Sunday, 3 May 2015

Blowing in the Wind

Have you noticed how certain words and phrases you have never heard of before suddenly emerge as normal parts of everyday speech - or at least they become a regular part of the vocabulary of people who talk on Radio 4 and who write columns in newspapers?

These neologisms don't always last for long, although sometimes they become part of the linguistic furniture for decades. Whether they are fleeting or permanent is irrelevant in my experience, since I rarely manage to grasp precisely what they mean, no matter how long they hang around.

At the moment, the two that I seem to encounter daily are:

1. "binary". Things are very rarely binary apparently. We should not be presented with choices that our merely binary. Problems do not submit to binary solutions. What is the alternative to a binary solution? A solution in triplicate? A pluralist solution? No solution at all is usually the answer.

2. "transactional". I first heard this at dinner one evening when the EU official next to me observed that "Britain has always preferred a transactional approach" to the Union. The next day a young pregnant woman told me that her obstetrician was good but very "transactional". Since then it's been a "transactional" snowstorm, hardly a conversation has gone by without someone referring to something as being "transactional". No idea whatsoever what it means. It's a good yardstick for working out whether someone's a bit of a bore though - if they use it, chances are they might be.


  1. Back in the 1970s one heard of Transactional Analysis, which I took to be a school of psychology that analyzed personal interactions on their own, without trying to trace causes back indefinitely. I assume that the young woman meant "businesslike" and that the official meant that the UK evaluates its dealings with the EU on a case-by-case basis, and reserves the right to follow its own course if that seems good. But a "transactional snowstorm" sounds as if somebody mixed up transactional and transitory, and thought that "brief" or "passing" sounded too plain.

    1. I suspect if you use terms like 'transactional' you get transactional treatment - your doctor is possibly so puzzled by what you actually mean that they forget to be warm and friendly.