For my birthday today I asked for ,and received, an early edition of John Bunyans Pilgrims Progress. This piece of 17th century English literature was something I absolutely loathed studying at school. However, I've recently come to realise that everyday English as spoken in England is rapidly losing much of the richness and diversity that used to be its hallmark . It might be dumbing down but more probably it's just that people use fewer words to convey their thoughts. I'm going to use my time this summer to revisit some of those dutiful works that underpinned the sense of our cultural 'exceptionalism' and rediscover some of my lost vocabulary. The font of all knowledge says it's a sign of middle age.
What got me started on this rediscovery of language was a conversation with a friend who developed cancer ( thankfully now cured ). I naturally told him that he would be in our 'thoughts and prayers'. I didn't mean the 'prayer' part so much in an overtly religious way but rather in the sense that his travails would not be shouldered alone and that we would be there whenever needed. He expressed appreciation for our support but made an interesting statement that people today are deeply embarrased about showing personal feelings. Most people would say 'you're in our thoughts' but would find it difficult to express their feelings in a less general and more personal way. They certainly wouldn't say you're 'in our prayers' in case it caused offence. Previous generations of course had wonderful stock formulas for dealing with lifes different phases - something that we have lost . We stick with the 'thoughts' but have dropped the 'prayers' out of correctness or embarassment.