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Watch your language!

Nov 13, 2017

I was recently having a feel of a cucumber. 

I know that this sounds like the opening line to a ‘Carry On’ film, but I just couldn’t work out why we used the term ‘as cool as a cucumber’; it really didn’t feel all that cool to me. Why not as cool as a block of ice or as cool as a refrigerator? This would seem to have much more logic. Would you expect to have a simile that expressed somebody as being ‘as intelligent as a purple sprouting broccoli’? I rest my case. Although having had an earlier encounter with our local traffic warden …. 

As it was a particularly rainy day I decided to investigate further (raining cats and dogs - where did that come from?).  Anyway I digress; back to the item in question. Apparently the inside of a cucumber can be as much as 20 degrees centigrade cooler than the ambient temperature; so that makes some sense of this conundrum and of course it explains why it makes a perfect additive to a Pimms or a gin and tonic (apparently). But does it really? 

This fascinating investigation was brought about after I read an article in our local newspaper which described somebody ‘looking as cool as a cucumber before he took a bungee jump’, which caused me to wonder whether he was either looking like a cucumber or was he just looking cool. The thought of somebody who looked like a cucumber dangling on the end a rather thick rubber band really stretched my imagination a bit too far (pun intended). 

Perhaps what this does demonstrate, more than anything else, is what an exciting time retirement is, but communication can often be highly confusing and people frequently say the opposite of what they really mean. For example when you are trying to sell something to a potential buyer. Let’s assume that you have your house on the market and you are showing someone around, if their response is ‘interesting’ then they are probably not a bit interested. Whereas if they say ‘not interested’, it can often mean that they are very interested but hope to obtain a lower price. 

When somebody preambles a statement with the words ‘to tell you the truth’, it is often because they are about to tell you a lie. This whole state of affairs is made more confusing by the fact that our use of words develops and changes according to fashion. There is nothing wrong with this - that’s why we’ve been blessed with one of the most expressive languages in the world - but consider for example the words ‘actor’ and ‘actress’ which would effortlessly communicate the gender of the person in question. It now seems to have been decreed at some juncture (by whom?) that this usage was too ‘gender specific’. So now only the word ‘actor’ is considered acceptable. The problem is that (and I heard this on the TV only yesterday) it now becomes necessary on many occasions to use the words ‘male actor’ or ‘female actor'. Well surely that’s how the original usage evolved as a kind of shorthand. 

The subject of word evolution is quite fascinating and can occur almost overnight. For example, have you noticed that when somebody is giving an answer to a question these days they will often now begin by saying ‘So …’.  Where this trait comes from I’m not quite sure and maybe by the time this article is published things will have moved on, but have a listen out for it. 

What about our adoption of the original American use of the word ‘guy’. This just came from nowhere but is now considered by most of the general populace to be a very groovy - look, you younger readers, I know that the word ‘groovy’ is years out of date, but I am only using it in the ironic sense! I’m pretty sure that the word ‘guy’ is out of date anyway as it is now freely employed by the older generation, who before they use it generally give a little breathy pause and a slight shrug of the shoulders. 

So, fashion is very much a factor, and I must say that it’s rather like clothes. The moment I start to wear narrower trousers suddenly flares are coming in, and the last time I wore flares the word ‘groovy’ was, well, groovy! 

We seem to have digressed by quite a long way since my first mention of a cucumber, but I hope that you won’t have a problem digesting what I’ve written. I remember a doctor friend once saying to me that, from a dietary point of view this vegetable was a complete waste of time. His advice was to finely slice it and then put it straight in the bin. Cool! 

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