Published: 9/05/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
Every now and again there is a new buzzword or phrase that you know is just not going to go away. Back in 2004, when George W Bush and friends came up with a "road map" for Middle East peace, you had the feeling it wasn't the last we had heard of that expression, and this has proven to be the case.
The road map has finally made its way to Thailand, and let's hope it's a little more successful than the Bush version. Unfortunately as we know, road maps in Thailand have to take into account assorted U-turns, potholes, dead-ends and even head-on collisions.
"Road map" is the sort of expression politicians dream about. It sounds very impressive despite being quite meaningless, but it doesn't matter as long as it impresses the general public. For the sake of peace in Thailand, let's wish the prime minister all the best with his road map. If things don't look too promising he should remember the old Harry Lauder song Keep Right on to the End of the Road and the words "Tho' you're tired and weary still journey on".
In recent years the "road map" expression has also come in very useful for anyone who serves on a committee and is called upon to comment on something they don't know anything about, which is usually the situation for Crutch. Even an incoherent mumble can sound quite authoritative as long as you lob in something like "road map" and a few other established buzzwords such as "window of opportunity", "grass roots" or the favourite in the past decade - "transparency". A mention of "re-engineering" or "synergy" also doesn't do any harm, as long as you don't have to explain what they mean. "Paradigm" is another trendy word that crops up despite the fact few people know what it means and even fewer how to pronounce it.
Never lost for words
Someone who should know all about buzzwords is an American gentleman called Ammon Shea who, according to The Times newspaper, recently read the entire 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover in just under one year. Just imagine - that's 59 million words, or 21,730 pages. And there's not even a plot. It certainly puts reading the average 350-page novel in its place.
Out of curiosity I tried reading just one page of an English dictionary this week and my head was spinning before I had even arrived at "abbey".
Mr Shea has since published a book entitled Reading the Oxford English Dictionary, highlighting some of the more exciting words he uncovered hidden deep in these hallowed tomes. One of the more useful words Mr Shea came across which is not in common use is bayard - "a person armed with the self-confidence of ignorance". So it looks like we have an alternative word for "politician".
Dog lovers might be interested in acnestis - "that part of an animal's back that the animal cannot reach to scratch". So next time you are playing with the dog, please give him or her a tickle on the acnestis, they'll appreciate it.
Past one's prime
Mr Shea also discovered a few more gems. Probably we all suffer at some stage from onomatomania - "vexation in having difficulty finding the right word", something George W knows all about. And for those who struggle on the social circuit, there's deipnophobia - "a fear of dinner parties".
Mr Shea unearthed a few uncommon words Crutch can certainly relate to. For a start, there is paracme - "the point at which one's prime is past". Then there is mafflard - "a stuttering or blundering fool" and somnificator - "one who induces sleep in others".
For trivia buffs, the last entry in the OED is "zyxt", a verb meaning "to see". Not the most exciting word, but extremely useful for Scrabble one would think.
Talk of the Devil
A lot of us turn to dictionaries for help, but that does not always work. I have an old Thai-English dictionary which informs us that the traditional beast of burden in Thailand is a "cuffalo". Then there's that common English expression, "beating about the bash". Someone who recognised the limitation of traditional dictionaries was journalist Ambrose Bierce, who described them as "a malevolent literary device for cramping the language and making it hard and inelastic". So he came up with his own Devil's Dictionary, an entertaining work which informs the public what words really mean.
In fact, his definition of politics comes all too close to home: "A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage."
Now that rings a bell.Playing with words
Although the OED reportedly accepts about 3,000 new words every year, not content with that, people like to play around with already established words and give them new meanings. The Washington Post has a yearly contest in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. Here's a recent sample:
Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs; Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained; Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent; Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown; Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp; Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller; Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.