language change and slang linguistics and lexicography

Beyond the usual

Image generated at: www.wordle.netThat somebody might find raising funds difficult in these problematic financial times is certainly not beyond belief. That they might say, describing their plight, that ‘Getting the financing was beyond difficult’ may be more surprising.

We’re used to things being beyond recognition, beyond a doubt/beyond reasonable doubt, beyond a joke, beyond expectations or beyond our wildest dreams. We know things can be beyond control, beyond reach, or beyond repair. We can find ourselves beyond words or even beyond sleep.

Beyond is used to suggest that something is ‘outside the limits or possibilities’, physical (beyond the horizon, beyond the main road) or otherwise. Quite a few of the common uses given above are fixed or idiomatic expressions. In go beyond and related phrases, beyond is used to suggest ‘going past limits, going further/deeper’ or ‘surpassing something’, and beyond itself may be used in this way too, as in such titles or headlines as: beyond smoking, beyond the classroom, even beyond sustainability.

As these examples show, and according to the Macmillan Dictionary and other dictionaries, it is typically followed by a noun or noun phrase.

But now, as well as beyond difficult, we hear: beyond cool, beyond crazy, beyond extreme, beyond alarming, beyond boring, beyond outrageous, beyond awful, beyond sophisticated and many more, as in this experience must have been beyond terrifying. In these examples, beyond is being used to intensify adjectives, with a sense loosely similar to more than or worse/better than, and reflects the ‘more than (usual)’ sense of the phrase above and beyond (though this is used before nouns and noun phrases). It is so far less common in written material, though of course it appears in the kind of informal writing that can be found on the web. It is used in promotional and marketing material: ‘Beyond Extreme’ is the name of a company offering adventure sports; ‘Beyond Retro’ is a company offering vintage clothing.

In extending its modifying range to a different word class, the behaviour of beyond is reminiscent of the change in use of the adverb so, which moved from intensifying adjectives, and adverbs, as in so awful, so quickly, to emphasising nouns and noun phrases, as in so last year, so not what I like.

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Susan Jellis

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