Monthly Archives: January 2018

Time to stop Micro-Cheating

Dear Wordability readers. I feel I owe you an apology. I have been neglecting you these last few months. Yes I know that Donald Trump got me back into action last week, but that was after an absence of three months. Aside from that I have been cheating on you in a big way, concentrating on other distractions and not keeping you up to date with the latest new words emerging in the English language.

This year, I pledge to do better, to be more faithful. I’ll try not to cheat on you at all. Well maybe a little a bit of Micro-cheating perhaps.

Micro-cheating is the new kid on the relationship block. Coined by Australian psychologist Melanie Schilling, it means acting in small, what might seem insignificant ways, but which when added up constitute a greater cheating crime than the sum of its parts. Leaving heart emojis on a friend’s Facebook post? Storing somebody’s number in your phone under an alias? Sharing a private joke with an ex? Not writing a Wordability post because you are reading a different blog about the English language? (OK, I made that one up)

I see the point of this. In today’s new interconnected world, where we have so many touchpoints with other people, albeit of a more superficial nature than we had before, there are many more opportunities to betray inappropriate desires and feelings.

But there has been a backlash against the term, with many suggesting that it opens the way for controlling and abusing characters to further strengthen their grip on their partners by forbidding behaviour which could also be construed as innocent and harmless. People have always had secrets, harmless flirtations and the like. Does the fact that technology now lays them barer mean that they should be demonised? Many cyber column inches have already been devoted to debates over the subject, and they show little sign of going away.

All of which goes to show that whichever side of the micro-cheating debate you are on, it is a word which clearly describes a mode of behaviour familiar to many because it has landed with a punch and got people talking. It has filled a semantic need and may therefore have staying power in the language.

And of course it has reminded me to cheat on you less from now on.

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English in the Shithole

Back in the day when Wordability was just a twinkle in my eye, there was no way I would have written the above headline. After all, certain words were simply taboo, and any self-respecting publication would have an asterisk policy in place and would give serious thought to whether the asterisks themselves were acceptable in such a prominent place.

Not any more. Now, apparently shithole is journalistically acceptable. And while it is generally regarded as being unacceptable language for a president, its general appearance across the world’s media last week in its unexpurgated form signalled that for swear words, the landscape has now changed.

The reality is, that our swear words have undergone a metamorphosis over the last few years, so that those things which were taboo to say and write when I was growing up, are now regarded as acceptable, normal, not even that shocking any more. Shithole is clearly de rigeur, annoyed people say they are ‘pissed’ on TV programmes all the time, ‘bloody’ and ‘bollocks’ seem to be barely swear words at all.

And as for the language my five-year-old uses, if I’d used words like ‘bum’ and ‘fart’ in polite company at his age, that company would have been a lot less polite in reminding me that saying such things was unacceptable. Now they seem to be normal words in a child’s vocabulary.

So is it a bad thing that our swear words seem to have become less, well, sweary? I actually think it is, in many ways. After all, we need taboo words because they serve a function. They allow us to relieve stress in a way that no other form of language can. They’re funny when used in the right context. And they carry a necessary ability to shock when used in particular circumstances. President Trump’s alleged shithole remark shocked because it was not the context to use such a word. But in our everyday lives now, swearing has become so much the norm and the potency of certain words has reduced so much, that we are no longer surprised at what we hear and more likely to swear ourselves as part of our normal discourse.

Certain words are still of course completely taboo in polite conversation, but if the current trend is to reach its natural conclusion, then even the f word might eventually become the kind of thing you could say to your grandmother without expecting her to keel over from the shock. And if our litany of swear words is to evolve into a collection which is just mildly rude, then we will need some new words to take their place, some neologisms, preferably related to bodily functions, to emerge from the gloom as our profanities of choice.

Donald Trump’s diplomacy skills have reminded us that cursing in the English language is something which is definitely changing. May that be his most damaging legacy.