The Duke - September 3, 2014

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Age is a funny old thing. It used to be quite simple. You stayed young quite a while, skirted with the always vagueness of middle age, then slipped suddenly into being old.

Age is a funny old thing. It used to be quite simple. You stayed young quite a while, skirted with the always vagueness of middle age, then slipped suddenly into being old.

The cartoonist Bernard “Hap” Kliban once pictured it as turning a corner all fit and fine and suddenly being hit by the Age Truck.

These days things are a little more complex. Retirement (previously a good indicator of old age) can come along anywhere between around 50 and up to 70 depending on what your job is – and if you are lucky enough to live long enough to leave it breathing.

Bus passes and senior railcards are no longer the sole property of people almost too infirm to use them and some theatres have reduced the age of senior citizenship to 60 or less.

But what gets my goat are those interminable forms and questionnaires which politely ask you your age, lead you in gentle stages to 64 then cut off individuality at “65 and above.”

It’s that Age Truck thing once more but this time you’re not only struck down by it but scooped up again and thrown into the back of it with everyone in the world over 65, except Mick Jagger, Leonard Cohen and, heaven forbid, Joan Rivers.

Until I graduated from that “50 to 64” category I never 
truly realised the gravity of the situation. I mean, for heaven’s sake, Mother Dearest had me when she was 22 (that’s the “16 to 25” box) and will soon be 87 but now finds we share more than a destiny. We share an age box. And that’s a bit creepy.

And while she’s not quite au fait with the difference between an iPad and an eye patch, we’ve probably both grown older leaving the same language behind.

Well, that’s how it looks according to the findings of the Spoken English National Corpus 2014 Project being compiled by Lancaster University’s Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS).

It’s a vast research project examining how spoken 
language changes between generations, innit?

By comparing conversations from the early 1990s with today, they’ve compiled a list of words which have fallen out of fashion and those which have become common.

They’ve clearly not eavesdropped on any of the Duke family gatherings in their studies or they would have noticed that the word “marvellous,” far from falling in use from 155 times per million to only twice per million appears necessary in my 50-something younger brother’s conversation to describe anything from a decent pint of bitter to a Leeds Rhinos dropkick.

Thankfully he’s not yet swapped it for the hideous “awesome”, which appears 72 times per million words (unless you are a Hollywood starlet in which case it can 
occur 72 times in a single 

Likewise, The Manager certainly hasn’t reduced her use of the word “marmalade”, despite it dwindling nationally (so what do people ask for on their toast at breakfast?).

Whatever its origins, Walkman didn’t last long in the popular word list – which is a shame because I’ve still got mine hidden away somewhere – but then again there’s tough competition these days from the likes of “Facebook,” “internet,” “website,” “smartphone,” “Google” and “iPhone.”

It joins the likes of “fetch,” “poll,” “catalogue,” “pussycat,” “drawer” and “cheerio” (please don’t tell me it’s been replaced by “s’later”) in the list of losers.

One unexpected fast riser is “treadmill”, which will come as a surprise to some hamsters but not to the umpteen thousands of office workers who find themselves working as if they are on one.

Some 200 recordings of modern conversation have so far been analysed but the CASS team are appealing for thousands more to match the collection from the 1990s.

They’d better get there quick, most of today’s conversations seem to consist of shouts and grunts down those popular “smartphones” and “iPhones.” So cheerio.

Why challenge gives me a shiver

Now I’m not going to make many friends with the next few words but this recent ice bucket challenge craze has left me completely cold (no pun 

Yes, I know it’s raised a lot of people’s awareness of charities which they should have already been aware of. And yes, it’s raised lots of money for those charities which should already have had lots of money raised for them.

Heavens, it’s even pricked the conscience of at least one supermarket chain to donate the profits made from ice cube sales (Tesco shipped more than 36 million cubes in the first week of the craze) to the Motor Neurone Disease Association, which is obviously a good thing.

But hold on a minute. Isn’t it a sad state of affairs when the only way to raise awareness and cash is to nominate people you love or loathe 
into having freezing cold 
water poured over them?

First it was famous people, then nearly famous ones, then it was relatives and workmates. Now even the postman can’t feel safe.

I’ve stopped looking at 
Facebook because it’s so cluttered up with folk pretending to find a freezing dousing 

I’ve even taken to writing this column before attending a family reunion for fear I’ll fall out with the lot of them for refusing to be soaked. I’ll leave that to the lemming-like fervour of others.

It’s right up there on my hate list with self-indulgent selfies, photo bombing and those annoyingly optimistic aphorisms which try and convince us that all could be well with the world if we hugged strangers and stuck flowers in our