No one lets a 'disc' slip out nowadays

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The Independent Online
WHILE listening to Sir Peregrine Worsthorne choosing his Desert Island Discs on Sunday, I found myself set off on a long train of thought by something he said. Not by his nomination, as his luxury, of a selection of mind-expanding drugs - the kind, he claimed, that the young had been urging him to try all these years (and it must be the first time that anyone has chosen for his Plomley Island luxury something which he has never even tried before) - but by his reference to records as 'discs'.

What seemed odd about this is that nobody I know ever calls records 'discs'. The word is familiar enough from terms such as compact discs, or even Desert Island Discs, but does anyone, apart from P Worsthorne, ever use the word by itself? When was the last time someone went into a record shop and asked for the latest disc by Madonna? It would be like asking for the latest platter by the Platters, or something by Pavarotti on microgroove.

The next stop was to look up 'disc' in Jonathon Green's New Words, the forthcoming paperback version of last year's Neologisms, which lists usages new since 1960. 'Disc' was too old to be in there, though 'disco' was still hovering around, and it was nice to find that such apparently ageless phrases as 'Catch-22' had been quite unknown in 1960. (Joseph Heller's book was published in 1961.)

The next stop was to go on browsing through Green's book, and to realise that although many neologisms are genuinely new coinages describing genuinely new things (miniskirt, microwave cooker, modem), many others are simply old words updated or given a new function. Deck, for record turntable, for instance. Thrust, for main argument. Core, for central feature. 'Doing your own thing,' says Green, 'was the core curriculum of the Sixties hippie,' and I am sure he is right.

From there to realising something that is presumably outwith Green's brief, namely that it is becoming more and more common in Britain to put several words like this together to make a new one. 'Line', for instance, has come to mean 'a phone number you can ring for help'. 'Care' has come to mean 'A service provided for people who need that service'. 'Link' has come to mean 'a bus service laid on for people who can't get there any other way'.

So, for instance, I spotted in a mainline London station recently a sign that read 'Carelink', followed by an arrow. I had never seen the word before, but immediately guessed it was a bus service for people handicapped in some way. I saw in my local post office the other day a sign headed 'Dementia Careline', and although my first instinct was to think what a nice old-fashioned Victorian name that was, my second, and I am sure more correct, instinct was that it was the announcement of some helpline. (Helpline - a number you can ring for advice, though probably not help or aid. Aid, of course, is a rock concert put on for a good cause.)

'Strand' has also acquired a new layer of meaning, though too late for Green to offer an opinion on. Broadcasters, especially heads of radio stations, are fond of talking about broadcasting strands, though I haven't the faintest idea what they are. And FM has become so familiar as the suffix of radio stations that you are now starting to hear about joke stations dubbed something-or-other-FM.

Again, -world is becoming familiar as the suffix of theme buildings. If you see the term Seaworld or Oceanworld, you should know that you are passing a souped-up aquarium. (Radio 4's On The Hour had a very convincing mock-commercial the other day for Wormworld, said to be Cornwall's biggest underground nature display.)

The Japanese have been dabbling in this sort of building- block word formation for a long time, hence Walkman. So have the French, actually. For instance, they have a neologism in French for someone who shares a world record with someone else - 'corecordman'. The German language more or less depends on it. And now at last the English are cottoning on, so that if I were to announce an Aidsaid concert, you would have a reasonable chance of knowing what I meant. Similarly with a Railaircarelink, or an editor- driven newspaper.

Editor, of course, is an old- fashioned term for someone who manages to run a newspaper without the aid of a knighthood. Which brings the train of thought back to the station known as Sir Peregrine Worsthorne.