Friday, 1 November 2013

Episode 3: Words we could happily do without

Cynic rolled his eyes. ‘What’s it this time, Conspiracy? You’ve just seen them yourself? Who’s “them”? What’s “it”?’
‘This time, our plot-obsessed friend has a valid concern,’ said Crusade, a serious-looking man wearing a donkey-jacket and jeans. ‘He’s referring to the return of word-traffickers…you know how they often try to exploit the collective dumbing-down around Christmas time. Everyone’s guard is lowered - stupefied by food, drink and rubbish television – and unwanted words can sneak into popular usage. I’m afraid we have a prime example here in the building right now.’
Conspiracy leaned forward, dropped his voice even lower and said, ‘Onesie.’

‘Oh no…not him!’ groaned Coin.
‘I’m afraid so,’ replied Crusade. ‘Onesie sidled into the bar downstairs and was ushered to a table to meet Criminal and his cronies. There was some incident with Omnishambles but that was smoothed over and they all seem the best of mates now. I know it’s never been proven but I’m sure Criminal has history as a word-trafficker. Now, I don’t have a problem with the English language evolving but…’
‘Oh, we all agree on this,’ said Clever. ‘A language must stay alive but every so often, a word comes along which is offensive beyond belief. Onesie! Have you seen him? Must be in his mid-20s but he dresses like a two-year-old, walks around with an inane grin on his face and is scarcely capable of stringing together a coherent sentence. He’s an idiot!’
‘He certainly is,’ said Conspiracy. ‘Mind you, if I’d been on the receiving end of the scowls and glares Crusade shot him just now, I wouldn’t show my face around here too often. I thought he looked pretty intimidated, Crusade.’
‘Not enough, he’s too gormless,’ replied Crusade. ‘This is infiltration by stealth; the more Onesie shows himself around the place, the more likely it is that he’ll be accepted. I heard he even got a mention from Nick Clegg on a radio phone-in. That was clever; the deputy prime minister giving him air time – however disparaging his comments might be – will ease Onesie’s inclusion into every day vernacular. What we can do about it though, I don’t know.’
‘But we can’t allow this to happen,’ Coin exclaimed. ‘The OED is recognised as the definitive dictionary and we are guardians against modernist fads. We have a proud tradition to uphold. Allowing morons like Onesie in is the sort of thing our ancestors fought against on the beaches, in the air, at Agincourt…’
‘Whoa, whoa, slow down, Coin’. Crusade placed a placatory hand on Coin’s arm. ‘Let’s not get all Churchillian about this. As I said, I’m not sure that there’s much we can do. Besides, for all we know, Onesie could be a decent sort although probably not if he dresses like that.’
‘I know somebody who may be able to help us,’ said Correspondent. ‘If we ask Cretin to hang around with Onesie, it’ll make it difficult for him to gain any credibility.’
‘Maybe,’ said Cynic. ‘If it was anybody else, I’d be uneasy about dragging them in but poor old Cretin is happy just to get noticed. What’s with that smile, Correspondent?’
‘I’m thinking of something more direct. Cutback alluded earlier to threats which hang over all of us. That situation is made worse by word-trafficking and you can be sure that whoever’s behind this, they’re not doing it for altruistic reasons. Why don’t we reciprocate? Put the hurt on Onesie…maybe rough him up a bit.’
‘But then we’re stooping to the traffickers’ level,’ pleaded Crossword. ‘That would turn us into vigilantes…not something I’d want to be a part of.’
As the debate continued, Crusade’s interest waned. After years of association with campaigns and protests, he’d tired of this faux-heroic status…a disillusionment he traced to reading of a “crusade” to get people to state their religion as Jedi Knight in a national census. Crusade held the internet responsible for this. Even up to the millennium, crusades involved people demonstrating or marching or making some sort of identifiable protest; now, these “crusades” were typically conducted by faceless individuals cowering behind a pseudonym on internet forums…and, often as not, the crusades were to generate support for trivial, whimsical ideas.
Earlier in the year, he’d met Treason, a willowy raven-haired woman with a rebellious aura and dark eyes into which Crusade would gaze longingly. He was smitten; she, in turn, liked his sincerity and his willingness to highlight minority causes. She introduced him to her friends and soon, he was attending meetings along with – among others – Nihilist, Iconoclast, Dissident, Agitator and Radical where the topics discussed usually revolved around politics and philosophy and the views aired often advocated positive action rather than passive protest. They left Crusade feeling exhilarated and animated.
‘An inquiring mind allied and a willingness to use it for the betterment of everybody is what makes us words special, Crusade,’ Treason had said to him.
They’d been listening to a discussion on nominative determinism which was the dominant theory behind the behaviour and appearance of words and Crusade knew that it was true in most cases. He looked around at his colleagues: Cynic radiated a world-weary scepticism, Clamour gesticulated excitedly, there were sharp intakes of breath from Conspiracy as opinions were proffered and wearing a black and white irregularly-checked jumper, Crossword jotted down words in grid patterns on a sheet of paper. Here was living proof that “you are what you’re called” as the saying went in Wordsdrow.
But did it have to be so? In the meetings he’d attended with Treason and her friends, there were frequent references to fighting this prevailing ethos. It was something he’d never questioned before but he did so now although it wasn’t an opinion he would voice outside of that circle; it was considered bad form to query the concept of behavioural adherence to one’s allotted name, almost tantamount to treason.
Treason...Crusade smiled at the name of his new, his new…what exactly was she? Relationships between words could be difficult. Each word’s ultimate loyalty was to the OED and any pairings or associations which formed tended to be non-committal. But Treason had awoken something in him - life had never seemed so vibrant, so alive. Their relationship had, thus far, been platonic but Crusade now thought it was time to take it a stage further. He had plans for the evening ahead…first, a discussion with Treason and some of her radical colleagues in a room in A-block followed by, hopefully, a more intimate encounter with the lady. He was jolted back to the present by a pause in the conversation and glanced around the room to see all heads turned towards him.
‘Well?’ Correspondent asked. ‘Does that sound OK? You look like you’re giving it a lot of thought.’
‘I’m sorry, I was miles away.’ Crusade peeked at his watch. ‘Look, I really have to be elsewhere. Please excuse me. Shall we meet again tomorrow around midday?’
‘Sure, sure,’ replied Correspondent. ‘Same place?’
Crusade nodded and mumbled another apology as he left the room.
‘What’s got into him?’ asked Cutback. ‘Time was he’d be the most vociferous person around at the mention of word-trafficking but he doesn’t seem interested anymore.’
‘Rum, very rum indeed. Speaking of which…’ Correspondent reached for a bottle.

Next episode: A lot of detail on the evolution of Wordsdrow

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