Guest Blog by Mark Wall: Words, Society and Change

How do we make judgments about the development of our zeitgeist?  There are various ways to measure how society is changing.  One way, perhaps not totally scientific but certainly very British, is a close examination of the development of the concise Oxford English Dictionary.  Every year Oxford University Press produces a list of words or phrases that they now consider to be sufficiently embedded in our vernacular to merit a dictionary entry. Words that are in regular usage; accepted as concepts we all need to understand and use.  This year’s list is as fascinating as ever.

We can now recognise a “person who refuses to admit the truth of a concept or proposition that is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence” as a denialist, and “a woman with exceptional domestic skills, especially cookery” as a domestic goddess.

The latter may be involved in “food that is carefully produced or prepared in accordance with local culinary traditions” or slow food, and if we enjoy that we will all respond with a woot used, of course,  to “express elation, enthusiasm, or triumph” (although perhaps not recommended for anyone of middle age or above). And if we all go too far and become obese we will be able to ask for “a silicone device placed around the upper section of the stomach to restrict the amount of food that can be comfortably eaten” or a gastric band.

What does all this tell us?  Fashion has changed, medicine has changed, communication has changed.  But have we?

Well perhaps not as much as we’d like to.  In the very first edition of the OED, published 100 years ago in 1911, poverty was still a recognised word, as was virus.  The concepts have changed, the understanding has developed, but the problems not solved.

And what else has gone?  Well, in the 1911 version there was a growlery, defined as “place to growl in, private room, den”.

First used by Dickens in “Bleak House”, growlery  was the place Mr Jarndyce  went when he was “out of humour” and needed a safe place; a retreat for times of ill humour. The advantage was that you could put anything you like in the growlery; fill it with things that made you feel better when life was too much.  A room to look after yourself, process your negative thoughts, and re-energise.

Sounds good.  And it is telling that the word no longer exists and has no obvious replacement

We could do with some today, as the possible modern equivalents – pubs, gyms, churches – all have their own rules and so limitations.  Would a growlery help community tension, personal angst and reduce our stress levels?  Maybe popping into such a place on the way home would benefit our personal relationships and ensure we don’t explode inappropriately in the wrong place.

So, I’m a big fan of the domestic goddess, and am relieved that we now have an accepted concept to challenge the denialists of the world.  But it’s not all progress and I’d like to announce my campaign for the return of the growlery.  It sounds far more manly than a chill-out zone. Join me, but don’t moan if we get it wrong.

Mark Wall is Director of Mark Wall Communications and an Associate at The Campaign Company and can be followed on Twitter @markwallcomms. He writes for TCC on a range of Communications issues. If you want to see what your primary values set is, why not take the simple Values Questionnaire here.

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One Response to “Guest Blog by Mark Wall: Words, Society and Change”

  1. Why we need a growlery | markwallcomms Says:

    […] I am the guest blogger for The Campaign Company.  Read my blog by going to their website here  https://thecampaigncompany.wordpress.com/2011/09/05/guest-blog-by-mark-wall-words-society-and-change/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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