Sunday, April 16, 2006

Humpty Dumpty Rules!

click photo to enlarge
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less."
from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Have you noticed how many words have lost their meaning, or at least gained a new meaning that has nothing to do with what they originally meant? Take the word "next". Pretty straightforward you'd think. The commonest meaning is "immediately following, as in time, order or sequence." But no. To people working in television it means, "in 5 minutes time after this batch of adverts, and a trailer for a forthcoming programme, and an interminable animated station logo, and a further advert from the programme sponsor!" So, when the TV continuity person tells you that the programme you're waiting for is "coming up next", you know you've got time to relieve yourself, make a cup of coffee, and read "War and Peace", before you finally settle down for your evening's viewing!

Or what about the word "village". It clearly means "a rural settlement, between a hamlet and a town in size". So why, quite near where I live, is there a large new building - a health centre with doctors' surgeries, a pharmacist, dentists, etc. - describing itself in letters three feet tall as a "Health Village"? A single building as a village? Any self-respecting real village has a green, a church, a shop, quite a few houses and a village idiot. Mmmm, I wonder who thought up the name "Health Village?

And how about "boutique". For someone of my age it means a small clothes shop selling current fashions a la Mary Quant. The dictionary widens that definition to a small shop or business selling specialized products. That being the case, what on earth is a "boutique hotel"? When you book in are you offered a new outfit to complement the decor of your room? Do you have to shuffle past rails of clothes to get your place in the dining room? What goes on in such an establishment that differentiates it from a plain vanilla hotel? I can't imagine.

I only noticed this particular appellation, written in small print on the black fascia, after I'd taken my photograph of this hotel frontage. What had attracted my attention was the splendid green and cream Art Nouveau tilework panels set in a fairly traditional shop front, and I thought it worthy of a shot. Late C19/early C20 survivals of this sort are lost each year, so it's always wise to record such things. Careful observers will also note the photographer (with family in tow) reflected in the window!

After I wrote this Bill Turner did some spadework for me and looked up the definition of a boutique hotel. Thanks Bill. As I suspected, it's semi-literate marketing-speak. The word "boutique" has been appropriated for no good reason other than someone's ignorance and laziness. Other words abound that could have been used. Humpty Dumpty Rules , OK!
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen