While Wordability loves to celebrate the arrival of new words and phrases, it also needs to stop and mark the moment when a phrase ceases to be. Normally it would be hard to pin that down, but we can date one such occasion to December 9, 2011.
That was when the painting of the Forth Road Bridge in Edinburgh came to an end.
And so we can no longer say ‘it’s like painting the Forth Bridge’ to describe something which feels endless and which starts again as soon as it finishes. Instantly, the phrase now means ‘It will take a long time but you’ll get there in the end. Go home, you never have to do this again’. Not really much cop any more, is it.
Twitter quickly jumped into action to suggest alternatives, marking them with the hash tag #islikepaintingtheforthbridge. Politics was the most obvious subject for never-ending tasks, with suggestions such as ‘Finding a banker willing to accept responsibility for their failed gambles’ from Neocon Hitman, or Christine Roberts’ suggestion of ‘Watching David Cameron and William Hague on television’. Dan Frost went pleasingly self-referential with ‘Coming up with metaphors to replace painting the forth bridge’. But my personal favourite was Chewbacca, who went on to Twitter to suggest ‘Shaving a Wookie’. Accurate, but hard to see it catching on really.
So what should we use? It would be dull to choose something prosaic and domestic, such doing the washing or clearing up after children. After all,those are the kind of chores that the Forth Bridge phrase existed to describe. And I think that the political suggestions floating around will not be long-lasting enough to resonate in the English Language.
So what is going to exist for some time, is well known to many people and feels like it starts again as soon as it has finished. The football season? Apple product launches? Watching reality television? All accurate, but none feels solid enough.
I think we may have to wait for a new long-running project to emerge to take over the mantle. Or failing that, we can just sit it out for a few years. The paint on the Forth Bridge is bound to start peeling eventually.