Yesterday I was travelling by train. I had my Saturday papers of choice, the Telegraph and Independent, and was looking forward to a leisurely read.
Two young women then decided to sit opposite. As is so often the case, however hard I tried to read the papers, I found myself listening to their conversation – or to be more exact their use of language. They were clearly educated, refined women – my initial thought they were at Roedean – but two words were dominating their conversation: “like” and “cool”. The use of “like” is prevalent amongst rock musicians and actors . “One day I decided not to use drugs any more. It’s like, I had this experience”. In fact the word adds no further meaning whatsoever and could be removed. As for “cool”, it has gone from being a measure of temperature to that of chic to “ok”. The dominance of these two words reflected a sort of hip argot. I felt that these two young women, from rich privileged families, were trying to show their background was working class and, dare I say it, “cool”. One girl explained how, in Belarus, she had confronted someone there who had strong anti-feminist views and she expressed herself fluently, which convinced me she had a wide vocabulary.
I suppose buzzwords have always existed. The French have been more aggressive in defending linguistic intrusion. The Academie Francaise can ban words and recently Alain Rey the lexicographer has admitted “selfie”, “troll” and “hashtag”, but said these were not “Anglicanisms”, rather “Californianisms”. Isn’t that “like cool” to do so?