by Liz Walter
In 2009, the UK was shocked, angered and entertained in almost equal measure when revelations about the expense claims of our MPs appeared in the media. Amidst the accusations of greed, a few examples became iconic, such as the MP who claimed for cleaning the moat around his home or the one who bought a floating duck house for £1,645 and expected the taxpayer to foot the bill.
Of course, this behaviour increased the perception that our MPs are out of touch with the realities of ordinary life, and it seemed for a while as though nobody could speak about the affair without uttering the phrase ‘They just don’t get it.’ That phrase, more than any other, seemed to sum up the feelings of the nation and was repeated to the point of tedium.
It is not obvious what has caused the popularity of that one, but some phrases seem to spread simply because they catch the imagination. One such example is mad as a box of frogs, a colourful expression that does not seem to have been around for more than a few years, but which has become quite well known in the UK (though apparently hasn’t crossed the ocean yet). The variant mad as a sack of ferrets is similar in its rather striking imagery of writhing, uncontrollable creatures in a confined space.
At the more slangy end of the spectrum, two recent phrases share the same odd attribute of sounding like incomplete sentences. Where previously we might have said that someone or something was ‘not all that good/clever/talented, etc.’, we now see the phrase used without an adjective. For example, a post on an online problem page asks, ‘How can I tell a guy that he’s not all that?’
Something similar is happening with I can’t even or I literally can’t even. Conventionally, we would say something like ‘I can’t even begin to tell you how angry I was’, but in an informal situation (typically between young women) the incomplete phrase is now enough, for example, ‘OMG, did you see his hat? I literally can’t even.’