Once upon a time it was “hard” to do things. Then suddenly, for some reason, it became “challenging”. We used to have “problems”, now we have “challenges”. Things are no longer tricky, they’re “challenging”. It’s not hard, it’s “challenging”. We don’t make “tough” decisions anymore. Guess what they are now.
“Challenging” spread via the media like a nasty rash, replacing a variety of perfectly good words that used to serve in its place. It became the most overused word in the English language. Or so I thought. Until now. Because now we have the insidious, disgusting virus that is “engaging”.
We engage with everything. We engage with Social Media. Teachers engage with pupils. Politicians engage with the electorate. The police engage with criminals.
“But these are all perfectly good uses of the word,” I hear you say. Yes, that may be true. But only a few short years ago teachers didn’t “engage” with pupils. They TAUGHT them. Politicians didn’t engage with voters, they SPOKE to them. And the police definitely didn’t engage with criminals, they simply NICKED them.
Our vocabulary is shrinking at an alarming rate. “Engage” seems to have replaced and over-written hundreds of other words. The “engaging” programme you just watched on TV might once have been described as appealing, fascinating, captivating, interesting, intriguing, mesmeric or a myriad of other delightful words your English master taught you while you were looking at Facebook under your desk. Sorry, engaging with Facebook under your desk.
Will we ever be able to reverse this lazy, indolent new attitude towards our language or is it already too late? Last night I heard a football commentator say that a central defender had “engaged in a tackle”. According to the BBC News, tube workers aren’t “going on strike” in London, they are “engaging in industrial action”. I have a job advertisement in front of me right now which is looking for an “Engagement Manager”. I doubt they’ll have any trouble finding one. Or should I say, it won’t be very challenging.