Not long ago, we had a Swedish schoolgirl explaining to us, in very stylish English, about Climate Change.
Stylish ... but one word grabbed my attention. She said the dangers were "existential".
That word has been around quite a time now; at first, it frightened me. When a new term becomes all the rage, and one doesn't know what it means, one somehow ... at least I do ... feels excluded from a national discourse in which everybody else is apparently comfortable. I was young when Existentialism was a philosophical fad of a French gentleman called Sartre. His theories seemed not to take the doctrine of Original Sin very seriously. But I don't think that's relevant to this new use of the word 'existential'.
Suddenly the penny dropped as to what the term means. I think (e contextu) that it means "It really is real". "It really does exist". "If you don't take this seriously I shall spit on you from my loftier moral higher ground."
So now I no longer feel excluded. I've got it sussed. It is just another example of the modern dodge of choosing a fancy, upmarket-sounding, word to say something that was previously said rather more simply and prosaically, so that the speaker sounds either more like an Intellectual or more like a member of Society's elite. It's like 'locate'. The other morning I heard on the Home Service a pompous rambling old bore called John Humphries asking somebody whom he "had on the line" what his location was. Not "Where are you?" That would not have been consequential enough for the PROB. A year or two ago, I heard an announcement on a train to the effect that the safety information was "located adjacent to the door". Gosh, what an important person the announcer must have been. Only inferior individuals like that seedy old clergyman snuffling inexplicably in the corner of the carriage would say something as downmarket as "by the door". One has to maintain standards. Or do I mean status?
"Issue" is another case which, I think, illustrates several things. We used to have 'problems'. But if I admit that I have a problem, that puts me in the moral low ground. Aggessive people say things like "I'm a practising werewolf. Do you have a problem with that?" To which the only permitted reply is "Er ... um ... no; of course not".
So, instead, we have 'issues'. 'Issues' enable me to be lofty and disdainful, without admitting that something really has got to me .