The Good, the Wicked, and the Ugly.

“Tesco aims to make dough out of fashion for veganism”

The Good, the – er – Wicked, and the Ugly of (let’s call it) language evolution.

Almost 50 years ago my future thinking was influenced in various ways by reading on the liner (sorry, “sleeve”) notes of a British LP record[1]  the remark, “Whether we like it or not, cultural leadership in the twentieth Century has passed to America”. In the twenty-first, one might argue that it has passed to the supermarkets. In consequence I look to Tesco inter alia, and more pertinently I look at thoughtful articles about retail trends, for guidance on how to communicate effectively – as distinct from properly. It was encouraging, therefore, to encounter the delightful term “Flexitarian” in this BBC article; a newly-constructed word that, so far and pending its becoming hackneyed, declines to clog the arteries of our increasingly corrupted vocabulary. I note with interest, too, the Tesco branding of their new healthy-and-ethical vegan ready-meal range “Wicked”. Compare and contrast, indeed.

In a recent online conversation in which I participated an American correspondent asked whether a new use of that word was localised to his immediate area. In at least one part of the US “wicked” is in danger of becoming synonymous with “very”, as the newly “trending” (dear God I loathe that word) adjectival adverb of choice. When I mentioned the frequent use-not-usage of the word in British English in the sense of “so bad it’s good” and in the further-derived sense of mere ironic antonym, the general view was that it must be A Brit Thing. It was not something that bothered me greatly until now; quite the contrary in fact, for it is a pleasure to observe our language evolve with the folk-literacy of each era driving thoughtful, literate change. Not all change is negative, just as it is not all positive. Now, however, I can foresee my own appreciation of the contemporary styling of “wicked” starting to wane if this marketing initiative takes off, as its Street-Ironic becomes just another commodity term. And yet, I cannot find it in my heart to blame the marketing person who dreamed up the label, nor Tesco for adopting that particular brand name, for in the modern World Of The Supermarket the received wisdom is that we all must adopt and adapt to their ways in order to compete. That is all very fine of course, until you start to consider who started the fire. I fear this is the blind leading the blind. Only sometimes are “adopt” and “adapt” complemented by “improve”.

And so, to the Ugly. “Veganuary” is a bizarre mix of ethics and supermarketing. Far be it from me to condemn a worthy enough initiative that is both healthy and ethical in itself, albeit one which at “trending” prices remains the province of the privileged until and unless it catches on. I consider it not so much a right as a duty, however, to decry that word and brand in aesthetic terms as a hideous debasement of the language. How are you even supposed to pronounce it? No inflection that I can imagine respects all of the component syllables; I find it beyond disagreeable that such a ghastly construct should be attached to such a seemingly noble venture.

The vexing question remains, however, if a culture snob were planning to take his business elsewhere, where might such an individual go that remains immune?

[1] “The Contemporary Guitar Sampler”, Transatlantic Records UK, 1969. Compilation and commentary by Laurence Aston.

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