words : Robust

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The Independent Online
VOGUE words come and go. Fabulous is pretty well finished, and fascinating has been sent packing, to eke out its days among the second-rate blurb- writers. In the 1960s desperately was the in-word for very. Another 30 years back, the chatterers' expression for bad was wan, for good divine (today we'd think they meant pale or godlike).

A new one for the mid-90s is robust. A Lib-Dem spokesman calls on the Labour Party to be robust in its transport policy. Consumer spending in the States is looking robust, the Times's business section tells us. It's a pity our attitude towards Mr Karadzic is not as robust as the French, writes Andrew Neil, that warrior-poet, in a gung-ho piece in the Sunday Times. Jazzwoman Pam Hird blows a robust New Orleans trumpet. And there's a punchy white minervois which, according to wine buff Jilly Goolden, has "robust grape and vanilla flavours with a lingering cream custard flavour".

The last example is on its own, robust being part of a precise vocabulary understood by all. As my wine encyclopedia explains, it's a milder form of aggressive, which is the opposite of soft and smooth, which is more extreme than round, you must see what I mean. The business usage, likewise, is part of City editors' jargon. The rest are vaguer - the word could be exchanged for various others, such as strong (its Latin meaning) or healthy or steadfast or tough or jingoistic or even, as in the case of the trumpet, loud. But time and again the choice falls on robust, which is also increasingly the word for rude and insulting. Why? Some will say this vigorous word is playing its part in a male backlash against triumphant feminism. I'm not sure. Could be just fashion.

Nicholas Bagnall