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A discerning palp on the pulse of our protean language

Equity: Formerly a term for fairness and justice, now just a posh word for money
FROM TIME to time I like to bring you an update on the way the English language is evolving, with notes on the evolution of particular words as monitored by my tireless team of lexicographers and language mavens. Here, then, is our glossary supplement for February 1999.

Alternative: 1) Word used to describe ultra-conventional comedians who appear on quiz shows, Question Time, etc, etc; another word for mainstream.

2) Name given to a kind of medicine which is said to cure alternative diseases. (See "Complementary".)

Anal: Shorthand word for unrelaxed.

Analogue: See "Digital".

Complementary: Word used to describe "alternative" medicine by people who don't like the word "alternative", as that makes it sound something like "alternative comedy". Luckily, there is no such thing yet as "complementary comedy".

Digital: See "Analogue".

Director's cut: The film the director thought he was making in the first place.

Drug: 1) Kind of chemical substance, very bad for you.

2) Kind of medicine, very good for you.

Epiphany: Word much used by reviewers, describing the moment of revelation when they suddenly see what the book or play they are reviewing is really all about.

Equity: Formerly a term for fairness and justice, now just a posh word for money.

Futon: A kind of Japanese instrument of torture on which the victim reclines to try to achieve spiritual enlightenment through discomfort.

Ginseng: Last year's elixir, wondrous then, forgotten now.

Graffiti: Kind of unsubsidised public art.

Homophobia: Homo is the Greek word for "same" and phobia is Greek for "fear", so "homophobia" should mean "fear of anything or anyone the same as you". In fact, it means quite the opposite.

Investigative: Description given to any journalist who manages to get outside his office during working hours.

Leisure: An extremely strenuous activity pursued in gymnasiums by men and women in black underwear.

Leotard: A manifestation of the theory that weightlifters' uniform looks good on women.

Multiculturalism: Tony Blair's theory that one man's beliefs are as good as another's, except Glenn Hoddle's.

Niche marketing: The amazing discovery by businessmen that if you provide something for people who want it, they will probably buy it. This is in contrast to the normal kind of marketing which consists in trying to persuade people to buy things which they had no idea they wanted and have no need of, and which make them fat, unhealthy or poor.

Novel: Name given to the first book written by an alternative comedian.

Public debate: Term given to exchange of headlines by popular newspapers - as in "Condon Must Go!" - from which the public is totally excluded.

Reincarnation: The mystical system which explains how we pay the penalty in this life for gaffes, boo-boos and public relations howlers which we have committed in a previous life. (See "Deja Voo Doo")

Paradigm: Yet another word for template.

Placebo: Kind of chalk and water tablet which is now thought to be more effective against most common ailments than ordinary medicine.

Reappraisal: Process whereby politicians agree to review some highly controversial public policy and then, when everything has been considered, go on exactly the same as before.

Reprisal: The theory held by the Americans that if you bomb an aspirin factory in the Sudan, terrorists everywhere will lose heart and give up the struggle.

Special: A kind of very strong beer brewed for homeless people.

Symposium: Name given by academics to a business conference. (See "Piss- up".)

Synchronicity: The ability of swimmers in a pool to do the same ridiculous movements at exactly the same time.

Technical: Unknowable, inexplicable, unfathomable, as in: "We are sorry for the delay of this service, which is due to technical reasons".

Watershed: Name given to the time in the evening after which parents go to bed and leave their children watching television.

Work-out: A doomed attempt by leisure people to outwalk or outbicycle a machine.