Language is often manipulated by businesses, as words are used to entice sales, often with no thought to the true definition.

Here are just some of the words to look out for when buying your gifts this year.




Vintage used to mean something that was in good condition, older than yourself and once collectable. Now it means anything from a grubby, used sink that’s just a few years old to a fire hazard of a sofa that has lost its stuffing. The word is so exploited that sellers use it to describe almost anything (non-electrical) that is second hand, and poor unsuspecting buyers often buy in to the trend.

Shabby Chic

The shabby chic design trend is actually anything but shabby. It basically means a cross between fabrics and décor that don’t quite match but somehow come together. Delve deeper and shabby chic means deep comfortable armchairs that swallow a person whole and tactile textiles that feel luxurious to the touch. In every shabby chic design the focus is always on cleanliness. A table can be upcycled, it can even be second hand, pre-loved and old, but it is still fit for purpose and it is still ultra clean.

Sellers are using the term ‘shabby chic’ to sell broken furniture, ripped fabric, torn wallpaper and more, completely exploiting the words and the buyers who believe the hype.


Retro should mean items from your parent’s teenage years, not from your own. Even 90’s items are being deemed retro now and horrible old designs are being forced on unsuspecting buyers.


Distressed should mean a fully functional item that has signs of normal wear and tear. A patina on solid wood perhaps, or knife marks on an old butcher’s block. It doesn’t mean chairs with legs missing or dangerous items that need repairing before being safe to use.


A word that conjures up images of glamour, opulent interiors and small quintessential details, “boutique” is usually used to describe a hotel that is small, cramped and has the owner’s own “quirky” style attached.

Of course, in business, many words can be used to a seller’s advantage. In journalism, definitions are often exploited to create attention-grabbing headlines. Being aware is all that’s needed to escape the scams of language.

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