What’s In A Word?

Thanks but you can keep it

The English language is a curious fellow. Its unique depth, diversity and colour can be attributed to the tumultuous history of the British Isles. Countless invasions, migrations and social trends have thrown together disparate languages and dialects culminating in something beautiful.Globalisation and the age of electronic communication have fuelled the relatively recent explosion in the adoption of English, even if it now comes in such a variety of flavours. It is a living entity with a capacity to continuously renew itself. Presently the OED lists 250,000 words. Scrabble has never been so contentious.


With such a volume of words to choose from you might think that there must be no need to invent new ones. This didn’t prevent Douglas Adams & John Lloyd making hay with The Meaning Of Liff. There is an unparalleled joy for many of us in making up new words to suit (or not) the occasion.

What does it all mean?
What does it all mean?

One such occasion inviting of this creativity is the usage of Twitter. For the uninitiated (oh DO get with it) this platform enables you to broadcast messages to sufficiently interested people anywhere on the sole condition that you don’t exceed 140 characters. Such a simple proposition but nicely challenging – how do you communicate effectively when you are tied down in this way? How do you construct a short but meaningful message that targets the intended audience yet leaves some wriggle room for expression?

Twitter

Twitter provides us with the simple joys of the #hashtag whereby any word/phrase preceded by # can be used to frame a message or filter for a subject. This week I stumbled upon the custom dictionary within my mobile phone and learned two things:

  • When I type a hashtag in twitter it appears to get added to my custom dictionary
  • The hashtags you use present an intriguing summary of your personal interests and proclivities.

And so a whole new offshoot of language is spawned – one that is entirely reflective of the author. At times the hashtag captures a wider discussion trend and on other occasions it carries no apparent understandable meaning but sits in isolation – a curious memento of some forgotten conversation. Some hashtags take on a life of their own as people adopt them to form little communities. It just goes to prove that language isn’t a monolith but a democracy – if enough people like a word or phrase it will embed itself in the vernacular, irrespective of “Queen’s English”.

Not amused
Not amused

Here’s what I found in my custom dictionary. I doubt that the Queen would be amused…

AllWork
AV
Bakewell
Berlusconi
BionicPigeon
BitAwkward
Blancmange
BoltonAbbey
BreakfastDilemma
BreweryTap
BuildingWork
CakeCentral
CamperVanExcitement
Clangers
ComputerSaysNo
ConsipracyTheory
CrazyBusy
DancingDuck
DCFCFans
Derbados
DerbyBeerFestival
DerbyFeste
DerbyUK
DoubleStandards
DrinkDerby
DukeOfPuddingshire
DullFilms
EmergencyCake
Eurovision
FathersDay
FedUp
FF
FIFA
FilthyMug
FoodInKeyboard
FreshBite
GaySquid
HackGate
HardCoreDrinkDerby
Hathersage
HolidayRiots
LoveCakes
ManicThursdays
ManTerritory
MilleniumBridge
NatAutisticSoc
NoStaff
NottsBeerFestival
NOTW
Number37
OfficeCalendar
OverbearingInbred
PigTea
PoorlyLeg
PostFootballFootSoak
PubLottery
PuddingOverload
QuadXI
RainGod
RealAle
RobinHood
Santander
Saundersfoot
Shakira
ShitFan
SodsLaw
SportsCake
StPancrasChallenge
Subways
TheBrunswick
TheSun
TheVenue
TonyGubba
TrainPain
TrentBartonFail
Wansfell
WorkMug
YoSushi

Perhaps this appears to be some journey of self-indulgence. And maybe it is. But I know plenty of people take real enjoyment in stretching the boundaries of the English language. Besides, this is my blog so I get to have the last word.

Heavenly Intent

I’m back. London has become an annual pilgrimage for me though in truth it deserves more regular attention being just a couple of hours away. The problem and joy of this city is the sheer size and diversity of it. Sure you can just turn up with a guide book and aim to “do the top 10” but over the years I have done a lot of it and there’s other places to go. That’s most of the reason why I decided to head up the Northern Line to the bleeding edge of zone 2 to find out what Hampstead and Highgate had to offer.

Apparently Hampstead is home to more millionaires than any other comparable area in the UK and it’s obvious why. Situated just a few miles from central London this district has the feel of a large village with old streets, plenty of green open space and a slower pace about it. It’s where you would want to have your family home if you were working in the furnace of the city.

Leafy suburbs
Leafy suburbs

An estate agent’s window bears out the wealth of the area. The cheapest property I can see is £275k for a distinctly small one bed flat. Heaven only knows what one of the houses above would fetch on the open market. Yet these digs are mere servants quarters in comparison to the many custom built homes I spy beyond gated driveways on the roads out of town. Wikipedia tells me that homes here have sold for as much as £50m!!

A moderately hilly road takes me beyond the former home of Keats to Hampstead Heath. It is a bitterly cold morning and the dog walkers are out in force (mostly retired or paid to do the job) and there are no shortage of joggers, mostly female. One blond famous looking type (barely) jogs past in conversation with her personal trainer. It’s safe to conclude that residents of Hampstead are money rich and time poor.

The heath, unspectacular by UK standards, represents a large swathe of greenery by London standards and in Parliament Hill has the highest open space this close to the city. The views attract plenty of walkers.

Parliament Hill
Parliament Hill

In the distance I can clearly make out Canary Wharf, the “gherkin” (quarter of a mile from my hotel), St Pauls and the Telecom Tower.

City view from Hampstead Heath
City view from Hampstead Heath

I can’t understate how cold it is today not only with the near freezing temperature but the cutting winter wind. In fact it would be too cold to take my hat off to the pensioner I spotted taking to the waters of the outdoor men’s bathing pond. Sheer madness!

Hampstead mens bathing pond
Hampstead mens bathing pond

A short walk through the park brings me out in neighbouring Highgate. Here there is clearly a population problem as they have been forced to build vertically! I have never seen mock tudor flats before (what next, mock tudor satellite dishes?) but at least the style is in keeping with the locale.

High rise in Highgate
High rise in Highgate

And so to the main draw of this part of town. For here the dead hold sway. Highgate Cemetery became the burial site of choice for wealthy Victorians wishing to leave behind a final mark on the earth. The sprawling plot is divided between an East and West section, each predominantly gothic in appearance and each overgrown with trees and ivy. Nature has been allowed to run it’s course here and I see numerous squirrels and an adult fox brazenly sauntering between headstones just 20 yards ahead of me.

Gothic east cemetery
Gothic east cemetery

Given the bold public statements made by many of the plots I don’t see anything insensitive or mawkish about sharing a few pictures with you.

Family reunion
Family reunion

You could shoot a great music video here, though perhaps that does overstep the mark. Speaking of marks the most famous incumbent here is Karl Marx. Nothing shy about this grave…

No Marx for style
No Marx for style

By contrast some memorials cannot fail to touch your heart

A touching rememberance
A touching rememberance

Even today people are still buried here although quite where they find any vacant plots is beyond me.

Beadle is still about
Beadle is still about

And just to prove that some people take a sense of humour to the grave…

Having the last laugh
Having the last laugh

The one grave I regret being unable to find was that of Douglas Adams. Perhaps his headstone is somewhere in a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “beware of the leopard”. At least I think that’s what he would have wanted.

As I walk back across the heath the rain clouds are gathering and I will learn to hate them over the next 3 days as they indeed will hate me. There’s just time to take a furtive photo of (allegedly) Hampstead’s biggest night time draw.

Hampstead Heath gents WC
Hampstead Heath gents WC

Strangely this cottaging industry isn’t mentioned in their tourist information…