The 10 greatest adjectives of the 20th century

AS ANNOUNCED in this column yesterday, I am teaming up with ATP - Adjective Trend Plotting, the people who chart the world rankings of adjectives - to organise the poll for the Adjective of the Century.

"By this we mean the adjective which has most affected lives," says ATP boss, Oscar Beussberger. "We don't mean the adjective which has been most widely used. I mean, you wouldn't vote for the common cold as the Disease of the Century, would you! In fact, we think the most commonly used adjective in recent times is `new', and a boring little adjective it is too. No, what we're after is an adjective which is so ubiquitous and yet charismatic that it has wormed its way into people's conscious, unconscious and subconscious!

"By the way, I think I have already used some of the prime candidates for the adjective of the year in my introductory speech, namely `ubiquitous', `charismatic' and `conscious'. Not to mention `prime'."

Can you vote for an adjective you don't like?

"Certainly!" booms the extrovert Oscar Beussberger. (Incidentally, did you notice another candidate there - `extrovert'?) "I'm all for it! Some of the most unpleasant adjectives are actually some of the most insidiously useful. `Inappropriate' is probably the nastiest adjective around today, but so many people hide behind it that I fear it will get many votes. `Dystopian' and `dysfunctional' are two more examples of what I call Sunday- paper adjectives, ie pretentious, over-used and near-meaningless. Ghastly, all of them, but I expect them to get votes."

Oscar Beussberger says that most fashionable adjectives tend to come from specialised areas and then to win appeal on a broad front. The arts have given us adjectives like "mimetic", "aleatory", "noir", and "cathartic". Medicine has given us "chronic" and "clinical". The law has given us "draconian" and "forensic", as well as "proven".

"Oddly enough," says Oscar, "`proven' was never found outside Scotland till recently, in the Scottish verdict `not proven', but it was then taken up by the world of advertising, which is always desperately looking for old-fashioned synonyms. Have you noticed the way `cleanse' has replaced `clean' in ads, for example? `Cleanse' sounds more trustworthy, doesn't it ? Sounds as if it gets deeper than mere `cleaning', doesn't it? Similarly, they have taken to using `proven' because it sounds more solid than `proved'. `With proven cleansing qualities...'

"Of course, a lot of these words change their meaning when they become popular, like `forensic' and `clinical' - or should I say that people use them wrongly? People use the word `forensic' as if it means something to do with laboratories or post-mortems, but it just means to do with the law. People use `chronic' to mean `terrible', even though it just means `long-lasting'.

"Another source of potent adjectives is the sociological field. `Disadvantaged', `feminist', `supportive' and `aware' might get a look in, though all these things have a limited shelf life. Not as limited as slang adjectives, of course. I doubt whether we shall get many votes from the young for `awesome' or `wicked' or `cool' or `mega', any more than we shall get votes from their parents for forgotten trendy adjectives like `groovy' and `fab' and `heavy'."

Oscar Beussberger shudders slightly, perhaps at the thought of his own youth.

"Anyway, the way the poll works is this. You, Mr Kington, ask your readers to nominate their choice for the 10 adjectives which most encapsulate the 20th century..."

And then I pass the voting forms across to you?

"You can if you like. It won't make much difference, though. We at the ATP have already selected the 10 adjectives most symbolic of the century. It wouldn't do to leave it to the voters, would it? Can't really trust the public, can we?"

But surely, of all things, adjectives are things that are used by the public? So they should know!

"Dear, oh dear, oh dear. That's like saying that cars are things used by the public, so they should know how to use them. But all road deaths are caused by the public!"

Hmm. So what are your pre-selected top ten adjectives ?

"Got a list here somewhere," says Oscar Beussberger, searching his jacket pocket. "Yes, here we are. The top 10 typical 20th century adjectives are: Marxist, fascist, global, modern, genetic, corporate, gay, fat-free, user-friendly, carcinogenic and..."

And?

"Kafkaesque."

So that's it, then. At last, a millennial poll you don't have to vote in. It's all been settled for you.

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering