It is always nice to get letters from people who read this column/blog.
And so I was extremely pleased to receive a lovely note from a Bathampton lady called Pam who said that she enjoyed this column and the other ones on the opinion page of the Chronicle . There was, however, a sting in the tail which I hope Pam won’t mind me sharing.
Her note said: “May I make a small request of you? In nearly every column you write there appears the words ‘boy oh boy’. A habit perhaps? What does it add to the general sense of what you write? Please could you erase it from your opinion page – I would really appreciate that”.
To be honest, I was a bit taken aback by this. I though I must have used the phrase once or twice – but do I really use it that often?
Sadly (for me) the answer was quickly at hand. The letter had been, ahem, ‘helpfully’ read out to the whole editorial team by our reporter Siobhan and immediately one or two of my colleagues checked our computerised archive to see if Pam was right and I was wrong.
To my amazement we found (and it’s a good job this isn’t a video column otherwise you would see my cheeks blazing red) that over the years the phrase ‘boy oh boy’ had emanated from my computer keys and into print no less than 15 times. And, pointedly (and perhaps this is why my new Bathampton friend decided to write) it had appeared every month for the past four.
What made me flabbergasted is that this is not a phrase I thought I used very often but the printed words cannot lie (well, some of them can but that’s another story). I found I’d used it to write about everything from Monty Python to the BNP appearing on Question Time.
How utterly embarrassing.
I think, on reflection, I’ve probably latched on to phrases such as this in everyday life because – and I think I may be an exclusive editor’s club of one on this – I do not swear. Ever since my children were little (the best part of 20 years now), I have managed to avoid swearing which has perplexed many of those around me who find it utterly incredible.
I remember somebody once saying “but what on earth do you say if you hit your thumb with a hammer while hanging something up”? I just looked at them, equally bewildered, and said “ouch, of course”.
I suppose what this whole incident has done – apart from causing much merriment to my colleagues which is never a bad thing on a tense Wednesday deadline – is to prove that even when we may not notice it we can all slip into our own chosen phrases and words rather too easily.
I know, for example, that too many things in my world are ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ or ‘bizarre’ because they happen to be three of my favourite words. But, just as every English teacher has taught their pupils for decades about overusing the word ‘nice’ I think Pam has given me a timely reminder that the English language is a glorious, multi-faceted object of beauty and we should all try and use our own internal Thesaurus’s more often.