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Words are being thrown under a bus – which is OK if it’s an EV

Posted by Tim Richardson on 8th June 2022

Gas-guzzling automotive expressions such as ‘petrolhead’, ‘changing gear’ and ‘miles per gallon (MPG)’ could be consigned to the idiomatic scrapheap as electric vehicles (EVs) begin to replace motor cars.

So says wordsmith Suzie Dent — famous for her role in Dictionary Corner on the ever-popular tea-time TV show Countdown. She claims that a whole multi-storey car park of words and phrases could reach the end of the road with the introduction of EVs.

“The language of the electric car will become as familiar to us as the vocabulary of the motor car did at the turn of the 20th Century,” Miss Dent told the Daily Mail after working with online car retailer Cinch.

“’Miles per gallon’, the ‘clutch’, and ‘gears’ will all eventually become terms of the past,’ she said, before admitting that many words and phrases based on old technology still survive today.

She’s not wrong. Despite all the technological advancements made in transport since the ‘invention of the wheel’, people who may approach things in an unconventional way are still described as putting the ‘cart before the horse’.

Is it time for language to change gear?

If a team of eager, young PR professionals is overly keen to gallop ahead with a project, they may be advised to ‘hold your horses’ and wait.

Fast forward to the beginning of the industrial revolution and those same PR go-getters may be urged to restart their efforts by going ‘full steam ahead’.

The point being made – rather like a slow motion car crash — is that some expressions are simply timeless. The fact that people rarely travel by horse and cart — or steamship — doesn’t mean that the associated words and phrases die out with the technology.

It’s the beauty of language and its ability to transcend technological change that’s important.

After all, there are plenty of people who ‘sail close to the wind’ even though they’ve never stepped foot on a tea clipper. And there are plenty more who have been ‘three sheets to the wind’ without having to trim the sails in heavy winds and a rolling sea.

EV buzzword bingo

Nonetheless, the words and phrases remain even though the technology has been superseded. Clearly, while technological advancement means that some words and phrases may fall by the wayside and drop out of use, what about those that are yet to be created?

In marketing terms, the big question is, who will claim the top prize in EV language ownership?

After all, if you want to clean the house, you get the Hoover out. Fancy a soak in a hot tub? Then slide into a Jacuzzi.

If you want to search for something online? Google it. Need a cab? Call an Uber. Speak to your friends? FaceTime.

And if you want to nip out to the shops or drive to work, will you still take the car? Or will you take a Tesla? Or unplug the Volts Wagon?

Indeed, if advocates of EVs get their way, there will be no more ‘petrolheads’ because there will be no more motor cars. They’ll be as ‘rare as hen’s teeth’. Or should that be, ‘as rare as an EV exhaust’?

Tim Richardson