Monday, May 30, 2005
Language and Homes
The UK is famously a nation of shopkeepers, but increasingly (since Mrs Thatcher's push for wealth for the individual and release of the nation's social housing stock) a notion of homeowners also. Watching a few TV programmes recently, I have become annoyed with the way in which this has meant that estate agency culture is starting to influence language (and hence the way we think about housing). One of the signal words for me is "property", which now only appears to be used in the context of houses and flats, but there are other worrying signs. The couples on TV are expressing increasingly passive opinions about housing (not "I don't really like it", but - as I heard today, "it doesn't have the X-factor" as if that were a quality that existed in anyone's eyes other than their own) and purely evaluating "properties" for investment potential rather than as homes. I think my least favourite is "outside space" or "outside living space" - funnily enough I thought the words "garden" or "outside" would cover this territory well enough, but the increasing commoditification of the home means that the available leisure-time activities have to be spelled out. So people are ripping up patios to put down decking, forgetting that the loveable British weather has always meant that "outside living" is a fleeting and enigmatic activity for the Anglo-Saxons... hmm - on Friday I was accused of being a "Grumpy Old Man" - maybe this annoyance with the estate agent's brochure-speak influencing our own way of referring to things is just another sign of this!