I was in a wine bar in Dubbo the other night, sampling some of the Central West’s finest. One chardonnay in particular stood out.
“Wow,” I said. “This wine is great.”
Other drinkers in earshot gave me strange looks. I was puzzled. Were they saying I was wrong? OK, I did still have a fair bit of dust in my mouth from the trip in, but even through the grit it was a great drop.
Then I realised what I’d done. A couple of American tourists were in the bar, wearing red caps with a familiar four-word slogan on them. I’d rather not repeat the wording here in case children are reading, but I’m sure you can guess that the first word was a verb in the imperative, the second referred to a large country just west of New York, the third was the G-word I’d used, and the fourth was an adverbial of time beloved by chortling toddlers who’ve just seen an adult snort over-oaked rosé out of his nostrils.
I could have kicked myself. Me, a wordsmith, forgetting that language is as organic and ever-developing as wine itself. And that what I’d just said was actually “This wine is pining for a bygone era, tragically forgetting that irreversable geo-political changes at a global level have rendered this impossible, even with natural yeast.”
“Sorry,” I said to the other drinkers. “I should have said that this wine is fabulous.”
For a concerned moment I thought I might have done it again. Didn’t Liberace used to say fabulous a lot? And quite a few other people with very white teeth. I certainly didn’t want anyone thinking that this superb wine reminded me in any way of dental bleach.
The locals were very understanding and shared their own experiences of descriptor-lag. Yelling “great goal” at a school footy match and everyone thinking he was talking about the 1957 grand final. Murmuring “that was great” in bed and her husband thinking she’d been sleeping with his grandfather. Uttering the words “Great Britain” on holiday in the UK and watching Brexit happen as a result.
We agreed ‘great’ was lost to us, unless we were gazing at artworks created more than 40 years ago, or, same thing, Donald Trump’s hair. Don’t worry, that didn’t offend the American tourists, because it turned out they were artisan cheesemakers from Oregon and on closer examination their caps actually said Make America Grate Again.
We also agreed that we didn’t mourn the loss of the G-word, because as wine enthusiasts we had lots of other descriptors available and were happy to share them. Which is why you might see American visitors in the near future wearing caps that say ‘Make America Cool Climate And Heavily Wooded Again’.