It would be misery without ‘marvellous’
“Tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration,” wrote Dr Johnson. “We have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.” Those struggles go on, decade after decade. Words disappear, or reappear wearing different clothes, particularly in English, which is the most adaptable tongue in the world.
As language is in a constant state of evolution, there is little point cursing the idiocies of the younger generation. Younger generations have always been idiotic: remember “fab” and “groovy”? Nobody uses those words now, unless they are being ironic. Still, it was sad to read this week that “marvellous” is in retreat. Apparently “awesome” is the adjective of choice for young folk. In which case it’s a relief not to be young any more.
Marvellous is a marvellous word. It was good enough for Wordsworth, who called Chatterton a “marvellous boy”. And it was good enough for a great 20th-century wordsmith, Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyric for Too Marvelous For Words, with its superb couplet: “You’re much too much and just too very very, to ever be in Webster’s Dictionary.” Mercer, being American, spelt it with only one l, of course, but that’s another matter. Let’s keep marvellous. No society can remain civilised for long without it.