In Animals, Philosophy, Words

Three weeks ago The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration had banned one of America’s most important health organisations, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from using words like ‘vulnerable’, ‘entitlement’, ‘diversity’ and ‘fetus’ – the latter, presumably, because it’s spelt wrong. In the interests of balanced reporting, I should point out that the CDC director then denied that there was any such ban, but the smoke of Orwellian-style censorship was already hanging in the air.

I tell you this just in case Christmas has softened you towards the Donald. And because, if it really is word-banning season, I have one of my own that I’d like to throw into the pot. This may come across as a little curmudgeonly, but I’ll be really happy if I can go the whole year without hearing the word ‘enjoy’.

I’m talking about the ‘enjoy’ when a plate of food is plonked down in front of you, the ‘enjoy’ when a coffee is handed over the counter in a ridiculously oversized paper beaker with an annoying plastic lid with a small hole in it that is designed to focus the scalding heat of the liquid inside onto the back of your tongue like a laser and strip it of any sensitivity, thus rendering the flavour of the coffee irrelevant. That’s the sort of ‘enjoy’ I’m talking about.

Because ‘enjoy’ isn’t just a word any more, it’s become a sentence. And in the case of the coffee, a sentence worse than death. There are very few words in the English language that can serve the purpose of a sentence on their own, and none of them stir feelings of joy.

Stop! Go! Wait! Halt! Fire! Duck!

These abrupt imperatives have evolved for situations where there is no time to elaborate. It’s like giving instructions to a dog: there’s no point saying, ‘Run after this stick and fetch it for me, will you, old thing?’ Dogs don’t have that sort of time. ‘Fetch!’ is plenty.

But I don’t want to feel like a dog when I’m being served food. I don’t want imperatives. ‘Would you like imperatives with that, sir?’ No. I don’t want to be told to Sit! Beg! or Kill! And I don’t want repetition either. I have a strong aversion to repetition, especially when it comes to words. A strong aversion. Especially when it comes to words. Repetition kills the appeal of a word, just as surely as it kills a song. For example, I quite liked Ed Sheeran the first time I heard him, but by the time he got to the second line I was sick of him.

Last year I was enjoined to ‘enjoy’ 347 times. Some of them were flamboyant, French-style enjoys, delivered with a flourish, as if lifting the lid off a tureen of award-winning bouillabaisse, not handing me a cheese and pickle sandwich. Most of them were ‘take your sandwich and sod off’ enjoys. None of them filled me with joy.

So come on, foodservice operatives, stop fobbing us off with your copycat clichés and think of something more original to say when you hand over the goods. For example, my year began with a Mars Bar at East Croydon station (the old traditions die hard) and refreshingly, the woman behind the counter didn’t say, ‘Enjoy!’ She said something completely unpredictable. She said, ‘Takeaway?’

It had been a long day.

We looked at each other for a few seconds, imagining what the alternative might entail. Perhaps she would have unwrapped it for me, given me a knife and fork and sat me down with a napkin and plate. Then we laughed, and in that moment we were transported away from the drab environment of the railway station to a place of joy, connected by a random word that had fired the imagination… And later, without having to be told, I enjoyed that Mars Bar more than any Mars Bar I’ve enjoyed for years.

And that’s saying something.

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