Meaningful English as she is spoken in our times

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The Independent Online
THE ENGLISH language changes daily, with new words arriving and old words getting new meanings. Without a constant update, most of us would be lost, so here is another instalment in a Glossary of Our Times.

Arbitration: Process whereby two parties who cannot agree on some controversial issue ask a third party to come to a decision, and then refuse to abide by it.

Binding arbitration: The same as the above.

Birtism: A process whereby the top job in a big corporation is given to the only candidate who is allowed to apply for it.

Business: An arms/aid tie-up, as in Margaret Thatcher's famous phrase about Mikhail Gorbachev: 'He is a man I can do business with'. Whether she did actually build a dam for Gorbachev and sell him vast quantities of arms is something which has never been revealed.

Charter renewal: A mythical concept in the name of which John Birt is allowed to do anything he likes with the BBC.

Damage limitation: Name given to the act of sending John Major abroad. See also Tragedy.

Empowering: The act of telling people that they have the ability to decide their own fate, though not the resources or power or legal status . . .

Ethnic: Name given to food from any country not immediately next-door to Britain.

Exciting: Word used of any game in which the England rugby team fails to score a try.

Freebie: Name given by journalists to a trip taken by a politician and paid for by a government - usually the government of a different country. If journalists take such a trip, it is never called a 'freebie' but an 'assignment'.

Get back to: Phrase used by a businessman on the phone when he never wants to speak to you again, as in 'I'll get back to you on that one'.

Hyper: Mildly excited.

Live: Said of a TV programme or concert performance with interesting mistakes in it which cannot be edited out.

Looking at: A businessman's term for 'making a wild guess', as in 'We're looking at a budget in excess of pounds 4m here'.

Mission: Name given to any useless trip made by any politician going anywhere. Mediation: Common misprint for 'meditation'.

Meditation: Common misprint for 'mediation'.

Mode: A meaningless word meaning either that you are doing something as in 'I'm in washing- up mode right now', or not doing anything as in 'I'm in relaxation mode right now'.

Monitor: To do nothing about a problem, as when a politician says: 'We are constantly monitoring the situation'.

Name: A well-known person who forgot to insure his money when he invested it in Lloyds.

Offensive: a) Anything unwelcome, except b) welcome bombing of Serbs by Nato.

Pimps: 1) Name given to those who employ prostitutes (obsolete) 2) New meaning: 'very easy, very simple', as used by schoolchildren everywhere. Perhaps derived from 'simple' by analogy with 'peasy', as in 'Easy, peasy, Lemon Squeezy . . '.

Source: To give money to. Words meaning to give money to, such as 'subsidise' and 'underwrite', are constantly being devalued through over-use, both by those applying for money and by those who disapprove of it being given, so new ones have to be found all the time.

Strand: As in 'our drama strand' or 'our new youth strand' - a meaningless word applied to some category of broadcasting which is given meaning only by having the word 'strand' applied to it.

Streetwise: Adjective applied to someone who is too smart to use words like 'streetwise' any more.

Street value: Name given to the amount of money which the police could get for drugs seized by them in a raid, if they chose to resell it. The announced street value of drugs always seems extremely high, but then the police have better contacts in the drugs world than the rest of us and could presumably get far better prices.

Supplement: Extra section supplied free by a newspaper for drawer-lining, fire-lighting, etc.

Tragedy: When a Conservative MP, of whom nobody has hitherto heard, dies wearing nothing but a pair of stockings and a carrier bag over his head and the whole world hoots with laughter; this is known by the damage limitation people as a great personal 'tragedy'.

Unjustified: Adjective used wistfully by Tory politicians about huge pay increases which company directors give to each other.

Wicked: Inexplicably, this now means good.

Would: Modern equivalent of 'do', as in: 'I would think that must be correct'.

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