“Lowly words raised to high estate, humdrum terms invested with a picturesque and individual life or not unattractive general currency”

ERIC PARTRIDGE - Usage and Abusage

Maybe it’s because I am getting old or like Rip Van Winkle I have been asleep for the last twenty years or maybe I’m just thick but something strange seems to be happening to our language. A whole gabble of words that I have never seen before have recently appeared and left me baffled. Even my trusty English O Level has left me struggling with these apparent newcomers like ‘meme’, ‘dench’, ‘uber’, ‘elancer’, and the most ubiquitous of them all - ‘trope’!

paul greengrass

Paul Greengrass the director of the new film “Jason Bourne” used the word ‘trope’ about a dozen times in a 3 minute interview on Radio 4 last week and left none of us any the wiser.

Of course as one grows older we do tend to lose a grip on the modern world and its manifestations - PC’s, tablets, GPS, smart phones, apps and similar examples of the programmer’s art. When people tell me that these devices are ‘intuitive’ (huh?) and even an eight year old can understand them I feel like rushing out into the streets and asking an eight year old to tell me if I should upgrade to Windows 10 or not. Chief I Spy and children The only trouble is the 8 year olds on the streets are now all playing Pokémon GO - the modern variant of the ‘I Spy’ books that I grew up with in the 1950’s. Who remembers ‘Big Chief I -Spy?”

So what do these ‘new’ words actually mean? To find the answer I used a book.

TROPE:- a word, phrase, or image used in a new, non-literal and different way in order to create an artistic effect.


  • ‘rainy day’ - a future time of shortage as in “saving money for a rainy day”
  • ‘blind alley’ - unproductive action as in “all the clues led the police into a blind alley”.

MEME:- an idea, behaviour, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture - often proliferated through the internet, E mail and social media. (Richard Dawkins coined the word meme in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene)

UBER:- Nothing to do with taxis - Uber means ‘extremely’, ‘outstanding’, ‘very’ as in “he’s uber-cool” or “she’s uber-attractive”. The word is German.

DENCH:- Nothing to do with Dame Judy. It means ‘impressive’, fashionable’ or ‘attractive’ or should I say ‘uber-attractive’.

ELANCER:- a person who works from home providing goods or services over the internet

topshop frow

I stumbled upon another newbie this week. ‘Frow’. It accompanied a photograph of Sir Philip Green, Ann Wintour, Kate Moss and their trendy chums sitting on ‘the frow’ (front row) at the Top Shop Fashion Show. Given the company I think that I would have opted for the ‘brow’ so that I could make a quick escape.

Tajikistan, one of central Europe’s most repressive states, plans to fine journalists who use “incomprehensible” words in their reports, according to Gavhar Sharifzoda, the head of Tajikistan’s state language committee. “There are cases when journalists use as many as 10 words in one day that the simple reader cannot comprehend. This grossly violates the norms of state language” she said. Fines will range from £50 to £75 for individuals up to £150 for state officials and organisations.

THE GUARDIAN Wednesday 3rd August

Jessica Ennis Hill

Oh no! Another two have just appeared from out of the Olympics. The first was a reference to Jessica Ennis-Hill’s ‘peebee’ which I had to think about until I realised that it meant P.B, as is “personal best”. The other was a freshly formed verb - ‘to medal’. The context was “Argentina hasn’t medalled yet”..meaning that Argentina hadn’t won any medals at the time. I could complain I suppose but I don’t want to meddle.

– from Martyn Day