Just as many of us are enjoying a few moments of annual over-indulgence, the Equalities Minister Jo Swinson has put a damper on things. There should be a ban on what she calls “fat talk”, she says. “Bingo wings”, “love handles”, “thunder thighs”: they are the sort of phrases which, for reasons of self-respect, are no longer appropriate in modern Britain. Perhaps, if we are talking about respect, some other popular words and expressions might be quietly demoted in the coming year. Here’s my list:
Ban. In a twitchy and censorious culture, torn between longing and disapproval, the inevitable reaction to tricky behaviour has been to call for censorship around the way it is discussed. In 2014, words and phrases should not be banned from use, but merely embarrassed off centre stage into the wings.
Intimate terrorism. In its time, the Saatchi advertising empire produced some memorable slogans, but this one – lobbed like a poison-gas canister into a recent court case – is particularly guileful. Nobody knows quite what it means and yet it brings together in sinister proximity that great good of the modern age, intimacy, with its great evil, terror. There is a danger that it could catch on among warring couples, with intimate terrorism leading to domestic jihadism or even spousal suicide bombers.
Could we have done things better? Of course we could. The most annoying tic of political interviewees over the past year was their habit of asking themselves a probing question in a spirit of fake humility and openness. It fools no one.
That awkward moment when... Being able to communicate with strangers all over the world through social media has produced too many horrors to list here, but its grimmest effect has been to convince the humourless that they can be funny. Those unable to tell jokes go for this relatively new cliché to introduce something hilariously embarrassing, thereby killing it stone-dead in the process.
Banter. In its 2013 sense, banter is never a good thing. It is either unfunny badinage or – more likely – leery aggression.
Faith. Almost without us noticing, religion has become a force within the centre of politics, disguising itself under with the usefully woolly name of faith. When a Coalition minister describes the Cameron administration as “one of the most pro-faith governments in the West”, we should start worrying. Now that the Labour Party is starting to play the faith card, it is time to put the word firmly into quarantine.
Sorry. The great 21st-century vogue for mock-humble public confession shows no sign of going out of fashion. A special gold star should be awarded to the first public figure to refuse to grovel to the public when under attack from the usual crowd of professional moralists. When columnists and bloggers open a sentence with: “I’m sorry but...”, there is no need to continue reading.
Twerking. A phrase used by exhausted columnists of a certain age, desperate to appear in touch with popular culture but in a good-humoured, ironic way. (See also, “selfie”.)
Selfie. One of the peculiarities of the past few months has been how the idea of taking a photograph of your own face has become something new and interesting. Its only significance is as a rather obvious visual symbol of our age of self-obsession.
Aspiration. With a general election on the horizon, an array of middle-aged politicians from the three main English parties will be looking for the one great cause – if possible, a single word – which will provide a rallying cry. “Aspiration” fits the bill perfectly since no could possibly argue against it. From Cameron’s “aspiration nation” to Miliband’s “party of aspiration” via Clegg’s “army for aspiration”, here is the word which captures the tone of British politics in all its resonant emptiness.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. When this sentence is deployed, it is invariably being used as an excuse for some act of vandalism against the landscape. You may find beauty in those fields, that wood or valley, but other beholders – equally important, it is argued – find equivalent aesthetic joy in a pylon or a conveniently-placed supermarket. If the sentence is used at all, the following qualifier should echo in the mind: “But if the beholder is a moron, you can ignore him.”
Game-changer. In a childish age, politicians and commentators strive to make government more dramatic than it really is. The economy is in a this-or-that bubble or may be heading for a that-or-this cliff – after, of course, a moment that’s “game-changing”.
*Sigh*. As in real life, an online “sigh”, expressing either showy contentment or weary exasperation, can be intensely annoying. We shall all sigh in 2014 – perhaps even more than in 2013 – but we should endeavour to keep our sighs private.