You may think you know what that word means. Its not an unusual word. In fact, it is commonplace. Its use is run-of-the-mill in modern society and it remains unremarkable to hear it.
Yet it has done a complete 180° turn in meaning over recent years and so, where you might think you are correct to describe something as ‘ordinary’, but you actually mean ‘extra-ordinary’ or even, perhaps ‘unique’.
Witness the following from Shane Warne in the pages of the Telegraph. “To go and desecrate something as ancient as the Oval pitch in such an unnecessary and crass way…” wrote Warne, about the three England players who urinated on Surrey’s playing surface, before going on to add “…is a pretty ordinary and arrogant thing to do”.
Now, for a start, if players urinating after dark on cricket pitches is ‘ordinary’, then fans have had the wool seriously pulled over their eyes for many years.
Secondarily, for Shane Warne to describe arrogant behaviour as ‘ordinary’ reveals perhaps more about the former spinner than he would have wished.
Warne, in this instance, means ‘poor’. In the world of high
achievements and no failure, being average is thought of as not being good enough. Of course, to be average is to be halfway between good and poor – there must be as many better than you as there is worse. Thus, the England trio’s behaviour was not ordinary, unless over the same weekend (for example) three England players cooked Sunday dinner for their wives and took their dogs out for a walk while another three went to the seaside, kicked sand in childrens’ faces and knocked over their sandcastles.
‘Ordinary’ does not (and cannot) suggest anything other than mundanity without seriously trampling over ‘extraordinary’ (which would be a legitimate way to describe urinating on the pitch at the Oval).
As such, can people try and reclaim ‘ordinary’ for ‘ordinary’ people to use properly. If something is bad, call it bad. Don’t suggest that badness is the norm.
Maybe, if you’re struggling, think of it this way. Could you tell your children off for doing it?
“Nicholas, Nicholas, slashing that gentleman’s tyres is a very ordinary thing to do”.
My other worry is that although Shane Warne’s use of ‘ordinary’ is ‘ordinary’ in his sense (poor), it is becoming increasingly ‘ordinary’ (commonplace) in my sense, too.