Bill Jamieson - Look back in wonder at the 'nice' decade's lexicon

SO the "nice decade" is over and a not-so-nice era has begun. Thus warns Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, and he should know.

So it seems appropriate at this pivotal time that a lexicon be compiled of the words and terms that came to characterise the nice decade and which are now fast falling from everyday use. Indeed, some words may disappear altogether. Those concerned to preserve the richness and diversity of our language may find the following lexicon of help:

1. MORTGAGE: Noun. Pronounced mor-gage with silent 't'. A financial device by which a bank or building society lent money at interest to enable people to buy a house. Increasingly common until late 2007, when they suddenly disappeared from view. If you see a "mortgage", contact the authorities immediately. Do not on any account pick one up, as it may be subprimed and dangerous.

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2. HOUSE BUILDER: Quaint term. stretching back to medieval times, used to describe activity of labourer or craftsman placing one brick upon another to create a "house". House builders have long displayed unpredictable migratory habits. But they disappeared almost entirely from the UK in early 2008, abandoning sites and leaving new homes unbuilt. See also government housebuilding targets and affordable homes, a colloquialism of the pre-2008 era now replaced by "repossessed home" or "distress sale".

3. ESTATE AGENT: Increasingly rare species of loquacious person skilled in creative writing who helped inspire buyers to pay maniacal prices. Even the humblest garden shed could be portrayed as an eco home with superb ventilation and development potential. Few high streets were without an estate agent's office, often pretending to "compete" with the one next door. Many are now abandoned. See also: surveyors, valuers.

4. BANK LOAN: Formerly the core activity of organisations once known as "banks". A "bank" would advance money to a personal or business customer, normally for a fixed term and at a rate of interest no-one could calculate except for the "bank". Loans were suddenly withdrawn in 2008, but bank "executives" continued to earn huge sums for "taking risks". Related anachronisms: interest free credit and "no problem, sir".

5. FAMILY CAR: A once popular means of private transport for millions of households until the onset of " global warming" and the oil price spike. Family cars gave way to three-wheeled vehicles fuelled by soya-bean oil, vodka and chip fat. Family cars, where they survived, came increasingly to resemble motorised transport in the Indian subcontinent, often carrying 20 or more passengers in the back seat with 20 more clinging to the top.

6. SPARE CASH: An anachronism that seldom fails to raise a smile when it is now uttered. An elusive but reassuring phenomenon in the "nice decade" , "spare cash" brought an illusion of wellbeing. But soaring food prices, higher alcohol tax and petrol at prices that required a "mortgage" (see above) saw spare cash disappearing almost as fast as "loans" and "credit".

7. DIVIDENDS/DIVIDEND GROWTH: A previous model of joint stock capitalism, companies once paid "dividends" to investors who bought shares, and share prices tended to go up as dividends were increased. This has now quite reversed. Today, companies ask investors to pay yet more money for the privilege of seeing their share prices fall. These requests are called "rights issues" and have replaced dividends at many companies.

8. GROWTH: An arcane phenomenon pursued in the "nice decade" to improve economic and social wellbeing. Governments once took pride in promoting growth. But from 2008 it was no longer deemed necessary, and indeed, many welcomed a reversal to improve the environment and to combat "global warming". Growth is now rarely mentioned in polite circles.

9. CPI: Abbreviation for the former official measure of inflation used to set interest rates. As it had no housing inflation component, this had the effect in the "nice decade" of showing prices rising only moderately, allowing interest rates to fall as house prices soared. Conversely, in the new era, with prices rising sharply, the rising CPI blocked falls in rates while house prices crashed. It was eventually replaced by a new measure after the Bank of England governor ran out of writing-paper for his letters to the Chancellor.

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10. GOLDEN RULE: A means by which the government sought to present itself as the champion of prudence by limiting the growth in debt to no more than 40 per cent of GDP. The "golden rule" became tarnished and was replaced by the "Corn Rule". This enabled the government to adjust debt ceilings through a complex formula linked to the soaring price of corn.

11. FEEL-GOOD FACTOR: A term frequently used in political circles to gauge the mood of voters ahead of an election. It could be statistically defined by a combination of low inflation, falling unemployment, rising house prices and gains in real incomes. This term has now been replaced by the Misery Index.

12. TAKING THE RIGHT LONG-TERM DECISIONS FOR THE BRITISH PEOPLE: This verbal mouthful did not survive well into the not-so-nice era.

It was replaced with a more crisp summation: we're stuffed.

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