A re-post from December 2011 inspired by the film about Liberace. The re-post includes an Eric Bogle song suggested by Toronto Tam following the first publication.
It’s quite amazing how words objects and products attain a status quite different from their original meaning or purpose.
I remember a few years ago an older relative saying to someone that it was a nice anorak they were wearing. “It’s not an anorak it’s a jacket” came the answer.
How did it progress from being an outer garment of warm rainwear to being an insult?
How does a waterproof jacket with a quilted lining become a byword for an expert in a given subject who has specialised in information to a such a degree to render it boring?
Maybe it originated with trainspotters wearing anoraks? And hasn’t that term become an insult in itself? “Aye he’s a bit of a trainspotter eh?”
When did something which was rather twee or prosaic become ‘cheesey’?
And when did ‘gay’ attain its modern connotation?
Actually the answer to that is from fairly obscure origins in the early 20th century. However it came into its own when Liberace (successfully) sued newspapers in the 1950s for daring to suggest that he was homosexual. The media then, in reference to one of Liberace’s songs “I’ll be seeing you” referred to him as “light and gay”
Maybe you think that’s pants? Hey! there’s another one!
Then there’s trade names. Hoover became a byword for a vacuum cleaner before becoming a verb “I’m just hoovering the living room”.
A Jeep describes a 4wd utility vehicle – even if its a Landrover.
You’d think that manufacturers would be pleased that their name becomes a generic description of a product.However, Portakabin’s protection of their name is legendary in the media. Unless the building being described IS in fact a Portakabin then it should be described as a “portable modular building” or similar according to their solicitors Messrs Sue, Grabitt and Runne.
There’s quite an amusing account of how Private Eye dealt with a letter from them here.
Some changes in language and connotation have been quite deliberate on the part of manufacturers and service providers. I’m not sure if it was ever humorous to ask an ATM “Is the manager in?” in the style of the old Bank of Scotland ad. People still refer to their ‘flexible friend’ when talking about their credit card due to an ad for Access from thirty years ago. Who’d have thought the word ‘compare’ would ever have people immediately think of an irritating song or a meerkat?
Who would ever have imagined that a yeast extract spread could define love and hate? or describe polarised opinion on everything from literature, music, arts and politics?