WORDS; Attitude

Related Topics
THE advertisement in a morning paper showed a group of four people relaxing in a fitted kitchen before, or perhaps after, an evidently delicious meal. They are all beautifully dressed, drinks in hand, and one of them has apparently just uttered another witticism. "This," says the legend, "is a kitchen with attitude, designed to make a strong statement in your home." The reference was to the kitchen, not to the people in it. It was a nice example of what John Ruskin called the pathetic fallacy, or the transference of the viewer's emotions to the external object being viewed. We have long been used to works of art or clothes or kitchens making statements on behalf of their creators, and why not, but kitchens with attitude are a comparatively recent arrival.

Another advertisement, this time from a posh hotel in Bombay, tells us on its website that it "surpasses the track record in terms of dedicated service and attitude for its clients". Here it's not clear whether it's the staff or the hotel itself that has attitude, but I think it must be the hotel. Whichever, attitude is the thing to have. Attitude is Everything is the title of a new book by Jeff Keller, president of Attitude is Everything Inc, which claims that success is "a matter of having a positive attitude and applying motivational principles on a daily basis". Mr Keller may not have grasped that "having an attitude", whether positive or negative, is not the same as "attitude" all by itself.

The word has come quite a way since it first lost a "the" or an "an" in front of it. This use of it has been said to derive, as Tony Thorne explains in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang, "from the black American prisoners' shortening of the white authority figures' phrases `bad/negative/antisocial attitude'." My old headmaster used to use much the same phrases about us pupils, and we took them for granted. But it would have seemed obvious to black American prisoners that if "attitude" was a bad word among the authority figures, so far as they themselves were concerned it must surely be a good one. It meant keeping a bit of personal dignity and standing up to the screws.

Attitude began life as a 17th-century version of aptitude in its sense of "disposition" and was a technical term among artists for the posture of a figure in a painting or statue. By the next century it was being used in a general way for people's body language. It wasn't till the century after that that it became a metaphor for their frame of mind, and not till rather less than 30 years ago that it was able to stand on its own. Once out of prison, it could walk the streets with a swagger.

But it isn't the sort of swagger being shown by those nice people in the advertisement or by their expensive kitchen. For the word has changed again. It is being tamed. All it means now is "style". I suppose it could be said to have gone up in the world, but it's not half the word it was.


React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher Cornwall

£21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

Year 5 Teacher

£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

Software Developer

£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: A huge step forward in medical science, but we're not all the way there yet

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
David Cameron has painted a scary picture of what life would be like under a Labour government  

You want constitutional change? Fixed-term parliaments have already done the job

Steve Richards
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album