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Mind your language

Mind your language: Heritage this and heritage that

The most overused word in supermarket fruit and veg departments

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

23 May 2015

9:00 AM

Benidorm has applied for World Heritage status. To achieve this, says Unesco, a site must have ‘outstanding universal value’ in one of ten natural or cultural categories. Perhaps Benidorm is ‘a masterpiece of human creative genius’ — clever to get all those people to go there on holiday.

Heritage is overdone now, especially as an adjective. I read something the other day about old buildings that I agreed with, except that the author had consistently called old buildings ‘heritage buildings’.


I can understand Waitrose selling ‘heritage’ champagne, but heritage non-vintage? Waitrose offers various lines in heritage apples (Adams Pearmain, Chivers Delight) and tomatoes (Coeur de Boeuf). It has even offered a selection of ‘Heirloom Tomatoes’. As soft produce, tomatoes do not seem the kind of thing to wait to inherit and then keep burnished on the sideboard.

I suppose heritage fruit and veg are old varieties that have been handed down, rather than new hybrids recently cooked up in the lab. But it comes into another category of existence to market, as it has, ‘heritage shortbread’.
Is shortbread not already an old-fashioned, inherited comestible?

Not so long ago, heritage was itself an old-fashioned word, mixed up with property wills and inheritance. It had a special meaning in translations of the Bible. In the Book of Common Prayer, the priest and people say antiphonally: ‘O Lord, save thy people.’ ‘And bless thine inheritance.’ The Te Deum, when it’s said, has this instead: ‘O Lord, save thy people: and bless thine heritage.’ Those last three words translate the Latin benedic hæreditati tuæ.

In the past four decades or so, the heritage industry has exploded. In 1970, the Countryside Commission designated some stretches of coastline ‘Heritage Coast’. Museums began to be renamed heritage centres. Routes that tourists were encouraged to explore were labelled heritage trails. Heritage often seemed to mean ‘tourist’, till the concept was formed, at first in America in the 1980s, of heritage tourism. The heritage tourist came to see things that hadn’t been ruined by tourism. It doesn’t quite sound like Benidorm.


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