In the reception area at my local GP surgery, there is a small notice that says “Have you had Great Care today?”
I can’t honestly say I have ever seen the words “great” and “care” juxtaposed (except in the context of “taking great care” over something, which is not what is meant here, I fear), and seeing them together today made it feel as though I was witnessing a milestone in the deterioration of language.
Every era – every generation – has its own special words, of course, and in the age of communications – radio, TV, computers, mobile phones – it does not take long for a particular word to become fashionable. In the 1960s, thanks to a certain TV pop show, everything suddenly became “fabulous”, at least for the younger generation. I forget what followed, but in more recent times we have had “wicked”, “awesome”, and even, I understand – something I find difficult to grasp in terms of a superlative, which is probably the point of it – “sick”.
These words tend to be “in” for a short while before being replaced by something else. Sometimes they can even come back. In recent times we have seen the return of “cool”, a word that, for me, sums up the pre-1960s, US-obsessed generation; it amuses me that probably a lot of people who used it (and still use it) thought it was a modern term.
But nowadays it seems that either the process of finding new “in” words has slowed, or we have simply run out of them. For some time now, it has been disturbingly common to find “great” used as an all-purpose superlative, and one cringes at its use in one inappropriate context after the other. However, “great care” surely breaks all the records for crassness.
It is not, unfortunately, an isolated example. Views are almost universally described as “stunning”, rendering that word almost meaningless. This occurs, not just in the writings of estate agents (never known for their command of language) but also in brochures and websites on holiday cottages. Now surely, if there is any group of people who ought to have the full richness of language at their disposal, it is those whose job involves convincing us of the delights of a particular holiday location; surely they could chuck in the odd “arresting”, “breathtaking”, or even – heaven forbid – the occasional “beautiful”? Yet all we get are stunning views. But then, since people in the holiday industry also habitually refer to the cottages as “properties”, it is clear that they are in fact the same people as those writing the estate agents’ blurb. How else can one understand the use of a term which emphasises the role of a house as a commodity or investment, in a context in which we are supposed to see it very differently – as a cosy nook? In fact, I’ve noticed that even the Youth Hostel Association now describes its hostels as “properties”. They just don’t get it, do they?