The myth of the global majority

‘You make the cotton easy to pick, Mame,’ sang my husband with execrable delivery. ‘No,’ I said, ‘You can’t sing things like that now. In any case, I was talking of Bame, not Mame.’ The hit musical from 1966, starring Angela Lansbury, has only the most tangential relevance to the latest lurch in approved terminology for what we were encouraged to call Black and Minority Ethnic people until that term was expelled from polite conversation. Now the trendy label is global majority. ‘The term Global Majority was coined as a result of my work in London on leadership preparation within the school sector between 2003 and 2011,’ says someone called

Do sparks really fly?

‘Sparks,’ said my husband, after a short pause. I had asked him what one could spark. His answer was true but not all that helpful. I had come across a headline on the BBC News website that said: ‘Record hot March sparks “unchartered territory” fears.’ The inverted commas around unchartered territory were not meant as so-called sneer-quotes, but to indicate quotation. Later the same day the headline was amended to uncharted and sparks was jettisoned. There is such a word as unchartered. My distant relation by marriage, William Wordsworth, used it in his ‘Ode to Duty’, the one that begins: ‘Stern Daughter of the Voice of God!’ It is not

Where does ‘stuff’ come from?

Pelham, the hero of the novel of the same name (which came out in 1828, the first year of The Spectator’s existence), visiting his old friend Glanville, is conducted by ‘the obsequious and bowing valet’ into a room where his host sits ‘opposite to a toilet of massive gold’. (Yes, words change meaning. This toilet would not have resembled the lavatory of gold on display at Blenheim Palace, to the theft of which a man has pleaded guilty.) The narrator declares: ‘I had never seen so perfect a specimen of masculine beauty.’ The anonymous reviewer in The Spectator attributed the book to Benjamin Disraeli. He was wrong. It was by

We ought to banish more words

Why do people say: ‘You might very well think that; I couldn’t possibly comment’? Are they using it as they would a Shakespearean quotation such as: ‘The lady doth protest too much’? Or do they think that by speaking the line made famous by Ian Richardson in House of Cards, they generate wit anew so that some rubs off on them and cheers the conversation? I wondered whether I was encountering second-hand humour from some television series when I began to notice the phrase Wait. What? It tends to be used archly, as though for an invisible audience. My husband finds it used on X, that social media platform for

Why does Elon Musk see legacies as leftovers?

‘Is this legacy beetroot?’ asked my husband, poking a yellowish slice on his plate in a restaurant. He meant heritage beetroot, a ludicrous enough phrase. But legacy has been extending the hedges round its semantic field, so his question may sound normal in a few years’ time. A report in the Telegraph the other day referred to apprentice stonemasons as entering a legacy trade. This edges into the territory of heritage. Historic England is the government’s statutory adviser on the landscape and built heritage. From 1984 to 2015 it operated as English Heritage. But English Heritage remains as a charity that looks after national monuments, such as Stonehenge. Perhaps Historic

The power of cultural reclamation

‘Version’ is an old reggae term I’ve always loved. It refers to a stripped-down, rhythm-heavy instrumental mix of a song, traditionally dubbed onto the B-side of a single. On paper the concept sounds throwaway, and often it was. Over time, however, using reverb and a fair degree of ingrained madness, pioneering Jamaican producers such as Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, King Tubby and U-Roy twisted ‘versions’ into mind-bending shapes. Time-stretched DJs toasted new rhymes over the top, and dub was born, an art form built from borrowed parts and hair-brained ingenuity. The notion that popular music is now obsessed with recycling old content is not necessarily fanciful, but it can be reductive.