As you may remember, I began this blog some years ago to guard against misuse and abuse of our beloved language. As you may also remember, I do so with some modest qualifications, including fifteen years as a magazine editor and twenty as a professor of journalism and literature. Invoking those credentials, I must alert you to an aspiring cliché that is creeping into our discourse with the aid of our cable news midwives and self-appointed pundits.
The word is “dodgy.” It was seldom used until one of our trendsetters recently found it in a dusty corner of the closet where we keep our vast store of neglected English words, pulled it out, sniffed it, liked its current rarity in use, then dangled it before a jealous herd of colleagues and competitors. They liked it too, which is to say the use of “dodgy” is now spreading, on its way to becoming a fashionable cliché in good standing.
Let’s smother it in its crib. Why? Why pick on little old “dodgy”? Because it’s simply not a good word. When I consulted my dictionary I found so many disparate definitions as to make the word downright dangerous.
Dodgy has at least three distinct general meanings, each with it’s own subset of particular shades of meaning. First is dishonest or unreliable, with a subset of undependable, unreliable, irresponsible, deceitful, dishonest, unreliable, double-dealing, treacherous, two-faced, traitorous, etc.
Now take the second general meaning: potentially dangerous; this includes risky, dicey, chancy, perilous, unsafe, hazardous, insecure, touch-and-go, high-risk, unpredictable, insecure, precarious, exposed, etc.
Finally, its third general area of meaning refers to quality, as in low quality, as in low-grade, second-rate, third-rate, cheap, dire, awful, terrible, dreadful, woeful, etc.
Really? One word can mean everything from unreliable to hazardous to cheap? What doesn’t this flabby adjective describe? So don’t ape the growing crowd of mimics. Avoid using “dodgy”...unless you are using it as a proper noun and referring to the name of a London rock group popular in the Nineties.