Thus spake Captain Grimes, schoolmaster, pederast and one of the great comic characters of the 20th century. But he was wrong. Too and late are indeed sad words, but there are plenty sadder.
I'll give you two right now off that superior and famously spontaneous cranial region, the top of my head. And the first of these is - drumroll, fanfare, pause while large buckets are wheeled into place in case of community reflux on an overwhelming scale - proactive.
And yes, of course, before we go an inch further, before I delve into the unspeakable sadness of proactive, yes, I plead guilty to being an old man howling at the sky. For as I have said and written time without number, language evolves in the same way that species evolve. It is a blind, unconscious process that none of us can affect in any way.
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Proactive has entered the language and will stay for as long as it stays, regardless of what you or I or that ostensibly abodeless yet somehow representative gentleman, the man in the street, may say or do. Nevertheless, that having been said, wasting time and energy is not yet a crime. An old man may howl at the sky. And howl I shall.
Proactive is a word derived from the almost-science of psychology. It is defined as "of or relating to mental conditioning or a habit etc which has been learned" which, as I am sure you'll agree, is the sort of definition from which the eyes bounce and the mind wanders. Which leaves the word free for definitional misuse. And how.
Proactive sounds sciency and people love to use words that sound sciency because a little of the scienciness rubs off them when they do so. It makes them feel clever. So they appropriated proactive to mean, well, not very much, and nothing that isn't already conveyed more precisely by any number of words.
Proactive has become the unnecessary antonym of reactive. Depending on context, proactive is used by the semi-literate to mean thinking ahead, doing something about it, taking the initiative, pre-empting, leading, taking a risk, circumventing or any number of other near-but-not-quite synonyms for the fundamental human skill of thinking and then acting on that thought.
It's a sad and imprecise word for the slovenly of mind. But the slovenly of mind are always with us and the word, as I say, will persist.
As will today's partner in verbal sadness, which is - drumroll, fanfare, another fleet of wheeled vomitoria etc - experience.
Like proactive, experience is pseudo-scientific and like proactive it's inflationary. Where proactive inflates the business of thinking and acting into strategic genius, experience inflates the mundane business of just being alive into something significant.
Joe Bennett: Juggling chainsaws for a living can be dangerous
Onions - foot soldiers who die for the cause
Mind-blowing experiences compete with near-death experiences and magical experiences to inflate our petty existence into a thing of supposed importance. And they fail. The word experience is hyperbolic. Hyperbole is a lie.
Yet it's created an industry, the experience-generation industry. Imagine watching the sunrise over Machu Picchu, passing by gondola beneath the Bridge of Sighs, riding a camel across the shimmering sands of the Arabian peninsula - experiences to be photographed and catalogued and posted on the bloody internet to try to convince ourselves by convincing others that we live a bold and splendid life.
It's all a mirage, a sham. None of these alleged experiences involve doing anything but paying to lug our flesh to a place where our job is merely to be passive. It's like being praised for lying on the dentist's chair.
But so great is the power of this sad word that every Tom, Dick and Harriet now has - oh Jesus wept - a bucket list, of everything they want to undergo before they croak, as if experiences were wonders to collect, and that if we acquire enough of them they will somehow confer fulfilment on our tiny lives and we will die smiling, girt by family members all observing that old Uncle Roddy knew how to live, just look at his experience collection.
Of course I could have chosen any number of sad words. We are awash with them. But those two are enough for today and then some. And if you want cheering up, read Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh, featuring Captain Grimes, schoolmaster, pederast and one of the great comic characters of the 20th century. Nowhere in its 240 delicious pages will you find the words proactive or experience.
There, the old man's howled.