Leading, big, important. ‘Major’ had a dishonourable mention in The Dictionary of Diseased English, but the situation has deteriorated fast since then and the word now qualifies for a fuller entry here. What is this ever-growing army of ‘major’ users trying to say? Why do they love the word so much? Consider, for example, ‘We are a major manufacturer of industrial chemicals’ (The Daily Telegraph, 18 Dec 1981). What is this firm trying to say about itself? That it is big, important, occupying a position close to the top of the league? A mixture of all three is probably intended, but ‘major’ offers an easy way of avoiding certain problems. To say one is ‘big’ or ‘large’ would be prosaic, and would encourage the curious to ask ‘how big?’ ‘Important’ might be true, but equally it might not and, in any case, the inconvenient question ‘How important?’ might rear its head. ‘Major’ fills the bill very nicely. It feels impressive, it carries authority and, above all, it does not open up a discussion. It allows the situation to be kept under control. One can easily and naturally enquire, ‘How big?’ or ‘How important?’ but hardly, unless one is exceptionally determined or cynical, ‘How major?’
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