A walk on the sad side of words

21st January 2000 at 00:00
GREAT news for translators - the Tower of Babel is back.

Just when we seemed to be developing a common language (spoken by everyone but the French) so the perennial need for human diversity reasserts itself.

I was reminded of this at the weekend, when my suggestion that we went for a family walk was greeted with gales of disbelief and laughter. Over the years I've got used to the fact that my elder daughter and I only appear to speak the same language.

Since I discovered that Sarah considered her mother sad for thinking that word still meant "unhappy" we've had to cope with a flood of new definitions. When I was young "anorak" and "Horlicks" were not terms of abuse.

Neither would you consider "boot", "out" or "scroll" to be verbs. To me a "mouse" on your desktop meant rodent infestation and a "walker" was someone who chose to exercise at weekends by getting from A to B without the use of a car.

Not so. It seems today that a "walker" is a male escort paid to accompany a woman in public which explains why my insistence that "Grandpa was a great alker in his time" induced such gales of incredulous hilarity.

Yet mark my antiquated words, redefinition says a lot about society. A word must first fall into disuse. "Gay" was appropriated for homosexuality at a time when our glum society no longer had a use for the concept.

"Bad" was given positive connotations during a period of moral uncertainty, when we had become very cautious about expressing censure. If "walking" has developed a new meaning today, this indicates that the original use to which the word was put is fast becoming obsolete. Parents of my generation have not brought up their children to walk. We drive them everywhere and give our daughters money to come home in a taxi. School buses take care of the school journey. Shopping is done trolley-pushing out of town.

Who walks today? Sarah and Ginny understand putting one foot in front of another, but only when it's called "window shopping". Doing so in order to look at the countryside in the company of your parents? That's seriously for Saddos.

And it saddens me to think so.

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