A Fashion for Passion

Are you a fellow fan of talk radio? If so, you are probably familiar with the concept outlined in the heading to this blog. You know the

Someone comes on the airwaves and proclaims their ‘passion’ for a (usually particularly uninspiring) job or hobby. Waste
disposal management, maybe; or window cleaning; or collecting traffic
cones. I drove past a tradesman’s van the other day which was emblazoned with the words ‘Mad About Electrics’. As John McEnroe used to say, ‘you cannot be serious!’.

Perhaps I am being overly harsh. Maybe the person in question really
does wake up every morning thinking ‘I just can’t wait to check the
proportion of plastic bottles that have been recycled into carpets’. Or
whatever. But I doubt that very much. Maybe there is an admirable
(occasionally understandable?) degree of enthusiasm for the employment or pastime in question. But passion? I would take some persuading.

‘Passion’ is a word which has been hijacked and overused over the
years, to the extent that its meaning has been downgraded. It used to
signify a burning desire for involvement in a particular speciality. Now
it merely denotes a curiosity or passing interest in a field or
discipline in which the protagonist happens to be involved at any given
time. The promoted politician speaks of his or her ‘passion’ for
Defence, or Pensions, or whatever their new department deals with. The
new CEO of a high-street chain enthuses about their ‘passion’ for
clothing, or mobile phones or whatever their new employer sells. The
recently appointed head coach of a football team declares a ‘passion’
for their new club. Just as they did for their previous one.

‘Passion’. Roll the word round on your tongue, and think about what
it really means. I would dearly love to reclaim it for the English
language; to restore it to its fullest connotation; to reserve it to
signify that visceral connection between you and the object of your
yearning which establishes itself as soon as you open your eyes in the

You know what I mean. We all have that feeling about something. What are you passionate about? 

For me it is Theatre. Everything about it. From the physical building
to the dramatic representations with which the structure shares the
name; from the all-day rehearsals to the buzz of live performance; from
the smell of the greasepaint to the roar of the crowd (or, as actors
joke, the roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd!).

I first went on stage aged 12, playing the part of The Artful Dodger in the musical Oliver! and became instantly hooked. In the intervening 48 years,
I have performed in over 80 theatrical productions – musicals and
straight drama; comedy and tragedy; hero and villain; leading roles and
supporting characters. I have performed in 1500 seater auditoria and
black box spaces which accommodate fewer than 100. I have done shows running to as many as 40 performances and ones which were performed only a handful of times. I even went back to University as a mature student to study for an M.A. in Theatre (Writing, Directing & Performance). And I have loved every minute of every aspect of my involvement with this (literally and metaphorically) fantastic medium, and can never wait for the next project to get underway. That, my friends, is ‘passion’ as it used to be understood.

And if we can’t reclaim the word then perhaps we should create a new
one. Treat that as homework and let me have some suggestions – maybe the direct translation into your own language or a portmanteau word which mixes in elements of English. If it catches on, of course, we Brits will steal it and claim it as our own. We’ve been doing that for centuries!

That’s it from me, for now. I hope this little essay has been
entertaining, or thought-provoking or (hoping against hope) both! You
don’t need me to point out that language – any language – is a living,
breathing and evolutionary organism. But it is also worth fighting for
when the changes are unwelcome. 

You could almost say that I’m passionate about that.

Rory Mulvihill, LOS Consultant