London, Writing

Using and abusing our weather-beaten words

Let’s talk about the weather.

Here in England, we had a massive snowfall last weekend. For those of you _99150865_express
living in Canada, or Japan or some parts of America like New Hampshire and Alaska, I imagine you’d wonder why this is post worthy.

But you’ve got to understand, we Brits can’t handle the weather. Like over-excited children, we get hysterical or throw tantrums at the tiny bit of weather. Windy? Rainy? Sunny? It’s too much to handle and we’re either immediately out in shorts to soak up what we laughably call warm weather, or barricading the door because it’s slightly windy out there and we’re about to lose the roof off our shed to the elements.

Other than praying for a snow day which never does me the honour of falling on a weekday, what I love about these weather events is the press coverage. I _99150686_metromaintain that there is no other press in the world which can cover a change in weather with the same panic and yet sardonically report the ‘end of the world’ as a matter of stiff up a lip.

And one of my favourite phrases kept cropping up this week. Treacherous ice. Over and over again, there were reports of treacherous ice. Treacherous, like ice, is supposed to be on our side. Like we have been betrayed by this hardening of water.

We’re not simply anthropomorphizing the weather. The most recent phrase coined is ‘snow bomb’. As in, devastating and came out of nowhere. Just like it did last year. Though, I will admit, it has come earlier and with more of a punch than it has in my memory.

If made me think about how we use words and how one word is thrown _99150940_mirroraround as punctuation, like like and yeah and basically. And another can irreparably shape the way you look at something.

Some words are just emotive. They’re laden with a history and usage which makes them more than the sum of their letters. This is what politicians and spin doctors spend their time thinking about, because they know that the right word in the right place is more powerful than facts and figures. And this isn’t necessarily ‘fake news’ or if it is, it’s one we self-impose on ourselves by giving certain words more weight than others.

Twenty years ago, the word terrorism was never used. Now it’s one we’ve all grown to hear and fear, even when it’s not there. Brexit wasn’t even a word three years ago, now there’s hard Brexit, soft Brexit, fluffy Brexit and still no one can actually tell you what Brexit means. Even at its most basic level, why do we say we’re exhausted rather than tired? Because we’re trying to convey that we’re more tired than just tired. In our minds, one word means more than the other, despite the fact they’re side by side in a thesaurus.

This is all tied up with my love of words. And not just for the words themselves but the use, the poetry and even weaponization of words. Just listen to two people speaking to each other and you’ll hear how we use words in ways which defy their definitions in dictionaries.

Maybe words are a bit like snow. Exciting and special, and a little magical. You’re able to build with it, or play with it – make something complex out of a billion little words. And when they come as a deluge, they can cause chaos. But in the end, they’re as insubstantial as snowflakes.

And words can be just as treacherous as snow.

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