Two weeks ago, in this Word of the Week piece, I was looking forward to cheering Elise Christie to her first medals at a Winter Olympics, from several thousand miles away. We were able to see her semi-final and final in the 500m speed skating event the following day, during the children’s half-term, but her fourth-placed finish was as good as it got. She crashed out of her next event (1,500m) the following Saturday and was disqualified in the 1,000m last Tuesday. As things turned out we were unable to watch either of those events live but our reaction to the news can be summed up with a word familiar to sports fans: we were gutted.
If you watch sport and quiz shows as much as we do you will hear the word “gutted” most days. Contestants who fail to win a jackpot on a quiz show will generally describe themselves as “gutted”. So will the players of competitive sport who come close, but not close enough, to victory. When did it become such a frequently-used word for “extremely disappointed”? I’m guessing that it was the 1980s, along with phrases like “Having said that” and “At the end of the day”. In my mind those expressions became commonplace after their frequent use by football pundits on TV, and by Kevin Keegan in particular. Did he also popularize “gutted”? It’s quite possible.
I am surprised to find that I have only used the word once in these pages so far, to describe my reaction to events in “University Challenge”. (Specifically it was how I felt when St Catherine’s Cambridge failed to make the semi-final in 2016 and when Pembroke Cambridge narrowly lost the 2012 final.) I use it in my day-to-day speech far more often, but not the related term “gutting”, which has come to my attention in the last few years. Increasingly I hear people describe an event as “gutting” when it has made at least one person feel gutted. The sight, and the news, of Elise Christie not winning a medal in Pyeongchang was not “gutting”, but I do feel gutted.