An eagerly-anticipated loss

Back in the dim distant days of the fifth form, we had an English teacher who insisted that nice – in the sense of ‘pleasant or agreeable’ – could only apply to food.  A ‘nice day’ or ‘a nice broad-brimmed hat’ was sure to lower the A-minus your essay might otherwise have warranted to a B-plus.

I’m not sure where this exclusive association with food originated.  At various points in history, nice has meant ‘foolish’, ‘stupid’, and ‘loose-mannered’ (among other things).  And the pleasant-agreeable usage has been around for at least 100 years.  But, if you didn’t want to be docked much-needed marks, you quickly learned to serve nice only with food – at least until you were safely through to the lower sixth.

There were a number of other words about which Sir had strong feelings.  Utilise was one.  Utilise (we were told) meant to put to use something which might otherwise be discarded.  A builder could utilise old bricks; but, if the bricks were new, he simply used them.  ‘Utilise is not just a posh synonym for use.’

Sir was also most particular about the use of anticipate – ‘to be aware of something in advance and take steps to deal with it’.  Anticipate was not a synonym for expect or await.  But, unfortunately, that is what it seems to have become.

Just a few days ago, the business desk of a well-respected news organisation said that ‘Facebook priced its initial public offering at $US38 per share ahead of one of the most eagerly-anticipated share flotations in recent stock market history.’  And the sports desk of the same organisation talked about ‘the much-anticipated match-up’ between two leading rugby halfbacks.

It’s probably too late to turn back the tide.  Anticipate has already become a synonym for expect or await.  But, in allowing that to happen, we have deprived ourselves of a perfectly good single word meaning ‘to be aware of something in advance and take steps to deal with it’.  It seems that too few of us had anticipated this.

This entry was posted in Better communication, Clarity, Plain English, Word Origins. Bookmark the permalink.

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