From a 1930s photographic book about World War One.
What happened to the word frightful? I associate it with the Mitford sisters, Noel Coward and just about anyone in an Evelyn Waugh novel. It doesn't feature heavily (in other words I don't think it appears at all but I can't be bothered to do any research) in Victorian fiction, so where did frightful spring from?
And where did it go?
There is something endearing about the way English people of a certain class used to refer to deeply traumatic events as 'rather unpleasant', whilst an entirely trivial event could be 'frightful'. Behind these phrases lay a tacit acknowledgement that language was inadequate in the face of real tragedy.
Today, the public are 'devastated', 'gobsmacked' or 'gutted' when disaster strikes, but never bereft, distraught, anguished, disconsolate, wretched, racked, hopeless, inconsolable or grief-stricken. Ironically, in an age in which we feel freer than ever to express our emotions, the lexicon of gloom is sadly diminished.