OK. Hands up! Who stole SOCIAL?

Who steals perfectly good words?If you’re fond of writing, there’s nothing more irritating than a bunch of knobhead technofreaks coming along and snatching a perfectly respectable word to use for their own nefarious purposes.

Like SOCIAL, for example.

Only the other day I was wracking my little brain trying to choose a name for an incredibly valuable eBook I’m about to launch … about all sorts of social writing.

But if I were to name it something like “How to write for social stuff…” what would happen?

You guessed it. Thousands of interwebbites jumping on it thinking I had found the Holy Grail of conquering Social Media … not how to write humble things like an obituary, a Thank You note, a wedding speech, or a character reference.

May the fleas of a thousand camels infest the pubic areas of those who stole “social” and made it into an internet media cliché. You have b*ggered up my book title. Meanwhile… it gets worse…

Yep – in England…

When you’re on financial government benefits in England, you’re said to be “on the Social” (as in Social Security). Much as we thank our lucky stars in England for such help for people who are struggling, the term “social” doesn’t exactly ring bells with them about party invitations. Wrong again.

So what do I call my new book which covers all this stuff (see illustration) and much more?

What to write for any occasion

Other stolen words like “gay”

I know the word “gay” is a nice way to embody the whole same-sex issue, but it hasn’t stopped there, has it? No, no. Recently the word has ceased to be related to gender issues and just seems to be used as a way of describing something that’s a bit weak or wanky.

A far cry from the word’s original meaning of “having or showing a merry, lively mood…”

And how about “sick?”

Here in the UK, the word “sick” originated in the form as to “be sick,” ergo throw up. To feel “sick” is to feel nauseous” …  “sick” as a noun can mean vomit.

So how pleased we writing wallahs were a few years ago when thousands upon thousands of teenagers began to use “sick” as a complimentary adjective? “Yeah, that’s sick, bro.” What did that mean? “Sick” was (still is) brilliant! Wonderful! Superb! Excellent!  … yuk.

Of course that brought about utter confusion amongst us middle-agers here who had been accustomed to using the word “sick” to describe jokes, stories, real-life newspaper articles etc. that didn’t just make us puke, but also rendered us helpless with anger (or in some cases laughter) because they made fun of all the politically incorrect things you could ever imagine, and then some.

Sorry. “Sick” as the North Americans use it is the only OK version I can cope with, because it just means “ill” or “unwell” in Brit speak.

While “wicked” is still around, I think…

“Wicked” is an older term which always had a slightly tongue-in-cheek image.

But having grown up with all the kiddie stories about wicked witches, wolves and other villains I have to say I was always a bit uncomfortable calling something I really admired and liked, “wicked.”

Perhaps this was a term that grew up alongside words like “bad,” as made famous as a term for “good” by the late, lovely Michael Jackson.

I have to say, though, that I wish these bright sparks would stop pilfering existing words, use their imaginations to come up with entirely new terms, and leave my ****ing book titles alone.

What do you think? What favorite words of yours have been stolen and given new identities?

Some help to keep your words safe and sound:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well
“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write
“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

photo credit: voa voa via photopin cc




  1. It’s the same in the disability world Suze. The word “Mongol” used to be used to describe someone with Downs Syndrome. Then it got shortened to “Mong” and used as an insult. So the word had to be dropped altogether.

    The word “spastic” has a specific medical meaning, and was used to describe people with cerebral palsy. A charity had to change its name from “The Spastic Society” to “Scope” when the word spastic was corrupted as, yes, yet another insult.

    In bygone days people could describe themselves as “crippled with pain”. But no, “cripple” or “crip” has again been turned into an insult – there seems to be a pattern here – although some disabled people have reclaimed the word to take the sting out of it, in the same way that gay people have “queer” and black people the n word.

    • It’s extraordinary the way some words like these you describe are now turning full circle. Even the “n” word started out as a mispronunciation of “negro” which at times has been thought of as quite acceptable. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

      The word “Negro” is used in the English-speaking world to refer to a person of black ancestry or appearance. The word negro denotes ‘black’ in the Spanish, Portuguese and old Italian speaking vocabulary, or from the ancient Latin, niger, ‘black’, probably from a Proto-Indo-European root *nekw-, ‘to be dark’, akin to *nokw- ‘night’. “Negro” superseded “colored” as the most polite terminology, at a time when “black” was more offensive. This usage was accepted as normal, even by people classified as Negroes, until the later Civil Rights movement in the late 1960s. One well-known example is the identification by Martin Luther King, Jr. of his own race as ‘Negro’ in his famous 1963 speech I Have a Dream.

      During the American Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, some black American leaders in the United States, notably Malcolm X, objected to the word, preferring Black, because they associated the word Negro with the long history of slavery, segregation, and discrimination that treated African Americans as second class citizens, or worse.

      Since the late 1960s, various other terms have been more widespread in popular usage. These include “black”, “Black African”, “Afro-American” (in use from the late 1960s to 1990) and “African American” (used in the United States to refer to black Americans, peoples often referred to in the past as American Negroes). The term “Negro” is still used in some historical contexts, such as in the name of the United Negro College Fund and the Negro league in sports.


  2. Some kids were chatting loudly on the local bus the other day and one of them used the phrase, “Oh, that’s wicked cool!”

    At first, I was a bit confused thinking they were discussing something bad, but other youngsters have since insisted it means something more akin to brilliant. Ah well, we’re all getting to that cranky crotchety old age…

    • ROFL Sally! It’s becoming harder and harder to keep up with the evolution of the English language. On the other hand, though, I suppose we should be grateful for the fact that it IS evolving … rather than stagnating back 50 years ago as it might have done. And yes, I think “wicked cool” means “good…” !!

  3. I’m with you—just can’t deal with “sick” as a positive term.

    Sometimes I’m amused that the word “incredible,” meaning unbelievable, now equals “something really good.”

    • LOL Mary! It’s “incredible” how these fashions change … 😉 Personally I’d love to see some of the more old-fashioned superlatives come back into fashion like “astonishing,” “glorious,” “exquisite,” etc. But I suppose they’re a bit too fluffy for the high-tech age….

      • “Pants”! Took me ages to understand what my colleagues at the time were talking about. Was “pants” good or bad/sick/wicked…? Think I got it in the end, but then ‘they’ stopped using ‘it’! PANTS!

  4. Excellent article. I want to draw some pictures about this.
    I’m just scared that I might wake up one day and see how the word “cartoon” suddenly means something like “running down a street brandishing a sword or knife”.

    “The mugger cartooned down Fifth Ave”. That would be simply SICK, wouldn’t it?

    • There are several “stolen” words we should worry about, Thys … maybe I should write another blog post about those! Good to see you here and come back soon.


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