Aussie Life

Language

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

16 April 2022

9:00 AM

The word ‘fatigue’ has been part of the English language since at least 1693. It comes from a French source word, behind which seems to be a Latin word that probably meant yawning! But there’s more than one type of fatigue, so it’s common these days to add an adjective to the noun. For instance, there’s ‘compassion fatigue’ – said to be brought on by too many appeals to the populace for help when one disaster is followed by another. Then there’s ‘driver fatigue’ – the sort of thing that can kill you on a long journey if you don’t take regular breaks. And now there’s ‘password fatigue’. According to the Word Spy website ‘password fatigue’ is ‘mental exhaustion and frustration caused by having to remember too many passwords’. And you know you have ‘password fatigue’ when you go to an ATM and try to withdraw money using your email password.

Journalists are fond of inventing labels for outrageous stories. At one time such stories were called ‘Hey Marthas’ – because they were the sort of story that would make George lower his copy of the New York Post and say to his wife: ‘Hey Martha, it says here…’ Well, now a new name for such stories has been coined. They are now called ‘coffee-spitters’ – stories or headlines so outrageous, shocking, funny or upsetting that when you hear or read one you splutter and spray your coffee all over the place. For instance, one paper used ‘coffee-spitter’ to describe a story about folk stripping naked to protest the Russian invasion of Ukraine. You might like to try working this one into your conversation: ‘Hey! Have I got a bit of gossip for you – and it’s a real coffee-spitter.’ Mind you, if you have got some ‘coffee-spitter’ gossip you could always try that great line: ‘I never repeat gossip… so listen very carefully!’

It’s election time and that means it’s up to the ‘hoi polloi’ to decide who governs Australia. ‘Hoi polloi’ comes from the Greek and means, literally, ‘the many’. It is used, generally, to mean the majority, the masses, or the rabble. The earliest use (in this sense) is by Dryden in 1668. Two issues arise from ‘hoi polloi’. One is its common misuse to mean the upper class, when, in fact it means the very opposite. This is simply wrong: don’t do it. The other is the usage question of whether to put the definite article in front of ‘hoi polloi’ (as I did in the first sentence of this paragraph). The argument is that ‘hoi’ is the definite article, so by saying ‘the hoi polloi’ one is, in effect saying: ‘the the many’. Strictly speaking that’s correct, but proper English usage requires the definite article. It would sound odd in English to say: the common opinion of ‘hoi polloi’; while it is fine to say: the common opinion of ‘the hoi polloi’. The OED recognises this same point, and has a usage note to that effect.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Contact Kel at ozwords.com.au

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10


Show comments
Close