Mark Andrews: Let's consign gaslighting to the waste and recycling centre

Don't mention the tip! If, in some admittedly unlikely scenario, the BBC decided to remake Fawlty Towers in Walsall, it would be the rubbish dump rather than the Second World War that would be the great unmentionable for a heavily concussed Basil Fawlty.

gaslight
to go with wartime entertainments
gaslight to go with wartime entertainments

The authority has announced plans – or should that be "unveiled ambitious plans" – to turn a derelict industrial site into an exciting new 'super tip'.

Except that nobody is allowed to call it the tip. Walsall Council is very touchy about this, and wants it to be henceforth known as the, much snappier, 'household waste and recycling centre'. Or HWRC for short.

Somehow, I really can't see that catching on. It's an intriguing proposition, but it just seems hard to imagine the average harassed mother shouting at her kids "your bedroom looks like a household waste and recycling centre, tidy it up at once!"

The trouble is, we live in the age of the euphemism, where nothing can actually be described as it actually is. Public bodies, in particular, seem to spend most of their time dreaming up convoluted new Orwellian terminology, always using five long words when one short one will do. And if anyone can think up a contrived acronym to abbreviate it, they will be a shoo-in come the works' awards bash.

The dilemma about what to call the council tip is hardly a new one, though. I remember back in the 1990s a council spokesman talking about gipsies – sorry, travellers – camping outside the 'civic amenities site', and not having the faintest idea what he was talking about. Then there was the tip that served two neighbouring authorities, each with its own unique name for where you dump your rubbish. Which made following the direction signs somewhat confusing as you crossed the council boundaries.

There was a period, probably about 20 years ago, when it seemed compulsory for every public figure to talk about 'stakeholders', which as far as I understood meant people who used public services. But that was the era when 'inclusivity' meant talking in terminology that only half a dozen people could understand.

Then there are the Americanisms. For a while I tried pleading with people to stop talking about the 'train station', but it quickly drained the energy from me. Similarly, nobody seems to talk about the second series of Minder any more, it's always the 'second season'.

I also blame the Yanks for the fad of turning nouns into verbs, and vice-versa. Recently completed buildings are now 'new builds', and any difficult question is a 'big ask'. People aren't invited to functions, they get 'invites'. Instead of telling you the sex of their baby, expectant mothers (can you still call them that?) have 'gender reveals'. Olympians don't win events, they 'medal'.

For this reason alone, I take my hat off to former US presidential contender Mike Huckabee who took a courageous stand against this awful abuse of the English language during his 2008 tilt at the White House. When asked how he spent the summer months in his youth, he issued the sharp retort: “For my family, summer was never a verb. We never summered anywhere."

That said, maybe I should leave my hat alone. Another annoying fad is the over-use of metaphors. Barely a day goes by without somebody 'jumping the shark', 'using leverage', 'getting their ducks in a row' or 'lacking the bandwidth'. It's surely a no-brainer to knock all this nonsense on the head.

Most hateful of all is 'gaslighting', which achieves the dubious hat-trick (sorry) of being a noun-as-a-verb, an Americanism and a clumsy metaphor all at once. More to the point, what does it mean? I don't think anybody knows, they just one slip it into a sentence to sound trendy.

The odd thing is that those who talk of 'gaslighting' are invariably the type you would expect to be offended by such terminology. For a start, anybody with experience of modern officialdom knows that street illumination should always be referred to as 'lighting columns'. Moreover, talk of gaslighting legitimises, if not encourages, the use of fossil fuels. Surely 'using lighting columns powered by sustainable energy' would be more appropriate?

What we really need is our own Mike Huckabee, someone who will shut up about all the boring things they have little influence over anyway, and just focus on repairing the damage done to our language over the past couple of decades.

I think, as our American cousins say, we have "reached a tipping point". Or "reached a household waste and recycling centring point" as they say in Walsall.

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