ve since changed after lots of people took the piss on Twitter). No, they’re not literally laughing in his face. Imagine that scenario: hordes of disgruntled women, queuing for their turn to get close to his face and unleash a derisory guffaw. That would probably have been a bigger story.
Even as I’m typing this, someone has just walked past me on the phone saying ‘oh my god, I literally died when I saw him’. Either the office is haunted or I’m working with an idiot.

Most annoyingly of all, it’s tricky to complain about this kind of behaviour. As a staunch advocate of the natural evolution of language (after all, imagine if we all still spoke Chaucerian English - we wouldn’t be able to get tech support for our iPhones), you can’t really discount one element of the process without sounding like you’re questioning the validity of the others. So you’re reduced to writing a bitter, judgmental little piece that very few people will read, listing four common and obvious examples before running out of steam. It’s literally a nightmare.

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