The English language changes and grows continuously, with some words falling out of use and around 5,000 new ones entering the lexicon every year, according to the Global Language Monitor.
Recent dictionary debutants include ‘Brexit’, a compounding of the two separate words, ‘on-brand’, deriving from the advent of social media and ‘simples’, borne from Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian meerkat of Compare the Market fame.
But it’s not just in the creation of new words that the English language shifts and evolves. Nouns become adjectives (Google / to google), text speak becomes mainstream (lol) and old words acquire new meanings (surf, web).
We’ve noticed with some amusement that the name of the UK’s most hated plant seems to have developed a whole new meaning in the last year or so too. As awareness grows of Japanese knotweed and its extraordinary attributes, it has taken on a new life as metaphor for something that just won’t go away.
It emerged first in the world of politics, being used by MPs in May last year to describe Theresa May as the “Japanese knotweed Prime Minister” after she said she wanted to fight the next election despite rock bottom approval ratings. In an article in the Evening Standard a few weeks later, political reporter Julian Glover similarly described Nigel Farage as “the Japanese knotweed of politics”.
Gary Neville got in on the act too when he launched a widely-reported attack on players at Manchester United with the allegory, “Ole needs to do some weeding in the garden but there is Japanese knotweed at this football club and it’s eating at the foundations of the house. It needs dealing with properly.”
Just last week, in the new year races, Harry Cobden stormed home to win the Sussex National Handicap Chase on ‘Christmas in April’ looking “more determined than Japanese knotweed on the run-in” according to The Sun!
So, what does this tell us? Well, when using Japanese knotweed as a metaphor, the speaker is assuming a certain level of knowledge among their audience about the plant, its invasive nature and how difficult it can be to remove. And growing awareness of this troublesome plant can only be a good thing.