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What’s in a word?

I rarely get into rants (the Lovely Wife may disagree – the current transition under her expert hand of our bedroom wall from red to a more gentle green may be indicative of more than just a need for a style change) but when I do get annoyed sometimes it is over the sillier things. Like the way words are debased and their original meanings forgotten. Yes, I know language change and adapts, and it is quite a fascinating thing. But at the same time it seems a shame to me that when words like ‘sick’ can weirdly become positive (I still don’t really get that one) other words that were incredibly positive in the past suddenly become negative.

If you have being paying attention (although goodness knows I do not know why you should to my inane ramblings) you may know I am talking about ‘patronise’ (and yes, I’m not using the US spelling, whatever my spellchecker thinks). Depending on which dictionary you look at, it is either acting in a condescending manner or giving someone (or something) your patronage (a word you hardly ever use, which is a shame, it has a nice round, strong feel to it, a bit like ‘potentate’ and ‘ineffable’ both of which come from one of my favourite hymns…). The former is the way it is mostly used, but it is the latter that is the older meaning and the one I am going start a one man campaign to reassert.

The Lovely Wife and I patronise (display our patronage towards?) the Mermaid in St Albans because it is a good pub. We do the same for the trattoria around the corner from us. I don’t think either of these establishments mind being patronised by us. I do not think any of the young people we have bought coffees and food for over the years we have been blessed to be friends and mentors mind being patronised either – especially as most of them are brighter and more talented than I have ever been and while the sharing of experience always runs the risk of condescension I’ve always tried to avoid that; the person who thinks he knows everything is severely lacking in insight (I do not know who first coined ‘every day is a school day’ but I have found it to be an accurate mantra). As we have no children we have the opportunity to patronise who we like. We are hardly wealthy philanthropists but to act even in a small way as a semi-patron for someone is a huge honour. We’d like to do it more but in the end there are two major obstacles. Obviously, one is our own resources. But also, there is that pernicious thing that has crept into our society that says ‘if you give me something, you must be after something from me in return’. Maybe that is true, sometimes. But there is also the opportunity to help each other to varying degrees but in meaningful ways.

I hope the Lovely Wife will not mind me sharing, but she taught me something important. If someone buys you lunch, it does not always mean they expect you to buy them lunch, especially when it is obvious to you that they are more than capable of buying their own – and when you clearly might struggle. Instead, at heart they are patronising you in the most positive way… But if I patronise someone it is with an agenda. I would hope at least that if someone buys you lunch when money is short, if at some point things are different and you are flush, you do the same for someone else that is in the position you once found yourself in. Anger breeds anger; kindness does the same, and I know which one I would rather see proliferate exponentially.


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