Word Up

There are two important facts to note about Emma's linguistic cultivation: One, she was a teenager during the Age of the Chav. Two, she went to an all-girls Grammar school, in Kent.

by Emma Figg

There are two important facts to note about my linguistic cultivation:

One, I was a teenager during the Age of the Chav.

Two, I went to an all-girls Grammar school, in Kent.

A couple of directly conflicting language ideals there. Not a great mix if I wanted to bosh the odd ‘linguistic cultivation’ into conversation. This vocabulary vacuum nudged me into grammatical apathy. My language stagnated. I had to plug up my mouth to stop the odd ‘ruddy good-oh!’ popping out, so I took up smoking. I also took to wearing a white puffer jacket with ‘Moody Cow’ emblazoned on the back, just to clarify my stance without having to use any extra adjectives. The aim was to avoid be deemed posh at any cost ( . . . weirdly the ultimate crushing insult amongst girls attending a Grammar school).

I spent a good eight years of my life as a clandestine grammar Nazi. I took up an affected Estuary accent, eliminated all consonants from my speech and kept any and all synonyms to an absolute minimum. My head was screaming ‘adjectives people, adjectives!’ but my mouth was saying ‘Safe mate, sound ain’t it . . . innit . . .?’

word up quoteThis all changed pretty rapidly once I’d got to college and met the love of my learning-life. My English A-level tutor was a harried chap, who, through working at a severely underachieving public college, had been thoroughly crushed by the Man. The conveyor-belt of students wearing too much foundation and trackies tucked into their socks, who could not give less of a rat’s ass about language or literature, had left him broken. To me, he was the picture of a bloke after a wedding, once all the fun had been had; tie loose, shirt untucked and hair ruffled – stick a copy of Carol Ann Duffy in his hands and I had myself an idol.

His unrelenting attempt to impart at least a modicum of passion to the collective scrap of brain cells in front of him, re-awoke a part of me that has since caused a powerful envy of other people’s words. I was suddenly on a quest for better words, to up my words, to Word Up. I remember attempting to read the dictionary that year. (Didn’t work, I have a terrible memory.)

That year I also made an older friend, she had wine and cheese evenings with political debates for fun and summer solstice parties where everyone got naked and jumped in their family pond (I sat awkwardly, fully dressed, clutching a glass of red wine I hadn’t yet got the taste for, trying not to judge their hairy armpits.) Suddenly it was cool to have an arsenal of words at your disposal. To read. To create imagery with words, or to be able to argue your point. It was liberating, powerful.

I still think those years of growing my rhetoric in a dark societal cupboard has stunted my ability to convey myself verbally. I still tone it down and use ‘crud’ far more often than I should. But it has done me one huge favour, I now write. The relief is intense. I can now get home from a lousy day at my work at a dental practice and bring myself out of the malaise by writing a short essay on the twenty reasons why toothpaste samples are a scourge of society. I have created. Left a part of me on the page. Literally sometimes, if my writing brings me to tears (I tell you, those bastard toothpaste samples are the worst). It has taken me all this time to realise but, in the eternal wisdom of Boyzone, it really is only words and words are all I have, to take your heart away.


Emma Figg | Carpe Diem

Emma is a twentysomething female. Which makes her feel stuff that she needs to write down. Lena Dunham is her spirit animal. As is lasagne.