The English Pedant – why cool is the new uncool

A few years ago in London I got a freelance job writing restaurant reviews – for restaurants themselves. So essentially I was writing advertisements for this group, looking like objective reviews but obviously containing nothing negative.

I’d done it before for newspapers: the restaurants are advertisers and they pay for publicity so you have to concentrate on the good things and ignore the bad. It’s not journalism, but PR, and as long as you’re not telling outright lies, it is possible for a freelancer to live with himself while operating in this parallel universe.

The food in this London group was very good, in fact, so there wasn’t a lot of deception involved. The owner of the group, though, didn’t like the language I used because it wasn’t trendy enough. He and the general manager would sit there in front of me and read other reviews out loud, attempting to influence my choice of vocabulary without actually telling me what to do.

“Ah, there’s that word again,” they would go. And the word was “vibe”. Any restaurant and nightspot had to be described as having a vibe, meaning it was cool (another word they liked).

I had to fight the impulse to tell the truth: their most expensive, upmarket place had the vibe of a dining room in an old people’s home. The food was good and the fine wine was indeed fine, but if you looked through the windows out of hours and saw the décor, you would have thought it was the oversized lounge of a 1970s bungalow.

You would have expected the menu to consist of dishes designed to avoid breaking false teeth. Sausage and mash. Liver and onions with croquette potatoes and cabbage, that sort of thing.

living room
Yeah, Dude, Your dining room has the vibe of, like, a boardroom

Fortunately, things moved on and I left the area, avoiding being sacked and leaving them with the task of finding someone more impressionable.

Vibe? Not really my kind of thing. The same goes for ‘buzz’. Nothing wrong with them, but you don’t have to pick up every linguistic tic that comes your way.

As mentioned earlier, ‘cool’ is not a favourite either. It is currently used with all the discernment and precision of ‘nice’.

Back in the day (that’s an odd expression, isn’t it?) when something or someone was cool, it was a particular kind of compliment. The Rolling Stones were cool, but Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich weren’t. Surfing was cool. Long hair was cool. The Prime Minister wasn’t. There was a certain alternativeness about cool things.

Then it died out, only to resurface in the 1990s devoid of any style or standards. This is cool, that’s cool. That’s a cool shirt. Get a sandwich for lunch? That’s a cool idea.

Cool – but your dad’s going to kill you when he sees what you’ve done to his ice cream van

Whereas the word’s more excitable 1960s predecessor, fab, was destined never again to be used seriously after The Beatles stopped being called The Fab Four, cool lay dormant for 20 years and then crept back in and colonized youth in general, rather than just a cool sector of it.

Why don’t we ditch it again, and send it to the abandoned farm in Wales that serves as a commune and a home for ‘bread’ meaning money?

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