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May I have a word about… how lockdown ruined the language

Jonathan Bouquet
·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Red Bull Content Pool/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Red Bull Content Pool/Reuters

It’s rum what people have been doing to the language during these seemingly never-ending lockdowns. Only last week, I was ticked off for “browsing” in Robert Dyas. And there was me thinking I was “shopping”.

And you can’t move for “experts” hurling the word “vector” around as if they were competing in the Olympics. One talking head on Radio 4’s In Our Time managed to use it twice in two minutes. As the programme was about the plague of Justinian, it didn’t seem altogether germane. Then there’s “guidance”. Witness the following from Derbyshire police: “In situations where people are breaching the guidance not to travel out of their local area but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance.”

How about explaining exactly what the law is? In the same message, the force says that its officers “will be inquisitive”. Surely they should be asking relevant questions, not being bloody nosy, but then again, that particular force hasn’t exactly covered itself in glory in recent times. I have often railed against nouns being turned into verbs. You know the sort of thing – offshoring, headquartering, landfilling. Last week, though, came one to knock that lot into a cocked hat. On my local news programme, they were discussing the first successful conquest in winter of K2, the team of Sherpas led by Nirmal “Nims” Purja. Or, as the newsreader described him, “the first man to summit K2 in winter”. How grotesque is that? Back to base camp for that man.

Joining him there should be the scriptwriter of The Equalizer (I know I’m a bit late in catching up with it, but hey). After Denzel Washington has just dispatched a gang of hoodlums in about 30 seconds flat, the police turn up, examine the scene and one solemnly intones: “The killings have all the earmarks of a turf war.” Earmarks? Priceless.

• Jonathan Bouquet is an Observer columnist