A phrasebook for a tour of New Britain

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The Independent Online
ONE THING to be said for the Nineties is that companies don't sack staff anymore. They "decruit", "downsize", "rightsize", "de-job" or "de-layer".

These euphemistic redundancies might take place after a morning's "blamestorming" - debating who is to blame for a workplace fiasco.

If the employee won't leave quietly, then send for the "head-shunter" - the reverse of a head-hunter, whose role is to get you to leave the company without the costs of redundancy.

Neologisms (new words) are said to be the most acute barometer of the course our culture is taking. And a new book to be published later this month shows how the Nineties have given the language an armoury of neologisms - be they genuine attempts to define new cultural phenomena, or outlandish euphemisms dictated by political correctness or marketing agendas.

Marital status has its own Nineties labelling, as you will know if you are a "sinbad" (single income, no boyfriend, absolutely desperate) or even a "sitcom" (single income, two children and an oppressive mortgage).

But some of the most graphic additions to the language come in the arena of sex and sexual politics.

On the disco floor one now apparently "binrakes" at the end of the evening. This means "to trawl around the dance floor in a last-minute bid to attract even the least desirable partner." The book adds that this is "particularly popular in Edinburgh," which is hardly complimentary to the young men and women of that city.

Down south, one may not "binrake", but one does "downdate", which amounts to much the same thing, meaning "to seek a partner below one's expectations."

Lesbians have been on a linguistic journey in the Nineties - from the glamourous and chic "lipstick lesbian" to the "lug" (lesbian until graduation) to "lesbeing" (actively living the role), ending up with the vividly descriptive "hasbian" (a former lesbian who is now in a heterosexual relationship, as defined in Psychology Today).

A Glossary for the 90s, to be published by Prion, consists of words, all of which have been recorded in public use, whether in newspaper and magazine articles, or uttered by broadcasters and politicians.

Others emerged from academic journals and billboard advertisements; specialist groups such as skateboarders and rap DJs; or were simply overheard by the book's author, the journalist David Rowan.

He said: " Some new words, already, have become so indispensable to modern life that it is hard to imagine how we coped without them: Was there really life before office workers had to `hot desk' and newspapers worried about `dumbing down'?

"At the same time, various subcultures are busy inventing their own words, often to stay ahead of mainstream society. Skateboarders, for instance, talk about `bongos' and `swellbows' so that only the initiated know they are referring to injuries.

"Professional groups also invent new terms to stay ahead of the pack. Doctors might talk about difficult patients as `Gomers' (short for Get out of my Emergency Room!), or chat about treating a woman patient with a `Tube' (totally unnecessary breast examination) - and all they are doing is reinforcing their group identity with terms designed to keep outsiders ignorant."

Many of the additions to the language are words that can be used to avoid saying what you mean, such as the Ambient Replenishment Opportunity advertised at Safeway in Stockport - a shelf-stacking job.

And in America, used goods for sale are either "experienced", or the even happier- sounding "pre-enjoyed".

The Cherryades

These are political. They are assistants to Cherie Booth, the Prime Minister's wife. The Daily Telegraph has described them as "red, sweet and fizzing with ideas".

Having a David Mellor

A French term, believe it or not, which was known to be in use in Paris circa 1992, meaning "a bad haircut". It was undoubtedly accurate, albeit the least of his many problems.

Doing a Gordon Brown

To dress down, particularly at a black-tie event when any exception to the dress code will be seen as making a point. From the Chancellor who wore a lounge suit to speak at Mansion House in the City.

A bit of a Dibble

An immortality that could not have been predicted. Meaning a brush with the Law, and defined as being part of a hip new BritSpeak, `Dibble' derives from Officer Dibble in Top Cat cartoons

Performing a Follett

Another New Labour word. It means to massage the image of an outdated institution so that it becomes electable. After Barbara Follett, the party's image consultant.

To Gummerise

To couch an issue in irredeemably righteous tones, designed to expose the speaker's supposed moral superiority. Bears some connection to John Gummer, the homily-friendly former Tory minister.